When we left the Wrangell St. Elias area we knew we were heading for the entrance to the Denali Highway. at Paxson. We planned on driving the 135 mile dirt road to enjoy the Fall colors, boondock along the way , and look for blueberries !
We certainly enjoyed the Fall colors, the views of the Alaskan Range, the Wrangell Mountains, the lakes scattered throughout the area and great boon docking sites. But alas, the blueberries were pretty much gone-we waited too long and the animals got the majority of them. Good for them !
We figured we would probably spend a week camping along the road, however what we didn’t realize was that it was hunting season. When we entered the highway at Paxson we pretty much had the road to ourselves. That was until we got about halfway in, then we entered the world of the ATV hunters. Those machines ( ATV, in our lingo stands for A Terrible Vehicle ) were all over the place. Each pullout was populated by 3-4 groups of hunters with their ATV’s. So there went our week long plan of solitude in nature -ha ha.
But until we passed through the hunting areas, we really enjoyed our time along the Denali Highway. It was paved for a few miles when we entered at Paxson and then turned to dirt until we reached the end about 1 mile east of Cantwell. The quality of the road varied from hard packed smooth dirt to a shake shake shake till you break washboard bumpy noisy ride. A little bit of both kept it interesting and challenging.
We had seen the Alaska Range from the North side and our jaws dropped. Seeing them from their South side was just as gorgeous. Fortunately we got to enjoy them with a break in the weather when we first entered the Denali Highway.
Everywhere you look it appears that Mother Nature turned Vincent Van Gogh loose-all those yellows and blues and greens.
The weather was decent when we started out, sunshine peaking through threatening storm clouds. And then darker skies moved in, a light shower began and then a beautiful rainbow seemed to divide our view. Dark, dark grey on one side and a lighter grey on the other-crazy incredible.
We read that the Tangle Lakes area contains about 500 archaeological sites that indicate that people have lived in this area for 10,000 or more years. The flattened area in the forefront of the above picture extends a good distance parallel to the highway. The top of those abutments are where they have found the archaeological sites.
The storm that followed us in, passed through but left behind overcast skies and a few sprinklings now and again for the next few days. But it was still stunning we didn’t mind it. The overcast skies helped to enhance the colors !
As we started to approach the far western end of the highway, the clouds got puffier and a little brighter. The hint of dry roads teased us. But still the ruts, the potholes and washboard shake shake shake. It’s a beautiful drive but my feeling in looking back is, once is enough ! Of course if the Caribou were migrating through, which they do in large herds, I would change my tune and return to see the migration.
The Western side of the Denali Highway seems to be more populated with cabins and a few little gas station/cafe type establishments-but no diesel-so fuel up before you enter the highway.
We were so very happy to not have seen a single Caribou or Moose-although I’m sure the hunters weren’t feeling the same way. Even without the wildlife the views were incredible with the Fall colors-even the rain couldn’t change that.
Where to next ? We hadn’t yet made the decision to not return to Denali on September 10th, but we were thinking about it. We decided to head to Fairbanks and explore the area we missed when we last passed through. We figured we would watch the weather and make our final decision based on the reports.
Happy Trails and Safe Travels, wishing you comfortable spots to hide out in during the storms and rainy weather and may the colors of Nature warm your soul.