We left Haines on September 13th with our compass pointed towards Denali. I didn’t tell you earlier that we had won the Denali Road Lottery. If you win the Road Lottery you have a permit to drive the entire 92 miles into the end of the road in the park, in your own vehicle ! There are restrictions for vehicle size. The lottery only runs for 4 days and our permit allowed us to enter and drive on the 17th of September. Check it out, it’s totally awesome to win and take your time driving the route. The lottery opens May 1st and closes May 31st. Winners are notified mid June. 1600 people are selected so it averages 400 drivers per day heading into the park. We never saw that many cars for the 10-12 hours we were in the park !
But before we made it to Denali we had to find a spot to camp once we left Haines. We pulled into Dezadeash Lake Campground and the kiosk had a notice that the campground was closed. We looked around, saw folks were camping and figured it must be okay. Fortunately there was a maintenance worker who confirmed that yes you can camp, and it’s free because there are no services available since the campground was closed. His definition of services was a little different than ours-the bathrooms were being cleaned and maintained , there was just no free wood available (a common amenity in Yukon parks).
This is a beautiful campground and the Fall colors were on full display. It’s also a stop on the bird migratory route, which explained the large gathering of swans when we were there. The weather held out for the two days we were there, chilly but sunny. It was also pretty quiet with just a handful of fellow campers.
We met a wonderful mom and daughter duet camping next to us. The daughter chose camping as a way to celebrate her divorce (this was a good thing according to her mom) !
The mom and daughter next to us suggested we swing by Million Dollar Falls , close enough to our campground to make the quick trip and get a short little (short is the key word) hike in.
It really is a short hike around the Falls, a nice wooden viewing platform gives you several opportunities for great shots of the Falls.
We were due to check in to our campground at Denali on September 16th with our road access permit for September 17th. If we ever qualify for the Road Lottery again, I will make our campground reservation when I enter the lottery. We love Teklanika River Campground and had hoped to stay there, but I waited too long and nothing was available so we stayed at Riley Creek.
When I look back on these photos I realize we had more sun than we did stormy weather. It’s just the stormy weather sticks in your mind when you know the narrow and harrowing portions of the road you have to drive over !
Seeing the sunshine on the side of the mountain and dry road, you would never know the challenges we had with muddy roads, heavy fog, pelting rain and a short blizzard !
It was getting late in the day when we decided to start heading out of the park. We hadn’t seen any grizzly but figured they were hunkered down somewhere trying to avoid the crazy weather we experienced. But then the skies cleared and the sun was out and up ahead we could see folks pulling off the side of the road and literally jumping out of their vehicles with cameras in hand. We just knew there was a grizzly close by. And we were right, it was hard to spot him at first because he blended so well into the Fall colored grasses.
So glad some Park volunteers were close by. They immediately sprang into action to provide a safe zone for the bear. People were getting too close, blocking road access, blocking a pathway across the road for the bear. The volunteers and Ranger put an end to that. Everyone had to sit stationary until the bear decided what he wanted-excellent ! This is his home, his territory-we were just visitors , some behaving very badly -makes me sad that they think the bear is there for entertainment. Oh well, it warms my soul when I see folks doing the right thing when they treat bear viewing as a very special privilege and not an entitlement.
I give myself up—
the woman who gardens,
Sitting at this wooden table
looking out the south window
at the mountains,
I am deep in the spell
of those who stayed here before me.
Sometimes my mind goes blank
staring at it all—
all the land,
all the quiet.
this place is
I step through
where orange lichen
bursting from the rock,
or a white-crowned sparrow’s melodious song
can suddenly be alien or heartbreaking.
By Linda Schandelmeier
2012 Denali Artist in Residence