Or SO MANY BUSES
Denali NP lives and breathes with the buses. Green ones for campers, cream colored for the tourists. They start at 7 am and run til 9 pm and there are hundreds of them. We met 6 or 7 of the drivers on our travels up and down the Denali Park Road to start our daily hikes, climbs, adventures. Fascinating group of 72 drivers that do two 4-5 hour shifts per day driving the 43 miles from the bus depot to the East Fork closure where the landslide two years ago has closed the road to Wonder Lake and beyond.
No one seems to know what is really going on with the repairs to the road. Lisa Murkowski the AK Senator is leading the charge in DC and Congress sees Denali NP as a showcase park. When you see our photos perhaps you’ll see the difficulty in designing a bridge solution. The National Park engineers are consulting with climate scientists on how to plan for the future with soil samples, permafrost melting and tons of high tech research. They are saying open in 2026….will see, the working season is very short, and we saw no one working this week during the peak of summer.
The park is magnificent. Never thought anything could compare with New Zealand, but this place clearly is on par and we have barely scratched a tiny portion.
The Spring And Summer have been wet and cool and seeing Denali, “The Big One”, has been a rare occurrence this year. Statistically 30% of visitors see the mountain during their visits. So when we heard the viewing was possible the day of our arrival we drove to mile 9 on the Park Road around 8 pm and got a distant, but clear view of North America’s high point. And for Paul number 3 on his list of global continental giants.
So what did we do during our four wonderful days in the Sanctuary Campground with no cell phone or wifi access? We made some new friends – this time from Australia. Brooke, Cassidy and Billy were in the campground for the same nights we were and we had a great time sharing stories of our separate adventures. We even started one adventure together to climb Igloo Mountain (more on that later).
Sanctuary Campground is at mile 23 on the Denali Park Road in the Wilderness area. It has 7 campsites for tents only – no RVs and no cars. Add to that the common cooking area to keep food odors away from sleeping areas and it makes for great community building. Meal times – at least breakfast and supper – become an opportunity to share daily adventures and tips on places to explore in the park.
We arrived on the camper bus later in the afternoon and set up our camp. We then opted to hop back on the bus to take it to the turn around point at East Fork – Mile 43. Along the way we watched for animals and got to know the lay of the land. We took a short hike along the river for about an hour and got back on the next bus taking us back to camp.
Next morning we took the bus to the end again, but this time we were prepared for a longer hike. We explored following along the river to below the Pretty Rocks landslide that has taken out part of the Park road. We bushwhacked our way up a small hill, walked across some amazing soft moss to view a kettle pond (small pond left when the glaciers melt and form a depression in the earth that is filled with water -refilled by rain water, not a creek or spring), climb a little higher with only minor bushwhacking to a better view in all directions. Coming back down, we found a much easier pathway (maybe we’re getting better at finding the caribou trails) down the ridge – then back along the river to the next bus.
The following day we decided to join our Aussie friends in a climb of Igloo – since they had such great stories from the previous day climb of Cathedral. It started off fair though immediately a good climb through the brush. Then it quickly turned to scree and rock and steep drop off edges. Not things I care for very much – I’m clearly more of a ground squirrel than a mountain goat (or Dall Sheep). I pushed on to the first peaked resting spot and I couldn’t go on any further. I was already thinking I’d prefer to be pushed off the top than have to climb back down all of that – instead I mostly slid on my butt back down which is evident by my altered rain pants. That was enough mountain climbing for me – though Paul thought it was great and would have continued on to the summit which we later learned from our friends was not that much further up.
After getting down, we opted to take the bus out to Sable Pass and have them drop us off at the top of the pass. Hiking off the road is not permitted here, which might be why it’s the best spot along the road for wildlife viewing. We walked along the road a bit in one direction then the other. We had already seen this area 4 times on busses, but still saw so much more by slowing down and walking the road instead. Caribou, mountain group squirrels, Dall sheep and many wonderful wildflowers. Another full and wonderful day.
Our final morning in the wilderness we opted for a hike in our own backyard and followed the trail up the Sanctuary River and one of its tributaries. No animal sightings though we saw plenty of evidence of them in the scat and prints – moose and bear and maybe more.
We took the afternoon bus back to the front of the park to reunite Paul with his phone (left on the bus when it hid itself between the wall and the seat) and reserve a campsite at Riley Creek for two more nights – with Paul’s National Parks Senior Pass, the camping is half price and the best deal we’ve had on the whole trip. And we enjoyed a delicious meal at the Park Headquarters complex. While setting up our tent for the night, we again ran into our friend Dave from Wisconsin who is in the site next door. A great end to our three day adventure.