|After our flightseeing tour of Denali, the mountain, we spent another couple of days at the campground near Willow. We took a complete day off for Margaret to recover somewhat from her cold, and then we took a day and went back to the Independence Mine near Wasilla. Margaret had wanted to do some more photographic work there, so we picked what we thought was a good weather day. As usual, what happens in the valley stays in the valley, however, and the Mine area on top of the mountain was shrouded in fog. But, since fog confers its own atmosphere, we hope the photographs (which are all on large-format film so have to wait until we return to Phoenix to be developed) turned out well.
We drove about 150 miles farther up the Parks Highway to Denali National Park and our campground a few miles north of the park entrance. We drove through steady rain most of the day, but we did stop for a few minutes to walk around and visit the Alaska Veterans’ Memorial. It’s a nice spot and would be a great spot for a picnic or rest stop in nice weather. We also passed through Broad Pass, which, although not particularly high, is a lovely area of meadows, spruce tree forests and lakes, surrounded by mountains. Again, you could see it would be spectacular in good weather, and was dramatic even in the rain.
Shortly after arriving we went over to the Park visitor center to make arrangements for our bus tour into the Park. You can drive only about 15 miles with your own vehicle (which we did – getting our closest look yet at a moose who was in the brush only a few feet from the road and a more distant look at a group of two bulls and a cow) and to go beyond that you must take one of the buses run by concessionaires for the Park Service. The most popular option is to select one of the shuttle bus trips; there are several, depending on how far into the Park you want to go. You can get off the bus and hike at any point, picking up the next bus that has available seats (and, presumably, that isn’t going further out than your original ticket would entitle you!) to continue your trip. We were unable to get tickets for our chosen tour for the next day (Wednesday), so we opted for Thursday, after reading the posted weather forecast for a cloudy day, with only a slightly higher chance of rain than for Wednesday.
Wednesday, waking to a day that promised to be only partly cloudy, with no rain evident, we elected to drive out the old Denali Highway, looking for mountain and glacier views. The road is gravel after the first 12 miles or so, but it’s a fairly good road for most of its length. We did have a great day for photography, with dramatic clouds and great sunlight on the mountains, some of which were covered with snow. We drove about 50 miles (a bit less than half the length of the highway, which ends up in Paxson in eastern Alaska) and stopped for a lunch break at the Gracious Home Lodge and Café. This turned out to be a charming, funky little place with excellent food (Ian continued his tour of "the brownies of Alaska"). It has been run by the same family for 50 years and we understand they’re ready to retire and have put the Lodge up for sale. It doesn’t appear, however, that there are any likely takers, so the future is uncertain. But we loved our visit there and wandering around the interesting property, which also includes facilities for vehicle repair and an air taxi service. It literally is the only civilization on the Denali Highway except for a couple of small lodges and ranches. The whole drive took longer than we had anticipated; turning into an all-day trip, leaving us no time for a hoped-for hike in the Park itself, but it was a great photographic experience.