Although we will leave Denali National Park with our goal to see the mountain from the ground unmet, we have done our best to enjoy the park within the rules and limitations already described. With the poor weather we’ve endured this summer, we have had few opportunities to hike, so it felt good to finally put on those hiking boots. The mountain generates its own weather and microclimates and on one ranger walk we learned that the entrance of the park gets only about a foot of precipitation a year. We wouldn’t have guessed this since the vegetation looked green, but the rain never sinks far into the ground because of the permafrost and the plants have access to it during their limited growing season. We’ve hiked with rangers near the entrance; they always have so many interesting things to share. And we drove as far into the park as allowed - 13 miles - and hiked both sides of the Savage River. We also saw a nice moose today, not in the park, of course.
It’s clear that that autumn has begun and we know this for a variety of reasons. It was hard to get tourist literature from the park staff about the hikes available, because it is the end of the season and they’ve almost handed out their entire allotment. A few of the campgrounds we have tried to stay at the last week or so are already closed. At the campground here we are getting off season rates. Some of the younger tour guides we’ve had have spoken regretfully about the fact that their work is ending and it’s time to head back to school. And we’ve been keeping an eye on the fireweed, that bright pink flower that starts blooming from the bottom and when it’s blooming at the top, the summer is over. Here the fireweed has not only bloomed to the top; the blossoms have all fallen off and the leaves turned bright red. Much of the scrub and low shrubbery is also turning red and orange. We haven’t seen any termination dust (snow) yet, but that can’t be far away.
So we’ll return to Fairbanks where the summer began with the solstice celebration and have one more adventure before we turn south and east and begin that long, long, long drive home.