Saturday, May 9, 2009

Denali Trip - May 3, 2009

We drove the Parks highway to Denali National Park.  During the normal tourist season, access to the road through the park is very limited.  The majority of the people touring the park must ride on tour buses, which are old school buses.  They hold a lottery for the opportunity to drive your won car through the park.  Only a certain number of private vehicles are allowed in the park each day.  This is so that there is a little as possible to disturb the natural habitat and habits of the animals and also to preserve the beauty of the land.  During the pre-season private vehicles are allowed up to Mile 30.  The road is open for about 90 miles during the summer season.  

The day was a rare one in terms of visibility of the mountains and Denali itself.  In three weeks of driving toward Denali on my way to school, I have only seen it once.  It is generally either hazy or the snow is blowing on Denali and you can't see it or the rest of the Alaska Range.  It usually clears up a bit by afternoon and I can see it in my rearview mirror on the way home.

This day the whole Alaska Range was visible from a long way off.  We could see Denali from the south as we approached it, as we drove around the east side of it on the highway and again from the back side when we were in the park.  by the time we got in the park, it was beginning to cloud up over Denali, but we got a quick look at it.

Photos taken from Willow, at Mile 68 of the Parks highway
 (approximately 100 miles from the mountains you see here).

Notice all the twist and turns in the river.  The water carries glacier silt with it until it builds up and the water can carry it no more.  So the water leaves the silt and picks a different path.  The process repeats itself over and over, which makes many twists and bends in the rivers.  We are experiencing a lot of flooding in the interior regions of Alaska because of the ice jams on these types of rivers.  Although you can still see some ice on this river, there is not much ice left and the river is flowing freely.  You can read more about the flooding in the Interior at this site:

Click on the link that say "pictures of flooding" to see some pretty tremendous pictures of the ice damage.  Some of the chunks of ice from the rivers destroyed home when the flood waters carried them into the houses.
And, believe it or not, the fire danger in other parts of the state (including our area) is extremely high.  We have entered the wildfire season and have some major wildfires going on already.

Meanwhile, back at Denali and the Alaska Range.  You can see the largest glacier, Ruth Glacier, just to the left of center.  It appears as a large snowy area toward the bottom of the mountains, just about the trees.  We are still about 50 miles from these mountains.

Glacier coming down between the mountains.  The Ruth Glacier is 31 miles long.   It is over a mile wide and 1/2 mile deep.  It travels through the Great Gorge, which is nicknamed the Grand Canyon of Alaska.  Ruth Glacier has 5,000 feet peaks on both sides of the glacier.

Doug and Colleen with Denali between us in the background.

Denali (AKA Mt. McKinley) is over Doug's right shoulder.

Backside (north side) of Alaska Range, taken from our picnic spot in Denali National Park.

Backside (north side of Denali) from our picnic spot in Denali National Park.

Note how the Talkeetnas are not as sharp or towering as the Alaska Range is.  This picture is taken from Broad Pass, which is the pass between the two ranges.


Taken in Denali National Park.  They still have their winter colors on, making it hard to spot in the snow.  I did not get a picture of the first pair we saw (we saw a total of six pair that day).  We had stopped for lunch and we sitting in the car enjoying the view of the mountains.  It was too chilly yet to picnic outside.  A couple in the parking lot took their two dogs out for a walk in the brush and flushed a pair of ptarmigans right at our car.  I thought they were going to fly in my window before they quickly veered up and over the car.  They landed in the brush not too far from our car.  The willow ptarmigan is the state bird of Alaska.


Some of these were taken in Denali National Park.  Some were taken on the highway near Cantwell.  The large group crossed the road right in front our our car while we stopped to watch.   The two crossed on the highway, again right in front of our stopped car.