Archive for January, 2013

Alaska – The Last Day-ish

The last day of adventure. The only plan for today was head back into Denali and do whatever we wanted. Choices included hanging out at the visitor center, going on one of the many ranger led walks and talks, taking a free bus out to Savage River and go on a hike (and risk waiting forever to return), checking out the sled dogs that live in the park or just hang around the campsite and take it easy. I know it was lame, especially since I went on the Helidog adventure, but I wanted to see the sled dog demo in the park. I didn’t want to go on a ranger hike or sit on the bus for an hour each way and go on a really long hike out in Savage River. I wanted to keep it low key, as the weather looked a bit iffy and I didn’t really want to hang out with the group.


The day started slow, but we finally piled into the van, leaving a few lazy bones at camp to make the late morning bus up to Savage River. I left the group in the dust and bee-lined it to the visitor center to see what that was all about. I missed the morning demo, which was fine and the next one wasn’t until 2pm, so I had tons of time to kill. Turns out, the guide made a mistake on the bus timing and our group had just missed the late morning bus to Savage River and now had to wait until the next bus in the early afternoon. Most of them hung out in the cafe, but I wanted some time alone and I didn’t want to buy anything, so I set up camp near a plug in the visitor center and sat on a bench and read and wrote while charging my phone, as the only outlets in the campsite I could find were in the bathrooms or laundry and I didn’t want to leave my phone in either place unattended. TM found me and she was going on a ranger walk when I was supposed to leave for the dog sled demo, so we chatted and gossiped about the group for a while, as the tour was winding down, it was time for guide evals and tip talk. We talked for a while before we went our separate ways.


I was wicked early for the bus pick up, but that didn’t matter as they always have enough buses for everyone who wants to go and there were three that day. Another tourmate joined me, as she didn’t go on the helidogs and wanted to keep it low key that day too. We took a bus to the demo, which was very controlled. A walk down a long path to the kennels were all the dogs were either tied up and if they came up to you, you could pet, or they were in dog runs and going nuts. Most of the dogs were really chill and not nearly as crazy as the ones on the glacier. Plus, throw in the fact that there were just tons and tons (for Alaska) of people and I wasn’t used to the crowds anymore. That was a bit much for me. But the puppies were so cute! They were my favorite part.

Chill Sled Dogs

Chill Sled Dogs

The demo started and most of us had to stand and watch the ranger drive the sled a short distance around and then another ranger told us about what happens to the park in the winter and how they are used, which was interesting. We then got to ask questions and most of the questions were surprisingly pretty good, so that was a treat. I hate dumb questions. Then was picture time, if you wanted to hop on behind the sled and get your picture taken like you were “driving” the sled, which actually was kind of lame, but that might have been because I had actually ridden on a dog-pulled-sled already.

Sled Dog Home.

Sled Dog Home.

My favorite part was after the show ended. Instead of being lazy and taking the bus back to the visitor center, tour mate and I decided to walk it as it was a really easy, well paved walk. The Roadside Trail goes along the road, so it’s hard to get lost, is less then 2 miles and is relatively flat. Since we were spending the following day in the van, I wanted to do a short hike, but something easy and this was perfect. We had a few good views, but it was mostly tree covered. We chatted the whole way, to scare off any bears that might be around and we actually ran into some people walking the other way, but it was pretty quiet otherwise.


We came up behind the visitors center and went our separate ways before we had to meet everyone at the cafe in a bit. I called my parents, because I hadn’t talked to them in a few days and then I had a wonder around the gift shop before heading to the cafe. The same thing happened again with the group out at Savage River and they waited nearly 2 hours for an empty bus to take them back to the Visitors Center and of course, arrived later then planned, but once again, no one cared too much. We then went into the main drag of town where there were a ton of tourist shops and people wanted to have a poke around and buy stuff, as the trip was finally winding down. We poked around for a bit before heading back to camp for our last night!

We had some sort of stew for dinner that was spicy and mostly we just gossiped about the guide tip, as the guide never spoke to us about it, which was a bit weird. The weather changed quickly and it got so cold and looked like rain. Lo and behold, right when we started eating, it started spitting down and kind of came and went for the rest of the evening. I had showered two days before (a lot, for this trip) and we were headed to the hotel the following day (hallelujah!!!) but I wanted to take a shower and spend some time in the bathroom, if only to charge my dvd player, which had oddly died. Annoying! I trekked in the mud covered road, in the rain, to the bathroom and when I was done, unfortunately, had to trek back, pretty much undoing all the cleaning up I did. All I can say is, thank god, we had these picnic covers as I spread my stuff out everywhere and even changed my pants out in the open (it was pitch black, no one could see me) and everything stayed dry. My dvd player didn’t last long, but oh well. It was the last night!!

Early morning! We were booked on the 8:30am bus in Denali and we had to be there on time. Breakfast was a rush of craziness as we also had to make lunch to bring along as well as snacks. I was burning out from the food at this point and just stuffed whatever food I could find into my backpack before loading back into the van for a quick 20 minute ride down the road. Once again, the walk to the bathroom was to long (I was so over the distances of this state!) and I knew the visitors center (Wilderness Access Center or WAC as it’s called by the locals) would have good, flush toilets, so I just held it until we arrived.


Arrived at the WAC, used the loo and got in line for the buses. Unfortunately, they were already delayed, which was a good preview of the day to come. We finally loaded on to a fairly empty bus, so we got to spread out in the back, which was nice. It was a beautiful, partly cloudy but not a rainy day and we had the windows open for most of the ride out to the Eielson Visitor Center. We stopped and picked some people up who had been camping, loaded them and their gear in via the back and then dropped them off farther down the road. There are three “rest stops” along the way to get out, stretch and use the loo. The ride out takes about 3 hours and makes other stops as wildlife permits. Not too far into the ride, we saw a bear eating some berries pretty close to the road! That was definitely the highlight of the day and thanks to the safety of the bus, we got as close as I wanted.

The scenery was gorgeous. There is really no way to describe it. It was cold (it had snowed in some parts the day or so before as we could see fresh snow next to the road), but we went on such a beautiful day, that our guide even came along, even though he didn’t have to. He even said, if it was raining, he wouldn’t have come. So you know it was a good day! The driver out there had some commentary, which I listed to for a while, but thankfully since I was in the back, got to gossip with some of my tourmates. When we got to Eielson, I knew I didn’t want to return on the same bus (you have a 30 minute guarantee, but can stay long and try your luck on the next available bus). I took a wonder around the visitor center and then started to join a tour on the paved path around the center, but it was quickly cancelled as a bear had been spotted not too far away and they closed the trail. I immediately put my name on the list to return back, as my bus had left but unfortunately, I ended up waiting about an hour and half for the next available empty bus. That was the downside of the day. Some other tour mates were wondering around and put their names on after me, as well as some who even went on a hike and came back just in time to fill the empty bus. It was annoying, but the way the system works, oh well. Be prepared! The driver on the way back was an older man, who talked really quietly the whole time and thankfully, since we were in the back, we could hardly hear him, so we didn’t have to pay attention. We stopped a bunch of times, both at the three rest stops and to see some caribou and moose that were pretty far away. We saw some “moving rocks”, but they were so far away, I barely cared. We also picked up and dropped off a lot of people and one of the drivers favorite questions was, “how long have you been waiting?”. I think everyone said well over an hour, so that is nuts! A park ranger got on at one point and sat in front of me and we all asked her questions and it was really cool and interesting. Before we left, the guide asked us to be back at the van by 6pm, but half the group was on that bus and we didn’t make it back until nearly 6:30pm, but for the first time ever, I was so not stressed about timing. I knew they would wait for us or if not, come back for us. They would obviously know we were on our way, no worries. I love that attitude sometimes!

The roads are is short. Get here now!

The roads are long…life is short. Get here now!

Me at a reststop

Me at a reststop

I’m not going to go into detail about how the park works (there are websites for that, including the really informative, National Parks Service site). Here are just some random things I noticed and/or to keep in mind:

-Cruisers mainly take the tour buses which are fully inclusive and won’t be picking up any riffraff (backpackers!) along the road. And they pack ’em in.
-We took the shuttle bus and it was fine, though one of the gals in my group wish we had gone to Wonder Lake, which is almost the end of the line (only Kantishna is farther). We only made it to Eielson, which is the most popular stop.
-The WAC is different then the Visitors Center. They are not the same thing!!
-Bring food, once you are in the park, there is nowhere to buy anything to eat or drink! Though there are places to fill up your water bottle.
-Bring layers, the temperature changes a lot, if you are lucky.

Typical Denali

Typical Denali

Don't cross.

Don’t cross.


For dinner, since the guide had been on the bus all day, suggested we hit the pizza place across the street from our campground, which ended up being a great choice. The pizza choices were interesting, the beers were really good and the layout was excellent! We sort of took over the place and put a bunch of tables together and just ordered a lot of pizzas and split the bill in the end. The owners dog was also running around (a dog inside at a food establishment? How many health codes does that break in the lower 48? Oy!) and he taught it some really good tricks, so there was a show to go along with our food! The next day was going to be pretty chill, in and around Denali, so some of the group made quite a night of it, but when I went back to camp not to late as I knew I didn’t want to be hung over and in an awful mood the following day.