Monday, May 07, 2018

Getting A Handle on Denali National Park's Vast Expanses

We're back as of Sunday afternoon.  Our upstairs ceiling popcorn is gone and a new ceiling in place.  Everything is still shoved into spaces to allow for painting the ceiling and walls.

Saturday at Denali was Denaliesque.  I recently saw a Mongolian movie and thought, wow, those huge vistas remind me of Denali National Park.  The sun was out most of the time, the clouds here and there not threatening rain or snow.  The (still) white vistas - humans generally just don't experience stuff like this.  You see for miles and miles unpopulated land surrounded by mountains.  With the late snow everywhere it was almost too much.  After you enter the park, about four miles in, you're past all the park buildings - visitor center, camping and touring building, education center, housing for workers, sled dog kennels, and then there's just one road that goes for 90 miles.

Only 30 miles are open now (until buses start May 20), so what we saw is that part of the land you can see from the road in the first 30 miles.  There are a few structures inside the park - at campgrounds basically and lots of restrooms at the bus stops.  After May 20, you get past the first 3 miles or so only on the buses.  Or if you have a camping spot at Teklanika.  All the other camping spots are tent only and you get there by bus.  And there's a big visitor center at about mile 60.

The picture above is the road into the park (though we were driving back to the campgrounds at the entrance when I took this.)  You can tell we're still within the first 15 miles of the road because it's paved.  We're looking east.

And here's a panorama view - I've photoshopped three pictures together.  You see about 20-30 miles into the distance and probably 30 or so miles across from left to right.  If you click on the picture you can see it bigger. (Large vertical images work great here, but horizontal ones don't.)

Just think about what a 25 by 30 mile area in your city would encompass.   In LA that would be approximately from Santa Monica to East LA and from Beverly Hills to Palos Verdes.   It's most of the LA basin with one road and for 85 miles of that road just a few structures and outhouses.   Get a map online of your location.  Seeing such vast distances with nothing but one road and just a few structures stretched out of 90 miles on the road is always mind-boggling, even after 40 years.

And here's a map of Denali National Park and Preserve to get all this into even more perspective.

Original map from National Parks Maps  - This map is fairly large, but at the link it's much bigger

The entrance to the park is to the east where the little black rectangle is to the right of the red line. The first part of the road - brown on the original map here - is the 12 paved miles.  It ends at the red #1 on the map.  (I added the red because the yellow line is harder to see and to show you how far the road was open.)  #1 is where Savage River is, where we snowshoed on Thursday.  I didn't mention it in that post, but it was two years ago when we were there at the same time a young summer Park employee, Michael Purdy, had fallen and died and had not yet been found.  I wrote about that here.  A Park employee told me that his sister was in the park a week or two ago for the anniversary.  You can also see how different the trail looked in late April 2016 compared to early May 2018.
#2 is about where I took the panorama above from.
The Black Bear Paw is Teklanika Campground - the road is closed about a mile past there for now, though beyond it you can walk or bike.
#3 is Eilson Visitor Center (above the 3) - about 60 miles into the park with good views of Denali on clear days.
#4 is Wonder Lake campground, the end of the 90 mile road into the park.
#5 is the North Peak of Denali - the tallest mountain in North America at 20,310 feet (6,140m)

So what we saw last week is only 1/3 of the road in the park.  The panorama is of just one tiny part of the park.  The vast majority of the park has no structures at all.  And the views further in are even more expansive.  Even if you don't see any animals (not likely) or the mountain itself (much more likely), the landscape itself is worth the trip.

Looking through the trees across to a small mountain off in the distance.

Here you can see the slope of the land.  I took this from the road.  J is walking up the road in her red coat.  Since walking on the snow, even with snowshoes, is a challenge, we took turns walking along the road with the other waiting up ahead in the car.  You see much more on foot than in the car.

Here's an area where the snow had an icy glaze.  But if you tried to walk on it, you break right through the ice.

This is just past the gate that closes off the road at the Teklanika rest area.  I'm looking down at the Teklanika River, which at this point is mostly covered with snow still, just those few squiggly pieces of open water.  If you look closely you can see the bridge in the lower right corner.

And below you can see some of those squiggly spans of water from the bridge.

It was a beautiful day - I know that's relative.  The sun was out and the sky was mostly blue.  The temperature was in the 40's but there was a brisk wind in most places and especially on this bridge.    It was also a Saturday so there were a fair number of people who driven to the Park for the weekend from Anchorage and Fairbanks.

This post has taken a direction of its own - the vastness of the park - so I'll save some of the people   and critters we encountered for another post.

1 comment:

  1. Spectacular photos -- probably a good shot everywhere you look, but still, they are wonderful -- you capture the grandeur of the place and remind us of the wonders of this planet earth.


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