• Frank DeArmas

Denali


The Great One



We had waited in anticipation this whole trip to see her. And even if you’ve come all this way like us, you only have a 30% chance to view this amazing mountain. She is so tall that the other 70% of the time she is shrouded in clouds as she creates her own weather patterns.


For this reason alone, we were very fortunate as not only did she let us see her, but she did so on two consecutive days. And when we went back on the third, she was gone, hiding behind the clouds as she does so often.


This National Park encompasses some of the most remote wilderness you can travel to. I try to compare her to the other parks and its not that easy. We have seen more wildlife in Yellowstone, Jasper, and Theodore Roosevelt National Parks. And we have seen beautiful mountains in the Grand Tetons, but you just can’t compare them to this remote stretch of the Alaskan Range.


While we were here, we took advantage of our time and sampled all we could during our most likely once in a lifetime visit. Jan will tell you about the wildlife in just a bit but let me tell you about some of the other things we did here.



The Great Alaskan Range

 

White Water Rafting


So, as you know by now, we are doing the Alaska part of our trip with a group of people with Adventure Caravans. One of the things we really like about this, is that there are things you can sign up for in addition to everything that is part of the trip. Well, Jan and I really did not sign up for the white water rafting, as the thought of rushing through very cold Alaskan water did not appeal to us in the warmth of our home in Michigan.


Well as the trip went on, we started looking at things a little differently and on our first night in Denali, Jan looked at me and said “The white water rafting sounds like fun, but I know it’s sold out”. Well, that’s all I needed. I quickly texted Teresa, one of our wagon masters, and said” I know this is most likely a no, but do you have a spot for 2?”.


And wouldn’t you know it, 2 people had canceled, and just like that we were in. And OMG am I glad. We had such a good time rafting down the canyon with all our new friends. I think the funniest part of this was that our wagon master, the aforementioned Teresa, did this in 2019 and she got to jump in the water. Now, you have to know we are all wearing dry suits so we should stay dry.


But things have changed a bit after Covid, and they were not doing that anymore. Well not only did she do it anyway, but she somehow got her husband Bob to go in as well. I expected that, but I did not expect one of our fellow travelers, Ernie, to also go in. I then got to help both Ernie and Bob back in the boat which was hard as I was laughing so much.


What a great day.

 


ATV’s


Now this one we had signed up for. I love to off road, and one thing we had done when we came to Alaska by cruise ship many years ago was go out on ATVs. I love driving those things and its fun to go out in the back country driving on all types of terrain.


Part of out trip was going down a riverbed that was partially dried out, but only partially. It was great running through the mud and water, and if we ever have a place in northern Michigan we are getting one of these!!!


This is one of those things where you're really just being a kid. Mud, water, riverbeds, four wheeling in the woods bordering Denali. You just don't want it to end.





 




Off Road Jeep Trip on the old Denali Highway

One of the tours that we could sign up for in Denali was an off road Jeep driving adventure, where you rent the jeep and drive down the old Denali highways which is very rugged.


When the guy told us about that, we started thinking, hey, most of us have jeeps or other four wheel drive cars, why pay all that money to rent one. Well our friends, Rob and Judie, looked up the route and found the tour narrative that is used to explore that road.


So they organized us and we all took our radios and went on a self-guided off road adventure. We had a great time and along the way Judie would tell us all the interesting facts as we made our stops.


Well, it was getting late, and we had to get back to go to the dinner theater that night, so we decided to drive until we came to the old lodge listed as a point of interest, figuring we could go in, get a drink, use the restroom, and go back.

Well, it seemed like a good plan, and then we got there.






Here’s the lodge, grin, and below are the hardy people that made it all the way there. My favorite part of this abandoned lodge is the chair on the porch, like someone would still sit there lol. As you may guess, no drinks were being served, at least in the past decade! What a fun day. Thanks Rob and Judie!!!


 

Jan’s fun Facts


My fun facts about Denali will of course be about Denali, which means ‘the great one’ or ‘the high one’ in the local Athabascan language. Denali’s peak is 20,310 feet above sea level, making it the highest mountain in North America.


Sled dogs are used to patrol the park in the winter months and the park service has used them since it opened in the 1920s. This is the only national park in the US that uses sled dogs.


The park is known for being home to the “big five” Alaskan animals: moose, caribou, dall sheep, wolves and grizzly bears.


Of course, we’re always on the lookout for the wildlife. We were lucky to see caribou, moose and bears. We found the best time to go looking is either in the early morning, (that leaves me out), or in the evening at around dusk.




There were a few of us out looking for wildlife when we came upon a bear. As we pulled over to see if we could get a good shot, a moose came out of the bush farther back. I was in heaven seeing both of them at the same time. Once I thought I got a decent shot of the moose I turned my attention to the bear.


He was in the bushes and I couldn’t really see him all that good. I was in the jeep standing on the seat with my head out of the sunroof, (I like to keep some metal between me and the wildlife). Whereas, Frank was out of the car trying to see this bear. He kept saying “I don’t see him”. Bob (our wagon master) kept telling him he’s right near you.


I kept telling Frank to get in the jeep because the bear was really right there (not more than 15 feet away). Finally our bear friend stuck his head up for a good shot when Frank screamed in a high pitched voice, "Oh Shit, he’s right by me".




As he was trying to get in the jeep, I got a shot but because of all the movement of Frank trying to get to a safe place, it’s a bit fuzzy, but will forever be one of my favorites. The bear was just looking at us like “where did you come from”.


After all the excitement, he decided to give everyone a show and walked out of the bushes and down the Main Street. It was truly a day to remember.


With that said, we did everything wrong when it comes to viewing wild animals. We’re supposed to keep our distance. That didn’t happen.


We’re supposed to be quiet, so not to get them agitated. Everyone was doing everything but being quiet.


It all turned out fine, but you just never know how they will react. If you’re ever out viewing, don’t follow our examples.


Just a shout out to Teresa and Bob (our wagon masters). The only time we saw wildlife was when we were with them. They were our lucky charm. Thanks guys.


 

And with that we say goodbye to Denali, and head for our next stop, Anchorage. As always we hope you enjoyed the blog and until next time, we will see you on the road!



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