Sunday, August 4, 2013

Wild in Alaska

Denali Backcountry Lodge

       There's only one road that goes into Denali National Park.  It's about 90 miles long, and regular cars can only go on the first 15 miles.  After that traffic is limited to Park buses and a few local residents' vehicles.  
     The road is partially paved.   It's bumpy and dusty in the summer and snowed closed in the winter.  Some parts are single lane.   In a few spots, like at Polychrome Pass, it twists and turns and offers more thrills than an amusement park ride.   Bears, moose, and caribou graze within a few feet of it.   Some animals walk right down the middle of it.    Just riding the bus is a great adventure. 
        But there is more at the end of the road--four backcountry lodges--hidden away in the vast wilderness of Denali.   We were lucky enough to stay one night in the Denali Backcountry Lodge, although I wanted to stay there longer.   They were booked up so one night was all I could get.   This sign marks the turnoff.   

        The area is huge and very secluded.  One other lodge was visible from the road as we drove down a long hill toward our destination.  Later we looked up the mountainside from Moose Creek that ran past our lodge and saw the back of that lodge.   But the other two lodges were totally hidden from view.  I think one of them belongs to the Princess Cruise line, but I'm not positive.   If it's inside the Park, it has to be near here. 

      Here's the sign that marks the end of the road.   The air strip is a few feet past here.   Some people took flight seeing trips from here or flew back to avoid the long bus ride back.
       We went on a botany walk with one of the naturalists.  It may not be visible in the picture, but we were wearing mosquito netting and a ton of Dreet.   Fortunately this was the only place that the mosquitoes were really bad.  
       Not too far from the turnoff is this cabin.  A pioneer woman, Fanny Quigley, lived here for many years.  She was known for her pies and provided food for the miners and others.   The cabin was used by a few other people after her death, but now it has been restored as a landmark.   Every nail, board, table, etc., had to be hauled in from the outside!   She gardened and cooked, but it had to be a lonely way of life. 
         This area, Kantishna, was brought into the Park in 1980.  The private lands are "in holdings".  The Lodges remain, but the mining operations have ceased.   From this location the Park continues west to the sea, but there are no roads in that area.
       I loved the Denali Backcountry Lodge!   It's beautiful, spacious, and just rustic enough.   The main building is two story, with the main dining room downstairs and a library, fireplace, and small gift shop upstairs.  There was a wine and cheese party before dinner, and we enjoyed our  wine on the deck off of the library.  

             There are rows of "cabins" and a separate building where they serve lunch.   After dinner one of the naturalists gave a talk on owls in there, too.   Very interesting.   You can see that building in the picture below.   Even the swinging bridge was fun.   On the other side of Moose Creek was an old miner's tent, a maze, and a few other spots for reading and relaxing.

             A view of the buildings from the other side of the creek. 

      The Lodge was even better than I had imagined.   Lunch was very good and very informal.   Lots of options for sandwiches, soup and salad.   Many of the people were only there for a short time.   They had to return to town when the afternoon bus left.   
       Dinner, however, was gourmet quality.   It was only served to the overnight guests.   We were seated at tables for 6 so you had a chance to talk with other people.    Two of our table mates were from Australia, and the other two were from Washington state. 
        If you ever get the chance to go, do it!        

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