Prevalent along the roadside from British Columbia to Alaska is a wildflower called Fireweed. It is the territorial flower of the Yukon Territory. We were told that Fireweed got its’ name because it is the first plant to reappear after a forest fire. In Alaska, the initial blooming of Fireweed is considered a sign the middle of summer has been reached. The flower blooms from the bottom to the top and it is said when the fire reaches the top summer is over.

White water rodeo

White water rafting down Nenana River, Denali

White water rafting down Nenana River, Denali

After having seen Denali by land and air, we rafted down a 22.5 mile stretch of the Nenana (rhymes with fun to say) River which runs along the eastern border of the park. The Nenana is glacier-fed, meaning ~24 hours before it arrived at the stretch we were riding down, the water was ice. Nothing more refreshing than a face-full of glacier water first thing in the morning! Luckily, we were well-outfitted. I had on everything in my suitcase (anyone who knows me, knows this is not an exaggeration), plus they gave us full-body dry suits to pull on over everything else. I had a smile frozen to my face the whole time. Such an amazing experience. Made even better by the world’s best guide, Tim. He not only let me “ride the bull” (sat on very front of raft with feet dangling over water and rode rapids), but he also treated us to a very well-delivered, well-timed rendition of a song from Charlie and the Chocolate factory as we cruised down Train Wreck Rapid. Check out video clip!!

Emmitt Peters, Jr. – Dog Musher

Emmitt's Sled Dogs

Emmitt’s Sled Dogs

After lunch at the Kantishna Lodge, at the end of the road into Denali National Park, we had a choice of two optional activities, panning for gold or watching a presentation on dog mushing. Frankly, neither particularly appealed but, loving dogs, we chose the latter. Fate favored us once again; Emmitt Peters, Jr.’s presentation on dog mushing was a highlight of the trip. Emmitt, a competitive dog musher himself, is the son of an Iditarod hall-of-famer, who smashed the previous record of 21 days by winning his first Iditarod race in 14 days, changing the way the race has been run ever since. Emmitt, the father, Started the Iditarod thirteen times and finished  in the top 10 ten times.

Emmitt, the son, has been mushing since before he can remember. His knowledge of the subject is encyclopedic. Even better, his comedic lines, delivery and timing are as good as any stand-up comedian you have ever enjoyed. He is knowledgeable, engaging and hilarious! The subject proved most interesting.

The embedded video is crude, the audio distracting and the videographer apparently dozed off towards the end. Stick with it, though, to see the dogs straining to get going.

We had to cheat, but we saw Mount McKinley’s summit

Picture of Mount McKinley Summit

Mount McKinley Summit

Only thirty percent of the visitors to Denali National Park get to see the summit of Mount McKinley. Clouds obscure the peak most of the time. We were able to see it only because, on our flight back from Kantishna to Denali, the cloud layer did not reach the summit and our pilot was able to get us above the clouds. Had we not chosen to fly back out of the park, rather than riding the bus back, and been lucky enough to get a pilot who made a special effort to get us a view of McKinley’s peak, we would have been among the seventy percent who never see the summit.

Seeing the park at 7 mph

Scenery on bus trip through Denali

Scenery on bus trip through Denali

We took a 90 mile bus trip from the park entrance to the small mining community of Kantishna, which lies within the park. The bus meandered along a very curvy..and sometimes nerve racking..road through the park. We crossed several passes with dramatic views, but the highlights of the journey for me were the animals. We saw a Moose, Dall sheep, Caribou, and a mama Grizzly with her two cubs.

Sorry Banff, Denali stole my heart

Denali "Welcome" Sign

Denali “Welcome” Sign

Arrived at one of the most wild and wonderful places I have ever been..Denali National Park and Preserve. The park is the size of the state of Massachusettes (over 6 million acres), and the rugged terrain is unmarred by man. Access around the park is highly restricted with only authorized vehicles being able to travel the roads and NO vehicles of any sort allowed off the road. The vastness and natural beauty is overwhelming, and wildlife runs the show. The “crown jewel” is Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in north America (20,237 feet). The area is very seasonal, but the “characters” who flock there for the summer add a unique/quirky edge to the area. Dad and I fit right in 🙂 See posts on bus trip, flight, and whitewater for pics of park.

Back into the wild

Packing up this morning and heading to Denali National Park for 3 nights of camping. Not sure what Internet connection will be like there, so may be “off the grid” again for a few days. Next stop after that is Anchorage. Will be back in blogging action there.