And we’re off on a drive through the Alaska Range, home of Denali, the largest mountain on the North American continent. (Some people still insist on calling it Mt. McKinley, but we know better, don’t we?)
The highway follows and makes numerous crossings of the Nenana (NEE-nah-nuh) River as it cuts through the mountains. From Cantwell to the next town of Healy, the distance through the mountains is roughly thirty miles.
Fifteen miles into the mountains we reach the ghost town of Denali village, a strip of commercial development less than two miles long on both sides of the highway just north of the entrance to Denali National Park and Preserve. All this Wasilla-fication horrifies most Alaskans who like their highways scenic and not fraught with commercial signs, but it’s a welcome sense of civilization in the middle of nowhere for tourists, even if it is less than two miles long.
|One of the lodges way up on the hill.|
|Denali Salmon Bake, my favorite restaurant there.|
This is where all the lodges, outfitters, and restaurants are located. You can raft the Nenana River, buy a more or less authentic Native Alaska ulu (a curved knife with bone or wooden handle that’s shaped like a fifth of a pie), and feast on salmon, halibut tacos, and king crab legs. Or burgers or
ice cream or coffee.
|This is where I stay in my RV.|
|Can't say I've ever been in here.|
|During the summer, all the gift shops are always having a "giant sale."|
There’s also a Chinese fast food wagon where, if you order Almond Chicken you may not get Almond Chicken but Orange Chicken instead. (http://gullible-gulliblestravels.blogspot.com/2011/08/you-say-tomato-and-i-say-tomahto.html) Well, Pablo liked it a whole lot more than I did.
|And chewed his plate clean.|
Campers can get the gear they forgot, as well as Park-approved food storage containers that are a must when in grizzly country.
|Bear proof food storage container.|
|One of the local park denizens. DEN-izens--get it?|
You can gas up the RVs, buy tee shirts, some nice and some tacky souvenirs, and find the warm clothes and rain gear you should have brought with you but didn’t because, after all, it’s summer., isn’t it? Forgetting, of course, that this is Alaska and summer is on the Fourth of July, unless it snows. And I have seen it snow in Moose Pass on the Fourth of July.
But this drive is in March and it’s most definitely winter. As a result, Denali village is a ghost town. Even the traffic lights—so very necessary when thousands of people are packed into a mile and a half stretch—are covered and on vacation for the winter.
|Covered traffic light.|
During the summer months, most of these services are duplicated within a small village inside the park boundaries, and all of these places seem to do a whopping business during their three-month “season.”
Ah, but nothing moves in Denali village as we drive through. It’s vacant and boarded up, so let’s head north.
Summer photos from Denali Village:
|Overview of Denali village. See the serpentine road going to that lodge on the hill?|
|Part of Denali Village.|
|Terrific restaurant. Try it if you're ever there.|
|Inside the Salmon Bake restaurant.|
|Close up of a walking stick that sang a Siren's call to me. Just couldn't justify the price. Or the fact that it was made for someone a foot taller than me.|
|The white Denali Park buses are the only way you can get into the park.|
|Commercial area within the park.|
|How most cruise ship passengers get to the park.|