Thursday, September 14, 2017

Wednesday, September 13, 2017 - From pull-out at east end of Denali Hwy           to McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge on Parks Hwy (north of Anchorage)

We stayed toasty warm last night inside a sleeping bag with one additional cover. The worst part is getting out during the night!  We cannot be drinking after 5:00pm! 

During the night we heard it rain, and I could not see any stars through the skylight, so I was not surprised when we woke-up to clouds being over the mountains.  It was disappointing.  Due to the temperatures outside, we did not make a cup of coffee - we were on the road ASAP! To our pleasant surprise, down the road about two miles was a Roadhouse/Restaurant.  Just because a restaurant/café has been in a location, does not mean they are still open – either due to the season, or financially.  We stopped at the McLaren River Lodge for a big Miner’s Breakfast (we split it!).  There is no way 1 person (our age) can eat these big Alaska servings. We remember this from being here in 1999.

The McLaren River Lodge was full of hunters, also having breakfast and warming-up.  We had several interesting conversations with different guys about hunting in Alaska.  We were able to ask them questions we have had along the way. 

Hauling 4-wheelers - Trailer used to carry carcass out after hunt

Even though the clouds were hanging over the mountains, the landscape in the foreground was very colorful – the higher the elevation, the more intense the colors.  At certain locations, some of the short bushes(2-3ft) have just lost their leaves, giving way for the shorter (8- 12 inch) brighter red bushes to show through, giving the hillside a red hue – these short bushes are blueberry bushes.  Most of the blueberries were dropped (seasons over), but there were still a few, so that we enjoyed a few handfuls. One of the hunters said he had some on his pancakes this morning!

As we have said, there are hunters EVERYWHERE. On almost every mound, hunters were looking into the valleys with binoculars for any movement.  There are reports of caribou herds coming to the area. The hunters (male and female) use ATV’s to navigate trails off the main road, they use horses with a pack horse to navigate narrower trails, and they use boats to navigate rivers.  They are not just interested in shooting game, but getting it out of the wilderness, before bear, wolfs or coyote have too large a portion of the kill. Alaskan hunting laws say they cannot field dress it and leave ANYTHING behind.

Hunting Camp Site

Alaskan hunting regulations are very strict regarding everything – such as the size of a moose – if one is killed that does not meet regulations, you must report it, or the fines and consequences are prohibitive.  When you do report it, there is a small fine and the meat is given to charity.   We have seen LOTS of State of Alaska Rangers on the roads – this is a busy time for them.  

We took our time, driving 20-25 mph across the Denali Highway, hoping the clouds would lift. At some locations, the clouds would move up a little, but then down again.  There would be a small patch of blue sky, but then it was gone! It was discouraging!  Later it began to rain!! By the time we reached the Parks Highway, at the west end of Denali Highway, there was low cloud cover and constant rain! We could not begin to see anything of the range where the mountain Denali is located.
Blueberry Bush

All we could see of the mountains - Disappointing

We drove south a little way to the McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge we saw advertised.  Not knowing it was a Lodge for Princess Cruise Lines.  It definitely was an over-the-top facility for Alaska, but their prices were reasonable for walk-ins like us. This ship is the last one for the season.  The Lodge closes this weekend for the 2017 season.    

We are going to be having more problems regarding lodging and restaurants, as places are closing for the season, even though this is a beautiful time of the year in Alaska.  We are not sure what we are doing tomorrow – the weather in the morning will make our decision. They say 90% of visitors do not see Denali, and we will be one of them.  In 1999, we saw it for about 10 minutes, from a great distance – approx. 70 miles, but I’m afraid this time, there will not be a glimpse.

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