Unlike a lot of other less stirringly named roads, this highway stays high and affords drivers views down into the nooks and crannies below. The road also provided George with the perfect opportunity for another Hero time lapse.
I felt a lot of nationalistic pride as we set eyes on the Canadian border crossing. It didn’t hurt that the post was surrounded by stunning views painted with a fall palette. George and I were quickly realizing that the open roads and more importantly isolated places we thought we would find in Alaska were waiting for us in the northern Canada.
We started driving to Chena Hot Spring from Denali National Park in the early afternoon and had plans to stop somewhere on the road. Instead, we ended up pushing to get to Chena. We rolled in around midnight which in itself was disorienting. After wandering around in the dark looking for someone official, we stumbled into a large building that looked like it had some activity. Had we inadvertently driven through the center of the earth? The hall was full of Japanese staff and Japanese tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of the northern lights. One of the draws of Chena was it’s good location to view the lights. In any case, we found some resort staff and got the camping details sorted out.
The next day things were much clearer. The sun was shining and we had a nice camping spot. There was a large igloo (another draw of the resort) nearby, but it only added to the coolness factor of the camp spot. I’m told the first version of the igloo that included an ice ceiling collapsed. The new, improved and still standing model was closer to a large shed with ice walls.
In the next few days, we partook in the hot springs, took a tour of the grounds including a green house and geothermal plant, and treated ourselves to some delicious appletinis. I also forced George into the restaurant. There was no way I was leaving Chena without a salad made with organic green house veggies. Delicious. Yes carnivores, I think veggies are DELICIOUS.
Almost the first thing we encountered pulling into Denali was a motorcycle plastered with stickers from the Americas and laden down with lots of stuff. This bike had clearly been driven through the Americas and we wanted to talk to it’s rider. This was our first overlander encounter. We did get an opportunity to chat with him. He gave us his overlander card and we made a mental note to make one of our own. He then shared a french toast breakfast with us huddled under our tarps in our rainy and a little chilly camp.
The only way to access Denali is on a bus, so the next morning we got on the first 6:15 am bus. The theory was that there would be more wildlife sitings if we went earlier because there would be no buses ahead of us to scare them away. We did see a lot of wildlife later in the day, but what we were greeted with was snow and frigid temperatures. Wasn’t this August? I layered up and withstood the cold, which was a good thing. The park and in particularly Mount McKinley (highest point in North America) did not disappoint.
We decided against any backcountry camping because a man had just been killed by a bear a few days before we arrived. The man did not keep his distance and paid dearly for the mistake. There are really no trails in Denali. It’s big, it’s open, and don’t think you climb a tree because there are none. Fellow visitors reported the hiking to be slow going because the ground is soft and wet. I don’t want to discourage hiking the park though. I expect there are some pretty breathtaking views if you’re willing to cowboy up.