Denali Highway – my little slice of heaven

Focus on the positives, right?  That’s the motto for this post.

My first positive is – my weather might be better than yours!  It’s been gorgeous here for weeks.  It rained lightly one night, but otherwise every day is partly cloudy and around 60 degrees.  Yesterday it was about 70.  Sigh.

The job has become a pretty hellish experience (Renee asking for a divorce doesn’t seem so bad in comparison), so we’ll just not talk about the job this time, OK?  Instead, let’s look at some pretty pictures and video from my rare adventures (hard to get out and explore when you work 13-15 hour days and have had 4 days off in 6 weeks!).

We’ll start with an image I’m pretty excited about.  Two weeks ago I spent the day on the Denali Highway.  Only in Alaska would a gravel road be called a “highway!”  This 135 mile road was the original way to get to the park, but became a by-way once the George Parks Highway was built in 1971 and created a more direct route to Denali from Anchorage.  I drove about 35 miles, went for a nice hike on the tundra and taiga, and then took my time driving back and shooting photos and video.

Near sunset I discovered this perfect pond framed with gorgeous mountains.  When these clouds rolled in… oh my.  Perfection.  I couldn’t have asked for more.  If I had a home anymore this one would be a candidate for a large print!

I spent almost 2 hours photographing this gorgeous pond and the 2 trumpeter swans hanging out in it. The light and clouds near sunset was absolutely fantastic.

This road is quite impressive, making me glad that a couple of co-workers turned me on to it.  I’ve since read that it’s often considered the prettiest drive in Alaska, so I’m delighted that I live 20 miles from it’s start (or end, depending on perspective).

I learned a valuable lesson that day on my hike – the tundra looks the same in most directions!  I intended to take a short walk, ended up walking for some time.  When clouds rolled in and obscured the mountains, I had no visual clues for direction.  I was pretty lost for a good hour.  Note to self – ALWAYS carry compass.

Probably everyone wants to see the Alaskan wildlife, so here is a short video with a few clips.  It’s very roughly edited so don’t expect National Geographic to come knockin’ on my door.  Video was shot in the park and on the Denali Highway.  I apologize in advance for the cheesy music – royalty-free music is the only way I can post videos with music.

Randomness can be a beautiful thing.  So imagine my delight when I came upon this decorated tree on the side of the road, 30 miles from the nearest town.   Send me an ornament and I promise to add it to the tree and take a photo!

I loved this random tree on the side of the Denali Highway, 30 miles from the nearest town.

Mt. McKinley (Denali) is of course the mountain that everyone wants to see up here.  Problem is, it is often obscured in clouds.  It’s also not near roads, except the park road, so when you do see it, the view is distant.  I’ve been lucky that it’s been visible nearly every time I’ve ventured out.  It’s impressive even from many miles away – it towers over everything else.  This is the view from my end of the Denali Hwy.

I’ve made a few trips down this road.  It’s accessible for me, it’s gorgeous – and it’s also the only place I know around here!  There’s also the fact that Alaska has very few roads.  Ahh… if only I had my own plane.

Denali Highway

Nenana River, Denali Highway

Nenana river at sunset, Denali Highway. This was such an incredible sunset! Since the sunsets last so long here, I was able to get a number of excellent images at several locations in one evening.

I used to be very excited about the opportunity to see Trumpeter Swans when I visited Yellowstone.  I’m quickly discovering that they are quite common in Alaska in the summer.  This couple apparently realized I was no threat after I spent over an hour photographing their pond and the mountains.  They showed no distress when I ended up about 15-20 feet from them.

Trumpeter Swans on Nenana River

And finally, I’ll leave you with a frightening story to scare your kids with at night.  This past Sunday I had the afternoon off so I decided to climb a random peak south of here.  After a nice climb to the summit and a walk around the ridgeline, I descended to the road.  While crashing through the willows and making noise like a good AK hiker, I found myself 10 feet from a momma moose and her days-old calf.   Yes – 10 feet away.  Gulp.

I started making soothing sounds to try to counteract her distress noises, and backed away from her (not easy in the thick brush).  When I hit a clearing she charged.  Either she knocked me down or I fell – it happened so fast I really don’t know.  She ended up directly above me, and I could smell her breath.  I managed a loud yell which seemed to startle her, and she ran off.  I am VERY LUCKY to get away with just some nasty scrapes and bruises.

For those who don’t know, moose are the most dangerous animal in Alaska.  Especially mother moose with their new babies!  There is a positive to my story however – I’ve become the talk of the Aramark properties here, and it’s a good reminder to everyone to be cautious!  Hopefully my close call will be the only incident all summer.

And on that note, I’ll sign off.  I’m already working on another post, so I’ll have that out soon.

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