Three nights of beauty

If you’ve read my previous blog posts you know that I love the 135-mile long stretch of dirt road called the Denali Highway.   Last week I was able to use a holiday day to take a 3 day weekend.  Since I left Tuesday after work, I turned it into a 3 night trip.

Incredible scenery, peace and quiet, gorgeous camping sites, great hiking, and nearly perfect weather all combined to make for a wonderful trip.

135 miles of gorgeous. And it only got better from here! This is near my end of the road.

About the only way to make this trip better (besides being longer) would have been to see more wildlife.  But I have no complaints!

My first stop was the pond you have seen previously.  I’m doing a photo series on this pond, showing it in a full range of conditions – ice covered, melting, summer, full light, stormy, and then fall.  I was rewarded with incredible light on this visit.  The sky had an luminescence that was exciting to work in.

My first night of camping was at a spot I had scouted out the week before.  1/2 mile back on a side track, overlooking a gorgeous pond and the Nenana river.  Yeah – the view pretty much rocked.  And the ground rocked too – I had to deal with a less-than-ideal campsite in exchange for my private spot with a view.  But my Exped sleeping pad (thank you Bristlecone for introducing me to these pads!) made sure I slept well!

Home sweet home for the first night - a bluff overlooking this scene. I happily dealt with uneven ground in exchange for utter privacy and a fantastic view.

Morning found me slowly making my way further down the “highway” (I never fail to be amused at a dirt / gravel road called a highway).  My previous trips had only taken me about 40 miles down the road, so it was exciting to see new terrain.  And even more exciting to discover that I had missed the best part of the road!  I picked a random spot to pull off, and treated myself to a wonderful 4 hour hike in the alpine tundra.

There’s not as much wildlife along this road as there is in the park, at least not that I’ve seen.  I saw a bunch of porcupine on this trip, but always just quick glimpses.  Several moose and a bunch of caribou did make an appearance.  The caribou got annoying actually – they wouldn’t get off the road!  Watch this video and you’ll see that ptarmigan are definitely related to chickens.  They’re pretty funny.  For anyone who likes “cute” – Alaskan ground squirrels definitely qualify!

True story – the town of Chicken in northern Alaska was named “Chicken” because the residents didn’t know how to spell ptarmigan.

While the entire highway is beautiful, mileposts 90-40 are easily the most beautiful.  Lots of hallelujah moments along the way.  My slow drive through this section on Wednesday and Thursday was absolutely spectacular.  I found another marvelous spot to camp, and my cameras got a workout capturing the scenes.

180 degree panorama of 50 Mile Lake. Named for it's location on the highway, not it's size.

March of the clouds. I love the perfect line they formed.

In the late afternoon I found two perfectly situated beautiful ponds and the light on the verge of perfection.  Moments like this are when it’s best to travel alone.  I sat for an hour for the light to improve, and luckily it played nice.  I’m pretty excited about these three B&W shots from that evening.

The view from my tent on night 2. Quiet and relaxing.

Finishing all 135 miles of the Denali Highway in the tiny town of Paxson, I turned north on the Richardson Highway, the other route from Anchorage to Fairbanks (versus the George Parks Highway, which I live on).  The Alaska Pipeline parallels the highway for much of the route, and is certainly interesting even if only for it’s historic and engineering aspects.  It amazes me that this pipeline is completely open and accessible to the public.  It would not be hard for an ill-intentioned person to cause harm to the structure, since you can walk right up to it.

Driving the Richardson, I sensed that a great campsite might be available along the river.  I passed up several nice camping spots alongside creeks in the mountains to go with my hunch – and I wasn’t disappointed.  The spot I found is certainly in the top 3 car-camping spots I have ever experienced.

My campsite on the 3rd and final night of the trip. This photo doesn't begin to do the scene justice. I was in a gorgeous open field at the end of a track, with the Delta river just 100 feet away. Glacier covered peaks on three sides. The Richardson highway was only 1/4 mile away, but I was barely aware of that.

If you want to see a bit more, this one minute video shows and explains more.

After driving through the Alaska Range, I was disappointed that the rest of the Richardson, while hardly ugly, was nothing special.  I spent a few hours in Fairbanks, saw a movie in the theatre (a real treat when you live in the park!), and then drove home.

Good weekend – hopefully more to come!