As I mentioned in part 0 of Alaska adventures, I flew in to Fairbanks around midnight. I got to sleep in the delightfully welcoming cabin (this one booked via VRBO) by about 3am, and yeah, it was in a city called North Pole. (!)* I loved staying at this cabin, and found the hosts helpful and responsive. This post may have a lot of photos, but consider it obsessively curated for you to get the full experience.
On the Road:
After a healthy breakfast of DIY oatmeal and Starbucks fancy-coffee, K and I headed out for the 2.5+ hour drive south to Denali National Park. Maybe I’m just slow on the uptake, but I hadn’t put the two names together, Mt. McKinley and Denali, until I was packing for this trip and reading my copy of Fodor’s.
Fun fact: President Obama changed what was previously known as Mount McKinley back to Denali, an Athbascan name meaning “the High One”. At 20,310 feet, it is the highest point on the continent, and tallest mountain in the world.
Fodor’s Alaska p.328
On the way, we drove through lots of snow clouds kicked up by passing trucks that would obscure the entire roadway briefly, and whole clusters of buildings boarded up for the winter. This was definitely not high tourist season, and while it was an intermittent exercise in faith (faith that the road was relatively straight in a snow cloud), it was also a very scenic drive. The Athabascans named this northern forest “land of little sticks,” and I couldn’t help but agree as I gazed at the sweeping landscape, laced on road side with countless trees poking up toward the sky together.
To try: we stopped in at the Alaskan Coffee Bean in Healy for some caffeine.
Apparently, a sludge cup is brewed coffee + 2 shots espresso, popular with truckers. I was curious, but abstained since the midnight flight was already messing with my sleep. Let me know if you try it. The folks there were friendly, and plus, the place was open, hooray!
Alaska is often called the Last Frontier, but it’s also home to some of the oldest pieces of our collective human heritage. We crossed this very river mentioned on our drive out of the North Pole! Amazing.
The oldest human remains found in Alaska are 11,500 years old, the second-oldest Ice Age remains to be found in the world. Found in Central Alaska near the Tanana River, the remains of a three-year-old girl are thought to be those of an Athbascan ancestral relative.
Fodor’s Alaska p.20
At Denali National Park:
A video gift for you, hope it brings you some serenity and delight. Click subscribe at the end for more!
The Murie Science and Learning Center was open and full of friendly staff. They loan out snowshoes for zero dollars!** We opted to try the Healy Overlook trail, for as far as we felt we could go without having to drive all the way home in the dark.
From a display in Denali: “the trails within the legally designated Wilderness of Denali are put in and maintained by dog teams only. .. There are no marked trails here to guide your adventure.”
Related to the latter part of the video, turns out sled dogs have been using humans for company to traverse Alaska since well before European explorers started documenting it (the quotes I saw by Edward Nelson were from 1899).
Petite person sporting pro-tip from snowshoe experience: ask about the kids’ large size. Those sometimes fit better than the smallest adult size they (think they) have.
Kris couldn’t resist taking sentimental photos with his Denali-scented Old Spice deodorant. I wouldn’t argue if we got a sponsorship to come back some day soon, especially if it funded one of those beautiful multi-day journeys across the park by canine ranger. ;D Hint hint..
When I told my friend Dan, his eyes lit up in instant recognition of the Old Spice scent, “it smells like freedom!”
*This was the first clue that Alaskans seem to have a great sense of humor. Sidenote: somehow, the epic dramatic photo of the stovetop in the VRBO listing made me like this cabin even more.
**Naw, nothing’s free. It’s pre-paid in your tax dollars! They were Tubbs, a good brand. I still had trouble with fit and later with them staying on my shoes, but that’s normal. I still love the MSR’s I got too.