At nineteen years of age, I decided to pack up and head to Alaska, to live in Denali National Park, a 6 million acre park! I did not know what to expect. I knew no one there and I had no idea what I was in for! So here I am with no money, broke from starting college, and wanting to go to Alaska, specifically Denali National Park, notoriously known for its 20,310 ft mountain, Mount Denali.
So I got a job in the National Park as a bus washer, had a cabin in the park to live in (maybe stayed there four nights- I preferred the woods), booked my plane and went. I flew to Anchorage and then took an 8 hour train ride to Denali (and may I must add, that train ride is a must do!
Train ride from Anchorage to Denali
Most beautiful 8 hours I’ve experienced on a trail ride. And there was an outside cart, so you were able to stay outside of the train and take pictures. I think I saw the inside of the train for 10 minutes.
I quickly realized what I was in for. I grew up in Buffalo, NY. The biggest mammal we have is a white-tailed dear and a black bear if your lucky to see one.
I was walking to work one day (and this is in Alaska), through the woods and was ever so smartly starring at my feet (smart idea when your in bear country). Not paying any attention to my surroundings, I literally walked right into a bull moose’s ASS! Not kidding or exaggerating. The bull moose turns around and looks right at me, (and for the moose to be looking at me he has to look down,) there so BIG! Anyways, I ran right behind a tree. I knew as long as a tree (a big tree) was between me and the moose, I would be o.k. And I was. The moose ran off in one direction and I went the complete opposite direction and did not stop running until I was safe and at work. That was my real first experience in Alaska.
(Not the same moose) but to give you perspective, if you were standing on that ground, those bushes would be over your head.
Backpacking in Alaska
When you backpack in Denali, it is a unique experience. A person has to realize that there is no one to “hold your hand,” as I put it. There are very few trails. Most National Parks are designed for trails and have trail systems leading you throughout the park. Not this one. In order to really see Denali National Park, you have to go off the trail and create your own. And when you are in the back-country, there are no bridges over creeks and streams. There are no signs telling you how many miles your walking, because there are no trails, and there are no directions on where to go. It is literally you and the wilderness. It is very cool, but, you need to be extremely comfortable in your map and compass reading skills. You get reminded of where you are very quickly when you stumble upon sights like this….
If a bull moose can die in the wilderness, so can you.
People call these sites, “kill sites.” When you’re out there, you get reminded quickly that in reality, you are insignificant when it comes to the Alaskan wilderness. You realize just how small you are and that anything can happen. You need to learn how to adapt to the environment instead of fighting it, because unfortunately, you will loose. And I’m not trying to scare you out of this because hiking in this remote section of this land is so wonderful. Just as long as you realize where you are, know how to read map and compass, you should really enjoy your time in Alaska, and hopefully you will set yourself up for glorious adventures like this…..
Road trip anyone, Dumb and Dumber style!!!!
I had the spontaneous idea to rent a scooter and ride it all the way to Fairbanks and back in one day, which is about a 4 hour drive one way when your driving a car, over the speed limit. Not a scooter that goes 35 miles per hour! Let me just say, I did not make it back in time for my trade in, and the owner of the shop was pissed! But, it was well worth it!
I ended up living in Denali for the summer during my break from college, a total of four months. During that four months, I “adopted” a sled dog. A sled dog still needs his/her exercise during the summer to keep up his/her stamina for the winter. My dog’s name was Tephra and I loved her so much. So much I still think about her today, a decade later.
Transportation in the park
So when you visit Denali, there are some rules and regulations, just like any other park. First of all, if you have your own, car, truck, whatever, you can only drive into the park for the first 15 miles on the only dirt road they have entering the park, which is 92 miles long. This is where the buses come into play (the buses that I clean). Every visitor entering the park has a choice. Only go in for 15 miles and the only option after that is to hike through the park or, pay for the bus tour and venture into the park however far you choose. There are different buses that go different lengths. You can choose a half day trip which will go to the visitor center and turn back or take the longer bus ride that goes all the way to Kantishna, the last stop on the 92 mile stretch. During this bus tour, it is very common to see the “big five,” which is what the locals call it. Moose, Bear, Wolves, Caribou, and Dall Sheep. And you can stop anywhere you would like to venture out into the great wide open 🙂
The Mama Bear Is Literally Smiling!
The mom, I think, is teaching the little cub how to dig, so cute!
So while you are on this bus, it is entirely up to you to decide if you want to get off the bus and venture into the 6 million acre park of awesomeness! There are buses running continually throughout the day so if you want to go for a day hike, you can do that, or if you are more prepared, you can go off and backpack. All you need to do is tell the park rangers where you are going. Very simple. And you can hop on and off any bus you would like if you did go out and explore.
Every day is also different in the park. It is never the same and this one particular day i got to see an avalanche off Denali.
This picture is hands down one of my favorite pictures. This was my camping site and on this same day, I packed up in a hurry because there was a male brown bear lurking down by the water. It is literally inevitable to backpack through here and not experience the big five. I’ve had a pack of wolves traverse right next to me when I was eating my lunch, had a momma bear and her two cubs literally walk right into my campsite, had a bull moose literally in touching distance from me (and this is not even the same bull moose at the beginning of the story). Just use your precautions and remember where you are.
Ha ha ha, I remember this moment like it was yesterday. I stumbled upon this and was like “oh look there’s bear, and wolf and caribou but there’s no humans, so I picked up my foot and pressed it into the mud and put humans on the map. I will say that it is rare to find other backpackers out here. I did not see many.
One thing that I really like about Denali is, there is a new experience at every corner. One thing that I never got used to was seeing “kill sites.”
You just never know what your going to stumble upon.
Just be careful out there and you will have a hell of a time! Denali National Park is gorgeous, breathtaking, beautiful and every other synonym that goes with this. And if you can, don’t miss out on the fall. But be wary. The fall comes and goes in the blink of an eye. The land is fantastic. It goes from green and brown to red and gold in just three days!
And make sure you see Mt. Denali as it is the tallest mountain in North America.
To get the perspective on how tall this mountain is, I put a pair of binoculars to my camera lens and took a picture of the top of the mountain. The two peaks you see on the mountain are three miles apart!
Denali National Park is just a wonderful place to experience. I’ve never felt so intuitive to nature before. Trying to read the land and seeing non-stop vista after vista. It never got old! Glad I got to share this with you guys. I love talking about my experience in Denali National Park.
Have a Wonderful Day!!!!