Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Denali Highway - It's Not What You Think

The Denali Highway in Alaska is not a highway in the traditional sense.  According to dictionary.com a highway is "a main road, especially one between towns or cities".  The Denali Highway is not a main road.  There are no multiple lanes with on ramps, street lamps, or painted lines on asphalt.   It is a 134-mile-long dirt road that links Paxson (population 40) to Cantwell (population 222).

Lonely Highway
When the Denali Highway opened in 1957, it was the only road to Denali National Park and Preserve until the completion of the Parks Highway in 1972. Prior to 1957, Denali national park was only accessible only by railroad.

Today few people travel the Denali Highway.  It is a direct route if any of the 40 people in Paxon want to visit the 222 in Cantwall.   Other than that, it's pretty much tourists and photographers that travel the road. The October 2010 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine lists the Denali Highway as number 2 in their list of “roads that are pure fun to drive” highlighting “the gritty charms of a remote Alaskan highway.”

We spent a few hours one afternoon and traveled about 30 miles down the highway from Cantwell.   The scenery along the road is beautiful.   Being an unimproved road, you can pull off most anywere and not worry about traffic.
Wide Open Spaces
After the first few miles the road turns to gravel and most signs of civilization disappear.  No gas stations, fast food, power lines or buildings to obstruct the view.

We stayed here for a while
We spent 3 hours on the highway and could have spent days.   Every turn reveals new exciting view of beautiful landscapes in every direction.   We didn't turn back until it was getting dark.  I wouldn't trade any of our time in other areas of Alaska, but when we go back we will spend more time and travel the entire 134 miles.

It's Not A Secret
We stopped and spent a while at this little creek.  The grasses had turned golden, the creek was peaceful, and the clouds were blowing around the mountains in the distance.   It was the kind of place where you can stay and stay.

When we stopped at the creek there was another photographer there from Colorado doing the same thing.   We traded places along the edge of the creek stealing each other's shots.
Gold wasn't the only fall color.  A colorful sight in most of the places we visited, fireweed thrives in open meadows, along streams, roadsides, and forest edges. In some places, this species is so abundant that it can carpet entire meadows with brilliant pink flowers.  Even after the flowers fall the stems are brilliant red or purple with wispy parachutes that blow in the wind spreading the seeds.

The name fireweed stems from its ability to rapidly colonize areas burned by fire.

God Beams


Grass In Lake
Near the end of our journey down the highway we stopped at a small lake.   The sky was getting dark and the water perfectly reflected that dark sky.   I thought these clumps of grass were pretty cool.

We spotted a couple Trumpeter Swans at the far end of the lake.   The Trumpeter Swan is the largest of North American waterfowl.  It summers in Alaska before migrating down the coast to a slightly warmer client.   It is also a conservation success story, returning after being reduced to near extinction by the early 20th century.

Trumpeter Swans

We made our way down the lake getting closer and closer to the Swans.  I made more photos each time we stopped afraid that they would fly off at any moment.   They never left, gracefully swimming back and forth looking for food under the water.

It was getting dark at this point and it was difficult to make photos from a long distance in the low light.   All the Swan photos were shot with a 420mm telephoto lens on a tripod.  There was no other way to get these shots.

Show Off

We stayed as long as possible, but had to return to our cabin for one more night before heading off to Seward.   This last photo was taken just outside our cabin when we woke up the next morning.

McKinley Creekside Cabins
It had snowed overnight and the mountains were covered with a light snow.  What a beautiful way to end our time at Denali National Park.

The cabins were a neat place to stay outside Denali.   Let me know if you have questions about where we went or where we stayed on our trip.  I can tell you about some fantastic places!

1 comment:

  1. Wow! That is extraordinary. Would love to go there someday.