Sunday, July 22, 2012

Denali National Park: Day 1

 Despite the intensive planning and researching invested into this trip, we drove away from the base and towards the most famous tourist destination in Alaska stressed and nervous. This was our first time towing a camper trailer, and frankly reviewing and re-reviewing GCWR and GVWR data to see if our Ford Explorer could adequately tow it and everything we threw into it was steadily giving me an ulcer. Thankfully, after the first twenty minutes of the drive, Mister and I finally relaxed and started to enjoy the trip.

As we drove into Willow, the high one herself made a grand appearance. I need to reiterate how special this fickle as the weather in AK, the mountain (the tallest in North America, and some argue that technically it is the tallest in the world when measuring from base to summit and not counting elevation) is almost always shrouded in clouds. Over 70% (I believe that's the figure the ranger told us) of visitors who come to AK never get to lay eyes on this beauty. We weren't even halfway there yet, and there she was. Mister and I agreed it was a good omen.

Coming up closer to Talkeetna, the clouds drifted away for a minute to let us snap a pic of its peak.

When we were up in the area two weeks prior for a Montana Creek campout with friends, the girls had picked up a Junior Ranger Mountaineering Packet. Sophie and Liv completed the activities while we were in Anchorage, so we stopped by at the Talkeetna Ranger Station to submit the completed packets and collect the cool Junior Ranger patch.

After an hour and a half break in town, we drove off on the last half of the journey. We got to the park about three hours later (we took our time) and checked into the Riley Creek Campground.

Now, there are many many places to stay/camp near the park. We chose Riley Creek because it is within the park boundaries and close to all the services and centers within the entrance area. 

I had made reservations for a campsite online months prior to guarantee a spot, although site selection is not available.  Basically, when you check in (at the Mercantile), the host will give you a slip of paper that tells you what type of site you can have (according to the reservation you made) and instructions to simply drive around until you find a vacant site that fits your site category.

This is, by far, the nicest campground the fam has ever had the pleasure to stay in.  The grounds are immaculate, bear-proof dumpsters on site, spruce and birch trees sheltering you from neighbors, fire pit with grill grate, bench, and raised tent bed (although the girls used that as their "sand box" since we had a trailer). There are short walking trails connecting the loops of the campground to the Mercantile and the McKinley Station Trail. My favorite? FLUSH toilets!!!! Yes!!!! The bathrooms were ALWAYS clean and serviced daily by the friendly campground hosts. The Mercantile (a little shoppette) also offered free Wi-Fi, showers ($4 with clean towel), laundromat, and a dump and fill station for RV's (free for campground users, $5 for others).

We filled up the camper water tank, set up in our site, and finished dinner just in time for the 7:30 pm  Park Ranger presentation/program at the "Amphitheater" in the camp. That night it was about the birds that are in the park.

Our ranger was very animated and engaged the girls' (and everyone else's) attention, even coaxing the crowd to join in his "rap" song about a crossbill. 

After the girls got the ranger to sign off on their Junior Ranger packets, we explored the entrance area a bit and called it a night. Denali Day 1 =  success!

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