I’ve never been to the mall of America, but I imagine that if I did visit, and only stepped into one or two shops, I’d be disappointed at the missed opportunity of enjoying the scope of its offerings. It would definitely be a challenge to visit all the stores in a day, but with some work and a weekend, you could probably see a few things, right?
Denali National Park is a lot like that.
First of all, personal vehicles are only allowed in the first 15 miles of the park. Buses shuttle visitors beyond that guarded mile post, and back country permits are required for anyone camping beyond Savage River (located around mile 15). In a day, an avid outdoorsman could probably take on several shorter, lower elevation hikes before that mile post. But to really comprehend the beauty and vastness of Denali National Park, several weeks, maybe months or years of exploration would be required of a visitor. It’s cruel how little of the nation’s greatest national park we can see in a short weekend visit.
I’m still in the throes of a DNP withdrawal, obviously.
Beyond mile 15, all the way to mile 92 (an end point I may never see), endless mountains roll along the horizon. Snow melt and rain water dribble to the valley floor, tumbling into icy rivers varying in width and current.
Wildlife freckles the landscape; a few branchy antlers poking up from a riverbed — a resting caribou herd, white dots drifting over a grassy knoll — dall sheep traveling, a lanky, lumbering animal crossing the road — a hungry moose grazing; all normal sights in DNP.
After a day of travel and visiting the entrance trails at the Park, we all checked in at Denali Cabins, 8 miles north of the DNP entrance. My in-laws had the cabin next to ours, and volunteered to watch the kids for Isaac and I while we grabbed a hot meal at the on-site restaurant Prey.
Traveling with our kids’ grandparents was great. I don’t think I changed a single diaper the entire weekend, and entertaining the littles was completely taken off my to-do list. It was a wonderful break from my normal duties, especially since I’m currently back to single mom life while Isaac is working in Mongolia for a few weeks.
Vegan food was not hard to come by in the local restaurants, thankfully, and I think Margot had a nice break from the vegan cheese I give her — as evidenced by how quickly she downed vegetarian mac ‘n cheese.
Our cabins were comfortable, with wonderfully upscale linens, and thick blackout curtains (something we still need to invest in to block out the midnight sun in Fairbanks). By the way, travel with kids is not easy, but Isaac and I have fallen into a travel rhythm of each co-sleeping with one child in a bed, and compromising their bedtime and ours at a middle-ground of 10pm. It’s not a perfect system, but it works.
Our second, and final day at DNP was well rounded out. Starting off with the creature comforts of lattes and hot breakfasts at the Black Bear Coffee Shop, we headed into the Park for a leisurely two mile hike along the Savage River. The alpine hike towered above, almost disappearing into the rain clouds at times.
After a fierce debate with Isaac the day before, on whether or not we should take the Mount Healy trail four miles up into the stratosphere, I finally convinced him there were plenty of opportunities for us to hike strenuously in the future. Following a long car ride with two unpredictable kids, rainy weather, and in-laws on vacation was just not screaming we must summit! to me. I’m going to go ahead and assume I saved us from a bear encounter, or a really bad leg injury with that call.
The sled dog tour sounded appealing to all, so we hiked Savage River and made our way to the shuttle bus stop for a ride to the kennels.
To see real dogs doing real jobs was a little bit of a disappointment, only in the sense that I couldn’t help but compare my senior beagle Sally to this pack of working dogs, and let’s be real — Sally is a lazy non-dog with a serious superiority complex by comparison.
Denali Sled Dogs travel hundreds of miles in the fierce Alaskan winters to patrol the park from poachers, to rescue citizens in distress, and to deliver goods to rangers in the back country. My Sally won’t even go outside to pee if it’s raining or cold.
But I guess if you put a raucous sled dog in my house for a day, I’d seriously appreciate how laid back and content my shelter pet is.
After a busy day on the trails, and at the kennel, we popped over to the 49th State Brewery for libations and grub. Christie sat with a sleeping Margot in the van while the rest of us ate inside. Heavy rains and then hail fell in a downpour while we were in Healy, but it dried up enough on our two hour ride home to let us all snooze if only for a bit.
Sally welcomed us home with whiny excitement, and I’d like to say the kids settled back into a routine, but Margot asks to go hiking or camping on the reg, and Woods is keeping me on my toes with his wild sleep patterns and calamitous teething cries. Both are soothed by long walks outside.
When Isaac comes home from Mongolia, we’re going back out for more.