Sunday, May 20, 2007

Denali


After a stressful semester, James completed finals and moved on to full time work at Rodney P. Kinney and Associates. I was quickly moving toward the end of the high school year and had one "wellness day" to take, a "use it or lose it" free day off for me. We decided to just take a couple of days and get away to relax and reconnect.

After reading on CNN.com (no kidding) about how Denali park (the park in central Alaska where Mt. McKinley lives) was trying to coax tourists up to visit in May and offering nice deals to do so, we decided to call up there and find a nice hotel to stay for a few days while we scouted the area. Everything was sold out or not available, but I finally found a private hotel listed as the Denali Lake View Inn in Healy, Alaska. We booked the Misty Lake room, packed our bags, dropped off Titus at the Catos to play with Snoopy, and left on Thursday afternoon after I finished work.

It had been a long time since we had driven north. I love how you can watch the tree shapes change as you drive and see the tall cottonwoods and birches gradually shrink as the ground becomes shallower due to permafrost. Driving into the Denali region, the mountains seem to grow up around graceful valleys and animal life is plentiful if you keep sharp watch among the trees. Even though I am no stranger to a continual mountain view, seeing mountains that I'm not familiar with from every angle strikes awe into my heart. We laughed as we passed the sign "Welcome to Denali Park" a snowshoe hare nearly did a suicide run underneath our wheels. We swerved in time.

After passing the big, fancy Denali hotels in a little town designated for tourists, we traveled up the road another 10 miles to a little one-horse town, drove off on a dirt track for another two, and pulled up in front of a non-descript building sitting by a lake. The strict rules: REMOVE YOUR SHOES and NO SMOKING were placidly obeyed by us as we entered a pleasant, plushly carpeted home-like hall, descended the stairs, and found "Misty Lake" room.


It was a nice surprise. Unlike many hotels, cookie-cutter rooms decorated in hunter green and brown with ducks or flowers hanging on the wall, this place went out of its way to be as comfortable and kind as possible. The large picture window facing the lake (surrounded by mountains) had an accompanying porch where you could sit at a picnic table and enjoy a peaceful evening. A little table for two had been set with cloth napkins. The fridge was equipped with milk, juice, and a fruit and pastry platter for breakfast. A coffee pot and microwave invited you to make coffee, hot chocolate, tea, or cider for a cool evening. The bed was outfitted with comfortable blankets, sheets, and pillows (including a memory foam pillow that I wanted to take home with me!). Two little moose sat on the bed. A plush recliner rocker sat in front of a television that assured us that all shows were edited to TV ratings, there were no R ratings showing on cable. A little book sat on the dresser where people before us had recorded their positive experiences at Denali while staying in our room (kind of odd to think of too much). The nice sized bathroom was outfitted with a Jacuzzi tub. All in all, it was just what we needed, a soothing place that pampered us just a little.


After a relaxed evening, we prepared to sleep in, but we got a $700 wake up call (as James likes to call it) when the mechanic called to tell me that the simple wheel problem on our Subaru, that we had left at the shop over the weekend, was actually a much more expensive brake problem, which they would fix for $700. No fun. Anyway, we had a relaxed morning in our cozy room, then set out to see Denali.

At the park we discovered that we had come the last possible day to drive 30 miles into the park in our own car. On Saturday, the park would be restricted to paying passengers on one of their shuttle or tour buses and the restrictions wouldn't be lifted until the snow came and prevented travel on the roads anyway. We enjoyed the nice museum at the new visitors center with true to life depictions of animal carcases, bear scat, and fly larvae (no kidding) along with some nicer subject matter. Then we took a leasurely drive into the park.

Although we did not catch sight of "The Tall One" or "The Tall One's Wife" as the native peoples named McKinley and Foraker. We did see 24 caribou, 16 ptarmigan, 3 bear, 2 moose, and at least 30 snowshoe hares (we were sure that we counted the same ones twice after a while). I posted pictures of the first caribou and ptarmigan we saw. The bear was the coolest because even though it was far away, it was definitely a mama bear in a thicket on the river bed. James and I caught sight of two little brown rolly-polly things moving around with her. We wished we had packed binoculars, but a nice lady shared hers with us. It was fun.





After returning to our room for a nap (we told you this trip was about relaxing), we dressed up and went to town. Far above the valley in a hotel/restarant built by (literally, he oversaw the whole construction) one of our brothers from Fairbanks, Raymond Lynch, we shared a delictable house salad with bleu-cheese dressing and a prime rib steak all while enjoying a breathtaking view. In the middle of it all, I accidentlally reset the camera to take low quality pictures, but at least the clear ones remain in our memories. Later, back in our room, we shared a pint of Hagan Daaz ice cream while I beat James at Settlers of Catan (don't let him tell you differently!).



God blessed the next day and our trip home as well. The skies cleared enough for us to view the magnificent Mt. McKinley. We caught view after view from every angle and took our time driving back down the highway taking pictures at every stop. What a trip!

5 comments:

  1. Wow, great post! McKinnley looks like a lot of fun and how lucky you were able to drive up there in your own car.

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  2. That Inn you stayed in sounds like what David and I are wanting to find for our summer vacation - which I'm determined to take! How awesome! My only problem is that David has to drag me out of such places. I could stay in bed about 22 hours a day!

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  3. brandon price6:06 PM

    Hey, glad you guys have started to update your blog. Glad you took a trip alone...those are my favorite. E-mail whenever you get the chance. -Brandon

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  4. Ben Baker12:18 PM

    sounds awesome andrea! i really look forward to doing those kinds of things with my wife up in alaska whenever that time may be! i have always enjoyed that drive, at least when im the passenger, because the mountains and trees and skyline always sparks my imagination and thoughts. i do some of my best thinking then. anyways its comforting to read this while im down here, so keep writing. in him - Ben

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  5. Nice Pictures, but did you guys have seperate beds in your hotel?

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