I was lucky to win a Denali Road Lottery pass this year, and was awarded Monday, Sept 19th as my day to drive in. After receiving confirmation of the win, we booked a campsite at Riley Creek Campground near the park entrance. We decided to spend two nights, so that we could have a leisurely day in the park. I invited my friend Joyce to go along with us on the drive, and she met us at the park Sunday afternoon and also camped for several days in her Winnebago. (You may remember Joyce’s vintage Winnebago from our week-long camping trip to Denali at the end of June)
SUNDAY – A BEAUTIFUL DAY FOR A DRIVE
Steve and I loaded the camper on Saturday, and were ready to go before 10am on Sunday morning. We woke to overcast skies, and a weather report that called for snow flurries in the park, with a possibility of rain. Fortunately, the forecast looked great for Monday’s drive.
Fall colors are long gone in most of Fairbanks and North Pole, but as you head south on the Parks Hwy, there are pockets of brilliant foliage still glowing in the sunshine. And closer to Nenana (60 miles south), it looks like autumn has just arrived with gold and yellow-leafed aspens and birch thick on the hills.
Closer to the park, spruce trees are more plentiful, and the ground cover was already brown. It sprinkled rain, and the clouds were dark and brooding at times. But the reduced light, and the wet roads made for a beautiful view. I love going to the mountains! The photos below were taken along the Parks Hwy between North Pole and Denali National Park.
This is one of the Alaska Railroad trestles along the Parks Hwy, on the way to Denali. I’ve never taken the train from Fairbanks to Denali, but have heard it’s a wonderful ride.
AFTERNOON and EVENING DRIVES INTO THE PARK
Me and Steve: We were checked in and set up at Riley Creek Campground a little before 1pm. We ate a quick lunch, and then took a drive into the park to mile 15. There were still pockets of yellow dotting the hillside, as well as along the road in places. And although most of the willow and birch brush was already brown, now and then there’d be an area where the leaves were more of a burnt umber. Under a grey sky, these brighter patches glowed in the diffused light.
Within the first 15 miles of the park road, there is a several-mile stretch closed to hikers and other off-road activities. All visitors must stay on the road. This particular area gets quite a bit of activity during the moose rut. More often than not, September is the perfect time to view not only cow moose and calves, but also bulls. If you’re fortunate, you get to see this rutting behavior right before your eyes. Bulls spar for dominance, cows rebuff multiple bulls’ advances, and bulls dig holes and urinate in them to make puddles for wallowing. (The scent of a bull moose’s urine is thought to trigger estrus in cows)
Somewhere around mile 11, a line of cars was pulled off the road and people were using camera lenses and binoculars to zoom in on three moose far up the hill. Two bulls (one was much younger, as evident by the size of his antlers) were quite interested in a cow moose. They followed her for a short distance across the hill. When she stopped to browse the bushes, the large bull chased off the younger one. While he didn’t run away totally, he remained about 100 yards from the pair.
And then the big bull jumped up on the cow and…
I’ve never seen moose mate. I didn’t know whether to feel lucky for the experience, or look away! (As a photographer, and a very interested bystander, of course I couldn’t look away! And… yes, I had to snap a photo too.)
WARNING: The center photo below is of mating moose: