Posted May 16, 2023 – Narrated by Carmen
“Listen to the mustn’ts child.
Listen to the don’ts.
Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts.
Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me …
Anything can happen child. Anything can be.”
We are all born with a mountain in our heart.
Call it passion, ambition or soul – this mountain compels us to rise.
Even before taking first steps, your tiny arms stretch toward something in the far distance.
This mountain of longing is not in your imagination. It’s bigger than that.
You can’t always see it but you know it’s there.
You see the signs.
The mountain is a comfort.
It’s your pivot point, your base camp.
We hoped to see Denali from several pullouts along the way but clouds and fog obscured the view.
According to our research, chances were slim to nil of actually seeing Denali, which had been shrouded in cloudy seclusion for weeks.
Whenever we had a whisper of a cell signal, we’d check our sources for day-to-day projections – calculate chances of an appearance – and then try to forget about it.
Denali National Park and Preserve
Fortunately, this captivating Park was more than a mountain. We had plenty of area to explore right from our serene and minimally developed campsite.
We were about a quarter of a mile from the railway bridge …
beside Riley Creek …
and only a mile from town on the scenic bike lane.
We chose Riley Creek because it’s the only campground within the National Park with cell service, and staying in the park gives us the freedom to enter and exit as we please.
Denali National Park and Preserve covers more than six million acres and is larger than the state of New Jersey.
To prevent destructive overcrowding traffic is managed by limiting access to Park Road, a 91-mile scenic route cutting through the vast wilderness. Most park visitors are day-trippers who ride the scenic route on one of the busses in the enormous fleet. The bus trip was not an option for us. Busses make us nauseated, and the trip was too long to leave Pico alone. And, due to the Pretty Rocks landslide, the last half of Park Road was closed anyway.
We would have to make do from our enchanting Denali backyard …
where only a few steps down the gently sloping footpath toward the ridge, the forest opened to reveal astounding views.
From there we could continue on …
under the railroad
for more day hiking around Horseshoe Lake.
Early Autumn beauty adorned the path.
The Denali duff layer seems to thrum with energy.
At least a foot thick, the duff provides shelter for a multitude of species – invertebrates, reptiles and voles.
The deep spongy mantle is merely the roof of a thriving underground industry which supports this intricate boreal environment. Only in the last decade has duff become a serious fire hazard.
Denali is a popular honeymoon destination, so we splurged.
Everyday we rode our bikes to town …
and crossed the highway to browse the shops …
and enjoy a coffee or ice cream.
The Grand Denali Lodge is a great place to have a glass of wine and take in the fascinating collection of art and artifacts and enjoy the panoramic view.
49th State Brewing
49th State Brewing and Restaurant is about a forty-minute drive from Riley Creek.
The flatbreads, beer, and base camp atmosphere make this a true destination brewery.
The replica of Magic Bus is parked in the spacious beer garden.
This property item for the set of Into The Wild served to tell the true story about the travels of Super Tramp, Chris McCandless. Some scenes from the film were shot in this area, not far from where McCandless died.
Why a young educated college man, lacking wilderness training, would step out onto the Alaska tundra, alone only to die in a bus he found on the Stampede Trail, shouldn’t be a mystery to anyone, and no wonder he became a legend for our time.
The trail between civilization and the Magic Bus intersects the ancient pilgrimage of the soul which is often the route to a sacred well. The Treacherous Road has long served as a toggle between extremes, a circular connection between the terrors you know and an actual Valley of the Shadow of Death.
The path tests you – goads you on while calling you a fool. Those who survive and follow the path home are usually embraced by their communities. They return wiser and stronger and less affected by their culture’s many failings because they have seen The Other Side of The Mountain. So, of course, after the 1996 publication of Into The Wild hundreds of McCandless Pilgrims set out for the Magic Bus annually.
The real Magic Bus – once located about thirty miles from the brewery on The Stampede Trail – was quietly removed by The National Guard (Operation Yuan) as an attractive nuisance and is being preserved in a secret place. But, thanks to 49th State Brewing, The McCandless legend lives on. Cheers.
We had a doggie date with the Art of Mushing at Husky Homestead. Our lil’ husky had to stay home for this one but we made up for it.
This was exciting – the stuff of legend with no tragic outcome.
Over the years I had read several feature articles about Jeff King, the Californian who moved to Alaska and became a world-famous Iditarod musher.
Sixty-six and still mushing, King walked us through a fascinating tour, telling his story with the vigor of a man half his age. The two hour tour concluded way too fast.
King makes it clear, the dogs are the real celebrities, athletes and winners.
Mushing, in King’s book, is a partnership between species.
The care and affection the dogs share with the entire staff is a joy to behold. If dog energy can heal (and some say it can) there was enough here to soothe every affliction of body and soul.
Jeff King’s story is a true epic Alaska adventure with all the hard work, danger and success.
A-boy-and-his-dog stories are my favorite and Husky Homestead is a living legacy to the genre. And best of all, we were invited to hug puppies.
With only one more day in the park, we still hadn’t seen The Mountain. Jim doubled down, comparing multiple weather reports which confirmed rain with a possible wind shift.
“I don’t know. Maybe?” He said, hopefully/doubtfully.
“Let’s pack a pot of coffee,” I said, “Drive Park Road, find a good pullout and wait. If it’s mean’t to be it will be.”
“It’s a date,” he said.
The next morning we drove the fifteen miles to the road block and turned around. The foothills were beautiful but so far, no Denali.
Even as the clouds lifted slightly, I continued my “Que Sera, Sera” speech, preparing us for disappointment.
“We’ve already had such a great time, better than expected. It’s only the lucky visitors who– wha!? Who0OO0oa!”
Did a mountain just swallow the sky?
We hit the breaks.
Good thing no one was behind us when Denali, The Great One, came out from behind the clouds, face shining.
Chapters in the “Airstreaming to Alaska” series
- Chapter 1 – San Diego to Malibu
- Chapter 2 – Malibu to Morro Bay
- Chapter 3 – Morro Bay to Santa Cruz
- Chapter 4 – Santa Cruz to San Francisco
- Chapter 5 – San Francisco to Eureka
- Chapter 6 – The Oregon Coast
- Chapter 7 – The Strait of Juan de Fuca
- Chapter 8 – Victoria, British Columbia
- Chapter 9 – Victoria to Mackenzie
- Chapter 10 – The Alaska Highway
- Chapter 11 – Yukon
- Chapter 12 – Top of the World Highway to Chicken, Alaska
- Chapter 13 – Tok to Valdez
- Chapter 14 – Glacier View to Anchorage
- Chapter 15 – Kenai Peninsula
- Chapter 16 – Whittier to Talkeetna
- Chapter 17 – Denali
- Chapter 18 – North Pole to Chena Hot Springs – coming soon!
- Chapter 19 – Tok to Haines – coming soon!
- Chapter 20 – Haines Junction to the Lower 48 – coming soon!
- Chapter 21 – Lesson Learned – coming soon!
If you want to see our exact route, click here.
*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.