Sunday, July 13, 2008

Alaska '08 Day 27, Fairbanks to Denali

Tue July 8, 2008

We set out for Denali at 8AM.

We stopped in Nenana which is a major Yukon river barge tug port. In the spring Nenana puts a pole out on the river ice and watches for the pole to move downstream to indicate the river thaw. This is a big thing here in the winter/spring. The pole is a large black and white tripod of logs maybe 20 feet tall. The top of the tripod is connected by a cable to a clock on shore. When the ice breaks and starts flowing the tripod moves and pulls the cable stopping the clock. The town visitor center had a display on it,
one of the old tripods, dates of each years thaw (May 14 2008). They bet on the exact time of breakup and anyone can enter for $2.50. 2008's price was over $300,000.

Nenana also had a rack of "split" fish. The fish (salmon) are freeze dried in the winter then air dried in the spring and fed to the dog sled dogs, bones and all. The process of drying the fish makes the bones soft so the dogs can digest them.

We have reservations for 3 nights at Denali's Riley Creek but we are one day early. We got into Riley Creek at noon and thought we might be able to get a walk in site but no luck. We started calling around and a lot of the nearby commercial campgrounds are full. We were lucky to get a site on the phone at Denali RV park & motel.

We drove in to the Denali Visitors center, pretty crowded. They have a small museum display of the animals, trappers and indians. We picked up the Junior Ranger info for the kids. They even have an activity backpack that you can sign out for kids to use. The backpack has animal and plant identification books, experiments, journal, footprint casting mold, binoculars, all for free. I think the idea is the backpack can go on the bus to keep kids busy because its a long ride for kids. We got tickets to ride the bus the last day we are here, Thursday. We'll take the shorter 6 hour ride to Toklat River. The long ride to Wonder Lake is about 12 hours.

After the visitor center we drive out to savage river turnaround. It is 13 miles back and is the furthest point you can drive a car. From there on it is park buses only to control traffic flow. We didn't see any animals on the drive back but we did at the turnaround. We saw ptarmigan (>6) down along the river in the brush. A couple of them had chicks. They were running all over, making lots of noise.

We hiked the trail to the top of Savage Rock.

On top there were arctic ground squirrels all over. Young ones were wrestling on the hill side and would roll down the trail.

Someone in the lot said they saw pika here but we didn't, that would have been cool, never saw a pika. There was a snowshoe hare and a baby hare running around the parking lot edge. The hares have really big rear feet, out of proportion for their size.

On the ride back I stopped at a pull off that looked over a beaver pond and we saw a 2 or 3 beaver swimming back and forth.

149 miles today.

4908 miles so far.

- Jon


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