Today we spent exploring the front portion of Denali National Park. We knew rain was in the forecast, so we drove into the park after breakfast (Black Bear Coffeehouse, pretty good) to see if we could catch a glimpse of the mountain before the cloud cover came in. We were just in time to see the middle third (photos to come when we return home). About 20 minutes later, after giving up on the Mountain Vista trail because we we're the only car in the parking lot, the clouds rolled in and Denali was hidden. You hear all the time how quickly the weather can change up here, but it's crazy to see in person.
After returning to the Visitor's Center, we set out on the McKinley Station Trail, headed for the two bridge crossings of Riley Creek on the Three Lakes Trail. The path led through a very peaceful forest with just the right amount of fellow hikers to help ward off any bears. The creek is very swift right now due to recent rain storms, so the kids weren't able to toss in as many rocks as they had hoped. The second creek crossing is a wooden and cable suspension bridge. We made it about halfway across and decided to turn back as it wasn't quite wide enough for one mom gripping two kids by the back of the sweatshirt to traverse together, and the railing was just thin metal cable. The kids spent time building rock structures along the creek's bank for awhile before heading back.
After a picnic lunch, we visited the science center and learned about different animal bones. Then it was on to the sled dog kennel, where we got to meet and pet several park "canine rangers" and listen to a presentation about how they helped establish the park as a wildlife refuge.
Shew, I'm tired all over again just thinking about what we did today! We are in need of a day of rest. We moved to different accommodations for tonight simply because it was less expensive, so we are at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge. Rooms here usually aren't cheap, but we are just on the edge of shoulder season and got a deal. Aside from last night's place being about 15 miles from the park entrance, we much prefer it to where we are now. The only gas station in town is charging $5.19/gallon, so I'm glad to have enough left to make it up the road to Healy in hope of finding cheaper prices. This lodge is owned by Princess Cruises, and it is set up for cruisers on land excursions. There is only one small parking area for vehicles at the front, and the property is huge. We had to carry our bags quite a distance, and we weren't told about the distance, parking, or the property trolley shuttle when we checked in. We weren't told much at all, actually. Not very helpful for a mom and two young kids. The room itself is okay, but certainly not worth the $269/night they charge in high season. I chose this place thinking it would be nice to stay in "glitter gulch," as they call it, for ease of walking to restaurants rather than more driving. Now that we have tried both options, we'll opt for the smaller local-owned lodging rather than more touristy lodges. But it's right on the Nenana River canyon with a great view!
We took an easy out with dinner and had pizza and ice cream to combat the road weariness. Tomorrow it's just 120 miles to Fairbanks, where we plan to take it slow and enjoy the warmth.
Photos: suspension bridge, making friends with peanut butter on our hands from lunch, view behind the Denali Princess, ice cream to top off the day