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By the time we got up, showered and packed, rode into town (2 blocks) and decided on where to have breakfast, it was a bit past 8 am. An easy choice this time... The Roadhouse has been recommended by people all yesterday as the place for breakfast in town. One of the original buildings in Talkeetna, The Roadhouse has been serving as the overnight lodging of choice for decades during the early years of Alaska as a Territory...early 1900's. Downstairs is filled with long - German-beerhaus-style tables that you simply find enough chairs side-by-side for your party and claim your space. Breakfast is a choice between Reindeer-Sausage and Gravy over biscuits, the Standard, (scrambled eggs, bacon and home fries), or two giant sourdough pancakes, which is what I got. They were each the size of a beachball, served with butter, syrup, apple butter, strawberry jam and a pot of coffee.
Kelsey got the reindeer sausage and remarked, between mouthfulls, that yesterday she got the chance to feed the Reindeer, and today they get a chance to feed her! She's gonna be a funny kid. Elbow to elbow with climbers and kids on summer treks across Alaska and retired tourists, the four of us enjoyed breakfast in a really neat town. It's a nice place to get off the path and slow down a bit.
I hadn't been able to get online anyplace yet. Hadn't really tried real hard either. So... back in the Mini-van...headed south about 15 miles to catch back up with the main loop road again...right turn going north and we're off to meet the Denali Backcountry Lodge shuttle bus at the entrance to Denali National Park at 1pm. Its a good 140+ miles from here, but the day is clear, few clouds, and it's only about 9am...life is still good!
I find the road really clear of traffic - I had expected many more cars and motorhomes on the roads up here, but it is fairly quiet. We stop at a few pulloffs and take pictures of the increasingly looming Mount McKinley... looks huge at 5-10 miles away, huh? Well, try over 80 miles away! And one other thing - apparently we're in luck, as many....most in fact... people never see the mountain top. The weather that forms around a mountain this big is un-forecastable and for the most part results in permanent cloud cover. It is estimated that perhaps 30% ever see the whole mountain, and 10% ever see it totally clear of clouds like we're doing....life keeps getting better!
The road winds through the mountain passes to the entrance of Denali National Park. I drop off everyone else along with our luggage at the train depot, drive about 4 miles to the Riley Creek Campground parking area and catch a shuttle bus back to the depot. A short wait and the nearly-new Blue Bird coach pulls up and load up our stuff in the back, we're each handed a mug and a laminated sheet of instructions and helpful information and told to snag a seat. We take the first three bench seats, covering both sides of the bus in case we need to go from side to side, and within 15 minutes were rolling on the first 16 miles of paved road, powerful deisel pushing us along at a good clip and cameras at the ready.
At the seventeenth mile marker, though, it got a bit different. We had twenty or so people on the bus - plenty of room to change seats for the best view, and the bus plodded along at 20 miles per hour. We stopped ever hour or so (this was gonna be a 6-7 hour bus ride!) Always stopped for the wildlife...sometimes too often (not another carabou!), and saw plenty.
At one stop, overlooking a valley, we saw about 20 Carabou nearby the road resting in and on the snowbank, 3 blonde grizzly bears about a half mile further up the slope and on the crest of the hill above them were a small herd of Dahl Sheep, the only naturally pure white sheep in North Americaa....apparently most sheep are a naturally beige color. On other stops we saw more Grizzly Bear (5 total), a porcupine, couple of Arctic Ground Squirrel, 3 Moose, a Hawk Owl sitting on top of a tree about 10 feet off the road, tons of Dahl Sheep, lots of different kinds of ducks, a couple beavers swimming in ponds near their huts, a Harrier Hawk, and about 17 different species of Mosquito!
Yes, the Mosquito were horrid. Seems they just had a major hatching (they come in distinct hatchings) about 2 days ago. Seems this particular species hatched is not even the worst ones from a biting standpoint. But they were terrible. Fortunately, they weren't a problem on the bus ride.
Finally, after about 7 hours of jostling around on the bus, we arrived at the settlement known as Kantishna, once a thriving Gold Rush town of over 2500 people back in 1905, it soon became dormant again after only a two year run of gold. Several residents stayed behind to keep the name going though. At the end of the bus ride, we disembarked at Denali Wilderness Lodge, a little community of cabins and dining hall just out of view of Mount McKinley on the Moose Creek. Cabins are new and can sleep 4, great little gazebo that is screened in with a wood stove if it gets chilly.
We're given 30 minutes to dump our crap and get to the dining hall for their second sitting - the in-camp guests ate first a little earlier. The staff is wonderful, food excellent, upstairs balcony bar (well, a combination, bar, gift shop, museum!) fully stocked - as long as you like wine or draft Alaskan Amber or Stout. Which I do!
After a long feeding, we settle in the cabin pull the curtains closed and drift off listening to the creek outside the window. I did notice that the sun seemed just a little brighter up here!
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