I officially doubled my days in Denali over the last weekend! Just about the entire drive down on Friday it snowed. The road had been open to mile 12.5 and I was worried they would close it back down to mile 3 with the new snow. A little more than halfway to Denali one of the dogs started licking something. I reached back my hand and it felt wet. One of the dogs had puked in my winter jacket and one was licking it! I had to pull over. I was extremely grossed out. Luckily we were pretty prepare on this trip and we were able to clean my hand, sweatshirt and part of my jacket. I randomly decided to bring two jackets and decided the now dirty jacket would not be worn on this trip!
We pulled into Denali National Park and we split up. The dogs and I went into the park to explore a little and Josh went to go start putting up the arctic oven. The snow was absolutely beautiful but it hindered my ability to see the beautiful mountains around me. We were able to go all the way in to mile 12.5, the Mountain Vista trail. We didn’t see a lot other than beautiful powdered trees and falling snow until right near mile 4 where a Moose popped out! The moose was pretty cooperative and stood for a few minutes so we could watch and photograph.
When we got back to the campsite Josh had already put up the tent! I helped him put the oven inside and then organize the inside. After the cots were set up, we all crawled into the tent to warm up. We weren’t cold long! The last time we set up the tent we had missed one of the ventilation tubes. It was stuck inside one of the other tubes. This time we were not going to make that mistake! After dinner we decided we would play cards in the tent. Josh wanted to play hearts. I hadn’t played hearts in a really long time but we managed to go through a few rounds. We were also playing with a weird deck. It was a mismatched deck that my mom and I would play hand and foot with in the summer. So it was 52 cards but 52 random cards amongst 3 decks. I think we only had one queen and about seven threes. It was still fun and helped us pass the time until bed.
We woke up to the sun on Day 7! The sky was cloudless. The mountains were sparkling with all the new snow. With the sky so clear we decided to hop into the truck and try and see if Denali was out! Unfortunately we were turned around at mile 3. We were sad as we drove back to the tent, but our yummy breakfast cheered us up! Josh had made breakfast burritos, although I had my absolute favorite, Biscuits and Gravy Mountain House! After our breakfast we stopped by the Murie Science and Learning Center to brush our teeth, put our contacts in, and fill up our water. We then headed out and parked at mile 3. This is were we unloaded our next Denali Adventure, Fat Tire Bikes!
We rented the bikes from Beaver Sports in Fairbanks. They let us try out one of the rentals in the store to determine the size we needed to rent. They also included some hand warmers you attach to the handles of the bikes to keep the wind, cold, snow off of your hands and lower arms! Josh and I tried to put my camera bag rack. It wouldn’t fit behind the seat because of the giant tires. Josh then attached it to go in front of the seat. It looked super awkward and pretty much felt the same way as it looked. I am sure I was a spectacle.
We started biking from mile 3. I was so focused on getting to a point where I could have the opportunity to possibly see Denali. For those of you who do not travel to Denali ALL the time, mile 3-7 is pretty much up hill. We quickly realized that we need to work out and bike more often… especially when we plan on biking the road this summer! Right in between mile 5 and 6, a few cars past us! They had opened the road to mile 12! Josh road back to mile 3 to get the truck and I rode on solo. I was bound and determined to get to the point on the road to possibly see Denali. I biked and biked and biked. It was so beautiful with the bright blue sky and the crisp white mountains. I tried to take a video, well I took a video, it just ended with me falling! Ha! I will post that to Facebook here soon!
Josh finally found me and I was exhausted! I had just about made it too. We drove about a half mile only to discover that Denali was all covered up except for one little peek of a peak! It is incredible that the entire sky can be so clear and yet Denali can still be covered. We drove around and found a NEW animal to photograph in the park – Caribou! We got to see lots of caribou. They were traveling in groups of 6 – 15. What was most surprising to me were that so many of them still had their racks on their head! Male and female caribou both grow racks and I know that female caribou sometimes keep their racks longer when they are pregnant. Maybe this is why some of them still had them? Either way it was great to get so see more Denali wildlife.
On this drive in to the park we also got to see two running moose! Unfortunately they were running further and further away from us, not that I want them running to us, that would be really scary! Let’s just say they were not in the mood to stand elegantly amongst the spectacular snow dusted trees and pose for me. We also got to see a few red squirrels run by on the road. They weren’t very cooperative for me either!
We drove back to camp for some lunch. It was pretty cold but not in the Arctic Oven! We made our bagel cream cheese sandwiches in the cozy tent. After lunch we packed the car back up and headed on back out into the park. We didn’t see a whole lot of wildlife but we did get to see DENALI!!!! It was the first time we got to see most of the mountain. Later that evening, the entire mountain was out in all of it’s glory! What a day!
I did a time-lapse of the mountain as the sun set. It was magnificent just to get to watch the colored clouds graze past Denali. Right when we decided it was time to call it a night, I turned around and there was a moose on the road behind us! You never know what is around the corner in this national park! Also down the road we saw the moon rise. It looked enormous.
When we got back to camp josh started a fire. It was Steak Night! We had to thaw the steaks and cooking oil, did I mention that everything freezes? The arctic oven was warm and toasty as we devoured our steaks and frozen macaroni salad. I had also gotten Iditared red wine for the meal. I thought it would fit since at the time the Iditarod was going on.
Josh and I had our desert at the fire. I am a sucker for some s’mores. These s’mores were the least messy s’mores I have ever had! We would cook them perfectly and put them on the graham crackers. Right after I would squish the chocolate and graham cracker lid to the marshmallow the marshmallow would freeze! They were delicious but I missed the gooeyness a little! After desert we went back into the arctic oven and went to bed.
We went to bed but woke up after a few hours from the cold! I woke up and couldn’t hear the stove sizzling and fizzing like it had before. I yelled to Josh but he said the stove was still on and going. For the record it was technically on but barely. It wasn’t until about 5am and waking up Josh 3 times before he went out and switched the propane out. I guess I could have switched it out too but it was cold outside! Ha! The tent warmed and we easily went back to sleep for a few more hours.
Day 8! I woke up before Josh and took the dogs into the park. It seemed as though we were the only ones out there for awhile. I didn’t see another car for over an hour. As I was driving I kept noticing the intense sparkle coming from all the vegetation. I stopped and saw some incredible frost. I took quite a few photos of the frost. The only animal we saw was a squirrel. This squirrel was fun to watch. It would squawk at me and then run into the tree and then pop out at different parts of the tree. Once it popped out it would scurry its feet all around and repeat the whole ordeal. After watching the fun squirrel for a little bit, the dogs and I went back to the warm tent. Josh had gone out to Healy though to get more propane. After Josh got back we loaded everyone into his truck and went on out for more Denali fun!
We drove in to mile 12 and got ready for another bike ride. Our goal was to bike down to mile 15 and then back. Unfortunately the snow was very thick and unplowed. It is VERY difficult to bike, even fat tire bike, in deep snow. We just kept falling over and over and over! It was pretty comical. It reminded me of those fainting goats. We would start biking and then hit some deep snow and just tip on over. While we had decided that bikes were not the way to travel in the deeper snow, a dog sled team went by! So fun to see those dogs run by! We had wished we had a team to take us but instead we went back to the truck defeated. It was back to the tent to eat some lunch.
After lunch we went back to the Murie Science and Learning Center to rent out snowshoes. We drove back to mile twelve, still no wildlife, but the scenery was spectacular. We parked the truck again and headed back out hoping to get as close to mile 15 as possible. While walking we ended up seeing some caribou! They were super far away but fun to watch. We walked all the way passed mile 14. We could see the mile 15 checkpoint. it was just down the hill! It was getting dark though and we thought we should probably try and make it back to the truck before it got dark. Josh spotted some tracks on the top of one of the mountains and I took a few photos of it. We debated whether they were human or animal. Later in the tent I looked more closely at the photos and saw they were animal!
We got back to the car about 10 minutes prior to sunset. I took a quick photo of Denali as we drove back to the tent. Josh and I were pretty exhausted and we decided to skip out on the fire. It was just so warm in the tent we opted to relax. When you decide not to make a fire you can still have S’mores with S’mores Goldfish!
It was a little cold again waking up on Day 9. We had to pack up the Arctic Oven because Josh had to go back to work that evening. Before taking everything down, we went back into the park. It was another beautiful sunny day in Denali! You could see part of the middle of the mountain but most of the mountain was covered in hazy clouds. Other than part of the mountain, we were able to spot a few red squirrels.
When we got back to the Arctic Oven it was pack up time! It was very cold out and parts of the take down were difficult with my thick, warm gloves. I might have given a little attitude, which was probably partially due to the cold and partially due to me knowing me and Nali were going to have to car camp that night. Once you camp in an Arctic Oven, you only want to winter camp in an Arctic Oven! Once we got everything packed into the two vehicles we really quick checked out a neat snow tent/cave. Someone created it during the Denali Winterfest Weekend. We could all fit inside but not all of us could sit still for a quick photo.
Once Josh left, us girls went back into the park where we spent the next 6 hours. Time goes by SO fast when driving and searching for wildlife and new scenery vantage points. We sat and watched some Caribou for awhile. There was one caribou that seemed to bully the others around. it would jump and lunge at the other caribou. Nali and I also parked at a spot where a bunch of red squirrels seem to live and play. Nali would stick her nose up to the window and fog it up looking at them.
When we got back to the campsites we were shocked! There were two other sites being used that night! This was my fourth night out there and all of the other nights were weekend nights and there were no other campers. Now, on a Monday night, two other groups were camping! Nali and I met one of the groups that were setting up a small 3 season tent. I was a little worried they were going to be super cold. Nali and I got cozy in the car and had dinner. I decided I wanted a hot dog. This would be difficult with no microwave, fire, or stove. I decided to go get a stick and heat it over the Jetboil. This was a bad idea. I do NOT recommend cooking over a Jetboil. I ate the semi heated hot dog anyway, again this was a good idea in theory, but not something I will do again.
Nali seemed pretty comfortable sleeping ON the sleeping bag. She did not want to sleep anywhere in the car that was not ON top of the sleeping bag. This made sleeping IN the sleeping bag very difficult. It was a cold night and I ended up turning on the car two times in the night to rewarm the car but we survived! It was officially Denali Day 10! Car camping is definitely not the most comfortable or warm option when winter camping BUT with car camping you don’t to pack anything up. It was nice to just move a few things around in the car and just drive off! That is pretty much what I did as well. I went to the Murie Science and Learning Center to brush my teeth and fill up my water. From there we went into the park again.
We drove into the park and on our way in we saw a park ranger and a police vehicle with two snow machines heading out of the park. Other than those two vehicles we did not see another person or vehicle for over 2 hours! When driving up the road there was an abundant amount of Moose hooves prints all over the road. It was fun following them and looking out trying to find the moose. Normally in national parks and in the summer in Denali you know where wildlife is because there will be 10+ cars all parked in a row. Here there were no other cars, I only saw what I could find. It was really fun! Although there were many prints, the first actual animal I saw was another red squirrel! The red squirrel was photogenic and sat in the tree while I photographed it.
We did see two moose on this drive. One was super far away, a dot even at 400mm, and the other was super skittish. It crossed the road way in front of me. I slowly drove closer and it ran off the road and into the thick woods. The rest of the day wildlife viewings were all birds. The most exciting bird I photographed was the Spruce Grouse! I was slowly driving down the road when I saw the dark grey animal on the road. I pulled up slowly and photographed the bird. The spruce grouse was a male because of his red eye brow they seem to have! I got out of the car and laid down on the park road, getting eye level with him. I didn’t have to worry about cars, there were none in sight. I took quite a few of him! I then got to see a female spruce grouse, grey jays, white-winged crossbills, and a boreal chickadee (I think?). If I misidentify a bird let me know! I love photographing birds but I am definitely a bird identifier beginner!
On the last sweep drive of the park we were stopped in the Mountain Vista visitor area by a group of travelers. They asked about the trails. I gave them the information that I knew and then they ended up driving back towards the entrance of the park. I gave Nali a quick walk to stretch her legs before heading out behind them. We started heading out towards the entrance, and ultimately home, and we came across the same group of travelers in a snow ditch off the park road! I stopped and asked if everyone was okay and if I could help but they had already sent someone to get help. To think that this could have happened to me earlier when I had’t seen other people for 2+ hours! Drive safely out there winter adventurists!
Well it was another successful trip to Denali National Park. I learned a lot about fat tire bikes and more about snowshoes! I again was reminded of how EVERYTHING freezes in the winter, everything. I also was reminded that Denali, the mountain, has a separate weather system and even on extremely clear days, the mountain can be completely covered over. I felt blessed to finally see the mountain this trip, thankful to get to stay warm camping with my family, and thankful for all that we were able to see and experience this time in Denali National Park! I am not 10 days into my Denali Adventure and can’t be more excited about my next trip in!