We left Fairbanks early Friday morning (the 13th) and headed south to Denali National Park. It was about a 3 hour drive along one of the few highways in Alaska. Along the way, we took a break in the small town of Nenana. This is a typical "Alaskan" town with cabins, a rail station and satellite dishes. We stopped at the Welcome Center which is also an Art Gallery and has public bathrooms. The owners are both professional photographers and have 4 small stair-step boys who run a lemonade stand to raise money for a future trip to Disneyland in California. The boys were really cute and polite so I am sure we all helped them towards their goal. Inside the art gallery, we were amazed by the beautiful photographs of the northern lights and other Alaskan scenes.
We stopped again down the road a ways at a rest area as Denali (the mountain) was "out" - meaning it was visible. This only happens about 30% of the time as the mountain "catches" weather systems as they head inland from the Bering Sea. Much of the time the mountain is engulfed in clouds and not visible so we were really lucky to see it. We didn't see any wildlife on the ride, but seeing the mountain was a huge win!
We arrived at the Princess Denali Wilderness Lodge and headed to our room which is located in Building Q. We dropped some of our gear, headed out to grab a quick bite to eat and then caught the shuttle to our scheduled excursion which was a tour on side-by-side ATVs.
We signed our waivers, donned helmets and headed out to get last minute instructions. We had a lead rider on a 4-wheeler followed by around 8 side-by-sides and a followup rider. Our ride took us deep into the wilderness, through muddy bogs, up and down hills until we reached a plateau overlooking the town of Healy below. In the distance we could see the Black Diamond Mountain which is the namesake for the tour company which also provides a golf experience, covered wagon rides and 4-wheeler ATV tours.
We continued our ride until we came to a dry cabin (no running water) where we enjoyed a meal of potato salad, pasta salad, cornbread muffins, chili, roasted chicken, BBQ ribs and salmon, with bluebery cake for dessert. It was quite good. The covered wagons were also at the cabin when arrived.
After eating, we continued our ride and ended up in Dry Gulch which is the remnant of an old glacier which had carved out a valley and left a wide swath of small rocks behind. Then we rode back to the base camp and took the shuttle back to the lodge. We then walked across the street from the lodge and visited several shops. We grabbed an ice cream cone and a few snacks for our adventure tomorrow.