Sunday, July 20, 2008

Alaska Sunday XIV

We spent a wonderful day on the Denali Highway (Alaska Route 8), which is a lightly-traveled, mostly gravel highway in Alaska. Over 100 miles of gravel. We saw a lot of birds, animals, and wildflowers. Clean crisp air, magnificent views, and almost no traffic.

One of the views of the mountain ranges to the North.
(Click on the photo for a better view)


Alaska Range



The Denali Highway leads from Paxson on the
Richardson Highway to Cantwell on the Parks Highway. Opened in 1957, it was the first road access to Denali National Park (then known as Mount McKinley National Park). Since 1971, primary park access has been via the Parks Highway, which incorporated a section of the Denali Highway from Cantwell to the present-day park entrance. The Denali Highway is 135 miles (217 km) in length.

The highway is now little used and poorly maintained, and closed to all traffic from October to mid-May each year. Only the easternmost 21.3 miles and westernmost 2.6 miles are paved; whether the remainder should be paved as well is a continual source of debate.

Travelling west, the Denali Highway leaves the Richardson Highway (Alaska Route 4) at Paxson, and climbs steeply up into the foothills of the central Alaska Range. The first 21 miles, to Tangle Lakes, are paved. Along its length, the highway passes through three of the principal river drainages in Interior Alaska: the Copper River drainage, the Tanana/Yukon drainage and the Susitna drainage. Along the way, in good weather, there are stunning views of the peaks and glaciers of the central Alaska Range, including Mount Hayes (13,700 feet), Mount Hess (11,940 feet) and Mount Deborah (12,688). At MP 15, from the pullout on the south side of the road, in clear weather you can see the Wrangell Mountains, the Chugach Mountains and the Alaska Range.

The first 45 miles winds through the Amphitheatre Mountains, cresting at Maclaren Summit, at 4,086 feet the second highest road in Alaska. The road then drops down to the Maclaren River Valley with fine views north to Maclaren Glacier. After crossing the Maclaren River, the road winds through the geologically mysterious Crazy Notch and then along the toe of the Denali Clearwater Mountains to the Susitna River. After crossing the Susitna River the road extends across the glaciers-outwash plains to the Nenana River, and then down the Nenana River to Cantwell on the George Parks Highway (Alaska #3).

The rough gravel surface makes driving slow, but the scenery is truly extradordinary, in some ways nicer than the extension of the Denali Highway into Denali National Park. There are developed campgrounds at Tangles Lakes (MP 22) and Brushkana Creek (MP 104), but there are dozens of pullouts where you can camp on public lands.

Services are scant along this road. Tangle River Inn (MP 20), Maclaren Lodge (MP 42) and Gracious House (MP 82) offer minor repairs and tire repairs and usually have fuel. Both offer rental cabins, as does Denali Highway Cabins (MP 0).

The Denali Highway is an important birding destination. It offers road access to alpine terrain - not that common in Alaska - and, in the brief birding season there, good viewing of a number of alpine breeders, including Long-tailed Jaeger, Whimbrel, Surfbird, Lapland Longspur, Horned Lark, Short-eared Owl, Wandering Tattler, Gyrfalcon and much more. A walk north along BLM's Maclaren Summit Trail (MP 39) can be very productive.

Fishing for grayling and lake trout is decent, if not spectacular, in any of the clear water (i.e., unglaciated) streams.

Because the area is hunted heavily, larger mammals are much less common than in Denali National Park, but moose, grizzly bear, and caribou are fairly common.

Most of the land along the highway is publicly owned. There are several BLM-maintained trails, and dozens of informal trails. This is a stretch of wild Alaska that is pretty much unspoiled, relatively accessible and beautiful.



Troy and Martha

18 comments:

Daryl said...

What a spectacular skyscape

:-Daryl

John said...

The scenery looks beautiful. Reading about this trip really makes me want to visit.

fishing guy said...

Troy: Now that is a super panorama, thanks for sharing your trip.

Kathiesbirds said...

Troy, your photo is spectacular as always. I'm curious about Denali because when we were thinking of visiting I read that you had to take public transprotation in and out of the park. Can you drive into the park on your own,and when is the best time to see the birds you mentioned? Thanks for this informative post!

Willard said...

An interesting post and a superb panoramic scene!

Pat - An Arkansas Stamper said...

That is one of the most gorgeous panoramas I have ever seen! Thanks for sharing it.

I enjoyed your narrative. I travel vicariously at this stage of my life. Thanks for taking me along.

AphotoAday said...

What a shot!
Would make a great 48"x13" panorama print.
My birthday is at the end of next month (just kidding)...

kjpweb said...

there's only one word that comes to mind. Majestic! Cheers, Klaus

The Texican said...

I enjoyed my land based tour of Alaska several years back now, and I am re-enjoying the trip through your camera lens and excellent commentary. Pappy

Michael Palmer said...

AWESOME!!!

photowannabe said...

What an amazing place to see . Thanks for your descriptions and the view of gorgeous country.

david mcmahon said...

Ah, my old stamping ground!

Shellmo said...

Hoping to visit Denali one day - heavy sigh!

Scotty Graham said...

Hey Troy and Martha....

I had a great time catching up with your blog...my connection is good today, so finally had a chance to do some roaming...fantastic photos of the wild west!! Really nice photos!! Keep up the great work, and keep having fun!!

Cheers,

Scotty

Lawstude said...

another amazing capture. great ifo too.

have a nice day!!!

Bob Johnson said...

Beautiful Mountain shot.

Stacey Huston said...

I have so been enjoying your pictures. Love the alska scenery ones the most..and really liked the angry bees (wink) thanks for sharing

2sweetnsaxy said...

Wow! How awww-sum! What a beautiful landscape.