Sunday, June 5, 2016

Denali Highway ~ Alaska

Our day travelling the very bumpy Denali Highway in Alaska

The Denali Highway is 217 km (135 mi) of very rough road.  The beginning of the highway from Cantwell, AK, driving west to east, is paved, as are the last miles into Paxon, but the rest are gravel and dirt road with lots of dust on our drive.  We had clouds but no rain to make it muddy today.

Denali Highway, Alaska
The Denali Highway opened in 1957 and was the only access to the Denali National Park at that time but better highways have been built since. The Denali Highway is closed from October until May and the only access during those months would be by snowmobile or dogsled.  

Sunshine behind the clouds
They advise you to take it very slow when you drive and that is with good reason.  There were more potholes on this stretch of highway than we’d seen for awhile and we’d driven hundreds of miles on dirt roads on our Northern Adventure.  It is a road less travelled or maintained.

Moose having a drink
The benefit of driving these highways slowly is that we get to sightsee more if we are not the lead driver.  That one has to guide us through the real rough areas and warn us what to watch for.  We made some stops, on this stop we enjoyed watching the moose on the other side of the lake, views were great in spite of the weather.

Boreal forests, tundra and lakes
The overcast skies made the day fairly dark but we did see some very scenic areas of boreal forests, tundra and lakes.  We have to wonder where all the animals are hiding in these places, they are out there somewhere.  The Alaska Range could be seen in the distance with clouds hanging over their peaks.

Dusty roads
This is a heavily hunted area so we saw several roadside camps set up for those who were there to do some hunting.  As many as 16,000 animals have been seen at once after calving season and the herds are passing through the area on their annual migration but this was not that time.  We didn’t see any more wildlife, they learn fast and would be avoiding the hunters.

Maclaraen Glacier
We could see the Maclaren Glacier coming down from Mt. Hayes, elevation 4,216 metres (13,832’) as we drive through the Alaska Range foothills.  The Maclaren Summit on the Denali Highway at 1245 metres  (4,086’) is the second highest road pass in Alaska.  The highest is the Atigun Pass on the Dalton Highway.  Click here to see more of the Atigun Pass.

Tundra, lakes and mountains
Much of the Denali Highway is built on glacial eskers.  These are the mounds of sand and gravel that are left behind as a result of the moving water in or under the glacier.  That tells us that we drove on the path of the original glacial river of so very long ago.

Susitna River
We crossed the wide Susitna River on the 1000’ long bridge.  Our view across the river shows what is left of a fire from the past.  We made our way up the long hill to take us onto more scenic sights.  

Alaska Range on the Denali Highway
Our drive over the Denali Highway was a slow but very scenic drive.  We arrived at Paxson Lake Campground at the end of our day and enjoyed time around the campfire to talk about the sights of our day.

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