|We weren't sure how far we would drive today as we got in line at the dump station at the Riley Creek campground. The park was really emptying out with several vacated campsites. We were commenting it seemed to us that most of the tags in the campsite posts showed the length of stay was usually two to three nights. While we were filling our water tank, we visited with a couple from Wyoming who were also heading south. The lady told the story about taking the Denali wilderness bus tour where you pay extra to go out with a hiking guide (naturalist) and they provide lunch. At their first stop, their bus driver left half of the bus behind. He left them and all of their stuff was on the bus. She was shocked as she hadn't heard him explain the RULES and she didn't hear him say how long they would have at that stop. Obviously she wasn't the only one if he left half of the bus behind! Another bus came along but only had room for two people. They hopped on and the first thing this driver said (not her original driver since he was up ahead by now) was that this busload had lost their privileges because they had not followed the RULES and there would be no more wildlife stops! I asked her if either one of these drivers was named Dale (our driver from the day before). No; her original driver was Travis and he was very good (other than leaving half of his busload behind!) The second driver - who took away the wildlife viewing privileges - was named Frank. I would have demanded my money back if this had happened to me. There really is no excuse for the rudeness of these drivers. I know they need to be on somewhat of a schedule, but people are paying a hefty price ($45 per person in our case; more for the Wyoming couple since they got a lunch AND a guide) and deserve a little more respect. So we left Denali on a somewhat sour note and hope this isn't a trend for how the rest of the National Parks are headed.
But enough of that. We were told that the Denali Highway is very scenic and if we had the opportunity, we should drive at least some of it. The highways in Alaska are not referred to like we do in California with I-5, I-80, or Highway 50. They are referred to by their names: like the Alaska Highway (the road we drove on when we entered Alaska); or the Dalton Highway (the road we took to Prudhoe Bay); or the Parks Highway (which is the road we took from Fairbanks down to Denali) and so on.
So after driving about 40 miles or so, when we came to the intersection of the Parks Highway and the Denali Highway, we decided to get an RV site at the Cantwell RV park and drive the Liberty for a ways along the Denali Highway. The nice lady at the RV park explained that the pavement would end after 3 miles and it would be rough gravel for the next 90 miles to Paxson. We told her "Ha... we've driven the Top of the World Highway to Chicken.... and the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay. A little bit of gravel doesn't scare us!" Well, we didn't exactly say it like that, but we assured her we knew what we were getting into and took her map and off we went. The views really were lovely and IF we had had less clouds, we SHOULD have been able to see Mt. McKinley. But again, no such luck. But we had a nice drive just the same. We stopped at the Brushkana Creek campground and had a picnic lunch along the little creek. We met a couple from Pennsylvania who were camping there. We thought they were natives since they had Alaska plates on their car but they had flown to Alaska and were camping and motelling. I wondered - as I am always so curious - if they brought their camping gear (sleeping bags, tents, etc.) with them on the plane from Pennsylvania or how that worked but didn't bother to ask. On we went.
We came to a nice viewpoint and I sent Bryan down the hill to pose for a picture. The next thing I see is that he's bending down picking something. He came back with a handful of wild blueberries. He said there were tons of them down there. As he was picking berries, he began to think that with that many berries there were bound to be bears perhaps nearby too. Since they were not very sweet, he left them behind for the bears.
We decided we'd turn around at the halfway point to Paxson - or around 50 miles - to head back to our RV in Cantwell. I had brought along the Milepost Book and saw that just a ways further, there was a little lodge. The ad said "homemade pies." So that was going to be our turnaround point. The "Gracious House Lodge B & B" had a for sale sign on the post outside but we decided to go check it out anyway. There were about 8 little rustic cabins on the property, and the cafe was closed, but across the field was what looked like an old mobile home with a sign "The Sluice Box" advertising espresso, soda, snacks. There was also a bike parked outside loaded down with panniers so we figured someone must be around. We headed inside and found the lone cyclist - an Austrian fellow who had cycled from Cantwell that morning and was heading to Paxson for the evening - sitting at the bar eating a cinnamon roll. Bryan had his heart set on a piece of that homemade pie that had been advertised in the Milepost ad, and was the reason we drove this far. The lady explained that since business has been so slow, she no longer sells slices of pie but sells whole pies only. We asked how much for a whole pie. Can you believe $30? We thought, you've got to be kidding. Especially when you can go to Costco and buy their huge pies for something like $4.99. Even Apple Hill only charges $10 I think. So we settled for a cinnamon roll and split it between the two of us. The Milepost ad said that this place had been in the same family's ownership for 55 years. I asked why they were selling and if they didn't have any kids or grandkids that could take it over. She said that she and her husband are in their 70's and it's a lot of work. And they want to go travel while they still have their health. Which I can't blame her.
The Denali Highway used to be the only route to get to Denali Park and I'm sure business was much brisker before the Parks Highway was completed. The Parks Highway is what most people travel now.
So after our cinnamon roll, a few pictures, we headed back to Cantwell, hoping by chance the clouds would part and we'd see Mt. McKinley. After a few miles, just the opposite happened. The clouds grew darker and soon we were in a steady rainstorm. Oh well, maybe tomorrow.