Wednesday morning, we began the first of two very long drives. Alaska is a huge state, and we wanted to see a good bit of it. We left Seward, and enjoyed the trip toward Anchorage again on beautiful Highway 1.
We stopped this time at Portage Glacier, right outside Anchorage. From the parking lot, you can no longer see the glacier, because it has receded behind a curve of the mountain. But, the melting water left a lake, and icebergs the color of blueberry snowcones floated on top.
In Anchorage, we stopped to get food for the next day. We were headed to a cabin outside Denali National Park. Healy was a town near where we’d stay, but it was very small – only about 600 people. We needed food for out trip into the park we would take Thursday, but I also worried about food for that day. I wasn’t sure what we’d find along the way, or once we got there. Would there be restaurants? Grocery stores? For that matter, would there be gas stations? Every time our fuel gauge dipped below three quarters of a tank, I got nervous and started looking for a gas station. Our cell phone didn’t work in Alaska, and if you got stranded on a highway, you were really stuck.
We bought enough food for our hike, and a little extra just in case, then headed north. It was another beautiful day, and the drive took us through the Alaska Range. Along many stretches, there was no radio. We would hit the scan button, and watch the numbers roll without ever stopping on a signal. That was fine though. The scenery was enough to keep me entertained. I decided the snow on the mountains reminded me of cinnamon rolls with icing dripping down the sides. The peaks were covered with white, and snow was still settled into the crevasses of the mountainside.
Fortunately, there were enough gas stations along the way and we never broke down. We did have to deal with a lot of construction, but it couldn’t be helped. An earthquake the previous year had torn up large sections of the highway. Repairs can’t be made during the winter because of the weather, so construction had only recently begun. And since there is only one road to Denali, there are no detours.
According to the books I’d read in preparation for the trip, actually seeing the peak of Denali is a rare treat. Only 20% of the visitors to the area actually see the mountain top because it is so tall, it creates its own weather system and is often enshrouded by clouds. I had been hoping for a brief glimpse at some point. As we continued driving north we rounded a corner and suddenly, the mountain loomed large and brilliant in the distance. I gasped, and said, “Is that it?” But just as quickly, I knew it must be. It was just so big. Forget snow-caps – this mountain was still completely covered in snow, It towered over everything around it. There wasn’t a cloud in sight, giving us a breathtaking view of the entire mountain. As we drove, it continued to dip below the horizon on one curve, only to reappear around the next bend, taking my breath every time.
We found our cabin with no problem, and I was relieved to know there were not only restaurants in the area, but there was one at our cabin site. There were several cabins, but we had paid a little extra to have one on the Nenana River. It was a beautiful, rushing river the same spectacular aqua blue color we’d seen all through our trip. In front of our cabin, a big deck with benches had been built right over the water.
We enjoyed dinner, then I took a book to the deck. It was nearing 10 p.m., but I still had plenty of light for reading. Every now and then, I’d put my book down just to look around again, absorbing every sense – the sound of the river, the feel of the cool mountain air on my face, the spirit of the place.