Day 14: Healy to Denali Village, Denali bus tour - Alaska Loop 2015 - CycleBlaze

July 25, 2015

Day 14: Healy to Denali Village, Denali bus tour

I got up at 7:30 and had a nice hot breakfast in the Totem Inn dining room. On the road at 9:30 after a long phone conversation with my wife. The sky was dark overcast and I had a headwind.

Today I will go only a short distance on the bike, then do a 7 hour bus tour into Denali National Park.

Nenana River looking upstream towards Denali Village. Alaska Railroad on the ledge on the right.
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It was only 11 miles of headwind and rolling hills to the edge of the Denali tourist village. It was a shock to suddenly see big lodges and parking lots in the middle of nowhere.

Nenana river and Parks highway looking downstream.
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A bike trail runs through town, with good views of the Nenana river. But the trail only goes 1.5 mile to the park entrance.

Nenana river at Denali Village.
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37th U.S. National Park I have visited during bicycle tours.
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I turned into Denali National Park to get to the visitor center. The park road winds uphill in a big circle for 3 miles to get to the visitor center. I watched the movie at the visitor center, then went across the plaza to get lunch at the only restaurant in the park. What a shock. The line went far out the door. I waited in line 45 minutes to order. Finally got my food and ate quickly, then left and pedaled down the hill to the Wilderness Access Center. That's a fancy name for bus station. I have a reservation for the 1:30 PM Tundra Wilderness bus tour. The bus arrived at 1:50 PM.

The constant crowds were getting on my nerves. And now I'm on a bus tour where I bring a crowd with me everywhere I go. And I'm confined in the bus with no freedom to stop and get out when I want. It was frustrating to see the awesome scenery go by while in the bus. The other passengers seemed to think it's normal to take pictures from the window of a moving bus. Not me. I'm in the habit of stopping anywhere I want to take a picture, often in places where it would be impossible for a car to stop.

The bus mostly stops for wildlife sightings. The narrator/driver seemed to have little or no interest in stopping in the places with the most spectacular views. The windows do open, so I didn't have to shoot pictures through the window. But it's hard to get a good composition or a sharp image from a moving bus.

Caribou. View from the bus window.
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The bus goes 59 miles into the park. The first 18 miles is paved, and private cars are allowed. Beyond that only tour buses and shuttle buses are allowed. A total of 80 buses per day. The objective is to keep the wildlife wild and unaccustomed to seeing humans. Bicyclists are allowed, but are extremely rare.

Teklanika river. View from the rest area.
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On the way in the bus stopped at two rest areas where we were able to get out of the bus. At the first stop there were 6 buses and about 200 people milling around, marveling at the "empty wilderness" while waiting in line for a toilet.

The Teklanika river rest area is huge. Many toilet buildings, parking for a dozen buses.
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Teklanika river rest area. Every place I went in Denali was crowded.
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Looking out the window of the dusty back seat of the bus. The car ahead is one of 3 pro photographers permitted to drive the road each day.
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The wildlife sightings included one grizzly bear up close and one far away. Maybe 2 dozen caribou, 3 moose, and a couple of very far away Dall sheep.

Adolescent Grizzly bear right next to the bus.
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Alaska Range and Toklat River.
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The driver/tour guide explained that the Alaskan interior only gets only 15 inches (38 cm) of rain per year. It's practically a desert, but the underlying permafrost prevents water from seeping into an aquifer. Water stays near the surface, creating marshes and sometimes lush forest.

Toklat River
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This would be an awesome road to bike on. Continuous panoramic views with no traffic except a bus every 10 minutes.

I could have a hundred views like this if I biked the road. It's much more difficult from the window of a moving bus.
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We got out of the bus for the second time at the Toklat river rest area. It wasn't as crowded but it still had multiple buses and a lot of people around. No lines for the toilets, though.

Toklat river from the rest area.
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The bus continued a few miles past the Toklat river to the turnaround point. The mountains fade away ahead of the turnaround point as the road continues to the old mining community of Kantishna which has 4 lodges.

Views were better on the return trip, with higher clouds, moments of sunshine, and the sun behind us.

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We got out of the bus at two scenic spots during the return trip. Finally! The light was especially good at the Polychrome Overlook.

View from the Polychrome Overlook.
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The guide pointed out several places where Denali would have been visible if the clouds permitted. No Denali view today, but the cooler cloudy weather means that the wildlife is out and about, easier to see.

I see red, yellow, green, and the elusive blue.
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Clouds and sun dancing beautifully together.
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The final stop at Polychrome Overlook. We got out of the bus 5 times during the 7 hour tour.
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The bus returned to the Wilderness Access Center just before 9 PM. I pedaled back to the Denali Village, mostly downhill for 4 miles, and checked in to get my economy cabin at Denali Salmon Bake. I also ordered at take-out halibut burrito from the busy restaurant.

Denali Village boardwalk.
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The Denali village boardwalk is next door to Denali Salmon Bake. It's a 1 block long boardwalk with several stores. For example it has a Subway shop that sells footlong sandwiches for $12. I'd rather have a $21 halibut burrito.

Windowless rustic cabin at Denali Salmon Bake.
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My $74 cabin is functional, with two double beds and a light bulb. Fairly nice shared bath facilities. But no window. I'm actually appreciating the fact that it doesn't get completely dark at night. But this room will be very dark. Note that the door doesn't have a handle. Just a padlock instead.

Today was mostly overcast with a high of 65F (18C). Rain shower in the evening, but little or no rain for most of the day. Very few mosquitoes now.

Distance: 17.6 mi. (28.2 km)
Climbing: 1000 ft. (303 m)
Average Speed: 8.7 mph (13.9 km/h)

Today's ride: 18 miles (29 km)
Total: 627 miles (1,009 km)

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