Denali Highway

Cantwell Travel Blog

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Black spruce and mountain reflecting in mirror lake
After a good breakfast at our hotel, we were again on the road.   The Denali Highway is a 133 mile scenic road, although gravel, that connects Paxson Junction on the Richardson Highway with Cantwell Junction on the Parks Highway.  This was to be our route today.   Completed in 1957, it provided motorist access to Denali National Park.   In 1972 the George Parks Highway was opened and this gravel road was virtually forgotten by everyone except hunters and fishermen.   We were traveling right into the heart of the Alaskan wilderness.
Colors of autumn
  No power lines or anything else remotely associated with civilization.   Mile after mile of pristine country dotted with marshland, wild rivers, and kettle lakes that were formed when ice chunks from retreating glaciers were buried in the sediment.

The Denali Highway began as a dog-sled trail, used by mushers to run supplies to the gold camps between Paxson and Cantwell.  When Denali National Park opened, the route became the gateway to the spectacular lands surrounding North America's highest peak, Mount McKinley.  Today this highway is an often overlooked treasure that takes the traveler back to Alaska's rich past and awesome wilderness.   We had the entire day to enjoy our ride.    The Alaska Mountain Range ran parallel to the road and dominated the skyline.
Alpine tundra ground cover
  Even the thick, low-hanging clouds couldn't hide the majestic peaks of Mount Hayes (13,832 feet), Mount Hess (11,940 feet), and Mount Deborah (12,339 feet).

Caribou hunting season in Alaska opens around the first of August.   At the time of this trip, these beautiful animals had been subjected to loud gunfire and all the terror associated with being the "hunted."  I'm so glad that we were able to see them in Denali National Park because we sure weren't going to see any sign of them along this road today.  Hunters dressed in their camouflage outfits, straddling their camouflage four-wheelers were scooting across the alpine tundra in search of a trophy buck.   Even though we were in a true wilderness area, the wildlife were in hiding and not to be seen.
Canoes resting beside Tangle Lake
   There was one lonely pair of trumpeter swans floating gracefully on one of the large marshy areas near the road.   Being the largest bird in North America (if measured by length and weight) with a wing span of eight feet, they make an impressive reflection on the still water.   Within days they would be taking to the air, traveling hundreds of miles to their winter home, only to return to the same pond next spring to breed and nest.   When we approached them, it was obvious they didn't want to be bothered, quickly paddling to the far end of the pond and out of reach of our camera lens.

Our resting place tonight would be the Tangle River Inn.   A warm room and comfortable bed was waiting for me at Mile Marker 20, where the gravel ends and the blacktop begins.
Landmark Gap in distance
   Richard parked the car, checked us in, and told us to meet him back in 30 minutes for dinner in the Inn's cafe.  Leigh had other ideas and immediately took herself and her camera across the street to the shore of Tangle Lake.  The clouds were still hugging the mountaintops but there was just enough late-evening light for good exposure.   Landmark Gap is exactly what the name implies:  a large gap between two mountains that is used as a local landmark.   The gap was at the far end of the lake and made for a nice picture.  Twenty or so upside-down canoes were resting on the shoreline.  Their bright colors of red and yellow were in direct contrast with the gray colors of the water and the mountains.  Another nice shot. 

Dinner found us in the midst of a hunter's "convention" complete with loud conversation and laughing.
Canoes alongside Tangle Lake
  Leigh and I were the only two females in the cafe (except the proprietor) among twenty or more bearded men.  We couldn't help but catch their enthusiasm for life and laughed along with them.  They were having a grand time just thinking about that prize caribou buck.  Or maybe they were talking about the "one that got away" like hunters and fishermen so often do.  Whatever the conversation, it was obvious they were having a grand time. 

Tomorrow was going to be another full day of riding, so early to bed tonight.  I was very pleased with the warm gas heater in our room.  It created a cozy feeling and about the time my head hit the pillow, I was fast asleep.  It had been another good day.  
vances says:
Nice entry - it is so rare to see any expanse in the US that isn't polluted by telephone poles / power lines...
Posted on: Feb 07, 2008
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Black spruce and mountain reflecti…
Black spruce and mountain reflect…
Colors of autumn
Colors of autumn
Alpine tundra ground cover
Alpine tundra ground cover
Canoes resting beside Tangle Lake
Canoes resting beside Tangle Lake
Landmark Gap in distance
Landmark Gap in distance
Canoes alongside Tangle Lake
Canoes alongside Tangle Lake
View from Denali Highway
View from Denali Highway
Canoes on shore of Tangle Lake
Canoes on shore of Tangle Lake
Cantwell
photo by: kingelvis14