A bit more Denali

Right.... well now I'm not quite so rushed for time, so more on Denali.

The park only has one road going into it, 14 miles of pavement that you can drive yourself and then another 70 miles of unpaved that you must ride a park bus to reach, at least in the summertime. You can walk into the park, you can bike into the park, but you cannot take your car past mile 14. This results in something amazing - a wilderness barely touched by rampaging tourism, where the road winds narrow and unmarring through the tundra and around the mountain passes, a silence and remoteness. Almost everyone stays within striking distance of the road, which means that if you wander but a mile away, you are alone.

Wandering from the road isn't nearly as foolish as it would seem. Treeline is at about 2500 feet, so most of the park is covered by tundra or low-bush taiga, meaning that any rise allows you to see for miles and miles around. Backcountry campers can go anywhere with only one rule - You cannot pitch your tent within sight of the road. But because the line of sight goes so far, it can sometimes mean quite a long hike in. Of course, this works well for the day hiker's purposes. We were able to traipse about easily wherever we roamed and never fear getting lost, because every now and then - whoop! There's the road in the distance! No problem.

Denali impressed me in so many ways. Where other national parks insist that you stay on the trail at all times, Denali has very few trails after the paved section, and so there the signs read, "Get out and explore the backcountry! Get away from the road! Don't worry about trails! Just make sure you spread out in a group so you don't create a new one."

Denal also impresses in its commitment to environmental sustainability. Alaska so far has been a desert wasteland as far as recycling goes. People don't even accept the most recyclable of items. But in Denali, recycling was the rule. Trash cans were in short supply. We road the park bus in to about mile 66, where sits the brand new Eielson Visitor's Center, built to replace the older, smaller one that had previously been there. It is the most environmentally friendly building in the entire Parks system, built with out of recycled and local materials, with natural light and heating taken into account in its design. It is powered by a hydroelectric generator in a nearby stream, solar panels, and boosted by propane generators when needed. Best of all, it is built with a low profile. The parking and pullout for the buses is on the roof, so the actual structure is worked into the side of the hill in a way that makes it very difficult to see from the road - no large and imposing structure plunked down on the tunddra. It opened for the very first time last Sunday. We got to visit it on its third day of operation. Good timing for us!

More on Denali later, I'm sure. I could write all day about that park!

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