Drive-by Denali?

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North America » United States » Alaska » Denali
July 3rd 2012
Published: December 3rd 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

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The Grizzly Bear Campground, ten minutes from the national park had plenty of space and a very nice setting.
The tallest peak in North America is in Alaska. In the early 20thCentury it was christened Mt. McKinley after the then president, who had never set foot in Alaska. Almost immediately the cries went up that that was a ridiculous thing to do. I don't know how the First Nations reacted to this. They didn't have a strong voice at that time, so their reaction was likely ignored. I suspect they wouldn't have been pleased. But they had a name for the mountain, too. They had a name for almost everything around, including lots that the new guys (us whities) didn't even know was there, or just listed as being there without a name. Their name for the mountain was Denali. Roughly translated to English, it comes out as “the High One” or “the Great One.” It qualifies, I would think. And it must have figured into all kinds of myths and legends of the local peoples.

The mountain has been part of a national park for decades and it lies between Anchorage and Fairbanks. My plan was to drive to the park, have some kind of experience in the park, a hike or some such, and then head on up to Fairbanks for the night. Ah, the best laid plans...

The road up was quite easy. The day was cloudy and I figured I wasn't about to be actually seeing the mountain, although one can never tell with weather around mountains. It can clear up in an instant and that may only last for minutes. Or it can just get more and more socked in. I had had my glimpse of the mountain from Anchorage on my first night there, so I felt I might well have to be satisfied with that. Certainly there was no hint of even the direction in which it might lie as I passed the view points to see the mountain. Such is life.

I arrived at the park and went in to one of the quasi-visitor centres. It wasn't the actual visitor centre, but served as the terminal for the buses into the park. Cars are allowed a certain distance in on the road, but after that, the only way is by park provided bus service. The park is carefully monitored to preserve its eco-system, and this monitoring was instituted after years of abuse by climbers wanting to climb another of the magic seven, but leaving their trash behind. Now there is a very strict carry in-carry out policy, even including biological waste. It must come out with the users of the park as well. If only we could apply that kind of diligence to places like the oil sands, Dawson City's gold fields, and other places where an anything-goes policy seems to be in force.

I headed into the visitor centre and started by talking to Kim, the park greeter. In talking with her, it came clear that I would be able to take a bus into and out of the park, but it would be kind of rushed. I still thought I was going to do that, though, and I headed to the desk to buy a ticket for the bus. But as I got in line, the computers went down. And for whatever reason they were told not to do any kind of manual ticket selling. So I couldn't buy a ticket.

I thought it over and realized that I didn't have to go on to Fairbanks, and that I could easily just stay in the area for the night, have a good day in the national park the next day and then head as far as possible for the night afterwards. I decided to do just that. I tried to go over to get into a campsite at the park's campground, but the whole computer system was down and they also weren't going to be doing anything manually. I asked them what would happen if the time came that night was falling and the computers were still down. Would they slot campers in then? Nope, they wouldn't know if someone was coming for the site and so they couldn't just do that. That seemed asinine to me. If they couldn't even deal with a case when a computer system went down, how would they deal with a wholesale failure of their systems. They ended up losing my business and the business of another fellow who was wanting to stay there as well. We went to a private campground nearby and stayed there. I am going to write to the parks about that. I am particularly miffed because, with all the waiting to see if they would be able to register me, I ended up not doing anything else near the park entrance, where there are small hikes. They wasted my time by not being prepared to get people in. And they lost out of it. I have less respect for the parks system in the US. But more than that, I lost out of the deal as well, for I didn't get to see anything of the entrance area. And that will ultimately hurt the parks system as well.

In the end the computers came back up and my new friend and I got our bus tickets and tomorrow we shall head off into the park to see what's there.


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