June 17, 2013

Good Monday. Very nice morning here after a hot weekend that we mostly missed. It was 85 degrees when we got back around 6:45 last evening. Fortunately, a breeze developed around 9:00 to cool things off.

We spent our long weekend at Tangle Lakes and driving the Denali Highway. From here that means driving 200 miles south on the Richardson Highway to Paxon, then west 20 miles on paved road past the most scenic rest-stop in Alaska at about mile 10 of the Denali Highway. At 20 mile we stayed two nights at Tangle River Inn, which is out of 50s/60s Alaska. The nearby tundra, which stretches many miles in all directions, interrupted by impressive mountains, draws millions of migrating birds, including American Golden Plovers from the South Pacific and Arctic Terns from Antarctica. The late spring seemed to depress the number of waterbirds, as the duck population was fairly sparse. Lakes that we have seen filled with dozens of ducks had half-a-dozen. The largest of Tangle Lakes still had a lot of ice cover. Still, we saw two kinds of loon, both kinds of swan, lots of cheery warblers and thrushes and sparrows, a few shorebirds (and a few that were not so shore), and generally enjoyed the wide-open spaces.

Sunday we drove the remaining 115 miles to Cantwell, dirt and gravel all the way to about mile 130. From Cantwell to Fairbanks is 148 miles. The scenery along the Denali Highway is some of the grandest in the state, which is saying something. We encountered groups of birders from Texas and Arizona. Portland, OR Audubon had come the previous week. We met tourists from North Carolina, France, and Spain. The French guys were planning to visit “the magic bus” of Into the Wild. We told them about the guys who were rescued doing that just two weeks ago. They said they knew and would be careful.

The couple from Spain was especially keen to see animals and hoped to encounter a bear. I refrained from telling them one ate a man just a hundred miles north of there last week. No point in spoiling their fun. The Denali Highway mileposts start at Paxon. The first 70 miles, almost to the Susitna River valley, are tundra and brush. The rest of the way is spruce/birch/aspen/willow forest. As you near Denali Park from the east, the mountains get closer to the road. One of the great drives in North America.

Denali Highway Mile 37 sm

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