**I wrote this two years ago, but somehow never had time to process the photos for it, so here you go! Perhaps one more to come if I can get the photos togeher… Better late than never!**
We left Anchorage with a feeling of anticipation I remember having just before opening christmas presents. We were heading to the Denali Highway.
Bert, Alexander and I spread our stuff in the rental car, making sure that cameras, binoculars, GPS handhelds and snacks were easily accessible. I sat in the back and the men in the front (nothing to do with gender bias, a lot to do with the fact that I fall asleep like a baby in cars..). Denali Highway is not your typical highway. It\’s a stretch of unpaved gravel road that connects Paxson in the East to Cantwell in the West.
Our first stop was in Palmer, to stock up on food supplies. More delicious 3min pots of noodles and other similar gourmet dishes… Half an hour later and a lot of huffing and puffing by the men (I mean, I am not big on supermarkets either, but do all men hate them with a passion?), we got back in the car and spend another good 15mins rearranging our stuff to make sure that cameras, maps, etc are still reachable, snacks are available, tomatoes are not being squished, but there is also some space left for me to sit in.
Glenn Highway, the first part of our trip, connects Anchorage to Glennallen. The idea was that we\’d drive as much as we can and try and minimise the stops for photos to give ourselves more time in Denali Highway. But nooo…! That plan was ruined by Bert\’s \”can we stop for a second here?\” or Alex\’s sighs of surrender and the \”no, I am sorry, I must stop\”, signifying the end of an inner battle between unrealistic scenery and time. Of course, that was 100% fine by me! I was just happy to get out of the car and scan the area with the super binoculars Chuck kindly let me borrow.
We managed to reach Sheep Mountain and decided to stay there for the night. We allowed ourselves showers and cooked our dehydrated food. A mama moose walked away from the area behind our cooking spot, annoyed that we disturbed their grazing grounds. Her tiny calf attempted to follow at her pace but its wobbly, brand new sticks for legs could only do so much. We watched them disappear into the thick forest and moved on with our meal and tea.
Next day was the day! After an unbelievably large cup of coffee, we left the campsite and continued making our way to the Denali Highway. I didn\’t know what to expect, but when I dreamt of it before it was not covered with grey rain clouds! Never mind…
The turn to into it brought a change in all of us. We repositioned ourselves on our seats to prepare our spines for the exciting things to come. I even went the extra mile and added a sleeping bag as extra padding, to compensate for my size… I was now as tall as a normal person! Nothing would escape my gaze..
Before we had even covered our first couple of miles Alex suddenly slammed the breaks! A partridge was lazily crossing the road 2m in front of the car. Yeah, cool mate, we\’ll wait..
The rain started about 10mins in the highway. Lovely… But the truth is no clouds in the world could cast a shadow dark enough to hide the beauty of this place. It looked fierce with the grey overlay.
Stop! A ground squirrel was taking care of some very important rodent business on the side of the road. So important, it took him about a minute of \’sorting out\’ before he jumped out of view. We got very excited by that squirrel. Me, I was having a personal party in the back of the car! Little did I know, ground squirrels are bloody everywhere and that was the first of many… We kept seeing them along the way, to the point that they became a little bit annoying because I thought I had spotted something new and exciting every single time.
I have never seen such a vast area of wilderness. As far as your eye could see, there were no signs of humans apart from the occasional car and supercool motorcyclists. Note to self: When I grow up, I\’ll own a motorbike and I\’ll drive through Alaska. Possibly other places too.
Stop! In the shrub land on our left I saw four eyes looking back at me. Two beautiful, slim foxes! Their business next to the highway was obviously not as important as the ground squirrel\’s – they run the opposite way the minute they realised the car had stopped. I love foxes!
Oh, no, negative.. it\’s another ground squirrel..
More mountains covered with snow on the foreground. So much beauty to take in. It\’ll take me a long time to digest that all that was real. That this exists somewhere in the world…
No, I am sorry, we must stop!
Alexander and Bert were taken by the formations of the clouds. Having been surveying the land like a crazy person, I hadn\’t noticed that the grey sky had taken \’moody clouds\’ to a whole other level! Do you know the stone Hematite? It looked very much like it\’s bubbly surface. Very bizarre. The men took pictures of them from the middle of the road (not the bravest of acts in the grand scheme of taking picture from the middle of a highway, seeing as this highway is not exactly busy, but still very cool). I looked at the clouds for about 30 more seconds and went back to animal spotting and my thoughts. I wish I knew my birds a little better…
Is that a barrel? We were on top of a bridge and in the middle of a large river there was a sand bank with big black and white thing. That was no barrel. It was the largest bald eagle we had ever seen (by that time we had seen about 10-15, but none of them compared in size). The monstrous bird was just chillin – in my opinion it had just eaten about 100 kilos of fish and had momentarily lost the ability to fly..
The occasional moose.
There was another stop for photos, so I looked around and found a moose skull. Oh, if only I had a suitcase big enough..
Frequent stops for landscape pictures and taking a better look at some areas with the binoculars were followed by our meal break. I can make excellent croissant – peanut butter and jam sandwiches on the road, but we were all hungry for real food. When I say real, I mean one delicious dish of dehydrated broccoli and cheese soup. Yum! After our hot bowls of soup, we made coffee for the way and left our mosquito infested picnic spot.
The occasional moose.
Stop! There is something in the water there!
I looked on my right and saw what Alexander was pointing at: beavers!! BEAVERS! We jumped out of the car and then realised we should be employing or ninja stealth if we wanted to get any closer. I wouldn\’t call my walk on the marshy slope graceful or quiet, but luckily they didn\’t seem to mind. They were working restlessly on their construction and couldn\’t care less about a bunch of humans taking photos and making squeacky noises because the level of cute had risen to an unbearable level. Yay! Beavers!
More vast wildlands, more forests, more sharp cliffs.
Somewhere in the last miles of the highway, the \’occasional moose\’ had brought it\’s baby along! A mama moose and her calf were feeding right next to the road. We started taking pictures franticly, expecting them to leave the scene any second now. But the moose mama continued to munch on the branches in front of her and the calf kept checking with her and wondering why she doesn\’t look at all worried about the metal box that is making all the clicking noises. In fact, the mother did look alert, but kept eating all the same. Anxious eaters. We sat there watching them walk past us and cross the road in front of the car. Not the sharpest tool in the shed, but really, very beautiful.