Each year that we travel to Alaska, we always make sure that we experience something NEW … something that we hadn’t tried before … somewhere that we hadn’t been before … or something that we haven’t photographed before. In 2014, one of our NEWs was traveling across the Denali Highway – from Paxson to Cantwell … all 135 miles of it!
Though this was already our 8th trip to Alaska, it was of course, our 1st across this infamous stretch of lonely road. Why?, you might wonder. A few responses come to mind, such as “the more travelled Glenn Highway is wonderful as well”, “the road is too slow for our pace”, “what if we got a flat(s) along the way?”, and being a relatively un-maintained road, “how bad is the road really?”. The road had a reputation of being primarily washboard like and extremely dusty. Caution went to the wind and onward we drove. Well we began on our journey early one morning and we were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by almost 24 miles of paved road right off the bat! The scenery along the way, on this mostly clear day, was unmatched as well. Like the Glenn Highway, it was breathtaking views, but it all felt so much closer on the Denali, as it climbed steeply up the foothills of the central Alaskan Range.
OK, maybe not that close … but you get the idea. 🙂
Everywhere you looked, there were jaw-dropping views. We found ourselves experiencing “shock & awe” Awed by all of the beauty and quite honestly shocked that we had never traveled this way before. Of particular beauty was the area around Triple Lakes … gosh how I wished I could own that cabin! LOL
At precisely MM 21.3, was where the paved road ended and the gravel road began. We both paused for a moment – yes, to take the image, but also to vow to each other that no matter what happened, we were in it together and wouldn’t place any blame on each other. LOL. We were going full steam ahead in our rented 28′ RV (which wasn’t restricted from the “highway”, but rather not encouraged, with warnings to proceed with caution). Heck, we figured it couldn’t be worse than the year that we drove a slightly larger RV over Hatcher Pass … not a good idea for anyone wondering about that trip.
Various lakes and kettle ponds dotted the road and the views continued to wow us.
We even got to shoot some hawks along the way. The wildlife however was otherwise non-existent … but who could blame them for hiding, since it was an active hunting season. Sort of bummed about that.
Views of Mt. Deborah, Mt. Hayes, Mt. Hess, as well as the overall Wrangell Mountains, Chugach Mountains, and the Alaskan Range were offered up along the way. At the Mcclaren Summit, the road reaches a height of 4086′, which earns it the 2nd highest road in AK. The area also serves as a drainage for the Cooper River, Tanana/Yukon River, and the Susitna River.
In the distance, you can see the Maclaren Glacier and the Maclaren River, with the mountains looming even further in the distance.
We found it really difficult to make our way across the highway on our adventure, as we couldn’t have pictured it nicer and so far, pretty uneventful as far as the road was concerned.
All that we were missing was the wildlife, but as I mentioned earlier, I was glad that they were all in hiding. Though there were numerous hunters camped out, we didn’t see any of their successful conquests … thankfully.
As we neared the 2/3 marker of the highway, the weather began to get dreary and our visibility began to diminish, so we made more of an effort to simply get it done. Gone were the promised views of Denali, but hey, it was an amazing run while it lasted.
Would we do it again? There’s a 3-word response to that question … In A Heartbeat! It just goes to prove the point … “sometimes the road less traveled is the most amazing one”. On a side, for those with good recall and might have been wondering, Yes, we were still talking when our tires once again hit the pavement for the final 2-3 miles. In fact, I believe that we were closer than ever … very tired, but exhilarated at the same time.
Stay tuned for our unexpected surprise along the Denali Highway … you don’t want to miss it, I promise. 🙂
© 2015 TNWA Photography