Honeymoon Day 11: Denali National Park and Preserve, Kantishna Roadhouse, Wickersham Dome Trail

This post is admittedly not about Sprout. In fact, it is pre-Sprout. However, we thought some people may be interested in our Alaskan travel and wanted to move our prior posts to this blog. This is the 11 of 13 posts in our Honeymoon Series.

Location: Denali National Park and Preserve

We woke up early to get breakfast and check on the status of our luggage before hiking at 9am. We signed up last night for the ‘strenuous’ guided hike to Wickersham Dome. The buffet breakfast was plentiful and varied, but they could have used some heaters under the food as the eggs were cold. We were able to corner the eager new guy at the desk and learned that he had shared our bus ride the day before and witnessed our bag being left behind. In fact, he was ordered to take it to the train depot, because somehow a sticker with the name ‘John Walsh’ was attached, and John Walsh did not have a reservation. The desk dude said he would call the train depot immediately and we had a glimmer of hope since someone from the Roadhouse had seen our bag. But for now, we were stuck in our travel clothes, signed up to climb a 2300-foot hill and a hike over a tundra-covered ridge top. Fortunately, our hiking boots arrived safely on our feet and were not in Denali depot luggage limbo.

The day was beautiful – warm, sunny and with blue sky and swarms of Alaskan mosquitoes. Aaron was wearing a short sleeve shirt, providing little protection for his Irish/German skin from either the sun or the mosquitoes. Jacqui, a bit more prepared, had three layers. Unfortunately, they were all thermal layers. Both were wearing tight jeans (at least by their standards). We requested a long sleeve cotton shirts (which they do sell in their gift shop), but were only offered rain jackets (which we also had in our backpack) and rubber pants that are rented out to guests.  You would think that an ‘all-inclusive’ place like this could include a cotton shirt when they don’t include your luggage. If our feet weren’t so accustomed to our hiking boots, then they would not have been on our feet travelling and we would have been forced to forgo today’s beautiful views of Denali.

Our hike was fantastic despite our attire. We climbed steep, rocky hills reminiscent of PA hiking, sans shade, to the ridge-top tundra. The tundra looked like a grassy field that would be an easy stroll, but rather it squished beneath your feet and was like walking up mountains of sand. It needed to grow like a sponge in order to absorb the necessary water. Fascinating! The guide surprised us by pointing out tiny, delicate flowers and identifying them as rhododendron, which in PA grow to resemble huge tropical shrubs. Their growth is restricted by the extreme environment on the mountaintop and the result is effectively natural bonsai-ification. From the top, we had an unobstructed view of Denali’s north face, the peaks of the Alaskan Range flanking Denali, and Wonder Lake in the foreground. From our perspective, Denali looked as if it were a stone’s throw away when actually it was 45 miles from us.


The terrain.
Denali starting to peak out from behind the nearer mountains.
Miniature Rhododendron.
Miniature Azaleas were in bloom on the tundra.
A red ground squirrel.
On our hike. Note that the snow line is at about 7,000 feet!
A chubby marmot keeping watch.
A young marmot sunbathing.

Unsatisfied with our mere 8-mile hike, we decided to take a 10 mile (RT) bike ride after our hike to Wonder Lake and Reflection Pond, made famous by Ainsel Adams’ photograph. Both were lovely, but Denali’s reflection was marred by the ripples in the water. Jacqui waited patiently with camera in hand for the wind to break for a few minutes revealing Denali’s splendid reflection, while Aaron scanned the hillsides for grizzlies. Neither of us found what we were waiting for. We trekked back to the roadhouse a half-hour late for dinner. We were flattered to be given a honeymooner’s table, although on second thought, it could have been the ‘kids’ table in reality (given our age relative to the average – we are outliers). We enjoyed a bottle of wine together and unpressured conversation appreciating our lovely day.

Denali (on right) and other Alaska Range Mountains over Wonder Lake.

As we were eating, we saw our bag arrive at the roadhouse on the bus from the park gate. Whew! The senior front desk guy who handles evenings made sure to point out that there was indeed a small barcode sticker on the bag that said “WALSH/JOHNJ US AIR 4118.” We spent some time contemplating in which airport the sticker may have been picked up and how long it might have been there. Overjoyed to be able to sleep in clean clothes, we headed to the room to shower and sink like stones into the bed.

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