Monday, September 12, 2011

Day 24: Alaska...Fly-in to Denali National Park

Friday, August 31, 2007 was Day 24 of our trip and the day of our fly-in to Denali National Park. The van from Talkeetna Aero Service was supposed to pick us up at 6:30 a.m., but it was late; so we just walked down to the airport. We arrived just as the van pulled in with the only other two passengers, who had been picked up at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, just down the road from our campground.

It was a little disconcerting when we were each asked to step onto a scale to be weighed. Apparently, it was important to know the weight of everything (and everyone) that the plane would be carrying. The couple from the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge were carrying backpacks weighing about 17 pounds each. Apparently, they had a fear of going hungry.

Our pilot was a young woman named Erica. An older man named Eric (apparently another pilot) rode along in the rear of the plane. The plane was a twin engine model with seating for about 10 passengers. Doug sat in the copilot's seat, and I sat in the seat behind him. The other couple and Eric sat towards the rear of the plane. We all wore headphones, which helped cut the engine noise and also enabled us to talk to each other.

100_0633-Talkeetna Aero Service Plane Which Flew Us to Denali
The plane that flew us to Denali National Park

100_0647-Return Flight from Denali to Talkeetna-Erica, Our Pilot
Our pilot, Erica. (She barely looked old enough to drive!)

It was a pretty clear morning, so Erica took us on a flightseeing tour first, rather than waiting until our return trip in the evening, knowing that the weather in the mountains is fickle and that you need to take the opportunity to enjoy the views when it presents itself. It was a gorgeous flight, but Mount McKinley (also called "Denali" or just "The Mountain") was partially obscured by cloud cover.

Denali, which means "the high one" or "the great one" is the highest mountain peak in North America at 20,320 feet above sea level. Wikipedia explains the disagreement over the correct name of the mountain this way:
In the late 1890s, a gold prospector named it "McKinley" as political support for then-president William McKinley. The Alaska Board of Geographic Names changed the name of the mountain to Denali, which is how it is referred to locally. However, a 1975 request by the Alaska state legislature to the United States Board on Geographic Names to do the same was blocked by Ohio congressman Ralph Regula, whose district includes McKinley's hometown. Members of the Ohio congressional delegation continue to protect the McKinley name, blocking attempts by the Alaska congressional delegation to get the Board of Geographic Names to change it to Denali. Thus, "Denali" is correct according to the Alaska state board, while "McKinley" is correct according to the national board.

Following are some photos from that flightseeing tour. There were times that it looked as if the wing tips were almost touching mountains on each side. Erica was fearless.

100_0490-Flight to Denali
Here you can see that the fall colors had begun their display.

100_0493-Flight to Denali

100_0494-Flight to Denali

100_0495-Flight to Denali
This is a glacier. It's looking dirty because there hasn't been any fresh snow on it for awhile.

100_0496-Flight to Denali

100_0499-Flight to Denali

Our flight landed in Healy, Alaska; and a van drove us from there to the National Park entrance. There, we were furnished with a box lunch before boarding a shuttle bus, driven by Mark Anderson. The bus would take us about 63 miles into the park, where private vehicles are not permitted.

There were only 20 people on the bus, unlike the tour buses we saw that were jam packed. That made it easy for us to move to available windows when wildlife was spotted. And wildlife was spotted in abundance. (I did an earlier post, with pictures of some of the wildlife, which you can see HERE.) We saw moose, fox, grizzlies (lots of them, some right beside the road), caribou, dall sheep, and eagles. I'm pretty sure I saw some wolves, too; but it was on the return trip. By then, we had picked up a lot more passengers and were moving too fast for me to get a good look or to get the driver's attention in time.

There are buses that will take people out and drop them off to do some hiking or other sightseeing. Then they can board any of the shuttle buses for return transportation to the visitor center. That's why we had more passengers on the return trip.

100_0527-Denali NP
Here we are at a rest stop on the bus tour of the national park.

100_0585-Denali NP-Caribou
These caribou were so far away that our bus driver referred to them as "micro-caribou."

100_0586-Denali NP
This is a scene inside Denali National Park. It shows one of Alaska's "braided rivers." 
We saw these everywhere in Alaska.

The bus arrived back at the visitor center about 5:30 p.m., and the van picked us up a half-hour later to take us to Healy for our plane ride back to Talkeetna.

100_0637-Return Flight from Denali to Talkeetna
We saw this rainbow on our return flight.

Supper that night was at Mountain High Pizzeria in Talkeetna. It had been just a wonderful day, the highlight of our trip to Alaska.


  1. An amazing area to go to.I still call the mountain McKinely, one I would love to approach the summit.Flying gave another perspective of the beauty you were enjoying.

  2. Steve - The flight to Denali was definitely a highlight of the trip, especially for Doug. And he deserved it, after all that driving.

  3. Awesome! Went back and re-looked at the wildlife photos too. It's SO funny that you would post this today because just this morning, Eddie (who works for the National Park Service) said we should do a year in Alaska! It would be amazing.

  4. How absolutely thrilling ... you're so lucky to have seen all these wonderful things!

  5. Elizabeth-Does Eddie get to choose his assignments?! It would be awesome to be assigned to Denali National Park. Of course, Alaska doesn't seem like a likely place for you to pursue your musical career. :)

    Deborah-I do feel blessed to have been able to make this trip.

  6. Thank you for sharing your experiences on Flightseeing Denali. I am thinking I might go there as well. I will be be there soon for sightseeing.


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