September 1. Today, we were leaving the Kenai Peninsula and heading north towards the Denali State Park area. I loved the Kenai – it is nicknamed “Anchorage’s Playground” and with good reason. I would love to come back and spend more time here, drive to some of the towns there was just not time to get to, like Soldatna, Hope, and Homer. Although the Kenai is readily accessible to Anchorage, it is still plenty rugged. There is great-sounding canoe camping in the Kenai National Moose Range, the largest ice field in the United States (Harding Ice field), and these great hiking trails that just leave roads as you drive along. Every time we passed one, I wondered where it went to. One of them, the Resurrection Trail, just got a great write up in my Backpacker Magazine as a tremendous and wild six day point to point hike. It sounds incredible. Oh, to have more time!
We were driving back along Turnagain Sound towards Anchorage, with the Chugash Mountains rising from the sea to our right. All along this beautiful road were hiking trails leading off into the mountains of Chugash State Park and Chugash National Forest. I had the same emotions – wouldn’t it be great to have a few weeks just to explore these trails? The weather was very nice today, unlike our rainy Saturday trip along the Sound heading towards Kenai. So we got to enjoy the incredible scenery, and we also got to see several belugas in the distance at this point, aptly named Beluga Point. We could see these small white whales clearly through our binoculars as they came up for air, but could not get good photos, although the white dot near the center of this one is a beluga. Trust me, it really is there, at least we could see it clearly on our friends' high definition TV when we viewed our photos on it last night!
We drove north through Anchorage, which seemed like New York City after four days on the Kenai, through Wasilla - no Sarah Palin sightings - and eventually reached our destination: The McKinley Princess Lodge. It is 40 miles from the highest mountain in North America, Denali ("The High One"). Other names are Mount McKinley and "The Mountain." Only one in four tourists see this 20,320 foot (and growing) mountain, because it makes its own weather and spends much of its time enshrouded in clouds. But shortly after we got to the hotel, the clouds began to break up, and we were treated to pretty good views of the north peak from the large deck. Several hundred people literally spent an hour waiting in vain for the south peak to become visible too. But what an amazing sight! Just magnificent.
I took a ton of photos, because I was convinced this was the last we would see of "The High One." How wrong I was about that!
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