Alaska 2014

NOTE:  When Sharon adds comments, they will be in {curly brackets}.  Comments added AFTER coming back to San Jose are in [square brackets].


Report 38. Day 38. Wed, June 11. BLM Tangle Lakes Campground to Denali RV Park. Denali Highway- Dirt and Gravel.

It rained last night, but up in the hills it was snow. It never did get very cold here, somewhat explaining the rain. In anticipation of the cold night, Jerry and I rigged up the exhaust hose to take the heater exhaust and blow it out under the trailer, generally aimed at the fresh water tank to keep it from freezing as it did in Colorado. This is because there's no electricity to run the tank heaters. {The BLM sites are "dry" camping with no services. We run off our own batteries and water.}

I get a cute little White-crowned Sparrow, nestled in an evergreen bough. And you can see the snow up on the hills behind us. {It's fun to see the white-crowned sparrows here. Every Fall, I know the season has changed when I first hear the white-crowns sing in our backyard. They stay until the Spring and then go back to the coast. I like to think one made his way up here for us to see.}

More snow on the mountains behind us.


I rate the BLM Tangle Lakes Campground as totally excellent, even with no electricity. We hit the road about 8:30, with Denali as our destination.

On the way out the exit road, parallel to a stream, we meet a couple of cars worth of birders. They point out a Wandering Tattler on a bush in the stream. Nice.

Continuing on, Sharon and Jerry spot what they think is a pica. Shirley and I missed it.

A Wilson's Warbler pops up while we're waiting to try and see the pica again.

A merlin or a kestrel flies by on our right, but we can't decide which it is. A chipping sparrow pair follows.

9:30 and we rack up another pica, a white-crowned sparrow and a real streaky-chested bird - maybe a song sparrow.

Spectacular view to our left, big valley, river running down the middle of it, kettle ponds all over it. A third have a dot in them, most or all are beaver lodges.

We're seeing and hearing a thrush of some type, maybe a Bicknell's Thrush. [Turned out to be a Veery, upon investigation in our iBird Pro App].

Got a pair of wilson’s warblers, the male with the cool black cap, otherwise all yellow. Beautiful..

So this thrush like bird has spots on its throat.

Next we get a colony of bank swallows, in a bank just across from a pond. Lots and lots of in and out activity, speaking of the nest holes in the bank. All this just before mile marker 41.

Sharon picks up a big white bird perched on a bump of some kind way, way across a big field. I get out the scope, and another bird joins the first bird. We're hoping for snowy owl, but finally iD them as a pair of gulls. {Dang! wanted it to be a Snowy Owl.}

As we take off, it is snowing or sleeting, tiny white balls hitting the windshield and hood.

We come to the McLaren River, and a private campground for hunters, it seems to me.


Back to the road and onward.

A little farther on and there are a hundred swallows up in the air. Shirley says how did you count them? I say I rounded off.

Continuing on Sharon quickly says stop and back up. She thinks she saw a beaver trail in the water. I do. There are lots of circles and Jerry says they are caused by fish, not beaver. He sees trout. {Many fish are rising all over this small lake but we never see one.}

On to another small lake, and we've got gulls swimming in circles, peck peck pecking at the water as if to be picking bugs off the top. Next to them are three Bonaparte's Gulls doing the same thing. Next to them are 7-8 tiny dark birds not yet id'd. We get a pintail, and Sharon says she heard a snipe.

Here is the little Red-necked Phalarope.

Then another Red-throated Loon, a couple of Northern Shovelers, a Green-winged Teal and some kind of phalarope, likely Red-necked Phalarope. Sharon suggests it may be a Wilson's Phalarope. I get a couple of great photos, and they are red-necks. From Arkansas maybe.

Next some kind of small black and white bird, with a particular sound. But no ID on this bird.

The glacier activity has created big mounds of what they call eskers. I mean big, like 4-5 stories tall, and the road builders built the roads right over them, so sometimes we're like driving on top of a building, looking four stories down to the ground. A little eerie. Or aerie. {They say eskers are "rivers" of gravel that get carried along by the streams that are inside the glaciers and are deposited when the glacier retreated.}

I say that's one more esker. And Sharon says esker mo. See, now that's funny because of the people we call eskimo. Like New England people who stick in an extra 'r' when there isn't one, or in this case remove one when there is.

Shirley says she had an Aunt Esker.

Sharon's internal optimist thinks she sees Denali mountain over there, about ten miles away. I say come on Sharon, and she says come on, it's a huge huge mountain, and that you can see it from Anchorage. I say I don't think you can see it from Anchorage, but it turns out that on the right kind of day, from the right place in Anchorage, you CAN see it. Only I don't think this is it. Surely this is too far away. There are lots of peaks visible, and I'm guessing one or all of them are hiding Denali behind it.

We stop for lunch about 12:30, then take off, changing drivers. Jerry takes over, and I go to the back seat for some shut eye. Ahhhhh.

About an hour and a half later we get a moose, and before that a Red-necked Phalarope and a Yellow-rumped Warbler. Shirley spotted that one.

One of those moods hits us and we roll with it. The road becomes full of potholes, and Jerry says sorry he can't dodge 'em. Shirley says we can't afford to Dodge 'em. Sharon says don't Tesla my patience. Shirley says Jesus Chrysler, you're hitting every one of them. Scuse the Jesus reference, but it fit in nicely and I don't think He minds.

Jerry and Shirley are miffed because they like to play the wildly popular internet game called Words With Friends. Sharon and I both play it too. J and S each have an iPad, and I describe some random situations where mine stops working. I have to delete the game, reload it, and then it works again, still having saved all my games. The key is when suddenly three days have gone by and I haven't gotten any moves from anyone.

Jerry invents a new word. We're talking about some phenomenon and he says he thinks that word is regooglable. I applaud his new word, though I don't know how the 're' got in there. Extra padding maybe. G1 Jer.

Sharon has read that around here there's a good chance to see Mt. McKinley (Denali) if the weather's good. I get a robin on the right side while verifying that the weather's not good enough to see 'the mountain.' We have just gone over Fish Creek Bridge, and this is the spot. Sunshine here, but cloudy down there. I think it's the case of the mountain making its own weather -- read 'clouds' -- by the afternoon.

Rest room stop. Yawn. In the trailer. Upon entering the trailer, all the cabinet doors have popped open from all the bouncy activity with the potholes. Jerry runs the gamut, closing all the doors so we can get to the bathroom door.

We refuel at a USA/Tesoro. We make a reservaton at the Denali RV Park just south (this side) of Healey, and we're headed there.That's a little before 5 pm.

"Moose on the right!" Jerry says that's six moose, but he misses the baby, so that's really 7. Love the mooses to pooses, er, meeses to pieces. We watch this one zipppppping the fresh tips off the willow branches. Zip, zip, zipppp.

Back on the road, we pass a cut in the landscape which makes me wonder what it would have felt like to be standing right here when it happened. {Earthquake movement?}

We take some wonderful shots over the next hour or more, on our way to the Denali area. Shirley and Jerry want to go for a walk, and they choose a little uphill work.

Gorgeous snow on the mountains as we wait for their return. Pretty Polynesian Baby, Over the Sea... wait, that's Ricky Nelson. Scuse me.

We come to the boundary of what they call Denali Borough, which we guess is something like a county. Then we begin to see these strange fixtures along the way. Later, we learn they are used to attach a steam truck to, to blow steam underground and melt the ice in the culvert (or whistles as Jerry calls them). This is at the end of winter/beginning of spring, to give the melting a head start. Something about making it easier on the roads, to prevent them from buckling maybe.

I like this shot of Shirley using her iPad as a camera.

Holy cow, after about 90 miles of gravel, we come to paved road again. Glory be!

Up we go, past the entrance to Denali National Park, past the Grizzly RV Park, and by 6:15pm, we are in place at the Denali RV Park.

We want to get a feel for our trip into Denali tomorrow morning, so we backtrack and drive as far as we can on the road into Denali Park..

We believe that this is Denali - Mt. McKinley. The left side is a gray 45 degree angle going up, to the right, and into the clouds. The other side is all snow, and is also mostly hidden by clouds. We hope tomorrow's viewing will be cloudless, but you know how it goes. We have no control.

We go to the 49th State Brewery for dinner, as recommended to us by a random fellow who walked up to us as we were setting up camp. He is obviously lonely and starts telling us all about his experiences, and what we should do, where we should go. We take him up on his dinner recommendation.

To use the shower, we must buy a token at the office. One token costs 3 dollars and lasts 5 minutes. If you want more water, you can put in another token for another 5 minutes. Well, duh.

Back in camp, I am excited because tomorrow looks like, according to, a partly sunny morning. We might get to see the big one. I can hardly wait. It's been since 1998 that I last saw Denali in the clear.

Here are the last pictures of the day. No, that's not McKinley in the cloud picture.

The flag shot below is directly behind our RV park.

And with that, it's a good night to you all again,
Bob and Sharon

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