16 October 2011

Anchorage Zoo and Drive to Denali (Day 6)

Our sixth day in Alaska was mostly consumed by the drive to the Denali National Park, which is about five hours from Anchorage. In the morning, however, we were able to take some time to stop by the Anchorage Zoo. We were initially hesitant about going to the zoo, but our guidebook recommended it as a good way to see Alaskan wildlife without going to Denali. We figured that even though we were going to Denali, it wouldn't hurt to see the animals in the zoo anyways.

The Zoo focuses primarily on animals that are native to Alaska and similar climates. Several of the animals were ones we either weren't likely to see in the wild (e.g. Snow Leopard) or ones we'd really rather not see up close and personal (e.g. Wolverine, Bald Eagle). Still, a very nice zoo, and since we hadn't seen very many land animals yet, it was nice to see some "wildlife." Like the rest of Anchorage, the zoo also had some great flowers and mushrooms.

After the zoo, we left Anchorage to head towards Denali. We stopped several places along the way, including a quirky place called Talkeetna. On a good day, you can see Mount McKinley (also called Denali) from Talkeetna. However, we weren't there on a good day (all we saw were clouds), so we just wandered around a bit and hopped back in the car. Later on, we stopped in Denali State Park (not to be confused with the national variety) and there we saw a tiny sliver of Mt. McKinley:

We also learned that McKinley is only completely visible through the clouds about five days per year. Naturally, that wasn't our day, but (fortunately) the next day was one of the rare days where it was completely clear.

The drive to Denali was gorgeous, however. Not quite like the drive to Whittier or Seward, but the road takes you through dramatic mountains and valleys. Later in the trip (on our way home), it was raining on this road, and it was just amazing. The road is also a narrow, two-lane variety, and the cars are infrequent enough for you to feel really alone in the wilderness. The lighting, the mountains, the solitude -- this was Alaska.

More pictures available in my Picasa.

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