Denali National Park: Saying Goodbye


Denali Visitor Center

Morning was chill in Savage River Campground on Thursday, August 27, but the gripping cold that campground host, Liz, had forecast had not yet arrived. In the tent, we had a more insistent puddle than we’d had the previous morning. It had rained overnight, but in the bright gray morning, there was only occasional drizzle.

We’d started our last canister of backpacker stove fuel the day before, and it was fairly light when I started heating water in the coffee percolator. Damned if it didn’t cut out just as the coffee was done. It was the first time we’d estimated perfectly how much fuel we’d need on a trip.

Packing up over coffee didn’t take long. Our plan was to have breakfast at the park grill while we finished writing our postcards to mail from the Park. We also wanted to visit the Alaska Geographic bookstore and, of course, the Visitor Center.


After breakfast and some $300 in damage (and a newly minted membership to Alaska Geographic) at the bookstore, we headed to the post office to mail our postcards.


Denali Post Office

We visited the Wilderness Access Center, from which the bus tours departed, just to say we’d seen it, and also to recycle our empty backpacking stove fuel containers. At this point we were ready to drive away, when suddenly it occurred to us that although we’d gone into the Visitor Center to ask questions, we’d forgotten to actually look at its exhibitions. So we turned back into the park to finally visit the Visitor Center.


A metal globe indicates the boreal forest, or taiga, as it circles the Earth.

The Denali Visitor Center was built in 2005 and at a LEED Silver rating, is the highest-rated sustainable building in Alaska (pdf).


Tundra Swan and Dall Sheep models

Spectacularly, the Visitor Center boasts life-sized sculptures of all of the major animal species in the Park, while stylized depictions of the Park’s birds hang from the rafters.


The sculpted topographic map of the Park, a staple of National Park Visitor Centers, was expansive. It was illuminating to see so vividly how the Park fits into the surrounding landscape.



The interpretive displays also celebrated Park history and research as well as Alaska pioneer and Native cultures.


Lynx and Snowshoe Hare models


An interactive display allows visitors to explore how Native Alaskans used the various parts of moose for food, shelter, tools, and clothing.


So…? Image: Sean M. Santos


From a selection of visitor answers to the question, “What does Denali mean to you?”


Denali Visitor Center Campus

Sean multitasked while we were in the Visitor Center, using the wifi to download Madonna’s Celebration album onto his phone for the drive back to Anchorage.

We departed Denali National Park around 1:30pm, headed for Talkeetna and a late afternoon supper.


The particularly imagination-fueling road sign at the Denali entrance to the Parks Highway.


A new friend guides us south to Anchorage.



In Talkeetna, we stopped at the Talkeetna Roadhouse for a northwoods supper of pasties and chili.




As we headed south, Sean spun some Madonna and then a Beyoncé retrospective, complete with an interpretive performance of Queen Bey’s videos using his new Alaska flag handkerchief.


“Part II (On the Run)”




“03 Bonnie & Clyde”

My camera was no better than it had been, so on the way back into Anchorage, we stopped at a Target on the north side of town to see if they sold desiccant packs (the little bead packets that keep products moisture free). One of the tips we’d read about was to put the camera in a plastic ziplock bag with a desiccant pack to draw out the moisture.

It turned out that we had discovered The Target Run By Children. No one who worked there appeared to be older than twenty. Everyone was very nice and very helpful and very young.

The Target didn’t carry desiccant packs, although one of the children remarked that they were all over the floor in the stockroom. Huh. While we were there, I began to price out replacement cameras. If I couldn’t get the camera fixed, I’d have to look for alternatives. I had no intention of visiting Glacier Bay National Park without a good camera.


But for now, it was time to stop and pick up some alcohol for the hotel. For the next three days, we’d be exploring Anchorage.


2 thoughts on “Denali National Park: Saying Goodbye

  1. Jessica Goodfellow

    Thank you for sharing your trip is so much detail. I was there this summer, as an artist-in-residence, and as I write about my trip, I find not everything I need in my notes and photographs. Your blog was like being there again!


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