Wilderness is important, and not just to preserve the environment that we live in, but also to preserve our collective sanity. Yes, it’s important to protect endangered species simply because they deserve it, but it’s more important to preserve, to the extent possible, all that is wild, and savage, and brutal, and beautiful, and genuine in the world, not just for our own sakes, but especially for our children and grandchildren, because it is they, more than any other generation, who have inherited a world devoid of reality, truth, and beauty, and one badly in need of sanctuary from the constant bombardment of (((media))) messages, most of which are designed to deaden our senses and bludgeon us with lies so absurd that only an imbecile or a madman would have believed them only a generation ago.
Thus, Denali (and other national parks) function as reservoirs of lucidity precisely because the wilderness itself cannot be filtered or massaged-because the message the taiga sends is unambiguous-and that message, for those who wish to hear it, is that, regardless of how much we might wish the world were different than it is doesn’t matter at all-it’s the way the world actually does work that matters, and the crystalline image, simply and succinctly trumpeted by these wilderness areas, is that nature is uncompromising in its life or death struggle, yet starkly beautiful in its perfection, and it does not tolerate evolutionary dead ends, sloth, or mere fecundity for its own sake, nor does it care about feelings, “micro-agressions”, or potential. It is a world clearly created by a higher being, and the lessons it should teach us-that survival is a harsh reality, that beauty is to be found in every living thing, and that mistakes and actions have severe consequences that cannot be negotiated away-is as applicable to man as a natural being as much as to any animal.
I stayed four days in Denali at the Tonglen Lake Lodge. During that time, I saw Dall Sheep, a herd of caribou, a bull moose in rut, and the splendor of Mt McKinley on a clear day. It’s a beautiful place beautifully preserved and I hope it stays that way.
If you go, I have these tips:
Where to stay-If I did it over again, I’d plan my trip about a year ahead of time and grab one of the few RV camping spots 30 miles inside the park. That’ll get you 15 miles further in than a car can go, and it lets you stay there on the cheap (relatively speaking-about $200/night including RV rental and campsite). There are hotels that are way inside at the 90 mile point (Kantishna), but there are some compromises with staying there (eg., outhouse facilities and the need to actually make very long range plans). If that doesn’t bother you, the $1000/night charges might.
What to do-The Eielson shuttle takes you 90 miles in via a school bus. It’s an 8-hour, all day affair, but it’s the only way to get deep in the heart of the park (other than the lodges mentioned above or some other private buses but they are also limited to the 90 mile road). You can jump on/off the shuttle bus anywhere you want, but there’s a catch: when you step back to the road to wave down the next bus, it might be full. I just road in/road out and saw plenty of wildlife. If you do the shuttle, pack a lunch-there are no restaurants or cafe’s anywhere on the route (although restrooms are available at reasonable intervals).
BUT-I also had a car, which allowed me to drive 15 miles in and stop where I wanted. I knew where to stop because that is where everyone else was already pulled off to the side of the road looking at something. Since I was there during the moose rutting season (late August-September) I was able to see these magnificent beasts (up to 1600 pounds!) up close just by pulling over.
I also took some short hikes on my own. There are all kinds of shorter or longer routes to take from just 30 minutes to several days duration.
What to bring-Binoculars and a good camera. Lunch if you’re on the shuttle bus. I didn’t need insect repellent but have heard it’s a good idea to bring it. Bear spray if you’re hiking, along with good socks, water, a cell phone, and rain gear.
Don’t stress-There’s only one road in and out, and everybody has to take it if they want to see the park. You’re not going to miss anything (although Mt McKinley will reveal itself only if it wants to).
Shopping-If you can, buy your provisions elsewhere. The local grocers are little more than convenience stores and they will rip you off severely.
Getting there-Everyone wants to take the train. I didn’t and am glad I didn’t because the weather was bad on my travel days. But I did take the Seward Gold Star which is also run by the Alaska railroad and it was truly a stellar first class experience, so I’m not knocking the idea entirely. The trouble is, the train then leaves you at the mercy of someone else to get you around once you arrive and then you’ll have to eat where the masses eat, and that’s not generally a good thing.
How much time to allow-A difficult question, because it depends on what you just have to see. If you want a clear view of McKinley, you might need to allow a month. I was there four days and saw nothing until my drive back to Anchorage, when the mountain decided to reveal itself to me (it is so large it creates its own weather system). With wildlife, you have a very high chance of seeing caribou, bear, Dall sheep, and moose during just one or two days there. That said, I’d allow 3 nights. That gives you two full days to see things, and it’s enough for most.