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July 16, 2011 / Jim Fenton

Alaska Day 9: Fairbanks to Denali

This article is part of a series about our recent vacation in Alaska.  To see the introductory article in the series, click here.

Fairbanks Park

Park on the Chena River in Fairbanks

Today’s drive is relatively short, so we took some time exploring downtown Fairbanks and attending to some grocery shopping and errands.  While much of downtown Fairbanks isn’t all that attractive, the riverfront has been made into a very nice park with exhibits from Alaska’s 25th anniversary of statehood in 1984.

Proceeding down the Parks Highway toward Denali, we passed through the town of Nenana, which seemed like a good place for the day’s picnic lunch. The visitor center there was a real treat. We stopped because of the public picnic tables, but after a while the volunteer there came out to offer us coffee. When we went to talk with her and learn about the area, we found out about the Nenana Ice Classic, an annual contest to predict the date of the annual ice breakup on the Nenana River. She also had a wealth of information about the Denali area and onward.

Nenana Ice Classic Tripod

Nenana Ice Classic "Tripod" for detecting ice breakup

Arrival at Denali greeted us like so many national parks, with a hyper-commercial business district just outside the entrance. Hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, tour operators, and the like were well represented. The district definitely earns its nickname, Glitter Gulch. We found the way to our hotel, the Grande Denali Lodge, up a steep dirt road with switchbacks. The hotel seems very nice, again the type frequented by tour buses, and our rooms have a wonderful view (of the east end of the park and Glitter Gulch).

It was still mid-afternoon so we went to the park Visitor Center, viewed exhibits, and took a short hike. Yelp helped us find a reasonable place for dinner and then we retired.  Tomorrow we need to be ready to be picked up at 6:00 am for our tour of Denali Park, so it’s going to be an early morning.

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