THE PARKS HIGHWAY|
After lunch, we headed out of Fairbanks onto Highway 3, the Parks Highway and arrived at the Denali National Park Visitor's Center about 3 hours later.
In 1971 the Parks Highway was not available, so it took us a day to backtrack 179 miles southeast through Delta Junction, down the Richardson Highway (#4) to Paxton, then westward over the 136-mile Denali Highway (#8), a gravel road to arrive at the Park about 10 PM but with plenty of daylight.   That was in June.   This time it was August 29.   A serious rainstorm had begun.
Denali National Park has a very interesting 85-mile gravel road into it, an excellent way to view bear, caribou, and dall sheep.   We know this because, in 1971, we drove that road.   The very next year, public access was discontinued except by tour buses or hiking.   So this time we could drive only the first 15 miles.  It was stunningly beautiful!
At least our timing was good.   The tundra was vivid with it's autumn colors, mainly deep reds, bright yellows, and, of course, dark greens.   Even the rain was a blessing.
I think the clouds and the very wet tundra made the colors much deeper than they would have been in brilliant sunshine.
The rain and clouds, though, made it impossible to see "The Mountain, Mt. McKinley, alias, Denali, meaning, "The High One."   This is not unusual.   Park brochures remark that you might not be able to see Mt.   McKinley on your visit.
Beautiful mountain scenery is very familiar to all of us because photographs are plentiful.   There is a kind of similarity in them all.   But the colors in these tones and the clouds of this day produce a special effect that is hard to find.   Scenes were similar just outside the park and down the Parks Highway.   What a tremendously scenic highway!
The Parks Highway shortens the distance between Fairbanks and Anchorage to 358 miles.   It was opened just after our 1971 visit.   Today, it's a wide two-lane paved road with great scenery all the way.
One last viewpoint southeast of Mt. McKinley provides an opportunity to see the mountain.   The scene is beautiful, but alas, the mountain is behind a cloud bank.
Approaching Palmer, we enjoyed the Matanuska-Susitna Valley (The "Mat-Su"). The first town at the west end is Willow, the voters' choice for a new Alaskan Capital siting in 1976, until funding was rejected in 1982.   Other major towns in this farming belt are Houston, Wasilla and Palmer.   This is the area where the Iditarod Race begins.   It looks like a very nice place to live, dotted with just a few small towns.   And the services of Anchorage are not terribly far away.