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K'esugi Ken Campground


We've finished up our week long visit to Denali National Park and now we begin another week long visit in Denali State Park, which shares a border just south of the national park. (Why so long in the Denali area you ask? Because we've heard the percentages of people who actually get to see Denali, and we are hedging our likelihood of seeing Denali!! -T)

Both of these parks are huge in size, so we'll need to drive 100+ miles to reach our new campsite today. I noticed ROVER was experiencing very good gas mileage today. We usually get right around 10MPH when towing THE POD, but today we were getting just above 13MPG.

Upon arriving at the K'esugi Ken Campground in Denali State Park and filling out my online spreadsheet where we keep all of our daily data I soon figured out why.

The elevation of our new campsite here in the state park is nearly 2,000 feet lower than that of our previous campsite in the national park. So all day long we've been unknowingly driving gradually downhill, that'll make a difference in the MPG every time!

In regards to the name of our new campground, according to the state park's website,

"K’esugi Ken may sound like a person’s name to English speakers,
but it’s a Dena’ina Athabascan placename for Curry Ridge.
K’esugi Ken literally means “Base of the Ancient One.”
The placename refers to the southern lobe of K’esugi Ridge
that lies between the Chulitna and Susitna Rivers."

Campsite #14 of the K’esugi Ken Campground in Denali State Park.

THURSDAY - Today we are going to make the 1-hour drive down to the quaint little town of Talkeetna, AK. The town is not only a stop on the Alaska Railroad route, it's where most mountain climbers gather to organize and provision their attempt to summit Mount Denali.

On the highway, just outside of our campground, is a roadside pullout where the state park has constructed a platform from which you can see Mount Denali. The mountain is only 41.5 miles from this location and most Denali views in the National Park were 70 or more miles away. With a lot of smoke still in the air we pulled in to "see what we could see" and that turned out to be nothing.

Nagley's General Store (est. 1921) just celebrated it's centenial.

Right across the street is the equally old Fairview Inn.

Down the street was this converted antique Airstream featuring "Spinach Bread"?

This is one of several businesses that cater to the mountain climbers.
They also put on a beautiful display of spring flowers all around the building.

We spent several hours walking down one side of the half mile long stretch of the downtown Main Street establishments. Then turned around at the Riverfront Park and walked the other side back up the street. When all was done we had checked out all of the gift shops and craft shops, plus a few of the sightseeing booking companies.

We also squeezed in a delicious lunch under the umbrellas on the outdoor deck of the Denali Brewpub before the day was through and a couple scoops of very creamy Ice Cream from a shop near the turn around point at Talkeetna Riverfront Park.

FYI - We did book a pair of unique Alaskan sightseeing tours
for Monday, July 4th, but you'll have to read on to find out what that entails.

FRIDAY - On this hoilday weekend we kind of fell into a morning routine. Wake up, eat breakfast and then go see what kind of view we had of Mount Denali that day.

Wednesday, on our drive down to our present location, we were still dealing with all the smoke in the air from the western Alaska wildfires.

Thursday was better, but we still had no view of the mountain. It was like a David Copperfield act, the mountain was supposed to be right there, in plain sight on the horizon, but it wasn't!

Thursday morning view from Denali Viewpoint South without a cloud (or mountain) in the sky.

Then a wonderful thing happened overnight, the wind changed direction, then Friday morning we had this view from the exact same location just a short 24-hours later.

Friday morning the smoke was gone, but a few clouds had rolled in with the wind shift.

Here is a closeup of the clearly visible 20,310 foot summit of Mount Denali.

It made us both very happy we didn't come all this way and then not get to see it!

Just in case we weren't satisfied with the Friday morning view, Saturday was even better!

No clouds, no smoke and lots of blooming Fireweed in the foreground.

If you are willing to take a short hike, up a steep hill, there is another view of the mountain.

At the top you'll find this overlook ...

... and this view, including the canyon left behind when the Ruth Glacier retreated.

With the clouds and smoke both gone we decided it might be worth the time to drive 27-miles back north, towards the National Park, to the Denali Viewpoint North located in the state park.

We were told there was also a nice view from the Alaska Veteran's Memorial (also located in the Denali State Park) so we stopped there too.

A look from the Denali North Viewpoint, different, but not quite as dramatic is it?.

This is the vew from the Alaska Veteran's Memorial parking lot.

Five concrete panels, one for each branch of the U.S. military,
explains a short history of that branch's contribution to Alaska.

Had enough photos of Denali? Well we've got one more for you! This one was taken Sunday afternoon while hiking the Moose Flats Trail, right here in the K’esugi Ken Campground.

MONDAY - Remember we mentioned earlier in this post that we booked a pair of unique Alaskan sightseeing tours for today? Well as treasure hunter Mel Fisher used to say, "Today is the day!"

Of course Mel was talking about "finding treasure", we're talking about "creating treasured memories" from once in a lifetime experiences together.

Before today neither one of us had ever ridden in a small, single engine, propeller driven airplane. That alone would be an experience! But what if that airplane was going to transport us right up to the face of Mount Denali, then circle it completely, before returning us safely to the ground? Well wouldn't that be a "once in a lifetime" experience? I hope so, because that's exactly what we have planned for our morning sightseeing activity for today.

Unfortunately Mother Nature had other ideas for how this morning would look. We awoke all excited around 5:30AM, ate breakfast, got dressed and loaded up into ROVER for the hour long drive into Talkeetna where K2 Aviation is located.

K2 Aviation offers four different flightseeing tours, however their longest and most pricey tour has been discontinued due to COVID. The Summit Tour involves going around the summit of Denali at around 15,000 feet and that would require a pressurized interior, which none of their small planes have, or everyone onboard wearing oxygen masks which would require cleaning or disposal after every use. That would make it cost prohibitive for them to operate, hence the discontinuation of that tour.

The next level down of their tour offerings is the one we selected, The Denali Grand Tour. It's the same as the Summit Tour except you fly around Denali at about 9,000 feet which would not require the use of oxygen masks.

After leaving the campground this morning we did as we have for the last three days, we stopped at the Denali South View platform and snapped a couple of photos.

Not looking good for our flightseeing tour this morning, is it?

We did see a moose on the highway on our way into town.

Sure enough, when we arrived at K2 Aviation we were informed that they weren't offering the Denali Grand Tour this day and suggested we either reschedule or take their Denali Flyer Tour which features all of the glaciers found in the mountain range around Denali. We took a quick look at the weather forecast for the next day and decided to reschedule for tomorrow.

Now we have four hours before our afternoon sightseeing activity, what to do? We are only about 20-miles from our next camping location so we did a driveby to check it out. This is where we will finally meet up with our other friends from Colorado, Katherine and John. They took off from Denver the same day we arrived in Alaska and been following in our footsteps so to speak. Winston and VerJean will be taking off on their own again tomorrow, but I hope they get to meet our Colorado friends.

We arrived back in Talkeetna around 10:30AM and found a location to eat lunch. The Mountain High Pizza Pie restaurant has a very extensive menu but we each selected our own personal sized 10" pizza for lunch. Tricia ordered her typical Margarita Pizza with red sauce and I elected to take a risk and ordered a pizza with just the Smoked Salmon for a topping.

I remembered trying the White Clam Pizza in Connecticut and found it different, but not my new favorite. I can now add the Smoked Salmon Pizza in Alaska to the list of food I'm glad I tried but won't be looking forward to trying again!

After lunch it was time to start walking to the other side of town for our next adventure.

On the way we walked right past the starting point of the noontime Fourth of July Parade. We love these small town parades because everyone participating appears to be having such a good time.

When is the last time you saw an 8-door Checker Cab Limousine in a parade?

There were only a few floats, mostly it was people driving decorated vehicles down Main Street. There were also several families either walking or riding bicycles dressed in their hoilday attire.

All traffic was temporarily halted for the parade, bet that tour bus driver wasn't happy!

Of course several local Fire Department's brought up the rear of the parade with their pumper trucks blaring sirens and flashing lights to announce the end of the parade.

Looks like someone decided to take the flightseeing tour on this cloudy day, not us!

We arrived at the Alaska Railroad's Talkeetna Station just in time to see Holland America Cruise cars departing the station. Our train will be here in fifteen minutes to take us about 30-miles north to the 918-foot long Hurricane Gultch Bridge that stands 296-feet above the Hurricane Creek. It is the longest and tallest bridge on the entire Alaska Railroad.

This is the Holland America train taking cruise passengers up to Denali National Park
in their luxurious double decker skydome train cars.

Want to see our train adventure photos?
You'll have to check out the slideshow at the end of this blogpost!

TUESDAY - Now that the holiday weekend is over the campground has many open sites. Of course the last thing everybody did on their way home yesterday was place all their garbage on top of the already overflowing trash dumpsters in the parking lot.

When you are in bear country that's not a good idea. The bears know when the lids on the trash dumpsters are properly closed and latched they can't get to the garbage. But their very sensitive noses must tell them when it's a holiday weekend and people don't follow the rules.

They come down into the campground and begin their own party around the dumpters. Here is the result! Notice the one dumpster has been pushed right off the pavement and no, as you can see there are no wheels under these dumpsters.

We once again are up at 6:00AM to check and see if the clouds from yesterday have cleared out. It looks a lot better today, but we still aren't sure if it's worth nearly $800 to go and "try to see" the mountain up close.

Tuesday morning view of Denali.

Tricia said she could take it or leave it and left the decision up to me. My thoughts were we are already up and on the road, why not drive the hour into town and hope the weather improves even a little bit.

We arrived at K2 Aviation only to find out that once again the flights that go around the back side of Mount Denali were not being offered today. It appears the clouds we couldn't see on the back side are worse than on the side we could see.

Our options are to accept a full refund, wait for another day (which we really don't have) or take the tour that features the many glaciers found at lower elevations on the mountains.

With the Denali Flyer Tour already $100 less for the two of us and the fact that we can now use our Alaska TourSaver App to discount the price another $126 we decided, why not go for it! It's what we came here to do, right?

Every tour comes with the option of landing and walking on one of the glaciers for an extra $100. We opted to not do this here because we have plans in late August to do so at a different location.

All of you campers will understand where I'm leading with this next line of dialog.

When you go into a store to buy a new tent and the manufacturer describes it as a 4-man tent, how many people do you figure will be able to comfortably sleep in that tent? If you're like me I immediately cut that number in half!

Well I'm here to tell you the same thing holds true when you start describing small aircraft. We somehow manages to fit 4-passengers into a 4-passenger aircraft. It helped that two of us were under 125-lbs. and less than 20 years old. I'll give you a clue, it wasn't us.

We shared one of K2's smallest airplanes, a Cessna 185, which carries 4-passengers and has a maximum payload of 1005 lbs (that includes the pilot). That means an average of 201-lbs. per person, so Tricia and I certainly used up every bit of our share of the payload, and then some.


Pulling out of the station we had grabbed front row seats in the upper bubble dome.
It afforded us what we considered the best possible view of what lies ahead on the tracks.
We had some stunning views of the remote countryside, far from the nearest highway.
We even saw a few glaciers on the nearby mountainsides.
Here we are approaching the Hurricane Gultch Bridge, the turnaround point of the tour.
From an open baggage car door we were able to capture some photos without shooting through the hazy glass of the bubble dome.
This is Hurricane Gultch ...
... and this is looking straight down at Hurricane Creek far below.
On the return trip we all flipped our seat backs over which now placed us in the back row of the bubble dome. We then switched sides with the other people in the back row.
A trackside view of one of the remote camping spots in the backcountry.
That's me trying to figure out how we are all going to fit into such a small space.
We did manage to just squeeze into the plane and most importantly were able to get the doors closed and locked!
Just after takeoff we could see our shadow speeding along the ground.
First thing we did was to cross over the braided Susitna River.
Then we got a far away view of Mount Denali.
Next we flew over the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Valley.
These are some of the foothils of Denali, I'm not even going to pretend to remember the names of the peaks and glaciers we saw today.
Here is the "toe" of one of the many glaciers we saw.
Here we started to gain a little altitude, up to nearly 9000 feet.
The last thing we expected to see in the middle of nowhere is a building of any kind.
This is the Sheldon Chalet, located at an elevation of 5800 feet. At $4600 per night (3-night min) a couple can spend the night just 10-miles from the summit of Denali.
Time to head back across the valley to the airport.
This is of course the small front row of seating in the plane.
The back row where Tricia and I squeezed in, plus the third row jump seat where our young companion rode.
Brook and Tanner having their photo taken by Mitchell, our pilot, after his sucessful landing.




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