Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Denali National Park. I had never been to a national park before. I mean, I have visited the Smoky Mountains (which is technically a National Park), but not in the way I visited Denali. I never took the time to just let myself be at peace with nature. There are endless ways to visit Denali – I mean its like 9,000 miles big. If I could plan our trip all over again, I would have given us more time at Denali but hey -it gives me an excuse to go back.
The first day we spent at Denali National Park, we took it upon ourselves to explore. They let you drive your own vehicle -if I remember correctly- 15 miles into the park but then after that you have to be with a guided tour or campsite to take any sort of vehicle further into the park. The first day, we drove the car all 15 miles up to Savage River and made a few stops along the way to explore trails. We parked near Savage River and decided to go exploring. Once we hiked to the point where we could no longer see the road, it felt like we were the only two people on the earth. Its so weird how that can happen. There are so many humans on this earth and somehow you can still find yourself in a place where you won’t come in contact with any of them. Generally, all of my hiking is done at state parks- where you can’t really stray too far away from the guided trails. This is the first real time I ever had to create my own way. The feeling was indescribable. I was in the true wilderness. I was in a place that had no mapped out easy way out. It was terrifying and liberating all at the same time.
Fast forward to the next day. We decided to take a bus tour that went 53 miles into the park. They have tours that go up to all 92 paved miles of the park but the idea of a 12 hour bus tour did not appeal to either of us. We thought 6 hours would be bad enough. We were wrong though. We were in the park a total of about 8 hours and it seriously felt like 10 minutes. We chose the non-narrated tour because to be honest, we didn’t want someone to talk our ears off about things we really didn’t understand or care about for 6 hours straight. We were still able to stay plenty informed though. We were able to let the bus driver know when we saw wildlife and they would stop so that we could take pictures. The bus also stopped several times along the way so that we could get out and take pictures and explore. When you get off the bus, they tell you a time to be back and you can choose to either get back on the bus or catch a different one later. That’s what we did. When the bus stopped at Polychrome -the most breathtaking view I have ever seen in my entire life- we decided we weren’t ready to get back on the bus and we stayed behind to explore. Its weird because we basically got dropped off in the middle of the wilderness and they trust that we will make good choices. Too me, that is mind blowing. We hiked several miles into the tundra and eventually made our way back but we totally could have just kept going.
(Seriously, does this view not look like a painting?!)
When I look at mountains, the first thing I think about is how there are probably people up there-people who have devoted their entire lives to living within nature and sharing their home with wildlife. I always wonder how they got there. Did they take a bus tour and get off the bus and just never come back? Did they hike that far into the park on their own? It is absolutely mind blowing to me that there are people living within the 9000 something miles of the park. I cant help but wish that was me sometimes.
I suppose they trust you to freely wander the wilderness because you wouldn’t dare if you didn’t have at least some sense of what you were doing. To me it was the most liberating thought because even though in a sense, I am an adult and I can do whatever I want, I still feel somewhat controlled by my lifestyle. For the first time, I truly felt like I could do whatever I wanted and it was MY choice. To me, that was the most mind blowing experience I’ve ever had. I truly felt alive.