What's It Like With a National Park as My Backyard?
DENALI, ALASKA- Technically, Creekside is not within the boundaries of the park, but in practice this is insignificant. Unlike Central Park in New York City, where the boundaries between “park” and “not park” are quite distinct, being outside the boundaries of Denali still puts you squarely in the wilderness. Across the street from us are tow businesses, Carlo Creek Lodge and the Denali Mountain Morning Hostel. Accommodation is big business in Alaska. Abutting these two is the Nenana River, behind which are a trio of peaks, collectively known as “Cleft Mountain”. The Nenana River marks the boundary of the park…so while Creekside is not within the park, the large mountain impeding our visage of the horizon is, and we find ourselves topographically amidst an identical landscape.
In May, the peaks of the mountains are still snow-capped, a feature that defies my intuitive logic. There is still a bit of a chill to the air—but in all honesty, after having come from the oppressive and overbearing heat of Austin, Texas….it’s quite welcome. It’s like that first day after a long, hot, summer that autumn has clearly arrived, and you’re not hung up on it.
The air is clean and fresh, and just taking a deep breath is a distinct indicator that you are no longer in Kansas. The fields behind the dorms are becoming my playground; I’ve never before had the chance to live in such proximity to such a boundless expanse of nature. Everything in Alaska thus far seems to be on a scale simply far greater than anything I’ve seen. The trees, the mountains, and the boundless expanse of the horizon really are quite stunning to behold.
If you hike in the backwoods for about an hour along the right trail, you’ll have the pleasure of making your way up a difficult but rewarding track, strewn with rocks, swampy morass, towering trees, and overbearing inclines, you will reach what is now known as the Plateau. The Plateau is a sight to behold. After hiking a trail that gives little outward promise of any scenic vantage points, you suddenly find yourself scrambling up a rocky face to an overlook that lets you see how far you just hiked.
Creekside looks miles away, a blip on the radar compared to Cleft Mountain towering in front of you, and the other, unnamed, mountains to your left, right, and back. You can see the Parks Highway snaking through the valley, a wondrous man-made invention and a feat of engineering that is appreciated from on high. Clouds form off in the distance, but hardly threaten the sunny disposition of the current weather…here, the mountains rule, commanding respect over every weather pattern and dictating whether you will get rain, sunshine, or an overcast pall. The view from the Plateau is stunning. In the end, it is what I came to Alaska for--views like this.