This morning, the kids gather sticks and cones during breakfast, anticipating another fire. We don’t have much time for a real one, so I douse everything with some leftover sanitizer and introduce them to the brief but huge flames of ignited alcohol. Down the road, we see a moose running in the brush. Yan and I switch spots, and I get out my camera. It’s an elusive apparition, now vanished into the forest.
We have a hearty breakfast at Prey again, then we pack up everything to head into the park. Tonight, we’ll be camping. Arriving at the bus depot, we learn that the next bus availability is at 12:30, and it only goes to mile 43, since the rest of Park Road is closed due to mudslides. We first tour the visitor center and watch two films: one about sled dogs and another about Denali. We buy the last of our Alaska Geographic patches: first Klondike, then Glacier Bay, Kenai Fjords, Wrangell-St. Elias, and finally, Denali.
I’m the first to get up, just before sunrise, while the northerly summer pre-dawn sky glows orange and the distant mountains look purple. Breakfast is a combination of oatmeal with toppings and scrambled eggs for protein. Jayden devours the eggs, but Daphney laments that the eggs don’t taste as good as the free-range ones from home. Retracing the Denali Highway, we parallel the Alaska Range, this time to our left. At a pull-out, we step out onto a small outcrop and take in the expanse—pristine Sevenmile Lake, the vast alpine tundra, glacial streams, and snow-capped peaks that punch into the sky. After a quiet moment, we have to leave.
To save driving time, this day is planned around the Whittier-Valdez ferry. We line up then make it through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel and arrive in town. I check in with the ferry, and after queuing up, we grab lunch at Varly’s Swiftwater Seafood Café. All they have is fried food: zucchini, onion rings, fish and chips.
Early in the morning, we get breakfast at the lodge and pack up for departure. While no doubt the bear viewing and scenery are highlights of the trip, we are happy to leave this place infested with mosquitoes and white sock flies. After breakfast, we pack up and take the water taxi to King Salmon. The King Salmon airport is packed. The previous leg from Anchorage was nearly an empty flight, but now the waiting room is filled with fishermen wanting to leave. The few women there are tourists. The guys behind us describe how this year’s fish prices are terrible, roughly a quarter of what they normally make.
We disembark onto a private bus. There are a few others with us. Making our way through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, we soon arrive at the Anchorage airport. I check the car seats and bags for city travel at the storage facility, then board our flight to King Salmon. There is no reception in King Salmon, but I was able to find the number for the Katmai Water Taxi and call them using a wall phone that allows free local calls. We wait in the adjacent visitor center where we watch a film about the Katmai area.
The trail rises gently out of Mosquito Flat. In contrast to the scorching hot week in Loma Linda, the air, scented with pine needles and sagebrush, is cool. I tell the kids a story about hiking in Kings Canyon to distract them from the mild uphill. Just before the trail junction to Ruby Lake and Mono Pass, everyone takes a break by some shaded boulders.
Our original plan was to leave early Saturday morning, early enough to secure a campsite at one of the first-come-first-served campgrounds in Joshua Tree. Because of coronavirus, the park had decided to remove reservations for all campgrounds. Having debated about camping at Black Rock, we decided to go deeper into…