June 26, 2008

Denali Highway - Brushkana River

We are finally starting to see the crowds, it's pretty busy at the Park. Since we couldn’t get a campsite for the first few days at Denali National Park, we decided to drive part of the Denali Highway ( a real misnomer – it’s a pot-holed, barely two-laned, rough dirt road) to do some birding and stay at least a night before returning to the Park. The Highway is on the opposite side of the “Parks Highway” (which runs north-south from Fairbanks down to Anchorage), and runs east-west some 130 miles from Cantwell to Paxson.

Within a few miles one really gets that feeling of remoteness, very different from being on a busy tour road in a bus with 50 others.

We knew this was going to be a place we’d like when we stopped at this small lake used to make occasional floatplane drops here in the wilderness.

We took our time, stopping along the way to enjoy the scenery. We stopped at the only café along the west side of the route for some delicious homemade pie. The local “décor” reminded us a bit of rural Louisiana!

At roughly 35 miles east, we had lunch at Brushkana Campground, and by now we knew we’d be back for a longer stay on the Highway, so we opted to proceed no further and stay the night here. As luck would have it, a great decision, with this beautiful campsite right next to the river available for us….. We got space #4 which positions the trailer door about 15ft from the water, beautiful! There is a family of tiny baby harleguin ducks just outside the front door. The little things are about the size of a small chicken egg, but very frisky & fast!

The CG host said they have had rain every day here for past 3 days, so the water is "too high & fast for fishing". But do I listen, course not, fished for 1-1/2hr that evening and caught 3 nice Grayling in 1st 30 minutes, then lost the only lure I had in a "hot green perch" color. So, what is fishing in Alaska really like? Well, here I am armed for combat, against the mosquitoes and the current....

The fishing was slow & tedious. To get a strike you had to throw way upstream in slow-med velocity water, and bounce the lure down on the bottom...very hard to tell strike verses hitting a rock. Even though I had cut 2 of the 3 hooks off, I still got hung up a bunch.

Before I quit, I had hung several others, bringing two right to the bank only to lose them. I cleaned the three and we ate for supper...delicious. I fileted two & kept the smallest whole...it cooked much better & came off the bones very well. They really don't cook like Louisiana fish, not as "pretty" in the pan, but still extremely tastey.

While fishing I saw a Tufted Duck the beautiful creature flew right in front of me! Later Kim & I saw the Bohemian Waxwing, both new "lifer" birds for us.

This Morning I waded up to the bridge, made a few casts, caught a nice 14" grayling and then got the line badly fouled so, fought that for about 15 mins, gave up, threw the one fish in the skillet for breakfast...Yummy!

On the way back we got this fabulous view of Denali (the mountain) from the Highway. It was completely in the clear, something they say happens here only a few times a year. We pulled out own lawn chairs and folding table and had lunch with that splendid view. We had a Boreal Owl land right near us, and confirmed definitely the call, with the IPOD, but instead of calling it in, it scared him away, so we never got a look. But, by birding "rules" a positive id on the call counts as an identification, so we get another "lifer".
We took our time driving back westward to the Park, just enjoying the magnificant scenery along the way. Our plans are now changed (something we are doing more often these days) to come back and drive the entire Highway prior to heading south to Anchorage, so we'll have more on this next week.

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