Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Fourth of July Fun: Riley Creek Campground

Summer is a time for visitors in Alaska. This year has not been an exception. What started out as a simple visit from grandma and grandpa snowballed into a mini-family reunion. So on the Fourth of July this year we woke up with fourteen people in our three bedroom house. There were grandparents, aunts, cousin, and mayhem everywhere. It was awesome and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

For the Fourth of July we had decided to go up to Denali. I was excited for several reasons. First, it has been a long times since I have had five days off with my family. Second, Rebecca had never been north of Talkeetna. Third, this was our first real camping trip this year. Plus we had lots of family with us, most of who had never been to Alaska.

Rebecca and I planned for months to get this trip ready. So by 9 AM, with relatively little effort, everyone and all our gear were piled into two large cars and we were on the road headed for Denali National Park.

It took us seven hours to get to Denali National Park. 240 miles in seven hours isn’t bad considering there three infants. The trip wasn’t bad because we factored in stopping every hour for food, stretching, photographs, and just general boredom. We actually arrive at Denali on schedule because we planned to take all those breaks.

We had a walkie-talkie in each car, so I got to play tour guide on the way up. Rebecca had to revoke my privileges a couple of times when I became too inane. We like to use walkie-talkies when we travel. It makes everything go so much smoother.

Riley Creek Campsite
Eight of us camped at the Riley Creek Campground, while the rest stayed at the Denali Princes Wilderness Lodge, though “lodge” was deceiving. Most communities in Alaska are smaller than that complex. Riley Creek is located just inside the park, just past the park sign. This was convenience because we were only a mile apart from each other.

Riley Creek has 150 campsites divided into three camping areas. We drove around each area and decided on Caribou Loop because the sites were more wooded and private. We picked a site right next to the bathrooms because we had so many kids. The facilities at this campground were the nicest I have ever seen.

We set up our two tents and got everything unpacked. We than broke out the food for dinner. Within seconds we had a squirrel running around us and stealing food. The kids thought the squirrel was the coolest and he had to earn everything he stole that night.
Heading to Amphitheater
Half way through dinner, a park ranger came around and announced they were doing a presentation about the park later. So when it came time we rounded up the kids and hiked off to the campground’s amphitheater.

It had rained on and off all the drive up, but while we were setting up camp it had cleared up. Well, it decided to start raining as soon as we headed over to the amphitheater. It wasn’t so bad while we were on the trail under the trees, but when we got to the amphitheater we started getting wet. Throughout the presentation the park ranger kept asking if we wanted to move to the bus stop, but most people just wanted to stick it out.

The presentation was really cool and we learned a lot about the park and what makes it so special. My boys were really quick with answers during the presentation. Of course, judging by people’s gear, we looked like the only Alaskans there so they had the advantage.

My three boys and I were pretty wet by the time we got back to the tent. I think Tim and Ben jump through every puddle on the way back. We all went straight for the tent and climbed into our sleeping bags even though we didn’t go to sleep for several hours.
Will in Spleepingbag
It rained all night. Our mega-family tent held up better than I expected. We stayed mostly dry. I love having a mega-tent when we camp as a family, because we need all the room we can get with five kids.

By the morning the rain had stopped. Ben and I were the first out of the tent. Since I was trying to let everyone else sleep in a little, we walked down to Riley Creek. It was a beautiful glacier stream with huge boulders and fast water. Ben and I explored the banks and found a section of rails for a ore cart. Ben also threw lot of rocks.

When we got back we had a cold breakfast of muffins, pop tarts, fruits, and juice. We broke camp by 10 AM and headed into the park. I was really surprised by Riley Creek Campground. It was perfect for our group. We will have to go back again, maybe even this fall if we get one of the fall driving permits.

Check back on Friday for our trip into the park.

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