Denali National Park’s Entrance, “The Canyon”, and Healy, Alaska

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Sometimes when life gives you rain, it also gives you rainbows.  And when it gives you nearly 400 miles of driving in the rain, it also gives you some of the most spectacular rainbows you’ve ever seen.  As the sun sets.  At midnight.

I was finishing a very long day of driving up from Seward, Alaska, through Anchorage, to Denali National Park.  I chose to stay at a motel in Healy, about ten miles north of “the canyon” — the cluster of businesses just outside the park.  I’ll show you what’s in Healy, in the canyon, and what you’ll see in between.  Rainbows not guaranteed.

My Visit

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Motel rooms are not cheap in Alaska.  You can count on spending $100 or more every night, during the tourist season, for even the most basic accommodations.  I was thrilled to find a room for just $100 a night in Healy.  Most pictures of the hotel show this rail car — which is where the lobby is located.

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The actual rooms are located behind the rail car, in much less intriguing buildings.  My room was that one, on the end of building B.  I’m pretty sure the buildings are pre-fabricated.  The rooms are very basic.  The bed was not great.  But, the location is pretty good.

After checking in, I drove back down to the canyon, to find some food.  Along the way…

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… the sky to the north was starting to break up.  I was seeing light for the first time that day.  But I was headed south, into the rain.  And when you mix light and rain…

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… this is what you get.  A beautiful rainbow was rising from the Tenana River Gorge.

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I took photos until the rainbow faded.  Then I drove on into the park, to explore the portion of the park road that’s open to private vehicles.  I’ll show you that part of the trip on a separate page.

Afterwards, I drove down into “the canyon” to hunt for some dinner.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of the canyon.

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The Drivelapse camera did its best, but with the rain and clouds, you can’t see much.  But here’s what you need to know, for about a quarter-mile, the road is lined with restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops.  The Denali Princess Lodge is probably the biggest and fanciest — a quick search of room prices in late May found rooms starting at $350.

I wasn’t in the mood for big and fancy, not even for my dinner.  I wanted cheap.  I walked up to Subway and rattled the door.  The staff looked at me like I was crazy.  Even though all the lights were still on, it was closed.  Only then did I realize it was after 10 p.m.  It’s hard to keep track of time when the sun sets at midnight.

Fortunately, I found a Chinese/Thai restaurant that realized people might still want food two hours before sunset.  The food was delicious and inexpensive.  I ate there two nights in a row.

Back at my motel, I tried to convince myself to go to bed.  It was 11 p.m.  I needed to get up early to catch a shuttle bus into Denali the next morning, but there was no way I was going to sleep.  Outside, the sky was simply magical.  I was on the boundary between sun and rain.  I decided to drive towards the sun, which in these parts at this time of year, means driving north.

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And that’s where I saw a sunset like I’ve never seen before.  Rain that looked like fire.

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A double rainbow, arching over the Parks Highway.

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A northern sky, lit with unbelievable color.

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I took advantage of every bit of sunlight, before calling it a night, and driving back to Healy.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s the drive from the Igloo, through “the canyon”, to Healy…

… and from Healy towards the sunset, along the Parks Highway:

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