Well, Denali is the first place on the trip I have wished I had made camping reservations ahead of time, but people say you have to make them about 6 months in advance. The campgrounds nearby outside the national park are cramped, dirty and expensive. We ended up driving 45 minutes north of the park to Tatlanika RV park with much more space between camp sites. Besides, there was a field and river where TJ could play. It just meant it was a bit of a drive back to see the park.
Denali is the only national park with only one road and that road is restricted to the park's buses making it best seen by foot. If you end up going, don’t do what I did and buy one of the “tours” by bus. Instead, what I would recommend is to simply get a ticket on one of the park's “green buses.” My tour bus was 4 times more expensive and went the same route and did the same things (stop for animals or at the route's bathrooms which are few and far between). The only difference was my bus included a narrative by the driver. And if you go, get the tickets that take an all-day drive out to the end of the road. You can get on and off the green bus as much as you want, not the tour bus. The animals are few and far between and well away from the roadside, but when on foot, you can go anywhere. There are no designated trails, so hikers can go where they want. With my dog waiting back at the camp, I didn't have the opportunity to take time for hiking or photography. As for the animals, we did see one grizzly bear which has a much shorter stature than the brown bears in Katmai and a much thicker coat of fur. Also saw a few reindeer and some dall sheep way off in the distance.
Unfortunately, Zhenya had been frustrated with me over a couple things and felt like she needed a bit of a rest from camping and joined Little Zhenya back east with my parents for a bit. That meant from Denali up to Fairbanks it was just TJ and me in the camper. We stopped at Eilsen Air Force Base Family Camp for a day to get some supplies and then went out to Chena River State Park. There I had a good day fishing catching six greylings in the Chena River, but it was all catch and release. I also met a great family - Jessica, Kyle and little Evelyn Erhart - Jessica is the lead vocalist in the Army Band there in Alaska. Thanks for the dinner invite, guys!
TJ and I also went for a hike where literally millions of wild blue berries were perfectly ripened for me. It made the hiking slow while I picked and ate - TJ kept telling me to hurry up! But after 3 days of rain and the river starting to flood, it was time to go back to Eilsen for a couple nights. One morning, TJ "had" to chase a moose, much to my dismay! But both he and the moose laughed if off after I caught TJ and reminded him not to harass the wildlife. Aside from the beautiful scenery and fishing/hiking, there is not much to Fairbanks… so back down to Anchorage and plans to fly back east for a bit to see my girls.