Well, we still haven’t spotted a lynx, but we did enjoy our most recent trip to Denali National Park.
On one of our past trips to Denali, when my now-13-year-old daughter was 7, I was repeatedly shushed by her for speaking while she was trying to spot the elusive lynx — nevermind that her constant stream of chatter was most likely what was alerting any wildlife in the area to our presence.
This time around, while we had the opportunity to watch a couple of bears, some caribou, Dall sheep and some very friendly ground squirrels, I think our most entertaining viewing came while watching other park visitors.
We were on teenager time for this trip, which meant I had a couple of hours to myself each morning before dragging the kids out of their bunks for a 10 a.m. breakfast. I’d fix myself a cup of coffee and wander down to the stream where we were staying (we split our week between Savage River and Teklanika River campgrounds). At Savage River, I spotted a tour group on the interpretive trail, listening to a guide before hopping back on their bus.
I always enjoy seeing how people prepare for their “wilderness” outing — lots of his and hers matching head-to-toe denim outfits and brand-new, bright white walking shoes. Coincidentally, it’s the same wardrobe my parents have adopted since they’ve mostly retired — they even wear matching T-shirts on a regular basis. Since I seem to be wearing outfits eerily similar to what my dad wore around the house when he was in his 40s, I’m assuming I should make some room in the closet for some more denim in another 20 years or so.
On another of our excursions, we passed a family of six decked out in gear from a certain outdoors retailer. I was impressed and little jealous — I’ve never been able to afford a complete matching outfit for myself, nevermind for my whole family. Instead, my gear is a hodgepodge of pieces collected over two decades, one item at a time. We’ve quite literally passed that on to our kids; at one point we noted that my 15-year-old son was wearing my hiking pants and a tech shirt he swiped from during ski season, while my daughter was wearing my wife’s hiking boots, lycra tights and fleece sweater (none of which matched).
One evening while we were eating dinner, some folks in a very long RV arrived to the campground and attempted to back into the campsite just across from us. I know those land yachts are hard enough to maneuver, and these folks appeared to be from Europe — it sounded like they were speaking German — where they don’t typically drive very large vehicles. What first attracted our attention was the crash when they backed into a trash can, which in the park are heavy-duty and bolted down to prevent bears from getting into them.
While we didn’t quite understand the language, it was pretty clear what the person attempting to back the rig up and the person attempting to direct him were saying. It reminded of why my parents sold the camper we had when I was growing up — backing it up the steep driveway and maneuvering it around the side of the garage was going to be grounds for divorce.
In any case, after four or five attempts, the folks in the RV gave up on that spot and found one with an easier approach.
Speaking of finding the right spot, my wife always gives me a hard time because I insist on making at least one complete loop of any campground, sometimes two, before settling on a campsite. I mean, while you’re only going to be there for a few nights, there’s still lots to consider — the view, the proximity to the restroom (not too close, but not too far) and water source, the neighbors, not to mention the degree of difficulty of backing our camping trailer into it.
On a different night, we sat and watched while a family took the site selection process to a whole new level. For starters, they made at least four laps of the campground in their vehicle, then came around on foot before finally selecting the site next to us.
But they weren’t done yet. After finally picking the site, and parking their camping trailer, they re-hitched and re-positioned it another three times before settling in. I was impressed. Later, the dad told me that once they got the trailer where they wanted it, they found it was the only spot that wasn’t level.
By the way, I’m not looking down my nose at any of these other folks. I well aware of my own quirks, and am sure there were plenty of park visitors thinking just that when they saw me. I’m glad to see people getting out and experiencing things with their families. For so many of the people we saw, just arriving at the park was the trip of a lifetime, something I’m fortunate to be able to do on a regular basis.
And I bet a few of them were lucky enough to spot a lynx.
Reach Clarion editor Will Morrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.