What’s the rush?

If you’re taking the Denali Highway, you’re (pretty much) retracing the century-old steps of the gold miners, who trekked from the Valdez Creek region east to Paxson, later to the town of Cantwell today.


Most of the way, it’s gravel, so there’s that. Suggested speed limit is 35 miles per hour. Couple of reasons for that. Gravel is hard on vehicles. Also, the route (approximately north and west, or south and east, depending on where you start) is a scenic treat. So what’s the rush?


Look it up. Magazines, including National Geographic, rank the drive very high in their lists of recommended trips.

In our five weeks in Alaska this summer, we split the trip into two parts, taking the first part part way to Clearwater Lodge, stopping in at The Sluice Box Bar (in the photos). We turned around, retraced our steps and saved the rest of the road for a later time, starting from the other direction.

The bar is a remodeled trailer and has been in operation since 1982. It’s safe to say, the place is pretty well assured of its existence. There aren’t many along the road.

And, hunters need a place from which to set out. There is an airstrip, which helps antsy sportspeople get there more quickly to take advantage of the rooms, suites and camping at the lodge.

We were content to take a rest stop and check out the bar, before heading back to our camping area.

It was a funky place, the interior nearly entirely plastered with bank notes that visitors signed and the bar keep stapled to open spots. While we were there, a couple of Midwesterners stopped by, and the bartender stapled one of their two-dollar bills in the retreating interior landscape.

The bartender was chatty, and willingly put together a meal of burgers and fixings (for me). The pickings were admittedly slim (the road isn’t traveled much) but the establishment was worth a stop.

While we were there, driver Terry was able to score a quart of synthetic oil, so there’s that. Services are separated by miles and miles, but they are there.

While driving on glacier eskers (deposits by retreating and passing glaciers) upon much of the route, you’ll see boreal forest, taiga and tundra, the Wrangell-St.Elias mountains and the Chugach Mountain Range (to name just a couple mountainous areas), seemingly endless wilderness, braided rivers, such as the Tangle River, Tangle Lakes, Tangle Bridge and glaciers. (Alaska’s glaciers are still an eyeful, even though nearly all are retreating.)

In the last three miles (where Cantrell now perches), you’ll intersect with the Parks Highways, which is much more vehicle friendly. That will take you to Denali National Park.

If you’re in a hurry to get to Denali, take the Richardson Highway to the Parks Highway. Leave the scenic drive to those with sharp eyes or binoculars. Wildlife aren’t accustomed to vehicles, so you’ll have to have a lookout. We were lucky. We saw one or two moose reasonably close. “It is not a zoo,” cautions one of the guiding web sites.

Looking at the digital map representation of the area (take your pick of the maps available on the web), I am reminded of the vastness of the Alaska wilds and what a treat it was to travel a route that was the only way to approach Denali until the 1970s.

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2 thoughts on “What’s the rush?

  1. The first thing that came to mind when I looked at the bar with all those dollar bills was its Caribbean equivalent: Foxy’s, in Jost van Dyke, in the British Virgin Islands. You’d find more people there, and more bikinis and such hanging from the ceiling, but you’d have a great time. I sure did. Check out the Iowa Hawkeye shirt in the middle.

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