A View of the Mountain is Never Assured

If you visit Denali National Park, you probably won’t see the mountain—”the big pile of rocks that everyone comes to see.” In fact, two years ago, Pedro, Sarah, and I visited Denali and failed to see the mountain. I’ve tried since then, to see it from Talkeetna, but haze or clouds covered most of the mountain. I claimed that “I’d seen Denali,” but I had never seen the entire mountain.

Other things about Denali might surprise you, too. For example, if you expect to get in your car and drive around looking for animals like you do in Yellowstone, you’ll discover that you can only drive 15 miles of the road. And if you’re hoping to see a lot of wildlife during those 15 miles, you’ll discover that it consists mostly of the human variety.

Plan on visiting Denali National Park? Know before you go! #vacation #nationalparkUnlike most national parks, the only way to get to the end of the road is to pay for a shuttle bus. Your driver will stop for wildlife sightings, as well as mountain sightings. The trip can last anywhere between 11 and 12 hours.

Strangest of all, if you look for guides with extensive maps of the trail systems, you won’t find one. You can stop the driver at any point along the road and take off into the wilderness. If you find this freedom terrifying, you can sign up for a ‘Disco Hike’ with a park ranger. No dance moves required, though, since ‘disco’ stands for ‘discovery.’

I made my reservations back in March (campground reservations fill up early), and I hoped that perhaps I’d have better weather in June than we did in July. Yesterday dawned clear and cool. I hoped I could handle 12 hours of travel with a group of chattering strangers.

After loading the bus at 5:15, we headed down the road and within the first five miles had to stop to let a mama moose and her baby cross the road in front of us. When we reached Savage River, we had our first glimpse of Denali—shockingly white against all the rain-soaked tundra and shrubbery.

ifWe stopped time after time to snap ever-closer photos of the mountain. Finally, in my fourth visit to Alaska and second to Denali National Park, I saw the mountain in its entirety with nary a cloud to shroud it. This first time I came to Alaska, I scarcely remember seeing a mountain, and only had a vague idea about Denali.

The Denali Haze

I went around in a Denali haze for the rest of the day. I had seen the mountain! Two-thirds of the Park Visitors never see it. Its pristine majesty awes and inspires. The Natives called it the Tall One (for a while, white man called it Mt. McKinley, but now it’s known by its rightful name).if

From a distance, it looks deceptively small in comparison to the shorter peaks around it. In fact, if you don’t know what you’re looking at, you might mistake it for just another snow-capped mountain. Proximity makes all the difference.

My husband might not appreciate this sentiment, but now that I’ve seen Denali, I want to return. Next time I want to camp at Wonder Lake and hike up to Reflection Pond before sunrise (easy to accomplish because it never gets completely dark around here this time of year) and photograph Denali as the sun rises.


They sell T-shirts around here that say, “I hear the mountain calling, and I must go.” I can relate.

Denali reminds me of my relationship with God. We don’t always get a clear view of him. Sometimes our attitudes and feelings about him get shrouded by human institutions like churches. But that doesn’t mean that he’s not there. It simply means that we haven’t gained a clear picture of his character.

But once we see his true character with our own eyes (or our own experience), without distortions of humans or their institutions, we gain a new appreciation for all he is. We can filter out the noise and distractions of those around us and focus on the picture of perfection.

It makes me think of James 1: 5.

“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.”

Go ahead and doubt God, doubt his very existence (he can handle your doubts). But I challenge you to take a leap of faith and ask for wisdom. He will reveal himself to you, if you ask him for the wisdom to see.

Seeing Denali makes me long to act like Reflection Pond. I want to remain calm and accurately reflect God and his character to everyone who sees me.

Seeing Denali makes me want to be like Reflection Pond--faithfully representing the God I love. Click To Tweet


  1. Love this, Anita! I’ve never been to Denali, but Barbara has, and was able to get a clear-day picture at Reflection Pond. It;s in her office.

    We have our own Denali, a Hyper Husky. What to expect if you meet her? Ferociously friendly attention, and a haze of grey-and-white fur floating on the air, as she is always shedding.

  2. this reminds me a bit of what happens in seattle with mt. Ranier. it is often shrouded in clouds as well. but once you see it, it is pretty awesome! it stands there alone and majestic, covered in snow! so beautiful. but we have visited for a whole week and not even seen it.
    i love your post. makes me want to go there:) but i doubt it will happen in this lifetime.
    there is so much beauty in GOD’s nature. it shows us so many snapshots of Him everywhere doesn’t it?

  3. So beautiful! I saw the mountain in what I would say was a full cloud of springtime, sunshine, at the beginning of May, full of icy mist, rainbow light, amidst the sparkles of snow crystals in mid-air! It was a picture I will never forget! So BIG and beautiful. It was Spring (??) of ‘91,but there it sits, clearly in my mind. I’d love to go back and visit in each of the other seasons!😍

  4. What an informative post for those (like me) who have never visited but really want to! And the pictures are, as always, stunning. I’m so glad you got to see the whole mountain.

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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