Friday, June 24, 2011
Glitz and Glamour, With Purpose
It rained all night and the mountains wear the fog and haze down past their midriffs. Everything sparkles from nature's bathing, the trees, carpets of lupines and even our bicycles. I inhale the air, slightly crisp mountain air. Refreshing. Everything's clean, ready again.
We love our little neighborhood, here at Riley Creek Campground. Where most of the motorhomes are rentals and carry a slew of young kids, teens and their parents. They've come for the natural beauty of Denali National Park. Where red squirrels bark if you walk too close. A momma moose wanders around, foraging with her twins, just feet away from occupied campsites.
We represent the senior crowd, which makes up about 30 percent of the travelers in this campground. This, we decide, is a young person's paradise. Because of the challenge of the white rapids, the hills and rocks to scale. The wild animals to out run!
We love the bicycling and hiking opportunities. And the youth. So we decide to sign up for seven more days. To do so, we hike to a little store, called a Mercantile, where we mingle with hikers, backpackers, again, all young, twenty-somethings, while we all wait in line to pay for the privilege of staying here. So it's us, in this young person's paradise, and the wild animals.
But then again, there's this "place" here in Denali called the "Visitor's Center Campus." I call it the Great Denali Circus, the antithesis of natural and wild. Where we know there's an upscale grill there, with feeding stations and trendy foods like big, fresh cookies, veggie burgers and paninis. And we know there's a station for the Alaska railroad. But, what else?
So we visit.
We pull our motorhome into the confusing curly-que parking lot and get stuck waiting for a tour bus to unload. then we see another one coming, so we quickly zip around the corner, where we find people walking in swarms through the lot, each swarm's trajectory leading back to a tour bus.
I look left and right. As I suspect, people. Everywhere. People. People. And not the kind we find back at the campground. These people are old (so are we), and many are debilitated (we are not).
I'd say 98 percent of the hundreds of people hobbling around this "Circus" are seniors. Few wear hiking boots.
We walk to the grill, blazing a trail meandering around the swarms, and find it packed, too. With these seniors, laughing, smiling, enjoying themselves. A few tour guides buzz about, tending to their hives, making sure everyone is comfy, making sure everyone knows what's next on the agenda.
Something clicks inside my head. Had it not been for this Great Circus, for the wide, flat accessible walkways, the buses, the railroad just outside the restaurant's back door, these people would be left out of this great life.
But here they are, breathing in this luscious air just like we do, preparing to see the tallest mountain in the North America, just like us.
What a great thing this is, this Visitor's Center Campus. It opens up this great national park to everyone.