Alaska’s Savage River – Chapter 6

Alaska’s Savage River

Inside Denali National Park and Preserve

By Valerie Winans

A Writer for Readers of All Ages

Chapter Six

Who’s There?


Campground hosts get knocks on the door at all hours for a variety of reasons.

Knock, knock.

“Hi, what can I do for you?”

“Do you have any matches we could use?”


“I feel so silly to have forgotten matches.”

“Don’t. We get so many requests for matches that we keep a supply on hand.”


“You’re welcome.”

Knock, knock.

“Yeah, I’m really embarrassed, but do you have some forks we could use? We forgot to bring eating utensils.”

“How about a knife, or some spoons too?”

“No, just some forks will do.”

“Not a problem. Here you go.”

Knock, knock.


“Hi. We are going out on the bus into the park tomorrow, and my camera battery is dead. Could you charge my camera for me?”

“Yes, but only when our generator is running. We can only run the generator between eight and ten a.m. and between four and eight p.m.”

“Could I leave it now, and pick it up after eight?”


“Oh, that would be great. Thanks so much.”

“You are very welcome.”

Knock, knock.


“Hello. We just wanted to ask some questions about the park.”

“Great! One of our favorite things to do is to talk about this park.”

“Do you ever see any wildlife in the campground?”

“Absolutely! We see moose, grizzly bears, wolves, lynx…”

“Right here in the campground?”

“Yes, when we arrived here this season, we thought it was grizzly bear central.”



Two hours later, the same man pounded on our door. “Please come right away,” he gasped. “There are two grizzly bears across from our campsite and they are tearing up a tent or something. There is a lady in a trailer on that site, and she is screaming for help.”

Dave ran out the door with the bear spray, while I got on the park radio to call for bear technicians to come to our aid. They are nearby and soon they are at the site preparing to shoo the bears away if they can. The techs have their guns ready just in case the bears decide they are not going to leave, or in case the bears charge the techs. The techs walk toward the bears, guns in hands, shouting at them. The bears decide that the fun is over and they leave. They tore up the lady’s grass rug from in front of her trailer, but other than that, no damage is found.

The grizzly excitement is over; Dave and I are sitting by our campfire greeting campers out on their evening strolls. The skeptical camper stopped by. “I thought you were exaggerating the wildlife the first time I talked to you,” he said. “But now I realize that you were not.”

“I could tell by the look on your face that you didn’t believe me; so after you left I said to my husband, “Cue the bears.”

“Yeah, right. Like the Chevy Chase movie. Too funny.” Our skeptic walked away laughing.

A week or so later the same man is back at Savage River Campground with his son. “What are you guys doing back here?” I ask.

“We went farther out into the park to camp, but we had to come back here just to see if you could cue those bears again.”

Knock, knock.


“Do you have any graham crackers and marshmallows we could use? We only remembered to bring the chocolate for s’mores.”

“Yes, we can help you.”

“Thanks so much. The kids would have been so disappointed.”

“You are most welcome.”

Knock, knock.


“Hi, could you show me how to turn this thing on?” Says a man with a camp stove in his arms.


He should have asked this question before he arrived in the wilderness, I thought.

Knock, knock.

            “Good morning. How can I help you?”

“I’ve got a problem. I don’t know if you can help me or not, but (with his voice breaking up with emotion) my dog died last night, and I don’t know what to do with her.”

“Oh, no. I’m so very sorry. I don’t know what to tell you, but I will find out. I’ll contact headquarters on the park radio and get right back with you.”

“Savage River to Dispatch. Savage River to Dispatch…”

“Go ahead, Savage River.”

“We have a camper whose dog died in the night, and he wants to know what he can do with the body.”

“We’ll check and get back with you, Savage Rive.”

“Dispatch to Savage River.”

“Go ahead, Dispatch.”

“Yeah, we checked and he can’t bury the dog in the park. He can go anywhere outside the park and dig a hole in the ditch and bury the dog.”

“Are you kidding me? That’s the answer: dig a hole in the ditch?”

“He can’t bury the dog in the park.”

“Okay. Ten-four, Dispatch.”

“Dave, I am not going to tell that man to bury his dog in the ditch!”

“Let’s give him the number of that nice veterinarian we saw. She will have a better solution.”

After hearing what we found out for him, the man said he had a reservation at the main campground that night and he would call the vet as soon as he reached Riley Creek Campground and had use of his cell phone again.

The next day, Dave and I headed into the main camp to do our laundry and visit with our friends, the hosts at Riley Creek. Dennis told us that he talked to the man whose dog had died. The vet told him the same thing dispatch told us. When he called the humane society in Fairbanks, they offered to put the dog in the dumpster behind their building anytime. Nice.

So, Dennis did a really kind thing. He took his shovel and went with the guy to find a suitable burial spot outside the park. They went out Stampede Road near where they run dogsleds and dug a hole as deep as they could, and gave her a burial. Thanks, Denny.

Knock, knock.


“Hi, could you show us how to get our awning to come out?”

“Sure, be right with you.”

Knock, knock.

“Hello. What can I do for you?”

“I need a wake-up call in the morning because I am supposed to catch the bus at seven a.m. and I’m afraid I will oversleep.”

“Well since there are no working phones here, a call is out of the question. What if we loan you an alarm clock?”

“That would be great. Thanks so much.”

“Not a problem. We don’t want you to miss your bus.”

Knock, knock.

“What time is it?” I asked Dave. We were in bed.

“I don’t know. Maybe two or three in the morning.”

I stumbled to the door. In front of me are a man and a woman. “Hello.”

“We were hiking in the park and got lost. When we finally got headed in the right direction and got back to the road there were no more buses. We have been hiking since about noon yesterday. What we need is a ride back to McKinley Village, where we are staying.”

“Oh, my goodness! Of course, I will give you a ride. Just let me get some clothes on, and I will be right with you.”

As we pile into the truck, I wonder why I told Dave to go back to sleep and I’d give these people a ride. One of us must always remain in the park when on duty.

So, I was driving in the dark, the headlights of the truck providing the only light for at least twelve miles. I prayed I wouldn’t hit a moose. As we drove out of the campground the couple informed me there was another couple with them. This pair was waiting at the bus stop because they were too exhausted to walk any farther. We stopped and picked them up; I could see how exhausted they were by their movements.

When everyone was seated and buckled, we made introductions all around, and the first couple shared water they had gotten at our campsite with the other two. “I’m sorry, I didn’t even think about offering you anything to eat or drink,” I said.

“That’s okay. There is a room where we are staying that is open 24/7 with coffee, sandwiches, and cookies provided.”

“Where exactly are you staying at McKinley Village?”

“At the elder hostel.”

“Are you kidding me? So, tell me how you got stranded in Denali Park.”

“We have hiked before and we have a GPS, so we rode the bus to the Savage Loop Trailhead and got off there to begin our hike. The plan was to hike to the top of Mt.Margaret, follow the ridge, and come down at Primrose Pass where we would catch a bus back to town. We made a wrong turn somewhere and by the time we realized it, we were way off course. We finally came across some hikers who gave us water and directed us to the park road. By the time we made it back to the park road, the last bus had already left. We had no choice but to keep walking. We thought if we could make it back to the Savage Loop Trailhead there would be a telephone, but when we finally made it that far, there was no telephone. We could see the park radio inside the security shed, and we thought about breaking a window to access it but decided against it. We were afraid of being attacked by animals, and considered sleeping in the bathrooms until morning, but decided to keep walking, even though one of the ladies had hurt her knee and we were all tired and ached all over. We felt we needed to get to a place where there were people to ask for help. We have been walking now for about fourteen hours.”

“Wow! That’s some story.”

“We are very grateful to you for giving us a ride.”

“That is not a problem at all. I surely couldn’t leave you out in the cold all night, could I?

As I drive through the main camp at Riley Creek, a few street lights give us visual aid, but after getting on the highway it gets very dark again. I am driving slowly because I am afraid I will hit a moose, but I am also afraid that if a truck comes up behind us going fast, that could be a disaster too. The speed limit is 65 mph, so I force myself toward 50 mph and keep my eyes peeled on the road ahead. It’s about twenty miles from camp to McKinley Village. When we arrive at the elder hostel, the lost hikers have difficulty stretching their sore muscles to get out of the truck.

I made the reverse trip, wishing the sun would come up so I didn’t have to make the drive all the way home in the dark. The sun must have heard my request because it began to get light out by the time I returned to the trailer, so I made coffee and got ready for the day. By midmorning though, I was thinking about a nap, when Dave said, “one of your late-night callers left a cell phone in the truck.”

“Oh, no.” Back in the truck I went – I hated driving that big monstrosity. When I reached McKinley Village, I explained the whole story to the man at the desk and told him that the people would not come looking at his lost and found for the cell phone; he would have to find them. I left my cell phone number with him.

A few days later, when we were off duty and had driven to the main camp at Riley Creek, I was able to access my cell phone messages. I learned that they did get their phone back. They will have stories to tell when they get home – and so will I.

Knock, knock…



About Valerie Winans
We like to camp because it’s easy to take our best friend with us. When we were hired as campground hosts in Denali National Park and Preserve Remington Beagle was only about a year old. Since that first trip up the Alaska Highway we have been in love with not only all things Alaska, but also the adventure in getting there each time with our truck and trailer.