I'm no Tarzana, roughing it in the wild. Therefore, when I chose to romance the wild of Alaska, trepidation accompanied my journey to Denali National Park and Preserve — the largest swath of wilderness in North America. Grizzlies. Wolves. Caribou. The promise of observing wildlife in their natural habitat, surrounded by beauty as it was centuries ago, was thrilling. Predators versus prey. Red fox versus please-don't-eat-me-now Arctic ground squirrels. The Alaska Range bathed in northern lights.
Bye-bye city congestion and cell towers. I'd explore the Interior of Alaska and a new kind of freedom surrounded by Denali's 6 million acres — the size of Massachusetts — which, incidentally, boasts North America's tallest mountain at 20,322 feet. Mount Denali, "The Great One" (also known as Mount McKinley), towers over forests, glacial lakes, frozen tundra and mountains, and it is popular with photographers, climbers and tourists eager to glimpse its often-cloud-shrouded peak. I'd have three days to embrace Alaska's wilderness and squash any trepidations about roughing it in the wild.
I boarded Alaska Railroad's Denali Star train in Anchorage. We snaked north through pristine wilderness, passing lakes, braided streams and groves of trees. Our guide told stories of pioneers and gold-diggers — long-bearded mountain men who endured harsh conditions mining for gold. Stories of rugged men, far removed from my "GoldStar" train experience with plush interior, comfy seats and large curved glass windows, underscored that "roughing it" was not happening here.
The train slowed for dramatic postcard scenes, including one atop a trestle bridge 296 feet above Hurricane Gulch, which is known for its sweeping high winds and beauty.
After seven hours of scenic train travel that I didn't want to end, a colorful low-elevation taiga forest greeted my arrival to the Denali Park Station. The Alaska Range and an alpine forest, like an impressionist painting, were in the distance. Sun rays pierced clouds, illuminating wild Denali: Evergreens, paper birch and aspen trees were alive with color. Wildflowers swayed in the light breeze — pink fireweed, purple lupine and yellow cinquefoil. I inhaled clean air, soaking in the serenity of my surroundings.