About 300 visitors to Denali National Park who were stranded west of Polychrome Pass for several hours after an emergency closure of the Denali Park Road on Friday afternoon have all been safely returned to the entrance area.
“Visitors seemed to be in good spirits despite the delay in getting back to the park entrance,” said Park Ranger Dan Irelan, who is stationed at the Toklat Rest Area. “They were soggy but cheerful.”
The Denali Park Superintendent closed the road Friday at Mile 20, Teklanika Rest Stop, due to unsafe conditions in the Polychrome Pass area and west of Eielson Visitor Center.
In a press release Friday, the park service said a culvert at Mile 62 washed out, making the road impassable Friday afternoon. Tour bus drivers began reporting multiple slides along the road at Polychrome Pass, Stoney Hill and just west of Eielson Visitor Center. A road crew and park rangers from the west district at Toklat went to investigate.
Visitors were brought to the Toklat Rest Area temporarily, while road crews worked on those hazardous areas. Road crews cleared the road within three hours and 17 buses were allowed to safely continue east to the park entrance.
“Our team did an outstanding job responding to multiple debris slide along a pretty remote section of road,” said Erika Jostad, chief ranger. “The geohazard team monitored conditions while the road crew was clearing debris. It was a great example of teamwork.”
Nonstop heavy rain was the culprit.
The park experienced similar landslides recently, which led to a day-long restriction so road crews could assess the damage and make necessary repairs. That restriction was lifted on Aug. 9.
But continued heavy rains have kept the road surface and surrounding tundra saturated with water, leading to increased likelihood of landslides and debris flows.
Rain is expected to continue throughout Friday night and Saturday morning. But the forecast calls for clearing and dryer conditions beginning Saturday.
The road is expected to be open on Saturday.