Witty Signs Keep Drivers Focused On Tricky Alaskan Road

By: CNN
By: CNN

(CNN) -- Although residents often like to joke that it is, the mosquito isn't actually Alaska's official state bird. (That'd be the willow ptarmigan.)

You also won't see many coconut trees growing in the far north.

Judging by signage along Grande Drive in Denali, Alaska, however, you might not necessarily know those things.

Appearing along the steep, winding ascent to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, road signs depicting giant mosquitoes carrying off human prey and warning of falling coconuts are clearly meant to get a laugh out of drivers.

Just less than a mile long and costing about $1 million to build, the mostly dirt road (some sharp corners are paved) leads to the Grande Denali Lodge.

Construction on the road began in 2000; the hotel opened in 2002.

Installed in stages over the past four or five years, according to Grande Denali Lodge general manager Joe Merrill, the signs were the brainchild of Dennis Brandon, a marketing consultant for the hotel who has a long history in the hospitality industry in Alaska.

"The collection has been added to each year," says Merrill. "The ideas (for the signs) now come out of different peoples' minds."

Tiny town, big mountains

More a small collection of businesses than a town, the bulk of Denali (also unofficially referred to as "The Canyon" and Glitter Gulch) is located less than two miles from the entrance to Denali National Park and Preserve.

The park is home to some of the greatest wildlife viewing opportunities in the world -- grizzly bear, moose, Dall sheep, caribou, 35 other species of mammals and 169 species of birds are often visible from the park's single road in spring, summer and fall.

The park's centerpiece is Mount McKinley (also called "Denali"), North America's highest peak at 20,237 feet (6,168 meters).

The village of Denali has only about 160 year-round residents.

Those numbers swell during the summer season when area hotels, restaurants and shops reopen with the spring thaw and start of the tourist season.

Located at the top of Grande Drive, Grande Denali Lodge is one of the area's largest hotels.

It's Alpenglow Restaurant and Lounge has an outdoor deck from which visitors can take in monster views facing southward toward the park entrance.

As for the broader purpose of the signs, Merrill suggests it's about more than just laughs.

"I guess they're also a way to take peoples' attention away from the side of the road with the cliffs," he says.

"I'm pretty sure we're not done with the signs. Stay tuned to see what our warped minds come up with next."

The-CNN-Wire
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