"I think my favorite part up there is the amphitheatre," says pilot Dave Wiewel. "The great gorge of the Ruth is just so massive. It's so hard to see just how huge it is."
We're looking at the gorge, which runs deeper than the Grand Canyon. Ruth Glacier is its floor, surrounded by towering granite cliffs. "It's very stoic, powerful, beautiful," says Paula Ruckhaus of Fairbanks.
"We're the only ones here this morning," says our pilot. "That makes it awful nice too – just the solitude of it."
We arrive at Denali National Park and the plane lands to let us out. We're going to do some sightseeing from the ground now. There's a bit of time to stretch our legs before we get on the bus and drive into the park. Cars aren't allowed in here, so the bus is your ticket in. The views from the bus can be spectacular, but visitors are encouraged to do some hiking outside too, linking up with the bus later.
The big green bus maneuvers through the narrow mountain pass into the polychromatic mountains. The eyes of passengers widen and cameras zoom in to take pictures. On the way back, keen-eyed tourists spot wildlife – bears in the upper hills and caribou on the tundra below. Most animals stay far from the roads. The ceiling of the sky seems to hang higher here to make room for Denali, which we're lucky enough to get a clear view of. It's rare to see McKinley from the ground - cloud cover obscures it about a third of the time. But today there's a perfect mix of blue skies and white clouds.
Denali reveals a powerful side of Alaska worth seeing, our fellow passengers say.
"I think people come up on cruises and they see the Inside Passage and don't realize how different Alaska is in all the different sections," says Sheri Farnham, who lives in Fairbanks. "I think a trip to the Interior is so important because it's so different than what you're seeing along the coast."
It's a long trip – maybe too much grandeur to process in a single day. "It's one of the wonders of the world, really," says Dick Brereton, visiting from South Carolina. As the plane journeys back to Anchorage, things end the same way they started – with views reaching into forever.
Contact Ashton Goodell at email@example.com