Sunday, June 6, 2010

June 6, 2010

Day in Denali National Park

Yesterday we made reservations for today’s  first shuttle bus which left at 7:00 am.  In a few days they will leave as early as 6:00 am.  At 6:45m we gathered with layered clothing, cameras, binoculars, and backpacks filled with snacks, lunches, water, and other assorted things.  There is nothing available inside the park.  With a few exceptions Denali NP is closed to private vehicle traffic.  All entry is done on a tour bus or a shuttle bus.  Tour bus drivers give a nature program while they are driving along with stops for viewing things and wildlife.  Although not required to do so, shuttle bus drivers do pretty much the same thing just not formalized.  We took the shuttle for half the price.  The Denali road is over seventy miles long.  The first 66 miles are currently open and the rest will be open in a few days.  The trip to the visitor center at the 66 mile point and back is eight and a half hours.  We were lucky.  Both drivers we had (out and back) were great.   Very informative and did everything they could to ensure we saw all the wildlife we could.

Some things about Denali NP:

It is huge.  Well over 2 million acres.

The mountain is big, and tall.  You probably knew that.

The wildlife is truly wild.  They do everything they can to avoid animals having any interaction with humans.  If you take food with you it has to be eaten on the bus or in a designated place inside the visitor center.

The mountain is so big it makes its’ own weather.  Most of the time it is covered or obscured by clouds or smoke from fires.  Over 70% of the people who visit the park never see the mountain.  Yesterday was rainy and cloudy and the mountain was totally obscured.  (see yesterday’s blog) This morning was very cool, windy, and CLEAR.  We had hopes but the forecast was increasing clouds and it is a long way from the edge of the park to the interior.  The first opportunity to see the mountain is nine miles in to the park.  This was our view today.


A zoomed shot


I told you it was big.  :)


About six miles later we entered the restricted road.  As we went over a bridge we passed this sitting on the bridge railing:


That is a Willow Ptarmigan, Alaska’s state bird.  In winter they are totally white. 




Brown Bear (Grizzly)







Grizzly sow and pair of two year old cubs walking across side of mountain.




Denali from farther into park.





Views along the road

DSC04153 DSC04155




Caribou.  We saw lots of these





All good things must come to an end. After three and a half hours of traveling this is the view of McKinley.  The road goes over the ridge in the lower right to a visitor center that has a stunning view, IF there is no weather.  The mountain is visible only 17% of the time.




View from visitor center when we got there.

The weather continued to worsen.

BUT, we saw it! (see above pictures) All of it! Cool!


On the way back we saw something that is seen by probably fewer people than see the mountain.



That is a wolf.  It is not dead.  It is taking a siesta under a bush.  There was another nearby doing the same thing.  Further on we saw another out for a stroll.



The last estimate was that there are 69 wolves currently in the park not counting pups.  That is for the whole park.  All two million plus acres.  We saw 5% of the wolf population of the entire park in a half hour.

The Grizzly population of the entire park is between 300 and 350 bears.  I think we saw ten different bears.  Nearly 3% of the population.

We also saw a moose, a Dall Sheep, a fox, several snowshoe rabbits, and a number of ground squirrels.

We saw the “Big Five” (moose, grizzly, caribou, Dall Sheep, and wolves).  Some many times.  We saw the mountain.  We had great weather even with the clouds.  We learned a lot from our drivers and several rangers.  Pretty good day.

We even saw the train.  The scenic tourist train that goes between Anchorage and Fairbanks with a stop in Denali.  The makeup of the train is interesting.  The front of the train (engine, baggage car, and several dome cars of various types) is Alaska railroad.  The next few cars are owned by Princess Cruise Lines.  The next few cars are owned by Holland America.  Each set of cars is a complete package (viewing, baggage, meals, bars, etc.  Passengers taking a cruise that includes an interior package get off their ship and onto their set of rail cars for the train ride.  There is no intermingling between sets of cars.  Sort of strange to watch the segmented train as it passes by.

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