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July 29, 2010

Wet and Elusive Denali National Park

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In Fairbanks I began doing my research and getting excited to visit Denali National Park.  A massive 6 million acre park that is kept as wild by limiting areas accessible within the park.  Only one road services the interior of the park and buses are the only option to travel the road.  Camp sites are located in the interior of the park, but reservations are usually needed.  I was able to get in at the park entrance for two nights and had to live with that.

The Mountain I Didn't SeeThe Mountain I Didn’t See

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The Mountain I Didn't See

 

Signing up for a 6:45am bus (be there 15 minutes early) it was an early night for me.  Naturally, the rain started up during the night and stuck around the entire day.  I think partly because of that I was up even before the alarm and made the 6:15 bus to Wonder Lake.

The recommendation is that the earlier you go, the more animals you see.  Let’s just say I feel bad for the later buses because the weather kept many of the animals hidden away. We heard lots of stories about how the animals sometimes walk right down the road and next to the bus.  Six wolf did that just yesterday.  It wasn’t to be today.

Grizzly and Two CubsGrizzly and Two Cubs

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Grizzly and Two Cubs

 

Don’t get me wrong, I saw  more grizzly there than I have the rest of the trip combined, dall sheep, caribou, a fox, coyote, and ptarmigan (Alaska’s state bird). Denali has an impressive record of not having any serious bear attacks in its history.  Given the number of them that is amazing.  Because the bears have so much room to roam there they are 80-90% vegetarian.

Mushroom and Blueberry BushesMushroom and Blueberry Bushes

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Mushroom and Blueberry Bushes

 

Blueberries were just starting to grow and ripen so I was able to sample a few on my walk at Wonder Lake.  Mosquitoes are the sole pollinator of the blueberries there.  The first good use I’ve heard of for the little pests and a trade-off I’d happily make given the chance.

I’d planned on taking a long hike at Wonder Lake or somewhere on the way back, but every time I got off the bus the rain picked back up.  Along the way back campers were waiting at various locations along the roadside to get a ride in.  Many of them were supposed to stay another night or two and decided to cut things short. The bus in and out to where I went was an 11 hour trip.  I did take an hour break at the halfway point and take a different bus back.  Regardless it was a long day of sitting and wiping condensation off the window to see what was out there.

I also didn’t get to see North America’s tallest peak, Mount McKinley due to the clouds.  One day too late.  Only 25% of Denali’s visitors do so I can’t feel too upset about it.

My last day in the park I went to the visitors center and their dog sled show.  Dog sleds are still used by the park service to patrol the park all winter travelling between cabins that are setup throughout the park for the rangers usually 10-15 miles apart.  The best part of that show was seeing how excited the dogs got when they were picking out which ones got to pull the sled for the short demo.  They love their job!

With Great Blue EyesWith Great Blue Eyes

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With Great Blue Eyes

 

I had one funny encounter as I was pulling up at the visitors center there was a girl packing up her car after a camping trip.  She did a big double take as I pulled in staring at the website/state list on my bags.  Of course I’m used to getting double takes from the ladies, but usually I have my helmet off first.  She was saying hi as I was doing that when I finally realized I’d camped next to her and her boyfriend in Jasper almost 4 weeks earlier and a couple thousand miles away.

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