Sunday, September 6, 2009

Fri, Sept 4: Denali National Park

The promised nice weather is holding today. We awake to a light frost on the windows and a nearly cloudless sky. Carolyn fixes a nice big breakfast. We then get all the camera gear together and some snacks and head out the park road to get a picture at Mile 9 of the mountain since it has a bad habit of getting covered in clouds by noon. It is a beautiful day in the park!

Our eight hour bus ride to the Eielson Visitor Center leaves at 12:30PM. We get to the transportation center about 30 minutes before schedule because we want to be at the front of the bus. As it turns out, there are only 15 or so tickets sold for this bus, but it is still good to be in the front of the bus since the road dust is a big problem! We are also lucky in that the driver usually does one of the more expensive formal tour runs and she talks about the park and the animals almost the whole eight hours!
This ride takes us 60 miles into the park, going takes about five hours and then three more retracing the route. Private cars can only go to mile 13. The bus makes rest stops at Teklaneka River,
Polychrome Overlook and Toklat River before reaching the Eielson Visitor Center. There are also stops on request for wildlife and scenery pictures.
The scenery changes as we drive and climb; low brush cover in a riot of Fall color changes to a fir forest. Then we drive up an unbelievably narrow, cliff hanging, one-way, gravel road with a fabulous view of the valley 600 feet below and then down again to a river valley and more vivid colored brush land where we see many animals.
Going in, we see Dall sheep, three or four groups,moose cows and several bulls, a great red fox right beside the road and snowshoe hare. We see grizzly bear; two different mothers with cubs on the hillside eating blueberries, caribou; several groups one right on the road,wolf; a pack with cubs and adults and many arctic squirrels. Coming back out, we have a neat sighting of a moose close to the road,a grizzly sowand her year old cub,just off the road, plus a few more Dall sheep and caribou groups.
From the Toklat River on to the visitor's center we climb up into the tundra and it really is not worth the extra dusty ride since we have had some great views of the mountain for much of the section to Toklat; plus we did not see any wildlife on this last section. Eielson Visitors Center does have a nice view of the Mountain and some walking trails down to and along the glacial river.

Dick is really suffering from the tail end of his cold and the dust is driving him crazy so he does not enjoy the trip very much. Carolyn likes it; the scenery and animals are worth it. We are lucky in that the bus never has more than 24 people so we all have a double seat and it is easy to take pictures from either side, but I think it would have been "hell" if the bus was is a school bus! We were the last bus to go in and come out and the bus before us was packed!

We get back at the transportation center about 8:45PM, tired, dusty and hungry so we head straight into town. The only place still open with food left is Subway so we get two foot longs and head back to the rig. There we fix stiff cocktails and chow down. Then Dick takes some strong drugs to control the cough and we hit the hay!

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