Saturday, August 14, 2010

Into the Park

Getting around in Denali National Park can be problematic. There is but one main road and, if followed to the end, it will take you 92 miles into the park. However, access to that road is restricted except for the first 15 miles. Beyond that point a special permit is needed and those are given to people using the campgrounds in the interior. Even then, once they get to the campground, their vehicle must remain parked until they are ready to leave.

Essentially, access to the interior of the park is via bus whether a park shuttle or tour bus. Both have a fee over and above the price of admission and in most cases, reservations are required. If you don't have reservations and you show up in Denali one day don't expect to be able to go beyond the 15 mile limit that same day!

Sue and Fred had made reservations for the Kantishna Experience, which would take them as far into the park as you can go. Several days after they made their reservations I tried to get the same tour but it was filled up! The next best thing I could get was the shuttle bus to Eielson Visitor Center, which was 67 miles in.

There are two primary reasons that the vast majority of people go to Denali – to see The Mountain and to see The Wildlife. Only 30% of those people will see The Mountain (it is hidden by clouds much of the time) but most will see some Wildlife though the most “prized” are Bear, Moose, Caribou, Wolf, and Red Fox. The further into the park you go the more likely it is that you will see them all, sometimes rather close.

Early Tuesday morning we made our way to the Wilderness Access Center to board the buses, which left within a few minutes of each other, mine following theirs out to the 67 mile marker.

A small section of the mountains in Polychrome Valley.

Grizzly Bear! One of two cubs who crossed under a bridge with their mama.

Dall Sheep. There were five of them scattered around the top and sides of this rock outcropping not far from the road.

These were the closest shots that I got. In total on the trip out and back, at various spots along the way (in other words not all at the same time), the bus I was on saw 20 bears (including 4 different sets of two cubs and mama), a moose with her calf, two wolf cubs, a lone wolf, a dozen Dall Sheep (most were “white spots” on the mountainside while others were “white spots with legs”), quite a few small herds of Caribou, and one Bald Eagle. I gave up on taking pictures since most were so far away. I did see them somewhat “up close” though with the binoculars and they were quite splendid.

Though our buses were only a few minutes apart, we didn't see the same wildlife. Sue got some terrific shots, some quite close. Please, go check out her photos! You'll be glad you did...

And, we got lucky for the second day in a row – Denali was “out” once again!

This is from about 35 miles away from The Mountain. Everyone on the bus was thrilled to be able to see this much of Denali.

I like how you can see parts of the mountain through the clouds.

The peaks are two miles apart!

Twenty minutes later, at the Eielson Visitor Center, Denali was nearly obscured by the clouds.

Gone! Denali is to the left of that center peak. I stayed at Eielson for more than an hour and The Mountain didn't come back out.

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