Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Alaska's Denali National Park - Part 1 ...

It was a short drive from the train station to the Denali Visitor Center Campus at mile 1.5. Everything there was within walking distance. When we got off our bus, we took our purchases from the Fred Meyer Store in Fairbanks with us. We were not sure when we would get to our lodging for the night, but we should be in good shape.

It was near 11:30, so we headed for the building with the Morino Grill. It was a much smaller version of a food court you would find in a mall. The difference was we paid for everything at once in a cashier line after we made our choices. Then we got our cutlery and condiments and selected a vacant table where we enjoyed lunch.

It was a short walk to the National Park Service, where we picked up a free map for Denali National Park and Preserve. On the lower right corner of the map, there were two stamps. One said Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska and had a date of June 5, 2016, the date we were there. The other stamp said Denali NP & Pres NPS Centennial 1916-2016 for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

Outside we viewed the Resting Grizzly plaque from the Berry Family, and the Resting Grizzly. From there it was an easy walk to the area where we would board our bus.

The Resting Grizzly 

Berry Family Gift
Denali National Park was a dream come true.  It was the reason we were signed up for the land portion tour prior to our cruise. Having the opportunity to be in a place where we could see wild animals roaming freely in the wilderness like no other place on earth was phenomenal.

We boarded a tan Bluebird bus for our Tundra Wilderness Tour, a narrated seven to eight hour tour, that offered opportunities to view the park’s wildlife and scenery. It included a box of snacks and water. Prior to June 1, 2016, this tour traveled 53 miles into the park to the Toklat River Contact Station. Since June 1, 2016, it travels to mile 64. The only exception to this distance is if the mountain is visible. Unfortunately, the mountain was not visible due to the rain that started after we ate lunch.

The beauty found in Denali is many things. It is not only the tallest mountain in North America. It is a  preserve where visitors can view nature…wildlife, plants, flowers, whatever it has to offer… in its natural habitat, without fear of being disturbed. It is also a place where wildlife can live in harmony without fear of being hunted, with the exception of their natural predators, where nature keeps the balance.

The Wilderness of Denali can be described as a weave – an intact living tapestry.

“An ecosystem is a tapestry of species and relationships. Chop away a section, isolate that section, and there arises the problem of unraveling.” – David Quammen, The Song of the Dodo.

There is only one road in Denali National Park. It is 91 miles, between McKinley Park Station and Kantishna, a mining camp from 1923 to 1938, and is the longest trail in the park. There are a variety of ways to experience Denali National Park, but private vehicles are restricted at Mile 15 at Savage River. Only tour buses are allowed beyond Mile 15. The road is paved to Savage River where we checked in at the ranger station, so they had a record of who was in the park

Remember you can click on any picture to enlarge it and simply click the x to close out of it..

Checking in with the ranger at Savage River Check Station, milepost 14.7 
It was definitely raining as we continued past mile 15 where the pavement ended and mountains came into view. A heavy equipment crew parked their equipment on the other side of the bridge after getting rained out for the day. You can still see rain on the windshield as the mountain with patches of snow appears.

Rain continued as the pavement ended. 

Mountains came into view.

Heavy equipment crew was done for the day.

Rain is still hitting the windshield when this mountain with patches of snow appears.
Green shuttle buses also travel the park road farther into the park. They provide no narrated tour, nor snacks or beverages.  Farther along I spotted a scenic stream from the window of our bus.

A green shuttle bus was headed back to the visitor center complex. 

Scenic stream from the window of our bus 
The next two photos taken through the windshield clearly show that we have reached an elevation where patches of snow are visible. The road also shows signs of getting narrower. We get a better view of the snow as we negotiate more curves on this narrow road.

View through front windshield of our bus with patch of snow to our left. 

Another view through front windshield with patch of snow straight ahead as our road narrows. 

Better view of snow as we negotiate more curves. 
It appears the mountains in the distance are somewhat hazy, but hard to tell since the rain has not let up. Even the mountain with patches of snow is barely visible in front of us as our narrow road curves. Notice the mountains in the background where we prepare to meet a green bus on a narrow curve.

Mountains in the distance appear somewhat hazy as it continues to rain. 

A mountain with patches of snow is barely visible in front of us. 

We prepare to meet a green bus coming around an outside curve
on the narrow road with mountains visible in the background. 
The next four photos are a progression of photos I took out the front of the bus window as we prepare to wind around more curves on this narrow stretch of road.  The second photo has a waterfall at the far left.

A dangerous curve ahead

See the waterfall clear to the left in this photo.

Another dangerous curve with low visibility straight ahead
 This is the area where the Dall sheep can normally be found.  The three white dots barely show up against the green grass in my photo. My camera was not powerful enough to get any closer. The video of the sheep taken by our driver projected on the onboard screens brings them closer.

My camera was not powerful enough to bring the three Dall sheep any closer. 

This is a photo of the monitor screen and the video taken of the sheep by the driver. 
The green bus in this photo helps to give perspective to the size of the mountainside as well as the road.

The size of the mountain and road gain new perspective compared to the green Bluebird bus. 
I almost did not share this photo. Look at it closely to see the snow-covered mountain peak beyond the greenery of the trees. I put my camera setting at full zoom as far as it would go and took this out the side window of the bus because I wanted to see if anything would show up.

Full zoom photo taken through the side window of the bus reveals a
snow-covered mountain peak beyond the greenery of the trees. 
Although we watched for animals throughout our entire tour, it appears that certain groups of animals prefer specific habitat and can usually be found in that general area.

Two caribou – Just slightly lower than center, one is to the left and one is to the right about half way to the edge of the photo.  This is the best I could do with my camera at maximum zoom.

Two caribou, barely identifiable, with my camera set at maximum zoom 
Large animals, caribou, bear, wolf, Dall sheep, and moose, may still be seen in the wild in the vastness of this park. Think about it – In A Naturalist in Alaska, Adolph Murie says, “One need not see a wolf to benefit from his presence; it is enough to know that there is the possibility of discovering one on some distant ridge. It is enough to know that the wolf still makes his home in this beautiful wilderness region to which he contributes vividness, color and adventure. . . an emblem of unspoiled country.” And, by the way, we did not see a wolf. We did, however, see a Willow Ptarmigan (tar-me-gan), the Alaska State Bird.

This is the end of Part 1 of Denali National Park. Thank you everyone for visiting and following my adventure. Feel free to make comments. In the next post, we will continue with Part 2 of Denali National Park and more animal sightings. If you would like to be notified when a new post is published, put your email address in the box at the top right of this blog and be sure to go to your email to confirm your subscription. We respect your privacy and do nothing with your information.

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