Alaska's Winter Horizon

Alaska's Winter Horizon

Monday, June 14, 2010

Denali Trip, Day 4

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Today was the last of our 4 day trip to Denali. We drove back into the park for a few more photos and a picture of the Denali National Park sign. When we left the hotel, we stopped at an overlook on the main road. We spotted a few rafts ready on the Nenana River for some adventurous tourists. As we were leaving the park entrance, we saw a very rare sight. A mother moose with 3 calves. That's right- triplets!!! We took several pictures but you still have to look closely and count the babies' legs to see all 3 calves. The mom was doing a great job of protecting them from people- let's hope she does as good a job while protecting them from bears! In Alaska, however, from 1/2 to 3/4 of moose calves fall victim to predators. We headed back down the Parks Highway. After a very close call on the gas gauge, we were able to pull over inside the Denali State Park for a view of Mt. McKinley. One picture really captured both the north and souths peak of McKinley. Both peaks are visible above the clouds. These pictures were taken over 40 miles from the mountain. You can still see the snow-covered mountain standing regally behind the others. It was really an inspiring sight. We had almost given up any chances of seeing it again this trip. In fact, only 20% of visitors are able to catch a glimpse of the mountain due to the massive cloud cover present on most days. We stopped at another state park area and had a picnic lunch. Headed on home- tired but happy.

We will be taking a break from the blog for a few weeks as I head back to Tennessee. Greg says he's too lazy to blog on his own.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Denali Trip, Day 3, Part 3

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Here are a few more photos from the Savage River hike. There are so many gorgeous views along the trail. We walked the trail twice that day for a total of 4+ miles. The second time around, had we been better prepared with extra water, backpack, bear spray, etc. we would have continued along the valley with it all to ourselves. Bear spray would be essential for any further hiking as there are a lot of blind spots and wild game trails that meander this valley.

Greg thinks after several miles this valley meets up with the Sanctuary River. Some hardy souls use small inflatable boats and rafts to float this river. The water must be frigid! The bus actually stopped to let a few people off to float down the river. You're kinda on your own, this is not a commercial rafting tour. Lots of people make a long day of a combo hike/float through the Savage River Valley to the Sanctuary River.

As you can tell from the photo, plenty of places still had snow covering the ground. This is the end of May no less- but you are at an elevation of 2600 to 3000 feet.

In these photos, Greg thought he saw a big animal moving through the dense brush. He immediately rushed up the hill to check it out. No, not really! The area was so wild and untamed that it beckoned for a photo. He carefully scanned and checked out the area before walking into the shrubs. He probably wouldn't have entered the scrub brush if he had heard even a ground squirrel. All joking aside, these places are generally best avoided to hike through if at all possible. Some quick bear tips from former Ranger Greg- make plenty of noise, talk, sing, clap, yell, do not surprise a bear. Don't hike alone in these areas. Supposedly here in Alaska, a grizzly has never attacked a party of 4 or more. Don't go in smelling like a bakery, carry a bear-proof food canister and use it. If you see a bear before it sees you, slowly back away and choose an alternate route.

As we left the park tonight, we were reminded of how vast it was. You could enjoy 1,000 acres of the park each day and it would take over 16 years to cover it all!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Denali Trip, Day 3, Part 2

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It was late in the afternoon by the time we got out on the Savage River Loop Trail in the Denali National Park. By this time, there were very few hikers left on the trail. We saw maybe 6 people during the whole time we hiked this 2 mile loop. Due to camera problems, this was actually the second time we had hiked this trail today. On the first hike the camera wasn't working properly. We decided to come back and hike again after we had purchased another memory card. With such a beautiful and serene walk, we really wanted to capture it on film. The trail basically followed the edge of the Savage River for about a mile. You then crossed the river and hiked on the other side of the river back to the main road. We saw many cool rock formations and we posted photos of a couple of them. We also saw where a bear had been digging for ground squirrels. Large chunks of ground had been turned over in his pursuit of food. Kinda made us momentarily wish we had brought along bear spray! The trail wasn't very wide and in several places was close to the edge of the incline. As we continued, we noticed large areas of snow still on the sides of the mountains on May 30th. We took the binoculars with us and were able to see several Dall sheep high above us. Where the trail crossed the river, we noticed a spur trail that seemingly led over 2 ridges to a nice view. We made it to the top of this trail but instead of the wide valley we expected, it was similar to the terrain we had crossed. It was, of course, still awesome and beautiful. As we turned for the last part of the hike, the mosquitoes and gnats started to get cranked up. They didn't get that bad, but were about like the late spring afternoon in most areas of Tennessee. We did see more snowshoe hares and ptarmigan before making our way back to the car.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Denali Trip, Day 3, Part 1

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Slept in and missed the breakfast buffet much to Greg's heatbreak. We went across the street to a few tourist stores and got some souvenirs. Enjoyed a lunch of yummy halibut tacos. Then we set off for the park, about a mile down the road. After stopping to check and see if there was a ranger-led hike, we were told that those hikes hadn't started yet. We then decided to drive the allowable first 15 miles into the park and find our own place to hike. Since it is a wilderness area, there are very few actual hiking trails in Denali. You have 6 million acres to make your own trail. It was a bit cloudy and overcast and we actually passed through a short rainshower. The skies were a beautiful color and we even saw a rainbow that made its appearance across the valley. We pulled in to one of the overlooks and tried to get some pics of one of the millions of lakes in Alaska. As the brush was shoulder high, it didn't seem the smartest thing to walk down to the lake. We drove on down toward the Savage River. We spotted many snowshoes hares with their spring colors beginning to show, but their feet still in the winter white colors. They seemed to quite plentiful here. So many animals, such as the fox we saw yesterday, can count on plenty of food for themselves and their young this summer. We also saw several ptarmigan, also known as the snow chicken, near the creeks. This bird is also a staple food for many animals including humans. As you can tell from the pictures, the ptarmigan is also getting her summer coat of darker colors. During the winter, this bird is completely white. We made it to the Savage River parking area which is as far as you can drive in a private vehicle in Denali. It is also the trailhead for the Savage River Loop Trail which we decided we enjoy this afternoon.

Denali Trip, Day 2, Part 3

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Once we got to the Toklat River stop, the bus driver said we would get a 20 minute break. Greg and I took this opportunity to walk back on the park road and the bus would pick us up when it left. We walked a bit and spotted some tracks from the road. Greg walked down a small incline and discovered some large bear tracks. They didn't appear to be very fresh so we didn't feel unsafe. We continued to walk and hopped the bus about 1/2 mile up the road. The bus began the journey back to the Wilderness Access Center. It was a beautiful ride back, in fact it is breath-taking in any direction here. Returning to the Center about 9:15, we were tired and hungry from the long day. Drove back to the Denali Lodge and enjoyed fresh crab dip and halibut sandwiches on the deck at a bistro. Got a few more pictures of some beautiful statues around the lodge before calling it a night.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Denali Trip, Day 2, Part 2

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Waited at the Wilderness Access Center and boarded the Toklat Tour Bus at 3:00 to begin our 53 mile bus ride into Denali National Park. Cars are not allowed after the first 15 miles of the park. You have to ride a bus to go beyond the Savage River. This helps keep the park as a wilderness area, free of traffic congestion and other problems parks sometimes face. Plus, the road is only paved the first 15 miles. There are some very narrow and curvy parts of the road with no guard rails and drop-offs over 1,00 feet down. We hadn't traveled far when the bus stopped for a close-up view of a grazing moose. We both remained seated however, as moose in Anchorage are more common than deer sightings in Tennessee. As we traveled further and began to leave the trees behind, the views became more dramatic with huge mountains, some covered with snow, some with dirt and rocks. The valleys and meadows opened in front of the mountains to create that postcard of Alaska that so many of us have come to know. Further up the road we spotted a mother grizzly with 2 cubs from last year. She was huge! You can barely see them at the left edge of the photo. When the sun shines directly on our camera screen, you can't tell what is in the picture frame. Since these were at a good distance, we just had to point in that direction and hope for the best. We did watch them several minutes through the binoculars. It was a wild and awesome sight. We stopped again in a few minutes when we spotted some caribou down in a valley. Hard to make out the caribou in the grainy picture, but we were able to see it pretty well with the binoculars. After riding just a little further, we made up for the poor quality of the last 2 sightings with these awesome photos of Dall sheep. They were resting on a cliff not 30 feet from our bus window. You can actually see stray hairs standing up on the sheep's back. What a sight! We drove on to another pull-over where we were able to get out of the bus. It was a beautiful overlook and everyone was trying to spot the caribou down in front of us in the valley. We happened to turn around and see a red fox walking right across the road from us. He paid us no attention and stopped to rest. The fox then casually walked around the bus and strolled up a hill. As we boarded the bus to leave, he reappeared and walked across the road in front of the bus. He lay down on the shoulder of the road and then briefly went down the side of the mountain. He returned seconds later carrying a ground squirrel in its mouth. Dinner is served. It was about at this point when the unthinkable happened- our camera began to malfunction. We missed several other great shots but it is hard to capture the intense beauty of this area except in your heart and mind anyway. Our bus continued on finally reaching its turnaround point, the Toklat River.