Alaska's Winter Horizon

Alaska's Winter Horizon

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Denali Trip, Day 2, Part 2

Remember to click on the pictures to make them larger.

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.

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