Wednesday 8 June 2011
Highlights: Denali National Park, Native Wildlife (including spotting a Bald Eagle!) and Mount McKinley
Today I got up early for a very long tour of Denali National Park starting at 6.30 am I found myself travelling with Ian, Helen and Rohran from yesterday’s adventure plus a seat mate in Rebecca and by extension her two friends. The park is a true treasure I can only imagine what it looks like when it is covered in snow, in an Alaskan summer I had to settled for partial snow coverage.
We had planned stops every 1.5 to 2 hours for viewing and toilet breaks, and unplanned stops whenever we spotted wildlife. Entry to the park is limited and the company I was travelling with went the furthest into the park, about half way in the roads are made of gravel and on the edge of cliffs – hair raising at times.
Shortly after the Park Ranger let us in we stopped to view Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in the USA (19,470 feet or 5,934 metres). We were very lucky as the top is usually obscured by clouds, and at around 10 am and for the rest of the day this is what happened, but the early bird gets the great natural sights!
During the day, in particular in the afternoon when heading back, we witness a huge array of wildlife including grizzly & brown bears, bull moose, caribou, arctic squirrels, and a BALD EAGLE! The first grizzly bear we saw had one cub which the mum was teaching how to pick berries, the second one had two younger cubs who were just playing with each other – incredibly cute! The binoculars I borrowed from my friend Jon came in very handy.
At our furthest point we reached a very remote lodge (Kantishna Lodge) and had a filly lunch (soup, chicken wraps and home-made purple lemonade). After lunch I attended a talk on ‘mushing’, the history in Alaska and the annual Iditarod Sled Dog Race (first prize $60K USD). The lodge takes in 6 homeless dogs each summer and trains them for mushing. After the talk we got a demonstration of the dogs in training as they pulled around a tractor. During the demonstrations I was almost eaten alive by the mosquitos, the warnings are on the money.
We also got a chance to undertake some short hikes during our tour, touching the glacial running waters and examining the local flowers and trees. The further you go into the park the more basic the facilitates as some people on the bus found to their surprises. Interestingly 7 people have died hiking in and near the park in the past 3 months. The warmer weather has melted move ice then normal causing extra hazards.
We got back after 8 pm, close to 14 hours after the start, we were later as we kept spotting wildlife. Most people only do a 8 hour tour of the park but I found this tour to be worth the extra hours, in particular getting to the lodge to learn about mushing (dog sledding) and seeing so much wildlife late in the day after everyone else at returned to their hotels. Also my conversations with Rebecca were very informative on the USA and how people are coping with less these days. I was very happy when I finally got back to my room.