Sunday, 4 August 2013

Denali National Park, AK

We had booked our campground in Denali National Park a few months ago and are two weeks earlier than we planned. For a $4 fee we changed it and only have to wait a couple of extra days. We can use the extra time down south. We were advised to try and get into Teklanika as it is further into the park but it was booked out. You can’t drive around the park yourself, you have to pay for either tours or the shuttle bus. Instead of the usual 100 yard rule between you and an animal, it is 300 yards!
The camping spots in Reilly Creek campground are excellent: large, level and private which doesn’t lend itself to meeting people though. We pay a bit extra for our sized site, but at least we fit. There are people picking blueberries and cranberries at the back of our site. The mosquitoes are not as bad as we were led to believe, we have encountered much worse in Canada, so that is a relief. The first afternoon we listened to a ranger talk on Denali Park, how it came to be, what it is most famous for: Mt Denali aka Mt McKinley and some of the people who helped shaped it’s identity. Denali, means the great one and the mountain is certainly great. Mt McKinley is the Federal name for it and hence what is on all the maps, but the Alaskan government changed it back to Denali in the eighties. You are very lucky if you get a chance to see it, only 30% of visitors see the mountain “out” as they call it. There are only a few places in the park that you can see it from and most of the time it is shrouded in clouds. It is more than 20,000 feet high and is the third largest mountain in the world, the largest in circumference. The top half is covered in snow all year round and the best pictures are taken in winter when it is around minus 40F. So no I’m not coming back for that one. It is the only national park that has a working dog sled team that patrol the park in winter for poaches and to check the boundaries. In summer they do dog sled programs for the tourists. By far the best part of the program was when the dogs knew they were going on a run and they all started getting really excited. The Alpha female is the leader, next to her is her apprentice, the two behind are called corner’s as they have to learn to go around the corners without tipping the sled over, the others behind are just the muscle power to help whatever needs pulling.

We took the free shuttle out to Savage River on the second day and walked the loop trail. Denali was shrouded in clouds, so there was no point in getting out at the vista stop. During the walk along the Savage River, Lindsay noticed a bird going berserk up on the hill and he thought he could see a bear near it; we could only see it’s backside and to me it looked a little small for a bear. The bird was obviously trying to protect it’s nest. On the way back it had moved and we could clearly see that it was a lynx! Which is very rare to see. It’s like a gigantic domestic tabby, except it has a stubby tail and pointy ears with black wispy ends; very mortisherish. We went out again in the afternoon, but didn’t see anything except some moose a long way off the road on the return trip.

We had been told numerous times that we would see more wildlife the further we went into the park. So we booked a shuttle bus to take us out to the Eielson Visitor centre which takes you to mile 66 in the park, giving you plenty of time to see wildlife and see the mountain if it was out. It was a cloudy day, so I didn’t hold much hope of seeing the mountain, but we were lucky and it was indeed “out” or more precisely “visible”. The trip was a slightly uncomfortable 8 hours in an old bus on dirt roads, with one section which is very narrow with steep cliffs which was nicknamed “poison”, one drop and you are dead! The sights of the mountain were beautiful and amazing.

Mt McKinley aka Denali

The amount of wildlife sightings were minimal and disappointing. We saw a couple of moose, one wolf, and one bear quite far away. A couple of caribou were on the road and a few far off into the distance. The mountain goats were just white specs on the hills. I think we have been spoilt with Yellowstone. We had planned on a second trip the next day which would then give us a free trip on the third day, but the long drive to see so little, just wasn’t worth it.

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