June 24, 25
Denali was made a park in 1917; in 1921 seven people visited the park. Today there are about 575,000 visitors each year. If you have ever been to Yosemite in the summer it seems like there are that many people every day.
The vast expanse of this 6 million acre park are hard to describe. My apologies for not posting more photos but it is hard to do in camp. I intend to sum this whole trip up in photos afterward. I expect you all to hold me to that.
We were able to book three seats on the park bus for Sunday so Saturday we took a five mile hike near the front of the park. At the midpoint we watched a demonstration of the sled dogs that are used in the park in the winter. They are not the sleek racing teams that get attention but strong working teams of real Alaskan Huskies. These dogs overheat when it is 10 degrees above zero. In the summer they have short coats and sleep in the warm days. The dog lovers had a great time walking around and petting the dogs. When the dogs knew it was time to work they got very excited but only five of the 33 got the call. They ran around a short loop pulling a wheeled training cart and loved every minute.
The hike in the boreal forest was very nice. There are basically three trees, spruce, aspens and willows. There are a lot of different flowers with the most predominant being the wild rose. There are blue, purple, pink, red, white and yellow; most of which I cannot identify right now. It is very green here and the contrast with the gray, red and gold rocks is awesome. There are also numerous lichen varieties and a few mushrooms that we saw. The only wildlife we saw were squirrels and birds.
On Sunday we boarded our bus to ride to Eilson visitor center at mile 66. The road goes back to mile 85. The start of the ride was a bit boring because we did not see any animals the first hour. things changed. The views were spectacular though. At one point we could glimpse the base of the large paeks but that was all. Only 30% of visitors get to see the peaks and this June has been unusually poor with only two days were the peak has been seen.
At about the midpoint of the trip in things got better, we saw Dall sheep up on the steep mountain sides. First there were two and then there were four more. I had binoculars so I could see them fairly well and verified that they were yews and their babies, the males were not around as is normal in the spring and summer. The sheep sure can move fast up steep terrain. I remarked to Justin that these sheep are the hardest animal to hunt with a bow and that sparked a conversation with a man from Wisconsin who is a bowhunter. We traded tales for a while.
That is one of the cool things about the bus, you meet people from different places and share a bit of your life with them. There was a young lady at the start that said she was from Cleveland and I shared that i grew up there and I learned that she went to Holy Cross High School which was a few miles from my childhood home. We used to say that is where all of the ‘fun’ girls went but I have no firsthand knowledge of that.
after the Dall sheep we came to a point where we saw caribou. There was a male sitting on a snow patch and nearby was a small herd. It turns out that the caribou lay on the snow patches to drive the insects off of them. A bit later we saw a larger group of caribou moving up a mountain to the snow. They kept coming and there were at least a hundred. On the other side of the road a grizzly was snoozing in the brush. He raised his head a bit now and then but he was not that entertaining. Our driver, on the other hand, was very entertaining. Sandy B. loved her job and the whole vibe of conservation and Denali and had a great narration of the trip.
After a few minutes the grizzly alerted, he was smelling something to our left. Shortly a sow and two cubs from last year appeared and he made a hasty retreat to the road and it turns out he blocked traffic behind us for a while. We watched the mom and cubs for a few minutes and moved on. They bears were a bi far away so any photos will have to be manipulated to zoom them in. I will do that after this trip.
Meanwhile, the scenery was still spectacular as we neared our turnaround point. We spent a half hour there and enjoyed the views, some lunch and the visitor center. Back on the bus we all got to see the view from the other side and it never disappointed. We came back to the grizzly area and they were still there. The mom and cubs were napping in the brush and the male was snoozing next to the road. We stopped to wait for other buses in the opposite direction and when our turn to pass the bear came he was up and grazing right next to the road so I got some good video of him. He did not give a shit that we were there; or he is paid to pretend that.
We came back by the large caribou herd and watched some of them go over the mountain to the other side. After that the ride got a bit unexciting and some people were dozing, me included. After my head bounced against the window enough I was awake again and scanning for animals. About ten miles from the end the hunter from Wisconsin cried wolf and sure enough, there was a black wolf on our left. We stopped and watched it cross behind us and into the brush and gone. In the whole park there are about 350 grizzlies and we saw four; there are 49 wolves and we saw one, a rare treat for a bus load of people. It was a great, scenic, ride a worth all of the $44 cost. It had rained where we parked our bikes but we had no rain all day but never saw the peaks. A local told us the best month is March to see the mountain.
After our day in the park we went north a few miles to Healy and had dinner at the 49th State Brewery. There Green Horn IPA is pretty good and we had one of the better meals we have had. When traveling one’s eating habits can deteriorate. I try and get salad or vegetables often but in Alaska salads have been overpriced disappointments until today. The house salad was finally more than a few roadside weeds and a tomato and had great greens and other vegetables. I also had caribou sausage (I hope I was not eating wang) and it was very good. I got a taste of Yak meat and it was amazing; lean and tasty and better than any beef I have had.
Since we have been here three nights it is striking how that late afternoon has been the best part of the day. The sun burns through the clouds and it is warm and sunny.
Just as I m about to close this a rider we met, Aaron, popped in. He is from New Zealand and shipped his KTM500 to the tip of South America last August and has ridden all the way up to the Arctic Ocean and is now here at Denali. Aaron is hardcore and travels light, a true adventure biker.
Tomorrow we head to Anchorage. I will change my oil and head to the Seward Peninsula. The weather forecast is not that great but we signed up for this. Are we men or mice?