Last week’s post was about our cruise, Seward and the Glaciers. This week is about Denali!
Having been fortunate enough to win a pass in the Denali Road Lottery, we drove north to Denali National Park. It rained much of the four hour drive, but occasionally the clouds parted, and we had views of Denali. The mountain is so tall (over 20,000 feet), that on a clear day it can be seen from Anchorage. However, clear days are so rare that many visitors leave without ever having a glimpse of it. We were very fortunate.
When we arrived it was cloudy, and we didn’t see the mountain, though the smaller mountains we could see were extremely impressive! We picked up our pass, and went off to find our lodging and rest for the next day.
The next morning was our Road Lottery day, so we started early, arriving at the park just after sunrise. We were greeted by one of the smaller mountains, with the sun kissing its peak, as it rose out of the fog.
It is difficult to find the words to describe the awesome beauty of Denali National Park. Everywhere you look there are magnificent snow-covered mountains, streams and rivers, plus wildlife seemed to be hiding behind every bush.
One of the rules of thumb is to stop whenever you see stopped cars with people pointing cameras or binoculars. We followed that rule, and saw our first grizzly bear. It was down the hill from the road, about 300 yds away.
Next stop was for some Dall Sheep, and again for views of Denali.
As we rose to the snow level we stopped again, for another grizzly that was working its way down the mountain.
The park road in Denali is about 90 miles long. Typically you drive out the 90 miles, then turn around and drive back. Because the road is narrow and unpaved, this can take a long time. When we reached Eielson Visitor Center, about 60 miles in, we stopped for a break. It had begun to snow, and visibility was so low that the view window at the Visitor Center, where you are supposed to be able to see Denali, was completely white. You couldn’t see a thing.
We decided to turn back rather than continue in the fog and snow. We did hear later that others had no problem, so it was probably a matter of timing. It turned out well, though, as we saw wildlife on the return trip that we wouldn’t have seen if we had come back later.
First was an unexpected stop. A ranger motioned us to pull over behind some other stopped cars. She explained that a bear was coming down the mountain and would need to cross the road. We waited, camera in hand, but couldn’t see anything. All of a sudden we saw the bear, sauntering down the road.
It crossed the road, and the rangers told the cars to move. Suddenly, the line of cars stopped again, and we were next to the bear – about 50 yards away! I handed the camera to Ruth and told her to just take pictures. Thankfully, she got some beauties!
Not long after we were back on the road, we stopped and saw two moose, far away. We watched them for a bit, then moved on.
There were cars stopped again, and we saw a moose right next to the road. After a moment, the bull, followed by a cow, scrambled up onto the road, then across and into the bush.
We also saw caribou at a distance, and more Dall sheep. The next day we drove back to Anchorage. What an adventure!