Our drive from Fairbanks to Denali National Park was easy though we had some worries about the weather. As we neared the park the sky looked very dark but it turned out to not be rain but smoke. We had heard of fires farther south on the Kenai peninsula but didn’t expect to be affected until we were in that area. As it turned out winds had brought the smoke north and it was very thick around the park. Visibility was very poor and the smoke smell was very strong.
We had planned on a whitewater raft trip that afternoon but decided to cancel it due to the smoke. Instead we drove around the area, checked out the park visitors center and found another great place for lunch (The CreekSide Cafe.)
By the time we had checked into our hotel we were glad we had canceled the raft trip as visibility was growing worse. Instead we wandered around some shops near the hotel and just took it easy. The following day we were scheduled for a 13-hour long bus tour of the park and we were worried that it would be a complete bust due to the smoke.
That night it rained and in the morning (06/23) the air was clear of smoke. Our bus picked us up on time and we were on our way. As we got farther into the park the weather continued to improve.
The first wildlife we spotted were Dall Sheep. I find it hard to believe how they can manage these rocky, steep crags.
Not much later we spotted our first bear. This one was just snoozing out in the meadow, completely oblivious to the busses on the road. Our driver explained that the Grizzlies in Denali are much lighter in color than those in other areas. He described them as the “Marilyn Monroes” of Grizzly Bears.
Around the next bend in the road we came across a herd of Caribou. They were ambling over the hill in the direction of the bear above. Grizzly bears are a major predator on Caribou so they are careful to stay away from them. The bus driver stopped and we watched while the Caribou discovered the bear in their path. Here is a picture of the herd after they changed direction away from the bear (to the right of the photo).
Our destination for lunch that day was the Kantishna Roadhouse, as far into Denali as you can go by road. This was a beautiful place and I would have loved to have been able to stay there for a few days.
One of the things happening at Kantishna while we were there was sled dog training. The method struck me as a little odd but the dogs seemed to love it. Unfortunately, this picture was taken through the bus windshield so not the best image. Still, you can see the basic idea.
On the return leg we saw things we missed on the trip in. One thing that I found interesting was a beaver lodge. Our driver said that, in Denali, the beaver don’t usually build dams but just build their lodge in one of the many small lakes and ponds.
We were also fortunate to see a mother Grizzly with two cubs. The first picture shows them wandering over the meadow.
Shortly after we spotted them the momma bear decided to just lay down and let the cubs nurse.
At one rest stop we saw a Golden Eagle just coasting on the wind. These are huge birds with wingspans averaging seven feet.
One of the great attractions of Denali is Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America. We were constantly being to told that only 30% of the visitors to the area get to see the mountain due to weather conditions. It turned out that we were some of the lucky ones and got a wonderful view.
We saw many more beautiful and interesting things in Denali. I took a lot of spectacular photos on that day, too many to show here. I would suggest that anyone who is going to Alaska should put Denali high on their list of must see places.