Success – Alaska

It’s been a long and successful day on the bus. After yesterday’s post I thought I’d share with you a shot from the Eielson Visitor’s Center and relieve the suspense. The shot is of the Denali complex, from The Wedge to Peter’s Dome all surrounding Denali like jewels in a diamond ring.

As I explained in a earlier post, only 30% of the Denali National Park visitors actually see the mountain. What we learned today is that only 10% of those visitors ever see a cloudless mountain. They sell the 30% T-shirts here, but not one for ten per-centers. At the end of our trip, the first thing that the Queen and I did was to march into the gift shop, and buy our tee-shirts. I can die now.

The Denali Chain
This is the great mountain, Denali and the lesser peaks surrounding it. They are visible and cloudless. A very rare sight for park visitors.

I can’t begin to explain how massive this mountain is. The photo included was not taken with a telephoto lens. It was a normal lens from thirty-two miles away. There are two peaks on Denali, the north, which is pyramid shape, and the south which looks like a scoop of ice cream. The south peak is over twenty thousand feet making it the tallest mountain on the North American Continent. The distance between the two peaks is two miles. Another bit of trivia that sells tee-shirts here is that Denali’s base plateau is under three thousand feet, while Mt. Everest sits on a plateau of sixteen thousand feet. So, with pride, the Alaskan’s boast that Denali is taller from base to peak than Mt. Everest. I’m not going to join that argument, I’ll just say there are windows in the visitor center two stories high, and this mountain fills the center panel. ‘nuf-said.

jw

Nenana Canyon – Alaska

A high pressure front was supposed to move in today bringing warmer temperatures tomorrow. That means the weather should clear giving us the best chance to photograph The Mountain. So, we extended our stay another day here in Nenana Canyon (the real name of the community the ranger calls Glitter Gulch).

Eielson View
The view from the Eielson Visitor’s Center

We’ve already purchased tickets for tomorrow’s shuttle bus. We’re betting on the conditions being right. It’s been cold, windy and cloudy all day with the temperature never breaking into the sixties. We will be moving to Cantwell on Wednesday regardless, so we all have our fingers and toes crossed.

Teklanika River
The Teklanika River has a glacial source so it’s water runs the color of wet cement.

I wanted to get in this short post so that I could give you that update, but it’s also an excuse to show more of the photos from Saturday’s bus ride. Even if we don’t get a good shot, there are some scenes that I didn’t get the first time. We have a 7:00am departure, so the Queen is already¬† preparing for her beauty sleep. Wish us luck.

Carabou Antlers
Caribou antlers decorate the grounds of the Eielson Visitor’s Center. If Mt. Denali wasn’t socked in, it would be where the dark cloud is.

jw

Denali National Park – Alaska

When we first talked about this adventure, my destination goal was Denali National Park. Everything up to this point and everything we do on the way home was icing on the cake. We’ve made it, and today is our third of five days camped in the community outside of the park, or as a ranger called it; Glitter Gulch.

I wanted to see the Great Mountain for myself and possibly photograph it. That’s an elusive task because as the Park Service explains, only a third of the visitors get to actually see the mountain. Normally the moist air coming up from the Alaska Gulf rises over the Alaska Range and the mountains squeeze the water vapor out of the air so it condenses into beautiful clouds. But Denali cloaks itself in those clouds most of the time.

Mountain from 70 miles
On our first attempt the only view of the mountain we got, was from seventy miles away.

The park is different from any other National Park that I’ve visited. Besides the visitor center on the east side, there are very few concessions within the park boundaries.¬† The intentions for The park was to be more of a wilderness experience. The park service limits traffic to fifteen miles on the single park road. Imagine, the state of Massachusetts having one road and you will get a sense of the space set aside for preservation.

Grizzly Sow
We spotted this female grizzly escorting two cubs across the meadows. Unfortunately, the cubs were shorter than the grass in this photo.

You can’t drive your car into the heart of the park, but you can walk anywhere you like, you can ride a bike along the road, but over three-hundred thousand people use the shuttle or tour buses each year. The tours offer guides and video screens, so you don’t even have to leave your seat to view the wildlife (you can even buy a DVD recording of your tour when you get back).

White Mountain in the Rain
Thunder clouds gather over this white mountain before breaking into afternoon showers.

The shuttle buses take you to various stops along the road and the cost is proportional to the distance. The guide is the driver and there aren’t any video cameras, so you have to spot the animals yourself. Anyone on the bus can yell stop, and the driver will stop, spot the object, move the bus so people can get a better photograph, and explain about what you’ve stopped for. There are only two rules: 1. No body parts can hang out of the windows (lenses are not body parts, so they can protrude). 2. You must stay quiet while the animal is near the bus.

Fox With Tonight's Dinner
A red fox on his way back to the den with three ground squirrels.
This will be food for his hungry kits.

So, that really sucks, right? I want to hang out and try to pet the bears! It’s actually a pretty good system. Because of the rules, the animals don’t associate the buses with humans. They’re just big inedible cows moving back and forth across the landscape. Like being in an observation blind, the passengers get to see the animals act naturally. The ‘Stop!’ thing? Believe me when you have a bus load of people staring intently out the window, you stop more often than if you were by yourself.

Wonder Lake
Wonder Lake was at the west end of our shuttle bus rid. In all, we spent eleven hours touring the Denali back country.

You may have guessed by now that we took one of the shuttle buses yesterday out to Wonder Lake and back. We did get to see Denali, but only at the first overlook, seventy miles away. That qualifies us for the “I saw the Mountain” tee-shirt. I didn’t get a good shot however. It’s raining today, but Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s forecast is for drier skies, so we’re going to take another bus. I still want my picture.

jw