Aug 4-6, 2015 Denali National Park, Alaska

Denali Grizzly on the Move
Denali Grizzly on the Move

Tuesday

After Monday’s bus ride with surly Mike, even though the weather was again perfect for seeing Mount McKinley, I decided I was ” bused out ” and stayed at camp all day. The four straight days of nine hour bus rides can really start to take a toll on an old body like mine. These buses were designed for smaller, younger bodies, and even then only for hour or less trips to school and back, not for nine hour rides on bumpy gravel roads. Plus, being sort of a hermit, four days of being crammed into a metal tube with thiry something other folks just plain makes me feel very uncomfortable.

Plus the nice warm weather means there once again would probably be no wildlife to see and again arriving at McKinley in the harsh noon day light would mean I wasn’t going to get any better images of the mountain than what I already had.

Wednesday

So on Wednesday morning I was up and out to once again catch the first bus out, to Wonder Lake. As it pulled up, it once again appeared to be close to full, and when the door opened and it was ” Surly Mike ” driving, I decided I could wait for the second bus through and waved him on.

The next bus out was one of the larger, snub nosed type that just happened to have much more comfortable seats. Also, this one had a very personable driver by the name of Rex, a pleasant and vast improvement over Mike. Although this type of bus carries over forty passengers, there was only one window seat open and when I slid in, it quickly became apparent why, it was a seat over the wheel well so there was no room for your legs, unless you happened to be about four feet tall and under the age of eight. How an adult could share this type of seat with another adult is completely beyond my comprehension, so if another two or three passengers were to get on, this would become quite interesting/uncomfortable. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

Although we didn’t have the clear blue skies of Monday, the temps were still quite warm and as a result, we really saw nothing in the way of wildlife on our trip out to Eielson. The moutain was covered in clouds today, so no mountain shots either.

This bus did not continue on for the three hour trip out to Wonder Lake and back, but turned around at the Eielson Visitor’s Center, and that definitely worked for me today.

Back at the campground a wicked thunderstorm hit in late afternoon with some of the most ear splitting cracks of thunder I have ever heard. Torrents of rain from this storm caused a mudslide that blocked the Park Road buses for hours late in the afternoon, so glad I got back to the campground early today.

Thursday

A new bus schedule went into effect today, so the first early bus I had been taking, turns out was eliminated. So the new first bus out left it’s starting point at a slightly more reasonable hour for most normal folks, and as a result, was completely full when it reached the Teklanika Campground. I decided I could wait another half hour for the next bus, so no big deal. That bus also was completely full.

So, that was enough of this rather miserable bus riding experience for me, and even though I still had paid camping reservations left here for another six nights, I decided to pack it in and leave Denali National Park. I packed up and drove back out to the Riley Campground dump station and dropped my trash, dumped my tanks, filled with water, and got caught up with emails, then exited the Park and headed north on the Parks Highway to Fairbanks.

Denali Grizzly Feeding
Denali Grizzly Grazing

Leaving Denali and On to Fairbanks

I arrived at the Fairbanks Walmart around 4 PM and set up camp figuring I could unload the Prius and explore the area a little to figure out where to stay. This Walmart had a LOT of folks camped here, unfortunately some of them looked very much like homeless people camped long term in their beat up old vans, with dogs tied to the door handles and trash strewn around their rigs. Not a good sign, and most likely to mean a ban on overnighting here in the future.

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Aug 3, 2015 Inside Denali National Park, Alaska

Mount McKinley From the Road to Wonder Lake
Mount McKinley From the Road to Wonder Lake

Mount McKinley, At Last!

( This is an edited repost for August 3rd, inside Denali National Park )

I was up early to catch the first bus out today. For the first time in four days, there was a new driver for this first bus to Wonder Lake, a scruffy looking guy named Mike Dyas, and after making the trip with him, I can’t tell you how much I missed our chatty Kathy ( wordy Wendy ? ) bus driver of our first three trips. This guy was surly, brusque, downright rude at times and must really hate what he is doing. Turns out your bus driver can really make a difference in how your day turns out.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Foggy Start
Foggy Start

The weather report hinted that this might just finally be the day to see Mount McKinley in all it’s glory, supposed to be warm and sunny, but it certainly didn’t start out that way as we climbed Sable Pass in dense fog. All opportunities for seeing any wildlife through this area went by the boards quickly, as the low lying cloud just wouldn’t quit.

Polychrome Above the Clouds
Polychrome Above the Clouds

By the time we reached Polychrome Pass, we had finally started to climb above the fog/clouds, and this produced a rather different look to the valley below.

Polychrome Above the Clouds
Polychrome Above the Clouds
Polychrome Above the Clouds
Polychrome Above the Clouds

As we left Polychrome and headed towards Eielson, the sky was turning blue and my hopes for Mount McKinley were rising.

Mount McKinley
Mount McKinley

And finally, after around a dozen or more trips in here over two years, I caught my first glimpse of the mountain glistening in the noon day sun.

Mount McKinley
Mount McKinley
Mount McKinley
Mount McKinley
Mount McKinley From Eielson
Mount McKinley From Eielson

From the Eielson Visitor’s Center, Mount McKinley in full view is a very imposing, grand sight indeed, probably worth my waiting twenty two years to finally experience.

Having said that, I really was a little disappointed that there was no way possible a bus passenger could get out here early enough to catch this magnificent sight in some nice early morning light. I can only imagine how spectacular this scene was at seven or eight this morning, the harsh noon day light makes a great image of the mountain impossible for me.

Mount McKinley From the Road to Wonder Lake
Mount McKinley From the Road to Wonder Lake

We continued on to Wonder Lake and had the rare opportunity to see the mountain from another perspective as we continued down the road.

Mount McKinley From the Road to Wonder Lake
Mount McKinley From the Road to Wonder Lake

There were several small kettle ponds along both sides of the road that would have yielded some great reflection shots of the mountain, if only we weren’t flying past them at thirty mph, with a schudule to keep and a very indifferent driver at the wheel.

Willow Ptarmigan
Willow Ptarmigan

On our return trip to the campground, we saw very little wildlife, just a few ptarmigan …

Bull Caribou
Bull Caribou
Bull Caribou
Bull Caribou

… and some wandering caribou.

The bright blue skies and warmer temps make life a bit uncomfortable if you happen to be wearing a fur coat, so most wildlife stays put somewher out of the sun on beautiful days like this.

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August 3, 2015 Teklanika CG inside Denali NP

Mount McKinley
Mount McKinley

The Mountain at Last !

I hopped on the first bus out this morning and managed to get a window seat! Hopes were high that this would be the day to finally get to see Mount McKinley as the morning sky was quite clear and starting to show signs of blue.

Foggy Start
Foggy Start

Those hopes were dashed a bit as we headed up though Sable Pass and encountered fog, or perhaps some low hanging clouds, though I suppose they are one and the same. The pea soup out the windows obscurred any chance of seeing wildlife this morning as we headed up to Polychrome Pass.

Polychrome Above the Clouds
Polychrome Above the Clouds

Kind of neat to actually drive up through the clouds and suddenly find those same clouds below you.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Polychrome Above the Clouds
Polychrome Above the Clouds
Polychrome Above the Clouds
Polychrome Above the Clouds

Certainly a different and rather unusual look to Polychrome Pass this morning.

Polychrome Above the Clouds
Polychrome Above the Clouds

And looking ahead, the prospects of seeing Mount McKinley this morning once again brightened.

Mount McKinley
Mount McKinley

And finally, there it was! Just peeking over the hills ahead of the bus.

Mount McKinley
Mount McKinley

Over those hills and the mountains foothills appeared as we continued along the Park Road towards Eielson.

Mount McKinley
Mount McKinley

This morning turned out to be that one in three when clouds did not block the view of the mountain. For me, this was my one in fifteen. That’s how many trips in here it has taken for me to finally get this view of Mount McKinley.

Mount McKinley From Eielson
Mount McKinley From Eielson

The view from Eielson was simply spectacular. All these shots were taken at high noon with the worst possible light of day. I can only imagine how incredible this sceme must be in the early morning light, but unfortunately it is impossible to get in here on the shuttle buses before 11 AM.

Mount McKinley From the Road to Wonder Lake
Mount McKinley From the Road to Wonder Lake
Mount McKinley From the Road to Wonder Lake
Mount McKinley From the Road to Wonder Lake

Our driver told us that even on the days when the mountain is visible from Eielson, it is very unusual for the mountain to be seen in the clear from the road to Wonder Lake. He says that by noon clouds begin to form and rise from the base of the mountain itself, that McKinley generates it’s own clouds, normally leaving the emountain in the clear only in the morning.

Bull Caribou
Bull Caribou
Bull Caribou
Bull Caribou

On the way home, we ran into a couple of caribou bulls,

Willow Ptarmigan
Willow Ptarmigan

and Alaska’s state bird, the willow ptarmigan. No bears, moose, or wolves as the warm, sunny weather keeps them laying low to escape the heat ( 70 degrees ) of the day.

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August 2, 2015 Teklanika CG inside Denali NP

Grizzly
Grizzly

Bear Wishes Granted !

After a so/so day on another crowded bus yesterday, with only distant animal sightings and no landscape shots due to the low cloud cover, today I kinda hit the jackpot.

Grizzly
Grizzly

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Grizzly
Grizzly

The cloudy, overcast conditions at the start of the day were actually a blessing as not one, not two, but three different bears showed up close enough to the road for photographs from the crowded bus windows.

Grizzly Portrait
Grizzly Portrait

One actually approaching close enough for this portrait.

Grizzly Feeding
Grizzly Feeding
Grizzly
Grizzly
Grizzly
Grizzly

Kind of a thrill to be able to observe at such close quarters, without fear of attack, a creature as powerful as this. Watching as he went about his routine, feeding on grasses and berries, as he does for about 22 hours a day at this time of year. In fact, the most difficult thing about shooting bears right now is that as they gorge themselves, getting ready for hibernation, they seldom ever lift their head from the ground where they are grazing.

Grizzly
Grizzly
Grizzly
Grizzly

A little different from the shots of bears that were only dots on the hills the past two days.

Grizzly
Grizzly
Grizzly
Grizzly
Grizzly
Grizzly
Grizzly
Grizzly

Polychrome Pass

Polychrome Pass
Polychrome Pass

The clouds parted slightly as we ascended to Polychrome Pass.

Polychrome Pass
Polychrome Pass
Polychrome Pass
Polychrome Pass

Today, with shafts of sunlight peaking through the clouds, some of the colors of the pass were finally on display. The bus usually makes a ten minute stop here for passengers to get out and take some shots as well as stretch their legs.

Polychrome Pass
Polychrome Pass
Polychrome Pass
Polychrome Pass

By the time we were reboarding the bus and heading up the road to Eielson, the clouds were giving way to a fair amount of blue sky. We were all hoping today might be the day we finally see Mount McKinley out in the open.

Mount McKinley Summits
Mount McKinley Summits

But when we arrived at Eielson, there were still clouds surrounding the mountain and concealing it’s peaks, although there still was a lot of blue sky above.

Mount McKinley Summits
Mount McKinley Summits

For about five minutes, the two peaks of McKinley were visible through the clouds, then the clouds rolled in from the east and once again completely concealed the mountain. Maybe tomorrow !

Mount McKinley Summits
Mount McKinley Summits

On our return home, at the Toklat rest stop, high up the mountain …

Distant Dall Sheep
Distant Dall Sheep

… a small group of Dall Sheep could be seen ( barely ). I had really hoped that I might get some shots of these white sheep on this trip, but at this time of year, you must do some very serious uphill hiking to get anywhere near these guys.

Later in the afternoon, back at the Teklanika Campground, Brenda and Hector Lopez stopped by to say hello ( their blog is here Island Girl Walkabout ). I had met these wonderful fellow Full Timers last year out on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. Hector is an avid photographer and was fortunate enough to snag one of the few photographer permits given out each year that allow photographers to travel the Park Road in their private vehicle to take photos. So if you want to see all the images I have been moaning about missing from the bus, check out their website! ( Give him some time to get them uploaded to their blog since they are still in the park with no internet access ).

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