14 August 2014
Today we went to visit Denali National Park and Preserve.
This park is 7,370 square miles and covers over 6 million acres. The stewards of the park have kept it intact and it appears today, much has it did hundreds of years ago. The park is home to what rangers refer to as “charismatic mega-fauna.” In other words, there are some really cool big animals in the park: moose, grizzly bears, brown bears, caribou and wolves. There are also countless species of smaller, less showy animals like birds, squirrels, foxes, weasels and beavers. The list is endless.
In order to maintain the integrity of the park, the public is not allowed to drive beyond the 15 mile point. To go deeper into the park and enjoy the wildlife, mountains, valleys and tundra, people must either hike in or take a bus.
When Oregano asked Paprika if she wanted to hike, she just looked at him like he was crazy and said, “No. I do not want to hike in an area where there are so many bears that they actually bring people in by the busload to see them.”
Hm, Paprika had made a valid point. Since she and Oregano don’t have a lot of hiking experience and since this is “serious” nature, they opted to take the shuttle bus to the Eielson Visitor Center, which is 66 miles into the park. I was relieved they made that decision. I wasn’t looking forward to hiking in bear territory, no matter how many times people reviewed how to be “bear aware.”
The bus moves slowly through the park. As the bus driver drives on the narrow, gravel roadway, the people on the bus keep a lookout for animals. If they see one, they shout, “Stop!” The bus driver stops and all the people pull out their binoculars or hop up to take pictures. It’s amazing! The animals don’t pay any mind to the buses and just go about their business. Along the way, the bus driver told us that, because the humans on the buses don’t interact with the animals in any way, the animals just view the buses as another large, moving object in their environment. They don’t avoid them and they don’t come to the buses out of curiosity. It seems to work.
During our ride, the bus driver explained the history of the park, the various landscapes and geological formations we were seeing and, most interestingly, how different animals have adapted to survive winters in such a harsh climate. Over the course of the 8 hours, we saw lots of grizzly bears. Some of them even had cubs with them. We also saw eagles, hawks, a fox, an arctic squirrel and too many caribou to count. It was thrilling to see the animals in such a beautiful wilderness. Paprika tried to get me in pictures with the animals, but being in a bus made it difficult to do.
In addition to being a home to so many animals, Denali National Park lies at the foot of Mount McKinley – North America’s highest peak at 20,320 feet (6,194 meters). They say that only 30% of the visitors to the park get to see the mountain in its entirety. The peak is usually obscured by clouds. I’m sad to say that we are not members of that elite 30% club, but we still got some very spectacular and very windy pictures.
On our way home from our long day in the park, we saw a huge bull moose in a pond just having a drink or maybe he was taking a bath, it was hard to tell. He was causing quite a traffic jam on the highway as cars were pulling over and people hopped out to take his picture.
Tomorrow is the last day on our Alaskan adventure. I have seen so many amazing things!