Denali Tundra Wilderness

We woke this morning early so that we could have early breakfast (5.30am) because our tour today started at 7.00am.  We were looking forward to our Denali Tundra Wilderness Tour because we could finally get out into the wilds of the National Park and we were not disappointed!

Our “school bus” took us along Park Road and into the National Park – the road is 90 miles long but we were only able to go 62 miles and then came back along the same road because it is the only road.  The Park is open 24 hours per day 365 days per year but in winter, the road is closed because it is not maintained and the patrols are decreased to dog sled patrols.

In Denali National Park, it is estimated that there are 2,000 Moose, 2,000 Caribou, 2,500 Dall Sheep, 350 Grizzly Bears, 350 Black Bears and 50 adult Wolf.

Denali habitat is a mix of forest at the lowest elevations, including deciduous taiga (consisting mainly of spruce).  The preserve is also home to tundra at middle elevations, and glaciers, rock and snow at the highest elevations.

We travelled between the Outer Range Mountains and the Alaska Mountain Range, passing over the Savage River at Mile 15, where we stopped at the Check Point, where Ranger Happy Harry came out to welcome us to Denali National Park.  He also reiterated what the driver/guide had already talked to us about – respect for wildlife ie keep food, yourself and cameras inside the bus and he also told us that private vehicles are not allowed past that point without a permit. There are 450,000 visitors to the Park each year and 80% of those are cruise ship based.

We drove along Primrose Ridge, over Sanctuary River and Teklanika River where we stopped for a short break, then continued on and passed Igloo Creek and wound our way around Sable Pass and over East Fork River.  We stopped at Polychrome Overlook, with incredible scenery – we could see for miles and miles, but unfortunately Mt McKinley (Denali) was completely hidden behind clouds, and because it is only about 40 miles away, we should have had a great view.  Interestingly, about 1200 climbers attempt to climb Mt McKinley every year but only about half that number actually make it.  A plane takes them to the mountain where they set up base camp and then it takes about three weeks to actually climb up the mountain and back!

At times, we were driving around mountains on a one lane gravel road with a mountain on one side and a huge drop to the valley and plains below.

We could see the sweeping Plains of Murie that stretch to the Alaska Range and we could see a tributary of the Toklat River, as well as lots of wildflowers.  We crossed the Toklat River on the Toklat River Bridge and stopped for a short break before continuing on to Stony Hill, our last stop before turning around – if we were going to be able to see Mt McKinley, it would have been from there, but no luck, the clouds were still completely covering it.

During our trip, the driver/guide was happy to stop whenever he, or somebody else, thought they saw an animal.  If it was an animal sighting then he would stop the bus and turn the engine off and give us lots of time to take photos through the drop down windows, as well as to just enjoy watching these magnificent animals.  The only criteria was that we were not to talk or make any noise or hang out the bus windows and we had to stay on the bus.

We were very fortunate to see 2 Grizzly Bears playing in a river; lots of Caribou; a Marsh Hawk; two Red Foxes; lots of Dall Sheep, including two that were sitting on the edge of the road eating ptarmigan willow; a Mew Gull; an Arctic Ground Squirrel and a couple of Moose!!

At one of our stops, they had a display of antlers from Caribou and Moose – these animals shed their antlers each year – we were surprised at how heavy they were.

Our excursion started at 7.00am and we were returned to the Lodge at about 3.30pm. We were given a boxed lunch on the bus and we were told that it had to be consumed on the bus as nothing was to be left behind in the park, not even crumbs.  The opposite side of this is that nothing that is found in the Park is allowed to be removed from the park – this includes the shed antlers.  These things are done so that the park stays in its totally natural state and that the ecosystem of the park is not disturbed.

Today was an amazing day!  At times we felt totally overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and wilderness around us and in awe of, and excited by, the magnificent animals that we saw in their natural habitat, knowing that while we had seen a small number of animals today, we know that there are many more that we couldn’t see, living out their lives as they have done for hundreds of years..….. in the Wild and today, we were a very small, minute part of it!!!  THIS is Alaska!!!

One Response to “Denali Tundra Wilderness”

  1. Janet says:

    Love the attempt at the selfie! 😛 You got some great photos of the bears and the sheep, would be awesome to see them in person like that.

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