Alaska Stories and Tips

Inside Denali

Bear Burrito Photo, Denali, Alaska

Richard got up early and went running. Again. There was easy access from the Resort to the Denali Park Entrance area via sidewalks and trails. He did a loop trail (about 7 miles) through the park entrance area and as he got to a clearing he nearly ran into moose! Although they were initially startled and moved away (he moved away as well), they went back to grazing. He got some great photos of a cow and calf. (Yes, he took the camera running.) He said that they sounded like horses eating. It was an amazing experience seeing such large animals so close.
We ate breakfast at the buffet at the restaurant on site, which had really good breakfast! We had pancakes and sausage and scrambled eggs and fruit and potatoes and biscuits with gravy…you name it. We picked up some groceries at the general store across from the resort, then went back to catch the bus into the park. We hauled our luggage onto bus, then we dropped off the luggage at a kiosk while we did some shopping at the store in the park and went through the visitor center.
We picked up our luggage and went to meet the North Face Lodge bus at the train station. We all visited the bathroom one last time before the long bus ride into the park. (It turns out that there are bathrooms all along the road, so we ended up stopping for several bathroom breaks on the trip.) Our bus driver, Drew, met us and got everyone herded onto the bus and on our way.
Drew provided a continuous narrative on the drive into the park, pointing out substantial information about the mechanics of the bus, the geology of the area, and the wildlife along the way. The weather was spectacular and probably one of the warmest days they had all summer – mid to upper 70s – with scarcely a cloud in the sky. We saw grizzly bears with cubs, bear burritos, wolf pups (which we heard whining for their mothers), bull moose, a cow moose, caribou, and Dall sheep (aka "sheep dots").
The caribou and sheep were very, very high up in the mountains. The sheep were barely visible as more than mere white dots on the green hillsides. Bear burritos are Arctic ground squirrels that make a good appetizer for a hungry bear. We learned that the grizzlies in Denali are much smaller than the grizzlies along the coast – what a difference it makes to have a diet of berries rather than a diet of fat, juicy salmon! (Apparently it takes a lot of work to catch a bear burrito.) Many of the grizzlies in Denali are light colored, almost white, rather than the dark brown so familiar in pictures.
All along the road, off and on, we saw Mt. McKinley growing in the distance. We stopped for dinner near the East Fork of the Toklat River – about half way through the drive. We had pasta salad, salmon, fruit, bread, cheese and lunch meats, PB & J… The food was yummy but not plentiful enough. They ran out before we were full. After waiting for everyone to go (one at a time) to the only restroom (i.e., outhouse), we loaded back onto the bus and continued the ride. Just before Eielson Visitor Center, the road got much narrower as it negotiated the mountain passes. We were impressed with Drew’s ability to maneuver the bus around the tight corners with approaching buses. We were running behind, and the wildlife stops became more rushed. That was when we saw the bull moose wading in a stream, a cow moose in a lake and several species of waterfowl.
Wonder Lake came into view and marked the end of the drive. At that point, Mt. McKinley had grown to dominate the landscape and the entire horizon to the south. We soon arrived at North Face Lodge and learned that we were back at summer camp. We were herded into the main dining hall, where they went through all the rules, explained where gear was available, and where we were supposed to be and when (including the dinner bell summoning for meals). We learned that we would be assigned seats at meals to ensure mingling, that we would select outings from several options each morning, that we would prepare and pack our lunches, and that we would be expected to share our daily experiences with the group at dinner time. Although our hostess was very nice, I think she might be an elementary school teacher in the off-season. We received our room assignments via roll call, and went off to take our luggage into our rooms. (The luggage was left by our doors by the staff while we were in orientation.)
Richard and I headed off on a hike through the tundra to Wonder Lake. Richard thought the mosquitoes were bad, but there was a breeze. I didn’t think it was too bad. Then we got to Wonder Lake and the swarm hit. We walked back along the road, which was sheltered, so there was no breeze, and we walked, completely enveloped in a cloud of mosquitoes the whole way back. There were little mosquitoes and big mosquitoes and loud mosquitoes and quiet mosquitoes – every kind of mosquito you can imagine. Some were the size of quarters or a large horsefly. As far as we could tell, the size didn’t matter if it bit you. It was miserable.
By the time we got back to the Lodge (around midnight), a deep dusk had set in, and Mt. McKinley was a pink glow. The rooms were nice, had private bathrooms with running water (toilets and full shower/tub) and sinks, and had queen beds. We headed off to bed.

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