July 6, 2006, 4:15 a.m. way too early.
We have a 6:00 a.m. shuttle to catch park. It will take us into the interior of the park with a chance to see wildlife and maybe Denali. "Denali", or the High One as known by the Athabaskan Indians, was renamed McKinley by the first white man to see it. The area was first set aside to protect the Dall sheep and in 1917 became a national park and game preserve. Twice since areas have been added and now there are over 6 million areas of land protected.
We hope to see the big "5" moose, grizzle, wolf, caribou, and Dall sheep plus some of the smaller animals, fox, ptarmigan, raven, golden eagle and others. If we are extremely lucky we may see a glimpse of the mountain, only 25% of visitors ever do.
The first 15 miles of the park road is paved and open to anyone. From just past Savage River, the pavement stops and so must private cars unless you have reservations at either Sanctuary River or Teklanika River campground. Special permits will get you as far in as Wonder Lake campground, tents only, and the Kantishna lodge.
Our shuttle is going as far as Fish Creek, about 65 miles in. Our driver Wendy, is a delight. She drives a school bus in Anchorage in the winter and the shuttle up here in the summer. She is a self-proclaimed motor mouth and gives us a running dialogue along the way.
She is great about pointing out animals, and we stop for just about anything, she even backs up if necessary. We see lots of snowshoe hares, and ptarmigan. We get a moose cow in the trees and then she spots several sleeping grizzles in different spots. Unfortunately they are not close enough for a good picture, but we can see then through the binoculars.
One grizzle is up on a ledge and we watch as he climbs higher. He is huge. We run in rain as we come to the Polychrome overlook. The road through here is very narrow, about 1-½ car widths. We stop on top for pictures and then start down the other side. Since we are one of the first buses in the morning we meet very few buses coming out, only the camper bus from Kantishna.
Next time we do this I think we will stay in the park at the Teklinka campground. You have a better chance of seeing wildlife, especially grizzles, and wolves and you have access to the interior of the park on any bus with seats for no additional cost.
The weather improves the further into the interior we go and as we get close to the viewing site for Denali we are rewarded with blue skies and a few wispy clouds on the mountain. We have about 15/20 minutes of good views and everyone takes pictures madly. Beautiful (photo)
On our way back to watch fish in the stream, find another grizzle and then a see a wolf lying in the sun. As little further on we watch a caribou on the hill, soon we see a red fox come out and streak across the field real close to the bus. He afforded us some good shots.
Our last find of the day was a full moose in a stream, our first. Close enough in for good shots. Wonderful trip, great guide and weather was great for mountain viewing and cool enough for the wildlife to be out moving around.
We got back and headed up to park headquarters to watch the sled dog demonstration.
Sled dogs are used in the park throughout the winter to check on outlying areas. The park was created with the desire to have minimal interference from outside. Thus only a few private cars are allowed in during the year and sled dogs instead of snowmobiles are used so as not to frighten the animals. The dogs love their jobs and love to run. As soon as the handlers headed towards them to hook them up they were all up, barking and begging to be picked.
Six were harnessed to the sled and after a fast run around the area each dog was introduced and their function and position explained.
We get home in time to take naps, watch the afternoon train and the rafters. Bed early as we had to get up so early.