Saturday, June 27, 2009

Our afternoon tour in Denali National Park, Alaska

We left our camp at Eielson AFB early so we could drive to Denali National Park in time to take the six-hour tour into the wilderness of Denali. We had high hopes to see Mt. McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America at 30,320 feet high. The park covers 6 million acres and was first established in 1917 with only 2 million acres, but President Carter signed legislation to add the other 4 million acres. We also wanted to see wildlife that the brochures mentioned - caribou, grizzly bears, moose, and smaller wildlife like foxes, and wolves.

The tour bus we were on was driven by a very nice lady who originally came from Delaware. She moved to Alaksa about 18 months ago after driving a tour bus here for two summers. She said she knew right away she wanted to live here. She now lives in Anchorage during the winter, driving a school bus there, then coming to Denali for the summer months to drive a tour bus. She gave us lots of information about the park which most tour bus drivers do not give. We saw several herds of caribou which she says stay close to the snow because the flies that like to live on the caribou will not bother them as much near the snow. We also saw a fox who insisted crossing the road in front of our bus, then ran down the road in front of us before he finally disappered into the brush. The bears were not out where we could see them today, nor were the moose. We did see several artic ground squirrels which were so cute and they like posing for our cameras! One was sitting on a rock and staring right at all of the passengers on the bus, but we were not able to get a photo of him. Another one was standing on his hind legs and putting on quite a show; but again, we were unable to get a picture because the bus was moving too fast. A little pica (small gerbel-like animal) was so cute as he ran along the rocks, in and out, trying to get to the top of the hill. We tried to get a picture, but he was too fast for us.

Beth stopped for us to take photos when she could, but she was unable to stop in some spots of the road. The road was narrow, just wide enough in most cases for two buses to pass; and it was very curvy most of the 58 miles we drove into the park. Private cars can go only 13 miles into the park, so we had a more extensive look at the park on the bus. There were 37 passengers, most Americans. The young couple in the seats in front of me and Suzanne was from Switzerland. The young couple in the seats across the isle were from The Netherlands. Both ladies spoke English, one more easily than the other; but the men did not speak much English. Again, I used a little German speaking to the couple from Switzerland and that pleased them.

Most of the pictures here to the right were taken from the bus, but a couple were taken at rest stops. We had a stop at a restroom area about every 1 1/2 hours. The weather was cool when we left the wilderness access center, but as we drove farther into the park, and higher in altitude, the temperatures were cooler and cooler. The clouds prevented us from seeing Mt. McKinley today. Everyone was disappointed. We all had on winter coats and were glad when we left the bus for the rest areas. Beth, our driver, said it was a very slow day for wildlife because usually the passengers see more. She loves spotting the wildlife herself and seems to really enjoy her summer job. We spotted several flocks of dall sheep very high upon the side of the mountains, but not close enough to get a picture.

We made it back to our car at the carpark by 6:30 and were just 10 minutes from our RV park for the night. I fixed supper, and Gil cleaned up the dishes. Mitch took out the trash, and took a walk. Suzanne set up the computer, checked her face book then let me load the pictures of the day and update the blog. They are watching TV now. I am almost ready for bed. We will sleep later than usual in the morning because we have only 5 hours to Anchorge. We hope to find a camp spot on the base there. We really need to do laundry tomorrow night-- not what I envisioned for my birthday, but then the other days of the week make up for that.

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