Up at 4:15 am for breakfast and making our way down to catch a 6:30 bus for a 90+ mile round trip into the park and back. Good thing we got up early since the Jeep’s windows were totally frozen over (Sept. 4th after all). Lots of scraping with credit cards – and blasting defroster.
We made it to the old, refitted school bus. It was perfect, with large windows that could be opened for good photo opportunities. It was only about 3/4 full so we could easily move to get vantages from both sides as we rolled along. We were very lucky — as the sun came up it exposed a rare day for the park with high clouds in a blue, blue sky. Nothing was obstructed.
Our driver/guide, Krista was outstanding. Besides being a skilled mountain driver, she was a fount of knowledge about Everything Denali. And, an amazing wildlife spotter….
Only a few miles into the park and this huge bull appeared. It was rutting season and the bulls’ antlers were on full display. Autumn colors were bursting in the sunshine (Krista said this kind of weather happens only about 5 days during the summer season).
Our first view of Mt. McKinley that literally has its own weather system on any given day. And we see it over the snow-cover that was deposited two days ago. The road we were on was actually closed for that day.
We stopped a little more than half way at the Eielson Visitors Center for a walk on the valley floor. I can’t tell you how fresh the air was. The Center was beautifully designed, unobtrusively set into the rock and giving this unmatched view of McKinley….
…. Both peaks in full view. The Center had a great film about climbing Denali — the physical and technical preparedness. Climbers here do it without oxygen, and it takes weeks and quite a bit of luck to accomplish.
We also had a great, and pretty funny bear sighting. This two year old grizzly was trying to knock over the road sign when we came up on him. He then used it as a back scratcher. You could almost hear him say, “Ahhhh”.
As the bear padded away in the fresh snow we continued on. Dall sheep were high up on a slope, almost invisible against the snowfall (Krista has great eyes). We saw a cloud of migrating sand hill cranes (the same as you see in Florida in the winter) and bufflehead ducks swimming in kettle ponds (formed when large chunks of glacial ice fall onto the ground). Saw a few caribou way off in the distance.
The end of the road…the Kantishna Roadhouse where we had lunch, did a short nature walk and heard an informative and entertaining talk by a native dog sled musher whose father had been a multiple winner of the Iditerod. He’s preparing to do the race himself soon.
As we boarded the bus for the ride back someone got on the bus ann0uncing that there were two seats left on the 4-passenger single engine, high-wing Cessna leaving for the park entrance. Josh and I jumped up. When would we ever be here and have a day like today for this incredible flight?
…and were welcomed in for a landing only minutes later…in another part of the world. What an experience. We shuttled back to our hotel and had to wait almost four hours or so until Marsha and Linda would join us for our excited description of the amazing flight.
They were just as enthused about their trip back where they had sightings of more moose, bear, and Dall sheep including a ram with a full set of curved horns.