It was a leisurely four hour drive north from Wasilla to the Denali National Park and Preserve. We traveled the highway surrounded by gorgeous scenery except for the dumpy businesses along the side of the road. Noticing the lack of gas stations and thus, not many potty breaks, on our journey, we arrived early in the evening. You may remember Alaska enjoys 22 hours of sunlight this time of year, so we could still sightsee till 2 a.m.!! But we didn't. I was excited to actually be here in this magical place. I have heard so much about Denali Park all my life and Mt. McKinley (or Denali as the Athabascan natives named it.)
I will tell you up front we are not part of the 30% who actually see McKinley. Oh yes, it is there all the time...hard to move mountains...but it's so high it's usually shrouded by clouds. Only on clear, sunny days will the cloud curtain disappear for a glimpse. The tourist area outside of Denali Park has beautiful blue T-shirts in all the souvenir shops which brag that the person wearing the shirt is one of the lucky 30%. I couldn't buy one of the cute shirts because I couldn't walk around with a lie on my chest!
This amazing stained glass wall is high on the wall of the Wilderness Access Center. We purchased our tickets here for the three hour ride on green school buses into the park. There are longer tours on the shuttle buses and even more opportunities to purchase a ticket for narrated rides. But we figured there is only one road that all the buses drive, so we took the less expensive shuttle. And, frankly, we didn't want the longer tours. Come on people, it is a school bus for Pete's sake. No comfy tour buses allowed because they are too heavy for the one road in and out of the park, so even the narrated pricey tours were in a.....school bus...!!
TIP: There is no food in the park other than at the Visitors Center. So visitors must bring food and drinks on the bus..and consume them in the bus...no picnic tables for outdoor picnics due to trash and bears...!!! Before we left Wasilla, we shopped for lunch supplies at Walmart and carried them in a styrofoam cooler. We packed our lunches in the morning which saved us a LOT of money for meals.
We had a fantastic tour driver. He shared interesting tidbits and was alert for wildlife spottings, however, he depended on passengers to discover the animals too since the road through the park is not exactly a nice, paved two lane. It's more like a path in some areas, especially around Polychrome Dome. I had to hide my eyes at times and hold my breath while he negotiated the narrow road. Thank goodness they have some rules about who gets the right of way when the buses meet.There is no room for two buses on much of the tour. A thrill ride I'd say.
I am sharing photos of the sights we saw along the way. Hope you enjoy them.
This picture shows you how thick the clouds were, so no sightings of Mt. McKinley
What are these? Caribou. Do you know the difference between reindeer and caribou? Reindeer can fly!
So glad we found a camera with a 24x telephoto lens. Perfect for getting closer to the animals from the safety of the bus!!
|Polychrome Dome--Notice the different colors of rock here. See that tiny road in the upper 1/3 of the picture? So glad our driver had 31 years of driving experience in Denali tours!!!
|Yes, another mountain picture. I have a million of them!
|Mama bear and two cubs. The bears were this tan color in the park. I was looking for black or brown. Surprised when I finally spotted these sweet things.
|Dall sheep. They are only little white specks on the side of the mountain. Thank goodness for our powerful zoom.
|Grand Denali Lodge--what a view from here.
|Sled dog and puppy.
TIP: If you are USA resident, pay $10. at the age of 62 and you have a lifetime pass to ALL the national parks. You better believe we plan to use this gift on future forays.
We spent the rainy day in the display areas in the park studying all the interesting information. We took in an informative movie and ranger talk, snacks in the park cafeteria, and shopping in the gift shop. Actually the rainy day turned into a welcome opportunity to learn so much about Alaska and Denali National Park.
Every time we visit a national park, I want to thank the people who had the vision to set aside these areas for future generations. In this crazy, fast-paced world of technology, I pray the mountains and lakes, the moose, bears, sheep, and eagles will still be there for my grandchildren and future generations to see and experience the awe I felt being in Denali. We must be the caretakers to preserve this blessed land.
You need not go all the way to Alaska to experience national parks. Make it a point to find a national park, lakeshore, forest, etc near you this summer.
In case you missed it, you can read about Alaska Journal Part 1: Wasilla/Palmer and Mat-Su Region in an earlier post.