USA: Alaska - Wild and Beautiful VI.
26. 8. 2011
Haley; Denali; Mount McKinley; Wonder Lake
Great!!! The most beautiful day (as for weather and experiences) in Alaska so far!
We woke up early in the morning. We had to meet in front of the hotel as early as 6:20am. After ten minutes we moved off to the Denali National Park. At first we were worried about morning temperatures. It's freezing cold, we are already in the park, and we wait until 7:30am for our shuttle bus to Wonder Lake. We have 136 km long trip in front of us. Our smiles freeze, our bodies freeze and I wonder if it wouldn't be better to take on yet another layer of clothes. But the weather significantly improves during the day and the morning worries are gone...
Finally! The bus arrives and our guide for this day got off it. It is a robust woman with a strong voice that quickly changes its intensity. From time to time she almost shouts and then she whispers in so low voice we almost couldn't hear her. She explains how the tour will be going on. Tourists can move in the park only on this bus, not afoot (with exceptions). Shuttle bus will go slowly and visitors are encouraged to watch carefully everything that whizzes around the road. When anybody sees some interesting animal, he shouts "STOP" and in that moment the bus will stop. Everybody must be then very quiet and can roll down the window and can take some photos…
Denali National Park was established in 1917 and its area totals 6 million acres (24 000 km2). There is also Alaska's highest mountain – in the language of indigenous Athabascan people it's The High One, officially called Mount McKinley. It is 6193 meters above the sea level. Opening hours of the park are very short and depend only on weather. If roads are passable, in spring you can visit the park in March, but mostly it is opened after the first half of April. Shuttle bus starts its service on May 20th, however, some parts of Denali park are not accessible until June 8th. The last bus goes to park on September 13th. There is huge onrush of tourists during the main season, but number of visitors is limited by the capacity of a shuttle bus, or by time restricted permits to enter and camp in the area.
Anyway, back to our expedition. First stop - view over McKinley. The guide tells us she saw Denali about a month ago and during the year there are only few day with such a great visibility as today. The sky clears, sun shines and despite it's freezing (or maybe for it's freezing) we can take pictures of Alaska's pride in it's splendor. We continue, but after a while "STOP" sounds. Very close to the bus graze few Dall sheep on grass (in the nature you can see them only in Alaska and British Colombia). They are beautiful, nothing but rams. For a while it seems like they are kissing each other but suddenly an attempt to "a fight" follows. Only a decent checking out the rival... It's a wonderful experience. They are amazing. During this encounter we are closest to animals on this day. We have still a long trip in front of us, which will take us the whole day. From 7:30am to almost 7pm. Along the way are many visitor centers, where we can go to the toilet, drink some water or buy some snack. Suddenly, behind a small curve, is a view over a huge marsh where female moose eats greedily. She is relatively close and obviously as we experienced few times before) our presence doesn't bother her. It's a great opportunity for photographers.
We approach Wonder Lake. Here is one of few places in park where you can travel afoot. we can choose from several options what to do next - continue by the bus, or get off and subsequently try to catch any shuttle going our way. It should take us on board and return us, if not full. Rules in the park are very strict and there is clearly defined what you can do and what you can't, and how to treat animals. Disobeying the rules is severely punished and, moreover, it can by life threatening. However, Denali National Park boasts that there wasn't any lethal accident caused by a bear attack. We return on the same road. The weather is still beautiful and we don't know if we should take pictures of the nature of animals (the area is overcrowded with them) - in distance you can see caribou again, by the visit center a ground squirrel sits up on its hind legs, and a porcupine climbs up on a hillside. We slowly continue on a dusty road (gloriously named as the Park Road), but suddenly we are stopped by a group of young people who are little bit scared and tell us about their spontaneous experience. The girl, most of them all, is in a shock from the encounter with a predator. They were immersed in picking up blueberries and left off being vigilant. They moved slowly up to the hill, one blueberry to the mouth, other into the cup. When twigs began cracking and bushes rustling they sharpened. The girl raised her sight and stiffened - not far away from her there is a bear looking at her from blueberry bushes! In that moment is every advice and every recommendation how to react useless. The unpleasant surprise is strong and man must quickly, yet carefully, think what to do. According to what the girl said, they were not in the center of attention of the big animal, so they managed to slowly get from the place. Nevertheless, they will not forget a meeting with the Grizzly Bear for a while. The interest in picking blueberries is gone and it's better to get back on the road, get away from there. It's no longer a problem to recognize a bear in a distance. Their eyes are tired of watching their back, if the Grizzly is not following them. Thanks to newly gained skill they notify us to look at the other hill, where are three bears. Despite the fact they are quite far away, we manage to capture few pictures...
After that live out probably the most intensive experience so far. The bus in the other direction signals from a distance to us and our guide receives a message on her walkie-talkie that not far from us is a female bear with a baby bear. Most certainly, it's the right time to walk in the forest! Female bears could be very dangerous. We stop and pay attention to a direction the guide tells us. We see them only few meters from the road. The female bear has light brown fur, the baby bear is dark brown. The view is nice, but we can't take pictures, because both of them are moving between trees, thus it's hard to take a photo. It's almost impossible to focus the camera on fur of the bear, because the finder is blocked by brushwood, branches and leaves. Despite we didn't manage to get nice photos, the encounter with wilderness is stunning!
Our meeting of Denali National Park is almost over. We travel back to Haley where we stop by the 49th State Brewing Company restaurant for a dinner. The restaurant is very original and has a nice atmosphere. A very pleasant ending of an amazing day.
Following day (which should have been initially a resting day) we travel to the Arctic Circle.
Text and photo: Magdaléna Radostová
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