Denali never disappoints

Denali never disappoints

We took Daniel up to Denali National Park & Preserve for another three-day camping excursion at the Teklanika Campground this year.  Unlike last year, it did not rain, we did not sleep in a crappy tent, and he had his grandparents along for the visit.

When you secure at least three nights at Teklanika, you are eligible to receive a road permit that allows you to drive out to the campground, which is at mile 29 on the park road.  Normally, personal vehicles are only allowed up to the Savage River bridge, which is about mile 13 on the park road.  The permit allows you to drive out to the campground and return at the end of your reservation – no driving around in between.  You cannot even start the engine of your vehicle once you are parked.  That’s all well and good, because you really do not need your car to enjoy Denali National Park & Preserve.

The green buses are the way to see the park.  When you go online to the park website, you can be connected with the bus system, run by Aramark, that can take you anywhere in the park.  You only have to be on a particular bus the first day you ride the buses in the park; from then on out, you can come and go as you please, hitching a ride with any green bus (the tan buses are run by specific tour operators, and the lodges in the Kantishna area also have their own buses).  Most of the bus drivers are eager to share useful information about the park and have become pretty good over the years at spotting wildlife.  Granted, you don’t always end up with good drivers.  Our first driver told us about the seniority system, and how it takes a long time to work you way up to being the driver of the camper bus, which is the ideal because you did not have to serve as tour guide – all the passengers were just hitching a ride to go camping somewhere in the park.  He basically said that he hated everything about having to talk to us.  Then, he had rules, like the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld, refusing to stop for a golden eagle along the roadside because the passengers, while very excited and animated, did not use the magic word, “Stop!”

Fortunately, we still had a good wildlife day.  A sow with two cubs (our driver incorrectly identified them as spring cubs but they were clearly yearlings – not only were they too big but one of the cubs had the same distinctive markings of a spring cub I photographed last year), dall sheep, caribou and several wolves.  But it was cloudy and we did not see the mountain.  Most tourists who visit the park will not see the mountain, approximately 70% of them.  But there is so much wonder in the grand vistas and abundant wildlife, that Denali pretty much never disappoints, even if it is cloudy, rainy or smoky from summer fires.

On the second day, my dad and stepmother stayed back in camp while Daniel, Michelle and I decided to head for Polychrome Pass for some hiking.  We worked our way to the north of the road onto a ridgeline, stopping to pick berries and enjoy the scenery.  On our way back to the road, we encountered a female caribou that was more than willing to let Daniel get fairly close to her so I could photograph him in the frame with her.  When we caught the bus that would eventually take us back home, but first to the Toklat River, we were able to get a great view on several Dall sheep resting on a ledge with a tremendous vista behind them – a classic Denali shot.  Most people do not know, but Denali was originally established as a park not for its views or other wildlife, but to protect the Dall sheep, which were being over hunted by market hunters to support the mining community of Kantishna.

On our final day, it was sunny and clear, providing all of us a wonderful view of the mountain on our way out of the park.  Even had it not been fully clear, the weather had still been wonderful and the wildlife abundant.

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