Saturday, August 20, 2011

Alaska and Denali: Where the Word "BIG" is Redefined


 Only 20% of Denali National Park visitors will actually see "the high one."  We were a bit disappointed, therefore,  to join the majority of visitors, but what we did see was enough to leave an indelible imprint on our understanding of that vast space called Alaska.   Private vehicles are for the most part forbdden on the single park road in Denali and that road is open only during the short intense summers.  For most of the rest of the year dog sled patrols remain the only human on-ground intrusion.

Our motorized traverse of the Denali Tuntra, courtesy of the Nationl Park Service,  began with an early morning pickup at our hotel by a mustard colored  converted school bus.

 Our guide and driver (Sarah) was a cheerful articulate school teacher, who also cleaned our windows at every stop.  

About thirteen miles of pleasant blacktop ended at a bridge over the Savage River and a brief stop at the Ranger Station there.  "The High One", we were told was somewhere beyond those clouds.

From the Savage River you do take off into the tundra.

Our first stop, about fifteen miles later, was at Igloo Creek.  We saw some arctic ground squirrels closeup

and our first of many Dall sheep literally silhouetted on the tip of Igloo Mountain.  They must have suction cups for feet. 

From Igloo Creek you begin a long and torturous climb up toward Polychrome Pass.  The bright bands of color were created by volcanic magma that spilled out over other rock beds.

 The vast Murie Valley spreads out below cut by braided rivers and patches of rich vegetation and wildflowers.

The weather, as we were warned was highly changeable. We went through patches of sun, light rain, chilly winds, and even a few snow flakes, but the biggest excitement was always when someone spotted an animal.  We missed moose and wolves (along with the big mountain), but we did catch sight of Dall sheep, grizzly bears, golden eagles, and caribou.

 Across the valley and in the generally misty distance were the Alaska Range foothills. Behind that,  shrouded in clouds, were the higher peaks of the Alaska Range, the great glaciers,  and of course the elusive "high one"--Denali .

Our furthest penetration into the Denali wldeness was the Toklat River Rest Area (mile 53). 

There was time for some high jinks as we stretched.  I tried out the new antler look.

  On the return we stopped at the Polychrome Overlook and were treated to some of the best views of the day.

as well as a hillside packed with lots of arctic wildflowers.

We returned to the McKinley Lodge in the late afternoon.

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