We’re in Fairbanks, Alaska after four marvelous days in Denali National Park and Preserve. You may recognize the photo above as Mt. McKinley. They say that you can seeMcKinley only about 20 percent of the time. We were in Denali long enough to see it peek coyly through the clouds and then get covered again.
Denali is big, wild and empty. It’s over 6 million acres, compared with 500,000 acres in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With only one road, most of the land is wilderness. There are only 50 miles of trails – the Smokies has over 800 miles.
Most people see the park on a bus on the 92 mile road. When the road was completed in 1972, the park made the decision to not allow private cars beyond the 15-mile mark. It’s a good thing, too, since the road is narrow and unpaved after that 15 mile mark.
Lenny and I stayed at Camp Denali, at the end of the road. It’s one of only three private accommodations in an inholding in the middle of the park. No phones, wifi, radio or newspaper – which is why I’m getting to Denali now.
We were picked up at the train depot at noon on Monday and started an eight-hour bus journey. Brian, our driver and one of the guides at Camp Denali, helped us spot animals on the way. The bus trip is one of the best places to see wildlife, since you are high up. Many sets of eyes with binoculars also help.
Dall sheep were perched on craggy rocks, in the tundra far above us. The park was created in 1917 in part to protect these sheep. They made for good eating for the miners during the gold rush. If you’re expecting great pictures of all the animals, you may be disappointed. With a small camera and no zoom lens, I didn’t even attempt to photograph the wildlife; I just admired them through binoculars.
Grizzlies were digging through the tundra. It looks like poor pickings in the low bushes and grasses but there’s plenty to eat: berries, mushrooms, and the occasional ground squirrels. I did take a few pictures of the grizzlies.
This bus ride was like a safari; could we see the big five? That’s grizzly, moose, caribou, doll sheep and wolf. Between the ride there and back, we saw them all and a coyote as well.
But Denali wilderness was more than big mammals; the wildflowers were at their peak. Here’s an elegant paintbrush. How’s that for a name?