Denali: Riding the bus and ogling wildlife

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Denali is heaven for an animal nerd like me, and I saw all kinds of wildlife during my six days in the park. Visitors can drive only to the mile 15 mark (Savage River) on the paved section of the park road; beyond that, shuttle or tour buses can take you deep into the park–as far as Kantishna, the turnaround point at the end of the 89-mile narrow dirt road. I spent some days exploring the auto-accessible section of the park: hiking to Horseshoe Lake, exploring the Savage River on foot, or scoping out wildlife from the side of the road or from viewpoint pullovers. But I saw the widest variety of animals when I rode the shuttle bus out to Wonder Lake (mile 85), an 11-hour roundtrip excursion. (Sure, being on a bus all day can be draining, but I can endure a lot for such awesome wildlife sightings.) I had a few close encounters, too (see upcoming blog posts!). I was pretty pleased with the variety of animals I got to see: moose (bulls, plus cows with calves), caribou, grizzly/brown bears (oh, so far, far away! but you can sorta make out the sow and two cubs careening down a mountainside, wrestling and chasing each other), Dall sheep (from far, far away and up close), coyotes (see that grayish thing slinking away up a hillside? that’s a coyote that had just been chowing down on a snowshoe hare behind some willow bushes), wolves (we spotted a whole litter of pups from high on one of the cliffs near the Toklat River, but they were too far away to photograph, although I was able to zero in on an adult wolf sleeping on the dry river bed; plus I caught a blurry image of an adult wolf on the side of the road when I was driving, which disappeared before I could get my camera in focus!), snowshoe hares, arctic ground squirrels and even lynx. (Seeing a lynx–I saw two!–was a pretty big deal; most park visitors don’t get to see them. This one was sitting in the road–yeah, I know that was pretty unbelievable–when I was driving around late one evening…. I barely had time to aim the camera before he trotted off the road and into thick brush.) Also in this set of pictures you can get a sense of how skinny and precarious the park road is; I was fascinated (OK, and kinda frightened) by the skinny ledges and sharp turns the buses made in areas around Sable Pass and Polychrome Overlook. Nancy, our bus guide for the Wonder Lake shuttle, totally rocked. She stopped for every animal we sighted, and even the non-animal sightings we shouted out, including numerous bear-shaped boulders and inanimate white dots (uh, you know, sheep mirages) on high cliffs that I spotted with my overly zealous eyes.

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4 Responses to Denali: Riding the bus and ogling wildlife

  1. karen says:

    i LOVE that you are getting to do this! And your photos are AWESOME! I love the one of the sheep on the mountain! Beautiful!

  2. Wanda Irish says:

    Wow…the 2 sheep sitting on the mountain…it is postcard perfect! I am amazed at all the colors…it is just so beautiful there!

  3. Jayne Close says:

    Amazing photos! I love the mountain (Dall?) sheep. Any interesting co-passengers on your 11-hour bus ride whose life story you heard?

  4. Jathan says:

    Awww, look at the baby moose! They’re so adorable. Although that’s probably one mama you wouldn’t want to mess with. šŸ˜‰

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