Alaska

6/10: Predator and Prey – On the Way to Denali

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Everyone back on the bus, we moved out and soon came upon more caribou:

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Kirsty stopped the bus and pointed up on the hill – how did she spot this guy?  It was a Cross Fox, meaning it is a mix of red and black.  He’s an evil looking little guy:

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We soon saw what he was going after – they were too quick to get a good shot, but you can barely see the little arctic ground squirrel running for his life …

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This was even better than seeing a bear!  Kirsty and everyone in the bus kept a look out for more wildlife, and I enjoyed the views:

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There was barely room for two busses to pass, so the drivers have to know what they are doing:

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We passed a lone hiker walking along the ridge – you are allowed to hike through parts of Denali, but there are no trails in most of the park.

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We saw our cross fox once again – not looking happy at having missed dinner:

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Dinner was keeping a diligent lookout for Mr. Fox:

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We stopped every 90 minutes or so for a restroom break.  The next stop was at the Eielson Visitor’s Center.  There wasn’t much time for more than a quick look around, so we definitely have to go back.

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There was a display describing the peaks of Mt. McKinley; we couldn’t even see the tops of the mountains below Mt. McKinley, let alone distinguish the various peaks:

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Mt. McKinley is also called “Denali,” meaning The Great One, or The High One.  It is the highest mountain peak in North America with a summit elevation of 20,237 feet above sea level.  It also stands out because the base to peak rise is considered the largest of any mountain entirely above sea level (source: Wikipedia).  It sure would be nice to see this majestic mountain; but we knew only a third of Denali National Park visitor’s are lucky enough to see the peak.  We weren’t in the lucky third today!

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Lou found some delicate flowers, and almost froze walking around taking photos – no jacket as usual.

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Kirsty had chocolate chip cookies and fruit for us after our Eielson stop.  We did have one other stop before Kantishna, but the few photos we took seem to be missing – probably on the same memory card as the Giant Grizzly and cubs (note – we didn’t see a single bear or moose on the drive into the park). We saw a number of small ponds near the road as we continued towards Kantishna, and the water fowl didn’t seem to mind the cold:

And, it was still cold – there was ice on the lakes.  The road into Denali had just opened the previous week, so we were very early in the season.

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Wildlife sightings on the rest of the drive were limited to caribou, some birds too far away to identify, and a small weasel.  The terrain leveled out as we approached Kantishna:

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We passed the North Face Lodge; Lou stayed here on his Photography Tour in 2008 (I had to cancel due to work commitments – fortunately not a problem now!).  This would have been his choice for our trip, but it is impossible to get into if you don’t reserve over a year in advance.

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We had a quick view of Wonder Lake as we kept driving to our destination:

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We pulled into the Kantishna Roadhouse at 7:45 pm – about 6 1/2 hours after leaving the train depot.  I enjoyed every minute of the bus ride (it’s a long time on a bus for Lou, but he enjoyed it too).  We may not have seen all of the big animals, and the weather was inclement, but it is impossible to describe the feeling you get looking out into the expanse of Denali National Park. Kirsty was such a great driver and guide, we felt fortunate to enjoy the ride with her and Charley.

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Now that we had arrived, we had just a short time to wash up for dinner.  Our cabin was good – spacious and clean.  Dinner was ok; food is served family style and you’re assigned a table for dinner.  Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style.

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We were ready to hit the sack after our long travel day, so that’s what we did. More adventures coming up tomorrow.

Categories: Alaska, Land Tour, Week 4

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