Denali National Park, Alaska, USA

8th - 9th August 2014

Denali National Park proved a challenging visit for people who aren't partial to making advance bookings. However from our camping spot at Byers Lake, we'd managed to book ourselves on the shuttle bus trip.

Unless you wanted to hike among the wild beasties, the shuttle bus or a narrated bus tour were the only possible options for viewing parts of the park which were accessible by vehicle. Private vehicles were not allowed in the wilderness. Of the two options the shuttle bus seemed to fit the bill better for us, heading further into the park yet considerably cheaper.

Landon was to be our driver for the eight hour trip along the park's 66 miles of unpaved road to the Eielson Visitor Center and back again. Very entertaining he was too and we managed to snag the front seat with the best views!

Landon starts our journey through the wilderness.

Our first Grizzly at Denali.

Our objective, besides enjoying the stunning views of the mountainous wilds, was to spot as many of the “big 5” (Grizzly Bear, Dall Sheep, Caribou, Moose and Wolf) as possible on our trip.

It wasn't too long before our first sighting. We'd already seen many hardy Arctic Ground Squirrels playing chicken with our bus. However, on the banks of Teklanika River, we spotted a Grizzly, snuffling around and digging up juicy roots, to help him fatten up for winter. The bus went silent as we all snapped away.

It wasn't many minutes later when Landon spotted another Grizzly taking a nap on the river bank.

Soon after this our bus began the steep ascent to Sable Pass and the road became narrow and winding. Passing buses coming in the opposite direction certainly added excitement!

Once our route flattened out again, we spotted a large moose trying to hide himself behind a large bush. A while later we found ourselves driving behind a young male caribou, who had decided that he would be safe if he kept running in front of the bus. Eventually he did come up with the idea of turning off the road!

Let sleeping bears lie!

Climbing to Sable Pass with oncoming hazard in view.

Polychrome Overlook.

Nobody can see me now! (Moose)

Male Caribou

By the time we'd reached the visitor center, our turn-around point, we had been lucky to spot three of the big five, the Dall Sheep and Wolves remaining stubbornly hidden from view throughout the day.

Our luck held as we were blessed to enjoy a view of Mount McKinley or Denali from the Eielson Centre. Only around 30 percent of visitors actually got to see the huge mountain which was often shrouded in thick cloud.

The bumpy return trip of 66 miles became tiring and the majority of fellow passengers were mostly just trying not to nod off. It was lucky that we'd had so many sightings on the outbound journey! Every now and again a precarious passing manoeuvre on the edge of a precipice would add excitement.

Is that pesky bus still chasing me?

Mount Denali

Yikes, guess we're on the outside edge this time!

By the time we returned to our starting point at around 7 pm, we were glad we'd gone against our usual principles and had booked a commercial campground only six miles north of the park. All the Park's own campgrounds seemed to be booked up way in advance.

On arrival, Harvey felt a little out of place. We had been lucky to get a space at all, as a large rally of airstream trailers was occupying half of the campground, whilst an “Adventure Caravan”, a rally of huge, bus-sized RV's, took up most of the other sites. Harvey's small size paid off as we squeezed into our tiny spot, the last one left.

Ever feel like the odd-one-out?

Sled dog taking it easy until the snow starts to fall

Next morning we visited the National Park's Dog Sled Kennels. Obviously it was the sled dogs' summer holiday time and they lounged around looking bored, resting ready for the winter, when they are used for transportation by rangers in the park.

However, as soon as they realised it was sled demonstration time, they became seriously animated. Their barks sounded distinctly like “Pick Me! Pick Me!”, as they leapt around in excitement.

The lucky five were selected and hitched to the sled, which was fitted with wheels for summertime demonstrations. Eagerly they hauled the sled around a circuit at high speed.

How the dogs keep their noses from freezing in winter.

Pick me! Pick me!

Oh come on, let's run some more!

We'd been surprised that most of those attending the demonstration spoke German. We assumed it must be a motor coach tour but back at the parking lot, we spotted their “Rotel”, half motor coach, half hotel. Judging by the intriguing cooking smells emanating from the vehicle, they didn't only travel and sleep aboard by also eat their meals too! We couldn't help but wonder where they parked it at night.

Not rating our chances of finding accommodation near the park for a second night, we hit the road again for Fairbanks.

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