Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Monday, June 25: Partly cloudy and warm this am as we head for “glitter gulch” to board our shuttle for the park. (There is a huge development of fancy hotels, shops and eateries near the park; Princess has a hotel there!) There are very few vehicles allowed in the park (400,000 visitors a year!)--mostly busses and a few private vehicles by strict permit only. The park is called Denali, the native name for the highest (20,320’) mountain in North America (means “the high one”); the mountain was coined “McKinley” in the late 1890s by a gold prospector as political support for then-president William McKinley; Ohio legislators have consistently fought changing the name officially to Denali—they want to continue to honor their native son. Our busdriver, Rebecca, a former teacher, has been trained in videography and the history (natural and otherwise) of the park; I called her the busdriver Nazi—she said to ask questions, and when you did, she snaps, “I’ll be getting to that!” Whew! We saw an amazing amount of wildlife on our 70-mile trip, considering the park is 6 million acres! First off, we saw an aging female and her calf from last year eating in a pond in the taiga up to their knees; the taiga is white spruce and dwarf willows and birch on the permafrost. Then caribou on a sandbar in the Savage River, named for one of the many Toms prospecting for gold in the area; he was a Cherokee, so they called him Tom Savage.) We spotted a couple of new birds for us, mew gulls with black and white striped tails and a golden eagle. We saw a herd of 14 Dall sheep on a mountainside and then five more at our rest stop on the Teklaneka River, a braided river, silty with glacial flour and pretty much fishless. Rebecca was able to zoom in on wildlife with her camera and project them on video screens throughout the bus—really nice. We saw eight grizzlies during the eight-hour day, including a mother and two cubs, AND two actually making little grizzlies while we watched—Rebecca said we got the grand slam of tours! Not to mention the snowshoe rabbit and the two ground squirrels which tried to commit suicide under the wheels of our bus. The most beautiful sight was the Polychrome Mountains; unfortunately the road up there was twisted and narrow at 4000’, including a spot builders called Poison Point—one drop kills. We only got a peek at Denali, pretty much wrapped in clouds; but we were able to make out its snowy summit. (There are to be 1200 climbers on Denali this year; only 50% will make it. Since the first ascent in 1913, 120 have died trying.) There are 92 miles in the park as of 1938, with some private land at the dead end. The road is only open four months, May August; sled dogs are used to patrol in the winter. Toured the lovely Visitor Center before catching a shuttle back to our car. Light supper and lights out—we’were all pretty zonked!