Sunday morning was a little rough. I had gone to bed around 1am after trying to see the northern lights and getting some cool night shots over the lodge. Our bus tour of Denali left the lodge at 6:30am, which meant we were up and moving by 4:30 finished packing things up, cleaned the cameras, cleared the memory cards and went for a very cold walk well before the sun came up to get breakfast
Around 6:30 we loaded into the school bus for our tour. It had been years since I had been in a school bus and I was glad to find that they had cruiser type seats and not the old school bus benches. This gave me much more leg room! Our tour guide Brian introduced himself and apologized ahead of time. See it was the last cruise of the year which meant he had 2 days of work left then he was out of there. So he was a little punchy. Of course it was 6:30 so we were all a little punchy. Our first stop was at the visitorâ€™s center where we saw an interesting short film about Denali, how it became a national park and how the road we would be traveling was built.
We loaded into the bus again and drove on looking for Wildlife constantly. We stopped along a long straight away and got out to stretch our legs and had an amazing view of Denali off in the distance with the moon high in the sky above. A short ways down the road we stopped behind another bus that has spotted a bull moose in the forest. A few people got to see the rack (or so they said) All I saw was Moose ass, as it moved behind the trees and disappeared. The moose and caribou were a bit scarce that day as there had been reports of a large pack of wolves in the area. Laws of nature, when predators are around in mass, make yourself scarce. Before getting off the bus at the next stop Brian gave us some pointers about dealing with bears and moose. If there’s a bear we’re all to stand in front of him and raise our arms high in the air and yell at the bear firmly. Even if the bear charges you don’t run. Most of the time the bear is bluffing, and as a group you are bigger and louder so it will most likely leave (“most likely”). If you run youâ€™re screwed. Bears=Predators, Running=Prey, if you run, you = Lunch. If you run into a moose, well… let your instincts serve you well and run away as fast as you can. They have no interest in eating you they just want you away from them. Don’t hide behind a tree! You don’t want to get in a game of ring around the rosy with a 1500lb pissed off animal. After this wonderfully reassuring talk it was time to get off the bus again
Our next waypoint was the savage cabin set a little ways back in the woods. This was one of the small road crew cabins that were adopted by the park rangers when the road was completed. These wilderness cabins can mean the difference between life and death to a traveler in the winter. They are open and free to anyone that needs them. All that is asked is that you re-supply what you use, so the next person will have dry wood and supplies should they be in dire need and happen upon the cabin. All along the trip there are people that stay in frontier character. Sometimes it’s a bit cheesy and annoying. Until I imagine the same guy in a windbreaker rattling off facts, then I’m happy they jazz it up a bit. On our way back to the buses we spotted a big snow-show hare just enjoying his morning under a spruce tree. He really didn’t care that we were there. Just 10 feet from the path and not scared at all. I guess when you deal with real predators all the time a bunch of elderly tourists don’t spook you. We also saw some pretty fresh moose tracks right across the path, which let us know they were still in the area, but out of sight.
After another 20min we reached our turn around point 17miles into the park. We were at an altitude that the trees became very sparse and had a phenomenal view of Denali off in the distance with a perfectly clear sky. The moon was still up and it made for some great panoramic views. I took multiple bracketed exposures and I hope to get some nice HDR shots out of it. While we were there an Athabascan woman gave a great talk and sang a song she had wrote. It was nice but my attention was split a bit with all my photography. Time there wasn’t nearly long enough and we were soon back on the bus to the lodge. The ride back was pretty uneventful as far as wildlife goes but the views were just great.
After a short stop at the lodge we headed off to the train station. I had an odd reaction to the train station. It’s all outdoors and they had several covered areas that looked like cattle bins with people jammed in and all I could think of was WWII and do I really want to get on the train? Stupid I know but it was just weird. The train soon arrived and man was I impressed. All the train cars are 2 stories with a domed dining car style top with booths tables and a bar. The Lower level is an actual dining area and an outdoor observation deck. The seating was a bit odd as my mother and sister were at one table and I was placed at a different table with some folks from Michigan. It all worked out well though as we got to meet new people and have some interesting conversations. After trying to take photos through the domed glass I decided to go outside to the observation deck…That was all she wrote. I would stand for most of rest of the 4.5 hour train ride. Moving from side to side looking for the best shot of the constantly changing environment. The train actually travels around Denali so there were several really great angles available for photos.
When the train arrived in Talketnit everyone was groaning when we realized we needed to be on another bus for another hour and change. We had the option to stay and explore lovely downtown Talketnit but when we realized it was literally two streets we opted to just stay on the bus and head to Mt. McKinley Lodge. Our bus driver on this leg of the tour had me ready to scream. It was very clear that he was a political history major, as he told us the story of how Denali came to also be known as Mt. McKinley. But he didn’t just tell us that, he went into a full biography of every single person involved in the matter, where they were born, everything they ever did in their life how it affected the geopolitical climate and what they liked to eat as a midnight snack. It was the most boring thing I’ve ever heard in my life. A one hour dive seamed to last longer than the 4.5 hour train ride. It was painful.
Arriving at McKinley Lodge we were greeted by a majestic view of Denali and the whole range of mountains that surround it. All these mountains are amazing in their own right but they get shadowed by the fame of Denali (the high one). After grabbing some dinner (crab again! ) then grabbed my camera and my postcards and headed for the lodge. It was a lot more crowed then the last deck but it was great to watch the sun set shift the light across the mountains. While there I met a couple from Pittsburgh and joined in some conversation with them and a couple that live in Alaska. They were each carrying a 44 magnum and talking about anyone that goes hiking without one is crazy. They said they have a friend that just sings while she’s hiking and things that will keep her safe. I told them “her singing just counts as dinner theater for the bears.” That got a good chuckle. So after snapping a ton of images, writing some more postcards and putting in a wake-up call request if the northern lights were out, I retired for a good nights sleep.
End Day 3