States visited: 49!

visited 49 states (98%)
Create your own visited map of The United States
Miles driven so far -
LOOP 1 (Aug 2009 - Aug 2010): 29,000
LOOP 2 (May - August 2012): 10,800

Highest altitude with camper: 11,158ft (I-70, CO)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Denali Shuttle Tour

We had pre-booked the shuttle bus to take us all the way out to Eielson Visitor Center, until mid-June the furthest point we could go into the Park.  During the Summer, the bus will go out to Wonder Lake, which on a good day is the place to get the famous shot of Mount McKinley.  Given that a round trip out to Eielson without getting off for hikes lasts eight hours, we were quite happy that was as far as we could go!

Our driver, Tim, was so knowledgeable, sharing information along the way about the Park, the animals, the geography.  He had been driving the shuttle for 14 seasons, so he really knew his stuff!

Although the ride was eight hours, it truly did not drag at all.  We were constantly on the lookout for animals and were blessed to have multiple sightings of amazing creatures.  The Park’s BIG FIVE are caribou, moose, bears, Dall sheep, and wolves – we saw them all!  Additionally we spotted mew gulls, magpies, ptarmigans (referred to by our youngers as fat, waddling birds!), ground squirrels, and a porquipine to name but a few.

At the beginning of the trip, Tim stopped the bus for everything, but as we continued and had witnessed so many fantastic sightings, we were less concerned by the distant animals.  After a while, the kids focused on their JR books, coloring, and DSs, stopping only when animals were clearly visible!

As Tim was telling us some grizzly bear facts, the bus rounded the corner and he nonchalantly said, “Ahhhhhh, and here’s a bear!”  Sure enough, walking along in the middle of the road, completely unconcerned by the bus, was a grizzly – awesome!  Another one was wandering further out in the meadow enhancing our views of the mountains dotted with wild flowers.

Further along, after viewing Dall sheep from afar, including a trio butting horns (we felt lucky to have seen that!), we came upon a large group parked in the middle of the road!  Tim let us know that it's just a waiting game then, the animals have all the rights in the Park.  Eventually they decided to move on up the rocky slope, unbothered by the commotion they’d caused!

Moving along the open meadowland area, someone shouted, “Wolf!”  A lone wolf was trekking along.  A few miles further along, as we were watching a bear in the flats, two wolves suddenly appeared and we watched their standoff.  It’s a good indication of something special when your driver, who’s seen some incredible sights in fourteen years, quickly grabs his camera!  The two wolves – one an Alpha male (Tim spotted his collar and then his cocked leg!) approached the bear.  There was a bit of an altercation as each attempted to establish dominance.  It was amazing to watch this confrontation.  We kept thinking the day couldn’t get any better!

As we neared the Visitor Center, a very pale grizzly meandered along in the field.

We had initially planned to hike a trail from Eielson, but everyone was getting tired and the kids were beginning to wilt a little.  We spent about half an hour enjoying the views and playing with the enormous elk antlers.

At the lower level, a double set of intertwined moose antlers were on display.  The Ranger we chatted with explained that they were found this way, obviously dead!

Given the incredible bus trip to this point, we decided it would be smart to stick with Tim and head back.  The same pale bear had turned around and was returning in our direction.  A herd of elk were on a far hill.

On the return trip, immediately after the rest stop where we had fun with more antlers, we watched a mama and her cub wandering along the embankment.  As the bus was idling, they walked up onto the road.  Ahead of us, a cyclist hurridly dismounted and tried to right his bike; grabbing his bear spray, he hesitantly raised his arms and made noise.  It was all rather tense and I’m sure terrifying for the poor cyclist (Karen commented that afterwards he probably realized that an entire bus full of people was videoing the episode for prosperity!).  Tim slowly moved the bus forward in an attempt to separate the bears from the cyclist; the cub was on quite a mission, ambling toward him.  At the last minute, ‘pushed’ by the bus, they moved back onto the embankment and we passed the wide-eyed cyclist.  Our hearts were pounding; I can’t imagine how he was feeling!

Driving further up the mountain (and in my case, not looking over the unbarriered edge!), we passed a broken down bus – it does happen – and, rounding the corner, came upon a male Dall sheep chewing his cud on the roadside.  Jake remembered from our Ranger program in the Rockies that this meant he was perfectly content and seemingly unconcerned by the cameras pointing at him!

More of his friends were traversing the steep rocky cliffs.

The early start and long day certainly took its toll on the kids!

As we were getting close to the end of the route, Dave spotted a moose in the trees.  He had a beautiful set of velvety antlers – our day was complete.  We were SO lucky to have seen so much wildlife and spectacular scenery.  A train just happened to be crossing the trestle bridge as we descended too!

After de-boarding the shuttle bus, we drove directly over to the Visitor Center where all the kids had their Junior Ranger books checked and certificates signed.  Dylan was so proud to receive his first badge; he was adorable.  The Ranger also gave them a Ranger hat to wear for pictures.  We were excited that Chelsea and Dylan’s first Junior Ranger program was completed at such a spectacular National Park.

Karen and I took advantage of the washers in the Mercantile, oh, how I missed my w/d in the camper at home!

As we relaxed outside later in the evening after the kids were in bed, we watched a porcupine shuffle through our campsite, sniffing at the ground.  He was pretty big – we stayed quite still, no reason to endure the wrath of those long prickles!

No comments: