Alaska Day 10 - Denali National Park - Riding the Park Road
Denali National Park Travel Blog› entry 716 of 1090 › view all entries
Today would be the day of the Bus Tour into Denali. We had agreed we would not tour the whole 92-mile-long park road.. We are both totally not fans of sitting in a bus, and the complete tour takes 13 hours, round trip. We chose for the second shortest tour, the 8-hour round trip to the Eielson Visitor Center, 106 km (66 miles) one-way. This meant we could take one of the later busses which are usually less crowded and it would leave us some time to do a bit of hiking as well.
Well, maybe we left a bit too late. We aimed for the 11 am shuttle, but, when we tried to get tickets there was only one seat left. Like on an airport we were put on the stand-by list, but unfortunately there were two other persons on that same list. They made it, we did not. So, we ended up in a reservation for the 1pm bus.
As explained earlier, the park road is closed for private vehicles after mile 15. So everyone who wants to enter the park and is too lazy to hike or bike has to reserve a seat in the park busses. These are sturdy school bus like busses. At the bus station an airport-like announcements was made calling the passengers to board their bus. We left the "gate" with a slight delay. Bus driver Kevin explained the procedure, told something about the park, and encouraged us to yell "STOP" as loud as we could if we saw wildlife bigger than a squirrel.
The first 15 miles were rather known, although, being in the higher bus gave us some better views on the surroundings.
After 48 km (30 mile) we had our first stop at the Teklanika River. This is the part of the road that is open to private cars after the 1st of October. It offered a nice view over the river.
Near the Sable Pass, at 62 km (38 mile), we got a second wild encounter. Several dall sheep were on the steep rocks above us. Another stop was made at the Polychrome Overlook at 72 km (45 mile). The site gave a very nice view over the valley below us, colored by autumn, and the mountains around us, colored by specific minerals. At 85 km (53 mile) we had another stop at Toklat River. This is the end of the shortest (and cheapest) bus tour. The site has a small ranger station/gift shop. But much more interesting, a great view on glacier rivers. The rangers had put some antlers of several deer and moose outside the station.
During the ride to our destination, the Eielson Visitor Center, one of the passengers gave the bus driver a STOP yell. He remarkably spotted three grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis). The bears were too far away to see them well. The Latin word "horribilis" in the scientific name for the grizzly was assigned by mistake. The biologist who named the bear misunderstood the word grizzly (grey-ish) for Grisly (gruesome, terrifying). Given the fact that grizzlies are by far the most aggressive bears, the misunderstanding still makes sense.
Near the visitor center we had some more stunning mountain views. The snow on the peaks looked like powder sugar rather than snow.
We kept looking for bears as well as for the bus. If we missed this bus it would mean, spending the night on the road. Not a very tempting idea! After having hiked exactly 5 km (3 miles) the green bus appeared behind us. Perfectly in time because the road was about to ascend steeply. We waved it down and found, to our delight, it only filled for about 33% of its seat capacity.
At the location we had spotted the three grizzlies earlier that day the bus driver spotted the bears again. In the meantime they had migrated to the other side of the road and were much better visible. Short after that another grizzly was spotted, this one was right next to the road and crossed it right in front of the bus. We had more surprises: Denali (Mount McKinley) had decided to strip completely and was now fully visible. Mighty! The park feasted us on some more sightings, several dall sheep and, a moose couple. The latter, unfortunately quite far away.
The sun started to set, allowing us one more view on the Great One. At about 22:00hrs the bus delivered us at the bus station. We were tired and hungry. Fully inspired by the grizzlies, who adore salmon, I ordered a delicious salmon filet.
For a nice historic picture of the parkroad see here. More (of my) pictures below.