Denali by bus - saw the big five
Aug 9, 2017
|We were still recovering from that awesome plane rude to the tippity top of Denali's peak, when we had to get up at 4 am ti catch our bus through the interior of Denali. I did say 4 am. What a god awful time to have to get up. Or so I thought!
Passenger cars can only drive about 10 miles into the park. The only way to get into the interior of the park is by bus or walk. We decided the bus was the best choice. We didn't have any bear bells with us. We were on an old school bus with about 40 people. Just to let you know, it was going to be about a nine hour tour and there were no bathrooms in the bus. Panic attack! The driver did stop several times, but I sure missed the convenience of my RV.
The park is home to what they call the big five mammals. There are around 1900 moose in the park. They are probable the most visiable animal that you see throughout Alaska.
We already saw moose several times. But it is still something to see these 1500 lb, 7 foot tall creatures in the wild.
The next most common one to see is the dall sheep. There are about 2500 dall sheep in the park. The sheep prefer the high alpine meadows, and steep rugged cliffs. Since they are 100% white, you usually see white dots on the cliffs. We saw a lot of white dots on the slopes. The bus was equipped with some sort of scope that the driver used to make the white dots look like sheep. He would find the sheep in the scope, and then project it on a drop down screen similar to the monitors on a plane. It made a huge difference in being able to see the animals that were so far away. White dots became sheep. Brown dots became bears. Amazing!
Caribou make up the next largest group of the big five. There are about 1700 caribou in the park. Caribou are only found in the tundra above timberline. Since most people don't take a nine hour tour on a bus without a bathroom, they don't get that far into the park. We saw several caribou grazing on the tundra.
Now we come to the grizzly bear. The rangers think there are only about 300-350 bears in the park. We saw numerous bears on our drive. The bears were in the marshes eating berries. No salmon snatching bears in Denali. That would have been great to see. The scope made a huge difference with the bears as well.
The rarest mammal in the park is the wolf. Supposedly there are only about 100 wolves in the park. We were rewarded with a very rare viewing of two wolves. The wolves were just sauntering down the gravel road in front of the bus. The driver stopped the bus and told us all to be very quiet. The wolves decided to check out the bus. They walked right under my window and looked at me with their big yellow eyes. I was so intent in watching these creatures that I didn't take any pictures of them close up. I almost felt like they were giving us this gift, of letting us see them that I didn't want to ruin the moment with my camera. The driver was as giddy as the passengers. He said that he has been a park ranger for 10 years and only saw a wolf one other time and that was with binoculars.
So now, was it worth getting up at 4 am to take a nine hour bus ride with no bathrooms? Yes, yes, yes! The driver said most people don't see 3 of the 5 big mammals in the park. We had a very special experience seeing all 5, especially the wolves.
I have only talked about the animals so far. The scenery within the park was also spectacular. It is hard to come up with the adjectives to describe the beauty of Denali National Park. Right before we turned around to head back out of the park we stopped at a view point of Denali peak. The mountain granted us with a partial view of her splendor. We only saw the base, but that is more than a great percentage of people get to see. I have to say that this was a mystical, magical adventure that I won't forget.