Alaska trip 3 – Denali

Day 3. We got up early and headed towards Denali National Park. It was a long drive of about 4 hours. Unfortunately, it started raining and it kept raining as we drove towards Denali. We could hardly see the road so had to drive slowly. Fog had everything covered so we missed the scenic drive completely. We could not see Mt.McKinley when the viewpoint came because of the fog and the heavy rains. We were disappointed that the whole trip to Denali would be wasted. I was wondering how we were going to spot animals in this thick fog and heavy rain. We could not even see trees, let alone spot wildlife. We reached Denali National Park and the rain had not stopped.

After driving for sometime, the clouds began to grow thin and we could see white clouds ahead of us. And then it stopped raining all of a sudden and even the fog was gone. I could not be more happy. We stopped and took some pictures of the amazing tundra. For the first time, I saw tundra and loved it! Everything was so colorful and the forest looked very beautiful. Once we crossed this point, it no longer rained and thankfully our trip was successful.

Arctic tundra is located in the northern hemisphere, encircling the north pole and extending south to the coniferous forests of the taiga. The arctic is known for its cold, desert-like conditions. A layer of permanently frozen subsoil called permafrost exists, consisting mostly of gravel and finer material. When water saturates the upper surface, bogs and ponds may form, providing moisture for plants. There are no deep root systems in the vegetation of the arctic tundra, however, there are still a wide variety of plants that are able to resist the cold climate.

All of the plants are adapted to sweeping winds and disturbances of the soil. Plants are short and group together to resist the cold temperatures and are protected by the snow during the winter. They can carry out photosynthesis at low temperatures and low light intensities. The growing seasons are short and most plants reproduce by budding and division rather than sexually by flowering.  Source: link

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Denali National Park is 3 times the size of Yellowstone national park. Before going to Alaska, I had browsed through a book to do some research on Alaska. There it said that Yellowstone was for those who could not afford to visit Denali. It is very huge and they do not allow public vehicles inside the park. So we took an 8 hour bus tour to the park. We went to the Wilderness center to collect our bus tickets and then checked into our hotel. We had lunch at the restaurant in our hotel. He took hell lot of time to serve and we were pretty tensed that we would miss the bus. But somehow we made it. The bus picked us up at our hotel.

According to some blogs that I read and some photos that I saw, Denali did not look that good in summer. Fall (sep) is the best season to visit Denali because of the fall colors. We visited in fall without knowing that it was the right time to visit 🙂 I just loved Denali. What is not there to like here? Tundra, fall colors, colorful mountains, beautiful scenery, snow filled mountains, glaciers and rivers. When I spoke to a friend of mine, she had doubts that it might be very cold in september. It was cold but not very cold. However, winters are supposedly very harsh here.

The tour guide was really good. He gave us a lot of information about the park. He also gave us lot of stops and hence plenty of opportunities to take photos. But we were only allowed to get down at the designated stops. Below picture gives a glimpse of the polychrome mountain. The glaciers here have melted by 50% in last 20 yrs it seems. Not sure how long they will last.

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Not everyone who visits Denali gets a chance to look at Mt. McKinley. But I guess we were lucky since the clouds had cleared and we were able to see the majestic mountain. Mt. McKinley (called Denali – the high one) is the highest mountain peak in North America.

At some 18,000 feet (5,500 m), the base to peak rise is considered the largest of any mountain situated entirely above sea level. It has a summit elevation of 20,237 feet (6,168 m) above sea level. Source: Wiki

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On the way back, we stopped at a camp where they were selling books and other souvenirs. They had antlers for display along with the furs of bear and other animals.We had a chance to spot many animals on the way back thanks to our tour guide(bus driver). We once saw grizzly bear running on the road in Mammoth lakes, right in front of our car. I could not take a photo since it was running really fast and disappeared within seconds. We spotted a grizzly bear here in Denali too, but it had shed its fur already and was in the process of growing new fur. So the bear was not exactly brown in color.
We also saw Dall sheep grazing on the mountains. We got a glimpse of the state bird of Alaska, Willow Ptarmigan and the state animal of Alaska, Moose. We luckily spotted few Caribou too. Unfortunately, we did not see any wolves or fox on the tour. But the guide showed us the cave where many generations of wolves had lived.
Some interesting facts that we learned on the tour:
  • Most bear in the park are vegetarian and feed on berries like blueberry etc. Some eat salmon fish.
  • Grizzly bears eat smaller grizzly bears and black bears. Wolves eat small grizzly bears. Older grizzly bears can protect themselves from even a pack of wolves. The guide gave us a book each about Denali where there was a photo of a single grizzly bear fighting against a pack of wolves for meat.
  • One should always run when they see a moose. Usually the cows are very protective about their calves. When they feel their calves might be in danger, they might try to hurt us, so it is better to run away from them. However we must never run when we encounter a grizzly bear. They run at 35 mph speed or more and can easily catch you. If you come across a grizzly bear, try to look as tall as you can by lifting your arms up when you see the bear.
  • Moose are the biggest among deer. Bull(male) has antlers, while the female (cow) doesn’t have any antlers. Caribou are the only deer where both male and female have antlers.
  • Denali has dogs in kennels. In winter, dog sledding is used by rangers since the road is covered with snow. Patrolling is done in the winter on dog sleds. One question I had was, why do they still use dogs? Why not use snowmobiles instead?
  • Fairbanks downtown area in winter has -65 degree. People go and stay on hills where it is -40. I cannot even imagine living in such extreme climate.
  • In Denali, sun rises and sets in north (and not in east and west like other places). During summer for 10 weeks or so, sun sets at 12:30 am or so and rises at 3:30 or so. So the sun sets only for 3 hrs.
  • Hunting wolves is legal outside the park it seems. So if any wolf goes out of Denali park, it can be killed. Why would anyone want to kill animals just for pleasure? That is beyond me.

 

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Once the tour was over, we were dropped back at our hotel. Afternoon when we went for lunch, a guy at the restaurant told us about a Thai place right in front of our hotel. So for dinner, we went in search of this Thai place. The food was pretty good and having rice after 3 days felt so awesome. I cannot survive without eating rice for a long time 🙂 Night it got very cold. I could not stand outside for 2 minutes without shivering and chattering teeth, even though I had worn a very thick jacket. We had registered ourselves for Aurora call, where the hotel staff will inform in case aurora is visible. But we did not get a call in the night.

Other posts on Alaska:

Alaska trip 1 – Anchorage
Alaska trip 2 – Seward
Alaska trip 4 – Coldfoot
Alaska trip 5 – Fairbanks

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14 thoughts on “Alaska trip 3 – Denali

  1. What is this aurora? And why is your usual travelogue-spirit lacking in this post? Been working too much, of late? 🙂

    The first two photos are very good. Not sure what that sparkle on the pathway (filled with ice) is, in the second photo?

    Destination Infinity

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    • Here is the wiki link to Aurora: link
      I will write about Aurora in detail in my next post.
      Yeah, work has taken a toll and also I was not in a very good mood when I wrote the post 😦 The sparkle in the pathway is actually water.. water flowing from the melting glacier..

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  2. Thanks for the wonderful travelogue and the beautiful photos. We were thinking to visit Alaska and your posts have turned us into planning stage. Glad mother nature did not fail you. I guess you (plural) took the tourist bus. Right? Driving yourselves, in an unknown place in this weather condition, is not safe. Plus the driver will not be able to enjoy the sights.

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    • Thanks SG 🙂 I am very happy that these posts will be helpful to you 🙂
      Yeah we took a tour bus.. I think they don’t allow public vehicles into the park. I only saw shuttle and tour buses inside the park. But yeah driver wont be able to enjoy so better not to drive.

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  3. Wow..just beautiful pics.. Very beautiful. I can totally imagine fall making this place more prettier. And you saw a grisly bear..wowww
    are aurora same as the northern lights.. I heard these can be spotted in Alaska too.

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  4. Pingback: Alaska trip 2 – Seward
  5. Pingback: Alaska trip 1 – Anchorage
  6. The pictures look postcard perfect! Loved them! Glad you went there right during Autumn to get those rich colors of landscape. I was about to ask you did you spot Aurora Borealis. Did you see them?

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  7. Pingback: Alaska trip 4 – Coldfoot
  8. Pingback: Alaska trip 5 – Fairbanks

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