Yesterday was one of the most incredible days ever. I have been very lucky and have done and seen some amazing things but the ride into Denali up to North Face Lodge had to be towards the top of the list of adventures in my life. They say, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the numbers of moments that take our breath away.” The ride into Denali certainly took my breath away.
First in the morning, we rode a bus 120 miles from Fairbanks to the entrance of Denali National Park and Preserve. It was very interesting drive. We were told the average age of people in Alaska is thirty-five. Our guide said it was a young person’s state because of the harsh climate. It is normal for it to be minus 45 degrees and winter lasts at least eight months. Unless you live in the city, most people have out houses because septic would simply freeze. She told us many stories of her outhouse and there is actually a book called Outhouses of Alaska and her outhouse is on page twelve. I will have to check that out. On our 120 mile journey, we hardly saw any civilization at all.
Once we arrived at the park entrance, we changed buses and boarded an old converted school bus. The first eighteen miles into the park are paved and even private cars can go into the park. It pretty much looks like a regular forest surrounded by mountains. Then you come to a ranger station next to a ribbon river that was cut by a glacier. The area was very pretty. At the station, Happy Harry the Park Ranger, as he called himself, entered the bus to tell us some of the rules, like when taking photos of animals to keep our voices down so the animals don’t get used to people. After the ranger station the only way to continue into the park is to take a Denali Park bus. At that point the road becomes gravel.
We hadn’t gone very far and there was a mother moose with twin babies right on the road. Our guide told us that rangers fly over the park and count the number of moose with twins. The more twins, the healthier the moose population. Then we saw lots and lots of caribou. Our guide told us that caribou just simply tolerate the summer. They love cold weather. At one of our stops, they had antlers that had been shed by the caribou and boy were they heavy. Of course the entire seven hour trip our guide explained the geology, the animal life, and the rules of the park. It was quite a science lesson, and my head was swimming by the end of the ride.
We came to this one area of road where there were steep rock slides on one side and plunging cliffs dropping at least 1,000 feet to the river below on the other side of the bus. When two buses approach each other, one bus stops while the other passes. Hairpin curves make your heart jump into your throat. One didn’t know whether they should close their eyes and pray, or enjoy the vastness of this wilderness. For the most part, the road appears to be just one lane, so it does take an experienced driver to navigate this terrain. Tom and I decided we would just enjoy the experience.
Then in the middle of nowhere, we stop, our guides get out a picnic table and out comes the food. There was smoked salmon, homemade breads, fresh organic vegetables grown at the Lodge’s green house, dried fruits, an apple cranberry salad, cheeses, apple cider, tea, etc. We devoured this feast overlooking a ravine. The scenery is so immense, it is hard to describe. We were told not to drop even a crumb of food on the ground to prevent attracting bears. We had seen two bears along the road but they were at quite a distance.
We then continued our journey to the lodge, and started to see Dall sheep. Some were right by the road and even walking down the road and we could easily capture them on our cameras. It was pretty amazing. Just like in Africa you have the big five which were the ones to hunt and now in the park they are only hunted by cameras. The big five of Alaska are the Dall sheep, moose, wolves, caribou, and grizzly bears. Of course if the animal leaves the boundaries of the 365 million acre park, they are fair game for hunters. The wolf numbers are dwindling because they feed on caribou. Alaska encourages hunting because it is huge revenue for the state just like any tourist attraction. There is some scientific data to prove that wolves only attack sick caribou, so are actually doing the herd a service. Of course the debate over wolves is certainly a hot topic.
Just as we were about to arrive at the lodge, we spot a grizzly right by the road. It was digging for roots and we were allowed to watch it for a long time. It was so funny to see it dig up the roots, sit down and chomp away. It was one happy bear and Tom was able to capture some wonderful photos.
When we finally arrived at the lodge, we were met with more food. The lodge is very nice and our rooms are a welcome change from the ship’s miniscule cabins with its shower and toilet combo. One had better remember to remove the toilet paper before showering or you had very soggy paper. So after that, this room is very spacious. Of course the scenery around the lodge is unbelievable. We have all of our rules of what to do if we see a bear on our walks, but I will hope all bears we see are from the bus and not of foot.
“Imagination is a poor substitute for experience.” – Havelock Ellis
More to follow,
Tom & Holly