Monday, August 30, 2010

Wolves and sheep and bears, oh my!

I'm finally putting up some pictures from our second trip to Denali. We went back for a second visit when my in-laws came to visit us this summer.  The first night we went to Savage River again and the kids threw rocks in the water.

I seriously have to wonder how there are any rocks left. If there are 40,000 visitors a year here, and at least some of them love to throw rocks as much as my kids do, you have to wonder how the river has not filled up with rocks. I suppose rocks are the one thing that Alaska will never run out of. And the way that rivers change course from year to year probably makes this a moot point. The river will run a slightly different course next year anyway, so throwing a bunch of rocks in it really isn't going to do anything.

The last time we were at the Savage River there were areas marked off because birds were nesting. This time when we came back we got to see the babies. They were still cute and grey and fluffy. When they grow up they look like seagulls, but they are not. They are something else all together.
On a completely different note, how the heck do you spell grey? Every time I write grey, my spell check tells me I'm wrong and tells me it should be gray. I thought gray was a surname. Gray, as in Mr. Gray, and that grey is the color. I did what I do every time I am faced with life's tough choices. I googled it, and I found this link. This person also had the same question. As it happens, both spellings are correct, it just depends on which part of the world you happen to live. I like it when I can be right in two different ways.

On this trip to Denali we decided to take the bus tour. It really is the best way to see the park. In fact, it is the only way to see a majority of the park. The farthest you can drive is thirteen miles in. After that you have to be on a bus. After our bus trip, I have to say, it really is the best way. I can't imagine what it would be like if everyone drove. Umm... can you say traffic jam! Plus some of parts of the road are slightly perilous, as in, the edge of the rode is a cliff. I prefer to leave that kind of driving up to the professionals, thank you very much. 
We were lucky on our bus tour because we saw the trifecta of park animals, except that there are five, so would that be the quintfecta? The squiggly red spell checker line is telling me no, it is not a word, but I like it. In fact, it is also telling me that trifecta is not a word either, but I know it is. Google told me so.  Anyhow, we saw the big five: moose, caribou, bear, wolf, and dall sheep.

 The first thing we saw on this trip was a moose. She was far away and had her back to us so not terribly impressive. But, I also live in moose central station, so seeing one a hundred yards away is not a big deal to me anymore. The out-of-staters were more impressed by the moose's appearance.

The next thing we saw was a caribou from a million miles away. There was one guy on the bus who had an eagle's vision, because he was spotting animals all over the place that were a million miles away. Finally our driver said were weren't going to stop anymore unless they were a little closer to the bus. 
This photo was taken with the zoom all the way out to 40x, and this is still how small it was. The only think you can see is his rear end and his antlers. We went to a reindeer farm last summer and we got to feed the reindeer out of our hands, so I didn't feel too bad about not seeing this caribou up close. (Reindeer are in the caribou family, for those that don't know. Reindeer are also very tiny. Also, both males and females have antlers, only the males shed theirs first, so all of the reindeer that you see at Christmas time with antlers are actually females. Crazy, huh? I think Santa may need to change the names in his fleet.)

This is a glacier. It is that white line in between the two peaks.There are more glaciers in Alaska than anywhere else in the world.

Um... this is a mountain range. I'm really not sure if there is something in particular I was shooting here.

Next we came around a switch back and saw some Dall sheep.

This was an excellent view of them. Zoom in a little with my camera and I could get some pretty close shots. Normally, the only sighting you see of Dall sheep are little white dots on the side of a peak, so this was pretty amazing.

We went a little further and Mr. Eagle Vision saw a brown blob move a hundred million miles away.
It was a grizzly bear. Supposedly there were two cubs with her as well, but I couldn't see them. I just saw a brown blob move. I have to say, I'm glad that I saw this bear even though I have a very huge bear phobia (I prefer to think of my phobia as a very strong survival instinct). However, I was in the safety of the bus and it was a million miles away. I think I would have been disappointed if we hadn't seen one. I think.

We also saw a wolf. He/she (?) was running around near one of the rest areas. 

He sort of got stuck between the rest area, a river, and a road with buses stopped to look at him. He didn't quite know where to go. Eventually he found a spot to cross the river and went on his way.

On our way back we saw the same group of Dall sheep again.

Remember how I said that we had a great view of them before and people normally don't get that close to them? Well, buckle your seat belt, because we got the closest I believe anyone in history ever has.

They had moved from their perch and found a new place to rest, ON THE SHOULDER OF THE ROAD! I could have stepped off the bus and pet one, but they discourage that sort of behavior.

This guy was just across the road from his buddies, happily munching away at the grass and posing for us.

It couldn't have been any more perfect.

Here are the rest of their friends, resting a little further down the hill.

Sonny Boy conked out soon after the up close and personal visit with the Dall sheep and slept the rest of the way back to the visitor center. It was well worth the money, plus the kids were free, so you can't beat that.

The visitor center is really cool. I should have taken more pictures of it, but this is all that I took. They have some artwork displayed and this quilt was one of the pieces. Isn't it amazing? I just don't know how people can make things like that out of fabric.

Our next stop was at the dog kennels. The park still uses dog sled teams in the park. They are used to patrol the park in winter, plus break new trails and bring out supplies. There was a time when the dogs were replaced with snow machines, but it was discovered that dogs were much more reliable when it is 40 below. Also, the dogs leave a much smaller carbon foot print than snow machines.

The park wants people to pet all the dogs so that they get used to people and learn good manners. The dogs love it. The only rule is don't cross the ropes. If the dog is near the rope fence, they want to be petted. If they aren't, then they need a break. Oh, and if they jump up on you you have to push them down and tell them no. 

This one was a bit of an attention hog. He loved all the lovin' he was getting from my kiddos.

After you get a chance to pet all of the dogs, the rangers do a short demonstration with the dogs hooked up to a sled. Then they tell you a bit about the dogs and their role in the park and then they have a question and answer session. I loved the kennels. If you ever visit Denali, put this on your list of things to see.

In fact, put 'visit Denali' on your bucket list if you have one. You won't be disappointed. Just don't expect to see Dall sheep laying next to the road, because it won't happen. Just prepare yourself for little white specks on the side of a mountain.


  1. Terrific pix, Beth. You can also see Dall sheep close up at Mile 105 on the Seward Hwy. Fairly frequently, that is. Just watch out for the idiots slamming on their brakes and diving into the pull out.

  2. We should go to the official iditarod start this year, Beth. It'll be a fun-filled, cold, smelly day. (The dogs smell.)


Leave your loving words of kindness here.