Saturday, October 10, 2009

Denali Wilderness and Wild Life We saw

At the end of our 7 day Alaska cruise, we transferred to a coach and went to Denali National Park via an 8 hour scenic drive. Denali means the high one - it is also known as Mt. McKinley, it is the tallest mountain in North America. On the scenic drive, we stopped at Denali State Park, which is supposed to be one of the best areas for viewing Mt. McKinley. But we were not lucky to see it due to clouds.

My first impression of Denali national park was the cloud covered mountains and ever changing landscapes - green pine trees, red fire weeds, grey glacier rivers in wide valleys. Above ~ 2500 feet, there is no trees due to cold temperature and moisture-snapping winds.

The first evening at Denali, Justin and I walked to the glacier river bank after dinner : the glacier river was rushing forward, two pigeons rested on a rock in the river, pink wild weeds swinging in the wind and sun started to set.

The next day we would have a Tundra Wilderness Tour in the afternoon, we had the whole morning for ourselves, so we went to Park visitor center to check out what we could do. We chose horse shore lake trail, which is about 2.4 miles round trip. Horseshoe lake is a place where Moose wander around. When we got there, all we saw was other hikers. We walked into the bush to check a beaver dam, just then I felt a big piece of white stuff coming my way, looking again, a trumpeter swan was flying to us, it landed in front of us about 20- 30 yards away in the lake. Lily was quick and she caught the landing on her camcorder. The swan gracefully swam around, occasionally dipped its head into the water to eat plants at the bottom of the water. Then it did something we had never seen before, it flapped its wings. After watching the swan for a while, we started walking back and then I noticed a beaver swimming, apparently swimming back to its home - beaver dam.

In the afternoon, we went on for our Denali Tundra Wilderness Tour on a school bus like park shuttle. Denali Wilderness Tundra is a restricted area, no commercial vehicle can get in, very limited amount of private vehicles can get in by a lottery every year. It took about 40 minutes or so to get to the restricted area. All the passengers on board, looked outside hoping to see wild life. Driving forward, the bus was ascending, the road got narrower, trees became scarce. Now the bus was on the mountain range, and left hand side was a valley with a shallow glacier river running in the middle. I spotted something moving by the valley and told our driver/guide - "Caribou in the valley" and sure enough there were two caribous there, all of us got excited and everyone moved to the left hand side of the bus, took out camera to take pictures - the caribous were very far away, it was kind of hazy in the valley - due to smoke from Yukon forest fire, so it was not easy to take good pictures of them. The bus moved on. After a turn on the mountain road, I noticed another animal close to the road ahead of our bus, the bus pulled close, and it was a Caribou again, but it was so much closer and we could see it very clearly - its dark brownish skin, white bottom, huge antelopes and its bright eyes!

Later on someone else spotted Dall sheep in the woods at right hand side of the road. We got excited again. It was a surprise since Dall sheep typically stay at the top of mountains to avoid predators. Shortly afterwards we did see Dall sheep at their usual habitat, the rocky area at the top of mountains - they were just like pieces snows on the rocky mountain slop.

Just when we got use to see caribous, Dall sheep, I spotted something white-brownish moving on a mountain trow. Using his powerful tel camcorder, our guide told us what I spotted were a mother bear and her two cubs !! The mother bear was light brownish. They were so far away from us, we could see them clearly only by binoculars. I took a few blurred pictures of the bears. Could you see the light brown mother bear at the center right location of the picture? The two cubs were in the "northwest" direction of the mother bear. Click on the picture, you could see them better in the full size photo.

On the way back, something even more exciting happened. Somebody spotted a "dead" animal on a grass land not too far away from the road (we were in the valley now), which turned out to be a sleeping wolf! Two caribous came into sights. Then Justin spotted bears in the mountain. Our guide got very excited, he told us that he saw wolf once a week this season, and he had never saw Caribou, Bear and Wolf in the same general area before. We were very lucky!! Just then the wolf woke up, stretched its legs, yawn, and walked slowly in the direction of bears, ?! We were hoping to see the wolf chasing the Caribou. (Note: Our guide told us wolf always travel in pack, there must be other wolfs around and wolf was more likely to attack bears for the cubs then attacking the bigger caribou.)

Of the five major animals at Denali, we saw Caribou, Dall Sheep, Grizzly Bear and Wolf. We did not see moose on the Tundra Wilderness Tour. When we got back to Denali town center that night, we were told Moose came to town! We missed it. But we were compensated at Anchorage, we saw moose on the coastline biking trail.

The next day, we left Denali in a morning drizzle. As our coach descended from our mountain hotel, the sun came out. A rainbow formed between mountains.

The excitement of discovery, the thrill of unexpected, made this an unforgettable exploration.

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