Denali is Sparse

June 5, 2015.

that's reindeer sausage
We decided to have breakfast at the chalet. The breakfast buffet was $18 for full buffet, or $13 for continental. They didn’t serve ala carte until 9 am, which would have prevented us from getting on our scheduled tour. Fortunately, we could get a full breakfast at the other chalet restaurant for $10.
Our bus for the Tundra Wilderness Tour left at 8 am. They use converted old school buses. The seats are nice, but packed very close together. We had bus 151, which was the oldest in the fleet. Our driver told us that the tour would be between 6 and 12 hours, the longer time being if the bus broke down or we got stuck.
snack box
We each got a nice little snack box to eat on the bus.
It's the tall thing WAY in the background that looks like a cloud
We did get some nice shots of The Mountain (aka Denali, aka McKinley). We were told that it was rare to see the mountain so clear. I believed it, because within minutes, clouds rolled in and obscured the mountain.

McKinley2.jpg

I was surprised at how few animals we saw. When I thought about it, though, it makes sense. It is the Tundra, after all, and there isn’t much food around. In the 350,000,000 acres of the park, there are supposedly only 300 or so bears, 2000 moose, and 50 wolves. With my ordinary point-and-shoot camera, most of my animal pictures came out as mere dots.

hint: it's lying down
See the caribou?

caribou from picture above

hint: there are two
Can you spot the bears?

mother bear and cub

dall sheep
Dall sheep.

dall sheep

We also saw a moose, but when I reviewed the picture I took later, I couldn’t find the animal.

There is only one main road going through the park, and that’s a single lane gravel road for the entire distance. The road is constantly being maintained. It doesn’t make sense to put in an asphalt road where ground heaving and -50 F winter temperatures will destroy the surface in a year.

steep cliffs
Right around this section, the bus broke down. The engine suddenly lost power, and we were going very slowly. The driver didn’t want to risk going forward to a narrow section on a cliff, since if we broke down completely there, the rescue buses and other tours in both directions would be blocked.

There were some retired diesel mechanics in our group, and they looked at the air filter, which could have gotten clogged from all the dust.

hike down the road
After a few minutes, the driver called dispatch and told them we needed a rescue bus. Meanwhile, the driver suggested that we could take a walk further up the road, and she would pick us up in the replacement bus. Walking all the way back out of the park would have been 20-30 miles.
raven's nest
It was a nice 20-30 minute hike. I’m glad I walked, because I got to see a Raven’s nest.
Thai restaurant elevated above winter snowline
When we got back, we got some food from the local Chinese / Thai restaurant.
Pad Kee Mao (Gai) was $12, a bargain considering general Alaskan prices.
dry suit
But that wasn’t the end of the day. The four of us had scheduled a whitewater rafting run on the Nenana River.
raft2.jpg
We paddled, but had a guide with the big oars controlling the raft. On the 11-mile, 2 hour trip, he knew every feature of the river for the season (glacial rivers alter themselves quickly), and guided us around the really dangerous class-5 zones, instead of through. In the calmer portions, we saw wildlife, including a great horned owl’s nest, and more Dall Sheep. It was not cold at all on the river, due to the dry suits that they gave us. I could probably have been fine in a T-shirt and jeans, no hat or gloves. But I wore a snow hat and gloves, plus 3 layers of shirt, on the advice of their flyer. That would have helped if I fell in (the water is 33 to 36 degrees F), I suppose.
When we got back from rafting, I was so hungry, we got 2 more dishes from the Thai place to take back to the chalet room to eat. I also picked up a foot long spicy italian sandwich from Subway for the next day’s lunch. It was an Alaskan bargain at $9.