After a great few days in Anchorage, we headed North toward Denali National Park. Once there, we hopped on a shuttle bound for the Eielson Visitor Center for a four-hour journey that took us some 67 miles inside the park. Each year, people flock here from all over the world to see Denali’s Big Four: moose, caribou, Dall sheep, and grizzly bears. We’re happy to report that chance was in our favor and we got to see all of the above!
Our trip started slow when we got stuck behind a mama moose and her calf, who were meandering right down the middle of the road. Then, we spotted a small herd of Dall sheep perched on the sheer side of a mountain — they looked like cotton balls from our vantage point. At the halfway point, we caught sight of a bull caribou sprinting across a valley. The driver stopped the bus and we saw another pair of caribou scanning their surroundings, clearly agitated. We thought there might be a predator somewhere nearby, so we hung around and waited, but nothing happened.
We were getting pretty close to Eielson, our stopping point, and were feeling a little sad about possibly missing out on seeing the fourth member of the Big Four. Unseasonably warm weather has pushed a lot of Denali’s fauna to higher altitudes to keep cool in their thick coats — entrance to the park doesn’t guarantee you’ll see anything, much less all the charismatic wildlife Denali has to offer! We thought back to a conversation we’d had with a couple outside the park entrance just that morning. They said they’d taken the Eielson shuttle yesterday and had managed to see nothing but Arctic ground squirrels in more than eight hours!
As we rounded the final corner on the final leg of our road trip to Eielson, we got caught behind a line of buses. Something was up! We all crawled over to the left side of the bus to witness an enormous blond grizzly lumbering across the road, up the hill, and within just a few dozen yards of our windows. It was a sight we won’t soon forget!
Our next day in the park started off with breakfast at Denali Mountain Morning hostel, then we made our way to Denali National Park’s Murie Science Center to learn about the history, wildlife, and culture surrounding us. After, our National Geographic expert Jason Matthews talked to us about wolves and their importance in the dynamic equilibrium of an ecosystem, contrary to the popular belief that wolves are vicious predators that should be eradicated. He also told us about his experience raising dogs for dog sledding. We then headed over to the Park’s dog kennel to pet some pups and watch a demonstration.
We were happy to have this last time with Jason, as he leaves tomorrow. Tomorrow morning we leave the park as well, and head to Seward!