Janet woke at midnight just in time to see the sun setting in a perfectly clear sky. It was all she could do to keep from waking David. But she resisted until 6:15. We had breakfast and packed up for another bus ride into the park. On this particular ride we didn’t see many animals (just a few caribou and one fox), but we did see Mount McKinley without a single cloud. Everyone was exclaiming about the view, including Mary, our bus driver-guide, who said in the four years she had been driving the route, she had never seen it so clear.
The mountain is really impressive – huge. From the Eielson Visitor Center (mile 66 on the park road) the mountain is just 37 miles away. Covered with snow, the mountain dominates your view. In the sun it glistened like a pearl.
After we had our fill of the view and took enough pictures, we caught a different bus back to our campground, but had the driver drop us off somewhere around mile 61. We hiked up a steep hillside covered with tundra and sat and ate our lunch with a Denali view. The tundra is truly amazing. From the bus it looks like soft, greenish-brownish velvet. Walking on it is like walking on a thick foam rubber mat. The plants are varied: moss like and many wildflowers only a few of which I know (poppies, blue bells, forget-me-nots, creeping flax). There are occasional patches of willow which are cropped into a mat about a foot high by the grazers. At places it is soft and plush; at others it is dry and crunchy. There are holes into it that are clearly animal homes. In a few places the plant life is missing and there is just gravel.
After lunch we hiked further up to loop over to another ridge for the walk down. As we came over one rise, we looked down into a snow filled draw to see two caribou cooling off on the snow and three more doing the same higher up on the hill. Caribou are not well adapted to the 60-degree days of summer; they prefer colder days. They stood up, but did not run away. In order to not disturb them, we headed back down the hill, out of their sight. Soon we looked back up to see them peering over the ridge at us, silhouetted against the clear sky.
We hiked down to a small stream that we were to follow back to the road. There David discovered that he had dropped his water bottle from his pack somewhere. Not wanting to litter, he retraced our steps until he found it. While back up on the hill, he saw the caribou grazing, and as he headed down, I once again saw them peering over the hilltop.
We continued our hike to the road and waited for a bus. Any bus heading back to the park entrance can be flagged down and will pick you up, if they have room. The first bus which came after fifteen minutes was full, but the second one after another fifteen minutes had room. Sitting on the bus after our walk, we realize how much is not being seen as we drive the park road. Incidentally, what was also not to be seen now was Mt McKinley – the clouds had once again moved in and the mountain was so longer visible behind the foothills.