Under somewhat sunny skies we boarded a bus to drive from Teklanika to Wonder Lake. Our driver and narrator was Barr Gray (wonderful). The goal was to see some of Denali NPs abundant flora and fauna as well as the mountains, and, of course, Denali (Mt McKinley).
The flora ranges from taiga to tundra with lots of wildflowers adding color to the latter. The kind of ground cover varies a great deal with the elevation.
We were lucky to see and photograph a number of the park’s animals.
• A small herd of caribou (reindeer) males grazing right beside the road. Their huge racks are truly amazing when one thinks that they were grown just since late winter. I would love to see a time lapse photograph of that happening.
• A larger herd of female caribou with young ones grazing a little further from the road.
• A grizzly eating cow parsnip right next to the road; so close that we could hear him crunching on the crisp stalks. He pretty much ignored our bus and the clicking of cameras. (We saw other bears, but this was the only one we saw up close.)
• Two adult ptarmigans with a clutch of babies. Similar to a chicken, this is the state bird. The dark summer feathers change to pure white for the winter. Although they can fly, the ones we saw walked slowly off the road when the bus came by.
• A fox with an artic ground squirrel in its mouth running along the side of the road. She first disappeared into a culvert and then reappeared without her prey. After surveying us for a while and, I guess, deciding that we were not a danger, she went back for the squirrel and quickly buried it on the hillside.
• Loons on Wonder Lake, including one on her nest.
• A soaring golden eagle.
We did not see much of Mt McKinley; its top half was shrouded in clouds. The guide book says that only 1/3 of visitors get a good view of the mountain. But then, more than 80% of the people who visit Denali National Park spend just one day in the park, so their chances of arriving on a clear day are slim. In spite of the clouds, the Alaska Range is impressive.
The entire bus trip takes about 9 hours with stops for bathroom breaks and animal moments. The bus ride is about as comfortable as nine hours in a repurposed Thomas school bus can be. I would, and probably will, do it again.