What a great day at Denali National Park!
We made the best of improving weather and
enjoyed spending lots of time outdoors reveling in the gorgeous fall
colors and fresh snow on the lower mountaintops. What a difference from
when we were here two weeks ago.
In this entry I'll show photos from our drive
twelve miles out the park road (almost to Savage River) and talk about
the best wildlife presentation we've heard so far at Denali. Here's the
adorable bear picture from the slide show that I quoted above:
As we've seen, however, grizzlies aren't always
so adorable when protecting their turf.
THE TAIGA AT ITS FINEST
I could hear rain off and on during the night but it stopped by the time
we got up at 7 AM.
The temperature was in the upper 30s, a little warmer than predicted,
and the sun came out in an hour or two. The prediction was still for a
50% chance of rain today so Jim didn’t plan a bike ride. I wanted to go
for a hike later, rain or shine. I was getting cabin fever.
Jim got the bright idea about 10 AM to take a drive out to Savage River
at Mile 13 on the park road.
It was partly sunny and we already knew more snow had fallen in the
mountains during the night because the temps were lower there and we
could see more snow on the mountaintops that are visible behind our
campsite (below) and from the loop road in front of it:
More new snow on mountain visible from our site; the
summit is in shadow and/or clouds.
It was great timing for a leisurely drive.
All the surrounding mountains -- the Alaska Range just south of
the road and Healy's long ridge to the north -- had
snow a little above timberline AND the colors have really
changed since we left on August 16, a mere twelve days ago.
As you'd expect, I
took lots of photos of the scenery. Many will look very similar to readers in
these small photos so I'll present just a sampling of the long-range
views and some scenes more close-up.
There are more spruce, birch, and aspen trees at the lower elevations in
the front country. I took the next three photos in the first few miles:
More snow fell on Mt. Healy overnight; I took this
shot from just past the campground.
In the front country there are also more foothills
between the road and the higher peaks.
For those with small screens, the sign above says,
"Critical Wildlife Area. Moose rutting next 5 miles. Hiking and
photography on road only."
(The photos on this website are best viewed on a LARGE screen, not a
smart phone or tablet.)
As we drove farther into the wilderness and gained
some elevation the trees in the taiga thinned out, we had better views
of the snow-capped mountains, and the landscape was
filled with more colorful low shrubs.
Most of the birch and aspens at 2,000 feet and higher have turned yellow
and orange and many of the short taiga trees, shrubs, and grasses are
brilliant oranges and reds:
This is pretty much what I expected in regards to foliage when I
suggested we come back up here before leaving Alaska..
I’d seen photos and videos of the fall colors and they are even more
striking in person. The colors would be pretty even on a rainy day but
against a blue and white sky this morning, they were incredible.
Although we could see many snow-capped mountains to the south and west
where Denali is located, the summit of The High One was not “out.”
I took the next two pictures between Miles 10 and
11, where you can see Denali in the distance on a clear day. I don't
know if any of these mountains show its base. I know the summit is lurking
somewhere under these clouds:
This would have been a spectacular day for a bus ride into the back
country with the beautiful colors, the sun playing hide and seek in and
out of the clouds, and the fresh white snow. There may have been some
snow at road level through the Polychrome Pass area because the park road is higher
Since temperatures got up to the 50s
later today some of the snow probably melted. I think we
saw it at just the right time.
We were happy to discover that about a third of the 100+ culvert gravel
breaks have been paved over -- they're working from the entrance
out. That made the beginning and end of our drive a little more pleasant.
Here's one that has been paved:
However, the remaining gravel breaks have deteriorated even more than
when we left twelve days ago. Rain and time have made bigger holes that
are even rougher to drive. Jim turned around about a mile before Savage
River to avoid one-way traffic due to road work in that area.
That's OK. By then I
just about had sensory overload from all the scenic beauty!
By autumn the riverbeds are mostly dry.
Hope this inspires
some folks to visit Denali in the autumn.
The best dates to be
here are tough to pin down, however, because of all the weather
variables. We knew the leaves were already starting to turn by
mid-August when we were here the first time and we read updated reports
about their predicted peak while we were in Anchorage before deciding to
come back again.
Next time we make
reservations for camping at Denali in early December preceding the
summer/fall we want to visit, we may not be so lucky with the weather as
we were for our early August visit or for the prime leaf color as we
were this year.
COOL STUFF ABOUT DENALI'S BEARS
After our road trip we went back to the camper to eat a quick lunch, then drove to the Murie
Science Center to hear an excellent presentation entitled “Denali's Bear
The young woman (Kay) who spoke was the most interesting and articulate
person we’ve heard at this park so far. She’s not a ranger but a scientist who has
worked at the Murie Center for two years. Her information about bear
physiology, reproduction, natural and other hazards, life cycle, etc.
was very interesting.
Despite all we've read and heard so far about grizzlies, we learned even
Much as I admire brown (grizzly) bears, I hope I'm
never this close to a live one unless
there is a strong barrier between us! The fur looks
luxurious but is somewhat coarse.
also presented information about another female scientist’s research on
grizzlies in the park.
She tracks a number of the bears with radio collars more sophisticated
than the ones we've seen that are worn by alpha wolves. These GPS
devices are much “smarter” and designed to last much longer because
grizzly bears can live up to about 30 years.
That is, if they make
it to adulthood.
We were surprised to learn the survival rate of the park cubs is only
35% in the first year and 59% the second.
This grizz isn't dead, just heavily sedated so scientists can safely study it
in the wilderness.
Kay showed us the radio telemetry devices that are used and demonstrated
one outside after the lecture:
We could tell when the device honed in on a GPS
that has been planted up on Mt. Healy.
It was a graphic demonstration of the long range of the transmitters and receivers. All
of us guessed the GPS was much closer.
After the lecture we went to the Wilderness Access Center for a few
minutes, then Jim dropped me off at the Taiga Trail trailhead near the
Alaska RR tracks so I could hike the rest of the afternoon.
Next entry: hiking several different trails near the
park entrance this afternoon, plus the reason we were at the Wilderness
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil