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"Look for the bare necessities,
the simple bare necessities,  
forget about your worries and your strife.   
I mean the bare necessities.
That's why a bear can rest at ease 
with just the bare necessities of life."
~ Baloo
~ from a presentation at the Murie Science & Education Center at Denali Natl. Park

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.


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 there.

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.


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 Necessities:”

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 more today.

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.

Kay 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 Access Center

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil