Grizzlies are one of the main attractions at Denali and it is one of the
park's primary missions to protect and preserve them (and other wildlife).
Today I learned first-hand the extent to which the rangers protect
both grizzlies and humans to prevent harm to either species. Sometimes a
bear encounter disrupts visitors' plans, including bus schedules and
hiking opportunities. It was a day to remember.
This is the closest I've been to
a grizzly bear so far at Denali; he was digging along the side
of the road on the return bus trip this
evening. I was in the bus, about 20 feet away.
Jim and I enjoyed different activities today. Each was a memorable adventure.
last entry I wrote about Jim's scenic 46-mile bike ride
between our campground at the park entrance and the Teklanika River Campground.
This entry focuses on my shuttle bus ride to the Eielson
Visitor Center, second alpine hike on Thorofare Ridge (snowy this time,
but still with views of Denali-the-mountain), a surprise delay due to a grizzly bear in
the area, and the return bus ride to the park entrance.
Early glimpse of Denali at about
Mile 10 on the park road
I took almost 500 photos today and have lots of journaling (neither fact should come
as a surprise!) so this will be a four-paged entry to make it easier to
load the pictures. Don't worry, I'm sharing "only" about a
quarter of them -- and I had trouble limiting it to that!!
Denali is just awesome in autumn, especially after an early snowfall.
If you don't have time to read all the verbiage, just scroll through the virtual photo
tour and enjoy seeing vibrant fall scenes from Denali National Park in
the comfort of your own home or office. The rest of the photos on this
page were on the outbound ride to Eielson.
THE LONG BUS RIDE TO EIELSON
The two previous shuttle bus rides I took with a "Tek Pass" from the
Teklanika River Campground (Mile 29) to Eielson (Mile 66) and Wonder Lake (Mile 85)
were shorter than today's 65-mile ride from the Wilderness Access Center near
the park entrance to Eielson.
That was a total of 130 miles on the bus today, for anyone who's
math-challenged. The shuttle buses are similar to school buses --
padded bench seats but not all that comfortable for so long.
My bus route today is highlighted
I didn't notice the distance as much outbound this morning when I was rested
and eager as I did on the return this evening when I was more tired. I
didn't fall asleep like some passengers on my bus did -- the
evening light was just gorgeous on the mountainsides and I didn't want
to miss anything -- but I was mighty glad when we got back to the
Wilderness Access Center.
It was a long day, only partly because of the bear delay.
I can't imagine riding from the entrance to Kantishna (Mile 92) and back in one
day. One hundred eighty-four miles??!! That's a lot of sensory overload
as well as tiring to sit on a bus for so long, even with periodic stops
to get up and walk around.
Passengers stretch their legs
near the rest area along the Toklat River at Mile 53.
If you're camping inside the park it's a much better option, in my
opinion, to spend a few days at the Teklanika River Campground and get the
multi-day Tek Pass.
Not only is it 'way more cost-effective, the bus rides are about 56
round-trip miles shorter each day!
I got up at 6 this morning to catch my shuttle bus to Eielson Visitor
Center. I had a ticket for the 7:30 AM bus. It was only 43 F. inside and
34 F. outside. Brr!!!
I drove to the Wilderness Access Center, parked the truck, and was in
the building at 7 AM. By the time I went to the bathroom there were
already 20-25 people in line outside, waiting for the same bus as me.
Consider this a warning if you purchase a shuttle (or tour) bus ticket.
Not only was I unable to get a
seat near the front on the left side -- with what I consider to be the
best views outbound -- the only seats left when I got on were toward the
Folks with serious camera equipment like the big 'ole lens above
were closer to the front of the line -- and, consequently, front of the bus.
I decided to take the left back window seat, the same location where Jim and I
sat when we went out to Wonder Lake. We could see out the side and back windows, no
one was sitting behind us, and those seats were fine except for the long
time it took to get off at all the stops.
That didn’t work so well today and I had a somewhat miserable time
on the way to Eielson.
Above and below: views of the gorgeous
terrain and glimpses of Denali
helped to compensate for the uncomfortable ride the first
couple of hours.
The main problem was the heater. It was right behind me. It was so loud
I couldn’t hear all the information the bus driver was giving us.
Although I have been on two bus rides in the park before, and Jim and I
have driven the first 39 miles of the road in our truck, I hadn't heard
any driver narrative between the entrance and the Teklanika River CG before.
In addition, the folks in the back got hot while people in the front were
complaining about being cold. The driver refused to turn the heater off even
though we couldn’t hear, we were uncomfortably hot, and the windows
stayed steamed up for many miles.
I guess the reason this wasn’t a problem on our bus rides from Tek was
because the buses were already warmed up by the time they got out that
far. It was also colder today.
Above and below: two views of the Savage River at Mile 15
We could still see the lower part of Denali near
the Primrose Overlook at Mile 17.
Our bus was also thirty minutes late. We didn't get rolling until after
Apparently something happened to the original bus because the one that
came didn’t say Eielson on the front and all the windows were filthy.
Drivers usually make sure the windows are clean at the beginning
of the day.
Passengers continually got out to clean the outside of their windows at
stops but they’d get streaked again every time we put the top window
down to take clear photos. We had to keep wiping moisture off the
windows, too. At least the bus driver passed around two rolls of paper
towels for us to use for that purpose and there were squeegies at two of
the rest areas with bathrooms.
colorful fall leaves across the Teklanika River at Mile 30; all the
low this time of year, which makes it easier to hike in the riverbeds.
The driver was the same woman who drove the Eielson bus I rode from Tek
when I went out to do the same thing I wanted to do today – hike up the
alpine trail to the top of the mountain (Thorofare Ridge) behind the visitor center. She
wasn't in as good of a mood today.
Because our bus was half an hour late at the start, the driver hurried
all the stops so we wouldn’t be so far behind. Instead of arriving at
Eielson about 11:30 AM, we got there at 11:45. She made up fifteen minutes
by limiting the photo and bathroom stops on the way out.
The park road is
particularly scenic between the East Fork of the Toklat River and the
Toklat itself, approximately miles 40-55. There are numerous feeder
streams visible from the road, miles of snow-covered mountains in the
Alaska Range to the south, and the aptly-named Polychrome Mountains next
to the road on the north side.
The main differences
today from my two previous rides in this section are the vivid fall
colors and snow that reaches farther down the mountains:
Approaching the East Fork of the Toklat; lots of
sun to the north
Lots of deep reds and yellows in this sub-arctic
valley through which the forks of the Toklat flow;
it got increasingly cloudy to the south and west as
we headed toward the Eielson Visitor Center.
There is a large network of streams in the valley visible along the road
as it rises a couple hundred feet above the valley to Polychrome Pass.
You can see some of them in the next photo:
There was hardly any snow on these mountains two
Our driver stopped at the pass for about ten minutes, which was less
than the last two times I was here.
I rushed to get some pictures from the road level and up the steps at a
I zoomed in on two glaciers in the mountains across the valley. One of
them is Polychrome Glacier but I'm not sure which:
The next three photos are of the Toklat River, where there is a rest
area and ranger station.
We had to be quick there, too. I got the first photo from the bus as we
approached the bridge and the next two while I walked in the parking
area above the riverbed:
View to the west shortly before we reached the river;
there was no snow on these peaks two weeks ago.
View to the south
Five days ago a backpacker was
killed by a grizzly bear in the Toklat
riverbed three miles upstream (south of) this rest area. It was the
first death by a bear in Denali National Park in its modern history (the
past 95 years).
I didn't hear anything about it on my bus and didn't mention it to
anyone around me. I thought about it each time we crossed the river,
As we climbed higher between the Toklat River and Stony Pass we weren't
just looking at snow on the mountains -- we were looking at snow
right next to the road:
Between the snow and the clouds, I began to wonder if I'd be able to do
any hiking at Eielson. The trailhead for the Alpine Trail is at about
3,800 feet elevation, not much lower than
In addition to shorter stops at the usual rest areas outbound this
morning, it also “helped” to save some time that we saw only four critters in 65 miles.
That's rather pitiful by Denali standards and our previous rides. The
driver advised us to take pictures quickly so she could continue forward
to make up time.
Reminds me of Relentless Forward Motion (RFM), a term we often used in
Fortunately, all four animals were on my side of the bus so pictures
were easy for me to take during our quickie stops, just marred by dirty,
Grizz sighting #1
“Fox at 11 o’clock,”
I reported loudly as passengers are supposed to do when we spot an animal. The front of
the bus is 12 o’clock, the back is 6.
We were stopped at a popular overlook at Stony Hill and everyone was looking out the other side of the
bus at Denali. The mountain was partially “out” most of the way
out to Eielson, to everyone’s delight.
I’ve seen Denali quite a few times so I didn’t rush over to that side of
the bus to take more pictures. In addition, the view wasn't nearly as
clear from this vantage point today as it was on August 9 when I got
some great shots of The High One.
While I was sitting there I noticed a critter with a bushy tail walking
across the road about a hundred feet in front of the bus and reported it.
To my surprise, most people
forgot all about The Mountain for a couple minutes and watched as the handsome
fox walked up the drainage ditch and along the entire length of the bus:
People snapped photos until he went around a bend and we couldn’t see
him any longer. I got some pictures, then moved aside to let a Honduran couple and
another guy to my right get some photos from "my" window.
I give the driver,
who was under pressure to get us to Eielson ASAP, credit for allowing us to watch
the fox until it was out of sight.
Although I couldn't
hear most of what she said the whole way out to Eielson I did hear her
wryly comment after the brief stop to see the Arctic ground squirrel
that she wouldn't be doing that any more! I'm sure the only
reason she stopped for it was because we'd seen so few animals.
The folks around me on this bus were like the ones near us on the two
previous trips – courteous enough to let folks on the other side of the
bus take photos out their windows.
On the return trip on a different bus I discovered not everyone plays so
nicely with others.
Still some bits of remaining snow on the road as we approach
Eielson Visitor Center; Denali is partly under
clouds to the far right.
I enjoyed talking with the passengers around me going outbound.
The couple in front of me from Minnesota had all sorts of questions
about living in our RV most of the time. I was happy to share
information with them about the logistics of extended-travel or
full-timing in a camper.
A 40-something Honduran couple was also very nice, although we didn’t
talk a lot.
The other three folks in the back seats were young Australians who are
working at Banff for two years on a work visa. It was interesting to
hear the differences in trying to obtain a work visa in Canada vs. the
U.S. (almost impossible in the U.S., easy in Canada). I also had
interesting conversations with several folks while we were waiting
patiently in line to board the bus this morning.
View to the mountains south of the visitor center;
note the people walking on the lower loop trail.
The ride “home” would have been nicer if I’d been on the same bus with
these people but I’m glad I was able to get off for a few hours to hike.
That almost didn’t happen.
Continued on the
next page -- the Eielson Alpine Hike with snow on the
trail and Thorofare Ridge
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil