I talked about the
bus system, the rationale for the bus system, and our "Tek Pass" in
the last entry so I won't go into all that again except to explain how
we ended up on the particular bus we rode today.
Our “Tek Pass” tickets were officially for the Kantishna bus that would
arrive at the Teklanika River Campground about 8:55 AM. We got out to the bus stop at 8:25 AM to be
sure we didn’t miss it – and to be the first ones on. We figured it
would be pretty full of folks who started at the entrance and we might
not get to sit together or get even one window seat so I could take
Bus stop at the entrance to the Teklanika River Campground
The ideal place for me to sit would be the front right seat next to the
window so I could take photos out the front and the side.
However, we’d been advised to choose a left side window seat (driver's side) because
there are better views that way going outbound. I believe it was Connie from MWR at Greeley AFB that
told us that; she was camped near us in Valdez in June and gave us all sorts of
good tips re: our Alaska visit.
As we waited for our appointed bus several others came by – a few tan
tour buses, which didn’t stop, a green shuttle bus going only as far as
Eielson, and a camper bus.
Right behind the camper bus
was a green shuttle bus labeled for Wonder Lake. It had eight available seats
and the driver said we could get on it since we'd paid to go even
We’d already decided Wonder Lake
was probably far enough, especially for our first bus trip. In addition, “our” Kantishna bus wasn’t stopping at Wonder Lake outbound, only on the
return. If the driver let us out it would be at the Y with the road that
goes down to the lake and we’d have to walk in about a mile to reach the
lake and the area where the buses load and unload. Then we'd either have
to get on another bus back to Tek or wait for the one from Kantishna we
were originally supposed to ride. It sounded more complicated than we
Map of Wonder Lake area (from a sign there)
There was also the time factor. If we went another 14 miles out and back
to Kantishna we wouldn’t get
home until one or two hours later (about 8 PM) than if we "just" went to
Wonder Lake. Twelve hours was a long time to leave
Cody alone, although he's done it before.
We’d been studying that bus schedule like there was gonna be a test. The
above facts took us about ten seconds to digest and we made the decision
to board the Wonder Lake bus instead of our own to Kantishna.
It all worked out great for us. The two back seats were vacant and we
were the first ones on at that stop. I remembered the “left side” advice
and we parked our butts there and kept those seats the whole way out to
A family of five from our campground also boarded this bus. They had
purchased tickets only as far as Eielson but the driver generously let
them go out farther to Wonder Lake.
I wouldn't count on being able to do that, however. They got more than
they paid for.
WHERE TO SIT?
I probably shouldn't broadcast this on the internet but the advice to
sit in the row of seats behind the driver on the outbound was spot on –
I think that’s the side with the best views, including Denali. That way
the impressive Alaska Range is usually on your left.
There were a few times where we had to reach over our neighbors to take pictures out the
other side, however, mostly for animals
that were spotted -- like this grizzly bear before we reached the colorful
Polychrome Mountain area this morning:
That picture's not so good because of the poor lighting and very limited time spent leaning over the
folks sitting in the seat across from us! It's a lot easier to take
pictures on the side where you're sitting, although passengers should be
and share opportunities to take photos. The folks sitting near us were
all pretty good about that.
Another time the right side is better is at Stony Hill outbound. I got
my best picture of Denali there but I took it from outside the bus when
the driver stopped for several minutes so folks could get out if they
The back seat was good for us, too, because I was up and down a lot in my seat
and would have driven someone behind me nuts. My window was jammed and
would come down from the top only a quarter of the way.
Above and below: scenes in the early miles
west of Teklanika River
To get the most clear pictures I had to
prop myself up on my left elbow on the back of my seat to point my
camera out the window that wouldn't open very far.
It was tricky to see
the screen. When I shot through the glass I usually had reflections that marred
the pictures. I have only so much time and patience to edit poor photos like
I took the majority
of my photos while the bus was moving. Hence, some of the foregrounds
are a little blurry.
Above and below: Yay, there's Denali!!
I took these pictures near Sable Pass.
On the return trip the folks who were in the right
back seat weren’t on the bus so we took that seat all the way back to Tek,
again being on the south side with some (not all) of the better views.
That window did come halfway down so it was a little easier for me to take pictures. I also
learned to just point and shoot without having my eyes at the same level
as the viewing screen. Those pictures came out about as well as the ones
I could see on the screen.
Jim was fine in an aisle seat next to me, although on the return he
couldn’t stretch out his bad right knee in the aisle like he could on
the other side. He originally thought he’d get off at Eielson and catch
a bus back home but decided to continue on to Wonder Lake because of 1)
the sunny views of Denali that we had at Eielson (which soon
deteriorated), 2) the promise of lots of blueberries at Wonder Lake and
3) the hope of seeing more bears and other critters.
THE SPLENDOR OF THE POLYCHROME AREA
We got our first
introduction to the colorful hills for several miles on either side of
Polychrome Mountain during our flight-seeing tour of the park two days
ago. We were very curious to see that area more closely.
If you look at the
map farther up this page you'll see that Polychrome Mountain and
overlook are in the miles between the Toklat (TOW-klat) River and its east fork.
The colorful hills are on the north side of the narrow road that winds
its way high above the large drainage area from the mountains and
glaciers to the south. Polychrome Glacier is the biggest and most
visible from the roadway.
The remaining photos
on this page are from this beautiful area, which would be fun to explore
Above and below: approaching the East Fork of
the Toklat River;
the park road gradually rises 200-300 feet above
Like many rivers along the park road, the Toklat
and its east fork are wide, braided sand/rock bars.
Water in the streams and little ponds comes from
rainwater, snow, and glaciers in the nearby Alaska Range.
If you're afraid of heights and narrow roads
like this, you might be better off on the right side
of the bus when traveling outbound! It's even worse
coming back and you're on the cliff side.
Shuttle and tour buses routinely stop at the Polychrome Overlook going
outbound in the morning.
There is room for several buses at once. I'm glad only one other bus was
there when we stopped. Since Jim and I were in the back seat we were
usually the last folks off the bus at each stop. The stops were long
enough that it wasn't a problem re: views, bathrooms, etc.
I could see that most people were heading for the overlook at road level
so I went up these stairs first to see the views a little higher up in
The views aren't that much better at the higher level but there are some
trails up there that would be fun to hike on another trip out this way.
The park encourages wandering around the riverbeds and tundra areas:
After walking around the tundra for about five minutes I went back down to the
lower overlook right above the riverbed to take more photos:
Here's a little better view of Polychrome Glacier and other smaller
The taller peak in the background is 7,840-foot Mount Pendleton.
The next picture is another glimpse of towering 20,320-foot Denali as seen
along the road between Polychrome Overlook and the Toklat River:
When you get clear views of Denali like we had
today, the mountain is said to be "out."
Continued in the next entry: a stop at the Toklat
River rest area/ranger station and the ride to the Eielson Visitor Center
(includes better photos of another grizzly bear and superlative views of
Denali from Eielson)
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil