2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   DENALI SHUTTLE BUS TRIP, PART 4:
EIELSON (MP 66) TO WONDER LAKE (MP 85)

THURSDAY, AUGUST 9

 
"Born during the latest glacial advance, Wonder Lake is too young and too arctic  
to support abundant life. The exceptions, however, are worth watching: large  
trout snap up rodents that fall into the water; caribou occasionally swim across 
to escape summer insects; and migratory water birds sometimes land here."
 
~ from an interpretive panel at Wonder Lake
 
 
(Continued from the previous entry about the Eielson Visitor Center.)

The sign indicates that moose also browse aquatic plants at the far shallow end of Wonder Lake and four species of fish live in separate temperature zones of the water.

We didn't do any fishing and our bus turned around today at the near end of the lake so we didn't see any fish or moose. I bet people who camp at Wonder Lake or hike in the vicinity see some wildlife, though.

The only critters we saw in the half hour while we were at the lake were rodents and birds. This gray jay -- I think that's what it is -- mooched for food at one of the picnic tables:

The park road closely parallels the McKinley River valley all the way from the Eielson Visitor Center at Mile 66 to the near end of Wonder Lake at Mile 85. The road continues past the lake another seven miles to Kantishna but we chose not to go that far today.

Here's the road map again so you can see the 19-mile portion of the road from Eielson to Wonder Lake (lower left):

Although you can't see it, Mt. McKinley AKA Denali is just below the bottom left part of that map, almost due south of this section of the road.

On a clear day the views of the mountain along this stretch of road would be as superlative as those from the Eielson Visitor Center and would show visitors more of its north and northwest sides. On this early afternoon, however, we were allowed to see only decreasing amounts of the summit of "The High One" as clouds quickly consumed more and more of its base, and eventualy the summit, too.

That doesn't mean the rest of our bus trip was ruined. Far from it. We still enjoyed the scenery along this wide-open stretch of road with the Kantishna Hills to the north and the snow-capped Alaska Range to the south. There's much more to Denali National Park than just its namesake mountain.

MOVING RIGHT ALONG

Let's continue our virtual tour of the park road from Eielson to Wonder Lake:

Above and below:  After we left Eielson we could still Denali pretty clearly
but low clouds were beginning to form near its base.

 

Above and below:  two more views of Denali a little farther down the road

 


The McKinley River is more visible here.

This section of the park road has numerous little ponds on either side. It's a great place to look for wildlife in the early morning or late afternoon, if you're here at those times. We weren't -- we passed through, out and back, between about noon and 2 PM.

The ponds were still scenic anyway! There were some loons floating on one of the ponds but it was on the other side of the bus and I didn't get a picture of them.

Because of the water features, chance of seeing wildlife, proximity to Denali, roadway that is more flat above the river valley than in some other areas, and fewer and fewer buses as you get farther out the park road, I think this section would be great to ride on a bicycle.

 

The next two photos show excellent moose, bear, and caribou terrain! I think it would be very rewarding to hike through this valley full of little streams and ponds:

 

Our bus driver stopped for a few minutes at an overlook just before we reached the near (southeast) end of Wonder Lake.

By then, approximately 1 PM, we were losing more and more visibility of the north side of Denali, although we were still as close as ever to it:

 

The sun was more of a factor by then, too, as it arc'd around to the south -- the direction I was facing with my camera. The remaining photos of the mountain on this page are more hazy because of that.

ARRIVING AT WONDER LAKE

I photographed this map section of the Wonder Lake and Kantishna areas from an interpretive panel at the lake. We came in at the near end of the lake in the lower right.

It's about a mile to the parking area where the picnic tables are located at the tip of the lake:

That's where our driver parked first so we could walk down to the lake, get some lunch, and/or pick blueberries on the nearby hillsides:

 

We had already eaten our sandwiches on the bus in transit so we didn't "waste" the half hour we'd have to explore the lake area.

Jim had considered stopping at Eielson and catching another bus back from there -- until he heard about all the blueberries at Wonder Lake this time of year! Luckily we had a grocery bag so we could collect the ones we didn't eat as we picked them:

Those berries were yummy and we didn't have to go far off the beaten path to find them. Only a few other folks on our bus took the same opportunity.

Here's another picture of this petty alpine lake that I took from the hillside where we picked blueberries:

The Wonder Lake Campground (tents only), restrooms, and a second bus stop are located about half a mile up the hill from the picnic area. Our bus driver said we could either walk or ride up there before beginning the long trip back to the entrance of the park.

I chose to walk up the little dirt road before the bus got there so I'd have more time to explore the campground area. There are more picnic tables and interpretive signs on a hill overlooking Denali to the southeast.

By then more clouds had formed, further blocking the views of the mountain and surrounding peaks:

 

There would be an impressive panorama of the Alaska Range and McKinley River valley from this hill on a clear day. From the lowland tundra Denali rises an impressive 18,000 feet from its base to its summit -- possibly the greatest vertical relief of any mountain on earth, according to an interpretive panel near this overlook.

Folks who camp at this location also have the possibility of seeing spectacular sunrises and sunsets over the mountain early and late in the tourist season when the sun actually does rise and set.

We're late enough in the summer now that it isn't totally sunny when we get up and go to bed. Today's sunrise at nearby Eielson Visitor Center was 5:40 AM and sunset will be 10:37 PM. Each day is losing six minutes of sunlight this week at this latitude.


Denali's the other direction from this end of the lake.

I was hoping to see an impressive view of Denali over Wonder Lake but we'd have to go further out the park road to get that angle. Since we purchased a Kantishna ticket originally with our Tek Pass, we still have the chance to go out farther tomorrow or Saturday.

Next entryscenes along the road on our way back from Wonder Lake to the Toklat River (Miles 85 to 53); includes our first-ever sighting of a caribou in the wild, plus two playful wolves

Happy trails,

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

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2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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