This is the final part of the series of entries about our first shuttle
bus ride on the Denali park road.
It was a memorable 112-mile trip through lots of beautiful territory,
out and back from the Teklanika River Campground to Wonder Lake, and I
wanted to include lots of photos for people to see what a national
treasure this wilderness truly is.
Here's the park road map again to show the places I'll talk about in
this entry covering the last 24 miles of today's ride:
I took the next photo behind the spotting scopes at the Toklat River rest
area/ranger station. It shows part of the wide riverbed and some of the
mountains to the south:
This morning there were few to no clouds
from this vantage point but clouds had been building up over the
Alaska Range all afternoon. They prevented us
from seeing Denali and some of the other high peaks after lunchtime. We
could still see plenty of interesting scenery, however.
Our bus driver pointed out an interesting phenomenon as we continued
back toward the park entrance, crossing the bridge over the wide
Notice the cement color of the main stream on the left and the clear
blue water in the smaller braids on the right?
The small, blue streams are closer to their headwaters in the glaciers
in this part of the Alaska Range. The larger stream has picked up more
rocks and silt along its longer route, causing it to lose its glacial
blue color. It's interesting to see the spot where the streams merge.
This is a closer look at the mountains in the background:
Our driver didn't stop at the Polychrome Overlook on the way back, which
was OK. There aren't any restrooms there and I was able to take plenty
of pictures of the colorful rocks as the road wound high above the
riverbed and valley between mountain ranges:
Since we were sitting on the right side of the bus on the return, and I
was next to the window, I was right on the exposed edge of that narrow
road for several miles.
It was about the same feeling of mild angst I have when Jim's driving our
truck (with or without the camper behind it) south on the narrow,
winding Million Dollar
Highway next to high cliffs between Ouray and Silverton, CO.
It's not a fear of heights. You should see some of the dangerous cliff
side trails on mountain ridges that I've run and hiked on! What bothers
me is the lack of control I have when I'm not the one driving.
As we passed by several rock outcrops like these on the cliff side this
morning the driver told us to look closely for Dall sheep. They often
hang out in this area but we didn't see any in this area either outbound or on
the return today:
Still riding high above the valley:
Looking ahead (east) . . .
Looking back (west) . . . Note the numerous braids
of water and sand in the broad riverbed.
Our driver also told us to look closely for large animals like bears,
caribou, moose, and wolves in all the riverbeds we passed.
Not only do they go there for water, they also use the wide river bars
as transportation corridors, just like they sometimes use the nice
smooth dirt park road to get from one place to another.
Unfortunately, no one spotted any of the Big Five animals in the rivers we
crossed today. We'll have other opportunities to look for them while we're here, though.
As we descended to the East Fork of the Toklat River we continued to see
beautiful colors in the mountains we passed.
The soft, late afternoon light made the rocks and surrounding terrain
even more beautiful than it was in the morning:
There is another view of these mountains two photos
This looks more like a watercolor painting than a
Before long, we were at the Teklanika River rest area. Since it was only
a mile from our campground we didn't get off the bus to go to the
restroom or go to the deck overlooking the river.
When we got to the campground, we were the only ones who got off the bus.
The remainder most likely continued back to the entrance of the park. The family of five
that boarded here this morning got off somewhere along the way and
caught a different bus home. We saw them come back later this evening.
CONCLUDING THOUGHTS ABOUT OUR FIRST DENALI BUS RIDE
We boarded our bus at the Teklanika River Campground about 8:35 this
morning , went out as far as Wonder Lake, and got back to the campground at 5:05 PM, riding for a total of
about 112 miles.
That was about an hour too long for Jim but OK with me. I was so engaged
in all the magnificent scenery and searching for animals that I didn't
My knees were sore by the end of the trip, however. It was more sitting
than we're used to, even though we were up and walking around every hour
or two and I spent a lot of time moving around in my seat taking
pictures out the high window.
The bus stopped fairly often to let us out to take pictures and/or go to the
The two stops at Eielson Visitor Center were 30 and 40 minutes, 30
minutes at the lake, 10 and 20 minutes at Toklat out and back, 15-20
minutes at the Polychrome Overlook outbound, about five minutes each at
Stony Hill and an overlook near Wonder Lake outbound, and 10 minutes twice
at the Teklanika River rest area just up the road from the campground.
We got off the bus each time except the last to walk around so we
wouldnít get stiff.
There were also
several critter stops, but we couldn't get off the bus for those. Not
only is that dangerous for the passengers, it's also disruptive to the
wildlife. With six million acres to roam around in, how come so many
like to hang out near the park road??
Speaking of food (just guessing) . . .
Visitors on the
shuttle buses must take all their own food and drinks for as long as
theyíre on the bus ride. There is also fresh water available at Eielson,
although we didnít know that until we got there. Jim and I had plenty of
food and fluids; we're used to packing plenty to eat and drink
for our long hikes and bike rides and this was not much different.
Today is definitely one of the highlights of our trip to Alaska. Not
only did we have superlative views of Denali, we also saw quite a bit of
other magnificent scenery and got to observe four of the Big Five
favorite animals at the park (all but moose).
Blurry mama wolf and her pup; that's the best
I can do re: the pup
pics I took. So maybe I should seriously
consider getting a lot
more zoom capability before our next trip to
With our Tek Passes we have the opportunity to go on two more bus rides
if we want to. We both plan to go again tomorrow because there may be
fewer people on the buses than on Saturday. As far as we know the
weather is supposed to be good both days.
Itís doubtful either day will be as clear as this morning was, however.
I can't believe we'd be that lucky.
I plan to catch an early bus to Eielson, then hike up the rather steep alpine trail
(1,000 feet elevation gain in one mile) across the road to the ridge
above it and wander around the undulating tundra on top. We could see folks at the top
of the ridge this afternoon on our second stop
at Eielson. I may also hike down to the riverbed. Then Iíll catch an
available bus back home to the Teklanika River Campground.
I could see at least four hikers under the arrow.
Jim plans to take his bike on a later bus (so itís warmer) to Polychrome
Overlook, get off, and ride his bike back to camp.
Thatís a distance of about 18 miles and a net downhill. Itís about 3,750 feet
elevation at the overlook and about 2,600 feet at Tek. The road out there is more narrow and
gravely than where he rode yesterday but he should be OK on his mountain
He has to catch a bus with either a bike rack or handicapped door in the
back so thereís room for the bike. Of course, there has to be room for
his bike and an available seat for him, too. If he canít catch one of the right buses
outbound heíll just ride out and back from the Tek campground again. Or
he could cycle
out to Polychrome Overlook or beyond and try to catch a bus back home.
Scenic view to the southeast as we rode back
through the Polychrome Overlook area
This flexibility is one of the beauties of a Tek Pass and staying at
Cody did fine all by himself in the camper from 8:20 AM to 5:10 PM. He was hungry (heís
a Lab; they're
always hungry) but in no apparent distress otherwise. I walked him
around the campground and tossed the ball to him after supper. I love it here
but itíll be nice when weíre somewhere outside the park and he can hike
on trails with me again.
After supper we got as much of our gear ready as possible for our treks tomorrow. I
wrote these notes and downloaded photos. Jim enjoyed a sunny evening outside
the camper, reading a book. Temps were in the low 60s F. at the campground.
It was a nice end to
an almost-perfect day.
Next entries: Day Six in Denali National Park
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil