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(includes more Polychrome-area photos)


"Wilderness is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure 
 of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium."  
~ Sigurd Olson, conservationist

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 riverbed:

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 down.

This looks more like a watercolor painting than a photograph!

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.


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 get tired.

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 bathroom.

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 Alaska, eh?

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 bike.   

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 this campground.

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 entriesDay Six in Denali National Park

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