Denali AKA Mt. McKinley


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"Any distance that alters the behavior of a wild animal is too close . . . Remind others of  
their ethical responsibility when photographing animals. . . Avoid stressing wildlife.
Animals living here are engaged in a daily struggle to find food, shelter, and
water necessary for survival. Avoid wildlife during sensitive times, such 
as when they are nesting, mating, or raising young."
~ Alpenglow, Summer 2015 Denali National Park newspaper, p. 3

After getting set up at Riley Creek Campground this morning we took the dogs and ourselves for two drives back the park road as far as we could go -- 15 miles to the Savage River parking area, highlighted in yellow on the park map below.

Savage River, near the bridge and trailhead parking area

Very few park visitors can drive their own vehicles beyond that, mostly just those who are camped at the Teklanika Campground at Mile 29.

Farther than that, up to 92 miles at Kantishna, visitors basically have to take one of the tour or shuttle buses -- or get there under their own power (foot or bicycle).

You can see a lot in those first 15 miles if you keep your eyes open. And today, despite low clouds and some rain, there were lots of moose about.

According to park literature, about 2,500 moose reside in Denali and we've often seen a few between the entrance area and Savage River.

It was easy to spot their locations today because other folks were already stopped along the roadway observing them, with binoculars, tripods, and long camera lenses ready to shoot when they came into view:

It's rut season:

Unfortunately, it was hard for me to get good photos of some of the moose because they were busy eating (not mating) and often hidden behind leaves. We'd watch them for a few minutes and if they didn't come out into the open, we continued on. Others were less concealed and easier to photograph.

These are the best pictures I got of nine or ten different moose on two trips back to Savage River today.

We wouldn't have seen the first three, two bulls and a cow, if several vehicles weren't stopped along the road. It took keen eyes to spot the antlers on the males while they were in the brush. They finally came out more into the open for a little bit:



Both had impressive racks.

Zoomed in, you can see the velvet on the antlers.


I didn't get any decent shots of the female in their company but we saw this one, apparently by herself, a little while later:


We saw several more moose on our second trip out to Savage River after supper.

This cow was easy to spot in a riverbed:


A butt shot is better than no shot at all . . .

We saw three solo females in three other locations this evening but the pictures didn't turn out very well because they were farther off the road and/or in the brush.

The last moose we saw tonight was this bull:

That's the most moose either of us has ever seen in one day at Denali, even when we've ridden all the way out to Wonder Lake (82-6 miles) or Kantishna (92 miles). I guess mating season really brings 'em out!

Note that it rains and/or is cloudy a lot at Denali. The beautiful Alaska Range and foothills are one big cloud magnet.

While that makes hiking and sight-seeing less enjoyable some days, it shouldn't discourage visitors from taking tour and shuttle buses back into the park.

Bus drivers swear that overcast or even rainy days are often when they spot the most Big Five wildlife as they drive by -- moose, grizzly and black bears, caribou, wolves, and sheep. That was certainly the case today with all these moose.

On the way back to the campground we saw two park employees exercising the sled dogs along the roadway. This fella was running, the other was walking:

The sled dogs reportedly get more exercise when snow is on the ground because they help rangers patrol the backcountry in the park during the long winter season.


Speaking of long winters, at the 61st Parallel the warmer seasons are compressed into a very short time frame.

From what we've observed, June = spring, July = summer, and August = autumn. The snow starts flying even before the end of August and the hours of daylight shrink rapidly.

New snow frosts low mountain peaks along the park road before Savage River. (8-24-15)

The reason we wanted to come back to Denali in late August is for the brilliant fall colors that we remembered from our visit here at the same time three years ago.

I included many colorful fall photos in the 2012 web journal. This link is for the topics page that year -- scroll down to the August entries for examples. We were here longer in 2012 so there are many more fall leaf photos in that journal than there are in this year's entries.

Here are three examples from 2012:

Park road near Savage River  (8-28-12)

Eielson Alpine Trail, with Denali in the background  (8-29-12)

Healy Ridge  (9-2-12)

I am disappointed with the fall colors today because they aren't as vibrant as they were three years ago at this time. We're here before the peak color this time.

However, we've seen only the first part of the park road where the elevations are lower. I'm guessing there is more color farther back into the park at higher elevations. In addition, today's clouds and mist may just be hiding some of the color.



This morning when we drove to the park we could see fresh snow on the higher mountain peaks. The clouds were too low this afternoon to see any snow when we drove back to the Savage River. We could see the peaks on our second drive this evening -- the clouds had lifted a bit higher by then -- and we could see some snow on the nearby mountains.

The temperature got up to only 50 F. today at our campsite and it was chillier at the higher elevations where we were driving.

Good day to take an afternoon nap . . .

By bedtime it was overcast again.

Next entryrain or shine, we're doing the Savage Alpine Loop hike tomorrow!

Happy trails,

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

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2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil