19.05.2008 - 19.05.2008 13 °C
Our transport to Denali the next morning was by coach, a scenic drive with some wildlife spotting along the way. We had developed the clock system for animal spotting on tour as 12 o’clock being to the front and 6 at the back, so whoever saw the spot would call out “ moose at 3 o’clock”, for example. When things got boring we would have some fun by calling , tree at 9, or mountain at 4!!
We arrived in Denali around lunchtime and were surprised at just what was there. A small splattering of shops and tour operators on either side of the highway with the Denali Princess Lodge dominating the landscape on the left. The lodge was a few kilometres away form the entrance to the park but situated along the Nenana River. Holland America have their own accommodation lodge up on top of the hill.
We had the afternoon to our leisure in Denali so after grabbing a Subway for lunch and having a wander through the galleries and few shops we caught the shuttle over to the visitors centre in the park so we could find out more. The kids of course wanted to get the booklet start for the junior rangers of Denali so we spent some time there looking at the displays and wildlife that could be found in the park so they could get as much information collected as possible.
We decided to walk the couple of mile back to the lodge and enjoy the fresh air and time to ourselves. As nice as it is to have some more social time with others in your group each day, if we had known how easy it was to get around Alaska we would probably have rented a car or motor home and driven ourselves allowing more time to do the things we enjoy. We are the only family with kids on the tour and as nice as it is for the kids to have endless grandparents to talk to we have developed the saying “hurry up…and wait”. We seem to always be waiting on someone to join the group so we can get on with the next thing. I think we are suited to a more flexible itinery where a bit more spontaneity can be enjoyed. In saying that, all the accommodations and tours that were organised have been great, we would probably have enjoyed spending more time at them.
Our tour for the next morning was an early 7.30am start. A Natural History Tour into the park we were picked up and with breakfast in a paper bag, we boarded our coach into the park. The tour took us about 16 mile into the park with stops along the way to view and listen to a re-enactment of an old cook’s camp in the park complete with log cabin and mosquitos the size of humming birds!!
Our next stop was at a point where we listened to a native Athapaskan talk about his family life in the area and the way his native people lived on the land. He was a wonderful speaker with excellent sense of humour and a wealth of knowledge. A beautiful vantage spot we could see over the valley a herd of caribou grazing. We also saw on our trip into the park, 3 moose, including a yearling, lots of caribou, dozens of snowshoe hare and lots of pairs of Ptarmigan, the state bird which resemble a young white and brown bantem. We were amazed at the different landscapes of the park from the real Arctic tundra to Tiagra forest areas. The seasons were just staring to turn and in the warmer, sunnier areas of the park the birch were all starting to bud with new growth. We watched a video of the 4 seasons in the park which was spectacular; the colours here in late spring and summer when all the wildflowers are in bloom look stunning.
Through the winter when all the roads and rivers are snowed or iced in the rangers patrol the park by dog sled and camp over night in the log cabins dotted around the park. The park is open all year round for people to explore. The kids finished off their booklets on the bus and later in the afternoon we returned to the park for them to hand in their books and pledge their commitment to the parks and the environment once again.