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Denali - The Great One

The best way to see wildlife in Denali National Park is by taking one of the bus trips. In fact it is the only option, other than hiking or flying in. We chose an 11-hour bus trip to Wonder Lake and back. There are shorter trips, but we figured we had flown this far to Alaska, and we may as well spend some time in the park. Although there is no guarantee that you will see any wildlife, chances are good as there is so much of it in Denali.

The first animal we saw was a young wolf. Our driver stopped the bus as he spotted him walking down the road toward us. The windows on the school bus slid down so we could fit our cameras out. Amazingly, this wolf looked right at me as he trotted by. Further along in our trip we saw caribou, a grizzly with her cub, moose, and mountain goats. The animals were usually at least a few hundred yards away. Some too far for decent photos.

But we did have another close encounter after the lone wolf sighting when our driver noticed a golden eagle perched on a rock above. Luckily, he stopped the bus at an ideal place for me to get a good photo. I would have really liked to have a longer lens as mine had a maximum focal length of 200.

When we finally reached Wonder Lake, we had about 45 minutes to stretch our legs. I walked around the tent camping area and marveled at the wide open spaces. From this vantage point, Mt. McKinley appears giant. But on a typical summer day, it often is enshrouded in clouds.

And this day would be no different as clouds and drizzle were in order. We would have to wait another day to see the mountain.

On the way back from Wonder Lake, we did not see any more wildlife. And this is not surprising since the animals are more active in the mornings.

As I watched the mountains, rivers and colorful tundra pass, I was glad that only a few buses intrude daily on this vast pristine wilderness. I applaud those who made the decision to restrict traffic. Other parks, particularly Yosemite, have a horrible air pollution problem from tourists, many of which also leave trash and chase animals. In Denali, too many vehicles would surely threaten the habitat of the wildlife.

Eleven hours on a bus is a bit too long. Some people would rather just go to a zoo. No matter that my butt was numb and the weather was dreary. It was a price worth paying to seeing wildlife in Denali National Park.


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