Saturday, June 5, 2010

Denali Grand Slam!


IMG_3071 Denali is a 6 million-acre National Park whose informal motto is “We exist for the animals, not the people”. As a result there is very little public access to the park. There is only one mostly gravel road, 92 miles long, of which only the first 15 are accessible by car. If you want to go more than 15 miles into the park, you have to take one of several kinds of bus tours. We chose the one that went all the way to the end of the road and required 14 hours, door-to-door, to traverse! As a result, it was a “tour” with all that implies: inefficiency, a bit of herd mentality and a good number of people we would have been happy to go through life without ever meeting. In addition, the day started by meeting the bus at 6am, cold, grey and rainy. Despite all this, it turned out to be a wonderful day.


We achieved the “Grand Slam”! They say seeing “The Mountain” (Denali), and the “Big Five” which includes the five large mammals that inhabit the park, constitutes a Grand Slam, something our bus driver said only happens about once every 3 weeks in his 6 years of experience. The “big five” are: moose, caribou, grizzly bear, Dall sheep, and wolves. In addition to those, we also saw Golden Eagles, Hoary Marmots, and Red Fox.


We’re told that visitors have a one-in-five chance of seeing Denali (Mt McKinley) during a visit. Based on that, we were told that seeing it at all was “luck”, so our partial view of the summit of Denali through the clouds counts.


All the sightings of caribou (more than a dozen) were so distant that even with a 300mm lens we couldn’t get a picture worth posting. Luckily we have reasonably good binoculars, so we saw them quite well anyway.


We also saw more than a dozen Dall sheep, a pack of 3 wolves, a mama and her 2 grizzly cubs, and numerous moose, including a mama with two calves.



During the return trip the clouds got quite a bit higher and the sun came out frequently, in addition to the temperature rising quite a bit. We returned to camp about 8pm tired but satisfied. It was a good day in the park!


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