We worked out first thing in the morning (Which I will post for this week’s Work-It Wednesday!), had a delicious buffet breakfast and were ready to go on the Denali Tundra Wilderness bus tour!
Our travels inside Denali National Park captured just how vast Alaska is. Pictures cannot do it justice and I’m surely not descriptive enough to have my words paint you a picture, but my god, everything is so far away. The visibility is great and you can see so much and so far that your mind can’t even quantify it. The valleys and meadows are massive, the huge rushing rivers only look like little capillaries and brooks. The gigantic, 1,800 pound moose, which appear to be just outside the bus window, are hardly visible unless you have a camera with 15x Optical Zoom.
The park is 6 million acres. Which is about 9,500 square miles. Which is bigger than New Hampshire (9,351 sq miles), and almost as big as Massachusetts (10,555 sq miles). A quote I heard and loved was, “The bear you don’t see might be a bear that’s never seen a human. And that’s only possible in a place this large and wild.”
The ecosystems are interestingly balanced as well. The snowshoe hare can reach population densities of 600 per square mile (Yes, that’s over 5.5 million bun-buns). This dense population leads to more Lynx (their main predator) and lower food sources. Therefore, the population will crash and both species rise and fall together in 8 to 11 year cycles.
The tour took about 8 hours. Packed full school bus for 8 hours? Nothing about it seemed appealing at first. To be honest, it was one of my favorite parts of the trip (I have so many favorites).
Passenger cars and buses can only access the first 15 miles of the park that is open to the general public. We traveled a full 62 miles into the park! The private access portion of the park is unpaved and only accessible by tour buses, bicycles or by foot. This keeps park attendants supervised and wild nature disruption to a minimum.
During the 8 hour tour, we saw 2 Moose, 2 Grizzly Bears, 1 Black Bear, a lot of Caribou and other wildlife like birds and squirrels. We encountered a mom and baby caribou on the road back and they didn’t want to get off the road, so we followed them for about 15 minutes.
Probably the biggest highlight of this Tundra Wilderness Tour was we FINALLY got to see a decently clear Mt. McKinley! The temptation was really building since we only got to see bits of and pieces of it through the clouds until finally seeing the whole mountain in one large view. We were about 35 miles from the base of it, and it was breathtakingly beautiful. This is my favorite picture I took. It looks like an oil painting. This was taken at our turnaround point. Stony Dome, Mile 62.
Since the park has only one road in and out, it was the same path back. We got to see lots of additional animals, but the initial “hype” had passed and many of us took a nice little nap during a portion of the 62 miles out of the park.
Once we arrived back at Denali Princess Lodge, we grabbed pizza at the on-site restaurant. After dinner, we walked across the street to the season town and grabbed a six pack and a couple of bombers of some Alaskan craft beers and headed back to the hot tubs where we drank in open-air hot tubs overlooking the beautiful views of the Nananee River.
This was our last full day on land. On Day 5, we boarded a glass top train and rode 300 miles south to our cruise ship.