Caribou, Grizzlies and Dall Sheep - oh my!

Trip Start May 20, 2009
Trip End Jun 02, 2009

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Flag of United States  , Alaska
Sunday, May 31, 2009

Up bright and early and ready to head into the park, Terry had a great breakfast spread out for us and then asked what we wanted with it, I chose french toast and LJ had pancakes. There were two ladies that are working in Anchorage for six weeks (one) and six months (the other) with Veterans. They had been in the park Saturday on the shuttle and had seen a sow and two bear cubs on the road. They were going back in today for a hike. We were excited and finished breakfast and got ready to go. We borrowed a cooler from the Dome Home to take with us, stopped by the deli to pick up sandwiches for our lunch and drove the 11 miles to the park.

We were first on the bus and were prepared for an exciting day! Beth was our bus driver, this was her 13th year driving in Denali. She was very good but did remind us her job was not to find the wildlife for us, but to drive the bus and keep us safe. I appreciated this! It wasn't long at all before we came upon three caribou that were lying down fairly close to the park road. Public cars are allowed into the park up to mile 14, Savage River, but after that only approved park buses and those cars that have special permits (research, photographers, etc) are allowed.

LJ spotted some additional caribou down in a valley and then while we were stopped to see them, our driver spotted a fox! We continued on our journey and soon saw Grizzly Bears (aka brown bears) - a sow and two cubs. The cubs were larger, the driver said probably third summer cubs so a little over two years old. They were fairly far away but we were able to get some photos and video.

Next we saw some Dall Sheep up on a ridge, not too far away. I was so excited we were seeing so much wildlife. The scenery was breathtaking - huge high mountains, cliffs, low wide valleys - so hard to ever be able to describe in any good way beyond it being like nothing I have ever seen before.

We then saw another grizzly with two spring cubs, just tiny little things following along behind their mother. More Dall Sheep, and then we went through Polychrome Pass, an unbelievably steep cliff going up on one side and down on the other. If I'm not mistaken, this is most likely where Traci got out and walked down the rest of the way - it definitely made me nervous, especially when we once had to pass another bus. Whew!

We went up to Toklat which is as far as the shuttles are going today. Tomorrow they will be going Eielson, which is 66 miles in, we only went in 54 miles. At the turnaround spot we ate a quick lunch and stretched our legs. I must admit the bathrooms were better than expected (just being honest).

The overall trip was about 6 hrs long. On the way back we saw both sets of sows and their cubs again in new locations but close enough to the first one that we were able to locate them, we also saw a golden eagle with a snowshoe hare in its grips. The snowshoe hare was the most viewed animal of the day by far, LJ said we saw over 17,000 of them. I believe that is a slight exaggeration, but yes, there were tons of them! We had a better view of the sheep on our way back down as well. We were quite tired by the time we got back to the Wilderness Center and decided to go back to the Dome Home for a nap. We got back around 4:00 and set the alarm for 5:30.

We felt a bit more human after the nap and set off to get dinner. Terry and Ann gave us a dinner recommendation and so off we went to Black Diamond which is a local golf course and restaurant. On our way there - finally a moose sighting!  Dinner was delicious - I had crab cakes as an appetizer which were terrific. We both had the lasagna and Ann's comment that the portions were large was an understatement. We definitely should have shared one.

After dinner we headed back towards the park and as we went through "Glitter Gulch" we stopped to do some shopping. LJ got coffee and I got hot chocolate at a very neat coffee house. We also found some nice souvenirs and then off we went (at 10 PM) back to the park. The park is open 24/7 during the summer, at least the portion up to Savage River, open to cars. Otherwise, the campgrounds are accessible for those staying there. No busses are running at this point.

Just a few minutes up the road and we see a lynx. He's headed out of the woods, onto the road and then turns around and heads back into the woods. We just stop and wait and in just a minute two of them run full speed across the road from left to right and up the hill on the right. Soon what looks to be the male comes back down to the road, and unusual sounds are coming from the male... maybe mating calls? Both of them came back to the road and we watched them for about ten minutes - it was extraordinary.

We continued our journey up to Savage and then back down, some beautiful photos and it was pretty crazy being in the light of day at midnight in Denali, more videotaping of course! LJ also took photos of a ptarmigan and more of the snowshoe hare.  Back to the Dome Home for a much needed night's rest but a truly wonderful day.
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My Review Of The Place I Stayed

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Where I stayed
Denali Dome Home Bed and Breakfast Healy
Read my review - 5/5 stars
Denali Dome
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