We looked forward to visiting Denali National Park for the third time in our lives. Fifteen years ago, our first cruise to Alaska included a flight to Fairbanks, and travel by rail back to Anchorage with two nights in a lodge near the entrance to the Park. This allowed Mary Lou and I to take a sightseeing bus some distance inside the park, followed by a long afternoon and evening exploring the beaver ponds and woodlands around our lodge. As we boarded the train back to Anchorage, we decided to return one day, but also allow more time for exploration.
A few years later, in early June, we attended a four night birding program at Camp Denali, accessible by a 95 mile, seven hour ride in a comfortable Camp bus to the end of the Denali Park Road. Our tiny cabin lacked electricity, but had a wood stove, a clean outhouse, and drinking water that was available from a nearby spigot. Situated high on a bluff, we had a cloudless view of 20,320 foot high Mount McKinley (AKA Denali) every day.
At the time of our earlier visits to Alaska, I was not “into” wildlife photography. I carried a point-and-shoot 35 mm film camera. Subsequently, I scanned some of my photos, but lost them after we moved from New Mexico to Florida, when my computer drive failed. I have since been unable to find most of the originals, which included herds of Caribou, a Red Fox running along the road with a Spruce Grouse in its jaws and a shot of Denali, reflected in the still waters of Wonder Lake. Luckily, this photo of a hapless Grizzly Bear survived, though the fate of the bear may be in doubt..
The bear had encountered a Porcupine, and its face was riddled with quills:
When our older daughter suggested that take an RV trip in Alaska soon after the end of the school year, we welcomed the opportunity. It was to be the first visit to Alaska for both of our daughters’ families. Our RV journey through Alaska was primarily an opportunity for a reunion of our two daughters, delayed for a year by the tragic event that had prevented them from getting together a year earlier at our family reunion in Colorado. Because of another unforeseen conflict, our older daughter’s husband also missed our prior family reunion, five years ago in Dallas, and had never met the younger of our two granddaughters. This is a continuation of the story of our Alaska trip that begins at this link.
On our first day northbound out of Anchorage via Wasilla on George Parks Highway (AK-3) we had several clear views of the great cone of Denali, some 80 miles distant, as we approached the turnoff for Talkeetna Camper Park at milepost 98 (taken through the windshield of our RV):
The next day, we paused at a roadside park at mile 135 for a panoramic view of the Denali range, its peak visible just above the clouds:
Our older daughter and her husband greeted us when we arrived at McKinley RV Campground, located at mile 248, about ten miles north of the entrance to Denali National Park.
We occupied adjacent spaces. Their camper is to the right:
We had so much fun reconnecting that there was little time for birding. Indeed, in order to accommodate both of our son-in-laws’ passion for deep sea fishing, we had allowed only one day for exploring the park. We took a 5 hour wildlife tour only 16 miles into the park. The driver provided an excellent interpretation of the history, geology, flora and fauna of the Park.
At the first stop, during an introductory film, I looked out the open door of the theater and saw this (Myrtle) Yellow-rumped Warbler atop a spruce:
The final tour bus stop was at the Savage River, a braided stream with Mew Gulls nesting on its many gravel bars:
Mew Gull at nest:
Two of the Mew Gulls were courting, walking back and forth together in a sort of formal dance routine, which I captured through the bus windows:
They serenely walked together one way, then turned around and walked back:
We spotted three Dall Sheep, more than a mile away on a mountain slope; this was my best image of one:
White-crowned Sparrows were abundant:
The scenery was spectacular, but there were few sightings of big furry creatures to fascinate the children. From inside the bus, I took blurry photos of Snowshoe Hares and one of a distant Caribou.
The Caribou was a male in velvet, resting on the river bed about a quarter mile away:
Lupines were blooming everywhere:
The next morning, on our 400 mile drive south to our next stop on the Kenai Peninsula, we encountered a traffic jam of sorts. A yearling Moose was grazing at the side of the highway, and motorists had pulled over to watch.
We joined the onlookers:
The young Moose paid us little heed, and we continued on our journey:
This was family time, and birding was a secondary pursuit. What a pleasure it was, to share the joy of discovery with our daughters, their husbands and our grandchildren! The birding experience at Denali, while brief, left me with an enduring
image of the tranquil courtship ritual of the Mew Gulls, and a renewed
determination to return to the solace of this great wilderness.
Our next stop: Soldotna, on the Kenai Peninsula