Denali weather: High 65, Low 47, overcast in morning (again) but then clearing on and off all day
Steps walked: Shaun - 16,350 steps, 44 floors climbed; Shannon - 15,396 steps, 34 floors climbed
Critter count: You're not getting it that easily today, boys and girls...
Wow. Today was spectacular!!! Well, not the waking up at 4:30am part. But it was all worth it in the end because we saw a crap-ton of animals today. We went on the Kantishna Experience bus tour, which is a 12.5-hour, 92.5-mile guided trip down the main road in Denali National Park and Preserve. In the park, only tour buses, shuttle buses, RVs going to the campground (just once to enter and exit), and authorized vehicles can travel on the road after mile post 15. They do this to reduce the impact of people on the park and make sure the animals don't become too familiar with humans, which could lead to more animal/human encounters.
Though they had shorter options, we decided to take the longest tour through the park at Carl and Debbie's recommendation, and boy, were we glad we did! We started seeing animals even before we got to the Wilderness Access Center to catch the Experience bus....Shannon actually saw 2 moose cows from the shuttle bus at 5:45 a.m.! How insane is that?
There were only 20 people on the bus, so it worked out well because we could sit one person to a seat. Shannon and I saw across from each other so that we had access to both sides of the bus at once, which was good since they were coming at us from all sides. Almost as soon as we got into Denali proper, we saw a moose cow and calf on one side of the road and a big bull moose on the other side. After just another couple of miles, we saw a mother grizzly bear (they call them brown bears here) and her 2 cubs. They were super light in color which was surprising to us, and they were eating the different types of berries that are all over the place right now.
After the sheep, we saw a porcupine right on the road and then several (8 or so), ptarmigans which are Alaska's state bird. These animals go from brown speckled to pure white in the winter which is very fitting for this environment. They flitted along the side of the road too, and we saw a bunch of them a couple of times. They reminded me of quail, but they're a little bigger. At some point in there, we also saw a Merlin, a type of falcon, and 2 northern harriers, or marsh hawks. The falcon was really little, which surprised me, but he was cool looking.
Our next encounter was with 2 sets of caribou...one with only 2 animals and then we saw 6 of them up on a ridge. We ended up seeing 18 caribou in all, 2 of them with really big racks (antlers! Get your minds out of the gutter!) One of the caribou will come up later in my story, so hold that thought.
To close out our list of critters seen today, we also saw 3 magpies and an arctic ground squirrel. None of these were particularly exciting, but the ground squirrel is really important in Alaska because the dog sledders feed them to their dogs on the way up the mountain to increase their protein content.
On the way back out of the park, we didn't expect to see much of anything, but we did see a bunch more moose (8 in all...2 bulls, 2 cows, and 4 calves), caribou, and bears. One incident bears describing....hahahaha....get it...BEARS describing and I'm talking about bears....I crack myself up! Anyway, we spotted this bear pretty close to the bus...close enough to hear us yell out that there was a bear and then stare at us because we had disturbed his dinner. After a minute or so, though, he started to ignore us. We hung out with him awhile and then moved on only to see a big honkin' caribou around the next bend. We spent some time with the caribou but then along came the bear. We actually got to watch them walking towards each other being completely oblivious to the other until they were about 30 feet from each other. It was like Wild Animal Kingdom for crying out loud...the caribou knew something was around but couldn't see the bear, and the bear wasn't paying any attention to anything except filling his belly with berries. By the time they did figure it out, the bear charged the caribou, but he really didn't have a chance since the caribou is so fast. It was so cool though! Shannon got a video of the encounter, but it doesn't do it justice at all.
We made it an early night and prepped for tomorrow's further adventures in Denali. We will start the day out riding ATV's on the Denali Highway, which is part of the preserve part of the park and allows motorized vehicles. After that, we plan to see all the visitor's stuff, so wish us luck! Enjoy our pics!