Buck's Blog

The Stream-of-Consciousness Journal of a Wargamer

Family Vacation: Days 5, 6, and 7

Entering Denali National Park

Entering Denali National Park

After a quick stop in the town outside the national park for some souvenir hunting and lunch, we headed into the Denali National Park.  Denali consists of over six million acres, and there is just one road through it, so we took our time driving to the Teklaneeka campground deep inside the park, taking in the sights along the way.  The RV did reasonably well on the gravel road.

Looking down at Horseshoe Lake during a short hike

Looking down at Horseshoe Lake during a short hike

Before getting on the long road to the campground, however, we took a short hike around Horseshoe lake.  We didn’t see any animals, but we saw a beaver dam that was probably 40 yards long.  No beaver.

Tommy and a moose

Tommy and a moose

The next morning we got up very early to catch the first bus toward Wonder Lake.  Our thought was that we would see more wildlife on the early bus.  We did.  It started with a pair of moose hanging out near the bus stop.  You can see one behind Tommy’s shoulder in this picture.

A female moose

A female moose

Soon after departing we encountered another one.

A view from along the road through Denali

A view from along the road through Denali

It was a four hour bus ride from our campground to Wonder Lake.  Along the way we saw some beautiful scenery and many animals.  The only one of the “big” animals we didn’t see was a wolf.

Very beautiful view from along the road

Very beautiful view from along the road

We encountered two golden eagles perched on rocks above the road.  This picture is one of them flying away.

Another moose sighting!

Another moose sighting!

Two German girls were on the bus, taking pictures of their own moose at various stops.

The bus driver, Darlene was quite good.  She stopped frequently and had lots of good stories.

Sammy the caribou

Sammy the caribou

This picture was taken at a short rest stop along the way.

A small group of caribou

A small group of caribou

Moose frollicking through the tundra

Moose frollicking through the tundra

We saw more moose on this four-hour bus ride than we did during our entire visit to Maine.

Wonder lake

Wonder lake

Considering its name, Wonder Lake was a bit anti-climactic.  From here, however, we took a five mile hike out and back along the McKinley Bar trail, which took us through rocks and woods to the river.

Tommy helping Candy across a small mud puddle on our hike along the McKinley Bar Trail

Tommy helping Candy across a small mud puddle on our hike along the McKinley Bar Trail

A view of ptarmigans along the trail

A view of ptarmigans along the trail

On the way back we encountered three rock ptarmigans, the Alaska state bird.  They looked a lot like pheasant or grouse to me.  They eventually flew off as we continued our hike.

Caribou grazing near the bus

Caribou grazing near the bus

Another caribou near the bus on our ride back toward camp.

The line of latrines at one of the rest stops

The line of latrines at one of the rest stops

The rest stops along the bus route looked like this.  The doors were probably three inches thick and heavily reinforced to keep out bears and other animals.  All were very clean!

A game of rummy

A game of rummy

That night we played rummy and watched a little television before bed.

Homework time while on the road

Homework time while on the road

The next morning we left the campground and headed southward.  On our way up, we had tried to get a flight up to a glacier on the slopes of Mt. McKinley.  This morning the clouds cleared, and it looked like we might be able to fly, so we packed up and headed back to Talkeetna.  During a portion of the drive, the kids worked on their Summer reading.

Tommy working on his Summer reading

Tommy working on his Summer reading

Our first clear view of Mt. McKinley

Our first clear view of Mt. McKinley

Then we turned a bend in the road and there was Mt. McKinley.  They say only 31% of visitors to Alaska get to see the whole mountain.  It was much more impressive than this picture conveys.  Mt. McKinley is the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere, at 20k+ feet of elevation.

Another view of Mt. McKinley from Talkeetna

Another view of Mt. McKinley from Talkeetna

We stopped several times along the way to get different and better shots of the mountain.  The sky got better and better all day.

Getting "booted up" for our glacier walk

Getting "booted up" for our glacier walk

We were lucky to get a 1430 flight up the mountain for a glacier landing from Talkeetna.  Each of us donned a pair of protective over boots so that we could walk around in the snow on the glacier.

Ready for takeoff

Ready for takeoff

There were six of us plus the pilot on this DeHaviland Beaver.

Approaching Mt. McKinley by air

Approaching Mt. McKinley by air

The flight was smooth, and along the way the pilot had a lot of interesting things to point out.  I got to sit up front and take lots of pictures.

Getting closer

Getting closer

The glaciers on Mt. McKinley are growing at an average rate of about three feet a day.  The guide said that the glaciers act like frozen rivers.  They have falls, currents, and even cataracts.

Ice fall

Ice fall

Here you can see where ice has formed, cracked, and fallen.  These falls grow at a rate of six or more feet per day and push the glacier down the valley.

On the glacier with Mt. McKinley in the distance

On the glacier with Mt. McKinley in the distance

Landing on the glacier was interesting.  The surface was slushy, so the plane slid around on its skis until it came to a stop.  The temperature was about 30 degrees, but it felt much warmer due to the sun and the heat radiating off the snow and rocks.

Our plane

Our plane

We spent about 25 minutes on the glacier before returning to Talkeetna.  The guide told us that glaciologists come up here to study the McKinley glaciers quite frequently.  They have taken deep core samples.  Air is trapped in the glaciers, so core samples reveal things about the air 10s of thousands of years ago.  For the global warming crowd, the scientists who study these glaciers say that the percent of greenhouse gasses in the air 10,000 years ago is about the same as it is today.

A view of "rapids" along the Ruth glacier

A view of "rapids" along the Ruth glacier

In this picture you can see how the ice cracks as it flows downhill.  Also note the light blue patches.  The color of the glacial ice is blue.  It doesn’t show in most of the pictures, but in person you could see the slightly blue color.  The light blue patches in this picture are deep fissures or crevasses that have filled with snow.  When the sun is out, the top layers melt a little and turn into these light blue lakes or ponds.

After returning to Talkeetna, we played in the elementary school playground for a few minutes and then headed South to Houston to stop for the night before continuing south past Anchorage.

 


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