Thursday, September 1, 2022

Stop! Stop! Stop! - Thursday, September 1, 2022

 I said, "Stop!" Do you know why we'd say "stop" so much? Let me explain. 

This morning, we walked across the Parks Highway in Denali to Princess Lodge. There, we waited for our tour bus to pick us up. This tour into Denali National Park is 5-1/2 hours long. That's what we're up to today.

When we met our ebullient tour guide, Mary (or MJ), she greeted us at the door to our tour bus for the day. Once we were seated, she let us know the rules of the road: buckle your seat belts, keep body parts inside the bus (except for photo stops or rest stops), be silent if we stop to view wildlife, do not take food outside the bus, do not throw trash in the trash cans (she will pack it all out), keep an eye out for wildlife. If you see wildlife, yell "Stop," and she will slam on the brakes.

Mary also explained that every tour of Denali is different. She can't guarantee we'll see wildlife, she can't guarantee we'll see the mountain. 

Of course, everyone wants to see moose, caribou, Dall sheep, and bear. She asked what other animals we would like to see. Answers ranged from lynx to wolverine, to wolves. 

In addition to seeing animals, we are at the height of fall colors in the park. Dwarf birch leaves are red, willow shrub leaves are yellow, bearberry leaves are red, aspen and balsam poplar tree leaves turn brilliant yellow and gold, and birch leaves can be yellow, orange, bronze, or red. The hills are vibrantly colored right now.

Fall colors in Denali National Parkl

Colorful vistas.

The willow is brilliant yellow.

So many shades of red, rust, orange, 
and yellow.






The first 15 miles of our tour today were on park roads that are open to everyone. When reaching the National Park Gate at Savage River, only tour buses, employees, and people staying at the campground are allowed through the gate. The park road is only open to Mile 45, but tour buses have to turn around at Mile 43. 

The road used to be open to Mile 66, but the Pretty Rocks landslide took out 100' of roadway in August 2021. They do not know when, or if, the road will be repaired. According to our tour guide, it will literally take an act of Congress to fund this project as the land is protected here.

Once we passed the Savage River National Park Gate, we were on high alert watching for animals in the park. Soon, we heard "Stop!" Then, "Caribou!" This is one lone caribou, just multiple shots of it.

Caribou along Denali National Park Rd.

Caribou along Denali
National Park Rd.

Caribou along Denali National Park Rd.

Caribou along Denali National Park Rd.

We drove along for a while longer. Our tour guide/driver stopped. She found Dall sheep high up on a mountain. The cool thing about these National Park tour buses is that they have screens that pull down from the ceiling and are connected to a camera outside the bus. The driver focuses on the animal off in the distance and we can see it on the screens on the bus! When we see it on the screen, she can zoom in and out so we can look out the windows and find the animals. 

Dall sheep. (I had to use my 80mm
zoom to get this shot.)

Everyone is so excited by these early wild animal sightings! We keep our eyes glued to the wide open expanses outside our windows looking for more wild animal eye candy.


"STOP!" yells someone from the back of the bus. The driver slams on the brakes. It's a grizzly bear.

Grizzly bear with hyperphagia* -- eating
as much as it can before hibernation.





*hyperphagia = during the fall months, bears eat and drink nearly nonstop. They need to put on weight for winter and hibernation.

It's time for an intermission; for us, that is. We had our first pit stop of the trip at pit toilets. However, they were in very good condition. 

Interpretive signs were on the deck overlooking the Teklanika River. It was great to stretch our legs for ten minutes.



The view from the deck at 
Teklanika River Rest Stop.

The view from the deck at 
Teklanika River Rest Stop.

Here's Bob in front of our tour bus, 
operated by a national park concessionaire.

The green buses take people
into the park for a fee. They will
drop you off anywhere along the
road.

If you take a green bus into the park, you need to be prepared to be on your own. There are no restaurants, clothing stores, or souvenir shops. This is pure wilderness. When you are ready to leave, you flag down another green bus.

After our ten minutes are up, Mary is ready to go. We dig into our box lunches and snacks. Snacks are provided by the bus concessionaire, along with bottled water. Our lunches were provided by our caravan leader. We did not go hungry today!

As we were driving along the road, someone started making comments that they saw prairie dogs alongside the road. Mary corrected our false impression that these little cuties are prairie dogs. They are NOT.

What we are seeing are Arctic ground squirrels. They can survive the cold winters here. Their body pretty much shuts down in the winter. 

Arctic ground squirrel.

Arctic ground squirrel.

Arctic ground squirrel.

Mary, our tour guide, made such a big deal about the Arctic ground squirrel and how it can survive the winter, that I had to look them up. Here's how they do it.

From the National Park Service website: 

"Arctic ground squirrels live in colonies underground and hibernate throughout the winter. Perhaps the coolest thing about them is that they are the only vertebrate we know of that can survive body temperatures below freezing during hibernation. Arctic ground squirrels are also important ecologically; they are an important food source for many predators, such as grizzly bears, foxes, gyrfalcons, and golden eagles.

"Adapting to the Arctic 

"...Researchers at University of Alaska at Fairbanks have shown that during hibernation, Arctic ground squirrels adopt the lowest body temperature ever recorded in a mammal. The body temperatures of hibernating squirrels drops below freezing, a condition referred to as supercooling. At intervals of two to three weeks, still in a state of sleep, hibernating squirrels shiver and shake for 12 to 15 hours to create heat that warms them back to a normal body temperature of about 98 degrees Fahrenheit. When the shivering and shaking stops, body temperature drops back to the minimal temperature. This type of hibernation is rare among mammals and scientists are still studying this unique physiological behavior."

It was just a few minutes later that we came across another bus stopped going the opposite way on the road with its lights flashing. The occupants of that bus were all looking over the edge of the road. We found out they were watching a grizzly bear. Our driver slowly inched forward and some of us saw it as well. It was down by the river but seemed to be making its way up to the road. Patience, young grasshopper. Wait for it. 

Here's the grizzly coming up
the hill.
The grizzly is headed for the road.
At the top, the bear stopped for a 
photo op.

At this point, the bear decided to walk on the road and next to the road, changing sides of the road from time to time, so all of us on the bus could get great photos!

This bear liked the middle of the road.


And the side of the road.

This bear continued on the road for about 15 minutes until he decided to head down to the river. All of us were thrilled with the photos we were able to take!

We then came to our halfway point on the trip where the buses turn around and go back out the way they came in. Who knows what we'll see on the way out!

Our first stop on the return trip was at an overlook of Polychrome Mountain and hills. These are very colorful ridges. The next ten photos are from this overlook.








Bob A., Kevin, Tom, Charlene, Rick, 
and Joe.

Mary Jane, Cathy, and Cindy.

Our short photo stop is over.

Not long after this, another person yelled "Stop!" There were two caribou loping along a ridge.
Caribou.

Not just one, but two caribou!

We are really lucky to see all this
wildlife today!

We just got going again when a coyote popped out onto the road. It took a dump and then walked alongside the road for a bit. Two tour buses were tracking it from opposite sides of the road. It was looking a little nervous.







A beautiful mountain.

We saw another bear and another caribou. 

This is one fat grizzly!

The fall colors are gorgeous!

The antlers! The fall colors! Wow.
The antlers! The fall colors! Wow.

For the rest of the trip back to Princess Lodge, we enjoyed the fall colors. 

Savage Rock.

Normally, we think of fall colors as
big trees. A lot of this fall color is
on the dwarf birch and willow.

Dwarf birch is red, and willow is yellow.



We walked back to the RV park from Princess Lodge. Bob and I decided to go to 49th State Brewing Company in Healy, Alaska for dinner tonight. It was wonderful!


Mileage signpost. LOL!
Inside 49th State Brewing Company.
There are birch trees behind the bar.

The wall behind the fire pit is made of
whiskey barrel ribs.

And the side wall in the back is 
driftwood.

Brewery equipment in the
back of the restaurant.

My garden salad and seafood chowder.

Bob's fish 'n' chips (and he
shared my chowder & salad).

More 49th State Brewing decor.

On the way back to the RV park,
these mountains were in the sun.

It was another wonderful day in Alaska! It was cold with a few sprinkles, but otherwise a great day!

Tomorrow, we are headed to Fairbanks, Alaska. I have never been there before. Bob has been there, but it was about 25 years ago. 

Our first activity there tomorrow afternoon is a 1-1/2 hour couples massage at Chena Hot Springs. We also plan to do some hiking and lots of soaking in the hot springs. It sounds wonderful to us!

Full stop.