As I mentioned in the previous post, the easiest way a visitor can travel past mile 15 is on one of the park buses. As with anything, there are exceptions allowing private vehicles. I’m not sure what all of them are, but the primary one seems to be for professional photographers. Of course, if you want to walk or ride your bike, that’s allowed.
Anyway, for commoners like us, it’s the bus. There are three different bus categories. The green ones and the tan ones are park buses. The green buses are shuttle buses. They leave the Wilderness Access Center at many different times of the day and travel as far out in the park as Wonderland Lake. Tickets vary in price depending on how far out the visitor wants to go. Usually, visitors will remain on the same bus for the whole roundtrip, but that’s not necessary. If you purchase a ticket to Eielson Center, for example, and decide to do a hike while there, you can get on any green bus for your return trip. However, you no longer have a reserved seat, so you may have to wait for a bus with space available.
The tan buses are “tour” buses and have a Park Ranger or Naturalist to provide a narrated tour. There are three “tours”--Tundra Wilderness, Natural History, and Kantishna Historic Gold Mining tour. These tickets are also dependent on the length of the tour. The shortest is the Natural History tour and it lasts about 5 hours. The longest is the Kantishna tour and it is 12 hours. The tours also include a lunch or snack and beverages.
Way back at the end of the road is Kantishna Lodge. It is a private inholding surrounded by the park. The Lodge has its buses to transport their guests in and out of the park.
All these buses, by the way, are “school buses”. They’re not the most comfortable ride in the world.
|Eielson Visitor Center|
All buses stop for wildlife. Any person on the bus who spots an animal can holler “stop” and the driver stops, everyone makes a picture of said animal, and then the trip resumes. No one is allowed off the bus when an animal is around. The drivers make these trips into the park day after day. They’re pretty good at knowing where to spot certain animals. Drivers are also happy to answer questions and point out other features of the park as well. Some drivers are real chatty and are just full of trivia about the park. Our driver Wednesday pointed out glaciers and explained a few geologic features. He did seem a little put out after backing up the bus so everyone could get a good view of a bear that turned out to be a rock.
When we made our reservations for the Teklanika Campground, we also made a reservation for a green bus ride to Wonderland Lake. Our tickets were $31 each instead of the regular $43 because we were starting at mile 29 instead of mile 0. Our pick-up was at the campground entrance at 11:25 AM. (This bus left the Wilderness Access Center at 10:15)
We arrived at Wonderland Lake about 5 PM after many stops for animal sightings, rest breaks, a viewpoint, and a long stop at Eielson Center. The drive back wasn’t any shorter but it didn’t take as long, because we didn’t make nearly as many stops.
CRITTER COUNT: And what did we see. Several caribou. In fact, there were so many caribou stops, I think people quit yelling “stop” for caribou. We saw one mother moose with her calf. She was pretty far away, farther than my camera could reach. But we could see the calf romping around the mom. It was so cute. We saw dots high on the mountain side which were Dall Sheep. They were way far out of my camera range. We saw numerous arctic ground squirrels and one snowshoe hare.
For me, the most exciting was the grizzly bear family--a mom and two cubs. They were pretty close to the road; not just dots on the horizons. Mom was stretched out on the ground napping and the young ones were grazing. They had their heads down and their backs turned almost the entire time we were there.
Another exciting encounter was the red fox. Red fox are everywhere so that wasn’t so exciting, but this one was trotting along the road next to the bus. What made it special was the squirrel he had hanging out of his mouth. We saw a fox, probably the same one, on our trip out and then again on our way back. Both times, he had something hanging out of his mouth.
The weather was good--partly sunny and temps in the mid-sixties. There were enough clouds, however, to hide the mountain all day. We were unable to get that prize winning shot of Denali reflected in Wonderland Lake as the sun slowly sets in the west. The only time it rained during the entire trip was when we pulled up at the lake.
It was incredibly difficult for me to pick out pictures. The morning started out a mostly cloudy so those shots are darker with less blue sky. The return trip was late enough to get some nice sun and long shadows. The brighter photos were taken on the return trip. Almost all shots were through the bus window at about 25 miles per hour. The windows got dirty as the day progressed. Even though they washed the windows at Eielson, they left huge streaks.
It was a good day. This is a beautiful place.
Thanks for tagging along.