It was another great weekend in Denali National Park! I had to work late but as soon as I got home I packed up the car and headed out! I decided to take Nali along. It was her turn! I love Nali but she is not the best traveler. She cries and sticks her head in between the driver’s headrest and the driver’s window. I clicked her into the seatbelt in the back but she could still reach the window. It was a fairly easy drive down to the park with a few glimpses of Denali. I arrived to the park around 7:30 and headed straight in! It was a fabulous evening with the sun, Denali, and some sprinkled wildlife throughout the park.
I first got to see a caribou! It was walking on the road in front of me. It stayed there for a brief moment before running off into the wilderness. I believe it was a healthy bull caribou that was already growing a pretty impressive new rack.
The ptarmigans were all over the road! Every few miles it seemed as though another one or two would pop up. I haven’t gotten to photograph many in a bush or tree so I tended to stop more when the ptarmigans were anywhere but on the ground.
I made it to mile 30 and took a quick photo of the scenery. We pretty much have sunshine or light all day now, perfect for photography! I turned around and started to head back out of the park to camp. On my way out I got to see four more caribou who decided to come close to the road. There were already two cars stopped when I stopped. I tried to strategically place my car so that I had a good view but I didn’t want to scare them off. I think they were trying to cross the road. Another car though came up and did scare them. The caribou ran off up over a hill and further out of sight.
While looking out at Denali at a little pull off I saw a few caribou. I was able to put the far away caribou and Denali in the same photo, not the best photo, but I still love capturing wildlife with the mountain. One of the most exciting captures of the entire trip happened as I was getting closer to the park entrance. I was driving on the pavement part of the road, in the first fifteen miles of the park, and I saw some flickering of wings in the sunset light. Two birds were going after each other. I didn’t know if it was an aggressive, territorial, or mating behavior, but one of them would fly above the other. The top bird would then swoop down at the bottom bird. The bottom bird would then maneuver to get it’s talons up to the other bird. They never locked talons but it didn’t seem to be lack of trying. I later looked at the far away, 400mm hand-held photos and it turns out the birds were actually short-eared owls! It was my first time seeing these owls and photographing them. I would love to get a little closer look but it was fun to watch and exciting to see!
After the owls I was pretty excited. I thought it was a pretty successful wildlife day, and to my surprise there was one more animal to see – another snowshoe hare! This one posed a little for me. It is so cool to get to see and photograph the hares during their transformation from white to brown coat. Their white coat is so much longer and looks goofy with their shorter brown coat. Their feet too are just so enormous! This was a very cooperative hare, finally!
I got back to Riley Creek Campground and, to my surprise, it was packed! There were no open spaces. I checked to see if the other two loops were open but they were still locked up and closed. Other people had parked their cars next to one of the loops or near the overflow lot and hiked in with their camping gear. I was just car camping and needed a place to park for the night. I ended up at the Riley Creek Mercantile parking lot. It wasn’t the best place I have ever parked but I wasn’t the only one using the parking lot as a camping spot. It wasn’t as cold of a night as it has been in the past but I did still wake up a few times to reposition blankets. I didn’t have to turn the car on though!
We woke up ready for our day around 7:30. Nali and I decided to head on back into the park. The first animal we saw was a far away moose! It was hidden pretty well, in very tall brush, but I spotted the bull moose’s rack. It looked at me as if it was surprised I could see it so far away. I snapped a few photos and then went on to see what else Denali had in store for me on Day 21! I didn’t drive much further before I saw some Ptarmigan, snowshoe hare, Denali, a red squirrel, and caribou! Lots of critters were hanging out in the first 15 miles of the park!
I got to the gravel road and I got to see my first Rock Ptarmigan! I thought it was a regular willow ptarmigan until actually tonight, when Josh pointed out the color and feather differences. I captured this rock ptarmigan taking a minute to drink from a small stream of running water off the road.
I then drove on to find more ptarmigan! One ptarmigan stood out as he was perched in a tree with Denali right behind him. It was set up beautifully. It was one cooperative ptarmigan! I was pumped to get to photograph another animal in front of Denali. It perched there for awhile and even called out. The wind finally got to him though and he flew off.
I drove not much more than 20 feet and got to see two snowshoe hares! One of which was cooperative. I drove on to about mile 26 where there is a larger pull out. I had some breakfast looking out at the Teklanika river, right near where I had seen those wolves and bear feed on the caribou carcass. Not a lot of action occurring that I saw on the river that morning. I drove back and noticed how many more cars were on the road! It is crazy how many people are getting out there and spending time in Denali!
Another few snowshoe hares decided to be cooperative out while I was driving back. One of which decided to come check out my car! It was nibbling on a trig and then just stared at me. I debated getting out of my car, but I didn’t want to spook the hare. I am glad I didn’t. The hare’s behaviors were pretty natural until it hopped very quickly right up to my car. It was so close my camera’s zoom was too much! As soon as I got out my phone, the hare ran off. Pretty fun experience though.
I was just about back to the entrance when I spotted one of my NEW Denali animals! It was a ….
PORCUPINE! One of the largest porcupine’s I have ever seen! He waddled off pretty quickly but I was able to get a few photos. He eventually climbed a tree, which I wasn’t even sure if he could due to his size!
When I got back to the entrance of the park I decided to head into Riley Creek Campground to see if there were openings. Friends were coming down to camp out with us so I was looking for two campsites near each other. To my luck and surprise there were 3 spots open and 2 of them were diagonal from each other. Although the campground is open, they are not yet taking reservations, so it is first come, first serve. I knew I had to get gas and so I would have to leave the campsites. I put towels down and wrote reserved on the individual sites to try and reserve the spots for us. I got gas and when I got back our spots were still open I got out of the car and had lunch at the picnic table, it was a sunny but breezy day. I even used the little bit of snow and ice to chill a few beers for later!
Our friends were heading down and were only about an hour out when I was done eating. I decided to wait for them instead of heading back into the park. I got the Kentucky Derby race play-by-play from my mom while I waited. I, of course, chose the poor horse who barely made it out of the gate! Ha! Good thing I didn’t bet! Our friends arrived and us ladies went for a little walk while Oren set up their campsite.
They have a completely adorable little girl who turns 2 tomorrow! (Happy Birthday Ainsley!) We hung out at the campsite and enjoyed celebratory cupcakes, peanut M&Ms and pirate booty air poofs, Ainsley was obviously most excited about the cupcakes.
At the campsite I got to photograph one of Denali’s smallest mammals – the vole! You don’t have to venture far into the park to see wildlife!
After the vole and the snack, we started to get pretty hungry. Mollie and I went to Prospector’s Pizza! Yes, Prospector’s Pizza is OPEN! (and delicious!) We went and ordered a pizza to go. While waiting for our pizza, we enjoyed a beer! So fun to spend time with friends in the park!
We brought the pizza back to share with Oren and Ainsley. We chowed down on the pizza pretty fast but left a few slices for Josh who was slowly making his way down to the park. While waiting for him to arrive, I started a nice fire. Josh makes fires so much more complicated than they need to be! Towards 8pm we were actually asked if we were going to stay and camp from someone looking for a camping spot. The park is getting so busy now and they only had one of the three loops open. I felt for the couple and said that they could use the tent space but that we were spending the night in the site in an RV. We passed the time watching Ainsley put Nali to sleep using her own blanket! So totally adorable!
Josh finally made it with Elias and Ainsley was still awake to say hello! Silly girl likes to party and stay up late when camping! We ate some s’mores and relaxed by the fire! It was pretty late before we all, including little Ainsley, went to bed. Camping in the RV is so fun. I know Josh wanted snow machines and four wheelers but I am really glad we got the RV. In the RV, the dogs have room to roam at night, well Nali does with Elias still having to sleep in the kennel. It was warm and the bed was super cozy in the RV. I slept way better than yesterday!
By the time we woke up at about 8:30, Ainsley had already gone on a walk to see some snowshoe hares! We made a delicious breakfast of pancakes, bacon, eggs, and coffee. The camping food is always pretty epic with Mollie and Oren!
After breakfast we made our way to the Murie Science and Learning Center. It was nice to use actual flush toilets, wash our hands with hot water, and watch Ainsley play and learn with all the actives in the children’s area. After spending some time playing at the Murie Science and Learning Center, we all decided to head into the park. Josh and I had to go back to the RV to get some food so we could have a snack at mile 30.
While driving in we saw quite a few ptarmigan and a few caribou! The mountain was playing peek-a-boo, with only part of the bottom of the mountain out a different times. We got to mile 30 and took the best photos of the day!
We had a snack at mile 30 and then we headed back down the park road! We again saw lots of ptarmigan. Once we hit pavement and mile 15, our friends decided to head on out of the park and home. Josh and I decided to do a little hiking. It was a windy hike but we did get to see another new animal, an Arctic Ground Squirrel! It popped out of a hole right near the path where we were hiking. It walked right up to us and then ran up on part of the mountain. We hiked just long enough to time out getting to 49 State Brewery right at 4, which is when it opens.
We got to 49 State and it was already pretty packed! I parked right next to a car with another Samoyed in it! The lady who owned the samoyed just so happen to come back to her car right when I got there, so I got to pet her too! It’s fur seemed way thicker than Nali’s, but then again Nali has had problems with hair lately. We got our favorite seating… right around the fire pit! We each had a beer, a pretzel with beer cheese, and then we split the meat lover’s mac n’ cheese! A perfect way to end the weekend and day 22 of my 100 days of Denali!
Thank you Mollie, Oren, & Ainsley for coming out to the park to play and being a part of my 100 Days of Denali Challenge! The park is way more fun with some good friends, an adorable almost 2 year old, beer, and bacon.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY AINSLEY!