100 Days of Denali: Day 26, 27, & 28

These were the last few days before true tourism started in the park!  The last three days you could drive your personal vehicle to mile 30.  It was a long drive down to the park because it was my first time driving the RV by myself.  I love the RV but it is huge and bulky. It didn’t take long to get used to though!  I brought both dogs so Josh could get our floors in without the dogs’ help.

The campgrounds are now not first come first serve, reservations need to be made and sites have to be paid for.  Now not only was the Murie Science and Learning Center open but the Riley Merchantile and Visitor Center. I picked up the campsite permit and our bus tickets for the weekend when the road would close at mile 15 for public traffic.

Once I picked out a campsite, I drove straight into the park. I ended up watching the sun dip below the mountains and a beautiful view of Denali.  My first larger animal was a caribou!

I also got to see quite a photogenic spruce grouse, snowshoe hares, and then four porcupines! The dogs seemed pretty interested in the porcupines but luckily they were safe in the car watching from a far. I would get out and watch them eat a little but they waddled away pretty quickly.

I was pretty sure I was done seeing the larger wildlife on Day 26 when I rounded a corned and spotted a cow moose on the side of the road!

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The dogs and I got pretty sleepy and we went back to our campsite. Driving the RV was worth the little extra stress and time it took to get down when I got to sleep on a real bed and not have to walk down the road to use a bathroom. Running water is also a huge perk.  Elias was so sleepy I decided to try and let him sleep on the bed with me. He did fabulously and we all slept in!

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It it was great to sleep in because we are usually going to have to set an alarm and catch an earlier denali bus out into the park. We slept in and slowly made our way back into the park.

I stopped at mile 15 and saw that there were some low Dall Sheep. I wanted to hike a little and thought I would try to take a hike alongside some of those adorable Ewes and last year’s Lambs.  I started going one way on the trail but then came up to a sign that the rest of the trail on the side I was on was closed.  I remembering walking on the other side of the trail with Miles and Josh and seeing the slippery snow on the trail.  I had figured it was all gone by now but I guess I was wrong. I went around and hopped on the other side of the trail that wasn’t closed. I realized about halfway down that I had forgotten my bear spray. I was hiking alone and I should have brought that with me. I realized someone else was hiking on the trail behind me and it set my nerves a little at ease. I pressed on until I got to the end of the trail.

I looked around but did not see any lower Sheep. I saw a ram or two but they were way up the mountain hillside. It brought back memories of when Miles and I traveled up that mountain. I decided to press on the same trail Miles led me on to see if those Sheep were still low enough to be in pretty good viewing distance. I walked up on of the little hills and there they were!

The last year’s lambs were adorable. I took quite a bit of interest in me.  He would look at me and then turn his or her head kind of like a dog would.  I took some photos and the guy that was traveling behind me caught up and watched them with me.  He took some photos and probably videos with his cell phone and then headed back down the trail. Another group of hikers then came up to see the Sheep. They also stayed for a little bit.  I could have watched them all day but I knew the dogs were back in the RV, it was getting cold and cloudy, and I didn’t want to hike a lot more on my own. I ended up leaving a few minutes after the other hikers did so that even though I wasn’t hiking with them they were close enough that I didn’t feel alone.

I saw some ground squirrels and birds on the trail. I made it back pretty quickly, which I’m sure the dogs appreciated.  I also noticed some flowers coming in and the buds on some of the branches of the brush.

We had a little lunch there before I headed back out of the park. Two cow moose walked into the road right in front of me on my way back to the campground.  After that little wildlife treat, I decided to hang it at camp and work on my last blog post and photos.

I went back back out in the evening, after generator hours.  It was pretty cloudy out but it didn’t rain. I went on past mile 15 on the dirt road. I was a little nervous driving the park road in the RV. I turned a corner and saw lots of parked cars and cameras. An animal must be around. I parked the RV and climbed out with my camera. I didn’t have to walk far to see a giant bull moose right on the side of the road a little in front of the RV. I stood away from the moose and got some photos. The moose started going into the thicker bushes and I decided to sit on top of the RV to see him better. He was slowly walking up the hill he was on and being on the RV came me more of an eye level view of him.

May 18 (34 of 42) WATERMARK

He was fun to watched and really loved that he had a white swirl to his velvet on his rack.  He walked up and down and all around the hill. Cars came and went watching him for a few minutes and repositioning to get the best angle. It was fun the watch the madness a little. I did have one person come and approach the animal with a nice camera set up.  He hillsides and shouted at the animal.  He rocked a tree near the road and tried to obnoxiously try and get the mooses attention.  When the moose did look, his ears were back and the hair on the back of his neck was raised. Not the behavior I want to photograph. He was a beautiful animal and I watched him for a long time before heading back out of the park.

On my way out, I ended up seeing two more bull moose and an outline of the mountain!  These two bull moose were pretty close and I actually didn’t see the second one until after I hiked a little down to a lake to view the first one. I’m glad the second one was behind the first and not behind me! I got some photos of the bull moose I could see from across the river.  These bull moose were in a landscape that most people think of when you think of a moose, a boggy lake eating the grasses.  After photographing and spending time with the bull moose we headed on into our campsite where we edited some photos before heading to bed! Another successful day in Denali National Park!

It was officially Day 29! We slept in and were pretty lazy on the morning of Day 29.  We laid around and didn’t actually get out of bed until almost 11:30!  We decided to go see the different buildings and activities now open in the park. The first location was the visitor center. The visitor center has very helpful and friendly rangers to help answer any questions about the park. There are historical pictures and information about the foundation of the park in the visitor center along with a large elevation map and true to scale wildlife exhibit.  There is also a section where you can interactively learn about the early people who lived in the park and how they were able to do so. The Denali National Park visitor center is an excellent place to go to learn and spend some time while visiting the park.

I then went to the gift shop. There is frequently an author who comes to the shop and will sign copies of their book to you.  I just missed the photographer, bear biologist, and author Matthias Breiter.  I have actually had the opportunity to meet him before hiking near mile 15. We were both looking for pika!  I talked to him about Katmai National Park and he talked about some of his experiences being a bear biologist for Katmai. It was super cool and I was sad I missed him in he book signing! …although I already bought one of his books, “The Bears of Katmai,” from his van the day I met him in Denali National Park. He was super nice and has some, just incredible, images and experiences that he shares through his books.  After looking through the gift shop I went to the grill next door. They have a spot to get coffee and cold snacks and lunches and then a grill with burgers, paninis, soups, chicken tenders, and other typical grill joint foods. I decided to give it a try and ordered the chicken tenders.  It only took about 10 minutes to get my food, which gave me time to grab a beer from the cold lunch and beverage area! I was a little surprised they had beer. I went with a unique one I have never had. After I got my food I brought it to the RV were I enjoyed my lunch with the pooches.

After lunch it was about time to head to the dog kennels to see the 2pm dog demonstration.  Miles recommended to get there early to get to visit with the dogs and get a good spot for the demonstration. I followed his advice and it was great getting to pet and love on the dogs. I got a great spot for the demonstration and was front row to watch the dogs pull the kart around the little path. The ranger was extremely friendly and the dogs seemed super pumped to get hitched up to the kart. They ran around the path and then the ranger explained more about the importance that these sled dogs have in Denali National Park. I definitely recommend the demonstration and to get here early to be able to visit with the dogs. There is vehicle parking at mile 3 for personal vehicles but I would recommend parking at the visitor center and taking the bus up. They have a shuttle that will take you right to the kennels and on the shuttle, a ranger provides a little introduction on the kennels. I would highly recommend doing the dog demonstration, an excellent free activity for the entire family and anyone if any age!

After the demonstration I spent some more time with the dogs and seeing the different buildings next to the kennels. They have all the names of the retired Denali National Park Sled Dogs on the wall in one of the parts of a building. They even had one named Elias! Their Elias must have been way better behaved and smarter than ours!

I decided to head all the way into the park to mile 30 after the dog sled demonstration. I stopped at mile 15 to take a short hike before heading in. I was on a mission to see a pika! Unfortunately I did not see one. I had some nice views though, one semi cooperative ground squirrel, and some far away sheep! I pressed on after my hike.

further down the road I saw…  I stopped by a bunch of cars around mile 26 who were watching some semi-close caribou. I got out and hiked a little to get a little better view. I was still more than 100ft from them. I got back to the RV and pressed on to mile 30. It was a little sad knowing that shoulder season would officially be over until September. It has been a great 28 days prior to regular season.

May 19 (9 of 18) WATERMARK

I hung out at mile 30 for a little while and had a snack before heading back.   On the way back I saw some more ptarmigan, a large bee, a cooperative hare, a moose, a rainbow, and the mountain!  Pretty spectacular day.

I was back at the campsite at 8pm, which was when Josh was supposed to be arriving to meet up with me. He was running super behind and had actually just left the house at 8.  I spent the evening hanging out with the dogs and loading photos.  We were excited when Josh arrived and we had a celebratory beer before heading to bed.  This is where this blog post is going to end but it is really a “to be continued” because Day 29 quickly approached and we were to be on our first bus of the season! Information on Days 29-32 coming soon!!!

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