Saturday, August 7

Better than National Geographic

We’re in Denali National Park, 237 miles north of Anchorage. It’s a vast area covering more than four million acres of Alaskan wilderness, centred around the majestic Mt McKinley. Denali is actually the native American name of this mountain; translated its means the “Great One.”

We arrived here yesterday after driving up from Anchorage, a journey we broke in half by stopping for four hours at Talkeetna. We currently staying in the aptly named tourist depot of Glitter Gulch. Our hotel (which claims its really a wilderness lodge) is located on a bluff overlooking the swollen, silt-laden Nenana River.

We had made plans to take a shuttle bus into the park’s interior this morning and camp overnight at a lodge in Kantishna village. However, I was kept awake most last night suffering the effect of a chest cold that’s been building for days; coughing, spluttering and expelling large wads of fleem. I reluctantly decided a quiet day at our current location would help my health more than rattling around for six hours on a bumpy, gravel road. As much as the decision pained me, I have to admit that my chest is feeling better after a lazy day of napping and reading.

The decision to abandon our journey to Kantishna was made somewhat easier by yesterday bounty of nature-watching experiences. In short, we’d already enjoyed many of the animal encounters all but guaranteed by the park shuttle bus. The list of encounters reads like a National Geographic article.

Highlights from our drive north yesterday included:
  • Watching our jetboat driver catch salmon by hand in a creek literally seething with spawning fish. This moment alone made it worth the brief stop we made in Talkeetna.

  • Spotting an adult Bald Eagle sitting on a large nest. To date, during cruise excursions, we’d seen several nests with juveniles in resident, but never one with a nesting adult.

  • Enjoying more than one Bald Eagle soar across the bow of our boat on more than one occasion.

  • Watching a large Grizzly Bear amble along an opposing river bank, at times less than 100 metres from where we were standing. Our guide later estimated it was at least 800 pounds, or almost 400 kilograms.

  • Stopping our car in the middle of nowhere to let a moose and two calves cross the road. The entire scene was straight out of a postcard we've seen displayed in almost every Alaskan tourist shop. (We’d already driven past another moose with young grazing on the roadside earlier in our journey so this wasn't even our first Moose sighting.)

In short, we’ve been living the National Geographic dream these last 48 hours. Alaska really is America’s final frontier.

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