Apr 8, 2013

Call of the Wild- Denali National Park, An abode of Grizzly Bears!


Alaska Denali NAtional PArk Mt Denali
Early rays of Sun on Mt Denali

Home of North America's highest peak Mt Denali (20,320ft), Denali National Park is a vast wild land of high alpine tundras and snowy mountains. The highest mountain, more popular by the name Mt McKinley, is the 'roof' of North America. Denali means "the high one" in Athabascan native language. It seems only 20% of the total visitors happen to have a glimpse of this mountain! And I am one of them!

Per National Park Services, the park is six million acres vast! And it has only one single gravel road!! The road is 90 miles long and private vehicles can go up to Savage River Campground which is 15 miles from the entrance. Rest of the park interior to Savage River is accessible only by Park Buses on the gravel road. The road meanders through scenic vistas crossing over rolling hills and cliffs. On either side one can have the views of mountains and braided rivers. There are around six campgrounds of which I camped at three. Imagine six million wild land and endless opportunities for adventures!

Alaska Denali NAtional PArk Grizzly Bear
North American Brown Bear (Grizzly)

Denali National park is home for variety of wildlife, wildflowers and mushrooms. Even though the presence of plenty of wildlife, Alaska is known for the bears, especially Grizzly (brown) bears. Denali NP is home for both black and brown bears. Black bears are seen inside the lush forested areas. Grizzlies live in open tundras. It is a wonderful experience to watch these bears roaming freely in the tundra from a high viewpoint. The bear in the picture is a mother-grizzly. It was July and hence it has lost weight during winter, and also feeding the young one. This Mommy was pulling out some berries  and the only cub was in the vicinity when I saw them.

Alaska Denali NAtional PArk Dall Sheep
Alaskan Dall Sheep
To have a glimpse of Mt Denali I camped at Wonder Lake campground which is farthest inside the park. But, the mountain was still elusive. I went on a hike to McKinley River from the campground. The 2.5-mile roundtrip trail was infested with mosquitoes. Wearing a head-net is a must here. I was with a group of 3 and all along the fear of grizzly made us scream "Hello Bear" as per the Ranger instructions. Even slightest movement the bushes would bring chill in the backbone :)  The hike wasn't worth any of the effort spent. No views or anything to note. Well, we finished the hike successfully without any casualties, sighting only a caribou. Rest of the time I waited for the mountain to show up from behind the clouds! There was no  scope for campfire or anything else- in that bone biting cold monstrous mosquitoes would suck our blood to the last drop! But, since there is no complete-darkness in the month of July sleep was a mirage. I just got out of the tent at 3:00AM and was awestruck by the scene I saw! The whole Mt Denali range was visible in that dim light! It was like a white celestial being lining the horizon. I ran around to take few pictures. Later, I saw the first rays of Sun on the mountain! I was speechless!! It seems as the sun rises the mountain creates atmosphere of its own and hides behind the clouds it created. I was eternally happy to be one of those 20% of the visitors who see the mountain!

Alaska Denali NAtional PArk Mushrooms
There are 650 species of wildflowers bloom in the park and numerous species of fungi also exist. I went on short hikes to shoot wildlife, birds and close-ups of wildflowers and  mushrooms. I wanted to go deeper into the wild but recent incidents of bear attacks kept me on the edge. A day before a woman was attacked and she played dead to save herself when The bear caught her by her thigh and ripped her. She is brave to think of playing dead in that terrifying moment and pain. A day before that another woman was attacked and her male companion had shot the attacking bear dead. I neither had a gun or a group of people who would fight for my life :)

There were numerous species of mushrooms of different, sizes, shapes, patterns and smell. Two of them interested me a lot- Gemmed Puffball and Hawk's wing. Aptly named these white puffballs were scattered all along the shady areas like gems. Hawk's wing is a large mushroom with the exact pattern as a hawk's feathers. On one hike particularly, we went up a hill to have a top view of a mighty glacier, I returned midway because of mosquitoes. The trail didn't seem  right to me. Scariest part was I did see a bear on the way back at a short distance and I ran to my car. I know people say one has to play-dead when grizzly is around. You know? when I get scared I forget even that my name is Kusum! I sat still inside when it walked past the car a little while later. Since it was out of National Park premises it was much scarier! I took pictures of few wildflowers too- some while hiking in the alpine tundras and some in the valley area. There was a beaver dam which was amazingly strong!


On the bus ride I saw an herd of Dall Sheep (Ovis dulli) resting on the cliff, and a pack of wolves. On the long hike along the Savage River, along with beautiful views I sighted a family of Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus), a type of grouse which is state bird of Alaska. They were resting all around under the shrub thickets. I wanted to photograph the lone amphibian which lives in the park, a Wood Frog. I went looking under the bushes with no luck. It seems they can survive in temperatures up to -12 deg C.

Alaska Denali NAtional PArk Savage River
Hike along the Savage River
From the bus ride itself one could sight bigger mammals when lucky. The driver/guide spot these wild animals easily. Visitor centers are very good as with all the national parks in USA. Books, souvenirs and much more. The bus stops for some time at Eielson Visitor center for a break from long ride. It has a museum and viewpoints. Visitors can go for short hikes to enjoy the views of vast open tundra around. If lucky one could sight a grizzly with the help of binoculars. Campgrounds here are equipped for longer stays. Riley Creek campground has shower and laundry facilities for people who are on a long backpacking trip. Savage River campground has potable water. Did some shopping in the market right outside the park entrance. Bought an ulu which was made of the same alloy as the native Alaskans used. Bit expensive though not sure how authentic it is! 

It was my dream to hike the Stampede Trail. If you have seen the movie- Into the wild, you know what I am talking about :) I would love to visit that Magic bus 142 by crossing that torrential river Teklanika. Well, I am not Christopher to undertake this journey solo, but, some day I will. However, visiting Alaska was an experience of lifetime! Encountering a grizzly, view of Mt Denali, drive through the alpine passes and so on ... The park offers so much ... it is up to us- what we seek ... wildlife, beautiful scenery, adventure or solitude ...

Wilderness is one of the permanent homes of the human spirit- Joseph Wood Krutch
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Leave a comment to share your beautiful thoughts :)

You may also like- More on Alaska

This post is linked to Our World Tuesday.

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Scrapbook- A Travel Blog by Kusum Sanu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

42 comments:

  1. It is always exciting to be in the wild. Nice post Kusum.

    http://rajniranjandas.blogspot.in

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    1. Yes, it is very fascinating! Thanks Niranjan :)

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  2. Even though you dint see the bear while camping, I am sure it was adventurous. And the sight of seeing the glimpse of the national park in the night and the sunrise would always linger in your heart forever, isn't it?

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    1. I saw a bear while hiking, that is definitely adventurous, rather scary, for me! Seeing Mt Denali in the night was mesmerizing indeed!

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  3. What an awesome place, Kusum, and terrific captures for the day! It is indeed exciting to be in "the wild"!! Thanks for sharing the beauty! Hope you have a great week!

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  4. Beautiful & breathtaking captures of the wild! I wish I was behind this camera...Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Thanks Randi. Being in Alaskan wild is really exciting.

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  5. Great bear shot!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

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  6. Love the flowers so much and I think the one unidentified is a Gentiana frigida. They are so beautiful, Kusum!
    Warm greetings from Holland,
    Anna

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    1. Thanks Anna. Yes, you identified it right! They are indeed Gentiana Frigida.

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  7. A wonderful adventure even with you running away from the bear. Protection from mosquitos and black floes is essential, in the summertime, they can eat you alive. Did you feast on the mushrooms? I really envy you seeing the pack of wolves. Thank you so much for sharing the wonders of your trip with us.

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    1. Thank you Arija. You are right about those mosquitoes. I even bought a postcard which had a picture of Alaskan mosquito :)

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  8. Wow, we don't get to see grizzlies very often. Gorgeous photos!
    K

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  9. Not sure I would have been able to hold the camera steady to take a photo of a grizzly.

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    1. Ha ha ... I could do that only when I was safe in the vehicle!

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  10. what a gorgeous park. it must have been a real treat to see the grizzly in person.

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  11. There are black bears in the vicinity where I now live. I think brown grizzlies are even fiercer! You were wise to be careful. Denali is on my "bucket list" of places I hope to visit one day!

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    1. Wow! bear near your home, that sounds real adventure to me! Yes, being careful is good for us and those magnificent animals too! I hope you will enjoy your trip soon!

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  12. WHat a blast to see a grizzly!

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  13. Wow - majestic and spectacular shots!

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  14. denali is in my top ten of dream destinations.

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  15. remarkable. Every time (well almost every time!) I vista your blog I add a place to my "to visit" list!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

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    1. Thanks Stewart! Good for you, so many places to visit! I must say, some day I will visit AUS for sure!

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  16. Wonderful and sighting the grizzlies are always special and you sure are lucky to be in the 20% :)

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    1. Thank you Santosh! Yes, the experience was very special!

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  17. That's stunning. I've never made it to Alaska but it's very high on my list.

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    1. Thanks! Yep, it is a must visit place :)

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  18. Thank you for the virtual tour. So many of us will never get to see these things for ourselves. What wondrous scenery.

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    1. Thanks Betty for your kind words! But, we don't know who gets to where, may be one fine day you might be in Alaska! :)

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  19. Wow, what an adventure it must be to camp in that fabulous place. The mountains are amazingly beautiful - lucky you to have seen them! I'd be afraid of the bears, though I would love to see them. Thanks for sharing your trip!

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    1. Welcome to my blog :) Thanks for dropping by. It was an adventure!

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    1. Welcome to my blog Marlo and thanks! Yes, I agree Denali is special!

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  21. oh wow..what scenery and the lucky wildlife that gets to live there...I hope they keep it safe...Michelle

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    1. Thanks Michelle! I hope the same too!

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