August 11: speechless in Denali National Park & Preserve

IMG_0596I took the picture above at around 11PM on Monday. The neighbors’ fire is visible, as is my blanket with the sleeping bag draped on top. The temperature dropped to 36F (just over 2C) that night. Thankfully, August 11 started with hot coffee and a hot shower.

IMG_0659Olivier and I then hopped on one of the shuttles toward Eielson Visitor Center, the second-farthest point in the park that’s reachable by bus. We actually missed the one we had tickets for because one of us (hint: it wasn’t Olivier) was thirty seconds late… but we got lucky: a second bus left only ten minutes later.

IMG_0663The park’s natural beauty became immediately apparent.

IMG_0673The Alaska Range is among the most dramatic mountain ranges I’ve seen in my life.

IMG_0684Glacial rivers run through the park.

IMG_0683Note the mittens and (semi-Maoist) hat. I wish I had brought a down jacket as well, but that one is “waiting” for me at home in Washington, D.C. since I really had not expected Alaska to be that cold in early August…

IMG_0691We encountered a total of ten grizzlies during our eight-hour excursion. I had seen some before, in zoos, but observing them in their natural habitat was incomparably more exciting.

IMG_0691bClose capture of the same bear.

IMG_0704This one jogged straight toward the bus…

IMG_0704b… and demonstrated why one should never run away from a grizzly — it would easily outrun a human.

IMG_0706About 150 years from the bus, it changed direction and followed us for about 200 yards before turning around.

IMG_0706bSlightly larger than Harry’s teeth!

IMG_0712We also saw lots of caribou…

IMG_0737… including this male sporting a truly impressive rack.

IMG_0711On our way into the park, only the bottom third of Mt. McKinley–the highest peak in North America (20,237ft = 6.168m) [and the mountain after which my 25-year old sleeping bad is named]–was visible.

IMG_0722Just after we had arrived at Eielson Visitor Center, the area had to be closed for ten minutes because of another grizzly in the vicinity.

IMG_0735And then, on our way back to the park entrance, the clouds disappeared and allowed us to see the summit! Don’t be fooled by the clouds — Mt. McKinley’s two peaks are visible above.

All in all, touring Denali has been the most exciting and rewarding experience of my trip thus far.

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