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    • Day 26

      Denali ... Tundra Wilderness Tour

      May 28, 2021 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 34 °F

      Unless one has a special permit, the only way to get deep into Denali National Park is either by an NPS transit bus or an NPS tour bus. The latter has a driver/guide who provides narration along the way.

      We’ll be doing the transit bus from our next campground — Teklanika — to Eielson ... alas no tours to Wonder Lake this year. So, for our trip into the park from the Riley Creek Campground, we opted to do a tour. What a great one it turned out to be.

      At the moment, the tours run only as far as Toklat at mile 53. That will change as of 1 June. But so will the occupancy numbers for the buses. At the moment, the tours are operating at only 50% capacity (with everyone masked up) ... which means plenty of space to spread out and everyone gets a window. This made our tour especially nice.

      What a grand day this turned out to be … in every way. Weather-wise — despite it being rather on the cold side ... clear and crisp; scenery-wise — with mountains, braided rivers, blue skies and brilliant sunshine ... even. Denali peeked out from behind its cloak to give us a glimpse; and animal-wise — we had many distant sighting ... but also so many close encounters right by the road that even our veteran tour bus driver was amazed.

      Our “close” wildlife spotting included moose (2 ... one of them a heavily pregnant cow) ... ptarmigans (4) ... Arctic squirrels (impossible to keep count of these critters that were scampering around everywhere) ... caribou (13 ... close enough to see the bumps, which are actually flies that infest their skin); Dall sheep (6 ... including one darling little lamb no more than a week old); grizzly bears (2 ... the Toklat blonde variety, so named for its coloring ... second-year cubs pushed out of the nest, so to speak, by mama); Mew gulls (several nesting pairs).

      What a day this turned out to be!
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    • Day 29

      Transit Bus to Toklat

      May 31, 2021 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 55 °F

      So, our plan for a relaxing afternoon at our campsite after a roundtrip gravel bar hike changed to a one-way hike and a road trip out to Toklat and back ... with a drop off at the campground.

      The drive was not unlike what we did a few days ago from Riley. With two differences. That trip was on a tan colored bus — aka a tour bus ... this one was on a green bus — aka a transit bus ... more like a shuttle that one can hop on and off at will. As well, while the tour from Riley was 106 miles R/T, today we only drove 46 miles R/T since the rest area is at mile 30 of the Park Road. Plus, the tours are narrated; the transit rides are not ... but that depends on the driver, and ours today did share bits and pieces of information.

      Staying at Teklanika Campground, one cannot drive back and forth on the Park Road at will. So, it’s suggested that campers buy what is called a Tek Pass — $60pp. The advantage of the pass is that you get one “reserved ride day” on the transit bus, but are allowed to ride stand-by on other days ... as many times as you want ... at no additional cost.

      Today’s ride was on a stand-by basis. Though the buses are apparently operating at full capacity now, there was plenty of room for us each to get a window seat ... more room to spread out ... better wildlife and scenery viewing. Of course, masks required for the duration of the ride, just as it was on the tour.

      No bears or moose today, but we did see a number of caribou (8); a bachelor herd of Dahl sheep grazing roadside and about 15 of them in the high reaches of some of the steep mountains; Arctic ground squirrels everywhere; a lone spruce grouse; a willow ptarmigan ... male ... a mere white dot perched on a bush; a hoary marmot that wasn’t shy about posing.

      The scenery — especially at the Polychrome Overlook — was as spectacular as ever ... even though the light was a bit harsher. This time, when the bus stopped at the overlook, Mui and I headed up the steps to do half of the short trail that took us around to the back to check out the views in that direction.

      The highlight? If you can believe it ... Denali was OUT again! And because it was a warmer day, she’d shed even more of her cloak! (Actually, the clouds have nothing to do with the temperature, but it seemed like an appropriate analogy.) They say that you only have a 30% chance of seeing the Mountain ... we’ve beaten those odds in spades.
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