A Change in Weather

Denali day three & four 2Although our second day inside Denali was magical, it was also exhausting. We were up at 4 a.m., spent over 15 hours on the road and were not back to bed until 1 a.m. So this morning instead of heading out at 5 a.m., we left a little after 6 a.m. The weather forecast was for a rare second sunny day in a row, but we knew there would be a change in weather sooner or later.Denali day three & four 3

Denali day three & four 4As we drove out, once again beating the first bus, the sky was completely clear and blue. The mountains around Polychrome Pass stood out brightly against the bright blue sky, so different from the foggy morning the day before.

We did not see a lot of wildlife, and so we continued driving on eagerly anticipating the view of the mountain.

Denali day three & four 5We caught the first glimpse of the top of Denali on one of the rises, so crisp white against everything else around her. She allowed a couple of other glimpses along the road.

Denali day three & four 10Denali day three & four 8We stopped at the Toklat River Contact Station, an information center and small bookstore right by the Toklat River. This is one of the major stops for buses, and it is a lovely place to walk along the river with expansive views. But this early in the morning there was no one there.

There are wolves in the area, but they are pretty elusive. Still, hope springs eternal.

There are several huge antlers on a bench by the entrance and anytime we stopped there, Angel had to sniff the antlers. Something about them just fascinated her.

Denali day three & four 7Denali day three & four 6
We left before the first buses arrived, stopping at the Stony Point overview. And there she was, Denali, completely out, a massive crystal clear mountain, out for the second day in a row. Another rare treat, and more good fortune.

Denali day three & four 12Denali day three & four 11Denali day three & four 14Denali day three & four 13As we continued, we saw a beautiful scene, a caribou drinking from a little mountain stream filled with bright green mosses. We will return to this stream another time.

Denali day three & four 15We arrived at the Eilson Visitor Center, to  more stunning mountain views.

Denali day three & four 17Denali day three & four 23We were curious about the relative lack of wildlife, and Hector asked one of the rangers about that. She confirmed that the wildlife is not as active during times like these, when the sun shines brightly and makes it warmer than normal (warmer being a relative concept in these parts).Denali day three & four 18Denali day three & four 21

Then Ranger Ali said a very funny thing:

“When the weather is crappy, the wildlife is happy.”

This became our mantra for the rest of the week.Denali day three & four 20

At this point, we chose to turn around and not make the longer trek out to Wonder Lake.

Denali day three & four 22Denali day three & four 19

Denali day three & four 16On our return, we saw more caribou, and discovered that the caribou like to walk on the road.  This pair was zooming along at a full gallop. They run with kind of a funny gait.

Denali day three & four 35We stopped at Toklat River again, now with some buses.

Denali day three & four 34Denali day three & four 37Denali day three & four 38Denali day three & four 39Although it was a time of day when the light begins to get harsh, some puffy clouds were developing against the blue sky.

We reached the campground, and realized that since we wanted to go for another drive that evening and again early the following morning, we would have to get gas. Something we had not considered in our excitement about the permit.

And if there was only one person in the car, it had to be Hector. So he drove back out of the park for gas, a total of 60 miles roundtrip, while I rested a bit and prepared for our evening drive.

There was one highlight during Hector’s outing, he found a moose cow walking in front of one of the buses and she gave him a very flirtatious look.

Shortly after he returned, we headed out again. With four passes to cross and stops for photography, a few miles takes an awfully long time.

Denali day three & four 40It was a pretty afternoon, the puffy clouds were still out, but it was still quite bright.

Denali day three & four 41We found another gyrfalcon, perching prettily on a single branch and singing to us.

Denali day three & four 44Denali day three & four 47Denali day three & four 46And we saw more willow ptarmigan, still in their summer colors. These interesting birds have feathered toes which become fluffy white snowshoes in winter. And they provide a tasty treat for the gyrfalcon, oh my.

Denali day three & four 49Denali day three & four 48We saw more caribou. At this time of year, the caribou’s antlers are full grown, but they are still covered with velvet (fur). Sometime in the fall before the rutting (mating) season, they will shed the velvet, and their antlers become weapons.

The males also produce more testosterone in the fall, which makes their necks much larger. All of that prepares them for fighting with other males and establishing control over the space where they will mate.

Denali day three & four 50That evening we turned around at Sable Pass, the first pass after our campground, enjoying the clear evening on our way back. A short drive. But not including Hector’s two-hour drive for gas, we were on and around the road for over 11 hours.

Denali day three & four 51The forecast for the following morning was for cloudy weather and showers, and we headed out just after 6 a.m., about the same time as the day before.

Denali day three & four 52Denali day three & four 53It was a bit cooler that morning, with very interesting cloud formations in the sky, and Denali was playing peek-a-boo, drifting in and out of the clouds.Denali day three & four 59

Even though Angel was with us, with the cooler weather we were able to take short walks and leave her in the car with the windows half open. We did not have to stray far to see more beautiful sights.Denali day three & four 57

On this day, we planned to go only as far as Eilson Visitor Center, and we took a little time there to check out their displays. They have lots of information on the mountain, its history, routes established by famous climbers and more.

Denali day three & four 54Denali day three & four 61One display is a visibility chart that shows average days that the mountain is totally visible each month during the tourist season: June – 4 days, July – 2 days, August – 4 days and September – 5 days. The chart also shows average days the mountain is partially visible and not visible. She is visible less than 50 percent of the time, reminding us again of how fortunate we were.

We witnessed another Junior Ranger “swearing in”, it seems that we see one in almost every national park we visit. We love that program!Denali day three & four 62

Back on the road, we spotted a caribou bull sitting peacefully amongst some high shrubs. Some buses also stopped to admire it.  But a bus from the other direction did not see it and sped right next to the shrubs where the caribou was resting and spooked him.

Denali day three & four 63Denali day three & four 64We watched him run across the road up a rise, over to the other side and across the tundra. Caribou hoofs are large and concave and spread widely to provide good support for them when they run in snow and tundra. It is so interesting to see how lightly they can run across that boggy tundra.

Denali day three & four 68Denali day three & four 66We were fascinated by this caribou and drove slowly to try to find him again. As we did, he came running back across and down the road, and we turned around again, curious as to where he was going.

Denali day three & four 69

Denali day three & four 70I told Hector that he was probably headed back to the cozy looking little spot that he came from. And lo and behold he trotted right down to the same spot and bedded down, showing only his “salad servers” above the shrubs.

Denali day three & four 72Denali day three & four 73Denali day three & four 74We had been watching storm clouds in the distance, and as we watched another caribou, something that sounded like an explosion startled us, then we saw a lightning bolt over the mountains and realized that the sound had been thunder.

Denali day three & four 94Immediately afterwards, the rain arrived in the form of a downpour along with some hail. Fortunately, it was not very big hail.

Just as quickly as it began, the rain stopped, but we could see storms all around us above the mountains.

Denali day three & four 93Another caribou bull appeared as if nothing had just happened.

Denali day three & four 82Then we saw a big grizzly. Hector named him Yoga Bear. He sat down and laid on his back and looked like he was doing yoga stretches.

Watching the bears was proving to be quite entertaining.

Denali day three & four 86Denali day three & four 83

Denali day three & four 85Denali day three & four 80It was now mid-afternoon, a time that normally gets pretty busy around the park, but suddenly it was very quiet and serene. We had not seen anyone in quite some time. Hector asked: Where did all the buses go? I thought maybe some tours were cancelled because of the rain and storms.Denali day three & four 58

Denali day three & four 90Denali day three & four 91As we watched more caribou, it continued to feel like we had the park to ourselves. Hmmm.

Then we saw another car that looked like they were stopped to look at wildlife. And they were; another grizzly bear was walking around and feeding near some fireweed not too far from the road.

Denali day three & four 87

Words of wisdom

Words of wisdom

We stopped a little ways behind the car and Hector got out and set up his tripod. When bears are close, he sets up behind the car with the door open. We watched the bear as he walked away from us, then back towards us while munching on berries.Denali day three & four 89

Then the bear stopped feeding and began to walk purposely towards the road. He walked onto the road right behind the car in front of us, turning and continuing to walk towards us. Hector quickly got his gear and himself into the car.

Denali day three & four 88Denali day three & four 55Denali day three & four 92Denali day three & four 79The bear walked right next to our car without giving us another glance. We could have reached out and touched him, it was a bit unnerving. Grizzly bears are very intelligent creatures, and I think he was letting us know he knew we were there. It all happened so fast that Hector didn’t have time to change from his long lens to his regular lens to take a photo of him walking by the car. And just like that, he was gone.

As we slowly drove out, we chatted with the folks in the other car, turned out they were park employees.

The woman driving the car asked if we knew about the mudslide. And that is how we found out that the storm caused a mudslide on our side of the Toklat River. Meaning we could not get back to the campground. They said it would take about three hours to clear.

Well, that explained why we had not seen any buses and why we had the park to ourselves.

Denali day three & four 95So we turned back heading away from our campground and then ran into a ranger who confirmed the information. He said workers had been working for about an hour, and it would take another two hours or so. He also mentioned that the last mudslide took about three days to clear. We were so glad we had Angel with us.

We were now watching storm clouds completely covering the mountain views.

Denali day three & four 100It was quite beautiful, and we noticed new snow on the distant mountain ridge.

Denali day three & four 96And the green of the meadow grew more intense against the cloudy skies.

Denali day three & four 99Denali day three & four 98We stopped at Stony Point, normally full of buses at this time but empty now, to watch all of the weather around us. Another car drove up, the couple had arrived the day before. She was with the artist-in-residence program and was going to be there for ten days. We let them know about the mudslide and since they could not get back, they too turned around to explore some more.

When we reached Eilson Visitor Center, we found lots of the buses (others were stuck on the other side of the mudslide).

Denali day three & four 97Denali day three & four 101Shortly after we arrived, the buses started to leave in small groups, the crews had cleared one lane so that traffic could begin to go through.

It was getting pretty late in the evening, so we drove back purposefully.

Denali day three & four 102We found crews still hard at work on the mudslide as we drove through on the open lane. We were so grateful for these folks who worked so hard and got the road cleaned up so quickly.

Denali day three & four 103Even though we were tired after over 14 hours on the road, it was a great day and a great adventure and we were happy to be safe and sound and back home.

~ Brenda

12 thoughts on “A Change in Weather

  1. Wow! Wow! There just aren’t words any more for all the beauty you have shared. What a great few days of sunshine and clear sky you had in Denali NP! Boy did you luck out:) The caribou are spectacular! Love the new phrase…salad servers!!! That’s exactly what the antlers look like. Good one, Brenda! But that grizzly gets the prize for the day:) What a cutie:) Very cool photos! I expecially like the first photo of the mountain with the purple flowers when you arrived at the Eilson VC. So glad it was a smaller mud slide and you didn’t get delayed too long. You two are going to need a few days of sleep after your very long days. Please be careful:)

  2. Hard to decide if the photos of wildflowers or wildlife were more spectacular. Such amazing images of nature’s bounty. The caribou, weather changes and yogi bear plus the descriptive narrative created a wonderful experience for those of us who are not there but share your passion.

    So glad you are safe and enjoying your travels. Where’s your next stop?

    • Glad you are enjoying the blog. We are now back in Canada, heading back to Haines, Alaska. A few more border crossings to go.

  3. Wow! Action-packed and beautiful, as ever. I laughed out loud at the prospect of Hector getting a flirtatious look from a cow moose! 🙂 Rock on! xo

  4. You two must have been exhausted after such a long day, or perhaps the excitement of the weather and the wildlife viewing kept the adrenaline flowing. Terry had a similar experience when he was a tour guide in Yellowstone, having a huge grizzly, nicknamed the “Christmas Bear”, walk along their van, within inches of it, giving all his passengers quite a show.

  5. Is the park getting more beautiful or are the colors and pictures getting even better.
    Fascinating! So much good stuff to see! Thanks!
    Hey, bring me a set of antlers to put over the mantle???? Please?

  6. Hector, about that bear coming too close to the car and your needing to change lens … time to invest in that second camera body so you always have two lens ready! Nice shots of the bear and caribou.

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