The Great Land – Day 3

Group of moose on a river hike
Group of moose on a river hike25-Aug-2012 14:17, Canon Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XS, 2.8, 28.0mm, 0.02 sec, ISO 100
Day 3 started early. The Kantishna bus ride, 13 hours long for a 180 mile journey into Denali National Park, starts at 6:30 AM. We got up early and got some breakfast at the lobby’s cafe. There were a lot of tourists from a cruise, many who couldn’t speak English. It is amazing how people cross seas and like to see places, much like us. Mother Earth’s attractions have far reaching messages.

The bus driver was to be our park guide as well. Kevin was an extremely knowledgeable person and knew the park in and out. He should have been very well educated as well going by his frequent references to books. On one of the stops, I asked him what he did in winter. He was a tour guide in Hawaii and Arizona as well – made a lot of sense. A tour guides job is very portable as long as you know the place.

The Kantishna bus tour is pretty expensive about $150 per person for the 13 hour ride. It includes lunch and snacks/beverages on the way. But it is the best way to see the park as private vehicles aren’t allowed inside the park. To see the entire park will take so long – the park is so big.

The ride into the park started after a couple of lodge stops to pick up the rest of the group. It was raining again and I know that would be disappointing again for photographs. As we drove into the park, the first wild life sighting was that of a moose. A cow moose – one without antlers. We carried on into the park.

There were quite a few stops as depicted on the map. At the Savage river, we heard that a Grizzly had killed a photographer last night. He had been taking pictures too close to the bear. The park authorities advise to stay 1/4 of a mile away from any bear. He was just about 50 meters and had been taking pictures for over 8 minutes as the rangers discovered from his camera. It felt sad on two counts – one, that a life was lost and two, the bear would be taken out so as not to get pursue its new found taste for human flesh.

Nice pose, Mr. Bear!
Nice pose, Mr. Bear!25-Aug-2012 15:14, Canon Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XS, 2.8, 55.0mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 100
As we rode deep into the park, it was mighty clear that the park was huge. Even so, there is only limited vegetation – all of five species of trees grow in the park. That is because not many can survive the harsh winter. Winter temperatures can go to 40 below with winds. The park is over 6 million square acres, larger than the state of Massachusetts! The park is named ‘The High One’ after Mt. McKinley. Throughout most of the day, we couldn’t see the peak due to the constant cloud cover. It remained a mystery to us until after lunch when the Sun decided to drive away the clouds and the peak opened itself up for us in all its sheer beauty. It was picture perfect, with still waters in front of it as I was able to take my best shots of the trip so far.

America's Manasa sarovar (Ocean of Peace). Picture perfect lake front
America's Manasa sarovar (Ocean of Peace). Picture perfect lake front25-Aug-2012 16:54, Canon Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XS, 2.8, 55.0mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 100
For Lunch, we stopped at the Kanthishna Lodge deep into the park. Kanthishna is the old Gold mining town. Veggie wraps and minestrone soup felt good on the appetite. After lunch there were two activities – gold fishing in the river below and dog sled watching. We opted for the latter. First we were shown a video of the huskies by a ranger who had worked for the AlaskanĀ  Government free of charge all his life. After ‘retirement’ he had become a tour guide. He was a native Alaskan who lived far up north where the only mode of transportation was dog sleds. After the video, he took us out to the stadium behind – a few raised benches forming the seating. There he tied seven huskies to an ATV. It was amazing to watch how the dogs were rearing to go right from the beginning. If not for the brakes and weight of the vehicle, they wouldn’t have been contained. Once the seven huskies were all tied up, Tom let loose the ATV and off they went galloping. ATVs are used to train the huskies, btw.

Huskies pulling a make-do sled. ATVs are used to train the dogs off tracks
Huskies pulling a make-do sled. ATVs are used to train the dogs off tracks25-Aug-2012 18:59, Canon Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XS, 4.0, 55.0mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 400

25-Aug-2012 20:09, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 4.0, 7.407mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 80
After lunch we started back to the park entrance stopping again at the Eielson Visitor Center where you can view the peak if the skies are clear. By this time again, the clouds had decided to come back in. We felt fortunate for the 15 minute glimpse of the peak. On our way, both in and out, we spotted bears, moose, Dall sheep and a red fox. Watching the bear was something as it gnawed away at the vegetation constantly. It eats about 30 pounds worth of food every day to build the fat needed to hibernate the winter away. Another interesting fact I heard from Kevin was that a Moose’s antlers drop off and regrow every year. In about 3 months, they grow back to their average 40 lb weight. A moose spends so much energy that it burns 10000 calories just by sitting for a 12 hour period to digest the food (mainly bark) it consumes. All the animals heart rate slow down considerably during winter to help them acclimatize themselves to the winter. A Denali squirrels heart rate can be 200 in summer and drops down to just two per minute in winter!

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