June 22—We got up early so we could get something to eat and get on the 8am shuttle to Denali park for our 9:15am park shuttle to Wonder Lake. I grabbed blueberry muffins, coffee and bottles of water from the lodge while DH and DD walked across the street to the 24-hour Subway to get sandwiches for lunch. There is no location for food or drinks available in the park. No one at the lodge seemed to know where we were suppose to go and it seemed very disorganized. There were always a lot of busses coming by picking up people for a variety of excursions. It seems that most pick up at the hotel, which is nice. We were just getting the shuttle into Denali since I had just booked us on their internal shuttle since I wanted to go further than their tours went. Seeing Mt. McKinley, they say, happens about 30% of the time, and today wasn’t one of them, so we were glad we’d seen it so well yesterday. Today it was in the clouds all day, although we did see the base at one point. The bus driver thought we were suppose to go to the Visitor’s Center, so we did, only to find out we were to have gone to the Access Center. We waited for the next shuttle to go there where we had to pick up our tickets. Evidently their software leaves a lot to be desired as one computer was tied up trying to do a refund, and the others were extremely slow. We were a good 20 minutes without moving and I began to think we wouldn’t get our tickets in time for our 9:15am bus, but just in time it was our turn, which took about 20 seconds to print our tickets and we went out to get in line for our shuttle. While standing in line we visited with a nice young man, Jed, that also was from Missouri. He’s been in the park hiking/camping/rafting for 22 days. Wow! Nothing I could do, for sure, but he was having a good time. We ended up hanging out with him for the day and we all enjoyed it. The bus tour was 177 miles roundtrip and lasted 11 hours, but that varied depending on the animals you see. Our driver was great about stopping any time anyone saw anything so we could all look or just to see if it was indeed an animal.
We had a great day, although long. During the 11-hour ride we saw caribou, golden eagles, grizzly bears, dall sheep, snowshoe hare, a variety of birds and ducks, moose, wolf, artic ground squirrel and some pretty big mosquitoes! There were a few (very few) bathroom breaks, plus we stopped at the Eielson Visitor Center for 30 minutes where we ate our sandwiches and looked around. As I was talking to one of the student conservation assistants (he was in training to be a park ranger) one of the park rangers came running in and said to close the trails that were right there. It turned out there was a bear fairly close by, so we watched that for some time, which was great since it was closer than we’d seen from the bus. Well, not so cool—we missed the last call for our bus and it left without us! Fortunately there was another shuttle so we jumped on it and got back on our other bus at Wonder Lake. Just as that shuttle was pulling out we saw another bear, so if we’d been on our original bus we would have missed that one, which was the closest yet. On the way to Wonder Lake it poured, really poured, then a little further down it hailed! Well, more like sleet since it was maybe bb size, but there were some excited kids on board that had to get off and pick some up. Anyway, we met up with our bus (which was good since some of our stuff was still on it!) and started the drive back to the Access Center where our tour ended.
The last scheduled shuttle to the lodge was at 7pm, and it was now 8:30pm, so we called them and they came after us. We dropped our stuff in the room then walked across the street to the Salmon Bake for dinner. It was very good, and had a lot of atmosphere. None of the floors were anywhere near even. LOL We then walked around the gift shops until they closed at 10pm—which just doesn’t seem right since it’s still so light out! We came back to the room and everyone crashed. It’s been a long day and we’re heading back to Denali tomorrow. It sure was a fun one, though!
You can see pictures from the trip at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/39149726@N08/sets/