Something about having an alarm go off at 4:30 am during a vacation just seems wrong, but when the possibilities of seeing Moose, Grizzly Bears, Caribou, Wolf, and Dall Sheep are there I suppose it makes it tolerable.
So after a quick pair of showers and some bundling up we grabbed the camera bags and were off. We stopped at the Cafe at the hotel and grabbed some quick breakfast and some drinks for our Tundra Wilderness Tour. It was a quick ten minute drive into the park to start our 53 mile drive into the park and back.
Our first potential view of Mt. McKinley was just a short drive into the park. Mt. McKinley is only visible about 30% of the time due to visibility, fog, cloud cover, etc.
It didn't take long to start to see wildlife after we got into the park either. A caribou was the first to show itself just off the side off the road. By the way, this picture is uncropped--yeah, it was that close!
A little bit further down the road we saw these guys. Can you find them?
Shortly after the moose sighting I spotted this guy just up the hill off the road.
He wanted no part of the tour bus and ran back up the hill. If I had been a little bit quicker with the camera I would have gotten him up on his hind legs looking at the bus when we first stopped.
About half a mile up the road from the Grizzly was a small herd of Caribou right along the side of the road. They obviously knew I was there with photography in mind because they posed like models for 5+ minutes. Here's one of the younger ones.
And an adult. You might think this is a male based off the antlers, but actually both sexes of Caribou grow antlers, though females are usually smaller.
A couple of miles up the road at the Teklanika River Overlook we got lucky enough to come across three grizzys searching for peavine roots under the rocks in the river. Here's a picture of two of the bears from the overlook.
Here's a picture with the 2x teleconverter on (1000mm):
And just because I could, here's a picture with a 1.4x and 2.0x TC stacked (1400mm) of a male and female getting ready to pair up for the breeding season.
After we re-boarded our luxurious bus (ha!) and continued past the treeline I spotted our first Golden Eagle of the trip. Not surprisingly, there were some Dall Sheep a little further down the road. Adult Golden Eagles sometimes prey upon baby Dall Sheep....think about that for a second!
As we got further past the treeline we started to see lots of Willow Ptarmigan. They're funky birds that sort of look like chickens. They're also one of 10 bird species (1 of 3 ptarmigan species) in the park that reside there all year long, and have adapted to have feathers on the legs, tops AND bottoms of their feet.
We also had some amazing sights along the way, especially on a pull-off point on Polychrome Pass.
Polychrome pass is so named due to the volcanic rock in the area from 60+ million years ago. The colors on some of the rocks was amazing.
On our last restroom stop before turning back and heading home, we stopped at a ranger station 54 miles into the park. It was insanely windy but I couldn't resist taking a picture of this Mew Gull as it posed right along the glacial river.
And finally, this youngster gave us some fantastic looks on our way back out of the park.
Mom wasn't far behind...
And that was it! We saw some more Caribou and Dall Sheep on the way back, and had a very distant view of a wolf pack.
On tap for tomorrow...a loooong bus ride from Denali to Seward, with a short stop-over in Anchorage. We will be stopping frequently along the way for sights/pictures, so hopefully tomorrow is another one of those 30% days so we can get some even better views of Mt. McKinley. Oh yeah, and a king crab leg dinner once we get to Seward. :)