An American Safari: Denali National Park

At the end of my sixth week I spent my absolute favorite Alaskan day in the Interior exploring Denali National Park. I felt like an intruder on the long drive north, as I was often the only car on the road surrounded by nothing but rocky brown mountains, flat yellow tundra, and taiga forest. I savored this radical change in landscape­ so unfamiliar from the temperate rainforest and glaciers of Girdwood. Private vehicles aren’t allowed in the park, so I rode a hardy evergreen school bus all the way to Wonder Lake (about five and a half hours). The journey was almost like going back to first grade— except this was a field trip with strangers. But the sheer euphoria of so many fellow travelers fulfilling a common dream created a special camaraderie among us, and I was happy to witness such genuine awe and respect for an intricate ecosystem that beats without humanity’s presence. We saw the “Big Five” (moose, grizzlies, caribou, Dall sheep, and wolves) in just the first three hours, in addition to a lynx, ptarmigan, snowshoe hares, golden eagles, harriers, trumpeter swans, pintail ducks, and ground squirrels. But by far the most spectacular surprise was Mt. McKinley (Denali)’s purple and pink peaks gracing a baby blue sky. I was thrilled just to see, hear, touch, and smell this magnificent park, but glimpsing so many rare sights made the day utterly remarkable. I also remembered my great grandmother Marian Erickson on what would have been her 99th birthday, and celebrated my cousin Adam Taplin’s wedding from more than 3,300 miles away.

A unique mode of transportation... the Denali shuttle bus

A curious mode of transportation... the shuttle bus

Morning showers

Morning showers

A retreating glacier formed the kettle ponds at the bottom left.

A retreating glacier formed the kettle pond on the bottom left.

Gorgeous lightshadows

Gorgeous shadows and light

More incredible scenery

More incredible scenery

Mindi, what kind of rock formations are these?!

Mindi, what kind of rock formations are these?!

A glacier!

A glacier!

Bellissima

Bellissima

I made it to Wonder Lake!

I made it to Wonder Lake!

Can you spot the female grizzly and two cubs? This is one of three mom-and-cub groups we observed.

Can you spot the female grizzly and her two cubs? This is one of three mom-and-cub groups we observed.

Mama bear (my favorite Denali photo!)

Mama bear (my favorite Denali photo!)

Caribou wading in a braided river

Caribou wading in a braided river valley

A "Dall speck" for you, Cameron! This male has amazing horns.

A "Dall speck" for you, Cameron! This male had amazing horns.

A sow moose under Denali

Sow moose under Denali

A sow moose

Sow moose

Two sow moose

Two sow moose on the loose

A Denali wolf

Denali wolf

My first glimpse of Denali! I was so lucky to see this mountain usually obscured by clouds.

My first glimpse of Denali! I was so lucky to see this mountain usually obscured by clouds.

Getting closer to Denali...

Getting closer to Denali...

My favorite view of Denali from Stony Pass

My favorite view of Denali from Stony Pass

Denali from the Eielson Visitor Center

Denali from the Eielson Visitor Center

Clouds rolling in...

Clouds rolling in...

I wore this baseball cap received during an Alternative Spring Break trip to Appalachia in front of North America's highest peak (20,320 feet).

I wore this baseball cap received during an Alternative Spring Break trip to Appalachia in front of North America's highest peak (20,320 feet).

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