One of the highlights of my Alaska experience so far has been Denali National Park. This multi-million acre wildlife preserve sits north of and including part of the Alaska Range; its entrance is about two hours south of Fairbanks on the Parks Highway. There’s a 90-mile road through the park, but only the first 17 are freely accessible to the general public. To see the rest, you have to have a special permit, or take one of the bus rides. On June 9, my partner and I took the shuttle bus option. It’s an 11-hour ride from the visitor center to Wonder Lake, and back. The bus makes planned stops for restroom breaks, and as-needed stops for wildlife photography. We had to pack in our own food and water. The idea for this trip came from a co-worker of mine, who not only suggested it, but gave us tips on how to to get the best seats on the bus (leave Fairbanks at 2 am). He also lent us binoculars.
The trip was very interesting, and worth doing once. But 11 hours on a bus with the same people gets tiresome no matter how much fun you’re having. Up near the front where we were, one man was in an annoyingly excited state for the entire trip. He never stopped glancing around, switching seats, and passing the camera back and forth between him and his wife. At every wildlife stop, he would repeatedly declare how awesome it was. Another old man began asking people to close the bus windows, because the draft made him cold. I was about to suggest that he’d be better off experiencing Alaska on a Princess cruise, but I never said it. The only way to take good photos was through open windows; the glass was mud-spattered less than halfway through the trip.
Throughout the park, we saw wildlife, scenescapes, and, unfortunately, fog. The cloud deck was low enough that we never saw the park’s namesake, Denali (Mt. McKinley). Firsts for me include seeing various species of wildlife, and being in tundra for the first time in my life.