5:12am I am showered and dressed and Barbara is working on it.  To get ready for today we had to pack one back for both of us that will be with us at North Face Lodge in Denali Park and our other two bags will be sent ahead to our hotel in Talkeetna. The schedule for today is breakfast at 6:30am, bags out by 7am and on the bus by 7:30am. 6:25am We are about to leave for breakfast only to discover that I have accidentally changed the combination of the lock on our Denali duffel bag.  We will have to try and get it cut off if we can either here or at the North Face Lodge. 7:05am Just back from breakfast and our bags are still sitting in the hallway outside our door. Justin kept referring to our rides throughout the trip as “The Magic Bus”.  I now know why.  There is a bus parked at the hotel with big lettering that says ‘Magic Bus’.  I can hear the song in my head but I can’t remember who sings it.  Took a while, but “The Magic Bus” was sung by the group ‘The Who’. 8:00am We are on the bus and headed south towards Denali National Park.  Howard just turned in his seat to see why I was talking to myself.  He saw the voice recorder that I use to take notes on these trips and started to laugh. 8:12am We stop to look at the Tanana River and the Tanana Valley.  Our first, of many, looks at the purple flowers of a wildflower called Fireweed. 8:23am Back on the road.  Justin informed us that the locals believe the Fireweed blossoms predict the summer.  The plant is a stalk with the flowering section at the top.  The buds open from the bottom up, when half the buds are open summer is half over.  When all the buds have opened the first snow is about 2 weeks off. 8:36am Large fire.  Burned/dead trees still standing. 9:12am We have stopped in Nenana for restroom break, snack and drink break. Nenana’s claim to fame is the “Nenana Ice Classic”.  The Ice Classic is pool/contest where people who buy tickets write down a date and time.  A wooden ‘tripod’ (actually has four legs, not three) is built and painted black and white.  Once the Tanana River, which flows just behind the village, freezes over the tripod is put on the ice about 300 ft from shore.  The tripod is connected by rope to a clock that is on the shore.  When the ice begins to break up the tripod will move downriver with the ice.  At some point the rope attached to the tripod will pull and stop the clock.  The person that picked the date/time closest to when the clock stops wins.  Barbara and I bought a couple of tickets. Birds seen at Nenana:  Black-legged Kittiwake, Herring Gull and Mew Gull. 9:50am We are driving on Parks Highway heading to Denali National Park (Parks Hwy is named after George A. Parks, not the parks that are now here). 10:43am Driving up a very twisty, turny road to where we will be having lunch.  A few silly road signs are posted on the road up to the restaurant “Alpenglow” which is attached to the lodge “The Grande Denali”. Sorry for the quality of the photos.  The bus didn’t stop for the signs, the road wasn’t the smoothest in the area and they are all thru the bus windows. Noon Just finished a very nice lunch at The Alpenglow.  I had the Monte Cristo sandwich (honey ham, smoked turkey,  smoked gouda,  provolone cheese egg bread,  berry compote, crème fraiche) and Barbara had the D’anjou Pear & Mission Fig Flatbread (danish blue cream sauce, brie, arugula, caramelized onion).  Barbara and I shared an appetizer Fried Brussels Sprouts (pancetta lardons, parmesan, balsamic reduction, roasted garlic aioli). 12:25pm The Magic Bus took us from the Alpenglow to the Denali train station which is where we transferred to the Parks system bus that will take us into the park and to our lodge, The North Face Lodge, 89 miles from the park entrance.  The busses are named for birds and our bus is the Peregrine and our driver’s name is Ryan. 1:11pm The bus is moving and we are now heading into the Denali National Park.  The driver just informed us that the park was founded in 1917 and this is its 100th anniversary. Note:  Our driver had a lot of dialog to get through and talked almost constantly while driving.  He did put out a lot of interesting information but I had issues with his manner of speaking.  He spoke very slowly, took many very exaggerated pauses, sometimes several in one sentence.  With so much to see and think about I missed much of what he was saying because he took so long to make his point.  Barbara seemed to enjoy his voice and his methods, but she does have a much longer attention span than I do. Denali National Park is roughly the same size as the state of Massachusetts. 2:20pm 15 minutes for a bathroom break at the Teklanika Rest area, around mile 30 on the park road.  Nice views of the Teklanika River behind the rest area.  The bathrooms were a series of buildings with 4 – 8 rooms, all with a door to the outside.  Strange thing about the little rooms, they all had bank vault like doors.  Considering they are just outhouse doors I am guessing they were made to keep out Grizzly Bears?  I think it would have taken me an hour to break into one with an ax. 2:57pm We stopped on the road for views of Dall Sheep.  The Dall Sheep are very far from the road and high up the side of a mountain. 3:00pm Views from the road as we head further into Denali Park. 3:20pm Another wildlife stop.  This time for our first Caribou. 3:40pm Monkshood is a deep purple wildflower, is toxic and grows around the Fireweed.  Also another wildflower we are seeing is Cinquefoil.  We are getting close to stopping for our box dinner. 3:43pm We are at the Igloo Picnic area near mile 35 on the park road by the east fork of the Toklat River.  Got some photos of the crews setting up.  There are 3 busses heading for the North Face Lodge. 4:45pm We just finished having our box dinner.  It wasn’t so much a box lunch as a buffet set up in the wilderness.  They started out with hot hand towels to clean our hands.  Then a variety of meats, cheeses fruits and other foods.  Our first taste of the delicious blueberry jam made by the staff from blueberries they collect in the park.  All very good. 4:50pm All the food and tables are packed up and back on the busses.  We are back on the road again. 5:13pm We stopped at Polychrome Overlook, mile 46.  Great views of the park, a lone Caribou on the side of the cliff and up higher even a huge nest.  Golden Eagle nest with 2 young. 5:35pm Back on the road.  We see lots of scenery and a Caribou in dry river bed. 6:05pm Last rest stop before the lodge.  Toklat River Rest Stop about mile 53 on the Park Road. Three Dall Sheep on the hillside overlooking the rest area.  The white sheep stand out against the green mountain.  Barbara: “They look like they are on a golf course”. 6:30pm Some really nice photos of Caribou very near the road.  Almost as soon as we moved on we saw another Caribou, this one was up on a hill. 7:10pm Great photo op of an adult, female Grizzly Bear.  Also, while the very close Grizzly was playing out, there was also another female Grizzly with 2 cubs up the hill from us.  Where to look. Where to look. While watching the Grizzly a Northern Harrier flew past. As the Grizzly was walking cross country and we were following the road in the bus, we kept crossing paths.  Ryan, the driver, kept stopping for us to get a good look and some great photos of the Grizzly.  Once the road stopped doing all the switch-backs and started to run in a straight line the Grizzly started a slow mosey down the middle of the road.  We were stuck following her for a while. 7:30pm Another wildlife sighting.  A nursery herd of Caribou near the top ridge of the valley we were driving in. Ryan just said that this has been the most wildlife full hour he has ever spent in the park. 8:04pm We are on the move again.  Beautiful scenery. We just saw a Short-eared Owl.  It was flying and we were moving, so I doubt I got any good photos, but I did try. 8:15pm Our first look at Mount Denali and Wonder Lake. Story about Wonder Lake…  Many years ago people were surveying the park and after spending much time in the area they happened upon a good sized lake.  One of the men said “I wonder how we missed this”.  For some time the lake was called ‘I Wonder Lake’ and then eventually shortened into Wonder Lake. 8:30pm We made it.  We eventually got to North Face Lodge, our home for the next few days.  They fed us dinner picnic style out in the country so now they are just providing tea, coffee and desserts while they talked about the essential information for our stay. 9:23pm We are in our room, number 8.  Two of the lodge staff came by with a pair of pliers and managed to pop the lock that we couldn’t get open.  That’s it for today. .
July 21, 2017: Day 3
“Leave only footprints, Take only memories’ (…and maybe some pictures)
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Alaska Vacation
July 19, 2017 to August 2, 2017 The Ultimate Alaska Wildlife Photo Safari Barbara & John on Natural Habitat Adventures
July 21, 2017 Day 3