Thursday, July 7, 2016

Denali National Park, Part 2 June 13-17, 2016

Denali National Park, Part 2 June 13-17, 2016

Teklanika CG, Eielson Visitor Center and Wonder Lake


We had 4 nights and 3 full days at Teklanika (Tek for short) CG. The last two days we were here we had bright sunny skies and were able to see Mt Denali w/o any clouds obscuring the mountain. Only about 10% of the visitors to Denali get the see the mountain this way. We were very lucky.

Tek CG is nice. The campsites are well separated so there is decent privacy. Not a lot of tree cover so solar panels get good sunlight. Our satellite TV dish is on our roof and we had a clear view to the SE so we got a Dish Network signal. A number of the campsites are large enough for 40' rigs. Also I read a blog of someone who brought his 40' 5th wheel and HDT (Heavy Duty Truck) to Tek and was able to bit both in one campsite. If you are a large rig, arrive as soon after the 11am checkout time for best selection of campsites.

Tips about using the shuttle buses from Tek.
Buy your Tek Pass when you make your Tek CG reservations. This gives you a reserved seat on the shuttle bus you select. Usually you will take this bus ride the first full day you are at Tek. After using your reserved ride, your Tek Pass allows you to go space available on any shuttle bus. Note: the shuttle buses are the green buses. Tan buses are tour buses. Also there are private buses for the Lodge at the end of the park road. They won't stop and pick up people waiting for a ride.
You must pick up your Tek CG pass, your Tek vehicle pass and your Tek Pass for the shuttle bus at the Wilderness Access Center before driving to Tek. You won't be allowed go beyond the check point at MM15 without these.
--When you are going space available on the shuttle bus, plan on being at the bus stop for the first bus of the day 15 minutes before the 6:25am bus. Since this bus leaves the front country at about 5:15am, it usually will not be full. Later buses tend to fill up. Also other campers at Tek will be going space available, so later in the morning you will have more competition for seats. Especially when lots of visitors are in the park in late June through July. This first bus goes to Wonder Lake, but you are going space available so you can get on if space is available and you can get off any where you want or ride it to Wonder Lake. Don't worry about getting up so early. It is light all night long so it is not like you will be getting up in the dark.

Additional info about the Tek Pass from the park's website:

Your Ticket to the Park - the Tek Pass

Campers who drive an RV or car to Tek are encouraged to purchase a "Tek Pass."

The Tek Pass should be purchased for each member of your party. It allows you to use the park shuttle buses throughout your stay at Tek Campground, for the price of just one trip.

When you purchase a Tek Pass, you will select the first day you wish to use it (likely your first or second day in the campground), and will select a specific bus for that day. This bus of your choosing will have guaranteed seats for you, on the day and time you chose. On subsequent days during your time at Tek, you may use any non-narrated transit bus, boarding at your campground on a space-available basis.

All of the non-narrated buses begin their trip into the park with four empty seats, and many shuttles do not run at maximum capacity - so while Tek campers sometimes find a full shuttle, and must wait for the next, such occasions are rare, especially for small parties.

The Tek Pass is designed for you to experience points farther in the park during your stay. Therefore, the pass only allows you to travel farther into the park, and back to Tek. If you return to the park entrance by bus, you will have to buy a new ticket to travel back to Tek Campground. Do not return to the park entrance, by bus or your own vehicle, until you are finished with your stay at Tek.  Also: Learn more about buses in Denali

Here is copy of a typical bus schedule. This will give you an idea of what to expect to help make plans. The schedule will change so don't make commitments based on what you see here.

We were unable to get an early morning (before 9am) shuttle bus reservation for our first full day at Tek, so we had one quiet relaxing day at camp. I did take an hour or so walk along the Teklanika river. In the afternoon Sharon got on her scooter and we took a walk for about 1.5 miles along the Park road. Didn't see anything of significance on our walk.

Here is a picture of Sharon on our walk.  She looks cold doesn't she?
Yellow flowers we saw on our walk

Shuttle Bus ride to Eielson Visitor Center

On our 2nd full day at Tek we were at the bus stop at the entrance to the CG by 8:45 for our 9:10 scheduled bus ride. About 9:45 a shuttle bus arrived, but it didn't have a handicapped lift. The driver stopped and informed us he was the bus which leaves after our bus. Our bus had some mechanical problems and should be arriving soon. Several other people that were waiting for this bus, boarded and left.

Our bus arrived about 10:15. Sharon's scooter is fairly long and just barely fit on the lift. An inch longer and it wouldn't have fit. At Eielson when Sharon was getting off the bus on her scooter the driver had difficulty getting the lift to completely unfold at the bottom. The scooter was binding the drop gate. It took a little work, but he got it to release so Sharon could get off.

Waiting at the bus stop for our shuttle

We saw some wildlife on our ride. Not as much as we had hoped though.
Brown Bear (Grizzly)  

Near Eielson Visitor Center we saw another bear in the distance

We saw a herd of caribou on a ridge about 1/3 to ½ mile from the road. Some of them were lounging on a small snow pack.
Being on the snow pack helps keep the mosquitoes away.

More of the herd of caribou feeding on tundra vegetation

Sometimes animals stop on the road and lick the minerals left in the gravel. The park sometimes puts a salt type mixture on the road to reduce the dust and the animals need the minerals.

Caribou on road

The driver said sometimes the animals hold up traffic for 30 minutes to an hour. The drivers are not allowed to alter the natural behavior of the animals, so they can't blow their horn, or otherwise scare the animal.

What they can do is slowly drive to within about 25-30 yards of the animal with the hopes they will move off to the side. The park strives to be sure the animals are not afraid of the buses, or other vehicles. This way the visitors stand a much greater chance of seeing wildlife from the bus windows.

After about a 15 minuet delay, the Caribou moved off the road. We stopped for a few minutes longer to take pictures.

Based on the small size of this Caribou and the antlers just starting, I believe it is a yearling male. (Born last spring, a year and a half ago)  Cow Caribou also grow antlers. They use them for protection from predators but their antlers are much smaller than the bulls. 

A raven pair found a safe place to raise their young. They built a nest on a concrete bridge support under a bridge. No way to get a picture of the nest from the bus. You can get a glimpse of the nest, but it would be very hard to get a picture. Today one of the ravens was standing on the bridge railing and talking to us. Neither the bus driver nor the passengers were sure if this raven was an adult or one of the young.

He or she was "talking" to us. Probably telling us to move on and leave them alone.

Our first view of Denali this morning

The first stop on the bus ride is at Polychrome viewpoint.  Click on the picture for a larger and clearer view.

Looking back at the road cut into the side of the mountain we rode on to get to Polychrome. If you are riding on the right (passenger) side of the bus going back your view out the window is straight down for about 400'-600'.

The view of the Alaska Range from Polychrome, from east to west:

As we came around a ridge, these are our views of Denali Mt. Beautiful!

A couple of miles farther we arrived at Eielson visitor center. We only had about a 45 minute stay here before our bus would start the return trip. If we stayed longer we would have to board as “space available” for the return. Since we needed a handicapped bus we made it a short stay. It could be a several hour wait for a return ride.

We did get to soak in the fantastic view of Denali Mt for a while before boarding the bus back to the campground.

Shuttle bus ride to Wonder Lake and a strenuous hike to the ridge above Eielson visitor center.

When we were planning our visit to Denali NP, Sharon didn't think her back would tolerate a full day's (8-9 hours) ride to Wonder Lake on the shuttle bus so she only did the shorter ride to Eielson yesterday.

Another beautiful sunny day.

For our third full day at Tek, I reserved a seat on the bus to Wonder Lake picking me up Tek at 8:10am. Sharon stayed back in the RV doing some quilting. 

For some reason when I made my reservations,  the reservation system didn't show an earlier bus. I noticed there is a Wonder Lake bus stopping at Tek at 6:25am. So I was at the bus stop at about 6:10am and caught this bus. The bus was only about ½ full. Departing at 5:15am from the park entrance area is not something a lot of people want to do. If you are staying at Tek and you want a space available bus this would be good one to take. Just because it is the Wonder Lake bus you don't have to ride all the way. You can get off wherever you want.

The views to Eielson were about the same as yesterday. Beautiful views of the hills and mountains.

The ride beyond Eielson parallels the Alaska Range and the lower mountains leading to Denali Mt. Our driver said we seldom see much wildlife along this stretch of the Park road. The area is a series of low hills covered with brush from about 4' to 8' high. Lots of narrow gullies to hide the animals as well.

I, and I'm sure some of the other passengers, thought we might be able to go to the spot at Wonder Lake to see this classic view of Denali Mt reflected in Wonder Lake.
(I got the above picture off of the internet here)

However, as we approached Wonder Lake the driver told us it was about 1.5 mile one way hike to get to where the picture is taken. We were welcome to take the hike and wait for a space available ride later in the day. The time was already approaching 11am. To hike there and back would really delay my getting back to camp this afternoon so I didn't take the hike. Besides there was a little breeze rippling the lake so the picture would not come out the same.

We had about 40 minutes at the bus turn around point before the bus would start back. Plenty of time to walk about 100 yards to a viewpoint for Denali Mt and eat our lunch.

Pictures of Denali from the viewpoint

Of course I have to prove I was actually here with a selfie

The following 3 photos are of the Alaska Range leading up to Denali Mt. The left side of the first photo are the mountains behind the Eielson Visitor Center. The bus ride follows this range to Wonder Lake

Back at Eielson, I decided to take the Alpine Trail hike. The trail starts across the road from the visitor center and switchbacks up 1000' in one mile. The trail ends at a ridge line with fantastic views. Whew! This is one steep climb. A steady 20%-25% grade all the way. It took me a little over one hour to go the one mile. Lots of huffing and puffing. Lots of breaks along the way as well. It was worth the effort. I'm not doing too bad for 70+ old codger. 😄

Views along the Alpine Trail:

Near the start

A ranger led hike I passed on the way up

As I mentioned in a earlier posting, in the back country of Denali, everything beyond a few feet from the road is designated as a wilderness area.  Therefore any group of people going on a hike is limited to a maximum of 12 people. Hence the small number of people on the ranger lead hike. 

Yep, the trail is this steep

At the top along the ridge

Views from the top

On the bus ride back, we got to see a bear up close

That ends our stay at Denali National Park. The next morning we left for the Kenai Peninsula.

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