Sunday, July 25, 2010

Alaska Adventure #2

The many years I've been to Alaska, I've never visited Denali. My friends, Tami and Bruce live about 2 1/2 hours away from the park. We loaded up Big Blue (their massive dual cab truck) and took off for a couple days up north. The mountain is elusive due to cloud cover so we never did see the 'High One' but was not disappointed in the surrounding (6 million acres!) scenery. To see the park, one can hike, bike or take a bus. The park runs many buses all day long and you can hop off and on at any time during the ride. The longest ride is about 11 hours round trip to Wonder Lake on a 92 mile long road. We chose to go to Eielson Visitor Center, an 8-hour round trip. On the way we saw much of the wild life that inhabit the park, moose, grizzlies, wolves, caribou. The road climbs over a few passes, one particular pass is quite scary, cut into the side of the mountain, the downhill side very steep. The view above is looking over the edge of this road to the braided river below.

This bull moose was peacefully grazing on the hillside,

then slowly approached the bus

and gave us a good view of his fuzzy antlers.

While at Eielson, we were thinking of taking a walk along the trail behind the visitor center. Luckily we didn't. From the patio behind the center, we saw two young grizzlies playing, eating berries, digging for bugs and slowly making their way up the path to the building.

We watched from the safety of the patio for awhile.

The bears got within 30 yards of the building and the rangers finally ordered everyone inside. We were catching a bus back so we scurried to the bus, ready to close the doors if the two decided to board the bus also. Tami happened to be in a safe place on the patio above the visitor center, looking down at the bears and got a very close view of them. They came up to the windows of the building and I'm sure the visitors got a great look at the cubs while being safely separated by windows.

Eielson Visitor Center opened in 2008 at a cost of $9.2 million. It is a silver LEED certified building, blending into the landscape. It's an earth-bermed building with a tundra mat roof using solar panels, hydroelecric power and natural light. A former building was dismantled and materials were recycled for the use in the new construction. Due to its location, the center is off grid, using alternative energy sources.

There was quite a bit of art inside the center and they even have an artist in residence program. This beautiful fabric wall hanging, 'Four Seasons of Denali', covered about 12' of space.

We hopped off the bus on the way back and took a hike up a creek canyon. We took a hot coffee and snack break and hung out a bit in the drizzle.

This little ground squirrel gave us hell, barking at us to go away.

Back at camp, our camp cooks, Tami and Houston made us this delicious salmon chowder. This was the last jar of smoked, canned salmon of Tami and Bruce's. Time to go fishing!

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