Day 73 - Wednesday, June 12 - Milepost 6118 - Birdcount 266 - Denali National Park, AK

(BF’s Journal). My expectations for today are shattered and I endure the most disappointed day of our trip. Riding the bus in Denali is like being caged in a prison and having everything tempting passed beyond your reach through the cell windows. As the bus stumbles across the gravel road the driver drones on about all the places she has seen wildlife in the past 14 years, but wildlife by definition moves on and almost all the spots she identifies are void of obvious mammals. When we do see something interesting it is either too distant to bring into focus with bouncing binoculars, on the wrong side of the bus, blocked by a fellow passenger or obscured through the small school-bus-size windows with numerous aluminum crosspieces. If wildlife is present we are not allowed out of the bus and by contrast, permitted rest stops are chosen for ease in setting up latrines and road maintenance equipment rather than for their scenic beauty. The scenery in route is spectacular and perhaps the best of any we’ve seen in the past two months, but the view through narrow windows is less interesting than flipping through picture postcards. In addition, the bounce and jiggle inhibit photography. We ride the green painted school bus from 6:30 AM to 11 AM to reach Eielson Visitor Center. This spot can be an exciting birding and wildlife exploration point, but Shari’s fear of a grizzly attack paralyzes her and prohibits me from venturing beyond the safety of the building. As if to prove her point, two grizzlies lounge on the hillside behind the center.

After a half-hour break to eat the sandwiches we packed, we again board the bus for the trip back. The trip list of mammals is impressive (six grizzly, a dozen Arctic Ground Squirrels, 2 Moose, 21 Caribou, and 147 Dall Sheep) but this makes it all the more depressing because I never really feel like I have time nor license to observe their movements, study their behavior, feel the texture of their environment and absorb the atmosphere in which they are immersed. Only one uplifting memory will remain, that of a stunningly blond Red Fox lounging within feet of my window, unafraid of the bus and my photography and then proving its vitality by springing in action in a futile attempt to snare an agile Arctic Ground Squirrel. In this singular instance the jailhouse bus served as a serendipitous blind for observing nature at a personal vantage point; all other observations were depressing frustrations.

(SF’s Journal).  I have worried myself sick literally.  I slept not a wink during the night always imagining the hike Bert wants to take at the Visitor’s Center at the end of the bus trip (five miles in to a glacier to see a bird that may be there).  I try to tell myself that bears will not be in that area and will be down in lower elevations where the plants they eat are more readily available. It is 5:30 AM and I am tired and sick to my stomach.  We board the bus and our driver begins her litany of how she saw this here and that over there and keep your eyes peeled for the wolf in this area.  She rarely stops and when she does it is never long enough to get a good view.  It is frustrating and boring since it takes us four hours to drive the gravel road into the park. We do see a lot of wildlife from the vantage of the small bus window. There seems to be grizzly every 5 miles and I should have enjoyed it more except for my worry.  The scenery is gorgeous but even that can not wash away the dread I feel. As we approach the visitor center low and behold there is yet another grizzly with cubs. The other passengers oh and ah and I have this horrible feeling and am so sick to my stomach that I can not eat lunch. (A very unusual case for me). Bert and I have this "discussion" and he decides not to take his walk so now we are both miserable.  We reboard the return bus miserable with additionally me being cold and nauseated. The visitor center has a little exhibit to view but one really must remain outdoors, eat or relax at the few picnic tables set up or get back on the bus awaiting its departure within 30 minutes. It is not a place to sit and soak in the atmosphere unless the day is 75 and sunny (not often). We endure the three and one half hours return and both of us are grumpy. Other passengers do not seem to mind the ride and even applaud the driver at the end of the road, unless the claps were for the end of the long journey instead.

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