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Red Molly joined us for a lovely hike in the mountains earlier this week. The weather was darned near perfect – sunny and warm but not too warm. It is a dry hike so I carried water for the dogs. There is one spring just off the trail about 1/3 of the way up and Luna knows where to find it. It’s generally more of a mud hole but this time it held a little bit of running water.

Views were outstanding and the flowers are just starting at that elevation (6500 up to 8200 feet). Ladybugs were abundant. I don’t know why they converge at high elevations. I have observed them at this mountain top several times over the years as well as at other places in the Cascades. There are many kinds of ladybugs (technically a beetle, not a bug) and many of them are convergent. I have no idea what they are eating up there and when they will leave for more friendly habitats. I do know that later in the summer, they won’t be there, based on my observations which are not science-based at all. Is anyone studying them?

Here are the birds I saw on this hike:¬†Dusky Grouse, Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Clark’s Nutcracker, Common Raven, Horned Lark, Mountain Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Mountain Bluebird, Townsend’s Solitaire, Cassin’s Finch, Pine Siskin, Chipping Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Savannah Sparrow, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Western Tanager.

I like this hike. Here is the trail in the fall.

In Alaska they like to refer to grizzly bears as brown bears which is fine but it can get confusing because sometimes our black bears are brown but they are certainly not grizzly. The bears spend much of their time digging in the soil with their powerful claws. We learned that they eat a plant called Eskimo potato. This is also the plant that Christopher McCandless from the non-fiction book, Into the Wild, ate and according to the author, its seeds may have been what eventually killed him.

We saw several grizzly/brown bears in Denali. There was one that we saw once or twice a day because it was hanging out in the Savage River area pretty much all of the time. The trails in that area were closed because of the bear. Near as we could tell, the bear was just enjoying entertaining the tourists and photographers and making the caribou scamper occasionally. Sometimes the tourists and photographers were too close and a park service employee asked them to scamper out of the way so the bear could cross the road. I made sure to keep other tourists and photographers between me and the bear.

These photos are all of the Savage River bear.


This bear caused a bear jam with traffic in both directions including buses. It had to move pretty quickly to get beyond the vehicles and then make a mad dash across the road.


This is the only bear that was truly too close to us. We were on foot when it came calmly out of the willows to our right and then walked up the road ahead of us. It disappeared around the corner and we were hoping it was moving on as that was the direction we needed to go to return to the car. But no, it turned around and came back towards us before disappearing into the trees on the left side of the photo. It was nerve-wracking to think about walking there. Luckily a dump truck came by and the driver gave us a ride. We saw others walking there and nothing bad happened. At the overlook near our car, we saw that the bear had gone down to the river and hikers down there had scampered away. Ken had bear spray and the bear never was threatening to us but still, we didn’t want to become statistics. This photo was made with a small point and shoot camera while the ones above were made with a long telephoto lens.

We arrived in Denali in the afternoon and after seeing the visitors’ center we drove on the one road that is open to cars. Because we were just ahead of the ‘summer’ season, cars were allowed thirty miles into the park. Normally, they can only go fifteen miles and visitors must takes buses to see more. As we approached the Savage River area, Ken said “I sure hope we see a caribou.” Around the next corner, there they were – five of them waiting to cross the road. And then there were a few more! I said, “I sure hope we see a wolverine.” But that didn’t work.

According to the park literature, the Denali herd once numbered over 20,000 animals. Currently there are less than 2,000. We saw them each time we went into the park and once we saw one next to the highway outside of the park. They reminded me of white-tailed deer because the underside of their tails is white and sometimes when they run, the tail stands up straight like the deer.

I felt pretty lucky to see them!

We enjoyed lots of wildlife watching while in Denali. Here are a few of the smaller animals.

A lot of images of one type of bird, I know. You should see all the ones I left out. It was a new bird for my life list and being a grouse, it was very amenable to having its photo made. We saw only one female and several males and all of them on the edge of the roads. And aren’t they just the cutest? This is their breeding plumage. In the winter, they are pure white.

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