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Tag Archives: Denali National Park

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 saw several moose while in Denali and in fact, had also seen them in Homer. They seem to be comfortable around people. The ones we saw in the park were near the road, the rv dump station and the visitors’ center. We were told to get away from moose if they pinned their ears back and looked at us. I thought they moved their ears back and forth quite a bit so am not sure I saw any angry moose or just twitchy moose (meese?). They are incredibly big and if I felt threatened by one, I would move out of the way as quickly as possible

Our next stop was Denali National Park. We are ever so grateful to a friend who loaned us her family cabin just eight miles from the park entrance! It sits atop a bluff overlooking the Nenana River with the park’s mountains in the distance. All of the rivers in that region flow north into the Yukon drainage. It took us a while to get used to rivers flowing north. We thought we were seeing quite a bit of Alaska but when you consider just how big the Yukon watershed is and also there is still more Alaska north of that, you begin to realize just how little we actually did see.

The cabin was cozy and comfy and the views were sufficiently awesome that we probably could have stayed there and been perfectly comfortable. However, there was the national park and we did go see it, everyday we were there. The trees in the park are primarily spruce and birch with a few others. Much of the landscape seemed like barren tundra. We were there early in the season and it had not started to green up. The aspens and birches leafed out while we were there.

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