This post is part of a series on the Traveling the Denali Park Road – to read the series from the beginning, click here.
The next section we move through is to some people the most peaceful in the park. Most of the busses don’t go out to the Kantishna district. We also pass the west end caribou calving grounds called Turtle Hill. Caribou are a great migrating animal, always on the move. In a 3 to 5 day period in early June as many as 80% of the calves are dropped. This strategy once very effective is now showing signs of being counter productive as predators have made strong advances and take large numbers of calves. The surviving calves, once they grow strong enough to follow their mothers, begin dispersing sometimes moving toward the east end of the park. The mixed groups, some mature males, females and calves are still harassed, by predators mostly wolves, increasing valley temperatures and parasites such as mosquitoes . This causes them to take evasive action. From the valley floors they move to higher elevations. Between 5’000 and 7’000 feet is not uncommon. They pay a price though. The forage is not as nutritious. There is also the possibility of over grazing an area and severe weather will drive them to lower elevations. All of these and other factors play a part in our ability to locate larger groups of caribou.
The lone caribou walking along the road is also a delight though. Most surprising is their keen awareness and intelligence. It is not uncommon for a caribou to walk straight down the center of the road to the bus, stop turn it’s head to the left for a photo op, turn it’s head to the right for a photo op, then walk right passed the bus, looking everyone over in the process. If I’ve seen that happen once I’ve seen it happen or something similar to it 50 times!
The rolling hills of the next section also give us opportunity for moose. In many ways moose are the most temperamental creatures we encounter. Almost always solitary except mothers with calves and during the fall mating season. Of course in the natural world there is always the exception. In the spring of 2009 we were rolling along quietly toward Kantishna. Adolph Murie once said, The wilderness is sometimes best observed and absorbed in silence.” (So I do leave stretches where we have that opportunity.) “MOOSE!!!” is shouted from the back of the bus. “Left or right side?” “Left side.” All eyes searching intently and indeed a moose is finally found, a young bull moose with tiny nubs of antler budding out. But wait a minute something else is going on. Just alittle ahead are a small heard of caribou. A large old bull with some females and calves. As we watch it becomes apparent that the young moose wants to join the herd! He keeps moving in closer and closer. By now the bull caribou has had enough. He comes over to run the young moose off. The young moose circles around and tries to come from another side. What could this moose be thinking about? Do moose get lonely? I suspect they do. But this guy wasn’t going to get his wish. In the way caribou do, they turned in unison, lifted their tails and in a surprisingly swift gate were gone through the heavy brush. After a few minutes of contemplation the young moose headed for a pond and a meal of pond grass. Maybe some greens to lift his spirits?. Moose are a mainstay for us and it’s a rare day that we don’t see at least one.
It’s at this juncture of the trip that I tell a story about the naming and climbing of Mnt. McKinley. I’m going to save that story so it will be fresh to your ears. Anyway it’s about time for lunch. Yes lunch is included in the excursion along with a couple of activities(2 hours at the road house).
We at the Kantishna Roadhouse believe we offer one of the finest excursion values in Alaska. A 13 hour bus tour through one of the most beautiful national parks in the world, a hot lunch in the dinning room of a world class road house. Commentary provided, all questions attempted to be answered. Off the bus about every hour or so, photo stops, animal sightings, amazing scenery, and of course the Kantishna Roadhouse. Everyone loves the Kantishna Roadhouse. Come join us.