Park personnel and especially the bus drivers use an interesting system of hand signals to identify animal sightings in the park. A "wolf" is signified by holding up the first three fingers like a "W," a "lynx" by forming an "L" with your thumb and index finger. A "bear" is identified by a clawed hand, a "caribou" by extending the index finger and pinkie and by suppressing the middle fingers with your thumb. A "moose" by holding your thumb to your temple and extending the other fingers outward like antlers. Most of the main animals can be represented using one hand, all part of the Denali lore.
Park literature prescribes certain minimum distances you are to keep from the park's wildlife. Standards exist for every mammal that might bite or charge you, but common sense is the proper guide. Regulations explicity state that 75 feet is the closest you may come to a moose or Dall sheep, and a 1/4-mile from bears, with a full chart of the appropriate distances for each important animal in the park's visitor guide (the Denali Alpenglow). One general rule of thumb: if your behavior forces the animal to change its behavior, you're too close.
Park rangers and personnel (especially at the Visitor Center) use their own specialized vocabulary to describe scenes or conditions in the park. Since topography varies to extremes in Denali, certain adjectives are meant to convey the pleasures or perils involved in certain sections. In places where footing is difficult or the way is choked with vegetation (such as alder or tussock), the place is "shwacky" (i.e. where "bushwhacking" is involved). Wonder Lake at the end of the park road is informally known as "Mosquito Lake," and even the bus drivers insist that windows are sealed tight on their approach. A trained ear can pick up such informative terms from incessant dialogues among the park's personnel.
Park regulations are specific concerning the practices of backcountry campers. Before you are allowed to pitch your tent anywhere outside the established campgrounds, you are required to watch a 45-minute video. Among other things it suggests that you pitch your tent in the open (to lessen the chances of surprise) and to choose your spot wisely (i.e. away from berry patches, etc.) These suggestions have the park's bears in mind. Formally, you are required (1) to pitch your tent no closer than 1/2-mile from the park road, (2) to camp totally out of sight of the park road, and (3) to pitch your tent at least 100 feet from sources of water (200 feet if possible).
It's customary here to give animals their space - they need a lot of it. It disrupts their day when a person ventures too close.
At a minimum, the park service says to stay at least 50 yards away from a bear. If it's a mama with cubs, 100 yards. Really though, these are minimums! Why take a chance with your life?
It's a different situation from the bus. Bears have become accustomed to buses stopping near them. They know there is no threat. If you're outside the bus, however, hiking in their territory, then it's a totally different ball game. They have to access you, as you may be a threat. You should have no trouble if you take precautions. Make noise while hiking to avoid surprising a bear and if you see a bear, make a wide arc around it. If you plan to hike, inform yourself well at the visitor center about hiking in bear country.
Other animals can be dangerous too! More people are injured or killed by moose in Alaska than by bears! Most incidences occur when moose cows perceive a threat to their calves. Overall, there aren't many incidences such as these so you shouldn't cancel your trip! Just be smart and avoid approaching these animals and bring a good zoom lens and binoculars instead.
I 've been surprised to know about one of Denali Park traditions to celebrate Christmas in August too. Local people explained me it was because on 23rd of August at Denali Park often started snowing. No, don't be afraid! It's not real snowfall, just a little. But I like this tradition - Santa Claus, Christmas gifts, decorated Christmas tree, wonderfull dinner and a lot of fun, music and smiles. Doesn't really matter it is August. The most important thing - people were happy! You can see one moment of this celebration at my picture.
If the Alaskan heat is getting to you, go plop yourself on one of these patches of snow and cool down for awhile. =)
That's exactly what these caribou are doing. Another reason why you might see caribou resting on snow is to escape the hoards of mosquitos that plague them. In open areas such as this though where it's often windy, there aren't as many mosquitos since they don't have much in the way of trees and brush to cling to.
Just chillin on a hot summer's day... well, hot by their standards...
This was a really cool sighting! This Mama grizz and her two cubs (at least in their 2nd year) were just lazing around here on the snow. This photo was taken right from the bus window and without much zoom!
Holland and Princess are the biggest tour operators in Denali. They combine their cruise with land tours, bringing in thousands of tourists everyday. Also, their season starts early in May, while the Park doesn't officially open till Memorial Day weekend. So, when I visited Denali in early May, it's almost as if the Park was owned by Holland and Princess.
Both companies have huge resorts in or near Denali National Park, and their guests all arrive by Alaska Railroad (part of their land tour package). Everyday around 2 pm, they bus their guests from previous day to the station. When the train arrives, they first unload new guests from train and load the old guests on the train. Then they use the same bus to send the new guests to the resort. The operation is bustling but highly effecient. As seen in photo, they have their own Holland or Princess dome cars drawn by Alaska Railroad locomotive. The day I was there, I counted the number of cars drawn: 5 for Holland, 5 for Princess. Only 2 for regular train travellers.
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