8.16.10 Part Two – The Bus Ride

16 08 2010

We estimate that we have about a three hour ride before our drop-off point. Just as I start to settle in, though, we have our first real wildlife encounter. Three moose saunter by my side of the bus. And, just like that, one of my first Alaskan goals gets checked off the list.





Dall sheep


From that point on, everyone has their eyes glued to the windows – ready to alert Scott, our bus driver, at any possible signs of wildlife. And so over the next three hours we see and assortment of caribou, herds of dall sheep, and wolves at various distances from the bus. Each time Scott stops and lets us take pictures as he explains more about whatever it is we are gaping at. His years of experience have afforded him a vast knowledge of the park and everything therein.


Doesn't he look friendly?


Seeing these animals in their natural habitats is surreal. The first wolf we see is so close I feel like I can reach out the window and pet it. During our debriefing this morning the ranger explained that they go to great lengths to protect the animals here – to ensure that they are not disturbed and are allowed as much freedom and safety as possible. They hardly seem to notice the bus as we wind our way deeper into the park.

At one point we stop to watch two golden eagles. Scott comments that it’s fascinating to watch them because it’s obvious they’re playing just for fun. They aren’t hunting, they aren’t migrating – they’re simply soaring and tumbling and chasing each other because they can. They’re enjoying themselves as they test the limits of the wind. It’s mesmerizing to watch them stretch their wings and float on the invisible power of the air.

We finally pull forward and continue. It’s not long before Scott stops again and waves to another bus driver going the opposite way. The drivers have a system. They have signals to indicate when there is an animal in the vicinity – they can quickly and silently let each other know what is nearby and where, exactly, it can be spotted. Scott tells us that the other driver has seen a bear with her cubs. It takes awhile, but I finally spot them running through the brush by a small pond far below us. Even through the zoom of my camera, they look more like little teddy bears than grizzlies – so I don’t think much of it.

The bus slowly empties as we drop campers off along the way. The sun is out, and the rain and clouds that defined the landscape this morning are gone. We confirm with Scott which side of the upcoming river we want to get dropped off on. We have about thirty minutes left when we approach a group of buses. Right outside the window, less than thirty feet away, a bear climbs an embankment. It finally hits me that the comfort of the bus is fleeting.



A little too close for my personal comfort


We creep another mile closer. And then another. Scott slows down again. This time it’s another mother grizzly with her cubs. They’re walking away from the road, but they’re infinitely closer than the last trio. I look at Kristin and laugh – it’s the only response that seems fitting in the moment. What did we get ourselves into? In a matter of minutes there won’t be a bus between us and the countless bears that roam the six million acres of Denali.


Mamma and her cubs


Thankfully, I don’t have much time to dwell on the reality that awaits me. Scott calls our attention to the view of Denali in front of us. In his 18 years of driving through the park, he says the view of the mountain is unlike any he’s ever seen. It’s a unique sight, he assures us. Knowing that people come here and never get the slightest glimpse of the tallest peak in North America, I turn my full attention to the giant lightly robed in clouds. This is our backdrop as we finally get off the bus. I set my pack on the ground and stare in awe at the wilderness around me.






Watching the bus pull away





2 responses

7 10 2010

You’ve left me in suspense!!

8 10 2010
Amy White

Haha! Sorry, Jules. I’ve been a slacker. I’ll try to catch up on it this weekend…or maybe next week…or at sometime before I leave the country again?!

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