Friday was a marvelous day. I left the Princess Lodge Mt. Denali National Park at 6:00 AM to meet the shuttle bus to Wonder Lake with the promise of lots of wild life and a great view of Mt. Denali, if the mountain is out. It had been raining for the past four days in south central Alaska, so there were little prospects of seeing the Mountain. The wild life that we saw in their natural setting as the tour progressed were spectacular. We saw about ninety animals; including 23 caribou, 11 grizzly bears, a grey wolf, 2 red foxes, 3 Dall sheep, 4 golden eagles, 8 pairs of trumpeter swans; 14 beavers, 2 loons, 7 snowshoe hares, and 22 Ptarmigan. One of the grizzly bears came up to the shuttle bus and walked alongside. The last caribou we saw was a magnificent bull with what must have been record size horns – at least 8 feet long. One of the larger caribou came leaping out of the underbrush and ran straight toward to shuttle bus. Only excellent driving by Barr, our driver, saved us from a major accident. The animals only appeared one or two at a time about every fifteen minutes so the large numbers above are rather misleading. There were never more than two grizzlies together and most were solitary. The Mountain (Denali) is over 20,000 feet high but is often cloud-covered. When we pulled into Eielson Camp, the next to the last stop before Wonder Lake, about 10:30, the clouds suddenly parted and the brilliantly-white, snow covered Mountain was exposed, in all its sunlit glory, down to the base. There are two major peaks, many glaciers and a nearby secondary but large mountain, Mt. Brooke. I took many, many photos before the clouds enveloped Mt. Denali, just as quickly as they had opened up earlier, about 11:30. I will post some of the best photos on my FLICKR site which you can access by clicking on the link on the left hand menu and many of them on the Alaska Cruise page of this blog. The Mountain is awesome; as imposing as Mt. Rainier. It rises out of the Alaska Mountain Range, hundreds of miles long. We drove alongside a large glacier, covered with sod and trees; but with large areas of grey ice exposed. I thought about going hiking on the Taiga Trail around a subarctic ecosystem forest — Over the river and through the Taiga Woods.
Later, as the train wove its way on its ten hour journey from Mt. Denali to the port of Whittier, south of Anchorage, where I embark on the cruise phase of my trip tonight, the train slowed down. All of the grizzlies that I saw yesterday were in meadows, eating berries. Alongside and beneath the train was a rushing, shallow river where a grizzly bear was busy grabbing and eating as many salmon as he could handle. Out of Sight !!
At the end of the ten hour train trip to the port at Whittier down from Denali, there is a long stretch of track, before the two tunnels, surrounded on both sides by mountains with glaciers. After the 1964 earthquake that devastated southern Alaska, many regions experienced a precipitous fall in sea level. Often that fall of about twelve feet, would rip the underlying root structure from a forest, leaving a large forest of dead, but standing trees – called a “Ghost Forest.” As the train pulled into the peninsula leading to Whittier, there was a single, huge bald eagle perched on the top of one of those dead trees. A fantastic image!
Good news this morning. As always, I telephoned Abbe back on Long Island when I woke up to find out how here recovery from her broken leg was going. The pain is much less; her good friend, Claudia, is on hand nursing; her daughter, Elora, is on a road trip to Tennessee with friends and her prospects are much brighter. It seemed more serious when the surgeon found five bones broken (shattered actually) in her lower leg, but the prospects for a full recovery seem good. I hope there will not be any lingering foot or ankle problems or the necessity of another operation. There must be one more operation in about six weeks to remove the surgical screws and maybe the plate; hopefully, that will be the end of Abbe’s leg and ankle problems. I miss Abbe very much on this trip. Abbe is a truly wonderful Lady and doesn’t deserve the pain that this skydiving accident brought on her.