September 9, 2015 – We had early tickets for the Denali shuttle, and had to be at the park around 7am. It was still dark by this point, but the sun was starting to come up by the time the shuttle left for the park. We brought granola bars for breakfast, and lots of hearty snacks (jerky, nuts, more granola bars) for lunch and snacks. We were a few seats back near the front of the bus, which was perfect since we could get a good view of the wildlife. And there was wildlife. It was moose rutting season, but first we saw a small herd of caribou walking along a ridgeline. Then the moose spotting, and eventually bears, Dall sheep, and gyrfalcons.
Our sense of scale was quickly destroyed with the huge panoramic views, particularly once we began to drive up thousand foot cliffs towards Polychrome Pass that definitely didn’t seem like they were that high. We also could look out across the river valley towards the mountains and see bus-sized glacial boulders called erratics.
We wanted to do a hike around Polychrome, but didn’t stop the bus in time; so we got out at the next rest stop and waited for a return bus. This rest stop was near at Toklat River, with beautiful scenery (really the entire park is beautiful). We were there just past peak for the tundra colors, but the reds, oranges, and yellows were still evident.
Since we were on the first bus into the park we had to wait about 30 minutes for a return bus, but then easily got on and got dropped off near a little creek bed. While we originally tried hiking up the creek bed, we quickly discovered that it was going to have very poor visibility. Given the time of year and Polychrome’s propensity for bears, we decided this wasn’t the hike we were looking for. Instead we hiked down the opposite creek bed until we ran out of dry rock, then hopped another bus going back into the park.
Eventually we made it to the hill before the Eielson Visitor Center. We decided to get off the bus at this point and take a walk. We were originally thinking of hiking across the tundra, but decided to walk down the road. We passed Thoroughfare Pass, and soon came to the visitor’s center.
By this time it was a little after 3pm, so we talked to dispatch to get a seat on one of the buses headed out of the park. The scenery was just as pretty on the return trip, and our driver was hysterical. He liked to see if he could spot more wildlife than the passengers. Once people started finding little bear dots on the mountains, he went into a long talk about the arctic ground squirrel (apparently those are his favorite).