Sunday, September 13, 2015

Traveling The Park Road

Kantishna Airfield
A few days ago I told you how we traveled by plane across Denali National Park from the entrance to Kantishna.  That was a great experience, however we wanted to experience the other means of transportation in the park -- the Park Bus.  Specifically, we rode the camper bus that would shuttle campers with their gear in and out of the park.

Camper Bus
These are not your luxury motor coach buses.   They are basically school buses.   Every day they run up and down the 92.5 miles of park road from the entrance to the "End Of The Road".  It's a good thing the buses only run a few months out of the year.  I don't think they would last long if they were bouncing through giant pot holes for 12 months each year.

Except for the first 15 miles, the park road is a narrow winding gravel mountain road.  It travels through rolling hills and steep mountain passes.   A few times our bus met another coming the other way in places where the road was not wide enough for two.  One bus or the other would have to back up, often on narrow roads with a steep cliff on one side.  Our driver had been driving the bus for over 30 years and never once backed up on our trip.   The other driver always lost the stand off.  I'm glad we were the the driver with the most seniority.    
video

Here's my first ever video in a blog post.  Gives you and idea what we could and couldn't see.

There were times where we passed buses and it felt like we were going over the cliff.   Those were the times I had to remind myself our driver had been doing this for many years, sometimes in even worst weather.   At one point he stopped on a bridge over one of the rivers and pointed out he had never seen it that bad!
Raging River


We road the bus twice and both times it was rainy and the windows were obscured by muddy water.   There were squeegees at some of the stops where any passengers so inclined could get out and clean their window.  The clean never lasted more than a few minutes on the road.   The day we road back to the entrance it had been raining for a while.  At one point there was radio chatter about a landslide blocking the road.   The park service quickly cleared that so the buses could continue.

I'm not sure how but occasionally someone would spot wildlife off in the distance and the driver would stop and we would lower the windows and take our shots.   We didn't see much but we did see this Caribou off in the distance.  Like the bear from the previous blog, this guy was maybe 1/2 mile away.   Not easy to photograph from a bus.

Caribou On The Ridge

The day we went to Eielson Visitor Center we rode back with a bus driver that had been driving the park buses since 1979!   I started work at Eastman Chemical Company in 1981, two years after he started at the park.   I wondered how he could spend his days driving up and down this same gravel road every day.   At one point he stopped the bus and pointed out these ducks on a small pond.  He told us what they were.  We told ourselves we would remember, but of course we forgot before we got back to the lodge.   June and I have reached the point where we can enjoy the same conversations and learn the same things multiple times.


Waterfowl


We were talking to one of the park rangers a day or so later and learned that our bus driver was an expert Ornithologist and had co-authored a book on birds of Alaska.   He was working in the perfect place for his studies.   I was guilty of judging him too quickly.

Tomorrow I'll talk about looking for the unexpected.

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