Friday, July 2, 2010

Holiday album

The Lady Friend took this shot of the Alaska Range in Denali National Park at Polychrome Pass, about 20 miles from the mountains across the Plains of Murie. Click on the photo for a large and detailed version.

And now for the best photos of our Alaska trip. If you, like me, cannot stand looking at other people's vacation snapshots, you may now mouse elsewhere. (The most striking pictures will be on the Other Blog.)

One of the best days of the journey brought a "Tundra Wilderness Tour" in a bucketing school bus for 60 miles and eight hours through Denali National Park.

These guided bus tours, uncomfortable as they may be, are just about the only way you can travel deep into the six million acres of the park, unless you are hale of health or young of years and can hike and hike and hike. Private vehicles are not allowed into the park much past the entry so that wildlife will not be disturbed, and though they will stop so tourists can see the animals, bus drivers will let passengers off only at designated viewing points and pee stops.

The tours can be wonderful, but they are a crapshoot. One might run into bad weather, clouds preventing a view of 20,320-foot Mount McKinley (only 30 per cent of tourists to Alaska ever see it), or the wildlife might choose to lie low and out of sight. At least Holland-America Cruises doesn't make one pay extra for the bus ride.

All tours for three days preceding ours were skunked, but our group was lucky. Not only did the clouds part, allowing us to spot McKinley, we also saw moose, caribou, grizzlies, golden eagles, Dall sheep and ptarmigan, and I managed to capture some of them with a long lens through lowered bus windows. Here they are:

Grizzly sow and cub, perhaps two years old. Grizzly young stay with their mothers for three years, our guide said, before being kicked out of the house to make their own livings.

This solitary grizzly is probably a male.

Moose graze unconcernedly by the road as vehicles pass in clouds of dust.

Alaska's state bird is not Sarah Palin, but the willow ptarmigan. Note the feathered "leggings."

Gulls are everywhere, even in deepest Alaska, and this herring gull perched atop a rest stop building hoping for a handout.

Low clouds parted to reveal the lordly south (and higher) peak of Mount McKinley.


  1. Henry
    My wife and I just read your Alaska blog. We thoroughly enjoyed it. Great story and photos -esp the one of Mt. McKinley (not to mention the ones of the trains).

    The dome cars of the McKinley Explorer look superb - much better than Amtrak Superliner lounges. Thanks for sharing. We have only ridden the WP&Y but now Denali is on our list - do you think Holland America excursion cars are the best?

    Mike Acken
    aka Palmland

  2. Whether the H-A cars ARE the best I don't know, but they sure are the best I've ever ridden.

    I suspect the Gold Class cars of the regular Denali Star train (to which the H-A and Princess cars are attached) are pretty damn good. But I've never been inside them.