September 26, 2016

Denali Road Lottery 2016 – Moose Love

Filed under: Events,Interesting Things,Roadtrips,Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 4:00 pm

I was lucky to win a Denali Road Lottery pass this year, and was awarded Monday, Sept 19th as my day to drive in. After receiving confirmation of the win, we booked a campsite at Riley Creek Campground near the park entrance. We decided to spend two nights, so that we could have a leisurely day in the park. I invited my friend Joyce to go along with us on the drive, and she met us at the park Sunday afternoon and also camped for several days in her Winnebago. (You may remember Joyce’s vintage Winnebago from our week-long camping trip to Denali at the end of June)


Steve and I loaded the camper on Saturday, and were ready to go before 10am on Sunday morning. We woke to overcast skies, and a weather report that called for snow flurries in the park, with a possibility of rain. Fortunately, the forecast looked great for Monday’s drive.

Fall colors are long gone in most of Fairbanks and North Pole, but as you head south on the Parks Hwy, there are pockets of brilliant foliage still glowing in the sunshine. And closer to Nenana (60 miles south), it looks like autumn has just arrived with gold and yellow-leafed aspens and birch thick on the hills.

Closer to the park, spruce trees are more plentiful, and the ground cover was already brown. It sprinkled rain, and the clouds were dark and brooding at times. But the reduced light, and the wet roads made for a beautiful view. I love going to the mountains! The photos below were taken along the Parks Hwy between North Pole and Denali National Park.

Parks Highway Scenery on the way to Denali Park Parks Highway Scenery on the way to Denali Park Parks Highway Scenery on the way to Denali Park
Parks Highway Scenery on the way to Denali Park Parks Highway Scenery on the way to Denali Park Nenana River Bridge, Parks Highway

This is one of the Alaska Railroad trestles along the Parks Hwy, on the way to Denali. I’ve never taken the train from Fairbanks to Denali, but have heard it’s a wonderful ride.
Alaska Train Trestle Bridge, Parks Hwy


Me and Steve: We were checked in and set up at Riley Creek Campground a little before 1pm.  We ate a quick lunch, and then took a drive into the park to mile 15. There were still pockets of yellow dotting the hillside, as well as along the road in places. And although most of the willow and birch brush was already brown, now and then there’d be an area where the leaves were more of a burnt umber. Under a grey sky, these brighter patches glowed in the diffused light.

Denali National Park Scenery Denali National Park Scenery Denali National Park Scenery

Within the first 15 miles of the park road, there is a several-mile stretch closed to hikers and other off-road activities. All visitors must stay on the road. This particular area gets quite a bit of activity during the moose rut. More often than not, September is the perfect time to view not only cow moose and calves, but also bulls. If you’re fortunate, you get to see this rutting behavior right before your eyes. Bulls spar for dominance, cows rebuff multiple bulls’ advances, and bulls dig holes and urinate in them to make puddles for wallowing. (The scent of a bull moose’s urine is thought to trigger estrus in cows)

Somewhere around mile 11, a line of cars was pulled off the road and people were using camera lenses and binoculars to zoom in on three moose far up the hill. Two bulls (one was much younger, as evident by the size of his antlers) were quite interested in a cow moose. They followed her for a short distance across the hill. When she stopped to browse the bushes, the large bull chased off the younger one. While he didn’t run away totally, he remained about 100 yards from the pair.

And then the big bull jumped up on the cow and…

I’ve never seen moose mate. I didn’t know whether to feel lucky for the experience, or look away! (As a photographer, and a very interested bystander, of course I couldn’t look away! And… yes, I had to snap a photo too.)

WARNING: The center photo below is of mating moose: 

Moose Pair and Young Bull Moose rut Courting Bull Moose


July 18, 2016

Find Your Park. Mine is Denali!

Filed under: Interesting Things,Roadtrips,Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 12:50 pm

**Warning – Photo heavy!**

My friend Joyce and I began talking about a week-long camping trip in Denali National Park, back when snow still covered the ground, the northern lights were dancing above, and a parka was the outerwear of choice.  When she made the reservation early this year, June seemed so far in the future. And then suddenly, it was less than a month out and Joyce was taking advantage of the warm weather and working hard to get her vintage 1973 Winnebago Brave ready to be off-grid for a week.

Cloudy Skies Parks Highway
We left Fairbanks on Sunday, June 26th under cloudy skies and intermittent rain. We were both very excited about spending a week at Teklanika Campground, 29 miles inside the park. The RV was crammed with our stuff as we drove, but we knew that once we had camp set up, we’d Tetris our bags, bins, and boxes so they’d be out of the way. Attached to the back hitch were our bikes. We had plans to pedal some of the park road. (Let me just say that my bike was less than 3 days old. I rode it TWICE – pedaling around my house the day before we left. And the last time I pedaled a bike was 14 years ago, when we lived in Florida. I don’t know what possessed me to consider riding a bike from Sable Pass (mile 39) back to the campground (mile 29). Temporary insanity, I believe!

We got a much later start than we planned on, due to last minute repairs/adjustments to some of the systems in Joyce’s RV, and the drive was rather uneventful until we neared the park entrance. Less than a half mile from the entrance, cars lined both sides of the Parks Highway – and for good reason; the orphaned moose twins were grazing on the shoulder.

Moose calf orphans outside of Denali National Park

One of the moose calf orphans outside of Denali National Park

One of the moose calf orphans outside of Denali National Park

The babies were only a few weeks old when their mother was killed illegally within the park. It’s a miracle they survived without her, and they became quite the attraction along the highway over the last few weeks.  We slowed as we neared the traffic congestion, and then pulled off the road for a few minutes so I could snap a couple of photos.  We were both worried as we pulled away – fearing it wouldn’t be long before they were hit by a passing vehicle.(Good news: The calves were first thought to have been adopted by a cow moose with one calf of her own, but were just recently captured and transferred to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center near Portage where they will be safe and cared for. Hopefully they can be released back into the wild in time.)


May 23, 2016

Wonderful to be Home!

Filed under: Everyday Life,Roadtrips,Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 1:08 pm

(I’m taking a break from blogging about our April trip, to blog about Alaska.  You can read about our Philadelphia visit here.  I’ll post about our Washington DC visit next)

We have been busy since we returned home. We came home to a very early “Green Up” (record breaking, from what I understand), and a lot of pollen (causing much pain and suffering to those who have allergies). The snow was totally gone, as was the large number of swans that passed through on their spring migration. Everything I hoped to come home to, had already occurred. That theme seemed to follow us throughout our travels, as we were also late for the cherry blossoms in DC and the tulips in OR.

The first two weeks after we returned home were spent in recovery mode. Both Steve and I were exhausted from a month on the road, despite the wonderful time we had. And Steve had to go back to work for one day before officially being retired, so even though he hadn’t worked in a month, he didn’t feel *done* yet. Therefore, the first two weeks truly felt like a relaxing celebration of this next chapter in our lives.

Steve tended to necessary yard work, while I caught up on business and house chores. I’m still adjusting to having him here all the time. I know he is still adjusting to trying to find things to occupy his time. We have plenty we can take care of around here, but no formal list to follow. We both tend to become distracted so lists are good. In time…

We were home in time to take advantage of the Denali Park Road being open to mile 30 (Teklanika). With only a week left before the shuttle buses started running (and we could only drive to mile 15 at that time), I wanted to go into the park at least twice.

Mother’s Day was the perfect day to take that first drive with Steve (and Raven). With sunshine and spring-like warmth enveloping us, the beauty of the mountains and the joy of seeing wildlife refreshed our souls. It was so good to be home!

Green Up along the Parks Highway Looking out on the Tanana Valley from the Parks Hwy Clouds north of Denali Park
Mountains and Spruce Moose cow and yearling Beautiful Denali Park Landscape
Savage River Valley Denali Landscape Caribou on a Hill
Denali Park Pano Denali Park Rd Pano Kettle Pond
Denali Park View Denali Park