We have ridden the tour bus on prior visits but decided to take the less expensive route this time ($24 on the shuttle versus $75 and up on the tour bus).  Our shuttle bus driver, Sheryl Paxton, was very gabby and very agreeable to sharing her vast knowledge about Denali Park and all of the various vegetation and wildlife within its boundaries…

Let me tell ya, crawling around in the brush through a variety of poisonous vegetation, pricker bushes, stinging and biting bugs in loose unstable gravel yelling, “HUSBAND DOWN!!”  every couple of minutes is not my idea of fun!  Today I returned the camera to its original owner.  Our travelling companions, Jim & Irene, were visiting Alaska from Loveland, Colorado…

Unlike many other National Parks you may visit, you will never leave Denali without seeing a vast array of wildlife…

Although it was still the middle of May and daytime temperatures hovered in the 50 degree range, folks around here took advantage of the sultry weather and were on the lake in droves water skiing, swimming and fishing until nearly midnight every day.  This is about as dark as it now gets some time around midnight in the Palmer/Wasilla area…

And, of course, your Alaska experience would be somehow incomplete without the occasional moose sighting…

“Lions and tiger and more BEARS!  Oh my”. . .

We ended up more or less stuck here for a couple of weeks awaiting the arrival of a new set of Jeep wheels from Oregon.  As you may recall, we bought a set of tires in Salem, hooked the Jeep up to the rear of our Urban Assault Vehicle and never drove it again until unhooking it at the Palmer Elks Lodge.  It was then that we discovered that the wheels had apparently not been properly torqued when they were re-mounted and all of the stud holes were now elliptical instead of round.  This resulted in an experience that was similar to riding in a parade in a Shriner’s Klown Kar with four wheels of differing sizes.  After explaining the problem and sending a few pictures of the damaged mounting bolt holes, the manager of the America’s Tire Store in Salem shipped us 4 new wheels and new mounting bolts via Fed-Ex without charge!  This kind of customer service is pretty rare in today’s world.  Thanks, Nate!!   The problem, of course, is that everything takes an eternity to get to Alaska (7 days for the wheels).  They finally arrived, were mounted and we were on our way again…

HAH!!  So much for new super tough heavy duty “manufactured by God” off-road tires being indestructable.  I have no idea what this piece of debris is but it sure as hell brought us to a screeching halt at the side of the road…

During our stay in the Park, we hooked up with another couple driving a Jeep and formed a 2-vehicle caravan to traverse the Denali Highway from Cantwell to Paxson, 135 miles of the rough Alaska caliber gravel road you only visit in nightmares.  We did spot some wildlife and I got to play “nature photographer” with my new camera (remember, we bought my bride a new super hi-tech camera in Oregon so she graciously donated her old camera to me)…

Not being familiar with the Denali Highway, it was my suggestion that we take two vehicles and travel together in case one of us had a problem.  The “one of us having a problem,” of course, was supposed to be them.  With new wheel bearings, universal joints, wheels and super tough tires, there was just no way anything was going to happen to us...

Next stop…

Folks from all over the world trek to Denali in hopes that “The Mountain” will be out.  Only about 30 percent of Park visitors actually ever see the top of Mount Denali (aka: Mt. McKinley) due to the dense cloud cover usually obscuring the upper 6 to 8 thousand of it’s 20 plus thousand feet…

However, if you play your cards right and hold your mouth just so, you may see the pride of Alaska, the Grizzly Bear!  There are two possible ways of spotting one of these omnivores…

But, HEY!!!, we didn’t drive all this way just to look at a stuffed bear in some restaurant or gift shop, DID WE???!!!!!   HELL NO!!!!  We want to see these guys up close and personal and ALIVE…

I was really glad that Jim was along to help me replace it with the spare.   Thanks, buddy, I owe ya one!!  We would like to reward you long suffering folks who have been patiently reading this minutiae over the years by halting your plight at this point and saying simply, “See y’all next time!” Naturally, my brother-in-law is not incuded in this “long suffering and patient” group but, rather, in the impatient and cranky crowd.  Hugs, Chuck & Zook  

We have been rather fortunate in that we have seen it on each of our visits to the Park over the years.  Some of the better views of Denali are obtained by riding one of the tour or shuttle buses into the back country…

She normally lives in Ohio and has been driving to Alaska for the past ten years to spend 3 months each summer driving the various buses throughout the Park.  She has been studying for some time now to be a bear whisperer.   However, getting close enough to actually whisper to a grizzly bear is not something that I EVER want to learn to do!   Have you guys ever seen the size of their paws and those rather sharp things attached to the ends…

  Alaska 2010 - Part 2                                                       May 31, 2010

Our third night in Alaska found us at the Palmer Elks Lodge on the shores of beautiful Finger Lake in Wasilla…