Monday, August 30, 2010

Alaska {3 of 6}: Denali & Our Furry Friends

Keep reading to hear more about the Denali Sled Dogs! {Friday, August 6th}
 2 administrative items before I delve into tonight's post:
  • I finally figured out how to fix the resolution issues I was having with our photos. It took some time, but I'm incredibly stubborn (just ask Matt), & I figured it out. I am a tad bit displeased with Blogger, but I'm glad I figured out a work around (editing HTML code - no fun). I went back & fixed Parts 1 & 2 so the photos should be a lot clearer than the original posts!
  • If you are extremely bored with our travel log, I apologize. This is an efficient way to share our stories & photos with everyone (family, especially) who has been asking "how was your trip?!? what did you do?!? did you see anything cool?!?" However, if you are the least bit interested & you are just now moseying over to Simply Suz, make sure to read Parts 1 & 2!
 Here's where we are on my little schedule.
  1. Journey to Alaska/Denali (Sunday) - Click here!
  2. Denali - Part 1 (Sunday) - Click here!
  3. Denali - Part 2 (Monday) - This post!
  4. Kenai - Part 1 (Tuesday)
  5. Kenai - Part 2 (Wednesday)
  6. Anchorage (Thursday)
Okay, now that admin is out of the way, here's the big bad bear post. Last night I mentioned running into some ground squirrels while hiking. Whoopdeedoo, right? I had conflicting feelings about being in the park for 5 days & still not seeing a bear. On one hand, we were so thankful not to have a surprise encounter with a grizzly while out in the wilderness. I would have peed my pants & given that we didn't have access to showers, that would not have been okay. On the other hand, everyone sees bears in Denali! My folks were in the park for 1 day & saw one!

It turns out, we were in luck Friday morning as we jumped on a bus to leave Wonder Lake & head back to the entrance for our remaining 2 days in Denali. At our first early morning pit stop at Eielson (remember our hike near Eielson to Thorofare Ridge from yesterday's post?), as soon as we stepped off of the bus, Matt nudged me & said, "Is that a bear?!" Sure enough, there he was, playing with some weather instruments (which I'd gander to be extremely expensive) in front of the Visitor Center like they were toys! I've got to give Matt gets mad props for being the first to spot him, we were all a little sleepy & that bear was a bit close for comfort. He grabbed our camera & we got a quick photo before we were ushered to the restrooms or back to the bus.
Early morning bear shenanigans {Friday, August 6th}
We split ways at this point & Matt went to use the men's room & I jumped on the bus. Matt, naturally, took the camera. Right about this point, the bear decided he wanted to see what was going on near the buses, so he climbs over the little wall (remember, Matt's in the bathroom with the camera), scratches himself on the handrail for awhile (RIGHT next to the bus) & then heads on over to some nice, presumably informative, interpretive signs. He knocks those over & then decides he's had enough fun destroying park property & wanders off. No photos of all of the bear's shenanigans folks, blame it on Matt's bladder. (In all fairness, once they went into the restrooms, someone from the Park Service made them stay in the building until the bear was off the premises!)

It wouldn't be the last bear we'd see that morning. On our bus drive out, we saw 6 bears! Our rambunctious friend at Eielson... These 2 bears who were going at it at blueberries (I did get to videotape these fellas making quick work of a blueberry patch)....
Bears & Blueberries {Friday, August 6th}
And a momma bear & 2 cubs! We never really saw the cubs bodies because they were hidden behind the brush, but occasionally we'd see dark bear paws fly up in the air (the younger they are the darker their coat is). These 2 cubs were rolling around, having a good old time.
Momma Bear & her Cubs - little dark feet next to Momma {Friday, August 6th}
We were in a fuzzy, furry mood, so when we got back to the Park Entrance, after we set up our tent at our new, posh campsite (showers, clean bathrooms & laundry, oh my!), we decided to watch the sled dog demonstration. Matt was in canine heaven.
Denali Sled Dog Kennels {Friday, August 6th}
A couple cool things about the kennels:
1. All of the dogs at the kennel are working dogs. That means when it starts to snow, those dogs are transporting supplies/rangers/researches/etc, throughout the park.
The sleds have definitely gotten a bit more advanced, but I liked the old wooden sleds best {Friday, August 6th}
 2. They encourage visitors to interact with the dogs. It's part of their training & socialization. That meant we could pet to our heart's content. The dogs really didn't even notice us.
Real-live-working-sled-dogs a.k.a. Denali National Park Employees {Friday, August 6th}
After our visit with the dogs, the demonstration was about to begin. A ranger shared a brief history of Alaskan sled dogs, their current role in the park operations, information on training the dogs, what happens when they retire, how they keep them fit & healthy, etc., etc. It was pretty interesting stuff. However, what was more interesting was the commotion going on in the kennels.

As soon as all of the visitors were ushered to the demonstration area & the ranger started his talk, something just flipped & they knew what was up next. The otherwise mellow dogs went nuts. Each dog barking louder than the next, vying for a turn to be on the team. It was insanity. I wish I would have recorded them. We could learn from them- they are trained & excited to do work! If only we could have the same enthusiasm for our jobs!!!

The demonstration was all of about 20 seconds. The team of 5 pulled a ranger around a short course... & let me tell you, they were quick!  (My photos weren't too fabulous, so these are the "after" shots.)
Sled dog demonstration {Friday, August 6th}
These are some excited dogs! {Friday, August 6th}
All in all it was a really fun afternoon activity. One other fun of the dogs was preggo &  had gone into labor that day. She was cordoned off, pacing around. We found out the next day she had puppies that night! So cool!
Dreaming we were leading a team of sled dogs ... in summer weather, of course {Friday, August 6th}

On Saturday, we woke up & decided to squeeze in a couple more hikes before we said 'sianara' to Denali, & more importantly, before we got our all important shower of the week! (I'm holding up "5s" for 5 showers! Eek!)
We decided to stick to the Park Entrance, as there were several trails just a hop, skip & jump away from our campground. We hiked first to the Mount Healy Overlook. Though not particulary long (only 5 miles roundtrip), it was a respectable hike, with some decent elevation gain (1,700 ft) & what would have been a great view if it weren't so cloudy & rainy that day!
Cloudy day at Mount Healy Overlook {Saturday, August 7th}
We also did some shorter, flatter trails, including this one to Horseshoe Lake.
Horseshoe Lake {Saturday, August 7th}
After we had stretched our legs enough for the day, we snapped a quick photo at the entrance (gotta have one of these for your scrap book!)
The all important photo album shot .. Matt wasn't keen on jumping up on the sign {Saturday, August 7th}
...And took our much needed showers! I think that was the best $8 bucks we'd spent on the trip thus far! They didn't have time limits on the showers & I think Matt & I each spent a solid 45 minutes getting clean! That evening I did laundry & Matt headed into town to take care of business (Reply to some dental school interview requests! yippee! &, more importantly, buy me an Alaskan Amber... a girl deserves a beer after a week in the wilderness, no?)
So fresh & so clean! All showered up! {Saturday, August 7th}
We'd wake up bright & early the next morning for our very long drive to the Kenai Peninsula (I use the word "we" very loosely. Matt drove, I co-piloted). You'll have to check back tomorrow to hear about Kenai....that is if I can keep this blogging streak alive! Until then...Good night!

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