Monday, February 9, 2015

The Coral Princess Northbound Cruise and Land Tour Day 11

The Coral Princess Northbound Cruise and Land Tour
Denali National Park

Unfortunately, I found out far too late that if you really want to see any wildlife while on a tour in Denali National Park and Preserve, you have to book the Tundra Wilderness tour which fills up fast. Instead, we were signed up (via a pre-packaged deal with Princess) for the Natural History Tour, which was really nice, don't get me wrong, but after watching countless documentaries on the park I really had my heart set on seeing a wild grizzly bear, moose and hopefully a few wolves. Instead though, we saw one moose the entire 4 hour tour, way off in the distance, that I was able to get by cropping a shot with my 300mm prime lens. The next day, while we were waiting for the bus to Fairbanks, I heard a fellow traveler talking all about the Tundra Wilderness tour. Then he started showing photos of a huge grizzly bear on his phone that he shot. So long story short, if you want to see wildlife, opt for the Tundra Wilderness tour. If you want a short history tour with a small chance of wildlife, then stick with the Natural History tour, but I digress. . . .

Grabbing a quick breakfast of coffee and a breakfast pastry at the little cafe in the outer lodge, I met my old folks at the main lodge for the bus that would take us into the park.Once we were picked up and introduced to our guide, we were dropped off at the visitors center for a short documentary on the history of the park, before boarding the bus and entering the park.

On the way to our first stop, we spotted pretty much the only wildlife we would see for the whole tour, a huge bull moose. Our driver stopped the bus so everyone had a chance to snap a few photos, before driving on. 

The first stop was where we met one of the first park rangers by his cabin, so he could explain how life was in the park for him, his sled dogs and small team of park rangers. This part was rather neat as the park ranger dressed as though it was the 1920's and never broke character as he interacted with the crowd.

The next and official last stop on the tour was with a Native Athabaskan guide, Carol, who told us about the history of her people who originally lived in Denali National Park and her own experiences growing up in the area. Despite some members of our group who were more than a little rude trying to point a wild caribou way off in the distance that only a handful of people could see, her talk was really interesting and shed light on how much change has happened in so little time.

After her talk though and a quick bathroom break, we were herded back onto the bus.

Before taking us back to the lodge, our tour guide gave us the option of hopping out for the free sled dog demonstration, (from there you would simply need to take a park shuttle back to the visitors center then wait for the Princess shuttle to take you back to the lodge) or staying on the bus to go back to the lodge. Wanting to see a sled dog demonstration, but not quite wanting to splurge on a ship excursion, I eagerly hopped out to meet some very happy, very friendly Alaskan huskies and the park rangers that took care of them. 

A quick video highlight of the sled dog demonstration led by a park ranger:.

Unfortunately, I can't figure out to make this bigger and to display it in the full 1080p on command, so make sure to enlarge and select 1080p!

The shuttle that takes you from the sled dog demonstration to the visitors center. 

The amazing view from the visitors center.

And now for a little tour around the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge property:

Directly across the street there's an ice cream shop, gift shops (naturally), a convenience store and the 
Black Bear Coffee House where I had breakfast my last morning in Denali. Delicious coffee and good food at a great price, with a beautiful view to boot, it was a nice end to my stay. I should also mention, that since we were visiting towards the end of the season, just about every gift store that we visited featured end-of-season sales and a lot of what is offered is pretty identical from store to store.

Out of all the stops on our tour that I would want to go back to the most, next to Talkeetna of course, has to be Denali. As a photographer and just a nature enthusiast, I plan to one day rent a car and spend at least a week out here in the park shooting away. No matter where you turned, there was always a beautiful view laid out before you. 

A quick video highlight of the area around the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge:

Unfortunately, I can't figure out to make this bigger and to display it in the full 1080p on command, so make sure to enlarge and select 1080p!

Next up, the bus ride from the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge to Fairbanks, AK.

If you would like to see more photos from my time in Denali National Park, click here.