DENALI'S TUNDRA WILDERNESS PARK

Nena and I were in Denali on the third day of our 5-day land tour of Alaska last June 2008. And it was on this day that we joined the whole day tour of the Tundra Wilderness Park which is the home to a variety of Alaskan birds and mammals, including grizzly bears and black bears. We were told that herds of caribou roam throughout the park and that dall sheep are often seen on mountainsides, and moose feeding on the aquatic plants of the small lakes and swamps in the park.

During our tour we were told that we had to be extra observant and immediately inform everyone in our group of any wild animal sightings. We were also told that although a large number of wild life was in the park, there was no guarantee that we would get to see most of them close to roads and areas frequented by people. Most of the wildlife are also very evasive of humans, hence they tend to be found usually in distant and inaccessible areas.

Despite human impact on the area, Denali has gray wolf dens. Smaller animals, such as hoary marmots, arctic ground squirrels, beavers, pikas, and snowshoe hares live in abundance within the park. Foxes, martens, lynx, wolverines also inhabit the park as well, but are more rarely seen due to their elusive natures.

The park is also well known for its bird population. Many migratory species reside in the park during late spring and summer. Birdwatchers may find waxwings, Arctic Warblers, pine grosbeaks, and wheatears, as well as Ptarmigan and the majestic tundra swan. There are predatory birds which include a variety of hawks, owls, the gyrfalcon, as well as the golden eagle.

Different species of fish, including trout, salmon, and arctic grayling share the waters of the park. Because many of the rivers and lakes of Denali are fed by glaciers, glacial silt and cold temperatures slow the metabolism of the fish, preventing them from reaching normal sizes. A single amphibious species, the wood frog, also lives among the lakes of the park.

Denali park rangers maintain a constant effort to "keep the wildlife wild" by limiting the interaction between humans and park animals. However, the number of wild bears necessitates their wearing collars to track movements. Feeding animals is strictly forbidden, as it may cause adverse affects on the feeding habits of the creature.

The park is serviced by a 91-mile (146 km) road from the George Parks Highway to the mining camp of Kantishna. It runs east to west, north of and roughly parallel to the imposing Alaska Range. Only a small fraction of the road is paved because permafrost and the freeze-thaw cycle create an enormous cost for maintaining the road. Private vehicles are only allowed on the road in early spring and late fall. During the summer, visitors must access the interior of the park through buses operated by concession.

Several portions of the road run alongside sheer cliffs that drop hundreds of feet at the edges, and the extreme conditions prevent construction of guardrails. As a result of the danger involved, and because most of the gravel road is only one lane wide, drivers have to be extra careful in navigating the sharp mountain curves, and yielding the right-of-way to opposing buses and park vehicles.

During our tour of the Tundra Wilderness Park, we did have a chance to see a few wild animals and birds such as the moose, dall sheep, and owl. We also saw a grizzly bear with 2 small cubs and a den of foxes from a distance. On our way back to Denali our bus had to slow down since there were four caribous that were on the middle of the road. I have taken photographs of these animals and the also the rivers, hills and mountains which make the park a beautiful sight to behold. To view the photographs I took, just click on the link shown below:

Tundra Wilderness Park

The accompanying photographs may give you a fairly good idea as to what we saw but surely you will enjoy it more by being actually there to see and experience the tour of the wilderness park.



junylaputt@yahoo.com