On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions.
From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
We’ve been to Homer, and now we’re in Denali. Next week we head to Resurrection Bay, and then after that we’re back home in Flyover Country, though it looks like it won’t be springtime anymore. In the meantime, I think Albatrossity is pulling our leg with the state bird. You’d think that as a state bird, someone would have told her she has way overdone the eye makeup. Perhaps they have different sensibilities in Alaska? ~WaterGirl
P.S. I want to call your attention to the generous offer from Albatrossity in the blockquote at the end of his introduction. We are some very lucky jackals!
Another leg of our 2012 Alaskan solstice adventure was a brief visit to Denali National Park. From Homer we went back to Anchorage and took a train from there to the park. On the way this train passes through some smaller towns, including Wasilla, made famous by Sarah Palin. I can report that when the train stopped briefly at the Wasilla depot, I was not the only passenger to stand up, look around, and declare that I could not see Russia from there. Sad.
Train travel in Alaska is (or at least was in 2012) quite comfy and convenient, as well as educational. There were college-age guides who wandered through the cars and helped spot wildlife (we saw moose and several black bears, as well as a marmot or two). They talked about the scenery and identified the mountain ranges and mountain peaks. Curiously they all referred to Denali (the mountain) as Mt. McKinley, and Denali (the National Park) as Denali. Political correctness? Company policy? Who knows?
We had only one day in the park itself, but it was splendid. In this park you are not allowed to drive a personal vehicle through much of it; you are on a bus with a driver/guide and other folks. It is a hop-on/hop-off arrangement; there are many stops where you can get off and then take the next bus for the tour route you signed up for (designated by bus color). There is an annual lottery where you can win the opportunity to drive your personal vehicle on the normally off-limits routes, however. I have a graduate school buddy who was lucky enough to do that, and his pictures are stunning. These are mine, and don’t include the distant views of brown bears, moose, and wolves that attracted a lot of cell phone cameras to the bus windows. You will have to visit there yourself to see those shots!
Finally, I want to mention again that if any of you jackals would like one of my images as a wallpaper background for your computer monitor, I would be happy to provide one for you. Free of charge. Images that would be generally adequate for that in terms of resolution, etc, can be viewed at my portfolio site. If you see something that you would like to see everyday on your monitor, just let me know the name of the image and the needed size (width in pixels x height in pixels) and I can probably email that to you within a day or so. Contact information can be found on the site.
Here’s a shot of the mountain itself, Denali, taken from the train. We did not see the mountain from inside the park, which is pretty typical. According to the guides on the train, a view of the mountain from the train is something they get about once a week. So we felt fortunate, and even though this is a distant view, it does give you the impression that Denali is a massive peak.
From inside the park you can see other mountains; Denali itself is behind these and covered by clouds. The other striking features of this landscape are the braided meandering rivers. We were told to look closely at those stream-beds, because the wildlife could often be spotted there. In fact, there is a caribou along that stream that we saw a few minutes later, but it is impossible to see in this wide-angle shot.
Here are some other caribou, grazing peacefully near a residual snowbank from the previous winter. Caribou were the most abundant large critters we saw from the bus, but since I had never seen any before, each sighting was exciting!
This is the state bird of Alaska, the Willow Ptarmigan, also known as the Willow Grouse or the Red Grouse in Europe and the UK. This is a male, molting out of the white winter plumage into the browner summer plumage, and his halfway molt was unsubtle, but surprisingly hard to see when he was at a distance on a rocky slope. I love his feathery leggings!
Here’s a bird we see a lot of in the winter here in the lower 48, an American Tree Sparrow. I heard the bird singing, which I have never heard in the winter here, and finally caught a shot of it in its summer finery.
This is not a bird that I’ve seen in Kansas; it is a very hardy bird that stays through the winter in places like Denali. It’s a Canada Jay, which is a recent change from its former name of Gray Jay. The common name for this bird, camp robber, is a hint about its habits near your campsite; they are charming beggars and also clever thieves. A former student in my department at KSU is now in Denali, and these birds are her study species.
One of the wonderful things about high-latitude summers is the proliferation of wildflowers. The brief summer season means that there is often a riot of color along the roadsides, but many of the species were not familiar to me. This one, Western Columbine, was familiar, and is a gorgeous flower as well.
Denali is on my bucket list.
Great pictures ???
She certainly won’t be bored then.
If a little bird is a birb, what’s a big bird?
Alaska is such a beautiful state and with so many federal programs, you’d would think that they would appreciate government’s help.
BTW My power is out, and I want coffee. It’s suppose to be fixed by 8:30, so guess I’ll wait awhile for my coffee.. ?
So lovely! We were in Anchorage for a week, Never saw Denali until the last day at the airport. Finally the cloud cover was gone and it is so amazingly huge! I hope to someday go back. Thanks for the beautiful way to start the day.
Wonderful pictures! I spent a few nights in Denali in 2014, at a lodge at the end of the main road (a seven hour bus ride through the park.) It poured the first day we were there, but the second day was clear and beautiful. There were great views of the namesake mountain, and I took a sightseeing flight around it — the first and last time I’ll ever ride in a plane that size, but oh it was magnificent.
Gotta love those red eyebrows!
Great pics! Most especially the state bird – wonderful shot!
If you like the Canadian Grey Jay, come to Colorado, we have plenty to spare. Great photos, as always.
The buses in Denali are crazy! How they drive on those roads….
Wow great pics!
@Benw: I received your OTR submission! I am not 100% certain, but I think this your first one ever. is that correct?
I would like to have another OTR First Timers Week in August, only this time we’ll go with Baud’s suggestion and call it On the Road Virgins Week.
If you haven’t taken the plunge and submitted photos to On the Road yet, step right up!
Just be sure that you write out your descriptions in Word (or something) and paste them into the form – it’s only happened twice, but on the off chance that something goes wrong with the form, then you have only lost 5 minutes of your time doing the copy & paste.
J R in WV
A big Bird is a BIRB, Amir — I thot you knew this stuff?
ETA: Thanks Albatrossity, for the photos. Great pictures of what must be an amazing place!
Not sure I’ll ever make it up there, but it would be pretty frustrating to go all that way and not be able to see the mountain! Just from the NPS page you can get a feeling for how much bigger it is than the surrounding mountains: https://www.nps.gov/dena/index.htm
Gorgeous pics, as always! I’ve never been to Alaska, but my daughter went on a backpacking trip to Denali in 2012. On the way in on the bus, she told us she saw what she thought was a cloud mass, only to realize that “holy shit, that’s the mountain!” They saw Denali three days in a row; their guide said he’d never had that happen. What an amazing place.
A woman from anywhere (formerly Mohagan)
During our trip to Alaska in late May (a decade or so ago), I saw Golden-Crowned Sparrows in breeding plumage and they knocked my socks off. I’m familiar with them here in N CA, but they are a winter bird. The other thing I couldn’t believe was the size of some of the flowers (short, intense growing season). There were some huge yellow flowers along the side of the road I saw from the bus I couldn’t ID, and when I finally saw them close up they turned out to be dandelions!
I’ve not been to Alaska but there are a couole things that give me an idea of the scale of the mountains. Mt. Rainier is huge l. Years ago REI had scale m9dels of Rainier and Everest from base to summit. Rainier was slightly taller from base to summit – about 12,000 feet. Add 6000 feet to get Denali. K2 may be more but I’m not sure.
We have a very good friend who grew up in Alaska who has zero desire to go back. It’s the people apparently.
Great photos BTW! And we’d be happy to ship a couple of our neighborhood Camp Robbers, the raucous Stellar Jays.