Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

A short spin on the Denali Park Road

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Because of some work day shuffling I ended up with a Wednesday free with nothing to do and decided that it would be a good day to bike a section of the Denali Park road. Wednesday would be the last day of the spring when the public can drive the first 30 miles of the park road, allowing me to skip biking the first 30 miles, which are not quite as interesting as the rest of the road. I left two at 8am, and got to the Denali park entrance a little after 10, and made it to the Teklanika camp-ground at a little after 11.. there was a surprising large amount of traffic on the park road which made travel a bit slow.. I was on my bike at 11:30, and the fun began. The park road is truly a great bike ride – its normally in fairly good shape, the drivers are all very nice, the views are interesting, and occasionally you get to see wildlife up close and personal. This time there was tons of wild life – I saw more wildlife than I expected and in some cases saw it a bit closer than I wanted too. It started off with a fox chasing a hare across the road in front of me.

The next wildlife sighting was a sow bear with two cubs hanging out on some gravel bars on the East Fork of the Toklat River. I spent a bit of time watching them, but quickly lost interest – they were too far away to enjoy and I have seen lots of bears before, so the novelty wore off quickly.

While climbing up the road into Polychrome Pass, I was surprised to see a sheep hanging grazing right next to the road.

Near the top of the pass I encountered a small group of rams hanging out right next to the road, sun bathing.

I spent 15 minutes or so watching them.. they didn’t seem at all traumatized by the traffic on the road or the party of wildlife paparazzi taking pictures of them.

On the way back I had my most interesting animal encounter. While climbing up into Sable Pass I came around a corner and there was a smallish wolf sniffing around a bridge. I watched the wolf for a while, and it either didn’t notice me (the wind was blowing fairly hard at this point and I was down wind of him) or he didn’t care. Once he was finished inspecting and marking the bridge he then headed right at me at a fast trot.. this caused me a fair bit of surprise, as I was expecting it to bolt off as soon as I was noticed – that is what normally happens anyway.

My other wolf encounters had involved me madly digging out my camera while the wolf in question zooms off at great speed after noticing me. In this case the wolf saw me, then apparently decided to run up to me and check me out. Alas this plan was foiled by my surprised high pitched girlish yelp and my quick grap for a nice rock to chuck at it – I am afraid I reverted to my dog defence mode and yelled while grabbing for a rock to bean it with if it got too close. Fortunately the wolf was surprised by my antics and veered off of the road and into the bushes instead of charging me. Which was probably good, as I expect pelting the wildlife with rocks is not approved Denali Park visitor behaviour.

This encounter gave me a nice adrenaline boost and I zoomed up Sable pass and was back at the car much, much faster than I expected – it took about a third of the time to bike out as it did biking in, in part probably due to my picture taking and other goofing off, but it was still quite surprising. I was back in Fairbanks at 7pm.

The park road is a super scenic bike ride. Polychrome Pass is particularly dramatic as the road is cut into the side of the mountains and offers great views.

In some places the the below the road is a un-interrupted steep scree slope dropping of over a thousand feet.. It feels very dramatic.

This is my favourite section of the road, and should not be missed if one is to spend any time biking the park road.

The surface of the park road is all dirt (besides the first 15 miles which are paved) and varies a lot depending on the conditions. There are a fair number of climbs but nothing too difficult – everything is fairly easily climbing in granny gear while spinning. This time the road surface was super dry and a bit dusty, though some of the other times it was pretty muddy – this is obviously weather dependant.

The dust was not too bad though, and the drivers tend to be super nice and slow down so you are not completely dusted out.

On the way out I encountered one of the road hazards of park road – animal caused traffic jams. In this case everyone was queued up to watch some caribou way off in the distance.