Alaska 2017 Part 2: Denali National Park

After our wonderful time in the cabin in Seldovia on the Kenai Peninsula, we spent a rainy day (many days in Alaska are rainy days) driving up to Denali National Park, over an eight hour drive after a 45 minute ferry ride from Seldovia to Homer, which was after a 10 minute skiff ride from the cabin to Seldovia. It was a long day, but, even through the rain, we were often dazzled by the beauty surrounding us wherever we looked. I could have found a view to paint almost anywhere we stopped along that route. We didn’t have much time to stop, but a travel day like that still counts as a day of wonder.

We stayed at the Denali Park Hotel which, as all the reviews said, is a fairly basic hotel but very nice. The reviews were absolutely right, and we would definitely stay there again. We liked it from the start, but seeing the Aurora Borealis from right in front of our hotel room door on the last night really sold us on it.

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Northern Lights from our hotel room door!!!

I did a fair amount of sketching at Denali, more of wildlife than of landscapes the first couple of days, as we were much more on the move. I missed the quiet, serene pace of our time in Seldovia, but loved all the hiking we did at Denali. Whereas Seldovia is lush with abundant plant life of all sorts, being a temperate rain forest-type habitat, Denali is more Boreal forest and tundra habitat, and so has more open land or shrub and low tree growth. The color of Seldovia when we were there was largely blue water and green mountain, when not softened to warm shades of grays by mist. Denali, clothed with autumn color by late August, was red and yellow and orange and green and purple and blue.

(Click on images to see larger version and read notes)

Black Diamond Grill View — where we ate breakfast every morning
Arctic ground squirrel and collared pika– totally adorable!
The Savage River valley
Ptarmigan and Gray Jay
Moose– outside our hotel and in the park
Bears and Sheep
Teklanika River Valley with a grizzly bear
Snowshoe Hares
Roses Cafe View where we ate dinner one night– HUGE portions!
Denali View from Mt. Healy– perfect view of Denali in sunshine
Tundra Tapestry on Mt. Healy
Hoary Marmot on Mt. Healy– totally adorable, like a long-haired white woodchuck
Looking up at Mt. Healy after hiking it
Mt. Healy Trail along very steep mountainside
Denali Sled Dog Demo
Denali sled dog team
View from the Morino Grill at Denali National Park

Sugarloaf Hike and Black Rat Snake

Yesterday Stephen and I hiked up Sugarloaf, a steeper hike than we remembered, but well worth it for the view. At the top I sketched the fascinating, signature stump that has been there for as long as we’ve been hiking there, Steve read, and we both enjoyed the sunshine, the Turkey Vultures swooping by, and the river views. (Click photos to view larger)

On our way back down, we saw a 3-4 foot long Black Rat Snake that had clearly just eaten a large and rather pointy meal. As we watched he (or maybe she) calmly slithered to a nearby tree, climbed the tree and disappeared down a hole in the tree.

You can see the bump where there was something pointy on whatever he ate
Mottled pattern of the Black Rat Snake
Heading up the tree
Almost at the hole in the trunk
You can see how high up the hole is

Storm King Mountain Hike

Warm sunshine, muted fall colors, rocks to scramble up, leaves to slip on (Oops, be careful!). Today was one of those perfect fall days when one has to be outdoors enjoying it. After church Stephen and I went across the river to Storm King Mountain and hiked a loop over Butter Hill and around Storm King, where we enjoyed gorgeous views up and down the river and of Breakneck Ridge, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Fishkill Ridge across the river.

I started a new, hiking size (4″ x 6″) watercolor journal, that I plan to fill with views from hikes in the Hudson Valley. This first entry is a sketch of the view from the trailhead parking lot after our hike. I didn’t sketch while we were hiking, because we weren’t sure how long the hike would take, and we didn’t want to be caught out on the trail after sundown.

(Click images to view them larger)

Alaska– June 3

Snowshoes would have been nice today. We hiked the Byron Glacier Trail today, which, according to our hike book, is a moderate hike with generally good conditions. Is four to five feet of snow on the trail “good conditions” in Alaska?

There were a two sections of the trail with no snow– sections about five yards long. The remainder of the trail was deep in snow, which thankfully was fairly firmly packed, so that we only sank in a few inches most of the time. I managed to stay more or less on the surface, but Steve sank through to his hip once. Despite the snow, however, it was a wonderful hike. The blue of the glacier was so BLUE (the photo doesn’t do it justice). The mountains on either side were stunning, and all the more so with a juvenile eagle soaring over them and finally landing somewhere on a mountainside.

Byron Glacier

I was fascinated by the creek flowing from the glacier, with its distinctly gray water. When I sat on a rock in the middle of a snowfield to paint, from time to time I heard a loud gurgling sound moving toward me. I think it was water working its way along deep under the snow, then rushing around the base of my rock.

Me painting Byron Glacier

After hiking to Byron Glacier and also stopping for a walk at the Moose Flats Day Use Area (where I identified my first Orange-crowned Warbler), we drove to Hope and hiked along the Gull Rock Trail in the lush green of ferns and trees for a while. There we saw our first Varied Thrushes– a male and female. What gorgeous birds! We kept hearing Varied Thrushes throughout that hike.

Stephen on the Gull Rock Trail

At one point in our drive south from Anchorage I saw a Loon and pulled off to look more closely. While there we also saw a pair of American Wigeons and then a beautiful pair of Barrow’s Goldeneyes– another first for me.

American Wigeon (male)
Barrow’s Goldeneye (male)

Now, after driving along a road sandwiched between the side of a mountain on one side and Resurrection Bay on the other we are settled for the night in a tiny cabin on Lowell’s Point, our heads filled with images of birds, mountains, and snow covered peaks.

New birds for my life list today: Barrow’s Goldeye, Mew Gull, Orange-crowned Warbler, Varied Thrush, Red-necked Grebe