Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Denali National Park

With limited exceptions (which require a permit), private cars are not allowed past a certain point into Denali. Instead, they take you in on tour busses.

Now, these aren't the nice tour busses with the big cushy seats we'd been on before. These are converted school busses. We are told that they use school busses because the road is not very wide (in a whole lot of places), and school busses are the only busses narrow enough to pass each other on the road in the park. So, they've torn out the school bus seats and put in relatively cushy tour bus seats, and sorta hope you won't notice.

Right now, I want you to think about your butt. Particularly, its width, when in a seated position. Now, ask yourself: is my butt wider now than it was when I was a kid riding a school bus?

This is, in fact, the problem. Although we're on individual seats instead of school bus benches, the space taken up by a pair of seats is equal to the space previously taken up by the school bus benches. In short, only a couple of anorexics could sit on these seats comfortably.

And there's no room for your stuff. You've probably got a camera and binoculars for wildlife spotting. You definitely have a half-liter bottle of water (supplied) and a cardboard box with a lunch in it (also supplied). For my part, I also brought along a sandwich and fruit snack I'd purchased earlier, because I had been warned that the box lunch was basically a make-your-own-reindeer-sausage-sandwich, and I'd thought Subway would be a healthier (and tastier) choice.

There are no seat-back pockets for you to store your stuff. Of course there isn't -- it was a school bus, and the pitch between seats is barely enough to get most adult knees in there, nothing more. You could put stuff on the overhead rack, but you're going to need immediate access to your camera, binoculars and water, at the very least.

What I'm saying here is: crammed in the bus. Now, my mom bailed on the bus trip (probably a wise move). My dad and I went together. Dad got on the bus first and selected seats. And he accidentally picked a row over one of the wheels. So we spent the trip not only crammed in seats too small for the adult human body and wedged in with our stuff balanced precariiously on our laps, we also kept switching off on the seat with no damn leg room.

Depending on who you ask, there are four or five things you hope to see in Denali: grizzly bears, Dall sheep, caribou, moose, and golden eagles. We saw them all, my friend. In addition, we saw baby ravens in a nest, snowshoe rabbits, squirrels, willow ptarmigans (Alaska's state bird, assuming I'm spelling that correctly), and, I'm certain, various other small critters I'm forgetting now. We done done Denali in our eight hour trip.

On the other hand, with the exception of a moose who was standing right by the edge of the road as we entered the park (and in the same place when we left, eight hours later), most of the stuff we saw could only be observed with binoculars. And even then, the animals only looked like large dots (or, in some cases, large dots with legs). Sure, we saw some grizzly bears, but in terms of actual closeness (and photographic opportunity) nothing could beat the bears at the salmon bake.

So, after eight hours on the bus spotting wildlife, stopping at rest stops with toilets ranging from hole-in-the-ground-with-seat to something-with-chemicals-you-actually-flush, being cooped up with some really annoying people (not everyone on the bus had been from our cruise -- although whoever it was with the mysterious 2:00 watch alarm was in attendance) dad and I were well and truly wiped.

But there was no time to rest. We had to grab mom, have a quick dinner, and meet in front of the building at 6:15 to be picked up for our optional excursion: white-water rafting.

No comments: