With all the time I’ve spent tooling around the north woods, it’s embarrassing to admit that I’ve never seen a moose in the wild before this week. The closest I’ve come was finding moose tracks outside a cabin with Marilyn Fairman when we were painting in Piseco, NY.
I’m an assiduous scanner of the treeline, because I don’t want my first encounter with one to destroy my Prius. Seeing a dead moose on the roadside yesterday just reinforces that idea.
I’ve seen Dall sheep, grizzly bears and caribou in the Lower 48, but never in the numbers in which I’ve seen them here. I now understand: the point of Denali is to see and photograph wildlife. That doesn’t work too well when you’re carrying a tiny pocket camera so I’ll leave the animal photography to others. The alpine tundra, spangled in vivid fall colors, and the ribbons of meltwater moving down from the glaciers interested me more.
If Maine is a black bear, Alaska is a grizzly. Yes, it’s unfathomably beautiful, grand, and imposing. It is also aloof and dangerous.
Our tour bus was bathed in mud, there was mud on my camera lens and mud obscuring the windows, despite our efforts to clean them at each stop. At first I was annoyed that the National Park System makes you take these busses instead of driving your own vehicle. Then I saw the unimpeded drop-offs on every bend. Cars would be rolling off overlooks left and right as their drivers gawped at the animals.
There really is an ethos among park workers that animals have the right of way. A red fox ambled down the roadway and trucks and busses all stopped to let it pass.
When we finally reached Eielson Visitor Center the rain had let up enough for us to hike a few miles down to the river. We were most of the way there when we heard an ugly racket. Two hikers scampering uphill told us it was a sow calling to her two cubs.
Why do they call Mama Bear a sow? I suppose it’s because she’s as nasty as the porcine version when she’s got babies. “I don’t think I want to go anywhere near something that can make a noise like that,” my husband said, and I agreed.
By the time we returned to the top, Eielson was socked in with fog. No watercolor painting was possible in that mist. But I definitely would like to come back another year, as autumn stretches its hand over the landscape.