Yesterday morning Helen and I caught a shuttle bus to Toklat River, fifty three miles in from the park entrance. A day earlier we drove the fifteen miles allowed by private vehicle and got some great pictures of a bull moose. AT the fifteen mile mark, the pavement ends and a dusty, often too narrow road winds it's way through the hills and valleys of the park. There are generally four major animals sought by visitors and photographers, moose, Dall Sheep, Caribou, and, of course, the grizzly bears. We were fortunate enough to hit the "Grand Slam".
Early on we saw a pair of moose, but they were far away and we didn't try to get their picture as we had the ones from the day before. Not too much later we came upon a mother grizzly and her two cubs.
Shortly after passing the three bears we came upon this sign which says that hiking off-road for the next five miles is not allowed. The bears didn't like the sign, so they chewed on it. The rangers hammered nails through the edges to keep the chewing down, so now the grizzlies use it as a scratching post
Toklat River is the turnaround point for this tour where there are SSTs (sweet smelling toilets) and a tent where souvenirs and books and such are sold. They also had quite an array of horns and antlers. Below Helen is trying on Caribou (Reindeer) antlers. There were also Moose antlers, but there is no way Helen could hold them up to her head. I hefted one "palm" and found it to be very heavy. How a moos can carry two is beyond me.
Being from Florida, I'm not accustomed to the climate in Alaska. In the tent, I found a spot where the sun was shining through a window and heating a seat. The seat was very warm on my back side and as I sat there it felt wonderful on my back. Soon it was time to start back.
Part way back someone shouted "Sheep" and the bus stopped. Way up on the mountain were a few white dots. With the camera on maximum telephoto and then cropping the picture I got the picture below of a Dall ram.
We saw a herd of Caribou on the way in and out, but they were so far away. On the way back we spotted these in an area not quite so far away. It appears to be a male and two females, but we were too far away to determine sex or age.
On the way back, the bus stopped because there was another bus stopped just ahead and our driver said she could no proceed until that bus moved. People on the bus were busy taking pictures as I could see the occasional flash, but we could not determine what they were looking at. We were overlooking a wide valley and wondered what animal they had in sight. We were all intent on gazing out the side windows. Suddenly someone shouted that there were two bears right in front of our bus. The people ahead of us must have had a good laugh. Here they are taking pictures of two bears in front of a bus and the people in the bus don't even know it. Thankfully, we were able to recover in time and get a couple of pictures. In the scramble to get the window open they had wandered a little ways off, but we were still successful. One of the bears was really big and the other one was bigger.
This is just one of the many vista Helen took. It is truly very beautiful country.
This is a view of Toklat River looking up river. In the spring thaw it's probably roaring.
The driver noted that in ninety some odd years there has never been an altercation between the grizzlies and a human. One is advised to make noise while traversing the area and the bears will avoid you. Also, they look ferocious, but they are 90% vegetarian, eating roots and bulbs or grass and berries. Having noted that there has never been a problem with bear-human contact, she mentioned that last year, for the first time, handguns were allowed in the park. Not too surprisingly, one "hero" feared for his life and shot a grizzly ten times. The fellow in front of us is a gun owner who lives in the general area and he was furious that guns were allowed in the park.It would seem that if there was never a problem, handguns was not the answer.
This place was too beautiful to adequately put into words and pictures do not do it justice. Some years ago Helen and I made the decision to visit Canada and get it behind us, expecting that one visit would be enough. It was not. We've been to Canada four or five time and will go again. Similarly, this was to be our one trip to Alaska so we could see it and be done. Now I know why there are so many people from Florida who make this an annual or semi-annual event.