Puppies and Mush

We stepped off the bus to pandemonium! Barking, squirming dogs everywhere it seemed but they were actually under control…sort of. scan0006You see this wild eyed, happy, manic look on the face of the dog on this card…yup we were surrounded by dogs with the same expression. The handlers, excuse me , “Mushers” said the dogs just love to run. They get excited when they hear a car or bus come down the road because they know they will be hitched up and off to do their favorite thing.

Alaska2013 857 copyWhile the mushers wrangled the adults into the harness we were led to another pen to see the “puppies”. Now I use the word puppies loosely because I was expecting little balls of fluff. Even when they said they were 11 weeks old I wasn’t prepared for how big they were. Before I knew what was happening or even got close enough for a look a 25 lb. bundle of energy was plopped into my arms. I heard someone say this little girl is Emma and then they were gone. What a cutie.


Sandy had another similar sized pup in her arms.

Alaska2013 863 copy

It took all of my concentration to be sure mine didn’t wiggle out of my arms and get away. I’m sure it happens sometimes with these energetic balls of fur but I didn’t want it to be on my watch! Eventually one of the employees asked me if I’d had my turn on the dog sled ride. When I said no, he told me to go get on but made no move to relieve me of Emma.


After I asked about 3 times what he wanted me to do with the puppy it seemed to get through to him. With an  “Oh! Yeah.” He scooped Emma up and pointed me toward a really strange contraption.

This monster had a sturdy metal frame, rubber tires and 3 bench seats that had  been rescued from some old junk cars. It even had a roof and a front windshield of scratched Plexiglas. It looked awful heavy for a bunch of dogs to pull.

Alaska2013 860 copyI grabbed the front seat. In spite of the scratches I wanted to be up front where I could see what our dogs were doing. Our young lady Alaskan was our musher and hopped on the back just as if this were one of the light weight dog sleds. With just a word the dogs were off with us right behind. They got us going pretty fast too until one of the dogs decided he wanted a break for some snow from the snow bank. That brought the whole line to a halt while he broke formation for his little snack.

Alaska2013 874 copy

Lady Musher got down and untangled the traces and got them all lined back up. Before she had time to even get back on the rig our little trouble maker was rolling in the dirt and getting everyone tangled up again. Back to the mess our intrepid musher  went and, in her words,  had a little talk with him.

Alaska2013 861 copy

This time when he was straighten out he stayed in line and we were on our way again.

Alaska2013 878 copy

We went around one last corner and there was the camp where we started. It was a short ride but it was fun.

Alaska2013 876 copy

The dogs in the front are the lead dogs and he ones in the rear are the steering dogs. They are the strongest dogs on the team. They get you out of that snow bank if you get stuck. Even through the Plexiglas window it was easy to see they were having fun and so was I! 🙂

Trapping and Living off The Land

On Comet, On Cupid..no that’s not right. I thought I heard them say on Fatso! Well not exactly “on”. They were Mushers and they were talking to the lead sled dogs, one of which was named “Fatso”, and they didn’t have to be encouraged to run!

Alaska2013 848 copy

But as usual I am getting ahead of myself. We didn’t go straight to the dogs. First we were taken to a rustic camp where we were served some kind of skillet bread that was considered a snack like we think of potato chips. It wasn’t bad but it was dry. We washed it down with hot chocolate.

Alaska2013 849 copy

A young man gave us a hesitant presentation about trapping. He had a variety of pelts hanging on the wall. He also had a variety of traps that he spoke briefly about. After the presentation we could go to the wall and feel the various pelts. I spoke to the young man after his presentation. I thought he might be a native Alaskan but he said no, he was just up there for a cultural exchange from the lower 48. He’s only been there about a week which was why he was so hesitant in his presentation.

Alaska2013 854 copy

After we’d had a chance to compare the pelts we headed back to the bus. The young man went with us and a young woman who was as gregarious as he was quiet. She was a senior in high school and not shy at all. She is not only a native Alaskan but one of the “First People” and very proud of her heritage. She explained about the system where land or territories in Alaska are controlled by  Alaska Native Regional Corporations. There are 13 different corporations, one for each of the recognized tribes. There is no such thing as a reservation in Alaska. It sounds like the Alaskan Natives fared far better than those tribes on the lower 48.

As she talked she also kept her eyes open for wildlife and she could spot it. We passed several small herds of caribou on our way to the sled dogs.

Alaska2013 867 copy

We heard them before we saw them, but as the bus bumped down a rutted dirt road we saw dogs happily bouncing around and barking like crazy! What a racket!  But where was the snow? We’d been surrounded by snow all day but now it had magically disappeared.  Oh there were some snow banks but mostly we were looking a dirt trails.


This was going to be interesting.

Time for a little TLV (Tour, Lunch. Visitor Center)

So far the tour had been ok. I had hoped we’d see more animals. We’d scoured the mountainsides for Dall Sheep but there weren’t any around. No bears either even at a distance.

Alaska2013 805 copy

We did see a couple more moose and then some caribou.

Alaska2013 825a copy

Alaska2013 825 copy

The guide finally addressed the issue of gulls in the middle of Alaska.

Alaska2013 785 copy

They are called Mew Gulls. And according to him they migrate here to nest. They usually build their nests in trees or even on the ground as long as they are near water. Each time I/we saw them there was a river or pond nearby.

Alaska2013 781 copy

We even got back to the lodge in time for lunch.

Alaska2013 826 copy

Thinking we might be able to save a couple of dollars (or a few pennies) we went to the Base Camp restaurant next to the King Salmon. Turns out they are really the same restaurant just different names. I didn’t quite get the logic there. They share the kitchen, the menu is the same and so are the prices.

Alaska2013 827 copy

Both Sandy and I ordered the fish and chips. It was so good. Not cheap (or inexpensive) but worth every penny.

Alaska2013 833 copy

Then we wandered through the souvenir shops before heading to the shuttle for a trip to the Visitor Center.

Alaska2013 828 copy

After all, I had to get my National Parks Passport Stamped because who knows when I’ll ever get back to Denali again.

Alaska2013 832 copy

The Visitor Center was awesome. There was a small museum nearby that we never even got to go to because the displays in the Center were so good. I got my passport stamped and then we explored the exhibits.

Alaska2013 840 copy

We saw more animals in the Visitor Center displays than we’d seen the whole trip. There were dioramas of Moose

Alaska2013 836 copy

and bear

Alaska2013 838 copy

and wolves.

Alaska2013 839 copy

The Dall sheep looked magnificent.

Alaska2013 834 copy

The Golden eagle was caught in the act of snatching it’s dinner.

Alaska2013 835 copy

The conservation message was clear. Even the smallest things can make a big difference even tipping the balance of nature. I couldn’t help but think of the endangered Piping Plovers back home.

Alaska2013 837 copy

The Athabaskans, the First People,  understood this and still respect the delicate balance of man and nature today.

Alaska2013 843 copy

Finally one of my favorite posters…Dogs Don’t Run Out of Gas…I loved that and it was a reminder that we needed to catch the shuttle back because we were going dog sledding this evening.

Alaska2013 842 copy

Natural History Tour into Denali

As we’d been told our tour was on an old school bus style bus. Remember those windows that you could open from the top by squeezing the release mechanism ? The window would then open 1/2 way so the top of the window was open but not the bottom. Sort of like a double hung window for a bus.  Well that’s the kind of windows we had. To take pictures you had to balance on the seat to get the window open and then either lean back (Still standing…sort of) or lean over the seat in front of you to get a shot with no window glass or frame in the way.

The bench seats had been replaced but that was the only change and it might have been easier to take pictures from the bench seats than the captain style. Each row of seats was placed so the frame of the window was right in the way.

Sandy and I settled in and I took the inside by the window. We’d been told that the bus would stop for wildlife and if it was safe, let us out to take pictures. In all the brochures you see the bus on the side of the road with the occupants standing outside watching the wildlife. We were about to discover that “art” and life were very different.

Once everyone was on our driver made a strange announcement. He said if we were on the tour to see wildlife then we were on the wrong bus. As far as I knew from chatting with the others on the tour, we all wanted to see wildlife. No one got off so I thought he must be kidding.

Alaska2013 804 copy

He took a head count and we were on our way. Everyone’s eyes were peeled hoping to see animals. And we did begin spotting some. First up were moose.

Alaska2013 805 copy

We spotted a couple making their way through the snow. One of them had a radio collar and she seemed to be struggling.

Alaska2013 810 copy

At first we were all concerned until someone suggested that she might be about to give birth and that was why she was having trouble getting through the snow when the other moose was fine. I hope that was the case. It made everyone feel better anyway.

Alaska2013 809 copy

We stopped at a rest area where 2 rangers gave a short presentation about the history of the area.

Alaska2013 820 copy

One of them had a really vintage looking uniform and with his beard he was a ranger “poster boy”.

Alaska2013 819 copy

Alaska2013 815 copy

We also got another chance to see Denali (Mt. McKinley) who was again cooperating with us.

Alaska2013 822 copy

The “rest rooms ” were quite state of the art too.

Alaska2013 813 copy

As we stopped at the ranger check point that was as far as cars could go we saw a little Alaskan ground squirrel. He stuck around for quite a few minutes so we all had a chance to get pictures. He’s a cute little fella, isn’t he.

Alaska2013 824 copy

I also spotted a grouse, in fact several, but they blended in with the brush and were so quick to hide that I didn’t get a picture . The bus was moving and if I’d yelled stop they would have been out of sight before he could hit the brakes.

There were more sea gulls flying around. Seemed strange so far from the sea. But it was time to turn around and head back to the lodge.

Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge

What a long day. It may not have been strenuous but as anyone who has ever been confined in a tight place, whether a plane, a train or other form of transportation,  for a number of hours can attest, that gets very tiring very fast. In the end our train ride was 11.5 hours! If it had been more roomy I’d be cheering that we got the extra time!

The dinner show was “the Music of Denali”. It’s the story of the first summit of Denali (Mt McKinley) told in song and dance .

DInnerTheater copy

The players are also our waiters and waitresses. They even get some of the audience involved.  Dinner was sliced beef or salmon. The beef was good. I think Sandy ate the Salmon and I’m sure it was good. After all, this is Alaska! By the time the show and dinner were over and we headed back to our room, dusk was finally starting to fall.

Tomorrow we had the park tour in the morning and the dog sled tour in the late afternoon.

The Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge is located on the Nenana River Canyon one mile from the entrance to Denali National Park. A shuttle runs from the lodge to the visitor center on a fairly  regular schedule.

Alaska2013 780 copy

The layout of the lodge is not like a hotel. The rooms are arranged in separate bungalow style buildings. They are built in a very rustic style and named for various animals. Our building was “Wolf Den”.

Alaska2013 779 copy

The beds were large and comfortable but we both noticed that there was very little heat in the bathroom.

Alaska2013 776 copy

There must have been some or the pipes would have frozen but it sure didn’t feel like it! Just part of the ambiance.

Alaska2013 777 copy

Even though we are on Princess property, there is no “on-board” account and meals are not included. We’re on our own. There is a “strip” of stores, souvenir shops and a couple of restaurants across the highway from the main lodge but we stayed on the Princess properties for our meals.

In the morning I was out first and discovered the canyon while waiting for Sandy. I was hoping to see some animals but no luck just, of all things, sea gulls!

Alaska2013 782 copy

Once Sandy caught up with me we headed over to King Salmon (the main restaurant) for breakfast.

Alaska2013 793 copy

The Princess hospitality continued as the waiter was top notch. I think he was from Florida too. It was amazing how many of the staff were from other states.

Alaska2013 792 copy

I’m not sure we met any Native Alaskans working on the property.

Alaska2013 790 copy

Following breakfast which was the size a lumberjack might want, we started working our way slowly up to the main lodge. (I never did manage to finish a whole breakfast the whole time we were there)

Alaska2013 801 copy

We really got a kick out of the carvings for sale with their little signs.

Alaska2013 798 copy

Alaska2013 796 copy

Alaska2013 794 copy

The main lodge was a 2 story affair with a souvenir shop, courtesy internet (15 minute limit) , and a coffee shop on the first floor. The 2nd floor was filled with comfortable chairs and couches where everyone waited for the tour buses. There was a registration desk and a tour concierge  located there too.

Alaska2013 800 copy

Alaska2013 799 copy

Our Natural History Tour was at 11:00 and we settled into wait.