June 9 to 11
That first day we hiked a trail rated “moderately difficult” to the dog sled kennels. It was uphill and then it was downhill. “Difficult” was the operative word, not “moderate.”
The park maintains three dog teams to keep trails open in winter. In summer they train the young dogs and puppies and give demonstrations every day to visitors. We had a great time looking at the dogs.
On Sunday, June 10, we took the bus to Eielson. You can’t drive in the park. You can hike and bike and camp, but you can’t drive. To see the park, you take the bus. (Well, there is a lottery and a few winners get to drive in the park.) Our bus was an eight-hour round trip, 66 miles. The ticket cost $37 and it was worth it.
The drivers are terrific. Ours paused, said, “Take a look,” and a full-grown grey wolf walked slowly across the road, right in front of us. I was about 6 rows back and I saw him clearly. The drivers have hand signals to alert each other to bears, lynx, caribou, moose, so they can pull over and help the visitors see. The only bear we saw was miles away, in the riverbed. With binoculars you could see him hunting salmon, whirling back, running forward. You could tell how fast he was.
We saw moose and caribou and some passengers saw a lynx. I saw his tail. The caribou were standing in water. I had had no idea how huge their antlers are. At one of the rest stops moose racks were laid out and a couple of men were taking photos holding them above their heads. I couldn’t lift one up that high.
But the park management is the most astonishing. There is such attention to building rest stops that don’t do damage, providing education for all ages at all levels of interest, creating hiking and camping and sightseeing experiences for all visitors.
For example, the visitor center at Eielson is built into the tundra with a tundra mat roof. It uses photo-voltaic panels and a battery bank, solar hot-water heating and a small hydroelectric system in a nearby stream. And the center has a small art gallery.
At the main visitors’ center there is a great book store and at the science center we saw a good film about finding dinosaur remains and gaining better understanding about climate change.