Day 11: For breakfast, we ate at the Salmon Bake. I got crème brûlée french toast, and Beau got a sourdough breakfast sandwich with reindeer sausage! There turned out to be some confusion with getting to the park, however. In our room, it said that there was a free shuttle to take us to the park entrance. It turns out that was last year, but due to gas prices, it costs $2 apiece. When we arrived at the wilderness center, where we are supposed to pick up the park shuttle, it turns out that we booked seats on the 6:00 am shuttle, and it was 10:30. This was confusing because the shuttle allows you to get on and off whenever you want as long as there is room on the bus. The lady was nice and changed our time without any charge or anything. She also warned us that there was no food whatsoever, so we needed enough supplies for the whole day on us. We had 4 water bottles and bug spray.
We had to grab a pack of jerky and fruit from their snack shop, because even though it was overpriced, that was all we had. The shuttle is pretty cool. It is a fraction of the price of the tours, but it is still narrated, and actually takes you farther in the park and allows you to get on and off if you want to hike! Of course, our plan was to see the visitor’s center, which was a 3.5-hour bus drive away. Well, on our way out, we saw a herd of caribou by the river, which was really cool! But as we rounded the corner, we were stopped because in the middle of the road was a grizzly bear! We pulled down the windows and got some amazing pictures. There were bikers in the road who had to sneak past us, hiding behind the bus.
As we headed deeper into the forest, the weather took a turn for the wetter. We saw some Dall sheep on the mountains. We made it to the visitor’s center but it was too cloudy to see Mt. McKinley. We decided not to hike because we were not at all dressed for it. We were prepared for a cruise, not the tundra. On our way back, we spotted another grizzly, this one light blond! A bit further down, we saw another grizzly!! As we drove a bit more, we actually found a pair of grizzlies, frolicking in the meadows. The bears here do anything they want. If they think the road is more convenient for them, they will use it.
We made friends with a plumber from Florida who has retired with an RV. He told us about his many adventures camping in Alaska and how to travel by RV. We also met a fellow college grad who just graduated from USC! We talked the whole way back. He was staying in the hostel we were going to stay in before we found this place much closer to the park. We invited him to the Salmon Bake for dinner and to go grocery shopping (we have the only store that sells fresh produce anywhere in Denali). Unfortunately, we weren’t sure how the shuttle worked, so we didn’t know when or if it would come (plus it’s another $2 per person). Just then, the Princess shuttle drove up! Our place is across the street from the Princess Lodge (we couldn’t afford to stay there but many of our cruise friends did). We noticed that they really didn’t check anything, and we actually had our Princess tote bag on us! So we walked right on the bus! For free!
When we arrived at the Princess Lodge, we actually saw the shuttle that our friend, Jake, was going to have to take after dinner. As we walked by, we heard glass break. We looked up and the back window just blew out! We had no idea what happened or what that would mean for Jake. We brought our new friend to the Salmon Bake and shared a plate of ribs and nachos. Jake got the produce he needed from the market, and we found the replacement shuttle that had to do double duty as a train station shuttle and everything the broken shuttle serviced. Worked out great! Tomorrow, we have to be back at the Princess Lodge at 7:15 for our bus back to Anchorage.