"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Notes from the Denali Highway: Getting There

Up at 4:30, out the door at 5, on the road heading north a couple minutes later.   Destination:    the Denali Highway, 138 miles on the Glenn highway, left turn, another 74 miles on the Richardson, another left turn.

But no rush.    Things to do before we get there.

First stop is at Ernesto’s in Glennallen, a wonderful restaurant specializing in Mexican food in what used to be the Caribou restaurant.   Leilani orders huevos rancheros con mole sauce; huevos con chorizo for me.   Sorry.   Hungry.   No photo of my huevos con chorizo breakfast, but this photo os of my going home lunch--three asada tacos


We make the heretofore mentioned left turn onto the Richardson highway and continue north.  Half way through, I admit that the painful lump in my throat is winning and I pull over to change places with Leilani.   I take two Aleve and settle in.

Thus far, we’ve seen a moose, two snowshoe hares, a squirrel, a raven, and a supporting cast of thousands of robins busy gathering food for their nestlings.

We reach Paxson, another left turn onto the Denali highway, and begin the real part of our adventure.   We stop at the first pullout.  And the second, and the third, and the fourth.   This is what it’s all about.  

The first pullouts bring us a hermit thrush, an Arctic warbler,  and a Wilson’s warbler.  Perhaps a red-winged crossbill. 

Arctic warbler, a lifer for me.

The Wilson's warbler with its jaunty black beret.

Then, a gray-cheeked thrush, and an  American tree sparrow.    The Arctic warbler and the sparrow are lifers for me, or the first time in my life I've seen and identified them.   As is the gray-cheeked thrush.

American Tree Sparrow

In another pullout, we’re chasing a small song bird when Leilani hears a willow ptarmigan nearby.    It comes to the outer layer of vegetation and disappears into a bush.    I walk around behind it, hoping it will show itself in the open.

I can see it behind a branch.   One step sideways, and I see it plainly.  


 It looks at me.   At that point in its call, it makes a noise that sounds an awful lot like it’s saying, “Oh, f—k.”  

Listen to the call of a willow ptarmigan here:

It saunters out into the open, we take our shots and head to the next pullout or pond or wherever we notice birds.  

Somewhere along the way, I spot a caribou about a hundred yards out on the tundra.  She minds her own business while we photograph her with our long lenses in the rain.

Then, as is my custom, I say, “Thank you.”  She perks up her head and moves closer.   Okay.    Every time I speak, she moves towards us.

Soon, she is less than a hundred feet and moving into the last willow scrub between her and us on the road.  Suddenly, she rushes back out of the willows and vigorously shakes her head, as if she’s walked into a hornet’s nest.

Leilani says we should move on so she doesn’t come out onto the highway, and off we go at a snail’s pace.   The caribou comes out to the highway anyway, just in time for Doug and Rob to come upon her.

Rob, in between bouts of laughter, gets a series of wonderful shots of Miss Caribou kicking up her heels in the tundra.

Then there’s the next pullout and the adventure continues.


  1. LOTS of birds .. can understand why they enticed you back to the Denali Hwy! My favorite was the guy with the black beret!! When we have seen birds here in Siberia, we have been saying, "Gullible would know what kind of bird that is." Smiles, Patti and Cap

  2. Interesting the action with the Caribou. When we see birds here in Siberia I say, "I wonder if Gullible would recognize that bird and its species." Is the willow ptarmigan in the process of shedding white winter feathers for brown summer color? Smiles .. Cap and Patti