Saturday, June 25, 2011
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
It's day Six at Denali National Park. And, still, the Visitor's Center portion of the national park's Visitor's Center Campus remains a mystery.
The two other times we got within sight of the log-cabin structure (more like a log chalet), the masses of people thronging forth encouraged us to stay away. But today's the day (well, evening) we join the zoo.
So we hop on our bikes and grind our way up a 1.5 mile uphill trail (puff puff, pant pant) intending to spend the whole evening inside the center, watching films, reading displays, listening to park rangers.
We're finally in sight of the building and we notice only few people milling about. Yeah! As we pedal closer, the few people leave, en masse, toward a bus. And then we notice the center is dark.
In denial, I rattle a door. NO! It's locked! It's closed for the night.
Rats! I want a reward for the sweat I shed to get here. So I look on the windows and doors, searching for a list of things to do. Bingo! I find one: A lecture on Alaska's permafrost. It started a few minutes ago at the "Science Center" a few blocks away. So we pedal over and make most of the talk.
Near the end, we realize we have only 10 minutes to get back to camp before the generator police arrest us (quiet time in these national parks is serious business and we've left our generator running.)
No problem. Easy ride. It's all downhill, the biggest reward for all that puffing and panting we did.
So we hop on, pedal past a few curves, then hold on for the ride as we zip downhill. Down and down we ride, gaining speed as we go, kicking up gravel, nearly flying when all of a sudden, not 20 yards away, a moose, a BIG moose, LEAPS onto the bike path and turns toward up, head on.
We slam on the brakes, startled, and slide to within 50 feet of this massive 700-pound creature, who is NOT happy.
Her ears twitch and twirl (moose do that when agitated), and then we see why. A baby moose, HER baby, leaps out of the woods right next to her. He, too, is startled, but he doesn't hang around to twitch and stare. Instantly, he disappears back into the woods to let Momma manage the moment.
And Momma does that well.
She stares us down, twitching and twirling her ears. Threatening us with her stance (and her size! She's easily 7-feet tall at the shoulder). So we back up, and back up and back up until she stops threatening to seriously hurt us.
And now we can breathe, because she's peaceful now. She no longer twitches and twirls and stares.
But, she doesn't leave either.
Instead, she dines, alongside the bike trail. And her baby joins her, figuring, I guess, if Momma's not worried, I'm not worried.
So it's our turn to stare, as they enjoy their meal. And all we can do is wait until they're done. And watch. And enjoy this, our biggest reward.