When we drove past the headquarters we began to enter the wilderness for which we had come. On our evening return, members
of the park staff were exercising beautiful Huskies along the park road near the HQ.
This is taiga forest, filled with white spruce and black spruce, also here and there with quaking aspen, paper birch, balsam
poplar and tamarack. This is moose habitat and we were not disappointed immediately by spotting a moose next to the road!
The moose like to snack on fresh willow leaves along the road early in the season. As the leaves emerge at higher elevations
during the season, the moose follow those tasty treats up the hill. Later in the fall, they are more likely to return to the
park road again.
But don’t be surprised if your visual hunt for wildlife is for naught. It is not unusual to see no animals on this section
of road, depending on the time of day and season.
We did not see Mount McKinley,over 70 miles away. If it had not been cloudy it apparently towers over the other mountains
in the range.
Mile 10 1/2
Taiga disappears into tundra, waist-high thickets of willow and birch. That stretches into alpine tundra that includes lichens
and mosses. We were told watch for caribou anywhere above treeline.
Savage River Bridge. This is as far as you can drive with your own car. Check the ridges for Dall sheep. In 2003, a fox lived
under the bridge and delighted tourists with a litter of kits, who skittered around the riverbed and sometimes the road.
If you look to the north, you’ll see the river cuts through a V-shaped valley, as it flows downstream. To the south,
the valley is broad and wide where it has been scoured by glacier. The lay of the land makes it clear that this particular
glacier never went further north than the Savage River Bridge.
Beyond the outer, northern edge of the Alaska Range, Interior Alaska remained virtually ice free, with the exception of a
few glaciers in the far north Brooks Range. Scientists believe that is where many animals were able to survive during Alaska’s
Mt. McKinley becomes visible again for the next five miles, then disappears until Sable Pass.
Mile 14 (cont.)
Hike: Savage River Loop Trail. North of the bridge. Walk an easy 3-mile loop down one bank of the river, across a bridge,
and back the other side of the river. This is a very popular destination. Despite that, you have a good chance of seeing Dall
sheep, marmots and ptarmigan.
Primrose Ridge. This is a popular area for day hiking and enjoying wildflowers in early summer. Walking is all above brush
line, and it is dry. There’s usually a breeze, so it is not buggy. But it is steep, and there is no official trail.
Watch for caribou.