The bus drivers in Denali are some of the coolest employees that I have ever met inside of a National Park, I say this without exaggeration.
Let me first say that there are two types of busses in Denali National Park. There are tour busses. These are generally filled with old people and families, they drive out to the different stops, people pile out, snap photos, use the restroom and pile back in. The ooh and ahh when you pass wildlife. It feels more like being on a roller coaster, or being herded through a historical tour.
The second kind of bus is the camper bus. This is filled with the crazies. Us. The people riding the camper bus are the ones that are going in with a backpack filled with tent, sleeping bag and food to spend a night, or several in the park. Some of them are going to campgrounds and others are hiking around in the wilderness. We still ooh and ahh when we pass wildlife, but five minutes after we see the bear we hop out of the bus and are thankful that the unit we are camping in is in the absolute direction of the bear.
The camper bus drivers are the awesome employees that I am talking about. When you get on the bus they give you the general instructions, don’t put body parts out the window, don’t walk around while the bus is moving, et cetera. They also tell you to spot wildlife and yell up if you want the bus to stop so that you can look at it.
Most of the time the bus driver is the first one to spot the wildlife. They way they announced it though quite drily.
‘Bear. Right side.’
‘There are some moose off to the left.’
‘You can probably see some Dall sheep on those peaks if you look’
They are stated like a matter of fact. Of course there is a bear on the right side. We are in Denali, where you expecting something different. Our driver had been driving for twenty years, so pointing out animals is as mundane as checking email.
Then something happened. We pulled around a turn and the bus drivers voice when high pitched and yelled:
‘LYNX, LYNX, LYNX there’s one crossing the road right in front of the bus.’
It was awesome. Seeing someone who has worked in the park for twenty years get THAT excited. We asked him how often he sees them. ‘First time this season.’
The truly impressive part about the bus drivers is their near encyclopedic knowledge about all things. You want to know why there aren’t a lot of lynx around. Well that’s because the lynx prey on the snowshoe hare, and the snowshoe hare has a boom and bust population cycle. Every ten years they go from having six individuals per acre to sixty. As they eat all of the alder they release more tannins that make them bitter and less enjoyable for the hares, as their food source becomes depleted they die. The lynx are about two years behind the rabbits. As the rabbit population grows the lynx population grows, when the hares die the lynx have fewer young and fewer survivors until the hares recover and start repopulating.
You want to know about what Denali looks like in different seasons. Or where you are more likely to see different animals. Or cool things to check out when you are in the backcountry? Ask the bus drivers. They are the ones that truly make the park run. Literally, they are driving every visitor into the park to visit.
On our ride back from Wonder Lake I had left a pair of Warby Parker Sunglasses to be a surprise for an unsuspecting visitor. Warby likes the 59in59 idea and gave us several pairs of sunglasses to leave in parks for others to find. Well I left a pair of them at the Wonder Lake bus stop hoping that someone from the next group would discover them. There was a large group of German visitors and one of them found the glasses. Instead of reading the notecard inside that described that they were a gift. She got on the bus and started announcing quite loudly that someone had left them. I tried to hide and curl up in my seat; I’m not trying to advertise that I am giving them out. She asked several times and I sat silently. Finally, the bus driver grabbed them and asked. I said that they were mine, but explained that they were supposed to go to the person that found them and that he should take them. Gary, our bus driver, was pumped! He said that he had needed a good pair of sunglasses and that the sun always hit his eyes at sunset when he was pulling into Wonder Lake late. It was a small gift in comparison to the gift that they give the visitors every year.
Thank you Denali bus drivers! You make it all possible. Everything that we see and experience in the park is thanks to your hard work, your knowledge and your willingness to introduce the park to us. I am not forgetting all of the people that fuel up and clean the busses. This thank you goes out to everyone who is behind the scenes and making it work. I couldn’t just hop on a bus, see some bears and moose, hop off a bus and explore unaltered wilderness, hop back on a bus and be taken back to my car without your work. It is sometimes thankless, and much of the work goes unnoticed, but please know that there are those of us who are out there who are forever grateful for the work that you do, and the next time I’m in The Spike I hope that we can trade stories over a PBR.