Artist rides Green Bus to Wonder Lake


Waking to the sound of rain dashed my spirit, the 5th day of my artist residency in Denali and my search for good light on the landscape was again thwarted. Low clouds covered Polychrome pass, the world was white on grey with black silhouettes. We reasoned that the weather might be better 60 miles to the west, so packed to ride the bus to Wonder Lake and back.

Soaked, we took seats inside the sludge coated green rattletrap smelling of wet dogs, muddy windows made it dark, I leaned into the isle to peer down the tunnel between seats where front windshield wipers provided a glimpse outside. Not much to see, the driver made idle chatter but soon grew silent, the only sound was the whine of engine changing gears up and down grades. At mandatory stops Toklat and Eielson we caught the next bus out shortening the time to Wonder Lake. The driver used a squeegee and dirty water to clean windows, streaks of mud with spots of clear glass improved visibility. The rain finally stopped and the wind began to howl.

A bull moose greeted us standing in a pond as if placed by the Chamber of Commerce at the entrance to the Wonder Lake Campground road. Cameras and flashes appeared like the paparizze chasing a celebrity, passengers crowded on top of each other to one side of the bus lenses jutting from windows. Pandemonium. “Sssshhhhh,” the driver commanded in a whisper, “quiet, please don’t habituate the animals to the sound of voices.” “Ssssshhhhhh.” The silence was broken only by the clicking of shutters. I wondered to myself, wouldn’t the rumbling of the diesel engine drown out most sounds? But, who was I to question, we were at the mercy of the driver.

The lake was choppy and wind blown, no real photo ops with flat light at mid-day, we hiked up the campground road and caught the next bus east. The wind brought the smoke again and the air was hazy, the landscape abysmal from an artists point of view. I began to grow anxious, patience is not my strong suit. A single caribou was the only sighting on the return ride. What on earth should I paint from this experience I asked myself. I felt that I had become too immersed in the every day minutiae to be able to see objectively.

Gail Niebrugge, Denali Artist-in-Residence

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