Artist Rides the Denali Green Bus


One of the perks for the Denali Artist-in-Residence is a bus pass. Using the bus schedule we could ride the road from Savage check point to Wonder Lake, get off anyplace and hail down the next bus when we were ready to ride again. It sounded great and in theory it was, but the practical aspects took some thought and experience.

With smoke filled skies hampering landscape research we decided to tour the park by bus to see the changes since our last visit, and figure out the system. Donning our loaned backpacks we hiked up hill a quarter mile from the cabin to the park road and waited for the bus. They are scheduled to the west about every 30 minutes and almost immediately a sleek tan colored diesel approached belching a trail of dust that choked my throat. We waved, the driver waved and passed on by. Puzzled, we were relieved when minutes later its twin appeared, we waved for it to stop, the smiling driver waved back and drove on leaving us covered in a fine, silty dust. We were confused, we could see empty seats so why did they not stop to pick us up? Soon an older green painted vehicle that looked like a school bus approached, we began waving frantically and the clunker slowed to a stop while the wind blew the trailing dust forward to cover us as we climbed aboard. “Tickets please?” the driver asked as we fumbled through our pockets and packs to find the passes. Two lessons learned, one; keep the bus pass in a handy pocket in front accessible even with pack straps and gear, and two; our passes are good only for the green buses!

So many changes in the park since my last visit in 2000, the rest stop at the top of Polychrome Pass was gone, all that remained are the stairs and a gravel path along the knoll. All the buses pause for a rest stop at the Toklat River where a brown colored tent serves as a gift/book store and a row of pit toilets wait for the tourists. Shown in the above photo are the tan tour buses and our little singular green bus with the gift tent in the background. I have to say that this “improvement” looked rather tacky in this previously remote, wilderness, but the services were very needed for so many guests. I wish the park could have planned the facility to be less obvious and intrusive.

We rode all the way to the new Eielson Visitor Information Center and were very impressed with the first class building and exhibits. The mountain was hidden by clouds and smoke, but the displays inside the building were very descriptive and helped replace the view of what we could not see out the windows. During the trip the bus driver made us aware of how tinder dry the land was and that a good rain was needed not only for the plants, but to quench the wild fires. Blinking back dust and smoke from our eyes, we already knew. Yes, rain was needed, clouds were forming and wind began to blow. We were thankful to be back inside the shelter of the tiny cabin on the East Fork River, snug and secure as the sky darkened, low clouds covered the surrounding mountains and later in the night we listened to the sound of rain on the roof.

Gail Niebrugge, Denali Artist-in-Residence

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