Christmas is just around the corner and seeing all of the raindeer decorations around sparks flashbacks to a surprise encounter that I had with a crazed caribou in Denali National Park this past summer. Alaska is a wild and majestic place. Everything is big: the mountains, the sky, and the wildlife. The bus ride along the Denali Park Road is one of the best ways to experience the grandeur that is Alaska. We saw dozens of moose and caribou as well as a few grizzly bears. One of the bears walked right along the road within feet of our bus. It was an incredible experience to see that bear so close but it did nothing to prepare me for my showdown with the caribou later that day!
It was about 2 o’clock in the afternoon when we stepped off of the return bus at the Savage River rest stop. There we met up with some friends who had driven in from Anchorage and spent some time together relaxing on the gravel bars and wading in the shallow channels of the braided Savage River in view of the Rangers station. Then, out of nowhere, it appeared. A crazed caribou was tearing down the length of the river with reckless abandon. It caught me by surprise and I quickly found myself in that awkward position much like when you bump into someone and don’t know whether to move to the right or left. The river chose for me as there was a deep channel to the right. Somehow I snapped off a few pictures as I dove behind some boulders to my left as the Caribou approached. It stopped about 15 yards away, looked over at me huddled amongst the rocks, and then flashed away down river.
A National Park Ranger witnessed the whole thing from her post on the road. She ran down the bank of the river towards us with a megaphone in hand. “Step away from the Caribou,” she screamed as I reoriented myself and made my escape form the rocks. As I walked away I realized how lucky I was to experience such a close (and safe) encounter with one of Alaska’s greatest beasts. Our peaceful showdown was like Christmas in July!