DenaliShuttle vs. Tour

We set up camp and turned in early after our visit to the sled dogs of Denali National Park. After all, we had to pack lunches to eat on the shuttle bus, break camp, and leave for the park by 5:30 the next morning. I hoped that the weather would cooperate, although others had warned me that one does not always see Denali.

When we boarded the bus, our driver told us that any time we thought we saw something, we should call out and he would stop. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get off the bus to take photographs, but he assured us that he would pause for photographs.

I thought this odd, because we had only paid for shuttle bus tickets, not tour bus tickets. Evidently, the differences between the two options consist of price and flexibility.

Shuttle buses cost considerably less, but you have a bus driver, not a bus-driver-naturalist who narrates the entire trip. Our bus driver seemed to know plenty, though. Shuttle buses provide flexibility because you can get off any time you want—unless there’s an animal around. If you want to strike out across the tundra for a hike and catch a later shuttle bus, you may.

Learning to Ask

For the first five miles of the trip, the crowd on the bus chatted with their traveling companions. I kept my eyes glued on the bus windows, wondering if the clouds would lift and where the wildlife hid.

“There on the left you’ll see some Willow Ptarmigan and chicks,” the bus driver said as he put on the brakes. I stood and strained to see over the heads of the passengers on the left side of the bus.

I managed to snag a blurry photo of the chicks (new birds for me) and sat back down, disappointed. “If only I could get off the bus,” I muttered as I rearranged my camera and bag.

“Ask the people to put their windows down next time,” Pedro suggested.

It seemed obvious, but I struggled with his suggestion. I don’t like to inconvenience other people, but we had paid money to see Denali. Someone yelled out, “Bear!” and pointed to the left side of the bus. This time, I didn’t hesitate to ask the seat occupants to put their windows down.

Denali

Bear Rocks or Rock Bears?

The bear turned out to be a large rock. The bus driver lowered his binoculars and laughed along with the rest of us. “Don’t worry!” he assured us good-naturedly. “I’d rather stop for a rock than have you miss a bear because you weren’t sure.”

After that, the group on the bus loosened up considerably. We spent fifteen minutes sharing binoculars and peering into a cloud-covered hillside. A grizzly sow and two cubs wandered and played just out of reach of the unaided human eye.

Next we spotted caribou grazing next to bluebells, and another grizzly off in the distance. As we traveled further into the park, we saw more tour busses and noticed the drivers gesticulating to each other. Evidently, they have a sign language that they use to communicate animal sightings as they pass each other.

Denali

To Eat Near the Foot of Denali

For the next 60 miles to Eielson Visitor Center, we stopped about every 90 minutes to use the facilities, stretch our legs, read the interpretive signs and take photographs. At Polychrome Pass we hiked about a quarter of a mile for breathtaking views of a verdant valley surrounded by copper-colored hills.

By the time we reached Eielson Visitor Center, a steady rain had started to fall, along with my hopes of seeing Denali. We ate our sack lunch in the visitor’s center, then wandered around inside. One wall held a floor-to-ceiling window with the outlines of the peaks etched into the glass.

Denali“Look, there’s Denali!” I told Sarah, pointing to the etching.

“It’s our closest view of it,” she quipped.

A sign posted near the glass wall showed the statistics for actually seeing Denali from within the park during any given month. The average days one could see the mountain in July? One.

On the bus ride back, we saw two more grizzlies and a giant herd of caribou. We also saw five Dall sheep clambering along a cliff. Once again, the bus driver graciously stopped whenever anyone asked him to.

DenaliI couldn’t help but think of the parallel between our experience and my own Christian journey. For the longest time, I thought the journey was all about keeping the rules and doing what’s right. I missed out on a lot because I didn’t realize that I could ask. Stops and starts and conversations form part of the journey.

Likewise, my desire to see Denali might not have been fulfilled, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t eat lunch at its foot. I enjoyed riding a shuttle bus with one who had seen the mountain many times. The driver eagerly talked about his experiences with both the mountain and the wildlife.

Relationships, Not Rules

I hope that as a Christian, I do my utmost to act like a shuttle bus driver. Willing to talk with anyone who asks and not so bound up in the rules of my denomination that I fail to form relationships with the seekers and questioners along the way.

I won’t see Jesus in person here on earth, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t exist. Stories told by those who knew him in person give me glimpses of his character. The wonder of creation provides further evidence of his existence. I can still sit at his feet, even if I don’t see his face.

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Beauty Tip #28: You can sit at Jesus’ feet even if you can’t see his face.

Q4U: Have you ever struggled with rules vs. relationships?