^^The photo to the left is how my mom usually poses whenever she’s beside a flower or tree^^
^^blueberry stained lips on the right^^
The next installment of Alaska week continues with us finding and eating massive amounts of wild blueberries. We are almost on the home stretch!
But first a quick recap.
Thus far we slept in an airport full of stuffed animals, hiked through Alaska’s oldest national park, crossed a stream teaming with fish on our way to the raptor center, explored downtown Sitka, ate the best King Crab ever, slept in a cabin by a shrine, camped beside a glacier (and saw a bear!), took a death-defying puddle jumper to Gustavus and hiked to one of my most favorite places in the world, hopped on a boat and spotted whales, seal, puffins, eagles, moose, bear, and calving glaciers,ate hands down one of the most memorable meals of our lives, got trapped in an airport for hours, then took a road trip up around the Kenai Peninsula, paddled down the Moose River (and saw a moose!), hunted for blueberries and stayed in a haunted hotel, hiked up to Exit Glacier before making camp at Denali National Park, took a 5.5 hr camper bus through Denali to Wonder Lake Campground, got caught in a rainstorm while hiking to Reflection Pond and watched the sunrise over Mt. McKinley.
Since we had time before the bus arrived we decided to go on a short hike to Wonder Lake, then decided to explore the brushy terrain near the campsite. We didn’t have any maps or any idea where were were going — we just picked a trail and followed it — up and down a small hill, through chest-high brush, and towards another small pond. It was on this journey where we discovered wild berry bushes — fields and fields of plump blue berries just waiting to be picked.
To say we went a little nuts is an understatement. I think I ate as many berries as I picked, not caring if my lips and fingers turned blue from all the juices. We found other berries too — and ate those as well. The wild blueberries tasted a bit different than the store bought variety — more tart and tangy and maybe even more delicious. We filled our caps with as many berries as we could then hiked back to camp to wash and bag our berries.
We didn’t realize how soaked we were from wandering through the berry patch until we got back to camp. After a quick change and after breaking down camp we sat and munched on our stash as we waited for the shuttle bus to take us back through Denali to the park entrance.
As we didn’t have much gear at all we were able to take any bus, not just the camper bus. The bus pulled up and turned around already loaded with people but with just enough room for the two of us. We felt like small celebrities upon boarding that bus clutching our prized bags of fresh-picked wild blueberries for as we walked down the aisle heads turned and people whispered, “oh my look at all those berries!” or “look, they found wild blueberries!” or “wow, they got a lot of berries!” I think someone even asked me if it took me a long time to get that many berries. I answered ‘no,’ but I what really wanted to say that the berries were everywhere — all you had to do was just get off the bus, find a trail, and get a little bit lost.
- My memory is a bit hazy on the bus schedules BACK from Wonder Lake Campground but from what I recall at the time of our visit was that there was a really early bus that left Wonder Lake (6am or so) and then after that the next bus arrived some time in the afternoon (the first bus that left the park entrance making it’s turnaround). We didn’t bring much gear — just two tiny backpacks and a camera bag — so we were able to board either the camper or regular bus. If you are unsure of the time tables I believe that the bus schedule is posted at the Wonder Lake campground bus shelter. Or of course you could find out ahead of time, which is probably the better idea.
- Blueberry season is in late August. We went searching for blueberries before and I confess I had no idea what I was looking for. Once I found the bush it was unmistakable and hard to miss. Look for a calf high bush with red leaves — it pretty much covers the entire landscape in Denali.
- This probably goes without saying but if you’re picking berries be on the lookout for bears — they love berries too! We never saw any but I did see lots of bear poo close to camp so I’m sure it’s not uncommon. For the record, if you see a bear, do not run as that is “prey behavior.” We have run into bears out in the wild before and every time they seemed less interested in us than we were in them. Anyway, just be cautious and don’t be a dumb tourist and try to pet the bear (we saw this happen more than once in AK).
- On the bus ride to Wonder Lake campground our driver told us that all the berries in Denali were edible. We sort of stupidly took his word for it and ate every dark colored wild berry we found. It’s pretty obvious though which are blueberries and which are some other kind of berry. After coming home I read that white berries are a no-no and that if you eat berries and they taste bitter, spit it out – those might not be so good for you.
- We hiked to the side of Wonder Lake closest to the campground/bus stop — from this vantage point you cannot see the reflection of Mt. McKinley. To get the quintessential view of Mt. McKinley reflecting into Wonder Lake, you will need to hike around the lake. We were too concerned with picking blueberries to hike to the other side of the lake.
- TIP: If you’re camping at Wonder Lake there are blueberry bushes everywhere. The bushes nearest to the campsites were pretty much picked clean, which is why we didn’t notice them straight off the bat. But if you follow the tiny trails from the campsites down to the lake contained w/in the campsite it’s pretty impossible not to find a patch of berries. Nobody seems to hike down there and there are more berries than you can eat in a year.