Thursday, August 7, 2014

Denali National Park and Preserve

Denali - even the name is majestic. This incredible place was was established in 1917 as Mount McKinley National Park, and renamed Denali in 1980. The area encompasses The Alaska Mountain range, both the south and the north sides, 250 miles from the Arctic Circle. The park is open all year, however access in the winter is via skis, snow machine, or dog sled. In the summer personal vehicles are allowed only a short distance into the park, unless you have a campground reservation at Teklanika camp, 29 miles into the park. I was lucky to get camp reservations there for three nights. The Athabascan Indians, the native people of the area, named the mountain Denali, which means "big mountain". In 1896 a prospector named William Dickey renamed the mountain McKinley, after a presidential candidate - he was not even the president at the time. McKinley had no connection to Alaska. It was not until 1980 that the name was returned to Denali by the Alaskan Board of Geographic Names, but the US Board of Geographic Names still shows the name as McKinley. The first ascent of the true summit was made in 1913 by Hudson Stuck, who refused to refer to the mountain as McKinley, and used the name Denali out of respect for the native people.

The terrain of Denali is varied - mountains, tundra, rivers, forests.

These areas are tundra, which lies over permafrost. Tundra supports a great amount of plant and animal life. Trees do not grow well in tundra, since the permafrost is frozen year-round and does not percolate water, so there are areas of standing water, with little nutrients that are necessary for trees. Some trees will struggle and may grow, but will never reach their full height.

The Visitors' Center

On the dirt and gravel road out to Teklanika camp I saw this caribou. Every few minutes I would stop and look through my new amazing binoculars that I purchased in Fairbanks, looking for animals.

Welcome to Camp Teklanika! There is drinking water here, and pit toilets. Otherwise it is wild country.

My rainy campsite. It rained the entire time I was there.

The Savage River, a perfect example of a "braided" river. There are a lot of trailheads here.

The Serenity River, one of many in the park

I really wanted to see another moose. The first one I saw was while driving on the Cassiar Hwy, and he/she ran into the tees so quickly I barely had time to see. I was disappointed when it was time to leave the park and I had not spotted another moose. On the drive out I parked many times and scanned with the binoculars - no moose. I decided to stop at the Visitors' Center to grab lunch on the way out, and guess what!!! A mama moose and her calf, strolling through the parking lot between the cars. That's the thing about Alaska - nature and animals aren't "out there" - "out there" is everywhere. Bears stroll through camps and towns, and caribou roam at will. Humans are definitely in the minority here.

I was sorry to leave Denali without seeing THE MOUNTAIN under clear skies, but it was time to move on. I will return someday.

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