Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Denali National Park and Preserve

After our quick peek at Anchorage we traveled further north and stopped at Talketna on our way to Denali National Park & Preserve. This is a small village where mountaineers depart, by air, on their way to a 7,000-foot base camp. This camp, a jumping off spot for climbers, is located on the Kahiltna Glacier, which leads to the West Buttress, the preferred ascent route to the top of Mt. McKinley.
Our first moose sighting in Talkeetna

Grass even grows on top of the information boards

A shop in down town Talkeetna
At one time Talkeetna was a trading post during the gold rush and a supply station during the building of the railroad, but today it is a tourist stop for cruise line passengers. There are some quaint roadhouses, flying services, and shops where local artists sell their work. We had talked about a flying trip over McKinley, but the weather was socked in and zero visibility ruled that out. Montana Creek, a nearby river famous for its trout and salmon fishing, held Marlin’s interest for a couple of days before we headed for Denali.

The Miles and the Coles should remember this spot. Mt. McKinley should be in the background

The Talkeetna Lodge, a Princes Cruise Line property. Not where we stayed this time

There are not enough adjectives to use when writing about Denali National Park and Preserve. That alone makes it hard to begin, but we have had no Internet and little down time over the past two weeks to write anything, even if we did have access. Starting the 26th, we spent five days in the park, then visited in Fairbanks for three, and returned to the park for another four days, all crammed with activities lasting into the late evening. It would take me a month to explain all we saw and experienced.
For starters, Denali was created in 1917, the first National Park dedicated to conserving wildlife. Today, it has a staff of 30 interpretive Park Rangers that present daily programs about the Park’s plant and wildlife inhabitants. One major focus of these presentations is how to safely view the animals without disturbing their natural patterns. All the presenters were excellent, well informed speakers with topics that covered a wide range of the flora and fauna within the Park.

Access to the Park is achieved via the 90-mile, dead end road that winds through a tiny piece of the Park’s six million acres. Travel by private car is allowed only on the first 14 miles. Shuttle and specific Tour buses carry people to various spots along the rest of the road. We saw amazing numbers of wildlife along this meager 14 miles each time we drove out to Savage River, which is at mile 14, and even greater numbers from the bus further along its narrow route.

A fox ambled past us while we were stopped for lunch on the crest of a hill

Our favorite activities were the Discovery hikes. They are Ranger led treks into the trail-less backcountry and are limited to ten people. The park encourages getting off the bus anywhere you wish and heading out in whatever direction you please. They discourage use of any kind of trails, even those made by wildlife and stress leaving no trace.
On our first hike out to Poly Chrome Mountain we were afforded a look at the elusive Mount McKinley. This 20,320-foot masterpiece is not only the tallest mountain in North America, it has a larger bulk and rise than Mt. Everest when Everest is measured from its base on the Tibetan Plateau.

There is so much I’d like to share about this park that I cannot organize my thoughts without blathering on for pages so the best I can do is let some of the pictures convey the thousand unspoken words I have in my head. This Park and this State have stolen my heart and we are already planning for a longer return trip. If I were 20, I’d be packing my bags and changing my address from ME to AK.

One of the first bears we sighted along the side of the road

Brandi, our Ranger guide, read a Robert Service poem on our hike in the Poly Chrome area

View from the top of Poly Chrome

The Park keeps a sled dog kennel, where they raise dogs for winter travel in the park. Demonstrations are given three times a day.

The dogs and sled racing around a short track.

After their short run. It was about 65 degrees-hot for these cold weather dogs

The dogs who were left behind this trip, watch closely for their turn

Savage River trail, one of the very few organized trails in the park

As we walked along Savage river, Marlin spied this ram sheep using the same trail. We politely stepped aside a few feet

and he passed right in front of us, just keeping a weary eye on us.

We saw him again further along the trail, pawing up roots or grass under this rock

This Arctic ground squirrel looks like a ground hog to me

Park out houses, complete with sod roofs

On our quick trip to Fairbanks, we visited with Stephen Sheehy, who came to Alaska to canoe the Yukon River and never left. While we were there we visited the University of Alaska, Fairbanks gardens.
How much coleslaw would this make?

Somehow we got away from Stephen without taking any pictures of him, his cabin or even his seven sled dogs. I have been lamenting that loss since we left Fairbanks. Just have to go back.

The downtown parking lots have plug ins for your your car in the winter. What does that tell you about the temperature

On our way out of town we stopped at a section of the oil pipeline and learned how they keep the permafrost frozen all the time. A sensor tells when the temp goes above 30 degrees and it sends down a liquid that forces the heat up to a series of fins that disperse the heat into the air

Support system

Back in the park a caribou crosses a braided stream

Two eating the tender grass at the edge of the road

Taken from the bus.

McKinley stream, near the park entrance. The point of land was pushed up between two faults

A small view of the interior park road. It has many hairpin turns like this

The beginning of our hike along Stony Creek with ranger Andy Keller

A braided stream. These streams wander through the gravel left behind by retreating glaciers. Their courses can change by the hour.

Hiking Stony Stream
Fall has begun here. During the past week we have watched the willow and Aspen foliage turn yellow and the fireweed loose its last purple blossom. The temperature last night was 38 degrees, the Caribou have started to migrate toward their winter feeding grounds, the bears are scouring the berry bushes for every calorie they can get into their stomachs, there is fresh snow on the hills this morning, and the Cooks must begin their long slow journey toward Maine.
We will have more interesting things to see on the way home, but it is hard to leave here.

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