Sunday, August 22, 2010


Denali, the “High One”, is the name Athabascan native people gave the massive peak that crowns the 600-mile long Alaska Range. It is also the name of the immense national park and preserve created from the former Mount McKinley National Park (NP).

Imagine the scene roughly 20,000 years ago, during the height of the Wisconsin Ice Age, as sheets of ice crept as far south as Central Illinois. Yet the Alaskan interior was free of ice, covered instead by steppe tundra vegetation and inhabited by woolly mammoth. An environment suitable for North America’s first human residents, who likely crossed into this continent on a land bridge from Asia some 25,000 years ago!!

Captain George Vancouver was the first European visitor to document seeing The Mountain in 1794. In 1913, four men became the first to scale The Mountain after several others attempted and failed. After nine years of work, Charles Sheldon’s (a naturalist and hunter) dream of saving the area came true on February 26, 1917 when President Woodrow Wilson created Mount McKinley NP. In an effort to provide additional wildlife protection and conservation, park boundaries have been extended in 1922, 1932 and 1980. The last of these expansions - 1980 - expanded the Park to 6 million acres and renamed the park Denali National Park and Preserve. And, to Alaskans, the mountain is known as Denali (NOT Mt. McKinley)!

The only access to the park is via ONE 92 mile dirt road - and this is on a bus, as private cars are only allowed by a special permit. Along this road one will see the special landscape of Taiga (a Russian word for northern evergreen forest of scant tree growth near the Arctic Circle) and Tundra (dwarfed shrubs and miniaturized wildflowers adapted to a short growing season). If one is lucky, incredible wildlife will also be spotted - especially “The Big Five” of Dall Sheep, Caribou, Moose, Wolf and Grizzly Bear. And, of course, Denali herself standing at 20,320 feet - the highest mountain on the North American continent! (We were told that only about 10% of the people visiting ever see the top of Denali due to the clouds/weather conditions created by the mountain itself.)

Our home for the three days in Denali was the Denali Backcountry Lodge (Magic had to stay behind on this one) - again at the end of the road - literally - mile marker 92! The rainbow on the way in was a good omen -

The rain going into Denali National Park kept animal sightings to a minimum,
but the rainbow was beautiful.

All things considered, the accommodations were quite comfortable - at least we had a bed, hot and cold running water in the room and heat! It was ‘adult camp’ and lots of fun. We met lots of very interesting people from all over the world, went on several wonderful, beautiful hikes AND celebrated Kacy’s birthday while there -

Just about to arrive at our back country lodge.

Are you sure this is the way to the room?

We should have gone with the deluxe room option, huh?

Happy Birthday Kacy.

The best part of all - we saw ALL of the Big Five AND Denali herself!! The pictures will tell the story -

Mt. McKinley seems to always be partially covered in clouds.

View of Mt. McKinley from Wonder Lake.

All you have to do is wait a couple of minutes and the view will change.

Still not the whole enchilada, but showing a little more.

Getting started on our morning hike up Camp Ridge.

They say if we keep talking and making noise, the bears will avoid us.

I hope the bears don't see Elizabeth eating their blueberries.

If I could figure out how to combine some of yesterday's shots with today's,
we might have a picture of all of Denali/Mt. McKinley.

Denali is our background this morning.

Wow, one more time.

We finally hit the animal jackpot on our way out of Denali Park.
Our ride left at 6:15 am so the animals were just waking up also.

This bull moose is shedding its velvet.
Sure wish he would stand up and pose for us.

We really lucked out with our sighting of the wolf pack.
There were 14 or 15 in total.

They appeared to be playing here.

The Dall sheep didn't seem to be concerned with our presence.

At long last, a grizzly sighting. She had two cubs with her.
I couldn't manage a shots of all three together.

Nice teeth!

One of her two cubs.

This guy isn't going to be bothered by anyone.

The Caribou were plentiful.

More velvet shedding.

Move over a little, would ya!

Hopefully these pictures have shown you a bit of the beauty and wildlife here - and given you an idea of the importance of keeping this habitat for the life of the Tundra. We were overwhelmed as we returned to our world.

Love to all - E & G

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