Denali National Park

Published: April 13th 2017
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I am headed to Denali tomorrow. I need to rest today, having got back from the Aurora hunt at 5am this morning. Plus, I have to watch the Masters.

Denali National Park in Alaska is a mere 6 million acres of wild land, bisected by a single road. The nation's highest peak stands there, Denali, formerly Mt. McKinley, at 20, 320 feet. An old prospector named it Mount McKinley in 1897. Denali means "the high one" in Athabaskan language. With legalized marijuana, we attach the name Denali to anyone smoking!

How did it happen?

"More than a century ago, two remarkable men spent the winter in a cabin not far from the Toklat River. Their experience and interaction with the wild landscape changed them. In turn, they came to have a profound influence on preserving the landscape for generations to come.

Charles Sheldon, an early conservationist and gentleman hunter from Vermont, along with Harry Karstens, a legendary outdoorsman and dog musher, struck upon an idea over the long winter to make of the place the world's first national park established to conserve wildlife. By 1917, after almost a decade of hard work, Sheldon and others persuaded Congress to create Mount McKinley National Park. Four years later, in 1921, Karstens was hired on as its first superintendent."

Denali is a mix of forest at lower elevations, and includes deciduous taiga. Note: I thought taiga was found only in Siberia.

It becomes tundra at mid elevations, then glaciers, rock and snow at higher elevations. Only 400,000 people visit Denali annually. What a shame!

On February 26, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation to establish Denali National Park. President McKinley never visited, but President Harding visited in 1924.

Vehicle access is limited to a 91 mile road, Denali Park Road. Only a small part of the road is paved due to permafrost and the freeze thaw cycle, also evident in portions of Siberia. Only the first 15 miles are available to private vehicles. A road lottery is held for people who want to drive the entire 91 mile road. Otherwise, you can only hike or bike it!

If you want to climb Denali, you will need a permit, and complete an orientation. One of my college roommates and another guy form our dorm tried to climb it back in the 60s!!! Crazy guys.

Glaciers cover about 16% of Denali, with the largest Muldrow Glacier on the north side at a length of 32 miles. Muldrow has surged twice in the last 100 years. Winters are long as you expect, and summers short. The treeline sits at 2500 feet. Only about 30% of visitors ever see the summit of Denali.

Over 750 species of flowering plants (total of 1500 species of vegetation) fill the park in the summer. But the larger animals are the main draw, including grizzly and black bears, caribou, Dall sheep, moose, and wolves. Smaller animals include: marmots, coyotes, squirrels, lynx, wolverine, foxes, martens, pikas, beavers, and snowshoe hares. Migratory birds and fish are also plentiful.

Denali is the only national park with a working team of sled dogs. Snow is possible in any month. In June, the sun sets at midnight, and rises at 4am. Eye mask are recommended for better sleep. In Fairbanks, the sun shines from 10:50am to 2:41pm on the shortest day, December 21, of the year. The farther north you go, the darker it gets. The Arctic Circle is the boundary of the true midnight sun. South of this line the sun rises and sets all year round.

The sun does not set from April 19 to August 23 each year. This occurs because the earth is tilted on its axis by approximately 23 degrees. At both the north and south poles, the sun rises and sets once each year. Some people think Alaska gets less sun than other parts of the country. But it is the exact opposite, if you average the sunlight over the entire year. Alaska gets 10 to 17 more minutes of daylight than the rest of the country. The longest day is June 20, the summer solstice.

What else (from Travel and Leisure)? "The area is home to Alaska’s Big Five—moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves and grizzly bears—which can roam free. So far, I have only seen some meeses, plural for moose?

As a dedicated land protecting present wildlife and wildlands for future generations to enjoy, all eyes are on Denali in 2017, and throughout the year, events are set in varying Alaskan towns ranging from Denali’s birthday festivities in February to National Park Week celebrations in April, culminating in Charles Sheldon's grandson’s donation of his grandfather’s rifle, a tool certainly used to traverse Alaska’s wilds in the park’s formative years."

"Originally attracted to the land to hunt its abundant Dall sheep population in the early 1900s, Sheldon recognized the influx of communities arriving to Alaska following the Klondike gold rush threatened the Dall sheep’s existence, and he saw a need to protect the area as a wildlife refuge."

"In 1980, the park tripled in size when it was combined with Denali National Monument and Denali Preserve by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act signed into law by President Jimmy Carter, and in 2015, President Barack Obama approved the U.S. Department of the Interior to officially rename Mount McKinley to Denali."

This is what they say about Denali and the Aurora:
About 120 miles southwest of Fairbanks, Denali National Park offers 2.5 million hectares of untouched wilderness. Here the chances of seeing the shimmering auroras are heightened due to the absence of light pollution. In contrast to many other locales, the Northern Lights are most visible here during the autumn months, with sightings often starting as early as August. A $10 fee for individuals and $20 for vehicles allows seven days' access to the park, where a select few campsites are open year-round and charge $22 for standard car camping. A bed costs $32 a night and a two-person room $80 at the Denali Mountain Morning Hostel, but like many lodging options in the area, it's open only from May to September. Some things stand out here. Many natives actually look more Asian than native American. The outdoors is "king" here, and people live for the summer. There is a club for everything: quilting, bird watching, canning, snow shoeing, berry picking, taxidermy, ice fishing, you name it. There seems to be an undercurrent of racism, between Caucasians and natives, subtle but quite prevalent. But in general, people are really nice, even to tourists like me. The economy is not strong right now. Gold and petroleum are the main money makers other than tourism. I plan to visit an open pit gold mine just out of curiosity. Even in April, the daylight is increasing at about 7 minutes per day. It is still twilight at 10 or 11pm. I have already tasted reindeer sausage on a previous trip. I want to try moose, caribou, or Dall sheep next.
As most of you know, I have been to all 50 states. But I have not been to a National Park in each state....yet! Maybe in another life, or perhaps just stick to the western states.


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