Denali National Park

Today: 64 degrees, sunny and Denali is clearly visible. Alaska heaven!

“Denali is six million acres of wild land, bisected by one ribbon of road. Travelers along it see the relatively low-elevation taiga forest give way to high alpine tundra and snowy mountains, culminating in North America’s tallest peak, 20,310′ Denali. Wild animals large and small roam unfenced lands, living as they have for ages. Solitude, tranquility and wilderness await”

View of Denali

Creation of Denali National Park and Preserve

“Charles Sheldon was a hunter and naturalist attracted to Denali specifically by Dall sheep. He had traveled the world hunting sheep and was drawn here by the world’s only wild, white mountain sheep.In the winter of 1907-8, Sheldon observed over 2000 Dall sheep taken from the Denali area by commercial meat hunters who sold the carcasses to Alaska railroad workers and gold miners in Kantishna.

These two occurrences brought the first significant numbers of white men to Interior Alaska. Sheldon was astute enough to realize the hunting of wildlife and the fragile ecosystem would vanish under these kinds of pressures.Sheldon returned to Washington, D. C. and with the help of the Boone and Crockett Club, lobbied Congress to establish Mount McKinley National Park to protect the wildlife within. On February 26, 1917, President Wilson signed into law the bill establishing Mount McKinley National Park as a 2 million acre wildlife preserve.

Considering that at the time most people’s impression of Alaska was “Seward’s Folly, and the fact we did not reach statehood until 1959, it was a courageous act to protect such vast lands in what was then considered by many to be a remote and frozen wasteland.“

We entered Denali National Park after a long, beautiful trek on the unnpaved Denali Highway. Immediately, we saw a mom moose and her two twin calves next to the road.

Mom Moose, the most dangerous animal in Alaska (or Colorado )
Cute moose calves two weeks old, like stuffed toys until mom saw us .

Grilling our King Salmon steaks from the Haines Canning Company. Best Salmon we have ever had.

Raymond Grillmaster prepares King Salmon steaks

Despite my aversion to tourist busses filled with white (or no hair) retirees, we booked a tour, which is the only way to see the inner areas of the park as personal vehicles are prohibited for much of the park road. It turned out well.

Shuttle bus Lots of stops, On/off where you like and way cheaper than the tan guided busses

We saw 80 or so Dall Sheep , Ptarmigans, snowshoe hares, a coyote, Arctic Ground Squirrels, many caribou, golden eagles, ravens, and black billed magpies, but regrettably for Shirley, no Grizzly Bears 🐻

A bit crowded and noisy, but ultimately fun!
Ready for adventure
Steep drop offs. Sally and Shirley’s favorite! Especially when two busses pass…,
The white spots are Dall Sheep, nearly wiped out in the early days of the park.
Dall Sheep ewes. We saw 80 or so, Dall Sheep
One of many caribou.
Male Ptarmigan changing from winter to summer attire.

For dinner, we grilled my Wyoming Elk steaks (New York strip cut). Yummy!

Dogsledding or “Mushing”

A Kennel Ranger “Mushing”

“Why Mush?

In a modern world filled with high tech solutions for everything it can be hard to comprehend why we would still actively choose to use traditional dog team travel rather than any of the modern alternatives. In fact, there are many reasons to choose sled dogs. TraditionDenali has had sled dogs since 1922. Our first Superintendent, Harry Karstens purchased the first seven sled dogs for use patrolling the newly established park boundaries. The park has maintained working dog teams ever since. Their job has evolved over time and they are no longer patrolling for poachers, they are still performing essential and inspiring work in protecting and preserving the unique character of Denali.

Reliability

Sled dogs have hearts and brains that machines like snowmobiles and airplanes do not. Every kennels ranger has a story of wise lead dogs helping them navigate to a patrol cabin in a white out or to avoid dangerous ice obscured under snow. The dogs know this landscape so well they can provide invaluable wisdom that machines cannot. While a team of sled dogs is obviously far slower than an airplane or a snowmobile, they are arguably more reliable to operate in the extreme conditions of a sub-arctic winter.When it is 40 below zero it can be near impossible to try to start a motor, whereas a dog team simply needs a good breakfast and they are ready and willing to run.

Overflow is a common challenge on rivers and trails in Denali. Snowmobiles can get bogged down and sink in this slushy mess whereas a dog team can run right through it and roll in the snow to dry off on the other side. If a machine breaks down in the middle of remote wilderness like Denali you had better hope you are carrying the right spare parts and tools to fix it. However, if a sled dog gets sick or injured you still have the rest of the team to pull the sled while the injured one can run loose or ride in the sled until they are recovered.

Access

Similar to summer’s back-country rangers, kennels rangers on dogsleds contact winter recreationists and provide information on trail conditions, offer assistance, and monitor use in a low-impact style that preserves the wilderness spirit essential to Denali. The sled-dog trails made during winter field operations are used by winter recreationists who want to explore Denali on skis, snowshoes, or with their own dog team. In winter (November-April) you can use a map to track the travels of the NPS sled dogs and get updates on current conditions throughout the park.

Wonderful presentation by Ranger Jen describing the physical traits of a great sled dog.
Eager Alaskan Huskies pulling the training sled
Dogs going home in “two paw drive”
Shirley and Sally petting a ferociously dangerous sled dog.
Nice views of Denali – fairly rare.

Picnic Lunch at Savage Creek

Mother Seagull on her nest by the creek.
Mom left her nest for a few minutes and we could see her eggs . Who knew seagull eggs were green?
Female seagull dive-bombing Ray as he photographed her nest .
Green eggs and Spam? Seagull omelette for dinner ….? No Way!!

Author: David Willett

Worked at Agilent Technologies and Hewlett-Packard, attended University of Washington and Michigan State University, lived in the Netherlands, the Peoples Republic of China and the United States, visited 36 countries, 10 of 13 Canadian Provinces and all 50 U.S. states, living in Fort Collins, CO, USA

6 thoughts on “Denali National Park”

    1. Love the caribou, seagull eggs and mush dogs! Wondering how they can operate in 40° below weather. Do they wear any kind of foot gear? Finally a beautiful day here yesterday and today and the next 10 days looks wonderful. Ahhhh

      1. Dogs feet have been bred for small narrow pads which don’t collect snow between the toes, but do allow them to “float” on top. Tails, leg length, coats have similar cold/snow adaptations. Evidence of sled dogs being used going back 9,000 years!

      2. I stand corrected. Visited the Iditarod museum today. In the Iditarod race (1,049 miles) all dogs have booties to prevent ice collecting between their toes and other damage, but most mushers don’t use them for normal shorter distance work.

  1. 64 degrees sounds heavenly compared to our record setting 100+ for the last week!
    So glad you had a clear view of Denali. Loved the sled dog pics and info. We visited a summer camp for sled dog pups on an Alaskan cruise many years ago….so cute.

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