Going Home Alone

Slowly exploring eastwards…..

Leaving Sally In Seattle (to stay longer with Drake), I resolved to return home driving small backroads, avoiding interstate highways , taking 8 days or so, for the trip.

After a rainy drive through Mt Rainier National Park it was critical that I make a supply stop at Johnson Family Orchard, Yakima, Washington to stock up juicy sweet fresh cherries and apricots so I don’t starve.

Not normally a big apricot fan, but these were delicious 🍑
Bing cherries, my favorite! 🍒
Extensive fields of hops east of Yakima 🍺
All alone on 4th of July weekend at Jackson Creek Fish Camp on the Columbia River

Driving east through the Palouse I followed the Lewis and Clark Trail along the Clearwater River where lots of folks were picnicking and swimming on the sandy beaches along the banks. Great respite as the temperatures were in the mid 90’s. I found the Nez Percé National Historical Park an interesting short stop on my way to my campground in Kamiah on the Nez Percé Reservation. Trees, shade, a swimming pool and showers!

Wheat fields of the Palouse
Storms over the plains on my way to Dillon, MT for a one night stay
Flaming Gorge

Flaming Gorge, Wyoming

Made of spectacular red canyon walls and arid green forest, the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area sprawls across the southwest region of Wyoming in Sweetwater County. The area covers 207,363 acres of scenic landscape and wilderness. The area’s most popular destination is the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, measuring 91 miles long. You can also experience the Green River, separated from the reservoir by the towering wall of the Flaming Gorge Dam. Both the reservoir and the river provide a plethora of water activities to choose from.

Wyoming Tourism

FLAMING GORGE, Utah

Deep channels carved into rugged landscapes contain stained-glass waters that capture the play of light, shadow and color of the rising sun. Varying water temperatures through the seasons create unique scenarios for anglers after trophy lake trout and a number of other fish species. Flaming Gorge might be the West’s most spectacular reservoir. It certainly is one of the best fisheries around, with Blue Ribbon-designated angling on both the reservoir and the Green River for several miles beyond the dam. And then there’s the way the sun catches the red canyon walls, the revitalizing aura of the encompassing Ashley National Forest and High Uintas Wilderness, the prolific wildlife and the quaint, hospitable communities.

Flaming Gorge National Recreation area is an all-encompassing outdoor recreation destination. With more than 200,000 acres of land and water, Flaming Gorge is a scenic playground for boating, waterskiing, windsurfing, camping and backpacking in addition to some of the best fishing in the west.

To extend your stay in Flaming Gorge, Utah border towns Manila and Dutch John offer Flaming Gorge lodging. Comfortable rooms, cabins, and campgrounds encircle the area, ranging from handcrafted cabins with onsite recreation near the lake or rustic destinations on Forest Service roads in the nearby Uinta Mountains. Red Canyon Lodge, for example, features luxury log cabin lodging, fine dining, a private lake, horseback riding and more, providing a complete resort experience with those 200,000 acres of recreation standing by. There are also developed campgrounds and dispersed camping on the Ashley National Forest. To combine with Dinosaur National Monument, consider accommodations an hour south of Flaming Gorge in Vernal, Utah.

Local Highlights

Red Canyon Overlook: Beautiful any time of day, many visitors opt to get up early for sunrise to watch the gorge live up to its name as the canyon walls catch the fire of the intense morning light.

Flaming Gorge Dam: A year-round visitor center and summer guided tours unlock the history of the dam and accesses a stunning walk.

Browns Park: From Utes and Shoshone to fur trappers and outlaws like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the area has long provided a sheltered retreat, and today is an excellent spot for fly-fishing.

Blue Ribbon-Designated Fishing: On Flaming Gorge, get ready to haul trophy fish aboard, from multiple trout species to bass, carp and Burbot. Below Flaming Gorge dam, the Green River is renowned for its trout fishing and excellent rafting. The brown trout on the Green average 15–17 inches in length but a record brown weighed it at 29 pounds in 1996. Read the Flaming Gorge Fishing Guide.

Dinosaur National Monument: Dinosaur National Monument and the Utah Field House of Natural History in Vernal combine for one of the west’s best dips deep into the region’s prehistory.

Sheep Creek and Spirit Lake Scenic Backways: Two gorgeous routes off the main highway that will guide you through impressive geological features and to the high country of the Uinta Mountains.

Visit Utah

I decided to spend a couple days camping in Manila, Utah near the Flaming Gorge to explore the area more thoroughly. While Sally and I have driven through it in the past, we never spent time poking around. Also, we always drove down the east side of the gorge. This time I decided to take the longer, but more beautiful road down the west side.

The Uinta Mountain range is a subrange of the Rocky Mountains. The Uinta Mountain range is unusual as this is the highest mountain range in the contiguous United States that runs East to West. North to South is much more common. The other two mountain ranges that run East to West are in Alaska!

Sheep Creek Geological Loop

This route winds through the dramatic geologic formations of the Sheep Creek National Geologic Area. The Uinta Fault, which runs for more than 100 miles along the north slope of the Uinta Mountains, is clearly visible in the extremely twisted rock layers along the upper part of the loop.

But stunning scenery isn’t the only reason to keep your camera ready on this backway. Expect to catch a glimpse or two of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep as you wind through Sheep Creek’s awe-inspiring rock spires. This relatively small area is home to an impressive diversity of birds and other wildlife. Sharp eyes will spot the gravesite of the mysterious Cleophus Dowd along the western end of the loop.

Flaming Gorge Country.com
On the Sheep Creek Geological Loop

You can tour earth’s history from your vehicle. You will pass 20 interpretive signs indicating rock formations and fossils they contain. Rocks date Pre-Cambrian to Cretaceous in age representing millions of years of time and transformation. Overlooks, scenic pullouts, visitor centers, and nature trails abound along the way. Pick up a brochure with more information at any of the orientation centers.

USDA Forest Service

The Red canyon Visitor’s Center

This unique Visitor Center is perched high upon the rocky cliffs of Flaming Gorge and offers visitors a commanding view of the vast Red Canyon, carved by the Green River many eons ago. It is open daily from mid-May through mid-September. 

Flaming Gorge
View from the visitor’s center

Deciding that it really was time to get home, I left the following morning and arrived home at 8pm. My little bed felt soooo good!

Trip Stats
  • Time on the road: 2 months
  • Miles Driven: nearly 9,000 miles
  • Ferry ride: 3 nights, covering approx 1,600 miles we would have driven otherwise
Next Post: “Best of Alaska” Summary

On The Cassiar Highway: Destination Hyder, Alaska

The best halibut fish and chips you can imagine…..

Finding the northward-bound Alaska traffic to be annoying (we now feel entitled to have Alaska and all her campgrounds to our selves), we decided to get off the Alaska Highway at Watson Lake and head south on the lesser-traveled Cassiar Highway.

Briefly leaving the Cassiar Highway, we drove through the beautiful coast mountains and along the Portland Canal to the twin towns of Stewart, B.C. and Hyder, Alaska, passing the Bear Glacier.

The Hyder – Stewart Border Crossing connects the communities of Hyder, Alaska and Stewart, British Columbia on the Canada–US border. It can be reached by British Columbia Highway 37A from Stewart and International Street from Hyder. There is no US border inspection station at this crossing, making it the only land border crossing where a person may legally enter the United States without reporting for inspection. The US closed its border station, which was located in the same building as the Boundary Gift Shop, in the late 1970s. As a result, all flights leaving the Hyder Seaplane Base to other cities in Alaska are treated as international arrivals, and all passengers, including Hyder residents, must be inspected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers.  Hyder is the easternmost community in Alaska.

On April 1, 2015, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) decided to close its border station at Stewart between midnight and 8:00AM Pacific as a cost-cutting measure. The road was closed with a steel gate when the station is closed, cutting off the only road entry point into Hyder. The decision was met with protests from Hyder residents, as they rely on Stewart for health care and mainland road access, although the Canadian authorities reassured that the residents would continue to have access to emergency services. The move also inconvenienced people wishing to cross the border early, such as mine workers working in mines accessible only via Hyder, as well as tourists entering Hyder for bear viewing.  Following discussions between US and Canadian officials, starting in June 2015 the road is reopened for 24-hour access. Anyone crossing into Canada after border station hours is required to report to CBSA by video telephone.

Wikipedia

Upon enquiring of a local Stewart resident as to the location of a good seafood restaurant, she said we had to try “The Old school Bus” in Hyder

Diana and Jim run a small business in Hyder. Jim fishes for halibut each morning and Diana cooks them up fresh each afternoon and evening. We all agreed that this was the best deep fried halibut in all of Alaska! The whole town of Stewart, including the Canadian Border Guards are regulars at the “Old School Bus”!

If you have a bit of extra time, read the photos of the hand lettered signs below, to get a feel for the ambiance of Stewart & Hyder

Bears were out roaming all over town. We were told a story that afternoon of a bear climbing into a man’s pickup truck and sitting in the drivers seat eating his lunch scraps. Sally was followed back from the campground toilet by a black bear. Just part of life here, apparently! Read Diana’s sign below.

Raised walkway in Stewart
Sally’s “bear encounter”walking back to our beautiful rainforest campsite from the ladies!

Sally asked me to drop her off in Seattle to see Julie and family, so our route would now take us directly south. Ray and Shirley decided to head for home in a more easterly direction, so we decided to part ways in Kitwanga. The trip was certainly not the same without them!

Ray and Shirley head east toward Banff and Colorado

Next Post: Prince Rupert to Seattle (Bothell)

Dawson City, Yukon, Canada

The locals described winter in Dawson City as nearly perpetual darkness relieved by a couple hours of twilight. After a few winters, they feel they have no more to prove and many head to tropical climes for a month or so to bask in the sun. In summer, people get up early and work late to take advantage of the long daylight.

When asked way they stay, given the solar extremes, they mention the sense of community, safety and close friendships formed in the small town. Everyone participates in volunteer activities to benefit the community, and friends check up on each other if they haven’t seen each other for a while to ensure they are safe.

My text below is taken primarily from GQ Magazine and a few other online sources:

“Strange things done in the midnight sun, reads the first line of William Service’s famous Yukon poem; it’s an apt slogan for Dawson City, Canada. A far-flung place unlike any other, the endless summer daylight shines upon wide, dusty streets, sunken buildings, and the constant churn of the Yukon River.

Our campers, coated in mud after the Top of the World Highway
The view out our camper window
A fellow traveler with an even thicker mud jacket
A ferry takes automobile traffic across the Yukon River to Dawson City

Dawson City sits alone on the river’s banks, a mere 150 miles south of the Arctic Circle, in the Yukon Territory: an expansive, wild, non-state of otherworldly terrain. Getting there is not a simple task. Some arrive by raft, canoe, or kayak, others in the growling throng of a motorcycle club or the purr of a winnebago; slightly less intrepid travelers may take a five hour bus ride or small plane from Whitehorse. It’s a trek, certainly, and to a gold rush town of less than 1,500.

“Kissing buildings” built incorrectly on the permafrost causing them to lean

So why on earth would anyone go to this place that is, in the most direct sense of the phrase, located in the middle of nowhere? Well, perhaps you are someone who feels nostalgia for some place you’ve never been.

Maybe you really need to get the hell away, and you don’t want any sort of packaged, highly Instagrammable vacation to help you do it. If so, consider the derelict beauty of Dawson City. It’s strange, the summers bring endless daylight, and there are women who can-can. Taverns that never close. Taverns that never open.

A tavern restored by Parks Canada and ranger interpreter in period dress

Ultimately, the unlikeliness of the Dawson City, its subtle and grand strangeness, comes from wandering around and letting Dawson City happen to you. Forget about the time. If you go during the warm months (you should), you can just sort of let the constant daylight work its confounding magic. Take a walk on the boardwalk that follows the Yukon. Wander the backstreets of the town, through the little cabins. Follow a wooded trail up to the overlook. Have a drink or two, dip in and out of the dark saloons into dizzying sunlight and get a little midday buzz. Or maybe it’s midnight. You might not be able to tell, and that’s the whole point.

Parks Canada also restored the old music hall
After a period/ historical performance by Parks Canada Interpreters. Shirley, Sally and I were judges in the “Best Klondiker” contest.

In prehistoric times the area was used for agriculture by the Hän-speaking people of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and their forebears. The heart of their homeland was Tr’ochëk, a fishing camp at the confluence of the Klondike River and Yukon River, now a National Historic Site of Canada, just across the Klondike River from modern Dawson City. This site was also an important summer gathering spot and a base for moose-hunting on the Klondike Valley.

The current settlement was founded by Joseph Ladue and named in January 1897 after noted Canadian geologist George M. Dawson, who had explored and mapped the region in 1887. It served as Yukon’s capital from the territory’s founding in 1898 until 1952, when the seat was moved to Whitehorse.

Dawson City was the centre of the Klondike Gold Rush. It began in 1896 and changed the First Nations camp into a thriving city of 40,000 by 1898. By 1899, the gold rush had ended and the town’s population plummeted as all but 8,000 people left. When Dawson was incorporated as a city in 1902, the population was under 5,000.

The City of Dawson and the nearby ghost town of Forty Mile are featured prominently in the novels and short stories of American author Jack London, including The Call of the Wild. London lived in the Dawson area from October 1897 to June 1898. Other writers who lived in and wrote of Dawson City include Pierre Berton and the poet Robert Service.”

Prime rib night at Dawson’s best restaurant accompanied by delicious seafood chowder topped with halibut

Next Post: The Klondike Highway and Skagway

Chicken and Eagle Alaska

“Chicken is a community founded on gold mining and is one of the few surviving gold rush towns in Alaska. The population was 7 at the time of the 2010 Census, down from 17 in 2000. However, usually year round, there are 17 inhabitants. Due to mining, Chicken’s population peaks during the summer. It has frequently been noted on lists of unusual place names.

Chicken was settled by gold miners in the late 19th-century and in 1902 the local post office was established requiring a community name. Due to the prevalence of ptarmigan in the area that name was suggested as the official name for the new community. However, the spelling could not be agreed on and Chicken was used to avoid embarrassment. “

The Chicken Annual Music Festival was happening in Chicken, otherwise not much to see other than Chicken jokes and costumes

“Between Chicken and Eagle, the Taylor Highway is narrow, winding, gravel road with many steep hills and some hairpin curves. The road from Jack Wade Junction to Eagle is not recommended for RVers. “

We reached Chicken via the Taylor Highway, shortly thereafter, turned onto the Top Of The World Highway, then turned north to check out Eagle,

“From Chicken, it’s just another 90 miles of driving to one of Alaska’s oldest towns, Eagle; but the drive usually takes at least three hours, thanks to the rough road”. (It took us 3.75 hours).

Top of the World Highway
We can see for miles and miles….
Sally on top of the world

“Eagle is a city on the south bank of the Yukon River near the Canada–US border in the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area, Alaska, United States. It includes the Eagle Historic District, a U.S. National Historic Landmark. The population was 86 at the 2010 census. Every February, Eagle hosts a checkpoint for the long-distance Yukon Quest sled dog race.”

“The first permanent American-built structure in present-day Eagle was a log trading post called “Belle Isle”, built around 1874. In the late 1800s, Eagle became a supply and trading center for miners working the upper Yukon River and its tributaries. By 1898, its population had exceeded 1,700, as people were coming into the area because of the Klondike Gold Rush.

In 1901 Eagle became the first incorporated city in the Alaska Interior. It was named for the many eagles that nested on nearby Eagle Bluff. A United States Army camp, Fort Egbert, was built at Eagle in 1900. A telegraph line between Eagle and Valdez was completed in 1903. In 1905, Roald Amundsen arrived in Eagle and telegraphed the news of the Northwest Passage to the rest of the world. The gold rushes in Nome and Fairbanks lured people away from Eagle.“

Before exploring Eagle, we found campsites in a BLM campground. Immediately after opening the car door, the mosquitoes descended upon us. Only a couple other places in Alaska were as mosquito infested as Eagle.

Critical gear sold at the Eagle Mercantile
The mighty Yukon River
A road through town doubles as part of the landing strip
Only 86 people, but we have a pool hall!
Power and telephone company- actually, no phone or internet in town
City Hall

After 90 miles back down the rough and windy road, we rejoined the Top of the World Highway for Dawson City, Yukon, Canada

Next Post: Dawson City

The Nabesna Road

Almost no internet or phone service since my last post, and what there was has been very poor!

Leaving Valdez in the rain, we stopped at the Valdez Earthquake Museum and the Valdez Salmon hatchery. Both very interesting. Then we drove to Glennellen and took the Tok Cutoff Road to the entrance to the Nabesna Road. We had one of our few rainy days. A couple of miles of construction on the Muddy highway during a downpour proved interesting, but we reached our campsite on Rufus Creek at 6pm.

In the morning I caught a nice Dolly Varden trout from the creek. She will be pan fried for dinner.

Dolly Varden Trout

We also stopped at the Nabesna Ranger Station per Ranger Mike’s suggestion (see Alaska Ferry post) to meet Ranger Thelma, his erstwhile boss, a lovely 36 year veteran of the National Parks Service (who knows everything about the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park). She was thrilled to be a celebrity!

Ranger Thelma

“The Nabesna Road is a minor highway in the U.S. state of Alaska that extends 42 miles (68 km) from the Slana River to Nabesna, providing access to interior components of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. The entire length of the road is gravel and has few services. Flat tires and washouts are fairly common along the entire length of the road.”

Arriving at our campsite at Kendesnii campground , I immediately went to the lake to fish. Skunked! Skunked again before dinner when the skies opened and it began to pour. Fishing again in the morning proved fruitless as well. Will the wily Arctic Grayling continue to elude my grasp?

Streams flowing over the Nabesna Road will make the it impassable after a rainstorm.
Fly fishing for Arctic Grayling
Finally, success!
A nice grayling baked with lemon proved tasty
Shirley teaches me to make corned beef hash and eggs
Views along the Nabesna Road
Most cabins have an airplane parked nearby
Local decorating style

End of the road

Now, time to retrace the 42 miles back to the highway.

Next post: Chicken and Eagle

The Kenai Peninsula: The Iditarod Museum And Hope

From Denali to Hope

Heading south from Denali on the Parks Highway, great views of the mountain
Alaska Range peaks on both sides of the highway all day

Leaving Denali National Park, we headed south toward Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula with beautiful views on both sides of the highway.

The Sled Dog Relay That Inspired the Iditarod (From The History Channel Site)

“The children of Nome were dying in January 1925. Infected with diphtheria, they wheezed and gasped for air, and every day brought a new case of the lethal respiratory disease. Nome’s lone physician, Dr. Curtis Welch, feared an epidemic that could put the entire village of 1,400 at risk. He ordered a quarantine but knew that only an antitoxin serum could ward off the fast-spreading disease. The nearest batch ofthe life-saving medicine, however, rested more than 1,000 miles away in Anchorage. Nome’s ice-choked harbor made sea transport impossible, and open-cockpit airplanes could not fly in Alaska’s subzero temperatures. With the nearest train station nearly 700 miles away in Nenana, canine power offered Nome its best hope for a speedy delivery.

Sled dogs regularly beat Alaska’s snowy trails to deliver mail, and the territory’s governor, Scott C. Bone, recruited the best drivers and dog teams to stage a round-the-clock relay to transport the serum from Nenana to Nome. On the night of January 27, 1925, a train whistle pierced Nenana’s stillness as it arrived with the precious cargo—a 20-pound package of serum wrapped in protective fur.

Musher “Wild Bill” Shannon tied the parcel to his sled. As he gave the signal, the paws of Shannon’s nine malamutes pounded the snow-packed trail on the first steps of a 674-mile “Great Race of Mercy” through rugged wilderness, across frozen waterways and over treeless tundra. Even by Alaskan standards, this winter night packed extra bite, with temperatures plummeting to 60 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Although every second was precious as the number of confirmed cases in Nome mounted, Shannon knew he needed to control his speed. If his dogs ran too fast and breathed too deeply in such frigid conditions, they could frost their lungs and die of exposure. Although Shannon ran next to the sled to raise his own body temperature, he still developed hypothermia and frostbite on the 52-mile leg to Tolovana before handing off the serum to the second dog team.

With moonlight and even the northern lights illuminating the dark Alaskan winter days, the relay raced at an average speed of six miles per hour.

While each leg averaged 30 miles, the country’s most famous musher, Norwegian-born Leonhard Seppala, departed Shaktoolik on January 31 on an epic 91-mile leg. Having already rushed 170 miles from Nome to intercept the relay, Seppala decided on a risky shortcut over the frozen Norton Sound in the teeth of a gale that dropped wind chills to 85 degrees below zero. Seppala’s lead dog, 12-year-old Siberian Husky Togo, had logged tens of thousands of miles, but none as important as these. Togo and his 19 fellow dogs struggled for traction on Norton Sound’s glassy skin, and the fierce winds threatened to break apart the ice and send the team adrift to sea. The team made it safely to the coastline only hours before the ice cracked.

Gusts continued to batter the team as it hugged the coastline before meeting the next musher, Charlie Olson, who after 25 miles handed off the serum to Gunnar Kaasen for the scheduled second-to-last leg of the relay. As Kaasen set off into a blizzard, the pelting snow grew so fierce that his squinting eyes could not see any of his team, let alone his trusted lead dog, Balto. On loan from Seppala’s kennel, Balto relied on scent, rather than sight, to lead the 13-dog team over the beaten trail as ice began to crust the long hairs of his brown coat. Suddenly, a massive gust upwards of 80 miles per hour flipped the sled and launched the antidote into a snow bank. Panic coursed through Kaasen’s frostbitten body as he tore off his mitts and rummaged through the snow with his numb hands before locating the serum.

Kaasen arrived in Port Safety in the early morning hours of February 2, but when the next team was not ready to leave, the driver decided to forge on to Nome himself. After covering 53 miles, Balto was the first sign of Nome’s salvation as the sled dogs yipped and yapped down Front Street at 5:30 A.M. to deliver the valuable package to Dr. Welch.

The relay had taken five-and-a-half days, cutting the previous speed record nearly in half. Four dogs died from exposure, giving their lives so that others could live. Three weeks after injecting the residents of Nome, Dr. Crosby lifted the quarantine.

The Iditarod Museum, Wasilla

At the museum, we viewed a very interesting video re: the Iditarod race, Alaskan Huskies and related topics. We also took a short ride on a training sled, played with puppies, met the son of the race creator, and learned about working sled dogs diet requirements (quite interesting actually).

Wild sled ride at 12 MPH, pulled by dogs who competed in the Iditarod
Ray Redington, center, son of Iditarod Race founder Joe Redington
Sooooo cute!

Hope, Alaska

Drawn by tales of the town’s gold mining history, restored buildings and natural beauty we made a short detour to Hope.

Oh and It didn’t hurt that we had gotten inside information that the best pie in Alaska could be discovered in Hope.

Historic Cafe
Signs of the times
The view from our campsite
The Dirty Skillet Restaurant pie menu

After some detective work, we found the pie baker’s delicious products were to be found at the Dirty Skillet Café, not far from our campsite.

We met the owners Jeannine and Derrick Janaay, enthusiastic, hard working owners of the Cafe and adjoining Bear Creek Lodge.

The “pie lady” turned out to be named Marie, was from Italy, married a Japanese man and settled in Hope to make some of the most delicious pie we have ever had. A bit pricey, but the delectable crust, tasty fillings and generous size slices made Marie’s pies a big hit.

Pie!
After pie in the restaurant, we couldn’t resist a slice or two to go Ray was so impressed , he got three to go!

After perusing the dinner menu, we decided to go back To the Dirty Skillet for dinner as well. Good beer, tasty food and FOUR MORE SLICES OF PIE!

Waiting at camp until we could return for more pie!
Same table, shepherds pie, Caesar salad with crab cakes, Mac and cheese with bacon and, of course , more pie
Lovely Diana Z’s music at the Dirty Skillet

Next Post: Seward Alaska

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!!