Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Denali, the park and the mountain

Sunday started out rainy and gray. We met in the lobby to prepare for our train trip to Denali and while we were waiting, in walked Shelly and Kip Shults. Shelly is my friend and my dentist and she and her husband are on a different tour of Alaska but stayed at Pikes Lodge, same place as us, and were riding the train to Fairbanks. They had plans to stay somewhere near the entrance to the park. Weird coincidence or just the usual for me? Remember when I was in Guatemala City with the kids and ran into John Szabo from BDD training. Yep, welcome to my world.

The train was very nice, double decker with huge windows on top and dining car below. We had a host who kept us informed about where we were and what we might see. While we traveled and had breakfast (reindeer sausage),and the skies began to clear. At the Denali train station we were met by the cruise west people and transferred onto a bus. Most people stay outside the park and visit for the day, using the shuttle bus system. There are a few campgrounds but private vehicles are allowed on only the first 10 miles of the park road. The private lodges that are here, Kantishna included, were begun as mining camps. Our lodge has the building on it that was the old mining registry office. It was built here after miners got tired of having to travel to Fairbanks to stake their claims on mines. They were outside the original park boundaries, when the park was expanded they retained private ownership and the owners are permitted to transport their guests through the park in private buses.

Denali is now 6 million acres big and a testament to the foresight of people determined to keep some of this beautiful country in it’s natural state. Kantishna Roadhouse is 90 miles from the entrance to the park. Only the first 10 miles are paved, otherwise it’s gravel and bumpy. Our driver has worked here for 37 years and is also a former dog musher so knows the park very well. We spent 6 hours on our trip here, stopping for photo ops, at the Eilson Visitor Center (mile 66) and for animal sightings. We were extremely lucky, the weather improved over the course of the day with some sunshine and we saw many Dall sheep, a moose, some caribou, a single bear and a mother with yearlings, and a wolf. Our driver told us all about the park including its history and all about the flora and fauna. By the time we got to the visitor’s center, the clouds had cleared enough for us to see the top of the mountain. Many days it is shrouded with clouds so sightings are a treat. After we arrived and were settled in our lovely cabins on the banks of Moose Creek, we had a nice dinner (duck breast and polenta).

Everyone we have met has been so nice, the people who live here seem to share such a love for this land and its easy to understand why. The beauty is astounding and with no cars, no TV’s, no cell reception….it is quiet. You understand that you get to enjoy this land the way it has been for thousands of years. The people here are stewards of the land, not users or exploiters. As it is so close to the summer solstice there is daylight here at least 20 hours a day. It is a little weird to get used to, the first picture today was taken at 10:30 at night. I wonder how people who live here year round get used to having only a few hours of daylight during the winter months, especially with the extreme cold.

P.S. At the Eilson Visitor center is the most fantastic quilt, made by a local woman, that shows a panorama of Denali with different sections showing how it looks during different seasons.

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