Wednesday, June 16, 2010

We are some awfully lucky people

Monday: Our first full day in Kantishna, we woke to bright blue skies, hardly a cloud in sight. There is a small airstrip just down the road from our lodge and Jerod came at breakfast to see who wanted to fly to see the mountain up close and personal. PICK ME!!!!! I said quietly. So all three of us ended up with an Australian couple in a 6 seater plane with Andy (and about 2,000 of the smallest, nastiest mosquitoes you have ever seen). It was so clear and Andy narrated as we went up. The Alaskan range sits on the border of 2 tectonic plates and was created by the plates colliding and forcing the pieces that come together up in the air. The plates are active and Denali gets a little taller all the time. The glaciers are formed by snow fall so high in the altitudes that it never melts, it accumulates over time, the weight of the snow pack creates ice on the bottom and when it gets heavy enough it starts to move down the mountain, grinding off particles of the rock as it goes. When it gets to an altitude where it starts to melt, it creates glacial streams that are full of silt.

Denali is so majestic from a distance, but up close it is amazing. It's hard to get a grasp on size, when it looked like we could reach out and touch it, Andy said we were still about a mile away. He showed us climbing tracks and a base camp that looked like a hairline in the snow and a paw print. There were some climbers visible but they looked smaller than ants crawling. They have developed a "clean can" system for Denali, so the climbers can pack out their waste. Because it's always so cold, nothing decomposes and it has become a problem in other places. Everyone takes such pride in maintaining the beauty here, I haven't seen one piece of litter in days. Even the smokers put their butts in containers.

After our flight we went back to the lodge and took a little nature walk along Moose Creek. The vegetation here is so different, we saw lots of different plants (Hooray for Robin, the queen of plant identification) and ended up off the trail somehow, go figure, so climbed a small creek bed up to the road. Mosquitoes everywhere, our pilot told us that after some time the folks there develop a biological immunity to the stuff the mosquito injects when they bite, so they still get bit but the bites don't itch. The upstairs of the lodge is set up for demos and has a library with a beautiful screened in area to sit and read. They had a gold panning demo in the creek and also brought in some sled dogs. The Rangers still use dog teams to patrol the park in winter. After dinner we went to wonder lake and saw a large beaver den. When the dens are active the roof area is mud and sticks, after it's abandoned vegetation will grow on the top and Trumpeter swans like to use them to build their nests. Being out in the middle of a body of water protects the young from some predators. Emmet drove the van to and from Wonder Lake and told us it's his 9th year at Kantishna. In the winter he tutors kids in his home village of Ruby and was very proud that he had one student graduate from high school this year. It's mostly college students that work at the lodge, they have only one day off each week which is not enough to get to town and back so they stay in the park all summer. The lodge has a strict no alcohol policy for the staff and many of the kids are from Christian schools. There are no keys to the cabins, you can lock yourself in at night if you feel the need but but there is no fear that anyone will take what is not theirs.

I can understand what draws a person to want to spend time in such a remote place, especially on a warm and sunny day like we had. Your internal engine starts to slow down and without technology to distract you, you can sit and really look at and listen to your surroundings. It is very peaceful, very powerful.

So as of today I have figured out that I can only upload 5 pictures at a time and that's why my drafts with more than 5 pictures would not publish. I also figured out how to keep the pictures in a nice straight line so they look better. My next goal is to figure out how to put the pictures in the order I want so they make sense, wish me luck. So far it has been just wonderful, am enjoying traveling with Jim and Robin, we are having a lot of fun. The cruise west people have done a great job of organizing and getting us from here to there. I'm not crazy about being on someone else's schedule but we've had some free time so it's okay.

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