Friday, July 31, 2009
Alaska trip - Denali National Park and Preserve
This is a continuation of our Alaska trip (see my 2nd post on Alaska, about Mount McKinley , July 9, 2009.) We arrived by coach at the Denali Wilderness Lodge. The lodge is located by the banks of the Nenana river, about a mile from the Denali National Park entrance. (Click on the photographs to enlarge them.)
Views from the lodge -
I had heard a lot about the Denali Park and imagined that it had many forests and waterfalls, in a way more like Montana’s Glacier National Park. But it was not like that, it had immense plains of tundra and huge arid mountains.
Denali National Park and Preserve was established in 1917 as a park to conserve its large mammal population rather than conserve its majestic mountain Mt McKinley. The mountain was originally named Denali by the Athabascan Native Americans and it means “the High One”. However, the name “Mount McKinley” was given to the peak in honor of the Republican presidential nominee William McKinley of Ohio, mostly as a political statement against his rival the presidential Democrat nominee William Jennings Bryan. It is ironic that it was a Democrat, President Jimmy Carter, who, with his pen, on 2 December 1980, signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Act and more than doubled the size of the National Wilderness Preservation System. Vast new wilderness areas were designated. It added 8 million acres of national forest system, 56 million acres to the national wildlife refuge system and 44 million acres to the national park system. Regardless of political affiliations, I am very proud that a native son of Georgia has left such a large environmental footprint in the conservative state of Alaska for the enjoyment of present and future generations.
Map of Denali National Park and Preserve -
T.H Watkins who was an environmental writer and historian of the American West wrote on the 10th anniversary of the Alaska Lands Act: “… was at once one of the noblest and most comprehensive legislative acts in American history, because, with the scratch of the presidential pen that signed it, the act set aside more wild country than had been preserved anywhere in the world up to that time—108 million acres. By itself, the Alaska Lands Act stood as a ringing validation of the best of what the conservation movement had stood for in the century since Henry David Thoreau had walked so thoughtfully in the woods of Walden Pond”.
With the 1980 Alaska Lands Act Denali National Park was expanded more than three-fold and is now larger than the state of New Hampshire. In all its vastness the park has only one 92-mile road of which only the first 15 miles are paved. It has no guard rail and is quite narrow. Since 1972 and to minimize visitors’ impacts only park buses are allowed on the unpaved portion of the road. We took the 7-hour Tundra Wilderness Tour to better see wildlife and panoramic views but we sat in the very back of the bus, which was full, and it was difficult to take photographs. I took pictures when we stopped in the Teklanika Area.
Our bus -
Another bus in the distance -
The narrow road -
Denali, also called Mount McKinley is 20,320 feet high and is the highest mountain in North America. It was close by but still wreathed in clouds and the snow had not completely thawed on the tundra. (click to enlarge.)
But we could still see the glacial rivers, the taiga, the tundra and the rest of the Alaska Range and its inhabitants. We stopped at the Stony Overlook.
There were colored informative panels depicting the area and animals.
From the back of the bus I tried to take the picture of a moose, but since it’s not very good I am posting an artist rendering of a moose on a 1950’s National Wildlife Federation postcard.
But I saw a bald eagle, far away, near some steep terrain -
And several Dall sheep – (Mt McKinley was protected as a national park primarily to prevent the early settlers and market hunters to hunt them to extinction.)
Denali National Park as well as the whole state of Alaska is a jewel for its people as well as for the rest of the country. It is one of the country’s most pristine parks with an intact wildlife community. I hope that the people of Alaska will resist the pressure of the governor, in tandem with the oil industry and developers to sacrifice its beautiful wilderness for material gain. As Alaska former ranger Kim Heacox says “National Parks are paradoxical places. They offer us freedom, yet require restraint. They are best explored deeply, yet lightly. They demand new sensibilities if we are to leave them as we found them, unimpaired…” and still here for future generations.
''We must learn, finally, that wilderness is not, as our history has insisted, a threat to be conquered but in fact a lesson to be embraced,’’ T. H. Watkins.