Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Posts Tagged ‘Denali

Alaska Trip: Part 2

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I am opening this part with a picture I should have used yesterday. We got incredibly lucky with the weather as many people who visit the National Park or its vicinity do not get to see America’s highest mountain, since it is so often blanketed by cloud. This shot was taken from the train on route from Anchorage. We had been getting glimpses of the mountain but usually only the top of the peak behind other mountains.

It is 20,310 feet (6,190 metres) high and has over 47 different variants of its name. In Koyukon the mountain was called “Deenaalee” – the Tall One or the High One – until 1896 when a gold prospector, William Dickey, named it Mount McKinley for Presidential nominee William McKinley of Ohio. In 1975 the Alaska Board of Geographic Names  changed it back to Denali but it was not recognized federally until 2015 when President Barack Obama changed it. I think it is sad that Holland America (who provided this information) still call their train McKinley Explorer.

Moose

This moose was the first thing we saw on entering the park. During the calving season they tend to hang around the visitor centre where the presence of people tends to scare off the bears.

Denali National Park panorama

The National Park operates the buses that provide the Tundra Wilderness tour along the only road most of which is closed to other traffic. When we visited the tour only got as far as Toklat, since beyond that point recent heavy snow still covered the road to Kantishna. A temporary tented visitor centre was provided at Toklat since the one at Eielson was inaccessible.

Moose with calf

Further into the park we saw another moose and her calf. We carried binoculars – which are essential – and used my little Canon PowerShot A1400 with its puny 5x zoom. Most of the other people on the bus used either stonking great DSLRs with massive lenses or smart phones. There was quite a bit of jostling for the windows. The bus also carries a good video system with a really good lens, so live coverage could be provided by the driver of worthwhile sightings at greater distances. The woman in the front seat always stood up and held her phone in front of the screen whenever there was a really good sighting. She only desisted after I took her aside for a quiet word at one of the rest stops.

If you click on the picture of Denali below there are some bears in the shot. Probably grizzlies – but that look like two brown dots – at the bottom of the image beneath the right peak of the mountain.

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Caribou

Caribou higher up the mountain side

Dall Sheep

Dall sheep at the roadside: most visitors later in the year only see these as distant white blobs on the ridge line.

Marmot
Marmot

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While the bus driver said this was a coyote, I am convinced it was a wolf. We saw a number of specimens in taxidermist shops that looked just like this one.

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The Denali National Park and Reserve is a protected natural ecosystem that keeps the impact of visitors to the absolute minimum. It is also a holdout against the current administration’s attitudes towards science and the need to protect the environment. The following passage is taken from the booklet given to everyone on the bus

What scientists are finding today is that the park is changing, most notably because of climatic warning …

Alaska as a whole warmed by 3℉ (1.7℃) in the last 60 years. This is twice as fast as temperatures are rising in the lower 48 states. The implications are already visible on Denali’s landscape. …Glaciers cover 16 percent of the park, but nearly all of them are now thinning and retreating.

The foundation of the park – the ground itself – is also melting. Permafrost is thought to have underlain most of the park when it was founded in 1917, but scientists predict it will be nearly gone by Denali’s 150th birthday.

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Ptarmigan

And finally a picture taken by Billie Hyde who was our guide throughout the land tour. This picture is used by Holland America in their publications and also is on the back of her business card which I have scanned.

Bears and bus, Denali

Part 3 will cover Fairbanks

Written by Stephen Rees

June 9, 2018 at 2:02 pm