Alaska is the biggest and most wild state in our union, offering beautiful vistas, adventure, and an opportunity for the kind of silence city folk only dream about, unless you book an Alaskan flight and get off the beaten track.
In this blog post, I'll share highlights from my August 28, 2014 rail trip to Denali and report on ah! fresh air!
Getting to Denali!
I flew to Anchorage to inhale fresh Alaskan air, and marvel at wildlife in open space preferably without a car, which naturally meant... here comes the train! (The best environmentalists walk, bike and take public transportation whenever possible!)
The Denali Star Train from Anchorage to Denali offered breathtaking, ever changing vistas - the 313 mile Susitna River with Sockeye Salmon running, eagles, moose, snow-capped mountains, Hurricane Gultch as seen from bridge in my "photographer's" rail photo - all of which culminated in fall color leaves adorning never-ending trees, braided streams, and a wild, WILD! landscape. Bye-bye Los Angeles and honking horns! Hello sublime peace and bird song!
All Cozy In My River-View Room with Easy Park Access!
I stayed at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge just outside of the Denali National Park and Preserve. My room overlooked the Nenana River and a windy path, which led to The Denali Visitor Center Campus, an easy mile and a half walk. The solar-powered campus housed an award-winning natural history museum, the film "Heartbeat of Denali", a National Geographic Bookstore, and the restaurant Morino Grill.
Shuttles to and from park were available. The park did everything to minimize vehicle and human contact with the wild - leave no trace! Free ranger led day tours were offered at the visitor center, and the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge concierge offered paid tours with guides picking up guests in front of the elaborate resort with modern amenities: three restaurants, a Rapid Morning "give me a quick coffee!" Express, hot tubs, and their own musical dinner theatre showcasing Music of Denali! The theatre company was comprised of Broadway calibre seasonal actors that sang the story about the first ascent of Mt. McKinley! I enjoyed this upbeat musical, providing fun, audience interaction, and a taste of Denali's people, land, and history.
Tundra Wilderness Tour - A narrated tour traveling 53 miles into the park to the Toklat River Contact Station with opportunities to view the park's wildlife and scenery. Tour included an introduction from ranger, and informative bus driver/tour guide. They provided snacks and water, but it was suggested to bring my lunch. I tried to order a box lunch at the Princess Lodge the night before but missed their 9 p.m. cut-off in order to be ready by morning. Instead, at 6:30 a.m. I walked across the street to Subway (about the only sign of "conformity" commercialization) and ordered a veggie sandwich. Other coffee shops and restaurants were available.
Terry Boyd Photography Tours - The Alaskan Range provided some of the most beautiful scenery and light in America! Terry took me to his favorite spots, providing individualized instruction with my camera!
No matter your interests, take the Tundra Wilderness Tour and experiece wildness intact. I truly believe everyone should experience the beauty of the wild. The luscious sweetness of clean air circulating in one's midst and going down easy was remarkable. The Tundra Wilderness tour was a safe and visually delicious way to go. And, thank you very much, no cars allowed past mile 15!
Thanks for riding the bus! The bus is the key to conserving the Denali National Park and Preserve wilderness for future generations. And after the approximately 400,000 summer visitors depart, it's all ranger led dog-sleds patrolling the great outdoors!
And clean air.
Other parks are you listening?! No cars!
(Folks, please help keep your parks clean by sharing helpful ideas with the powers that be. And walk your talk. As a conservationist.)
Thanks to conservationists and President Jimmy Carter who saved millions of acres for future generations, I saw bear, Bull moose, caribou, Dall sheep, and the magical Mt. McKinley or Mt. Denali as natives call the 20,322 ft. mountain just like their ancestors who experienced the same wild landscape 10,000 years ago!
An Arctic ground squirrel!
A Bull moose!
Here's a photo of a lovely Southern California gal who traveled with her mom and grandma to see Mt. Denali and see it she did! Posed in front of Denali's peak - from about 60 miles if I recall correctly.
Can you visualize 6 million acres? Me neither. Yet, this is the size of Denali National Park and Preserve. About the size of the state of Michigan!
If you're a photographer, I recommend Terry Boyd photo tours. He took me places I wouldn't have known, and taught me more about my Nikon, including tricks for optimal lighting. Terry also offered use of his tripod and lenses.
The park service offered free ranger led hikes and a demonstration of Alaskan Huskies training for patrol sleds. I took advantage of both tours, learning that in the frigid winter, ranger sled dogs are the only land transportation in the park! At other times, like in the milder summers, buses travel the ribbon of one 92 mile road - the one and only road in the 9,492.2 square mile park (24,585 sq. kilometers)!
I love this photo of Ranger Kris, looking serene. I imagine her peaceful face says it all - the Denali story: An off-shoot of living near the wilderness and breathing clean air!
Wherever I go, I walk.
Walking with Ranger Kris, I enjoyed seeing lichen, "love" mushrooms, fireweed, berries, and delicate trees. Tread lightly!
While you may need to travel with me from sunny Southern Californian - the sun rarely left my shadow - I prepared for rain. The weather can change in a heart-beat and go from Alaskan warm (low- mid 60s) to freezing temps in a day! So pack for varying weather, and get advice at your local adventure store like I did if you're not sure how to dress for possible cold and wet. Hint: Layers and Gortex.
Air quality appeared pristine. Air went down easy. The local air shed rating was class one! Denali has some of the cleanest air in our country!
Occasional challenges include particulate pollutants blowing in from other countries.
According to Enviro-reporter Michael Collins, about 125 miles from Denali in Fairbanks, along with other areas worldwide - background radiation levels recently elevated and are thought to be Fukushima fallout.
If and when air quality challenges appear in nearby Denali areas, it may be due to wood smoke, burning diesel and waste, and, in older buildings, indoor pollution.
Climate change has impacted Denali's air quality, too. Most fires in Alaska occur in the spruce-dominated forests of the interior, which includes Denali. Fires are larger and more frequent. According to fire ecologist, Jennifer Barnes, in the years 2000-2009 Alaska's wildfires burned twice as large as any decade in the previous 40 years.
For more Denali air quality information:
National Park Service - Air Quality Denali
Denali National Park and Preserve Webcam at Wonder Lake with View of Mt. Denali. This is an awesome webcam with opportunity to see Mt. Denali (Mt. McKinley) live, up close and personal-virtual!
I'll be sharing highlights of my trip to Seward and the Kenai Fjords National Park soon, so check back! Also, I'm now a contributing travel writer to a national newspaper syndicate and my Alaska story (with a fresh angle!) will be published in early spring 2015!
For Denali National Park and Preserve information, check out the the park web site here.
For Alaska Railroad's Denali Star information, click here. I recommend traveling first class GoldStar, if you can. It includes double deck dome cars with windows top to bottom! A tour guide, free non-alcoholic beverages, a private outdoor viewing deck, and option for fine dining! A great way to make new friends! If you're on a budget, no worries, the regular cars offer the same spectacular views, and a bonus - in my experience - less crowded viewing opportunites!
Into Apps? AlaskaApp is excellent for helpful information.
Thank you to the State of Alaska Tourism Office for making this wonderful clean air trip and article possible!
Until next time, breathe easy and make life an adventure!
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