This morning we headed out on a five hour fully narrated Tundra Wilderness Tour into Denali National Park. We learned about the history of the only park road and were taken to some of the known spots for the best wildlife viewing. We hoped to see what is Alaska’s version of the big five: grizzly bears, caribou, moose, Dall sheep, and wolves. Of those we only saw the moose and caribou but we did see a lynx, a porcupine, a rabbit, squirrels and many types of birds.
The bus that took us out on the wilderness tour was equipped with an excellent camera that the driver could use to zoom in on the wildlife. Above every several seats in the bus there was a computer screen that we could pull down to see what the driver was zooming in on. This allowed everyone to see the animals close up.
Denali has six-million acres of wild land, bisected by one 92-mile ribbon of road. The scenic road is made mostly of dirt and gravel starting in a low forested area, but rises and falls through mountain passes. Unfortunately, last year an avalanche closed the only road about 43 miles into the park cutting off the remaining portions of the park. Congress created the park in 1917, at the time to protect Dall sheep from over-hunting. The park’s size and purpose grew over time and now has around six-million acres, devoid of human development. Mount Denali is North America’s tallest peak soaring to 20,310 feet. Many know Mount Denali as Mount McKinley and they are one in the same. The area is still a mecca for mountaineering and adventuring as it has been for more than a century. The park continues to enchant climbers, pack-rafters, skiers, dog mushers and athletes seeking to test themselves against the raw power of a truly wild landscape.
We saw the Murie Cabin where Adolf Murie lived while conducting his famous research inside the National Park. Adolf was the first scientist to study wolves in their natural habitat. He was a naturalist, an author, and wildlife biologist who pioneered field research on wolves, bears and other mammals and birds in Arctic and sub-Arctic Alaska. He was instrumental in protecting the wolves from eradication and in preserving the biological integrity of Denali National Park.
After our tour of the park we visited the National Park visitor center where we saw two films. One on the history and wildlife of the park and the other on the only sled dog team run by the National Park Service. The visitor center has some exhibits about the history of the park, a topographical map of the park and many exhibits on the animals found in the park.
At the National Park, we took a bus to visit the sled dog kennel where they have cared for and bred the sled dogs for 100 years now. You can walk up to each of the dogs’ yard spaces where the dogs are tied up and each has a dog house. After visiting with the dogs, we visited a small room with some dog sleds and more history on the sled dog team. They then put on a short demonstration to show us how the sled dog team works using a wheeled cart instead of a sled. The park has very strict rules about not using any motorized equipment or transportation methods in the park that might disturb the natural beauty or the animals so they use the dogs throughout the park to transport public works materials into the park. The park’s service rangers also patrol the park against poachers during winter with the use of the sled dogs. They are also used to assist in measuring snowfall and doing research projects inside the park.
For dinner we walked a short distance to the Prospectors Pizza and had a nice spinach salad and peperoni and elk meat ball pizza. Not much different than a peperoni and sausage pizza but thought we should try something different.