New research on the dinosaurs that lived in the area that is now Alaska, will be featured on tonight’s (Wednesday) episode of NOVA.
Using LiDAR to unearth old secrets in the permafrost of Denali National Park in the Interior, and along the banks of the Colville River north of the Arctic Circle, researchers bring evidence of a flourishing community of dinosaurs in the far north.
The Alaska Cruise Ship Industry is (roughly) forecasting a record 1.6 million tourists in 2022. That would be an increase of 18% over the previous record 1.3 million in 2019.
After two disastrous years due to the pandemic, I can see why the industry is desperate for a good year. But record breaking? That seems like a stretch, and might be a bit premature.
Will people be traveling at that level in 2022? Can the cruise ships, and more importantly, the small coastal businesses find the staff to handle those kind of numbers? 2022 will no doubt remain an interesting travel year within the 49th State.
I had several friends travel Outside over the Holidays, while I was quite content to enjoy the cabin life in Fairbanks. Getting out wasn’t the problem. It was getting back to Alaska which has proved challenging. Most friends had layovers in Seattle, which were long enough to officially be reclassified as detours. One had a detour in Anchorage; getting oh so close to Fairbanks, but yet divided by a mountain of snow.
Two friends attempted to travel from Arizona to Fairbanks. There was a detour in Seattle, followed by a last minute flight to Anchorage. A second detour was then encountered. All flights between Alaska’s largest cities were booked out for days. Determined to get home, they booked a ride on the Alaska Railroad. I was excited for them, probably more excited than they were. I have never ridden that set of rails in the winter.
Out of the blue, I received a text from them. They were in Denali Park. “How long is this ride?” they asked. I hesitated, but eventually told them it was a 12 hour trip. One way. The Alaska Railroad is not high speed travel.
Late on New Year’s Day, I get a call. Taxis from the depot are three hours out. It’s -35F, but I head out the door to provide pickup/limo service.
The locomotive did look good, all decked out in Christmas lights.
I was debating taking last week off completely from the blog, then the storm hit, and my days were filled with shoveling and plowing.
Officially, the ten day storm brought 30.2 inches of snow. You’re thinking: “Piece of cake”. It probably would have been if we didn’t have 1-1/2″ of freezing rain in the middle of the 2-1/2 feet of snow. It was simply a mess out there.
In the end, I had 52″ of snow fall at the cabin in the month of December. That’s good for second place in all recorded Decembers, and the fourth ever snowiest month. Total precipitation rivaled August 1967, when Fairbanks had its historic flood.
Not to be left out, Denali National Park HQ recorded 78″ of snow in December, breaking the monthly record.
We do not have any snow in the coming week’s forecast, which I’m beyond thrilled about. We have some digging out to do, but we seem to be heading back to more normal weather. Sunday morning saw temps at -40F/C. Thank goodness.
The Denali Park Road has a slump in it. The road was cut into the rocks 90 years ago, and a section at Mile 45 in Polychrome Pass, in an area that is known as Pretty Rocks, is built over an underground rock glacier. The existence of the glacier was unknown at that time, but it has been melting at an accelerating rate the past three years.
In 2018 the road was dropping an inch a month, by 2019 that had grown to an inch a day. This August, the road has been dropping over a half inch an hour. More than 100 dump truck loads of gravel were dropped over this span every week this summer, but even that proved pointless, and the Park Road was closed to traffic at Mile 43 in August. The landslide has moved far enough down the hillside to expose the ice below the roadway.
Winter should put the freeze into the ground once again, so that the road can be used early next spring, but the plans are for the road to be closed for all of the summer of 2022. There is solid rock on either side of the glacier, so a bridge will be anchored into those to span the slump zone.
Friday morning at the Eielson Visitor Center, Denali National Park. Elevation: 3300′.
In another weather note: As of Friday evening, Fairbanks has seen 175% of normal rainfall for the entire month of August. That puts us at the 8th wettest August since 1930, although both 2018 and 2019 had more rainfall at this point than this August.
National Park Week, Final Day; Today’s Park Theme: B.A.R.K. Ranger Day
I think it’s safe to say that I have visited Denali National Park more than any of the others. Of course, it’s only a two hour drive away. Denali is a gem of a Park, and its Mountain and namesake is the crown jewel. Discussions for the area to become a National Park started as early as 1906, and by 1915 there was a solid plan and momentum for the idea. The naming of the Park was contentious from the very beginning, and that should be the subject of a future blog post. Alaskans and Park proponents who had actually visited the area wanted to see the Park named Denali, which was the Athabaskan word for the Mountain. The powers in Washington DC, particularly Thomas Riggs of the Alaska Engineering Commission, disagreed. The new park would be named Mount McKinley National Park, a decision that Alaskans would fight for decades until it was finally officially renamed Denali National Park in 1980.
At first the new national park was accessed by the Alaska Railroad, which ran between Seward on the southern coast and Fairbanks. The Denali Highway was opened in 1957, giving road access to the Park from the Richardson Highway, which runs between Valdez on the coast and Fairbanks. It wasn’t until 1971 for Anchorage to have direct access to Denali with the building of the Parks Highway between Anchorage and Fairbanks. The Denali Park Road starts at the George Parks Highway, and travels west into the Park for 92 miles. The road ends at the historic mining community of Kantishna.
There are several trails for hiking in Denali NP, but like the Wrangell-St Elias, this is wilderness, and most hiking is off trail and across country. River crossings are common, and seeing wildlife is (practically) guaranteed. I have one friend who is so wildlife viewing challenged, that other than rabbits and ravens, nothing will show for him. I add the “practically” for those in that exclusive club with my friend in NY.
For the rest of us, wildlife viewing in Denali NP&P is a smorgasbord. I have never been in the Park without seeing caribou and moose, and always grizzly in the summer months. I once took my Dad to Denali and we rode the school bus to the end of the Park Road. While stretching our legs at a rest area, I spotted a wolf sauntering along a river bed, and pointed it out to my Dad and another gentleman who was on the bus with us, and they watched it through my binoculars until we had to board again. I ended up getting scolded by everyone else who was on the bus, because I didn’t hunt them all down and show them the wolf too. Beware of the bus etiquette.
Denali is a special place in the winter, and I’ve enjoyed snowshoeing the trails and even the roads with the crowds of summer a very distant memory. Dog mushing is a very common activity in the winter, either with your own team, or riding along with a guide. Cross country skiing, snowshoeing and winter camping are the most common wintertime activities. It is a very beautiful, and quiet, winter wonderland. I searched and searched for winter pictures, and I could not find where I stashed them so that I could easily find them again. I will have to go back to create some more.
Dog mushing teams have been a part of Denali Park since 1922. The Park still maintains and works a team of sled dogs. In non-Covid years, the kennels can be visited, and the rangers give some pretty cool demonstrations. Plus, these dogs are just a lot of fun to hang around; Alaskan sled dogs have developed their own unique personalities, and they love to show them off. Driving the Park Road, you will often see the dog handlers walking the sled dogs, so watch for the signs.
Denali National Park & Preserve covers 4,740,911 acres and received 594,660 visitors in 2018.
Images of the Denali Park Dog Team and Puppy Patrol courtesy of NPS/Denali Dog Ranger Division
Muldrow Glacier in Denali National Park is surging:
In early March, pilot Chris Palm, who took the photo above, noticed something very different about Denali Park’s famed Muldrow Glacier. The normally smooth surface of the glacier was broken up by crevasses stretching across the width of Muldrow.
The long awaited surge had begun.
The 39 mile long, Muldrow Glacier last surged in 1957, so scientists were thrilled to study a natural phenomenon that has not occurred here in 64 years.
Surge-type glaciers are relatively rare, with approximately 1% of the glaciers world-wide being surge glaciers. Denali National Park has several, most of which get their start from the face of North America’s tallest peak.
As snow and ice builds up at the higher elevations of a glacier, meltwater is also building up underneath the glacier. This meltwater acts as a lubricant when the weight from above passes equilibrium. The glacier then surges downward at a rate of up to 100 times faster than normal. At some point, the meltwater trapped under the glacier will be released in an outburst flood. Once the water is reduced significantly, the glacier’s surge will slow and it will go back to a state of quiescent (non-surge) once again. Over time, the process repeats itself. Muldrow Glacier has a history of surging roughly every 50 years.
There are two GPS stations on the glacier to monitor its movement. There are also four time-lapse cameras facing different areas of the glacier, including one at the terminus to monitor the glacier’s “bulldozing action”. Another is looking over the McKinley River in order to capture images of the outburst flood. The Alaska Earthquake Center also has a seismic monitoring station, and a sound station has also been installed in an attempt to capture the grinding sound of the surging glacier.
In 1957, most accounts have the surge starting in May, 1956 on Traleika Glacier, which is the main tributary of Muldrow. Muldrow Glacier would advance over 4 miles before the surge ended in September of 1957. Approximately 3.3 cubic kilometers of ice was redistributed from the upper reaches of the glacier to its toe. At the upper levels, the ice thickness had dropped as much as 170 meters, but the toe rose to a 200 foot tall ice wall.
Currently, the Muldrow Glacier is moving between 10 to 20 meters per day, and is only 800 meters short of the 1957 terminus. At the current rate of surge, Muldrow will reach the 1957 distance in June.
All images, photos and maps are courtesy of the NPS; Sources include: NPS – Denali NP&P, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, University of Alaska – Fairbanks
For the first time in 70 years, no one climbed Denali in 2020. In an average year, 1200 climbers attempt to summit the tallest peak in North America, with around 58% being successful.
The National Park Service has announced that climbing permits have resumed for 2021. So far, most applications have been for domestic climbers, with the number of requests from foreign climbers being down from normal years.
This was certainly good news for businesses in the Northern Susitna Valley, which provides everything from transportation to The Mountain, as well as supplies and accommodations for the climbers.