I received word over the the weekend, that photographer Tom Sadowski had passed away in his home in Maine this summer.
Anyone who has perused a gift store in Alaska has seen his postcards. Those postcards, were not in the Hallmark tradition, per se, but more of a quirky, sometimes zany, and always humorous visual, of life and travel in the 49th State.
Sadowski was a long time columnist for the Anchorage Free Press, writing some 500 weekly columns. He had gone into semi-retirement only last year.
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.
I had picked up one of this summer’s Pandemic Road Lottery ticket into Denali National Park. In normal years, the road lottery would be taking place this weekend in Denali. This year, due to Corvid-19 and the lack of visitors, The Park had five additional lottery weekends.
I had two teenagers in Alaska for the first time, and we ventured deep into the park one Sunday. We covered the gamut in wildlife viewing, but the most memorable took place on our way out.
It was late in the day, and few others were still out on the Park Road. And no rangers nearby either! The grizzly meandered around the field in the photo, slowly getting closer and closer to the bull caribou. After a while, the bear would back off, and increase the distance between the two rivals, only to shorten the distance a few moments later.
We watched the dance between bear & caribou for about 45 minutes. The boys were looking for a fight, but I knew that the caribou did not get those large antlers by not being able to judge distance.
The grizzly broke the caribou’s comfort zone, and the bull was immediately on its feet. The game was up, but the bear refused to acknowledge that fact. After another ten minutes, the bear tried once again to close the gap, but the caribou had tired of the game, and he trotted off with his head held high.