In the 99 years of record keeping within Denali National Park, the winter of 2021-22 was the record setter. 176 inches of snow fell at park headquarters this past winter, breaking the 174″ of 1970-71.
As of May 15, there were still 33″ of snow on the ground at the park’s headquarters, far above average for this late in the season.
It’s been a tough winter for wildlife, particularly moose, who have had to fight the deep drifts. Both moose and bears have been traveling on the park road, so traffic has been limited past Sable Pass. Bicyclists normally can travel up & down the park road, but with the stressed wildlife, that will remain limited until the snow melts.
The shuttle bus will only be traveling as far as Pretty Rocks, due to the road collapse from the melting ice formation.
The park’s visitor center will be open for the first time since 2019, and the park’s sled dog kennel will also be open for tours. 2022 is the 100th anniversary for the Denali Park Sled Dog Kennel.
A wildfire started up on Round Island out in the Aleutians. The fire was started by staff from a Fish & Game campsite, when they used a burn barrel. The dry grass caught quickly, and spread from there. The Alaska Division of Forestry sent an air tanker and six smoke jumpers from Fairbanks to contain the blaze. By the time the fire was contained, approximately 40 acres of the 720 acre island had burned.
Round Island is one of four major pull out locations for Pacific walrus in Alaska, and the island is a part of the Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary. As many as 14,000 male walruses haul out on Round Island in a given day.
Like Brooks Falls, the folks at explore.org have a Walrus Cam on Round Island. The soothing sound of waves can be experienced, with the constant baritone grunts of the male walruses jockeying for the most comfortable spot on the beach.
The above picture is of the Denali Park Road at the Pretty Rocks formation last August. That was the last time any gravel had been dumped in this section of road that is dropping due to melting ice under the roadbed.
This spring, maintenance crews discovered that the road had dropped as much as 40 feet at the troublesome section near Pretty Rocks. It had already been decided that the park road would be closed for the 2022 season due to the roadbed situation, but the drop was more impressive than forecast.
A new bridge will be installed over the section with the melting ice formation, and will be secured into solid rock on either side of the great melt. I expect that the road into the heart of Denali Park to remain closed through the 2023 season.
As much as I love Denali and Wrangell-St Elias National Parks, I think Gates of the Arctic is Alaska’s crown jewel within the national park system. It is the second largest of our national parks, and its entirety is located north of the Arctic Circle.
Due to the lack of any roads, and its remote location, Gates of the Arctic is the least visited of our national parks. All of that only adds to the appeal for me. In 2016, Gates of the Arctic received 10,047 visitors. In the same year, the Grand Canyon saw over 6 million.
The Park has six Wild and Scenic rivers: the Kobuk, John, Alatna, north fork of the Koyukuk, Tinayguk, and part of the famed Noatak. The Noatak is at the top of my list of rivers to float.
I have only been to the Gates of the Arctic once. A fly in camping trip. One evening, we watched a herd of caribou that probably numbered over 10,000. The entire valley below us was filled with these tundra travelers. It was one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen. The next morning, when we peaked over the ridge line, we were surprised to see that there was not one animal left in the valley. The entire herd had moved off, on their endless migration.