Denali National Park, Alaska
A LAND UNTOUCHED BY MAN
From the moment you step off the Alaska Railroad at the entrance to Denali National Park and Preserve, you'll feel as if you've been transported back in time, where skyscrapers and traffic jams have been replaced by snowcapped mountain peaks and flocks of native birds.
Stunningly beautiful and rich in wildlife, Denali National Park is located 240 miles north of Anchorage. It consists of six million acres of wild and unspoiled coniferous forest and open tundra. Denali is larger than the entire State of Massachusetts yet only 90 miles of main road traverses the park, leaving the moose, caribou, sheep and bears free to roam a wide area of land untouched by man.
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Denali National Park Attractions
When measured from base to top, Mt. McKinley is the world's tallest mountain. High above the glacier-covered peaks of the Alaska Range, the mountain is commonly known by its original native name, "Denali", which literally means the "Great One" or the "High One." The North face of the mountain towers over the Alaska Range at 20,320 feet while the South face rises to 19,470 feet. It is the highest peak in North America. If you are fortunate enough to be there on a clear day, you can expect to see Dall sheep high on the hillsides and grizzlies fishing for salmon in the icy-cold streams of the park.
Lush Vegetation & Scenery
With permanent snow and ice at higher elevations, vegetation in Denali mostly consists of coniferous forest (taiga) and open tundra. The six million acres that group to form Denali National Park encompass a complete arctic ecosystem. There are also other spectacular mountains and large glaciers to be seen in the Alaska Range.
Blueberries and Wildflowers
In the autumn months, a ready supply of blueberries, cranberries and crowberries keeps the wildlife active, much like the blooming wildflowers of the summer months attract shutterbugs in search of that perfect shot.
A good pair of binoculars aids the ample opportunities for animal watching, whether it is a grizzly foraging for berries or a golden eagle soaring through the crisp, clean Alaskan air.
The Tundra and Muldrow Glacier
Denali is one of the few places where visitors can come in contact with the Alaskan tundra. Meaning a "vast, rolling, treeless plain," the tundra starts at 2,500 feet and extends up and along the massive Alaska Range. Crossing a portion of the tundra is the Muldrow Glacier, which descends 16,000 feet from the upper slopes of Mt. McKinley and comes to within one mile of the park road.
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Denali National Park Wildlife Viewing
Relatives of the bighorn sheep, Dall sheep, graze the alpine tundra. They are found at lower elevations; but with the progression of summer, they will seek higher ground as they follow the snowmelt.
Like the Dall sheep, Caribou travel in groups and both male and female Caribou have antlers. They migrate great distances from their calving grounds to their winter range in the northernmost areas of the park.
The moose, the largest member of the deer family, are not herd animals. The bulls may group in threes or fours during the mating season as they pursue several cow moose. The calves are born in May and stay with the cow for one or two years.
Grizzly bears are seen throughout the park. They are omnivores, eating berries and small plants, ground squirrels, moose or caribou calves and occasional carrion.
There are 37 mammal species recorded in the park and reserve including fox, wolverine, weasel, lynx, marten, snowshoe hare, hoary marmot, ground squirrel, red squirrel, pika, porcupine, beaver, shrew, vole, and lemming.
Birdlife in the park is both varied and interesting. The distances traveled between nesting grounds and wintering areas is vast. You may easily see ptarmigan, owls, and other birds on the open tundra. Golden eagles patrol the ridge tops and higher elevation searching for prey. All told, there are 156 species of birds recorded at Denali.
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Denali National Park Gold Mining
Gold was discovered in 1903, when Yukon District Judge, James Wickersham together with four others, attempted to summit Denali. Their chance discovery spurred the development of the mining industry around the Tanana, Kantishna, and Bearpaw Rivers.
After six months, the easy pickings were gone and the rush was over. Miners left in droves, leaving behind less than fifty inhabitants to continue placer mining. Thirty years later when President Franklin Roosevelt raised the price of gold to $15/ounce, the park road was completed and the post-depression era produced cheap labor, mining resurged until the advent of World War II.
Mining activity increased in the 1970s with the demise of a gold standard and gold prices soared.
With the increasing awareness about the negative impacts of mining on the environment, the Mining in Parks Act was passed in 1976, terminating additional mining operations and placing a four year moratorium on existing claims for surface disturbance. Today, very little remains at the sites of the old towns that flourished nearly 100 years ago. Only the town of Eureka, now called Kantishna, is left to remind us of those golden years not so long ago.
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Denali National Park History
The park was first established as Mt. McKinley National Park on February 26, 1917 to protect its large mammals and not because of majestic Mt. McKinley. In 1980, it was eventually designated as a wilderness area and incorporated into Denali National Park and Preserve. Historically, much of the Alaska Range formed a mighty barrier between native interior Athabascans and Cook Inlet Athabascans to the South. Denali National Park presently remains largely as the original native Athabascans of the past knew it: wild and unspoiled.
The plan to conserve the region as a national park was conceived by Charles Sheldon, naturalist, hunter, and conservationist. He first traveled to the park in 1906 and again in 1907 with packer and guide, Harry Karstens. Sheldon spent much of his time studying boundaries for the proposed park. Largely due to the efforts of Sheldon and the Game Committee of the Boone and Crocket Club, of which he was chairman, Mt. McKinley National Park was established in 1917.
President Jimmy Carter signed the bill establishing Denali National Park on December 2, 1980. Today, a wide variety of visitor activities are accommodated by the park including wildlife viewing, mountaineering, and backpacking.
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