Before sunrise this morning three women were seen slipping out of their rooms at the Princess Lodge in Denali, AK dressed in warm clothing. They made their way to the Lodge House to get coffee and then boarded a bus which took them to the Visitor’s Center just outside of Denali National Park. There, with 20 other warmly dressed people, they boarded another bus. Chris, a forty something male employee of the Park Service drove this bus headed in a generally west, but slightly northern direction. Some 12 1/2 hours later they returned to the Princess Lodge with tales of having seen snow covered mountains several miles high! They bragged that they had seen bears and bear cubs, caribou shedding the velvet on their antlers, Dall sheep grazing on the mountains, a moose running down the road, and a fox. Who were these mysterious women? Whoever they are, they have become members of the 30% club! Only 30% of the people who take the trip they did actually get to see “The Highest One – Denali”. Most of the time the people who take this wildlife excursion only get to see the clouds that cover this mountain.
What a trip Debbie, Pat and I had today! Our trip was 184 miles out and back into the Denali wilderness; every time we thought it couldn’t get better, it did. We saw two 6 month old bear cubs chasing their mom through the berry bushes. Mom was in her hyperphagic cycle, eating as much as she can to store up for the winter months. Wanting to nurse the babies were pestering their mom, who swatted at them telling them she wanted some space. On another hill we saw a momma bear sitting up and nursing her two cubs. All the bears we saw were Grizzlies. The day started with some grey clouds on the horizon, but soon the clouds were gone and we had a bright blue sky and sunshine to help with the chill. Yellow leaves and red ground cover were signs of fall; in another couple of weeks snow will start falling.
Fall Colors, Denali and surrounding mountains, Glacier bed
Denali first presented herself today with clouds over her midsection and her top peeking out. At Panorama Point the “great mountain” was fully visible in all her snowy glory. She remained beautifully present until we started back later in the day. Denali presented her shadowy self just briefly before veiling with clouds. I felt extremely honored to be able to see Denali on my first trip to the Alaska range. I understand the sacred significance of this mountain to the Athabascan first people. Denali reveals herself in a way that God’s grace comes into our lives: unexpectedly, with joy and holy surprise!
Late Afternoon Denali
We spent 2 hours of our wilderness experience with a US Forest Ranger named Doris. She joined us about 20 miles from the end of the trip in. Doris took us on a couple of short hikes as she talked about gold mining in the Denali National Park. In the 1905 gold rush miners found gold in the rivers and creeks near Denali. Gold miners came down the river from Fairbanks to make their fortune in gold. Only a few of those who came were able to find work in the mines and even fewer became rich from the gold. One of the miners who came and stayed was a woman named Fannie Quigley. Fannie came to work the streams for gold and met a man named Joe Quigley. They staked a claim and began to mine the gold and other minerals and metals from the area. Homesteading in a log cabin they existed on what they could mine, grow or hunt . At the site of their original log home they dug into the ground behind them to provide a cold space for storing food. They dug back below the surface to the permafrost layer which provided a “natural” freezer to store food in.. After Joe had a mining accident and came home from a long stay in the hospital, he and Fannie decided to get a divorce. They sold their mine and Joe went to Seattle where he married one of the nurses who took care of him after his accident. Fannie built her “retirement home” with her share of the sale of the mine. We were able to visit this little 3 room house where Fannie died at age 72. She laid down to rest after chopping the wood to cook her dinner.
Ranger Doris, Fannie Quigley’s retirement home, Fannie Quigley
We were able to clearly see the Muldrow Glacier which comes down the south side of Denali. It forms the major approach for those who want to climb the 20,310 feet of Denali’s south peak. As it comes off the mountain it’s melt forms the McKinley River.
Riding the train to Denali from Anchorage was a relaxing treat. Getting to see the carved, evergreen covered mountains from the relaxing luxury of a glass covered observation car is such fun. An eight hour train ride gave us an opportunity to visit with others riding the train. Many of them are from places other than Alaska, but some are Alaskans who are enjoying a vacation away from their usual routine. The young woman employed by the train company to narrate our ride was Alaskan and gave us lots of local “gossip” as we travelled along. On a rail bridge that is over 700 feet high I looked down at the Chulitna River underneath the bridge feeling a moment of” suspended anxiety as our guide assured us that the 100 year old bridge was safe!
Tomorrow we are headed back to Anchorage on the train and then to Seward, AK.