Everybody say, “Awww.” Even the sled-dog puppies are birthday-themed this year as Denali National Park and Preserve marks 100 years since it was established.
Cupcake, Happy, Pinata and Party will greet guests this year at one of the park’s most popular activities, the ranger-led sled dog demonstrations. These “bark rangers” are scampering to join the ranks of Denali’s 30 adult huskies, the only working sled dogs in the National Park Service.
Of course, the pups only set the stage for the abundant animal life visitors expect to see in Denali.
Alaskan author Sherry Simpson pretty much nailed it when she wrote that the hundreds of thousands of people who visit the park each year do so “hoping for a wildlife encounter that doesn’t involve bloodshed.”
That wildlife draws eager visitors to the massive park in south-central Alaska. Most tourists sign up for a bus tour, since Denali doesn’t allow private vehicles past Mile 15 of the Denali Park Road, the park’s only thoroughfare.
In September 2016, my husband and I took one of the 13-hour narrated tours that wound around for 92 miles to Kantishna, the farthest spot you can drive into the park. We piled into a school bus early in the morning and often felt like kids on a field trip as we stopped regularly for snacks and potty breaks along the way.
We saw grizzlies, moose, caribou, Dall sheep, eagles, ptarmigans and what we thought was a wolf from the safe confines of the bus.
Park Superintendent Don Striker says he sometimes feels guilty because the animals people see from the buses are “habituated, so you don’t get the true wilderness experience.”
And we saw Denali, North America’s tallest peak at 20,310 feet. About two-thirds of park visitors never even see the mountain Alaska’s first people called “The High One,” because it’s often obscured by weather, some of which is of its own making.
The Eielson Visitor Center tries to take the edge off guests’ disappointment with what Striker terms a “consolation prize,” a view of the peak etched on a window, showing what the mountain would look like on a clear day.
Striker offers this…