Thursday, 16 August:
Denali Park encompasses 6 million acres of wild land. Founded in 1917 it was initially established to conserve wildlife. Today, it remains relatively unchanged, except for the completion of the Denali Park Road; at 92 miles long, it is the only road in the park and during summer, private vehicles may drive the first 15 miles. Beyond that, you will need to be on a bus, bicycle or on foot.
By riding a bus, everyone can enjoy the wildlife and scenic beauty of the park without the traffic, noise and pollution that thousands of individual vehicles would create.
This morning we set out by bus on a Natural History Tour with a naturalist on board, travelling 30 miles to the Teklanika River. We visited the Savage Cabin, the original ranger’s cabin, and listened to a very interesting presentation on the area and how this cabin is still used today by winter patrols.
At Primrose Ridge we found out about the local native culture, their stories and how the land has been used for nearly 10,000 years.
We saw some caribou grazing near the road and the driver was happy to stop and give us plenty of time to observe them. We were interested to find out that there is no intervention with the animals in the park.
The scenery was fantastic and varied and the staff so enthusiastic and knowledgeable. We learnt a lot and thoroughly enjoyed our tour.
In the afternoon we went to a sled dog demonstration at the Denali Kennels. Very excited to see huskies up close for the first time. One particular dog drew the crowd; he was the one that the staff were encouraging people to interact with. He got lots of petting!
We were then called over to the track where we watched as five dogs were chosen to pull the summer sled (on wheels). The dogs were very excited and vocal, all wanting to be chosen. While we waited, the ranger explained how the dogs are chosen and trained for the different positions. Once the dogs were harnessed, we were told that if we wanted a photo to be quick; they would only go around the circuit once!
After they were done, the dogs were given treats and we watched as each dog was individually unharnessed and ran at top speed back to its’ kennel. All except one – who suddenly ran back out and had the ranger in hot pursuit! Probably part of the show, but it was entertaining and gave everyone a laugh.
We found out that huskies work until they are 8 years old. When they are retired, people can apply to adopt them. The applicants must write an essay as to why they would be suitable. Criteria – they need to be active and live in a cold climate. Average ideal temperature being -10 deg F. Also, when the dogs retire, their names retire with them, not to be used again.
We all enjoyed this free demonstration immensely and the ranger gave a very interesting talk about dog sledding. Even without snow, it was a magical moment just watching the dogs do what they absolutely love to do the most – run!