January 30, 2015
Mid-January is the time we hear back from our previous summer staff whether or not they’ll be returning to work for another season at Camp Denali and North Face Lodge. This time of year is also when we will get an update as to where our Staff has scattered to during the Annual Staff Migrations that occur in late fall and spring.
After a long summer working at Camp Denali, our daring staff are more often than not itching to begin a great adventure, return home to visit family, start new winter jobs, or discover more of Alaska. Being that we are isolated from the rest of the state for most of the summer, our staff takes time planning trips to hike, paddle, climb, and generally explore the different corners of Alaska at the end of the season, just like many of our guests do on their vacations. Many summers, staff will borrow, buy, or rent a car and drive to the Lower 48 discovering the wonders of Eastern Alaska, and the Yukon and British Columbia, Canada.
The choices of exploration and winter work run the gamut. This past fall, three of our staff members Tom, Eric, and Tess, drove from Fairbanks to Massachusetts. One of our hosts, Sadie, took a Yoga Instructor course in New England and is now working at a Yoga center in Costa Rica for the winter. Our Housekeeping Coordinator, Kendall, and her husband, Justin, hiked the Camino de Santiago in Spain and are now exploring Central America. Finally, our Executive Chef, Chris, chose to spend his winter backcountry snowboarding on Mt. Baker as he has done in the past.
Another path chosen by our staff is that of working in Antarctica over the “austral summer.” Two of our current staff members, Kristen and Max, are working as cooks at McMurdo Station. This site is a U.S. Antarctic research center on the south tip of Ross Island. The working season in Antarctica matches up well for our staff because it allows ample time to travel in the spring before heading back to Camp Denali in late May.
Each season our dedicated staff members work tirelessly for more than three months providing amazing experiences for our guests. The time of year when they journey south and begin adventures or go back home is a well-deserved and rewarding time. We relish in hearing their plans before departing and look forward to the migration north in the spring when most of them return to Camp Denali, stories in tow.
December 09, 2014
In mid-December a mysterious set of animal tracks appeared along a favorite local trail near our winter office (outside the Park). We call the trail “the bluff trail” because it meanders along the edge of a bluff with a gradual drop about 500 feet to the Nenana River. The area is boreal forest, dominated by white spruce trees and wiggly-trunked aspens, braving the sometimes high winds along the bluff. We commonly see animal sign along there….from black bear scat laden with berries in the fall, to perfect lynx and snowshoe hare tracks in winter, along with the ubiquitous and ever present runs of red tree squirrels and voles. Twice I’ve seen the tracks of wolves…..about the size of salad plates; they couldn’t possibly be confused with even the largest sled dog in the area.
One thing I’ve learned in my years as a naturalist is that sometimes the most helpful description of an unidentified species includes the type of habitat it was seen in. For instance, if someone saw a “big, brown bird”, asking where is was (cliffs, lake, tundra meadow, dense forest, willow thicket?) can help scores in its potential ID. There are outliers, of course, but typically an animal’s habitat falls within fairly narrow parameters.
So, this mysterious animal track.….Austin first spotted the tracks and attemped to describe them to me, and I was flummoxed. It had small feet, only about one inch long, with a very prominent tail drag mark. It had very pointy, clawed toes (like a squirrel’s?) and walked with a gait that was walking, not hopping. I was racking my brain to think what it could be...baby porcupine? (no--still too small and porkeys have rear feet like bears with a furry-looking, large tail drag), a tree squirrel dragging a stick? (no--they hop, and the tail marks swooshed side to side), flying squirrel? (no--the tracks walked around on the ground too much, and they hop, not walk), pine marten or elusive long tailed weasel? (no, they hop...also don't have long pointy toes), Ashley’s dachshund? (no--his feet are obviously doglike with a longer gait and no tail drag). What other small animals inhabit the forest here that could leave such marks? I studied them long and hard, and even took the attached photo. The tail looked to be solid....like a possum tail....not furry. They honestly looked like the tracks of a large, common RAT.
And then it hit me....muskrat!
Yep. Confirmed with track descriptions from a tracking book. Now the only mystery is: what was it doing on the bluff trail!? The nearest lake was perhaps two miles away, and the river was very, very far below. Spruce forest is not the realm of the aquatic muskrat! Many ideas came to my mind…perhaps the family unit had grown too big and this was an adolescent pushed out to find its own way in the world? Perhaps our snowless winter has been producing too much ice that is crowding them out of their lairs? A few days later, our neighbor, Fritz, showed Ashley and Teresa a curious set of tracks near his home. Indeed, they were the same.
One mystery solved, another began.
December 04, 2014
Winter is upon us! While it has arrived a bit late here in Denali (we only have a few inches of snow currently and November was unseasonably warm) the joys of the season are now in full swing. Whether it’s ice skating or hockey, community events like yoga or craft bazaars, mushing a team of dogs, or simply holing up with a good book or a podcast, our winter staff is enjoying it all. And to keep our internal temperatures high during it all, we always enjoy a good soup recipe. This one comes from Laura Cole, who was in charge of the kitchens at Camp Denali and North Face Lodge for many years and now runs the exquisite “229 Parks” restaurant at the park entrance area of Denali. Bon appétit!
Spicy Tomato Soup
Cilantro stems add a refreshing flavor to this spicy soup. It is great served either hot or cold.
**This recipe makes a lodge-sized serving of a whopping 30 cups! While perfect for holiday gatherings, you may wish to size it down for your family!
4 T Olive Oil
3 C Red Onion, diced
1 1/2 T Garlic, minced
1 T Kosher Salt
1 T Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
3 C Cilantro, chopped, stems included
4 each 28 oz Cans Crushed Plum Tomatoes in Juice
1 Jalapeno Pepper, seeded & minced
use care with pepper the juice is very hot
8 C Rich Chicken Stock
1 T Sugar
4 T Fresh Lime Juice
1 1/2 C Sour Cream
1 1/2 C Basil, cut into thin strips
In a large stock pot heat oil over medium high heat.
Add onion & garlic, sauté until tender & slightly golden.
Add salt & red pepper flakes. Stirring to combine.
Add jalapeno pepper and sauté until tender.
Add tomatoes & their juice.
Simmer on high heat for 10 minutes, when liquid has reduced by 1/4, stir in sugar & lime juice.
Stir in chicken stock.
Reduce heat to medium, simmer for 20 minutes to combine all flavors.
Taste & adjust seasonings.
Serve garnished with fresh basil & a hearty dollop of sour cream.
It is our pleasure to present Dispatches, a journal of the goings on at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge. Written by members of our staff, Dispatches is an opportunity to peek into the special sightings notebook, brush up on Denali National Park issues, read about our ongoing projects in sustainability, and maybe get a whiff of what’s cooking in the kitchens. Dispatches will carry on through the winter, when we hope to share stories of snowy ski adventures, deep cold, and the events of a small Alaskan community.