Opening

Posted By: Lee Drury

April 29, 2011

With April about over, the office hums with the work that leads up to the summer season, and paperwork flies from desk to clipboard to file:  staff lists, order forms, shipment notifications, vehicle permit acquisition, guest details, meeting agendas, arrival schedules.  The pieces end up in the right places, and the preparations create the indoor urgency matching that found outdoors.

Spring surges forward more each day.  Pre-dawn light in the sky stretches backward to reach extended late evening twilight, buds thicken, birdsong grows, catkins burst forth.  As temperatures have stayed above freezing for the past couple of nights, and beneath the strengthening sunlight, the snow cover diminishes a bit more each day.  In the sunny spots there’s bare ground, but snow is still present in the woods and shaded areas.  Footgear becomes a harbinger of seasonal change, too; snow boots give way to Xtra-Tuffs, snowshoes replace skis. 

With the shrinking of the snowpack come the notices announcing how far into Denali National Park the road is open.  Because a mid-month notice signaled an open road 30 miles into the Park to the Teklanika River Rest Area, last weekend I got into the car and entered the Park for the first time this season.   Sunlight warmed the day enough to allow the windows to be open, and it felt good to be the only car on the road—but only for a little while.

After swinging wide around at least two joggers, I followed the road as it climbed out of the Nenana River valley.  All the landmarks I remembered from my Park exit last September showed themselves.  The higher I got and farther along I traveled, the more my spirits rose.  At last, after a protracted road trip, I could feel Milwaukee slip off my shoulders, and I was fully free now to embrace the uniqueness of Denali National Park.

At Mile 10 of the road, I looked to the southwest for the first glimpse of Mt. McKinley...and there it was.  Huge, snow-covered, still 80 miles off, but there, elbowing the horizon aside.  But more than the mountain, there before me lay a glimpse of a tiny portion of the whole the Park.  Huge, snow-covered, in my face, and simply there.  Spruce trees tacked down the snow cover on broad ridges that rolled up to peaks anchoring the middle distance.  Ah, home.

By the time I reached the Teklanika River Rest Stop, I was singing in the fresh breeze, soaking up the warm sunlight, and peering through binoculars across the ice-bound river for—well, for anything.  Even trees and rock formations, while not porcupines or caribou, were still welcome sights.  Eventually, refreshed, I drove back to the Parks Highway, and back to the house for homemade soup and fresh bread (not a bad destination, either).

In another month, I’ll help pack up the office, load my duffel bag and other gear, and then get into another vehicle for the trip into the Park.  This time the trip will take me all the way into the Park to Camp Denali and North Face Lodge.  Ah, summer home.

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Denali Dispatch

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.