June 21, 2015
Our season here at the lodges in Denali National Park has been in full swing for about three weeks. The amount of sunlight is almost at its summer maximum, almost 21 hours of daylight, and summer is at full speed. The flowers have been blooming early this season, coloring the tundra in sweeps of yellow Arnica, pink Moss Campion, and blue Forget-Me-Nots. Temperatures even soared into the 80’s the past several days, making this an unusually warm spring, following a mild winter.
The simple pleasures of summer have not been lost to us, however. Swimming dips in Moose Creek or Nugget Pond, a bottle of iced tea nestled in your sack lunch, and the chance to lay out on the tundra for lunch without bundling up have been welcome summer delights. Not every piece of the warm weather has been easy, however. Several fires currently burn across the state, one, the Sockeye Fire, even closed the George Parks Highway for a spell, causing several of our guests to need to reroute and re-plan their arrivals. Last year we experienced heavy rains in a short period of time, which washed out part of the Denali Park Road. Each season brings its challenge!
Of course, the warm weather is not likely to continue without end. Only two weeks ago we had a cold snap come through that deposited 6” of snow at the Eielson Visitor Center and other areas of the Park over 3,000 feet in elevation. Two days later, the temperatures soared into the 70’s. On one of my hikes this season we started out in t-shirts and shorts, only to be quickly pelted by a small hailstorm midway through the day.
Overall, we would classify this season as unusually warm. The idea of “normal” weather is perhaps an anomaly in Denali, regardless. As previously mentioned, we are only 30 miles away from the largest mountain in North America, so unpredictable is the typical forecast for the day! This warm spell has begun to cause us to bite our nails a bit, however. The tundra is very dry, and I worry about the amount of available water for the root systems of our vegetation, for the insect life, and for birds.
Last evening, thunder cracked across the sky above the mountain range, a few bolts of lighting struck across the tundra, and localized rain squalls pelted parts of the Denali Park Road. CDNFL staff camping on Turtle Hill even witnessed lightning ignite a small tundra fire to our west. Wildfire smoke from the western and southern parts of the state has rolled into our area, creating a bit of a hazy view looking out toward Denali.
We look forward to some more rain spells to alleviate these dry, hot conditions. Until then, we will continue to have fun dunking ourselves in Nugget Pond and Moose Creek to cool off from the warmth.
May 27, 2015
When my mom visited my Alaskan home for the first time, she looked around my 325 square foot one-story log cabin with a half loft and said “but where is all your stuff?” I could not help but laugh at her reaction. The joke of a cabin dweller is that you know you live in a cabin, not a house, when you can see all the possessions you own at once. From whichever spot you are standing in. She was in fact looking at everything we have, which in reality is not a lot. My dad’s reaction was by far the more hilarious one. He sat on my couch, taking inventory of our four 15-foot long walls, and said under his breath, “My God, Teresa.”
I have friends who gush about my perfect life, living the reality of the “tiny house” phenomenon. I just have to smile and do my best to not give them a reality check of what it is usually like living in a home smaller than my freshman-year college dorm room with another person. Although I suppose most of those friends’ assumption of a “tiny house” would at least involve a separate bedroom, a bathroom, and maybe even a “cutsy” lounge space for watercolors or crafting. I do not assume that they envision a 325 square foot cabin with no dimensions, doors, and only 4 corners.
I will admit that at times a small cabin is incredibly cozy and even has its romantic moments. Stringing up Christmas lights during the dark winter months makes the logs glow with warm light. Having a dinner party of six seems like a rambunctious affair. When there is space for only one loveseat (not even a full couch), there is no choice but to cuddle up to watch a movie. Although then the dog follows suit and someone usually ends up on the floor. It is typically not the dog.
For the most part however, a “tiny house” involves awkward arrangements of personal items and overlapping uses of space. My toothbrush lives on the shelf beneath the pint glasses. The dog’s crate doubles as a side table for the couch. Leaving dirty dishes out for the night is not an option, as they take up the only prep space next to the stove to prepare morning coffee. There are no doors inside the cabin, making the dramatic gesture of slamming the door in frustration quite difficult. Unless you were to physically leave the cabin in such a fashion, which is not incredibly appealing when it is dark and minus 30ºF outside. The thought reminds me of a favorite Mitch Hedberg joke: “I got into an argument with a girlfriend inside of a tent. That's a bad place for an argument, because then I tried to walk out and slammed the flap. How are you supposed to express your anger in this situation? Zipper it up really quick?”
At least I only have 325 square feet of floor to vacuum; there’s the silver lining. Needless to say, we are building a house on our 12 acres of paradise, and we are going all out. Two stories and 1,000 square feet. I cannot express how excited I am to have stairs.
May 19, 2015
Just because it is light out does not mean it is daytime. Just because it is dark does not mean it is time for bed.
It seems a common reaction of the average working individual to look at a calendar and double take: “How is it May already?” The reaction is not necessarily a surprised one (as the person is likely well aware of the month), but rather simple disbelief that time can pass so quickly.
In Alaska there is one sure thing that will remind you of the time of year – the sun. It makes larger arcs in the sky each day from the winter to summer solstice. It can hardly be said that the sun “rises in the east” and “sets in the west” in Alaska. In winter, the arc starts just above the horizon in the southern sky, and each day becomes a little wider. Eventually the arc begins and ends in the northern sky when summer arrives.
My cabin has big windows on all sides, and the sun rises and sets in each and every one of those windows at some point throughout the year. When winter takes hold, the sun only glows from behind the mountains out of my south-facing window. Twenty-two days after the solstice, not a day sooner, it will finally break through the low passes in the range, flooding my cabin with sunlight in five-minute spurts before disappearing behind a mountain’s peak. By February, I can no longer work comfortably at my east-facing computer desk in the morning. The dawn beams come streaming through that window rather than from the south. By March, it is impossible to block the glare on the TV coming through the west-facing windows in the evening. At that point, I know spring has arrived. The sun signals summer when in the early hours of the morning, still the middle of the night for that matter, the sun’s rays burst through my north-facing window. It becomes near impossible to sleep through the constant daylight shining right into my eyes. Even with curtains, the light will find the cracks and remind me that summer is here.
People often ask how I deal with the darkness in winter. What they should be asking is how I deal with the constant daylight in summer. Each pose challenges for the psyche, but I fully embrace both. It gives me energy to watch the sun work its way through the sky, making dramatic changes as seasons come and go. Winter offers peaceful twilight, allowing for quiet evenings in front of the fire. As daylight creeps back, the long to-do list that piles up starts being checked off. Why not chop wood at 11PM when the bugs are put to bed and the sun is still high in the sky?
Before I know it, the sun isn’t coming up until my drive to work in the fall. Soon I do not have to use my sun visor on the highway on the morning commute, which means winter is arriving once again.
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.