Denali Transportation Nuances...the ones you know and the ones you don't

Posted By: Teresa     All Posts by Teresa  

December 17, 2013

“How will you be arriving to Denali?” For those of you who have made a reservation with us, you are familiar with this question, since it is one we pose to each and every guest. This question serves a vital purpose for our staff, more than simply satisfying our curiosity about the other parts of a traveler’s Alaskan adventure. Ours is a huge state, and transportation time and logistics play no small part in your arrival to Denali. “Will you be arriving from Fairbanks or Anchorage?” “Will you be taking a bus or train?” “Please be aware that if you are taking the train from Anchorage, you will have to arrive the night before and spend a night at the Park’s entrance as the train arrives daily at 4PM, but our buses depart at 1PM. However, if you are arriving from Fairbanks by train the same day it will not be a problem.” “Even though the train does not arrive in time coming from Anchorage, our buses will arrive back at the train depot on your departure day in time to catch the train back to Anchorage.” Are you confused yet? Thought so.

We do our very best to make sure our guests can let go of their logistical concerns of arriving too late or on the incorrect day. However, once you meet our buses at the Park entrance, the fun does not stop there. Over the next seven hours, we travel down the gravel, but spectacular, Denali Park Road. This bus ride is a highlight, and most will agree. You are traveling hour after hour past some of the highest peaks in the Alaska Range, Mt. McKinley included. There is also a good chance of spotting bears, moose, caribou, dall sheep and my favorite, Ptarmigan, mostly because of how people sometimes pronounce it (the Ptarmigan is Alaska’s state bird; the “P” is silent). And how can anyone forget the hairpin turns around Polychrome Pass?

So yes, transportation in Alaska is often something our visitors remember and recall with fond, and sometimes frightful, memories. I do not deny that getting to our lodges in the heart of Denali is a feat, but this is during the summer. Imagine Denali transportation logistics in the winter.

I arrived to my cabin in Denali in May of this year after a 3,100-mile drive from Minnesota. While I thought excitement would be my overwhelming emotion, exhaustion ended up winning out. To my dismay, the 1-mile long dirt road leading to my cabin was blocked by three feet of packed snow. The landlord was not kidding when he said the road was not plowed during the winter. Living on an expanse of tundra looking south at the Alaska Range makes for strong winds and massive snow drifts, and it has been years since the Denali borough found it even remotely worth the effort to keep this specific road open during the winter. Luckily there were 18 sled dogs and three sleds packed into the trailer. 10 hours later, everything had been hauled down the mile stretch to my new cabin in the woods. A couple weeks later the snow melted, and a pothole-ridden dirt road was finally usable.

Alas, it is now winter again and the drifts have returned. Each morning at 7:30AM sharp, I strap on my skis and glide along the trail to where my car is parked. A 15-minute workout in the morning is a lively way to start the day, even when it is 40 below. I sit in a friend’s cabin drinking coffee to let my car warm up, and then I am on my way to the office. While some may find this a bizarre way to live, last night I skied home by moonlight under shooting stars. I am not complaining.

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Posted By: John Cannon, 2013 Camp Denali Guest     All Posts by John Cannon, 2013 Camp Denali Guest  

November 21, 2013

In vast wilderness
you become


one tiny molecule
in an immense organism,

a snippet of DNA

absolutely irrelevant

to the throbbing pulse
of life and landscape
that totally surrounds you.

And then
you choose ―

to pull into your shell,
to set your edges,
to protect your fragile ego,


you let yourself open ―
slowly ―
like a delicate flower,

you let your pores expand,
your muscles relax,
your mind slow down;

you breathe,
you rest,
you wait quietly.

And then ―

your boundaries
seem to fade away,

you can feel yourself
with the timeless world around you,

and deep in your core,

your heart

begins to sing.

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The Story of the Interlocked Moose Antlers

Posted By: Jan     All Posts by Jan  

October 10, 2013

On July 15th, 2004 Simon Hamm was leading an exploratory strenuous hike and stumbled upon something rarely seen in the natural world.  About one mile north of the Denali Park Road, near mile 75, some bones could be spotted gleaming on a low rise.  Approaching the site they found evidence of  where an epic struggle had taken place.  The tundra and grasses had been matted down in about a forty foot diameter littered with sections of vertebrae, hunks of clavicle and pelvis, cracked long bones, scads of matted hair and fun, abundant wolf scat, and, most notably, two large moose skulls, each with roughly 50 pound antler racks, entwined in the center of it all.


Members of the deer family (Cervidae), of which moose are the largest, grow antlers each mating season.  These racks are made of solid bone and can grow as much as an inch a day (imagine that for growing pains!). In most deer family members it is only the males who grow antlers, with the exception of the caribou, in which both sexes have racks (albeit the females have much smaller ones).  Antlers differ from horns, which are made of keratin and are kept throughout the life of an animal, growing a small bit more each passing year.  Moose antlers are truly stunning objects of sexual prowess; Alaskan moose antlers can span up to 6 feet across! Antlers are the fastest growing organ known; these behemoths take only around 3 months to reach their peak size.  A layer of skin, or velvet, covers the antlers to provide a network of vascular tissues and blood for growth.  Typically beginning in late August we start to see the velvet begin to tear off in long bloody strips exposing the gleaming white bone beneath. 


The rut, or mating season, is typically September and October.  A mature bull moose will gather together and defend a “harem” of females, which can number as many as twenty.  Younger moose with smaller racks of antlers will sometimes skulk in the willows nearby, awaiting a chance to nab an unattended female.  The bulls rarely eat during the rutting season.  Stress levels are high, and most dominant bulls will lose substantial amounts of weight by the time of the rut is though.  If they are successful, however, their genes will be passed along to a higher proportion of next years calves than their fellow bulls.


How those final hours (or days) for these two very large, mature adult bull moose played out is anyone’s guess. One of the brow tines (the lowest spike of the palmate antlers) protrudes into the eye socket of the other bull, though does not appear to have pierced deep enough to touch the brain.  Evidence around the area also indicates that wolves found the two moose, cumulatively a roughly three thousand pound bonanza of meat.  Perhaps they found the moose while both were still alive, one was, or neither.  It would have been relatively easy for a pack of wolves to take down the moose in such a weakened and impaired state. 


Camp Denali and North Face Lodge hiked to the area on occasion for the next few summers.  In 2007 the National Park Service airlifted (using a sling and a helicopter) the skulls to the newly reopened Eielson Visitor Center at Mile 66 of the Park Road.  Today they still lie there, interlocked for all of time, beneath the flagpole outside the visitor center.  You can feel and see the skulls for yourself, and ponder the story of dominance, breeding, and the food chain for yourself.

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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.