November 18, 2015
Living along the border of one of the worlds most famous and stunning National Parks, it’s relatively easy to be occasionally touched (or even blown away) by moments of wonder and awe. In the summer at the lodges we have the great fortune to hike across pristine tundra meadows and watch while caribou prance along in front of us. We gawk at the long-tailed jaegers flight and ponder the long migrations of nearly 150 bird species that breed in Denali, but fly south for the winter. We light a fire in our woodstove or firepace and savor fine meals and warm conversations with fellow travelers. And we get to share those experiences with you, our guests.
Winter in Denali holds no less of a thrill, though a very different one. The way the high winds blow snow off the tall peaks, the tracks of a lynx, the aurora dancing overhead in a star-filled night sky. These moments still catch our breath and hold us captive to the wonders of the earth, if not for just a moment. Our nose stings, our fingers are white and numb, and the reality of a winter in the continental climate of northern interior Alaska comes back to you. This last week our thermometer has been hovering around zero Fahrenheit (-18C), and we’ve been losing five minutes of sunlight per day. The Christmas lights have been strung up, and walking the dogs before and after work means using a headlamp and mukluks, or skis. Yesterday morning was a chilly -25F when our office crew came in for work. It was so cold my knees absolutely ached from being outside for 30 minutes.
In temperatures like these, as the dark and cold of winter takes hold, it’s easy to forget the zest and wonder you have for a place, or a particular passion in your life. We want you to bring those awestruck and thankful moments back into your life, even with challenging weather, stressful holidays, or getting too far settled into a routine. We are lucky to be able to live in a place that ignites that spark in people. We love nothing more than to show you the grace of the natural world. The explosive flavors of a pesto made from our greenhouse basil. The calm that comes from being a place with no internet or cell service. The majority of our guests, now our friends, hold these few days close to their hearts and bring that sense of wonder back to their normal lives.
Forget not how blessed you are to have friends, family, a safe and warm home, and the small wonders around you. Try not to wear your busy schedule as a badge of honor, rather try to slow down a moment to thank a friendly neighbor, savor a warm cup of tea, and pet the cat or dog for a nice, long while. Look up at the waning morning moon as you shuffle though the busy streets, go for a walk with a friend, read a beautiful poem as you ride the bus, and delight in the laughter of a child. It doesn’t take the highest mountain in North America to bring a sense of thankfulness and awe in your life, though it can help you to recall those things more easily, we acknowledge! Take those moments to heart, and hold them daily in your beautiful, simple, and kind life.
October 22, 2015
Seated in tradition. Our 2012 Staff pose with one of Camp Denali's more classic pieces of transportation. Notice anything remarkable about that door?
After six years of spending my summers working in front of and behind the scenes at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge I have come to realize the importance of community. I have often been asked about life as a staff member. What is it like to live and work in a place like Denali National Park?
For staff the days start early. Fueled by either coffee or black tea we greet the morning, often before morning has officially begun. From there a well-timed dance begins. Bakers and bus washers, breakfast cooks and naturalist guides moving in a synchrony that can only come with extensive practice and care. Performing duties with a diligence that can only come from a desire to own the results.
As a naturalist guide my days were often spent with the guests, exploring the tundra, seeking out those amazing processes that were happening all around. I cannot count the number of sandwiches that I have eaten while sitting in the tundra. I can say that the roasted vegetables, house made spreads, and fresh baked breads have never disappointed. I refuse to think of the number of cookies I have consumed over the years... lets just say more than three.
With 50 staff working full time between both lodges I consider our community small; the perfect size. After working a minimum of 10 hours each day you might expect people to scatter, to head for their cabins and not look back. Not so at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge. If anything, those hours between shifts are a time to come together. We often sit on one porch or another and look out on the landscape that we have found ourselves in. For many staff the sense of community and place is what draws them back year after year; the same could be said of our returning guests.
Somewhere between May and September a community is formed. You fall into your routine. Bonds are forged at bus wash and laughter is shared over laundry. Without realizing you start to rely on that one breakfast cook's laugh to brighten your morning. In a blink the summer is over, but the family that we formed without realizing holds fast and is present long after autumn colors have faded.
For myself, I could tell you the name of every staff member I worked with this year. I know where they came from and where they think they are going. I have listened to their life goals, the music they prefer and know if they sing off key. I have open invitations to visit on three continents and countless states. Like any family we have had our bright moments and times that, if anything, have drawn us closer together. But, in the end that’s exactly what we are behind it all, family.
September 09, 2015
A gourmet culinary experience is totally unexpected at the end of the 90-mile Denali Park road, and 350 miles away from Anchorage.
Our guests are not in pursuit of a unique and memorable eating experience when they book a stay at our lodges, but that is exactly what they get. Over 60 years since our founding, the availability of good ingredients has expanded, as have the expectations of our palates. Long gone are the days of freeze-dried green beans and corned beef from a can. Today, the plates of delicious food served up in our kitchens represent the best flavors and ingredients available to us, and our commitment to source from suppliers dedicated to organic and sustainable production. We pride ourselves in making your dining experience a featured part of a stay at Camp Denali and North Face Lodge.
The level of detail found in our kitchens includes even the smallest of products: spices. The curry powder in our “Curried Cauliflower Soup” comes from The Spice House, a family owned company dedicated to highest quality and freshest spices. This delicious dish is perfect for an Alaskan climate, where a hardy vegetable like cauliflower thrives. Starting in July, we receive heads of Alaska cauliflower, ranging from creamy off-white to bright yellow and sometimes (when we’re lucky!) a shocking purple. The creaminess of this soup is unique, derived from pureed cashews and coconut milk. It has a rich flavor without any dairy, and is also vegan.
The recipe comes from health food guru, Dr. Andrew Weil.
1) Put the cashews in a blender and blend until finely ground. Add 3/4 cup of water and blend for 2 minutes. Strain and set this mixture aside.
2) In a large pot, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the diced onions and sauté until golden. Add the cauliflower, coconut milk, cashew mixture, curry powder, turmeric, cumin, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat and simmer until cauliflower is tender, about 10 minutes.
3) Blend the soup with an immersion blender or standing blender until the desired consistency is reached. If using a standing blender, allow the mixture to cool for 20 minutes before blending. Blend until the soup is smooth.
4) Garnish, if desired, with caramelized onions. Sauté the thinly sliced onion in the canola oil over low heat, stirring frequently, until the onion is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Add a couple pinches of sugar and a pinch of salt to complete the caramelizing.
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.