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.
July 31, 2015
How do you capture the bigness of tundra? The shiver of suddenly spotting a grizzly bear in what, seconds before, seemed merely “landscape?” The helium-balloon-in-your-chest feeling of being out in a wild place, a place where wildlife holds all privilege, both legally and practically?
One of the traditions I love at Camp Denali and the North Face Lodge is the evening story hour. The time during dinner when we all take a few moments to share something from the day. Each hiking group chooses a speaker—some are comedians, others serious; some detailed and dramatic, others succinct—and that person stands up and tells the rest of us what they experienced when they were out and about.
For me, this moment is one of attention (a hush in the room, ears perked), excitement (what will they say?), and sometimes envy (a wolverine?!! phalaropes on a pond??!!). More, though, this tradition connects us to the web of our time in this place together. We were all out, were all surprised by something. To hear others’ stories made our short time in Denali richer, more nuanced and expansive.
On the walks I shared with other travelers, we made collaborative haiku. What seemed most amazing? We asked ourselves. At what point did time stop and every color become a bit brighter? It was a treat to sit and scrawl the responses, each of us counting out syllables on our berry-stained fingers. We wrote one haiku about the contents of our lunch (so amazingly delicious after a couple hours of walking). Another about all the poisonous, beautiful plants (bog rosemary, monkshood, death camas). Most days, one haiku was not enough. There were too many facets, too many amazing moments to consider.
One of the hikes included a quartet of travelers from Tokyo, and they taught us the words for bear (kuma), for scat (unchi), and—my favorite—bushwhacking (yabukogi). They said it really translated as “bush swimming” or “bush rowing.” What a word! Together, after a ramble that included bouncing through spongy tundra, air spiced with Labrador tea, and a discussion of the amazing strangeness of lichen we wrote:
How do you translate place? Experience? Understanding? How do you share what it’s like to listen to water fall from the scooped palms of a bull moose’s antlers? In the end, it might be impossible, but trying is fun. We laughed. We nodded when someone captured the spirit of it. And somehow, the smallness of haiku seemed an appropriate answer to the vast sweep of Denali’s tundra and sky.
It’s even possible that we experienced bits of our walks more acutely from the attention we tried to pay them as we counted and re-counted and pared down words to what felt essential and right.
—Elizabeth Bradfield is a naturalist and poet whose newest collection of poems is Once Removed (Persea, 2015). She is the editor-in-chief of Broadsided Press, lives on Cape Cod, and teaches in the MFA program for the University of Alaska Anchorage. www.ebradfield.com
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.