January 31, 2014
What is the temperature right now where you live? Above average? Below?
We have not yet had a compilation of January’s average temps and how they compare to past years, but we already know a lot about how this unusual month has gone here in Denali…..
In early January warm southern winds (typically called “Chinooks”) swept north and into central and interior Alaska. This in of itself is not too unusual….we often have one or two Chinook winds a winter that bring the temperature precipitously close to 32°F. But this time the temperatures rocketed skywards, and stayed above freezing…for nearly the rest of the month.
On January 26th Denali National Park broke an all-time January high of 52°F. Records dated back the past 92 years. In comparison, this is typically the average temp for mid-May here in Denali. The average high for that date is a full 40 degrees colder.
Our beautiful fluffy snowpack has been reduced to ice and rock solid, gravel-like snow. Walking becomes perilous and skiing is out of the question. For us local humans, this is terrible indeed. But for the animals of the park, it can prove even more challenging.
In the winter months moose, caribou and other large mammals move around the snow selecting the best forage (in the case of moose, it is the tall willow shrubs they browse, and for the caribou it is the lichen buried beneath the snow). Animals will have a hard time getting their food through this hard packed snow and ice, and they face the hazard of leg injuries from punching down into the icy drifts.
For the subnivian creatures among us (meaning the animals that live buried beneath the snow, like voles, a mouse-like creature with fully ears and a short, furry tail) the dilemma is compounded. They are no longer sheltered from the elements by the soft and insulating snow. Contrary to intuition, snow can be a very insulating substance that traps heat…think of igloos. It might be -30°F air temperature, but under the snow it would be a “toasty” -3°F. Our office here at Denali’s Park Entrance area has received visits from a few rodents as of late….my coworkers Martha, Teresa, and I have trapped 5 voles in the past two days. With very few other options, the voles are making their way into spaces they normally avoid. How will this affect their numbers? How will that affect the nestlings owls and hawks that rely on them come spring?
Today the temperature is back to a normal 0°F, but the effects from our little heat wave linger. The tundra snow largely melted out, and the packed trails from mushers and skiers all that remain. With an average of only 1.25” (yes, that is inches) of precipitation for February and March, it might be a very long wait for us to get our snow back. Meanwhile, most of the rest of country remains in a relative deep freeze…making us wonder, when will we be trading back to normal again??
January 10, 2014
It is winter! January can feel like a long month in Interior Alaska. We can’t quite sense the lengthening days yet; that won’t happen until the very end of the month and early February. So,…it’s dark. It can be very cold, although so far this year the jet stream is positioned in our favor (we feel for you, Lower 48ers, really, we do). It’s just that time of year when it feels right to cozy up indoors around our hearths and eat warm, wholesome foods made from all of those Californian and Mexican vegetables shipped up to us in the hinterland. ‘Tis the season for soup!
This recipe is actually one of our summertime favorites, especially when we start receiving beautiful, tight heads of cauliflower from Rosie Creek Farm.
But, the soup serves up equally well this time of year with cauliflower from Mexico. The curry lends warmth, but isn’t overwhelming. It simply enhances the subtle, earthiness of the cauliflower. Cashews and coconut milk give it body and richness. This soup makes a wonderful starter or a simple meal that will warm you up on a cold January day while you wait for the polar vortex to abate! Enjoy.
The recipe comes from health food guru, Dr. Andrew Weil.
Curried Cauliflower Soup
Garnish soup with caramelized onions and cilantro, if using, and serve.
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.
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.