Denali Dispatch

It is our pleasure to present Denali Dispatch, a journal of the goings-on at Camp Denali.


Written by members of our staff, Denali Dispatch is an opportunity to peek into life in Denali: notable events, wildlife sightings, conservation topics, recipes from our kitchen, and insights into the guest experience at Camp Denali. Denali Dispatch 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.

Heart of Wilderness: Finding Peace in the Present

April 13, 2023


Throughout the summer, Camp Denali invites specialists to share their expertise with guests and staff, both in the field and through evening lectures. Professional photographer and acclaimed author, Amy Gulick, joined Camp Denali last August to share her insights on the remarkable ecological connection between salmon and forests in Southeast Alaska - based on her most recent book, The Salmon Way: An Alaska State of Mind.

Here is Amy’s recent reflection on her week spent at Camp Denali last summer. She describes the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity Camp Denali guests have to experience the heart of Denali National Park nearly all to themselves. With virtually no road traffic during the current closure of the Denali Park Road, our guests have a unique opportunity for intimate experiences with wildlife and Denali’s expansive, sub-arctic landscapes. Now is the time to visit the wilderness heart of Denali!

                                                                                     Heart of Wilderness: Finding Peace in the Present

Cushioned by spongy tundra ablaze in its fall hues of red, yellow, and orange, my feet lead the rest of my body up a mountain in Denali National Park, Alaska. Step by luxuriant step, breath by glorious breath. A golden eagle, wings aloft in a V, glides overhead in the silent sky. Far across the valley, a lone dark shape with the distinctive hump of a grizzly bear munches its way through swaths of blueberries. Small silhouettes of a half dozen ungulates graze below, their prominent curved antlers can only be those of caribou. Our group of humans—guide and guests of Camp Denali—pauses to shed a layer and sip some water. The only sounds are the zip of a jacket and the clip of a pack strap. The crisp air and the immensity of our surroundings bond us together better than words ever could. Continuing uphill, we notice we’re not the only ones on the move. The caribou, now clumped together, trot our way. We stop. They don’t. Their inquisitive golden eyes lock with ours as they come closer. Time slows. The big animals veer to our left and canter around us. The only sounds are the clicks of their legs and the pounding of our hearts. Corralled by caribou, time stops. So does my heart.  The caribou dart right and race off, their sleek chocolate hides glistening as their bodies grow smaller and smaller in the distance.
A stunned silence pervades our group. Wide eyes, dropped jaws, still bodies. With what feels like one long coordinated exhale, the group reanimates. Broad grins, laughter, and one-word exclamations. We give ourselves a collective pinch to confirm our existence and then continue up the mountain. Step by step, breath by breath.
“Where will your travels take you next?” says the hiker behind me. The question disarms me. Not because I don’t have an answer, but because I’m forced to return to my own narrative. From the start of our hike, I was nowhere, and yet everywhere. In the tundra, the mountains, the eagle and bear. That’s what wilderness does. It helps us shed our identities and the stories we tell ourselves. “Lose yourself in nature and find peace,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. It’s one thing to read those words, it’s another to heed them. And then to get out there and do it.
I used to think that I could only really be present in nature far away from the busyness of civilization. That it wasn’t possible once I returned home from a wilderness experience. The demands of daily living require that we spend a lot of time in the future. Too much time. And so for many years I just led a kind of dual existence: present during my wilderness travels, and back to the future upon my return home. A compromise between heart and mind. But the heart is much stronger than the mind, and also more patient. And sneaky. Over the years, the peace that I’ve felt in nature has seeped into my whole being. It doesn’t matter if I’m standing still surrounded by caribou or at a standstill in rush hour traffic, that feeling of peace is always there if my mind will simply step aside. It is in the mind that we tell ourselves false narratives, and separate ourselves from nature and what we are. Places like Denali National Park remind us that our true nature is found in the majesty of mountains, the song of streams, and the whisper of winds. Camp Denali is the conduit through which we can be present and notice the peace that is always within us, regardless of where we are.
Right now I can’t help but notice all the plump blueberries at my feet. We drop to our knees and stuff our mouths with the juicy fruit of the tundra. The pitchy aroma of the Labrador tea plant awakens our noses. We spy another bear in the distance doing the same thing we are. With fingers and tongues stained purple, we resume our trek. Step by step. Breath by breath.
“Where will your travels take you next?” says the hiker behind me

“To the top of this mountain,” I say.
Amy Gulick is a founding Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers. Her books include "Salmon in the Trees: Life in Alaska’s Tongass Rain Forest" and "The Salmon Way: An Alaska State of Mind", both winners of Nautilus and Independent Publisher Book Awards. Visit:

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