Friday, March 16, 2007

Exploring the Interior of Alaska

Denali National Park & Reserve and Mount McKinley, Alaska

Denali is part of the Alaska Range, a 960 km arc of mountains stretching across the state from the Alaska Peninsular to the Canadian border. Denali National Park and Preserve is a unique place to visit, and is highly recommended by many who’ve been there, me included. It is all about human management of the wilderness. Here, humans thread with care – only a small part of the park is open to visitors who want to hike and camp and sleep under the sky.

Most of the 6 million acre park can only be accessed through a national park tour bus which conducts daily tours in the summer. There are two tours – the National History Tour and the Wildlife Tour. Food is provided, and for 8 hours you won’t get off the bus except at specific rest stops.

Why would you want to spend all this time on a bus? That is because this is the only chance for you to catch glimpses of the natural wildlife at play. Where else can you see the Dall Sheep grazing on steep cliffs, grizzly bears, caribou, moose and even a wolf. You may even catch sight of the willow ptarmigan, Alaksa’s state bird - flying low across the thickets and tundra. The ptarmigan is one of the wildlife that adapts to its landscape – in the winter, it sports a white plume, while in the summer it turns brown. You may even catch a glimpse of an occasional snowshoe hare, with its big feet, which comes in handy in the winter months.

Willow Ptarmigan changing its plume from winter's white to summer's brown, Denali National Park and Preserve
Photo Image © Karen Toh

The reason why the park created the tours into the wilderness was to protect the landscape and the wildlife. The number of visitors annually had grown tenfold from 140,000 a year. The extra traffic and noise created by the visitors would have driven the animals out of sight, and the park would have to deal with more people encountering the dangerous animals like the bears and moose.

This compromise is quite popular as buses are very full in the summer and often booked well in advance. The buses pick you up as early as 6am, and leaving every half an hour for the rest of the morning. You are asked to help spot wild animals and shout it out to the driver/guide, who will stop by the side of the road to confirm the sighting.

Mount McKinley, Denali National Park and Preserve
Photo Image © Karen Toh

Within the park, Mount McKinley is always in sight. It is after all the highest peak in North America, some 20,320 feet. McKinley is located within the Denali National Park & Preserve.

· Wohlforth, Charles P., Frommer’s Alaska, 1998
· Insight Guides Alaka, 2005

Photography Images:
· Copyright © 2006 Karen Toh Guek Bee
· Courtesy of

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