Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Last Day in Denali

We knew we were lucky yesterday with fairly clear weather to allow us to see Mt. McKinley. Today was a little rainy and very cloudy, although not too bad. Still, we never would have had a good view (if we had any view at all) of The High One today.

Don and I returned to the nearby visitor center to finish seeing the exhibits on the lower level.


For all you pie bakers, here’s a good recipe from Fanny Quigley for blueberry pie. First you pick the berries in early August, then shoot a good fat bear and butcher it. When the first snow comes, hitch up the dogs to the sled and go 15 miles for firewood. Build a fire and use a large iron kettle to render the bear fat into lard. And on it goes!

Click on the picture to read the details. Fannie died in 1944 at age 73, having lived most of her life in the Kantishna, in the shadow of Mt. McKinley. She was recognized for her “abilities to work like a man, hunt, kill, skin, butcher, pack and cache her own game, embroider like an artist and entertain like a queen…the little woman who stood hardly five feet tall in her rough men’s clothes.”


For lunch, we returned to a place Don liked. We both enjoyed it this time – in fact, it’s some of the best Chinese food we’ve had in a long time! It’s just that the ambience of the dining room leaves something to be desired.


We tried to see Pat and Jim’s river raft launch, but it turns out that they started the trip 11 miles up river, so we couldn’t watch it. We rode a shuttle bus (another school bus!) a short distance to the sled dog kennels to see the dogs and learn about their breeding, care and training.


Some of the dogs are in enclosures because they’re not completely socialized with people yet. Others can be petted and handled, and visitors are encouraged to do so.


Emily explained how the dogs are bred and trained, and told us how she came to be part of the National Park staff. It was obvious she loves her job and is very good at it.


Then she and other staff prepared a dog sled with 5 dogs and she took a short ride around the area. She explained that they lift the dogs front legs off the ground so they don’t step on them and so the dogs can’t overpower the handlers; it doesn’t hurt them.


We could hear dogs in the background jumping and yelping and being very excited. It was as if they were saying “Pick me, pick me!” They rotate the dogs used for the demonstrations so they all get to participate. But it was obvious that they love their jobs, too!


They went through the woods fast!


For the demonstration, an older, heavier sled was used, and the harnesses were of traditional leather. Emily explained how lighter-weight sleds and harnesses (like this red one) are typically used today.


Sled dogs are the only method of transportation in the inner 2 million acres of Denali National Park (surrounding Mt. McKinley) where no mechanized vehicles are allowed for management of the park. In the additional 4.2 million acres, snow machines and air transport can be used.

These dogs have built-in insulation. People have to add a few layers to stay warm on the sled.


We weren’t allowed to feed the dogs, but there was one special dog named Buck that we could feed on the way out to help support the efforts of this unique operation. I was happy to contribute.


After happy hour under our awning in the rain, 8 of us went to the Prospector for dinner. Luckily, Larry had called for reservations, or we would have had a long wait for a table.


The food and service were both pretty good, and we ended the night with plans to link up again as some of us go different ways for a few days.

“Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer.”      --John Muir


  1. Boy you guys are really doing Alaska up right... Wish we had been with you last year! Loving your post & photos!!!

    Have fun & Travel safe

  2. Thanks for the pictures of what you saw and did. That makes your post come alive!


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