This year, Americans are being asked to Find Your Park, as the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary. As a Park “junkie,” I have proclaimed my personal favorites over the years: Bryce Canyon, Glacier, Wrangell – St. Elias. Of course, last month’s issue of National Geographic arrived in my mailbox, only to catapult Yellowstone back into the running.
But right now, right here, today, it's gotta be Denali. Sure, I’m living just up the road in Fairbanks so that’s part of the admiration and ever-presence of that magical place in my current life. For instance, I can't help but notice that Denali has brought the hoards of tourists back to Interior Alaska. I am aware that Denali is sending my friend Krista back to work there, driving tourists on the 12-hour bus trip to the end of the road and back. Denali also shows up near daily in our newspaper (most recently it was because a mama moose was found illegally shot in the Park, orphaning--and thereby seriously jeopardizing the welfare of--her twin, two-week old calves).
And Denali is where Collin and I snuck off to in early May, right before his departure for the season. It was a quick, overnight camping trip with Luna. The Park wasn’t technically open just yet so there were no visitor services and, even better, no visitors. An early morning drive yielded amazing wildlife viewing. There were the two grazing caribou, watched and stalked by a lone wolf, who howled for his pack mates to come help him take them down (they never showed); a mama griz and her two cubs strolling down the middle of that lonesome road, utterly unperturbed by our presence; an animal jam of another 8 caribou; various moose sightings; and the Dall sheep on the mountaintop. Yes, this Park visit earned us Denali’s “Big 5,” and we loved every minute of it.
And at this moment, I am sitting here writing this post in camp space C-15 at Denali State Park, just down the road (by Alaska standards), from the National Park entrance. After claiming our campsite, Luna and I went for a stroll along Byers Lake and have now settled in for the “night” which is about 3 hours long this time of year and is brighter than evening civil twilight. It’s not dark or cold, but we lit a fire anyway; it helps with the mood and, more importantly, the mosquitos.
My friend Allie tells me that the largest concentration of black bears live in this area, so we left the tent at home in favor of car camping. Unloading wood, folding down seats, preparing bedding, all while preventing mosquitos from entering the vehicle is not only challenging but also, well, impossible. Guess that’s better than a bear in your tent.
So picture, if you will, Cat Herder sitting alone at C-15’s splintered picnic table, writing her blog on a sleek MacBook Air, eating brown rice and tofu leftovers, sipping Pinot Grigio out of a coffee cup, and listening to that “anything goes” iTunes playlist that includes a bizarre collection of songs from U2, Michael Jackson, AC/DC, Linda Ronstadt, the Goo Goo Dolls, and random contestants from “The Voice.” But mainly, picture me doing all of this whilst constantly flapping away the mosquitos.
Luckily, I’ve got the mosquito technique down from a burial service I attended this morning back in Fairbanks. There were only 10 of us there to pay respects: one lady was armed with a can of OFF, the rest of us performed a routine of swing-swat-flick throughout the service.
But I digress. Today, I choose Denali!
PS: As if to punctuate this post, a mama moose and two calves just roared through our campsite.
Cat Herder (aka Marisa) has been guiding pilot tours in the American West for over a sixteen years. Keep tabs on your Parkwest pilot friends, National Park news and other tidbits here!