Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Alaska! Denali National Park and Preserve

Alaska!  Breath-taking beauty, inspiration, all types of challenges and worth every minute of effort and preparation!
View of the Alaska Range and Polychrome Pass from Polychrome Overlook.

My trip to Alaska was a solo journey with a self-created itinerary for the first week that I'll tell you more about later, and a second week devoted to a special visit with two park ranger friends from Tennessee who were working in Denali National Park and Preserve.  Their invitation to visit them while they were in Denali became the catalyst for my entire journey.  It had never occurred to me to take a trip to Alaska alone, even though this had been my dream destination.  When I received the invitation, I didn't hesitate.  I couldn't pass it up!
Arrival on the Denali Star at Denali's train depot.

Preparation for what I planned to do on this trip was a major undertaking during the three months before I left.  I had a lot to learn in a short amount of time, about methods of travel in Alaska and wilderness preparedness, and I had to get in better aerobic shape for wilderness hiking and carrying a day pack.  I spent many hours researching and finding what I needed--clothing layers, a comfortable backpack, gaiters, hiking boots and "non-allergic" socks, rain gear, accommodations, transportation reservations, and learning about Denali National Park, as well as, my two other destinations-- Katmai National Park and Kenai Fjords National Park.  After all that preparation, it was hard to believe it was really happening when I boarded my plane on August 24th and found myself on my way to Alaska!
I arrived at Denali from Anchorage by train in the pouring down rain, but the rain only made me smile.  I was ready for it.  I had rain gear for my suitcase, a rain cover for my backpack, rain pants and jacket for me, and rain covers for my two cameras, all of which, I used liberally throughout my stay!  Once off the train with luggage claimed, I navigated to the bus depot to catch the free shuttle to the Wilderness Access Center where I picked up my pre-paid bus pass and caught the bus to my wilderness destination, the Toklat River.
Tiaga or boreal forest above, a mixture of white spruce and low growing shrubs in the lower elevations.  

This is the routine of all visits to the wilderness area.  Travel is by bus beyond mile fifteen of the park road, a road that extends 92 miles to its end, giving only partial access to the six million acres of land that make up the Denali park and preserve.  The Toklat River is a three hour ride from the Wilderness Access Center.  On September 1st this ride provided a spectacular panorama of fall colors in the boreal forest (above) and mountain tundra (below), including vast overlooks of glacial river valleys and the Alaska Mountain Range.  Since the park roads are carved out of the natural gravel in the area, this can make for a muddy bus.  But the rain itself only enriched the beauty of the fall transition underway as we drove deeper into the wilderness.
One of our driver-narrated stops along the way included Polychrome Overlook where we were encouraged to explore. The many-colored rocks in the area are hardened larva formed 100 million years ago during a period of mountain-forming activity. This activity is still in progress--earthquake tremors along the Denali fault are frequent. And the land continues to be shaped by glacial melt-water rivers that deposit silt and rock fragments into the valley.



Above, low growing shrubs such as blueberry, bearberry and willow give the tundra some of its electrifying color.  Below, you can see kettle ponds reflecting light in the distance.  These ponds were formed by deposits of glacial ice.  When the glacier retreated, abandoned blocks of ice left deep depressions in the earth where these ponds formed.  
Glaciers can be seen in the distant mountains (top and last photos), enormous ice deposits formed over millions of years and seasons of winter snow fall, partial thawing and re-freezing.  Glaciers continue to shape the rivers and valleys of Denali.

Next:  The Mountain

Links and Resources:
Click these links to view all my posts on Denali National Park and Preserve and to see my posts on my fall 2012 visit to Alaska

Denali National Park and Preserve
Glaciers 
Wiki on Glaciers
Polychrome Glaciers

12 comments:

  1. Spectacular, Vickie,

    I can't wait to see what comes next. Gorgeous pix,

    xoxo

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  2. Oh be still my heart. One of my favorite places. My remembrance of Polychrome is that the wind was so strong it lifted me (no light weight) and my backpack off the ground during one gust. Scary. I have only been there during summer. What wildlife did you see??? Can't wait for your posts.

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  3. How exciting...I am happy for you. I look forward to seeing and learning more about Alaska.

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  4. Vickie, what stunning photography and wonderful writing! How happy I am that you were able to go! How happily jealous I am as well. It is one of my dream locations to visit! My husband and I had plans to go there twice but it never worked out! It remains a deep sadness for me! I look forward to your future postings!

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  5. glad you're back safe and sound and that you had a wonderful time!

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  6. Hi Steve,
    I love my camera...both a constant companion and reminder of experiences. And also the lens that enables me to see more.

    Thank you, Vicki!

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  7. Hi Lisa,
    The wind was still on this visit to Polychrome, but the wind was fierce on other occasions, 60-70 mph. Lots of wildlife that I'll show you in upcoming posts.

    Thanks, Janice!

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  8. Hey Kathie,
    Don't give up on your visit to Denali and it will happen one day. This trip came up unexpectedly and circumstances came together to make it happen. Thank you and I'm looking forward to sharing more.

    Hi Marge! Thank you. Wonderful trip, full of new experiences and a rugged kind of beauty that would be hard to match. Hope you're doing well.

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  9. Beautiful pictures! I lived in Colorado, and often wondered how different Alaska's wilderness would be - but you pictures make it look unique!

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  10. Now that my grandson says he'd like to see Alaska, I'm thinking I'll be able to cross it off my bucket list before time runs out . . . thanks for sharing.

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  11. Gorgeous! We still have not made it to Alaska! I will read all this and relish it..taking notes for our future visit!

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Your Uncapped Creativity...
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