Denali National Park, AK

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Anchorage. Our first stop. Anchorage got its name for being the anchored stop for most people visiting Alaska. In downtown the streets are filled with fur stores and gift shops. Look at that little red Corvette, it's so LA. Little did we know, Anchorage would be the last "civilized" place we stayed in the next two weeks. With some 21 hours of daylight, we slept very little and headed into the wild wild Alaska at dawn (that means 4:00am).

 

A Musk Ox Farm. Musk Ox (Ovibos moschatus) are actually not ox but relative of goats. They're the living fossil from the ice age. They're well adapted to extremely cold weather. The soft under wool of the ox, called qiviut, are 7 times warmer than wool of the same weight. Musk ox was extinct in Alaska in 1856, due to excessive hunting. It was only after 1930 when musk ox was back to Alaska -- the Federal Government imported 34 of them from Greenland. Now musk ox is farmed to produce qiviut. A qiviut hat easily costs over $100.

 

Denali National Park. Some 4 hrs drive north of Anchorage, in the heart of Alaskan Range. Denali is the most visited National Park in Alaska. Established in 1917, the Park facility is relatively well developed. But it is not opened for private vehicles, only accessible by bus or airplane.

 

Denali National Park features the highest peak in North America, Mt. McKinley, named after William McKinley the presidential candidate from Ohio in 1897. But the locals prefer the name "Denali", which means "the tall one, the great one" in Native Alaskan language. In fact, they changed the name of the national park from Mt. McKinley to Denali in 1980 (who cares about some Ohio guy who never even set his foot on Alaska?).

 

A flight tour on top of Mt. McKinley. In high altitude, air pressure gets so low that everyone has to wear a oxygen mask. In the 2nd row, the 3rd pic is Wonder Lake. In the last is a famous deserted school bus, in which Chris McCandless, a top student from Emory University, spent the last 3 months of his life. To make the long story short, Chris deserted the society and material comfort and decided to test himself in nature. He became ill after eating some poisonous seeds, and eventually died in the bus in 1992. To learn more about the story, read the book Into the Wild by John Krakauer. Very touching.

 

A hike near Polychrome. What's special about Denali is that there's few established trail inside the park. You can just ask the bus driver to drop you off anyway you like and you make your way into the wild. So we tried some place near the Polychrome (multi-color mountains). After 3 hours of stumbling across rough bushes, we finally got to the top of the hill. Great view. However, weather changed all of a sudden and rain poured down. Lots of beautiful butter flies got wet and had to rest on the tundra.

 

Dog sledge show. This is how the park rangers go around in winter.

 

Wildlife. To me that's what Denali's all about.

Wolf (Canis lupus)! According to Lonely Planet, you should consider yourselves lucky if you see a wolf in Alaska. Well, we saw five of them. One of them walked past our bus with sneaky, swift steps, looked right into us with its ferocious, hungry, yellowish eyes. The other one is lying on a patch of snow - our guide explained that it is for driving away parasite.

Grizzly, or Brown Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis). Dangerous predators. Can weight above 1,000 lbs. Those in Denali are probably a bit skinnier, without the nutritious Salmon coming upstream.

Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta). The Alaskan State Bird. Close relative of grouse. First row, in the first 4 pix is the more masculine-looking father, the shy one hiding in the bush is the mother; the 2nd row, half dozen of newly-hatched babies! Gosh, they're so cute!

Dall Sheep (Ovis dalli). Habitants of the mountain range. These fellows make jumping on the rocks look so easy. The ram practically sleep on those dangerous ridges. A few tiny lambs were playing on the ridge above us.

Caribou (Rangifer tarandus). European also call them reindeer. But in Alaska and Canada only the domestic deer are called reindeer. Both male and female Caribou grow antlers. In Denali, you can find them everywhere. In spring time, their antlers just started growing, a flesh tissue covering the antlers gave a velvet-looking.

Snowshoe Rabbit (Lepus americanus). These little guys are the most curious rabbit we've ever met, but once they know we don't have food, they ran away quickly. They look gray in the spring, but in winter they'll turn into snow-white, except for the dark fringe at the tip of the ears.

Marmot (Marmota broweri). These guys, weight up to 10 lbs, are the larger relative of the squirrel. The Native said their meat is delicious :p

Others. Arctic Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus parryii, 2 pix) stand up when they're alerted (how cute). A Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) left its den for breakfast in the morning and then came back to feed her two cubs (3 pix). An Owl came out at night (2 pix). I cheated in the last pic -- it was taken in the Alaska Zoo. : )

 

 

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