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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

D is for Denali National Park

Some history:

This Park and Preserve is located in central Alaska and encompasses more then six million acres.  Denali is the highest mountain in North America towering into the sky at 20,310 feet.  The mountain is primarily made of granite, a hard rock that’s virtually erosion free.  The landscape is a mix of forests, tundra, glaciers, rock and snow at the highest elevations. 

Glaciers cover about 16% of the park.  The longest glacier in the park is Kahiltna, which is 30 miles long.  It’s a south facing glacier like most of the ones in the park.  This is due to more snow being dropped on this side of the mountain because of moisture-bearing winds from the Gulf of Alaska.

The word Denali means the “high one” in native Athabaskan language.  The mountain was renamed Mt McKinley in 1897 in honor of the newly elected president, William McKinley.  President Wilson signed a bill creating Mt McKinley National Park in 1917, but in 1980 the park was combined with the wilderness area surrounding it and it became Denali National Park and Preserve.  The mountain was changed back to its original name of Denali on August 15, 2015 by President Barack Obama.

Geographic Facts:

There’s a Denali Fault that runs some 720 miles long under the area and connects up with the famous San Andrea’s Fault in California.  Over 600 earthquakes occur in the park each year.  Most of the earthquakes are small, but two large ones hit in October and November 2002 that caused numerous landslides.

Some of the sediments making up the rocks in the park show signs of ocean and marine environments.  This leads one to think that the area was once a warm tropical climate, approximately 300 million years ago, because of the abundance of marine fossils found. Now, isn’t that interesting?

Tourist Information:

Today 400 thousand people visit the park annually.  Winter activities include cross-country skiing, dog sledding and snowmobiling.  Other features include a visitor’s center, bookstore, restaurant, science and learning center, a railroad depot and McKinley National Park Airport.

Private area vehicles are prohibited in large portions of the park but there are tour buses available to center portions of the park.  Some of the roads run alongside sheer cliffs that drop down hundreds of feet with no guard rails.  Because of the dangers involved most of the gravel roads are only one-lane wide.  Drivers must be trained to navigate them and to yield to oncoming tour buses.

There are four camping areas located in the interior of the park.  There’s no TV’s or cell service in the area.

Visitors who want to climb Denali must obtain a permit and go through an orientation process.  This information can be found in the ranger station at Talkeeetna Alaska, about 100 miles south of the park.  The ranger station is open year round and is the center for mountaineering operations.


The northern range of Denali is still solidly frozen year round.  This is called permafrost.  Some of the permafrost in Denali lies under the upper layer that does thaw out at times.  This layer that freezes and thaws can be one-inch to ten-feet deep.  The permafrost under it can be between 30 and 100 feet thick depending on the section of the park.  A stand of white spruce on the lower slope is known as the Drunken Forest because the trees lean due to the sliding soil beneath them.  The soil slides because of freezing and thawing.

Long winters are followed by short growing seasons.  Eighty percent of the birds return in the summer to raise their young and the mammal’s spend most of the time raising young and gathering food for winter.  Summers are cool and damp, but 70 degrees is not unheard of, even though weather is unpredictable and sometimes it can snow in August.


Denali is home to grizzly and black bears, moose, caribou and Dall sheep.  Smaller animals include the gray wolf, coyotes, marmots, shrews, ground squirrels, beavers, red foxes, martens and wolverines.  Bird species include waxwings, arctic warblers, pine grosbeaks, wheatears, ptarmigan, tundra swans, and a variety of hawks, owls, falcons and golden eagles.  Fish include mainly trout and salmon.

When camping, it’s best to view animals from a safe distance and to keep food in bear-proof containers.  Sometimes areas of the park can be closed while wolves are in their dens, or there is other unusual animal activity.

Most of this information is from Wikipedia.


  1. I love the photos! Alaska in general, and Denali National Park in particular, are high on my list of places I hope to visit in my lifetime. So beautiful.

    1. Thanks Wendy! It is beautiful but there's very little summer. You can drive five minutes out of town and be in complete wilderness. If you like warmer weather, plan your trip between June and the middle of August.

      Thanks for visiting me during the A to Z. And thanks for reading and leaving a comment.


  2. I didn't realize there'd been a name change. Makes sense, though.

    1. Liz,

      Stuff like that (name changes) aren't in the news much.

      Thanks for reading and your comment.


  3. Beautiful pics. I know how it is with wildlife. I've lived among them most of my life. Bears, deer come right into the village.

    1. Mildred,

      I wish you had indicated which village you live in. That's interesting.

      Thanks for visiting me during the A to Z and for your comment.


  4. I didn't know he changed the name and I bet few say the new name and still go by the old. I would have trouble being on those roads since I am phobic with heights

  5. Birgit,

    You're probably right about the name change. I don't like heights either, but am getting used to it. You have to challenge yourself once in a while.

    Thanks for visiting and your comment.



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