Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Eielson Visitor Center

Denali National Park, Alaska

This is the view from inside the Eielson Visitor Center in Denali National Park.  The only way to get here is by a shuttle or tour bus and that is exactly what we did.  The views were breathtakingly beautiful and on a clear day you can see the tallest mountain in North America:  Denali, which towers 3 l/2 vertical miles up at a whopping 20,310 feet.  Now that's a mountain.  Only today, we couldn't see it.

"Don't feel bad," a young ranger told us.  "It can only be seen about four days a month."

He pointed out the top of the mountain, hidden behind clouds.  I marked it on the photo above.  We were looking at its base.  We knew it was there.  And it was awesome.
Because the mountain is so high, it creates its own weather.  Storms originating in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea collide with its massive walls of granite.  Blizzard conditions with whipping winds, intense cold and heavy snowfall can happen any time of year.  Because of this, it is very difficult to climb.  Even my travel buddy (who has lofty ambitions of climbing the world's highest peaks) conceded that Denali is a mountain he will never attempt to summit.

It is hidden.  It is elusive.  It is awesome.

We enjoyed our time at Eielson.  This would be our final stop into the interior of Denali before going back to the entrance.  The trip takes eight hours, which was perfect.  The shuttles go all the way to Kantishna, but you are adding 3 or 4 hours to an already long day. 

We had a picnic lunch out on the patio and soaked in the beautiful fall colors.  It was cold and felt like winter.  Indeed, snow was in the forecast for the following week.

Denali is a harsh, raw, rugged environment.  You can't help but feel small and insignificant in such a vast never-ending landscape.  This is a world that belongs to wildlife; not to man, and for this I am eternally grateful.  Our national park system is the guardian of such beautiful places.  I looked up at the American flag and realized for the first time since November, I felt a twinge of pride for my country.

And yet . . . I fear for the future.  The current administration is reviewing all national monuments to determine if their status was met with "adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders."  Stakeholders meaning timber, mining, oil and gas industries.

   During the long road trip back, I vowed to be more pro-active.  I have just finished reading Hillary Clinton's intelligent and inspiring book, What Happened.  She urges each of us to pick an area of concern and get involved.  Mine is the continued stewardship of our national parks and monuments.

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