At the end of my sixth week I spent my absolute favorite Alaskan day in the Interior exploring Denali National Park. I felt like an intruder on the long drive north, as I was often the only car on the road surrounded by nothing but rocky brown mountains, flat yellow tundra, and taiga forest. I savored this radical change in landscape so unfamiliar from the temperate rainforest and glaciers of Girdwood. Private vehicles aren’t allowed in the park, so I rode a hardy evergreen school bus all the way to Wonder Lake (about five and a half hours). The journey was almost like going back to first grade— except this was a field trip with strangers. But the sheer euphoria of so many fellow travelers fulfilling a common dream created a special camaraderie among us, and I was happy to witness such genuine awe and respect for an intricate ecosystem that beats without humanity’s presence. We saw the “Big Five” (moose, grizzlies, caribou, Dall sheep, and wolves) in just the first three hours, in addition to a lynx, ptarmigan, snowshoe hares, golden eagles, harriers, trumpeter swans, pintail ducks, and ground squirrels. But by far the most spectacular surprise was Mt. McKinley (Denali)’s purple and pink peaks gracing a baby blue sky. I was thrilled just to see, hear, touch, and smell this magnificent park, but glimpsing so many rare sights made the day utterly remarkable. I also remembered my great grandmother Marian Erickson on what would have been her 99th birthday, and celebrated my cousin Adam Taplin’s wedding from more than 3,300 miles away.
An American Safari: Denali National Park