20 May: We chase the moon to Alaska. She shines against an indigo sky that has no memory of black. Sometimes she slides down snow blanketed peaks to drop into the sea, winking up at us between floating blocks of ice, the ripples bending her light into a thousand faces, littering the sea with diamonds. When the sea is still she pours herself out like butter, soft and golden, puddling, then spreading. Languid. Easy. This is the first enchantment.
21 May: They tell us it has been a late spring. That there was a snow fall of 11 inches just 4 days ago. And I wonder why it never occurred to me to wish for this.
We get our first glimpse of Denali (Mt. McKinley) down the endless stretch of roadway ahead of us, framed by trees. We pull off at an overlook to drink in the glory of her. To be with her. It is a pristine day. She is wholly unfettered by clouds and altogether magnificent. We do not learn until later that these views only happen 60 days or so each year. Gift.
Denali does not make trails, however they do recognize community trails that have formed naturally and point you toward those. On this day, we follow footprints in the snow across frozen streams that begin to crack with thaw, across bridges where only the handrails are visible above the snow (barely), along cantilevered shards of ice that are melting from the bottom up, through an enchanted wood that is very Narnia.
22 May: There is a quiet in Denali so deep you can feel it on your skin. You breathe it in the snow scented air. To stand in this is to know something profoundly important about life and the world, a knowing that happens in your bones. And even the ptarmigan’s bluster, the soar and swoop of nest building magpies, the snort and huff of grizzlies as they frolic in the river bottoms, seem to lose themselves in the endless expanse of blue sky and mountain and frozen lake.
Denali is generous to us this day. We see a moose cow who has just calved. She is still tidying up number two while number one begins to test out wobbly legs. All of us press against the bus windows with binoculars and cameras, and no one says a word. Later we see a bull moose in all his glory, a herd of caribou, Dall sheep (for whom the park was created, incidentally), as well as the aforementioned grizzles, ptarmigans and magpies.
The call of the mountains is too much for Jake, and he determines early in the day that we must climb something. So we have our driver leave us off near an approach that appears reasonably navigable.
The going is steep and precarious at times with dense shrubbery, rock slides, and snow fields that are packed solid for some expanse, then suddenly drop you 12 inches in and fill your shoes. But the vistas from up here are spectacular and it is good to plant our bodies in the middle of all this without the insulation of a piece of machinery, and no sound but our breathing.
I take approximately a million photographs, even though I understand the futility of trying to capture this moment with a lens. To stand inside the grandeur of this place, to once be here, is an unrepeatable wonder. But I know that when I look at the photos, I will remember…
We are, for a time, held hostage by this guy who plants himself squarely in the road ahead of us just after we descend from the mountain. We are required to give him 70 yards clearance, a directive which is superfluous as we know Dall sheep are sometimes known to charge when ticked off. This photo is taken after he finally decides to clear out.
23 May: Our last experience in Denali is a visit to the Canine Rangers who patrol the park all winter. They are beautiful and strong and sweet. One of the rangers tells us that they occasionally adopt out puppies if a litter is too large or if a dog does not have the characteristics necessary to make it a good dog sled dog, and Josh wants very much to bring one of them home, but we can’t figure out how to make this work…
All photos taken with my iPhone. No editing. The colors you see are the colors we saw. If you would like more photos and less talk, check out my Facebook album HERE.