Archive for the ‘Alaska’ Tag

A Bear Hug, Perhaps?   Leave a comment

Horsing around in the appropriately named Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.

Horsing around in the appropriately named Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. Tweeted by the US Department of the Interior, 2/21/14.

Such A Big Mouth!   Leave a comment

Lunge feeding with several humpback whales in Kenai Fjords National Park.  Photo: Nirav Patel. Posted on Tumblr by the US Department of the Interior 1/29/14.

Lunge feeding with several humpback whales in Kenai Fjords National Park.
Photo: Nirav Patel. Posted on Tumblr by the US Department of the Interior 1/29/14.

Kenai Fjords National Park   2 comments

Where Is It: About 125 miles from Anchorage. Only three of the National Parks are accessible by road: Kenai Fjords, Denali, and Wrangell-St. Elias National Parks. You can reach this park by train, plane or boat.

The Birth: From Wikipedia:

Kenai Fjords National Monument was initially designated by President Jimmy Carter on December 1, 1978, using the Antiquities Act, pending final legislation to resolve the allotment of public lands in Alaska. Establishment as a national park followed the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980. The park protects the icefield, a narrow fringe of forested land between the mountains and the sea, and the deeply indented coastline.

Size: 669,983 acres … making it the smallest National Park in Alaska.

# Visitors: 281,279 in 2012. July had peak attendance; winter months have almost no attendance.

Plants: From Wikipedia:

The plant communities at Kenai Fjords are shaped by glacial retreat. New lands exposed in former glacier beds are at first stony, lacking in soil. The first plants to appear in recently glaciated areas are lichens and mosses, with a few hardy plants such as dward fireweek and yellow dryas. These pioneers are followed by other plants as the moss and lichen break rock down into soil. In particular, Sitka alder is capable of fixing nitrogen, supporting itself and enriching the soil. Willows also appear at this stage. Willows and alders are followed by black cottonwoods, then Sitka spruce. The mature forest features Sitka spruce and mountain hemlocks, with an understory of Devil’s Club, Alaska blueberry, elderberry, baneberry, watermelon baneberry and lady fern in the coniferous forest understory. A similar succession pattern is seen at the park’s nunataks, exposed rock outcroppings in the Harding Icefield. Forested portions of the park are dominated by conifers, with deciduous forests confined to areas recently vacated by glaciers.

Animals: From Wikipedia:

Large terrestrial mammals in the park include Alaskan brown bears, American black bears, moose and mountain goats. Smaller mammals include beaver and river otter. Marine mammals include sea otters, harbor seals and Steller sea lions. Cetaceans seen in park waters include orcas, fin whales, humpback wales, minke whales, Dall’s porpoises and Pacific white-sided dolphins.

Bird life at Kenai Fjords includes bald eagles, the Peale’s subspecies of peregrine falcon, black-billed magpies and Steller’s jays.

Choices: From

For recommendations on getting around the park, visit the Kenai Fjords National Park Information Center near the small boat harbor. The most popular and accessible area in the park is Exit Glacier, 13 miles northwest of Seward. You can drive to it or take a tour bus. Trails offer half-hour hikes to the glacier and a full-day roundtrip hike to the Harding Icefield.

Otherwise, hiking is a matter of exploring wilderness shores and ridges accessible only by boat and plane. From mid-May to late September, daily tour boats from Seward offer round-trip half-day and full-day excursions to the fjords and outlying islands. Charter boats take kayakers and campers to any fjord they wish (most often Aialik Bay) and pick them up the same day or days later. Kayaking, fishing, and backpacking guides are available. Ask the park for a list.

From Seward or Homer you can book a breathtaking one-hour flight over the Harding Icefield and Kenai coast. For extended adventures, skiplanes drop off and pick up skiers on the icefield, and floatplanes do the same for kayakers in the fjords, weather permitting.

Fees: $5 for a car’s 1-week pass.

Staying There: There are 10 sites and 4 cabins in Kenai Fjords only campground, which is a walk-in, tents-only campground. No fees are charged. There is no lodging in the Park.

Contact Info:

Kenai Fjords National Park
P.O. Box 1727
Seward, AK 99664
Visitor Center (Late May – Mid September) – 907-422-0535
Park Headquarters – 907-422-0500


National Park Service: Kenai Fjords National Park

Denali National Park   6 comments

Denali NP 00Where Is It: The Park is over 300 miles north of Anchorage. You can drive part of the way … take a 91-mile road from the George Parks Highway to the mining camp of Kantishna. The road is largely unpaved. Only the first 15 miles are available to private vehicles. After that, you must use a bus service … 6 hours to Wonder Lake, or 4 hours to the Eielson Visitor Center.

The Birth: From the Park’s website:

Denali, the “High One,” is the name Athabascan native people gave the massive peak that crowns the 600-mile-long Alaska Range. Denali is also the name of an immense national park and preserve created from the former Mount McKinley National Park. In 1917 Mount McKinley National Park was established as a game refuge. The park and the massif including North America’s highest peak were named for former senator – later President – William McKinley. In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) enlarged the boundary by 4 million acres and redesignated it as Denali National Park and Preserve. It exemplifies interior Alaska’s character as one of the world’s last great frontiers, its wilderness is largely unspoiled.

Controversy: From Wikipedia:

The name of Mount McKinley National Park was subject to local criticism from the beginning of the park. The word “Denali” means “the high one” in the native Athabaskan language and refers to the mountain itself. The mountain was named after newly elected US president William McKinley in 1897 by local prospector William A. Dickey. In 1980, Mount McKinley National Park was combined with Denali National Monument. At that time the Alaska Board of Geographic Names changed the name of the mountain back to “Denali,” even though the U.S. Board of Geographic Names maintains “McKinley”. Alaskans tend to use “Denali” and rely on context to distinguish between the park and the mountain.

It Happened Here: There was a massive mudslide in November 2013, that covered the park road near mile 38 with mud up to 35′ deep. From National Park Traveler:

Blocks of permafrost-frozen, unconsolidated debris as thick as 15’ and the size of a small cabin had slid on a slippery, unfrozen clay that acted as the failure plane. With winter snows held off by unseasonably warm weather, the Denali road crew managed to clear the road of debris after considerable effort.

Size: 6,075,029 acres, of which 4,724,735.16 acres are federally owned. The national preserve is 1,334,200 acres, of which 1,304,132 acres are federally owned. On December 2, 1980, a 2,146,580 acre Denali Wilderness was established within the park.

# Visitors: 388,433 in 2012. August was the most attended; February was the least attended.

Plants: This subarctic wilderness is home to more than 1,500 species of vascular plants, mosses and lichens.

Animals: From the Park’s website:

Animal life and activity in Denali is dictated by the seasons. Winter is the longest season and the animals that are year-round residents are well-adapted to life in the subarctic. The brief spring season brings the return of 80% of Denali’s bird life, the waking of hibernating bears, and an increase in activity levels of wildlife. Summer is a time for raising young and preparing for migration, hibernation, or survival during the winter. Summer also brings hordes of insects, including mosquitoes. In late summer king and chum salmon run in the multitude of streams and rivers. In autumn, migrating birds fill the skies and bull moose gather their harems of cows for the mating season.

Year-round residents include all the mammals, fish, about 18 species of birds, and the one lone amphibian, the wood frog.

Choices: From

  • Overnight backpacking is a popular activity for wilderness trekking enthusiasts. Backcountry stays in Denali National Park require a free backcountry permit available at the visitor center during the summer months and at park headquarters during the winter months. Most areas require the use of Bear Resistant Food Containers, distributed free of charge with your backcountry permit. Bear encounters are fairly common, so learn how to handle them ahead of time.
  • The most challenging peak to summit in the United States is Denali (formerly known as Mount McKinley). With a summit of 20,320 feet, temperatures known to fall below minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and 95-mile-per-hour winds, summiting Denali is for expert mountaineers only.
  • To access day hikes (and scout longer backpacking adventures) in Denali, follow the park road. Take a shuttle bus, get off at an interesting location, and hike from there. When you feel you’ve gone far enough, turn back and either wait for the next shuttle bus or walk along the road until the next bus comes.

Fees: The park entrance fee is $10.00 per person (youth age 15 years or younger are free). This fee provides the visitor a 7-day entrance permit.

Staying There: Inside the Park, there is lodging at Camp Denali, Kantishna Roadhouse and Northface Lodge.

Contact Info:

P.O. Box 9
Denali Park, AK 99755-0009

Current Issues: The wolf population in the Park is dropping, resulting in fewer wolf  viewing opportunities for Park visitors. Perhaps that is due to hunting of wolves in properties adjacent to the Park, but that has not been verified by NPS staff. Here are the stats, from National Park Traveler:

According to the park’s wolf viewing report, this past summer marked the third consecutive year that researchers “found that visitors traveling in buses on the Denali Park Road have had significantly declining opportunities to see wolves. In a random sample of 80 bus trips this summer, wolves were seen on three occasions, or about 4 percent of the trips. By contrast, in the three previous years the percentages were 12 percent (2012), 21 percent (2011) and 44 percent (2010).”



National Park Service: Denali National Park & Preserve

Terra Galleria: Denali

Denali Repeat Photos

Kobuk Valley National Park   1 comment

Where Is It: The Park is very remote. You can’t drive there; you must take a plane. Commercial airlines provide service from Anchorage to Kotzebue, or from Fairbanks to Bettles. Once in Kotzebue or Bettles, you must fly to the park with authorized air taxis.

The Birth: This park was one of 15 new properties established by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) of 1980. President Jimmy Carter first declared it a national monument in 1978 using the Antiquities Act.  Congress eventually passed the ANILCA bill in 1980, and Carter then re-designated the Monument as Kobuk Valley National Park on December 2, 1980.

It Happened Here: Over 30 prospectors’ camps were established during a short gold rush in 1899–1900. Surveys have not yet located the sites, though fragments of the miners’ boats have been found.

Size: 1,750,000 acres.

# Visitors: A record of 29,550 visitors came to the Park in 2012. September was the peak month.

Plants: From the Park’s website:

The southern boundary of the park is 35 miles above the Arctic Circle. The boreal forest reaches its northern limit here, resulting in an open woodland of small trees in a mat of thick tundra. The Kobuk River winds its way slowly through the park for 61 miles.

Animals: The largest caribou herd in Alaska – about 490,000 animals – travels through this area during its migration.

Choices: From

Summer is the best time to visit. Days are long (from about June 3 to July 9 the sun doesn’t set), and temperatures in many places can reach into the 80s or higher. Ice breaks up on the Kobuk River in May and begins to reform by mid-October. Mid-June to late July is best for wildflowers. August can bring rain and September snow. In late August, the aspens begin to turn yellow and the tundra red, and the caribou migration begins.

Fees: There is no entrance fee.

Staying There: There are no campsites or developed lodging areas in the Park. Primitive camps are made on the tundra or near the river, where a rapid rise in water flow can make those campsites hazardous.

Current Issues: From the National Parks Conservation Association:

Kobuk Valley National Park is home to the only active sand dunes within the Arctic Circle. The Great Kobuk, Little Kobuk, and Hunt River Sand Dunes have shrunk to 25 square miles. At one time, they covered twelve times as much area.


National Park Service: Kobuk Valley National Park

Posted December 3, 2013 by henrymowry in National Parks

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Wrangell-St Elias National Park   1 comment

Park entrance sign. Photo by J. Stephen Conn, 2009.

Park entrance sign. Photo by J. Stephen Conn, 2009.

Where Is It: The visitor center is located in Copper Center, AK, which is 200 miles east of Anchorage and 250 miles south of Fairbanks.

The Birth: The park was established in 1980 by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

It Happened Here: From Wikipedia:

In January 1979 Udall introduced a modified version of H.R. 39. Following markup and negotiations between the House and Senate versions, the bill as modified by the Senate was approved by the House on November 12.  On December 2, 1980 the ANILCA bill was signed into law by Jimmy Carter, converting Wrangell-St. Elias to a national park and preserve with an initial area of 8,147,000 acres (3,297,000 ha) in the park and 4,171,000 acres (1,688,000 ha) in the preserve. Boundaries between the park and preserve areas were drawn according to perceived values of scenery versus hunting potential In accordance with the legislation, the designated areas included 9,660,000 acres (3,910,000 ha) of wilderness, stipulated in a somewhat less restrictive manner than standard practice in the continental United States.

Opposition to the park persisted after Congressional designation from some Alaskans, who resented federal government presence in general and National Park Service presence in particular. Vandalism persisted, with a ranger cabin burned and an airplane damaged, while others skirted regulations and voiced resentment of what, in their view, was an elitist attitude embodied in the park and the Park Service. However, relations improved for a time, with local businesses promoting the park and working with the Park Service on tourism projects. Incidents continued, notably involving arson at a ranger station, and relations bottomed again in 1994 when the park superintendent Karen Wade testified before Congress for increased funding in a way that was perceived to confirm resident’s suspicions about the Park Service, exacerbated by commentary from local newspapers that was wrongly attributed to Wade. This marked the high point of resentment against the park, as local residents began to take part in Park Service sponsored events. Nevertheless, the 1979 designation of the region as a UNESCO World Heritage Site continued to be seen with suspicion. The John Birch Society claimed that the designation was park of a United Nations plan to assume control of the U.S. national park system.

The state of Alaska proposed major improvements to the McCarthy Road in 1997, planning to pave it and add scenic turnouts and trailheads along its length. Although the road remains gravel, it has been widened and smoothed. Some rental car agencies continue to prohibit use of their vehicles on the McCarthy Road.

Size: It’s by far our largest Park, at 13.2 million acres. It’s 6 times the size of Yellowstone National Park. This single park and national preserve is larger than Switzerland.

# Visitors: 89,138 visitors in 2012. Attendance goes over 20,000 per month June – August. In the winter months, less than 50 visit the park in a month. Note that the park has 13.2 million acres … so there is a great deal of empty space all of the time.

Plants: Fireweed, the most common flower in Alaska, is prevalent in the Park …along with 886 other vascular plant species, which represents 54% of the Alaskan flora.

Animals: 21 species of fresh water fish have been documented in the park, including sockeye salmon, northern pike, chinook and Arctic grayling. 93 species of birds have been documented, including 24 that remain through the winter. Common birds are the rock ptarmigan, hermit thrushes and hairy woodpeckers. Owls include great horned owls, northern hawk owls and boreal owls.

13,000 Dall sheep inhabit the Park, which is one of the largest concentrations in North America. Other large mammals include black bear, caribou and the gray wolf.

Choices:  Trip planning is key, per the Park website:

A successful hiking trip requires adequate planning. You should be prepared for everything and should not count on aid or rescue from others. Here, you will be on your own. Caution and good judgment are key ingredients for a pleasant expedition. For many hikers, hiring the services of a local guide will make the trip safer and more enjoyable. In general, the areas above tree line (~3,000′) afford the easiest hiking and best views. These areas are often accessed by chartering a flight to one of the many possible “bush” landing strips. Note that there are many more places to land than are shown on maps. Air taxis will often land on gravel bars or on the tundra. The routes depicted on the “Trail Illustrated” map are the most popular.

Fees: There are no entrance fees.

Staying There: Until 2012, there was no camping or lodging available in the park. That changed with the opening of the Kendesnii Campground. There are private options available on private land contained within the boundaries of the park.

Contact Info:

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve
Mile 106.8 Richardson Highway
PO Box 439
Copper Center, AK 99573
Park business line: 907-822-5234
Wrangell-St. Elias Visitor Center in Copper Center: 907-822-7250
Cabin reservation line: 907-822-7253


National Park Service: Wrangell – St Elias National Park & Preserve

National Park Service: The Goat Trail


Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve   4 comments

Glacier Bay NP 00Where Is It: The only road connects the Park to the small town of Gustavus … so you can’t drive to get to the Park. You must take a plane or boat; the Park is 10 miles west of Juneau, AK.

There’s a daily jet service, about 30 minutes, via Alaska Airlines in the summer. Small charters and air taxis are available year-round.

The Birth: President Jimmy Carter designated 15 different Alaska areas to be administered by the National Park Service in 1978, and included an expansion of the Glacier Bay National Monument. In 1980m, Carter designated the area the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Hunting is precluded in the National Park, but is allowed in the Preserve.

It Happened Here: The largest landslide/iceslide in modern times happened in 2012. Here’s how NBC News covered it:

“It’s certainly the largest that we’re aware of” inside the park, Glacier Bay ecologist Lewis Sharman told

Larger landslides have happened over geologic time, Marten Geertsema, a natural hazards researcher for the Forest Service in nearby British Columbia, told, but it definitely was “one of the longest runout landslides on a glacier in Alaska and Canada in recent times.”

Moreover, the force was enormous, Geertsema said. No one was present, but had anyone been there they probably “would be blown over by the air blast,” he told the Associated Press.

Officials ruled out an earthquake as the trigger that caused part of the nearly 12,000-foot Lituya Mountain to give way, smothering the ice-white Johns Hopkins Glacier with dark rock and debris over an area a half-mile wide and 5.5 miles long.

Size: 3,223,383 acres in the National Park, and 58,406 acres in the Preserve.

# Visitors: 454,337 in 2012. The attendance is nominal October – April; July is when the people follow the sun to visit the park.

Plants: Glacier Bay is blanketed by a mosaic of plant life, from a few pioneer species in recently exposed areas to intricately balanced climax communities in coastal and alpine regions. Since virtually all the vegetation in the bay has returned to the land in the past 300 years following the retreat of the glaciers, this area is one of the premier sites on the planet to study plant recolonization.

Animals: Marine waters make up nearly one fifth of the park and no point of land is more than 30 miles from the coast. This means that the lives of virtually all the animals at Glacier Bay are tied to its productive marine waters or the biologically rich near shore environment.

Choices: Most visitors see GBNP on cruise ships. The National Park Service operates cooperative services, placing rangers on ships and boats that  offer excursion trips to notable park sites.

Fees: There are no entrance fees.

Staying There: The park operates one 33-site campground that offers a bear-proof food cache, fire-pits and a warming shelter. It’s a walk-in campground, but there are wheelbarrows you can borrow to take your gear to the campsite.

The Glacier Bay Lodge is the only in-park hotel. There are 56 rooms, available Memorial day to Labor day. There are a number of B&B’s outside of the park.

Contact Info:

PO Box 140
Gustavus, AK 99826


Current Issues: From the National Parks Conservation Association:

Recognized as “ground zero” for global warming, Alaska and its national parks are feeling dramatic effects from our changing climate. Alaska’s parks provide a living laboratory where this natural phenomenon can be observed (mostly) absent of direct urban & development influences as temperatures rise.  Glaciers are rapidly retreating and the reduction of the polar ice pack is having an impact on wildlife and coastal communities from increased storm damage to the shoreline. The arctic tundra’s permafrost is melting, resulting in a loss of wetland ponds vital for waterfowl, and changes in vegetation will cause wildlife to move further north in search of food.

Don’t Miss This: From

No matter how you get to Glacier Bay, you’ll need warm clothing. Visitors often say it feels like they’re standing in front of the freezer with the door open when they’re facing one of the glaciers. A hat or scarf to cover your head and a pair of gloves will go a long way toward keeping you warm, and even if you don’t take a heavy coat, pile on all the layers you can muster. For even more warmth, go to your local sporting goods store and pick up some disposable pocket hand-warmers. Wear sunscreen. You’d be surprised how much of the sun’s burning rays get through, even on a rainy or cloudy day.


National Park Service: Glacier Bay National Park

The Natural World In Pictures: Glacier Bay

Journey To My 50th: Glacier Bay

BrotherJimmyHoneysWife: Cruising To Glacier Bay

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