Story and photographs by Jerry Ginsberg
Once you get past the Anchorage city limits, the rest of Alaska is nearly as wild and untamed as the old West was in the late nineteenth century. Denali National Park and Preserve, for example, encompasses more than six million acres of mountains, glaciers, valleys, rivers, wilderness and hills.The premier national park in all of Alaska is renowned for its unparalleled scenic splendor and array of wildlife. Within Denali’s borders is a good chunk of the magnificent Alaska Range. As the North American tectonic plate continues to slowly ride up and over the Pacific plate, the Alaska Range is thrust ever upward in growing scenic majesty. Tallest among these rugged peaks is Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley). At 20,340 feet, towering Denali is far and away the highest mountain in all of North America.
With a little luck, a visitor can spot grizzly bears—boars, sows and cubs of varying sizes. As omnivores, Alaska’s inland brown bears (weighing as little as 200 pounds) are noticeably smaller than their coastal cousins (which weigh up to 1,500 pounds). Coastal bears eat a high-protein diet of fresh salmon that allows them to reach a much larger size.
Denali also features sizable populations of caribou, Dall’s sheep, moose and the elusive gray wolf. I’ve also seen coyotes, red foxes, beaver, porcupines and even one very surprised lynx in the park.
A single 91-mile road runs east to west through the park on Route 3 to the former mining camp of Kantishna. The road is paved for only the first 15 miles up to the bridge over the Savage River. Passenger vehicles are not allowed beyond that point without special permission. The remaining 70-plus miles are navigated by buses to Wonder Lake as well as the tiny village of Kantishna and operate specifically to maximize wildlife viewing opportunities. The roundtrip from the park’s entrance to Kantishna and back takes a full day. This slow pace allows for numerous wildlife viewing stops and a leisurely visit to the scenic Eielson area.
Of the many superb scenic spots in Denali are popular Polychrome Overlook (right along the road) and famed Ansel Adams Point, an easy half-mile walk from the hard-packed track.
Denali National Park is one of only three of Alaska’s eight national parks accessible via the sparse road system. One can also reach Denali by train. Alaska’s comfortable and scenic Alaska Railroad runs from bustling Anchorage straight north to Denali.
Jerry Ginsberg is a widely published freelance photographer and co-founder of Master Image Workshops. He has photographed all 59 U.S. national parks as well as most of South America with medium-format cameras. More of Jerry’s work can be seen at www.MasterImageWorkshops.com which also lists tours to national parks led by Jerry or or photographer Kerrick James.