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03 Aug

Upon returning from a two week vacation in Alaska, I’m still in awe of the beauty that one enjoys and the peace that one feels while there.  Spending seven days on a cruise ship moving steadily through still waters, we spotted many Orca whales as they surfaced the water and one fluke of a Humpback at the end of its breach.  Otters and seals floating on their backs or taking a well deserved rest atop a glacial ice float added a bit of humor to their cuteness.  Hearing the loud crack and thunderous roar of glaciers calving added to the excitement on the route north.  Add that to a four day train/bus trip to McKinley, Denali and Fairbanks interiors where soaring eagles, bears fishing along shores in the distance, moose navigating the evergreen, birch and aspen trees in the thickly wooded wilderness, Dall sheep dotting the wind-blown craggy edges and ridges of magnificent mountains and vast fields of pink fireweed in full bloom truly made the entire trip a nature lover’s dream.

One of the highlights of the trip was an excursion thirty-two miles into Denali National Park and Preserve on a bus tour.  The five hour trip was narrated by a National Park Service Certified Naturalist.  The park is vast and wild, encompassing eleven million acres.  It is a “living masterpiece in the continuous weaving of its wilderness of relationships between water, soil, rock, air, fungi, plants and animal connections and interactions” according to Alaska Geographic.  For example, the guide informed us that snowshoe hare populations periodically soar, reaching densities of 600 animals per square mile and then crash.  Their main predator, the lynx, responds to good hare years by giving birth to more kittens.  Thus paired, the species rise and fall together in 8 – 11 year cycles.  Mother Nature at it’s best I might add!

A variety of plants and wildflowers thrive, making the most of the long summer daylight that reaches over 20 hours out of every 24 in June.  I find that remarkable, given they do their best to grow having only three months of the year not covered by snow!  The beautifully landscaped  lodges incorporate dahlias, begonias, petunias, liatris, bears breeches, and colorful cone flowers that all grow nearly twice the size of those we grow in the Midwest.  Butterflies lighting on wildflowers in Denali?  You bet!  I learned that on the tundra, butterflies rest with their wings open to soak up the sun’s warmth.  And that blue and purple are popular colors for both northern butterflies and wildflowers, because darker colors absorb heat.  Once again, Mother Nature Knows Best!

Additional amazing facts I learned while there:  lichens provide more than half of the caribou’s winter diet; caribou calves can walk one hour after birth and sprint along with the herd just a day or two later; young moose will gain three to five pounds a day and only one moose calf in ten will survive its first year; primarily vegetarian grizzlies can eat 200,000 soapberries in a single day; adult wolves travel fifty miles a day while on the prowl for food; the chickadee, weighing barely half an ounce, is a year-round resident, will gorge on cashed seeds to maintain its weight yet can gain up to 10% of its body mass in a single day of bingeing; Willow ptarmigan, the state bird, can keep its body temperature at 104 degrees even in temperatures that drop to nearly thirty below zero; in the spring trumpeter swans are among the birds that migrate to Denali from thousands of miles outside Alaska; and arctic ground squirrels spend their lives in a state of perpetual anxiety due to predators, resting only in the winter.  “A true hibernator, its entire metabolism slows to nearly a stop; in one minute its heart may beat fewer than ten times and it may breathe just three times”

We thoroughly enjoyed our entire trip to the 49th state, also known as the Last Frontier.  We all owe our thanks to park pioneer Charles Sheldon, one of several early conservationists who fought to preserve Denali and its vast wilderness.  Through his efforts, Congress passed a bill in 1917 to establish Mount McKinley National Park.  It expanded three-fold, was renamed Denali National Park and Preserve in 1980, and is now larger than the state of New Hampshire.  Charles Sheldon heard Alaska calling him in 1906 and yet we are still able to enjoy Mother Nature’s Answers one hundred eleven years later!




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Gramma Golden

Gramma Golden