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The Glory of “The High One”: Denali National Park

Sunrise on Denali / NPS Photo by Tim Rains

Many travelers venturing to Alaska include on their itineraries Denali National Park, and rightly so. It provides breathtaking vistas in a rugged land to etch in your mind a memorable trip. Within Alaska alone, there are 24 parks and sites managed by the National Park Service, however Denali usually comes to mind when people think of Alaska. Denali is  Alaska’s most well-known national park and is actually more readily accessible than some of the other remote parks.  Denali averages over  400,000 visitors annually. The flag ship feature of the park is the 20,320 feet high mountain peak known for thousands of years by the Athabascans as Denali, or “The High One”.

So What’s in a Name?  The park we know today as Denali National Park was founded in 1917 by Woodrow Wilson as Mount McKinley National Park. The name of the Park has been a controversy since it’s inception.  There are certain ironies that one can’t help but ponder on. First, the name McKinley was taken from our 25th President William McKinley. McKinley himself had never traveled to Alaska.  Perhaps he would have gone to see the majestic mountain and park, but sadly he was assassinated in September of 1901. Charles Sheldon, a naturalist and conservationist, advocated from the start the name of Denali for both the park and the mountain. The locals called it Denali, and the debate continued for decades. Finally in 1980, many continued to favor the name Denali after the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act changed the park’s name to Denali National Park and Preserve. But the official name of the mountain remained Mount McKinley.  Then just prior to the National Park Service centennial year in 2016, the mountain was reverted to the name Denali. While visiting Alaska in September of 2015, President Barack Obama announced the official name change of the mountain.

Bull Moose~NPS photo

Keeping the “wild” in Alaskan wilderness.  The vastness and diverse ecosystems of the park are beautifully preserved and presented to visitors by virtue of how the park is operated and maintained.  Unlike other National Parks, access into the park is restricted and controlled by only one road, 90 miles long into the park.  Personal vehicles are not allowed beyond the 15 mile mark on the park road; only the shuttle buses taking visitors back and forth from several destinations. This may seem odd at first, but when you take a bus trip into the park it helps you to understand  how this system helps to minimize car travel and reduce the carbon footprint on this wilderness. Riders are free to get on and off the bus as they please.  Another distinct advantage is that you are much more likely to view an abundance of wildlife.  The animals have become accustomed to the big tan buses along the road and are more likely to view them as just a part of the landscape. When we went, we observed, from the safety of the bus, a mama Grizzly helping her two cubs to hunt a ground squirrel. That was an experience I will never forget.

Horseshoe Lake~Denali National Park

In addition to the park road, the trails allow foot traffic within the park for both the casual hiker and the seasoned veteran. Some of the more seasoned hikers are encouraged to “make their own trail”, but for the casual hikers there are several trails starting closer to the Visitors Center.  An easy hike, 1.5 miles, to the beautiful plateau above Horseshoe Lake provides ample opportunities for stunning photographs.  You can see why they call it Horseshoe Lake as evidenced by this photo. Wildlife thrives in the vastness of the park and the “big five” have been designated as: grizzly bears, wolves, moose, caribou and Dall sheep.  It may be a personal goal to view all five, but don’t be too disappointed if you don’t view them all. You can always pick up a coffee mug or t-shirt with all of them on it; sounds a bit touristy but a great way to remember your visit.  My family and I saw a grizzly and her cubs from quite a distance and also a mother moose and her cubs, but sometimes it’s very cool to also capture them on a souvenir. Not quite the same as seeing them in real life, but it’s so neat to bring back the memories of your trip and be able to say you’ve been to Denali. Wolves and grizzlies are not as easily seen, but the abundance of Moose in the park makes it almost a sure bet you will see them at some point. Depending on the year, the moose population within the park fluctuates of course, but the National Park Service estimates about 1,800 Moose at Denali.  That’s alot of Moose!  Just FYI, the plural of Moose is Moose…good to know.

Visiting with one of the Sled Dogs of Denali

“Mush, Doggies! Mush!” You can’t get up close and personal with a grizzly, but at Denali you can get close and cuddly with the sled dogs.  In the winter months, the best way to get around from here to there within the park is still by sled dog team.  One of the must see attractions at Denali is the sled dog demos and a visit to the kennels.   Even if you are visiting in the summer, they have to keep the dog’s training going year round, so they add small wheels to the sleds to run them on all terrains.  During the summer tourist season, they have 3 daily dog sled demonstrations.  The Park Service runs several shuttles to the kennels.  When I was there I was amazed to find out the importance of the use of dog sleds withing the park and also within the state of Alaska.  The most famous, well -known sled dog race, the Idiatrod, has a colorful and intriguing history.  Portions of the Iditarod trail were used as early as the 1880’s, However the most famous event in the history of Alaskan mushing is the 1925 serum run to Nome; also known as the “Great Race of Mercy.” A large diptheria epidemic threatened Nome. The only way to get the antitoxin to Nome was by sled dog, due to unusable planes and ships in the worst of winter.  So on January 27, the port at Seward had received the serum where it was passed to the first of twenty mushers and more than 100 dogs who relayed the package 674 miles from Nenana to Nome. The dogs ran in relays, with no dog running over 100 miles. Wow, I hear that story and am amazed of the courage and tenacity of those mushers and their dogs. No wonder it has become an inspiring tale; both for those that participate in the Iditarod and those that watch on the sidelines.  All an amazing part of the Alaska experience. Put your traveling shoes on. JES

For more information on Denali National Park, check out: Discovering Denali, A Complete Reference Guide to Denali National Park by Dow Scoggins  and also the National Park Service has great details about the Park including information on park habitats and wildlife.  Check out their web-site at:http://NPS.gov

The Lighthouse Enigma; a sustaining fascination with those Beacons of Light.

Split Rock Lighthouse~Lake Superior

The Lighthouse: for generations of mariners, it helped to guide their safe journey and was a key element in navigation for over 300 years. Yet, with modern radar, Loran (“Long Range Navigation”) and GPS the lighthouses of the past have become transformed from work horses to historical landmarks. Even though lighthouses have become obsolete as a navigation tool, their history and architectural significance  continues to interest many visitors each year.  So why this interest in Lighthouses? To so many people, myself included, there is a sustained fascination with both the buildings themselves and the stories behind the “keepers of the light.” Lighthouses are not just little buildings by the water, they also have provided avenues of both historical and architectural study.

Additionally, they have become somewhat of a symbol as a “cultural reference” to provide guidance and inspiration to weary souls, referenced to as such in both literary works and popular culture.  In terms of symbolism, there is a dichotomy that exists between the isolation of the lighthouse keeper and their job requiring them to have a connection; a contact with the outside world.  That is why I, and perhaps others, feel such a connection to  lighthouses.  I sometimes feel a sense of isolation, but at the same time believing (hoping) that I am part of the community and part of something bigger. It’s good to think we are all a part of something larger in the scheme of things.

With respect to literary references, the one that jumps to my mind is  To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. The story takes place in 1927, but many of the struggles that the characters deal with are timeless. In the story, the lighthouse is a symbol of spiritual strength and guidance amidst all the stormy seas of life.  Yet, conversely there is a certain sadness inherent in this representation because life goals of each character, represented by the illumination of the lighthouse, are frequently unattainable.  The light may continue to illuminate, but there is a chance we may never reach safe harbor.

So beyond the cultural references, the physical evidence remains: there are over 1,000 lighthouses in the United States alone.  Many of these are in disrepair and hardly recognizable as a lighthouse.  Nevertheless, there are so many that have been restored and have become added to the list on travel destinations for many US travelers. The greatest concentration of lighthouses are found in the Midwestern states, by virtue of the  Great Lakes. The state of Michigan has more lighthouses than any other state with over 120.  With all these architectural wonders steeped in history, it is not surprising that organizations have been chartered to maintain and preserve them. One of the main organizations, with several “satellite” branches is the United States Lighthouse Society. Yes, there is such an organization with their main goal to: “endeavor to become the primary source for lighthouse and lighthouse heritage information.” Their web-site is an amazing source of both historical information and stunning photographs.  Check out their site at: uslhs.org

I last wrote about Lighthouses in my blog from March of 2016.  My curiosity about lighthouses has not waned and I have had the good fortune to visit a few more and learn even more on the topic. I am a firm believer that whatever your age, you can always learn something new.  It’s interesting that when you dabble in a subject, you just keep uncovering more about it.  Perhaps you are more attune to learning about things that were right there in front of you all along. My interest in lighthouses is a perfect example.  When I first began to dig deeper into the subject of  lighthouses, I discovered more information about the United States Lighthouse Society. 

Point No Point Lighthouse Hansville, Washington

A trip to the west coast to visit my sister-in-law included several beach walks by one of my favorite little lighthouses: Point No Point. Not very tall, but it has served it’s purpose located along the major shipping lanes along the Kitsap Peninsula. It was built in 1879 and was the very first lighthouse built on Puget Sound. Yet, the interesting thing is that the United States Lighthouse Society is housed in The Keeper’s Quarters of this lighthouse.   Small world.  I have walked by this same lighthouse countless times and did not know that it houses the organization that connects people to their love of lighthouses.  Their spectrum is not just the west coast, but from across the country and including information on Alaska and Hawaii lighthouses.

So many trips in this country might possibly include a trip to a lighthouse in the area you are visiting. Pencil one in on your itinerary; you won’t regret the nautical history lesson and the beauty of the beacon itself. Put your traveling shoes on. JES

Marblehead Lighthouse on Lake Erie, Marblehead, Ohio

How about a “Staycation”?

There really is something to be said about the joy of finding rest and relaxation in your own little neck of the woods and partaking in a  vacation in your own area…a “Staycation”, as it has been called in recent years.  Frequently budget demands require this, but there is much to be discovered when you change your view from that of a local to that of a tourist. Opening your eyes to new possibilities can be very rejuvenating even for close, local delights.

What a Welcoming Welcome sign!

A recent move to Wisconsin, has brought this to my mind and made me realize there is so much to discover just within a days drive of our new home. I recently drove back to Iowa to visit my Mother. When crossing the border back to Wisconsin,  seeing this welcoming sign brought to me not only a welcoming home, but also memories of dozens of trips to Wisconsin when we were Illinois residents. Seeing this sign makes me want to shout “VACATION TIME! ” But now that Wisconsin is my home, I feel like I am perpetually on vacation. **Sigh** Life is Good.  My apologies to the working people out there that only get 2 weeks vacation a year, but I feel blessed to have 52 weeks. Even though I am still working as a writer, it does not feel like work. I enjoy it so very much. ( I Digress) So back to the Staycation concept.

If you are visiting locally, you probably already know the interesting places in your area and your favorite restaurants, but for extra pointers I would recommend a visit to the local Chamber of Commerce or Visitors Center.  You can visit either online or the building itself.  I personally think it is great to go and “collect” brochures and also talk to the staff there about highlights of the area. Depending on the area, many Visitor Centers are organized by what type of activities you are pursuing: hiking, biking, shopping, trying a new restaurant, local museums, etc….. There probably is a whole lot more to do than most folks realize. For example, in my own little neck of the woods, I really did not expect to find a terrific vineyard. Wisconsin is a Dairy state after all, but vineyards are found in many areas. Even in these northern climates, some of the most terrific “cold crop” grapes produce fantastic wine! If you happen to be traveling in Wisconsin, check out the Wisconsin Winery Association at: www.wiswine.org to find a local vineyard.

Besides the obvious advantage of saving money on a Staycation, there are additional numerous advantages about the simplicity of a Staycation. If you don’t have to deal with airline travel you don’t have the hassles of cancelled flights, overbooked flights, crowded seating and adjustment to time changes. Granted, flights are great for quick travel that would take so much longer by car, but it is nice sometimes to do without the hassles of flying. When you travel locally, another perk is having the luxury of sleeping in the comfort of your very own bed. You don’t have to worry and wonder what the hotel will be like.

I love to travel, both near and far, yet there is alot to be said about the joy and simplicity of a Staycation.; defiantly worth a try.  Share with me here your Staycation adventures. And then…..Put your traveling shoes on. JES

Waterfall Wonders

ny-trip2014-037I am not sure when my fascination with waterfalls began, but it certainly has grown over the years as I have seen so many through my travels. The granddaddy of them all, Niagara Falls State Park in New York was established in 1885 and is a popular destination averaging over 28 million tourists annually. Niagara Falls are made up of three sets of waterfalls that are on the border between Canada and the United States. The Falls can be viewed by both the American and Canadian sides and each side offers a different perspective.

Any landscape is beautifully enhanced with the addition of a waterfall.  Just think, almost any park you visit one of the “key” features, and a photographers delight, is the viewing of a waterfall.  Whether they are big or small, the inherent beauty of them is always a pleasure to view, and the serenity that the flowing water provides is an added bonus.  Just think of all those little desk-top fountain to help you get your Zen on. I am more relaxed already.

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Brandywine Falls, Cuyahoga Valley N.P.

Frequently, waterfalls are tucked away in the woods and require a hike to get to. Yet, that just enhances the excitement, because  as you walk….you can hear the water “woooshing”.  We must be getting closer….. When you get there it suddenly appears and WOW! Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio) has a beautiful waterfall with excellent viewing platforms over the falls. Brandy wine Falls cascades over sandstone cliffs creating a dramatic  main waterfall, then several smaller ones. The photo opportunities are endless in this beautiful area of the park.

Many factors of course, determine the size, pathway and occurrence of waterfalls.  The source of the water, precipitation levels, topography and geological features all define the distribution of waterfalls. If you want to view waterfalls in your own area, it is encouraging to know that there are significant waterfalls in all 50 states except Delaware and North Dakota.  An interesting site to explore that shows the location, and names of American waterfalls is:http://geology.com/waterfalls The site has an overview of the United States, with major waterfalls tagged in each region.  You can select a specific state and find out the number of falls in that state. Then you can take it one step further and find out the name and locations of each waterfall.  Really fun site to poke around on and to plan you next “Falls watching” venture.

Another important consideration when hoping to view waterfalls at their peak, is the time of year.  For some locations, the season does not matter, but for others timing is everything and the melting snows and spring rains really delivers a showcase of stunning waterfalls.  For example, a few years ago I visited Starved Rock State Park in Illinois during the early part of October.  The foliage was wonderful at that time of year but alas, it had been a dry Fall and the waterfalls in the Park (they say there are 14 in the various canyons) were barely a dribble.  It was still a great trip and the hikes around the canyons were terrific, but I was disappointed in the emptiness of the canyons….they seemed too still without the sound of cascading waters.  I hope to go back sometime in the spring, when the Falls in the park would be more robust.  It really is a beautiful park.

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Bridal Veil Falls, Alaska

Sometimes a walk in the woods is not required for viewing beautiful cascading waterfalls.  Depending on where you are, waterfalls are frequently spotted roadside, making the drive quite scenic. On the road to Valdez, Alaska there are several falls that can be seen along the drive and several turnouts are there to help you safely photograph them.  This particular collection of waterfalls in Alaska is not very large, but they are so incredibly scenic with the surrounding vegetation, rock formations and the beauty of Alaskan wildflowers. Depending on what time of year you are there, in the summer months the roadsides are filled with the Fireweed flower blossoms.  Fireweed is easily spotted by its bright pink or light purple flowers.  Here is a photo I took of Bridal Veil Falls along the Richardson Highway east of Valdez.  One little lone Fireweed in the foreground.

 

 

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Weeping Wall @ Glacier National Park, Photo by I-Ting Chiang on flickr

In Glacier National Park, Montana there are several alpine waterfalls within the park that can be seen in several different “formats”.  Many are small little waterfalls in the streams surrounded by mountain pines. Others are larger and more dramatic coming off the face of a mountain. Yet, one of the most unusual waterfalls is seen on the main road that traverses thru the park: the “Going to the Sun Road.” On this  twisting and winding road you come upon the “Weeping Wall”.  Several cascading falls on the side of the wall as you pass by.  I can understand why they close this road in the winter, where it turns to torrents of ice. Even in the beauty of a summer day, the mountain road is a very winding and treacherous. That is why I was glad that my husband and I left the driving to the experts on a “Red Bus Tour” as seen in this photo.  It was a great tour that allowed us to relax, take pictures and enjoy the ride. However, I have to confess…there were a few curves and drop offs on the road where I just had to shut my eyes and hold my breath. We made it back alive to tell the tale.

 

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Shoshone Falls-Idaho

Another joy in photographing waterfalls is the inherent possibility of capturing a beautiful rainbow highlighted within the picture.  Sometimes it is deliberate, sometimes like magic they appear in the frame. Well…lots of water, sun and….Voila…rainbows frequently appear.  Shoshone Falls, a stunning waterfall in Idaho, is frequently photographed and rainbows are  captured in those photos.  At 212 feet high, Shoshone Falls are actually higher than Niagara. Here is a photo with the beauty of the Shoshone Falls and a stunning rainbow framing them.

Anytime I am exploring a new area, I am on the look-out for the photo-ops of a stunning waterfall. So tell me, what is one of your favorite waterfalls? Can’t wait to visit another.

Put your traveling shoes on. JES