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"Denali is alive, pulsing with life and the timeless ebb and flow of the seasons. Here in 
Alaska's interior lies a vast and wild landscape of six million acres . . . Carved by ice and water  
over millions of years, this dynamic wilderness remains in flux, continually shaped by natural
forces . . . View one of America's wildest landscapes, a national park where we can learn 
from our nature undisturbed, where the heartbeat of the wilderness lives on . . ."
~ from the short film Heartbeats of Denali by Alaska Geographic
After our morning flight-seeing tour over Denali National Park and Denali-the-mountain this morning, we still had a full afternoon and evening of activities in and near the park. Tomorrow we'll be heading farther into the park to the Teklanika River Campground so we wanted to pack as many things into today as we reasonably could.

After the flight another van driver took us south a few miles to the RV place where we parked our truck. We continued south another few miles to Nenana Canyon.

I took some photos while in transit and from the shopping area of the ridge I hiked yesterday toward Mt. Healy:

The jagged ridge in the background is what I hiked yesterday. The Nenana River is in the foreground.

This is another angle on the ridge.  I hiked from the left to the first arrow.
The summit of Mt. Healy is the R. arrow.

We got lunch at a the Black Bear Coffee House and quickly browsed in some of the other stores.

Black Bear appears to be a popular place to get numerous flavors of coffee and other beverages, soups, sandwiches, boxed lunches (good for tours), breakfast items, and baked goods. We liked our lunch selections. We might go back another time for their "$5 after 5 PM" specials like quesadillas and black bean "bearitos."

Jim enters the coffee shop.

I’m looking for a jacket, sweatshirt, or long-sleeved shirt with a handsome, discreet Denali park logo. I’ve found some I like in several shops inside and outside of the park but haven’t chosen one yet. Since I didn't get one today I’ll have to wait until we get back from the Tek campground. While we're there we can't drive anywhere.

Here are photos from a few other businesses in Nenana Canyon AKA "Glitter Gulch:"

A classy fabric shop with beautiful quilt fabrics and other items

Above and below:  the are several businesses that provide active outdoor
adventure services, such as glacier landings, rafting, kayaking, and mountain biking.

After lunch Jim did a load of laundry at the Riley Creek Mercantile building while I took Cody for a walk. Even at ten Cody has lots of energy and wants to go for a hike but I can take him only on campground and park roads, not trails.

Then we drove to the main Denali visitor center to watch the excellent 18-minute film, “Heartbeats of Denali,” which is shown every half hour (for free). We were surprised by the large size of the crowd  at the 3 PM showing.

We loved the film and would like to buy the DVD at the Alaska Geographic bookstore so we can watch it after we leave Alaska.

We highly recommend any potential visitor to Denali National Park either watch this film at the visitor center, preferably before taking a bus tour in the park, or get the DVD before going to Alaska. 

On the way out of the visitor center Jim asked for a bus schedule so we’ll know when buses are coming back from the back country while we’re at Tek and can use our bus tickets. Today ended the “full season” at the park. Tomorrow begins the “extended” or “shoulder” season, so there’s a new, more limited bus schedule beginning tomorrow.


Then we headed for the free sled dog demonstration line at the bus stop outside the visitor center.

We barely had time to get in line for the 4 PM demonstration. No one is supposed to drive two or three miles on the park road to the kennel area behind park HQ where the sled dogs live. You gotta take a bus, and these tours/demos are very popular with park visitors all season long.

The sign says Sitken the sled dog is two years old today.

This is a great place for dog lovers of all ages to visit!

Directions say to board buses at the visitor center 40 minutes before each of the three demos each day (10 AM, 2 PM, and 4 PM). They mean it. We were far enough back in line at 3:20 to board the third of four buses. Handicapped visitors boarded first.

Everyone got out to the area in time to wander among the dog houses and kennels, pet the dogs, watch the pups (I saw only three), and find a spot to sit or stand in the demonstration area.

All the adult dogs have houses or kennels of their own and get plenty of exercise.
We've seen park staff running with them on the park road in the evenings.



Two of the pups in this kennel were playing when we first arrived. A second one was asleep nearby.

Above and below:  After the demonstration, these two pups were
entwined on the roof of their house, sort of sleeping.


When the ranger talk began there were twice as many people in and near the stands as this.

During the ranger presentation we learned about the long history of sled dogs at the park, the variety of work the dogs do in the wilderness in the winter, their training, etc.

During the summer months the dogs spend their time working as ambassadors, helping rangers share stories with visitors of mushing in the wilderness.

Once the snow falls, the park kennels assist with a wide variety of park projects in the wilderness area. These projects take advantage of the non-motorized travel and freight-hauling capabilities provided by sled dogs, maintaining the spirit and letter of wilderness regulations.

The interpretive panel on the left in the photo above describes several important projects the dogs have assisted with in recent years, such as hauling all the supplies for a suspension bridge over Riley Creek. The panel on the right above explains how pups are trained during their first year and what qualities make good lead dogs for the teams -- not so different, actually, from what makes a good human team leader.

During the ranger talk staff members hooked up five eager dogs to a sled on wheels and a musher drove them around a small track so we could see how excited they are to work. That was fun to watch.

Above and below:  The dogs were so excited to get hooked up to the sled
that each had a handler to control them.


Show time!

Only five dogs were used for this demonstration. A larger dog team
is used when carrying supplies to the backcountry on snow.

The ranger continued talking as the five dogs laid behind him for another ten minutes:

The two middle dogs


Three of the dogs were either bored or neurotic as they dug into the gravel with their paws and/or buried the treats they were given with their nose in the gravel. That was fun to watch, too.

The two lead dogs appeared to be the most bored just lying there.

We had some more time after the talk to walk through the kennel again and see a sled exhibit before boarding one of the buses to go back to the visitor center.

Note the crossed paws.

Historical sled dog exhibits near the kennels

We passed a ceramic dog named "Buck" on the way to the buses; visitors are
subtly encouraged to put some money in his open mouth to help support the kennels.


On the way back to the campground we stopped at the Wilderness Outdoor Center to get another bus schedule (which is a little different than the one we got at the visitor center) and to ask questions. We still aren’t clear about the "camper" buses Jim can use with his bike. The answers we get from park staff don’t always match.

Jim and I tried to relax after supper but we've been pretty hyped up since we've been at the park.

We talked about when to go out to Tek tomorrow. Check-in is supposed to be 11 AM at the campgrounds but we learned the hard way that people come in earlier and get the good spots that have been vacated early. We’ll probably try to get out there by 9 or 10. There is no campground host out there to tell us where to go if we can’t find a spot large enough for our camper.

Sign on the porch of one of the shops in Nenana Canyon; a second one
 at a nearby store says, "Another husband's waiting bench."

I read e-mail and news, worked on pictures, and updated trip notes. Jim read more of the book, “Bedford Boys.” We started getting some things ready to go this evening, including hooking up the truck.

We're excited about the next phase of our visit in Denali National Park!

Next entry:  moving to the Teklanika River Campground, including photos of park scenery between miles 15 and 29 of the park road

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil