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"Walk away quietly in any direction, as wilderness advocate John Muir once urged,  
and discover how this country rewards and changes those who adventure on foot.  
Ready for a challenge? Strike out into the backcountry, beyond Eielson's
few trails. Searching for tranquility? Spend a moment out of sight  
of the road and visitor center, where you can hear the sounds of wilderness."
~ from an interpretive panel titled, "Go Forth On Foot," at the Eielson Visitor Center
(Continued from the previous entry, which brought us to the Eielson Visitor Center.)

Denali National Park is one of the few public parks we've visited where folks are encouraged to get off established trails and explore on their own.

What a delightful concept for curious, adventuresome hikers and runners!

There are only three established trails at the Eielson (ILE-son) Visitor Center, located at Mile 66 on the park road.

One is the smooth, partly paved Tundra Loop that winds its way for about a mile on the gentle slope between the visitor center and the wide riverbed. Visitors can walk around the loops on their own or join a ranger-led hike.

The second is the Gorge Creek Trail, which heads gradually down toward the wide, braided riverbed below the visitor center:


I don't know how far it is down to the riverbed -- perhaps a mile? Distances are deceiving out here. I only had time today to go down about a quarter of a mile.

The Eielson Alpine Trail is quite different. It's a single-track trail that winds rather steeply up the mountain on the other side of the road for about one mile. It ends a thousand feet higher in the tundra, where hikers can strike out on their own for as far as they want to go.

You can see part of the ridge in the photo below. The man is reading one of the interpretive panels on the roof of the earth-sheltered visitor center:

Again, visitors can go up on their own to the ridge or a select eleven people each day can go up on a two-hour ranger-led hike at noon.

There are no advance reservations for this free ranger-led hike. You just have to purchase a ticket on a shuttle bus that will get you out there early enough to sign up for the hike at the visitor center before ten other people do!

Both times we were at Eielson today I stared at that ridge and decided that my next shuttle bus trip will be to Eielson, where I'll get off the bus long enough to hike up there by myself, wander around the rides, and catch another bus back to Tek. I'd rather go on my own than with a group.

Maybe I'll also take time to wander down to the riverbed while I'm there, since we're encouraged to strike out on our own . . .

Hiking the trails at Eielson is just one reason I say I could spend days at this area of the park.

Here are some more good reasons why a 30-minute bus stop is inadequate.


The fabulous views of Denali on a clear day like today are probably the main reason this is the most popular destination along the park road for visitors.

Even though the north and south peaks are about thirty miles away, the 20,320-foot mountain -- the highest in North America -- feels almost close enough to touch when you zoom in with your camera or a pair of binoculars:

Silly tourists!!




The south peak (left) is higher than the north peak, although from this angle it doesn't appear so.
How's that close-up for a little compact camera??

This interpretive panel shows some of the features of Denali AKA Mt. McKinley. I prefer the Native Alaskan name of Denali, which means "The High One" or "The Great One."

There are also good views from the visitor center of other peaks in the Alaska Range, including nearby 5,802-foot Mount Eielson:

I wonder what Denali's wide riverbeds look like in late spring when they're full of snowmelt . . .


A third reason to enjoy Eielson is the handsome visitor center itself. Not only was it designed and built in an environmentally-conscious manner, it also has some very interesting interior and exterior features for visitors to enjoy.

This interpretive panel describes how the building was designed with the concept of "less is more" -- a  less visible structure tucked into the hillside, providing more visible tundra and mountain scenery:

The earth-friendly building uses solar panels, hydropower, and natural light to reduce fuel costs, recycled and locally-produced materials, and energy-efficient heating, lighting, and ventilation systems.

The Eielson Visitor Center was awarded Platinum Certification, the highest LEED** Green Building rating, and is one of the best examples of such design and construction in the national park system.

View of the Eielson Visitor Center from the lower hillside

** LEED = Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design

When the weather is nice, like today, it's fun to wander around outside the building enjoying the scenery and reading all the interpretive panels on the roof (parking area level) and the patio (entrance level):

Passengers get on and off the buses at the upper (roof) level; there are great views of
Denali from here. The alpine trail begins to the left in the background.

Above and below:  the lower level has a large patio area facing the river and mountains in three directions.


Don't know who died (flag is at half staff)

Interpretive sign encouraging visitors to explore the area

If it's too cold, windy, or wet to spend much time outside at the visitor center, there are plenty of things to read and observe from inside, including perfect views of Denali from a large wall of windows.

This colorful hand-drawn and illustrated weather board greeted us inside:

Nearby are these notebook pages illustrating the view of Denali from the visitor center each morning at 9 AM this summer in July and August:


That's certainly graphic, isn't it? Look at all those foggy days. Are we lucky we hit this sunny morning on August 9, or what??

I showed the following pie charts in a previous entry but I'll show them again. They illustrate the percentage of days during the summer when Denali was visible, partly visible, and not visible in a six-year span from 1998 to 2003. The numbers are still comparable:

Here are some interior shots of the spacious, comfortable visitor center:



Above and below:  This large relief map of the vicinity shows how close the  
 Eielson Visitor Center (red dot below) is to Denali and two glaciers.

There are several exhibits, including hands-on specimen and samples that kids will enjoy (loose animal skulls and fur, track molds, scat in bottles, etc.).

I liked the photos in the next picture of people just enjoying the wilderness:

Art work inspired by the park's wilderness is rotated periodically at the visitor center.

The next three photos show some paintings, sculpture, and quilts that were crafted by folks in Denali's summer "Artist-in-Residence" program:

The quilt on the right (above) by Linda Beach is entitled "Threading Through the Gravel Bars - East Fork of the Toklat River."

An Artist-in-Residence in 2005, Beach was most surprised by the sheer vastness of the open spaces in Denali's wilderness. The little sign next to her quilt quotes her as saying, "Walking along the gravel bars of the East Fork of the Toklat in particular, I was overwhelmed by the sight of miles and miles of multi-colored stones and water as far as the eye could see. I hope to share my experience of Denali as a place with an unlimited sense of space and time."

I was particularly interested in this large four-panel quilt made by Ree Nancarrow. The whole thing is about ten feet wide! It is made of 100% cotton fabric that is hand-dyed, dye-painted, stamped, resisted, silk-screened, and stenciled. It was machine-pieced and quilted by the artist.

This complicated work of art is titled, "Seasons of Denali."

On the sign accompanying the quilt panels Nancarrow relates, "This view from Eielson depicts the changing seasons, from the last hint of winter through spring, summer, and fall, to the beginnings of winter. Sun, plants, animals, and migratory birds increase in a kind of crescendo, then decrease with a rapidly approaching winter. I have tried to convey my love and awe of this truly special place. If you look closely, you will be able to find some of the very unique plants, birds, and animals which are able to flourish in this harsh environment."  

As a quilter, I can appreciate the immense amount of thought and effort that went into the creation of this work of art.

At my age I'm not likely to ever have the time, eyesight, or skills to produce such a legacy in fabric as a reminder of my own feelings about Denali National Park.

I can, however, continue to add photos and detailed commentary to this website that convey my own love of this place and might just entice some other people to visit the park and enjoy its vast wilderness as much as Jim and I do. That's part of my legacy.

On our way out of the parking lot I took this shot of Denali, not realizing it would be my last picture today with the mountain fully "out:"

It was about noon as our bus proceeded west toward Wonder Lake and the clouds came in quickly over this part of the Alaska Range.

How fortunate we were this morning!

Next entry:  it was still an interesting drive to Wonder Lake . . . so keep reading to see what the next 19 miles of the park road look like.

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