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Driving with my Dog to Alaska: Denali Park

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By Donald F. Smith, Cornell UniversityPosted November 26, 2012

Five years ago my dog, Beau, and I drove from our home in upstate New York to Alaska and back. The first 15  installments can be found by clicking the "Traveling with Beau" link on the upper right-hand corner of the Home Page.  My wife, Doris, flew into Anchorage and joined us for 10 days. 

Denali National Park and Preserve encompasses six million acres of lowland forest that gives way to tundra and mountains in the upper levels. America's highest mountain, McKinley, towers over 20,000 feet. Pets are not allowed in this wilderness park, so we boarded Beau in a veterinary kennel operated by a Cornell graduate whom I had known when he was a student. It was the first time in over two weeks that we had not been continuously together.
Many tourists spend several days in the park and never are able to see the upper reaches of the mountain because of dense cloud cover. We were extremely fortunate, seeing the peak on three separate daylong trips into the interior.
Mount McKinley, North American's highest peak (20,320 ft) 
on a rare cloudless day.

McKinley on a partially-cloudy day.
Like most tourists, we left our car in the visitor parking lot, and traveled into the interior by park services buses. Climbing up through the wooded forest where moose are common (but rare for us during our visit), we wound around the lower mountains into the grass-, shrub- and flower-laden tundra. 

Park service buses transported visitors into the interior of Denali.Glacial-fed rivers, more commonly referred to as "braided rivers" because of their complex oxbox configuration punctuated by small ponds, meandered through the valleys and would eventually coalesce into the great Yukon River.
Hills covered with willow shrubs and blue and soap berries 
were separated by large valleys with meandering "braided" rivers.
Grizzlies were engorging on berries and preparing to hibernate during the late fall when we were in the park. We saw several several bears from a distance on each of our three trips into the park, and twice saw them in close range. 

One was a solitary male whose turquoise ear tag suggested that he had previously been tranquilized by darting, and examined by park rangers. 

A large solitary male grizzly walking among the berry shrubs.

A two-year-old cub with bright-red loose feces
from a heavy berry diet

We also saw a sow with two cubs as they feasted on berries seemingly disinterested in our presence. 

One of the younger bear, probably a two-year-old because he was quite large yet still with his mother and sibling, showed the effects of a heavy berry diet. 

Vehicular traffic into the park's interior is replaced in the winter by dog sleds and airplanes fitted with skis.  Sleds with wheels were used to exercise the dogs during the summer months.

Dogs are excised during the summer months
using sleds with wheels attached.
We happened to be in Denali during a near-total eclipse of the moon as well as a lovely 2:00 am dancing display of the northern lights.

But nothing compared to to the trio of bear bums (sow with her two older cubs) walking away from us down the mountain road after their day's fill of berries.

Dr. Smith invites comments at dfs6@cornell.edu
View original article: http://veterinarylegacy.blogspot.com/2012/11/driving-with-my-dog-to-alaska-denali.html
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