Saturday, September 13, 2008

More About Denali National Park and Reserve

Here's what I learned about the Alaskan interior while we were there: It's an arctic tundra environment with a very short growing season that takes advantage of the long periods of sunlight, so what grows there does so quickly and efficiently. There are trees at lower elevations, mostly spruce and light deciduous trees; above the tree line, the predominate plant is willow; there are 30 varieties in Alaska.

Here's what I saw: autumn. In fact, we were assured that autumn had just happened in the space of a couple days; had we been there a couple days earlier, everything that's reddish in these photos would still have been green. There should be some fireweed in these photos; if you see anything pink, that's fireweed (so called because it's the first thing that grows after a wildfire).

At which point, I show you a photo with no particularly interesting color at all. And it's not like I can say what you're looking at, other than it's Denali.

Lower down, trees.



Higher up, no trees.

Yippee! Autumn color, Alaska-style.

More color, and more WILD EXCITING BLOBS!

Hub 1.0, of course. I have a movie that we took on Starman's camera, but I don't know how to load it onto the . . . oh, wait . . . there's a little icon suggesting film! Okay, let's see how this works out. I'm allowed to keep writing while it loads.

The point here is that it's very beautiful, and very simple. I was struck by the people we met on this portion of the trip. The driver who acted as our naturalist guide, Rebecca, had been a bus driver in the Lower 48 before moving to Alaska to do some teaching. She needed a job in the summer, and her school bus driving experience (plus her ability to herd tourists like they were so many second graders) landed her the current gig. As the tourist season overlaps the school year, she abandoned teaching full time, suggesting this is the more lucrative gig.

We also met a young man who went to college in Georgia, I think, and who made a deal with his roommates that they would homestead in Alaska and climb the mountain. He's the one who stayed. He has 15 acres north of Denali, complete with a log cabin he built himself. He can't be all that off-the-grid; I overheard him talking with one of the tour group organizers about a gig later in the week: "Call me."

Mind you, from the John McPhee book I read on the cruise, "Coming Into The Country," it sounds like there's not a lot of land just sitting there for people to live on. Oh, there's a LOT of land, but between the stuff owned by the federal government, and the state, and the native communities, and private ownership, there's not much left. When the guy who homesteaded did it, he paid $5 per acre -- but that was twenty years ago, and the following year the state no longer allowed people to do that. I gather people can just go into the bush and make a home and hope no one notices, but it's likelier than you might think that you'll have the federales flying around in short order suggesting, with some force to their words, that you're trespassing and really ought to leave.

[McPhee wrote something else that stuck with me: If you drive past a house in the Lower 48 that has car parts and truck carcasses rotting in the front lawn, that's a person who's living in Alaska. They just haven't moved up yet.]

Okay, here's the movie. The noise is (embarrassingly) me, breathing hard after climbing a teensy hill.


video

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