Denali Science and Visitor Centers

    Denali has a great visitor center as well as a science center. The science center focuses on research that has been done or is currently being done inside the Park. It's a great interactive building with a wolf skeleton, videos to watch, and bones you can touch. I highly recommend a visit to the science center. The visitor center is a great place to start your Denali adventure as it describes the history of the park and of the region as well as going into the different biomes (environments) and the plants and animals you will see in each of the biomes in the Park.

    Wolf Skeleton
    Wolf Skeleton at the Science Center at Denali National Park. The Science Center showcases the previous and on-going research studies being conducted in the Park.

    One of the more interesting facts I learned in the visitor center concerned the warble fly and caribou. Apparently, the warble fly lays its eggs on the legs or belly of the caribou and when they hatch the maggots burrow into its skin and migrate to the back by the spine. Once they migrate to the spine they puncture the skin and create a breathing hole and they will remain there living and breathing until the spring when they emerge as a fly and go through the whole process again. It's kind of disgusting to think about a fly living in your body for the winter, but interesting nonetheless.

    Caribou Skin
    This is a display of what the caribou skin looks like after the warble flies burrow into their skin and stay there all winter. In spring, they emerge from the caribou and start the process all over again.

    While at the visitor center I met a wonderful older lady who was visiting Denali for the first time. She proudly told me her age was 92 and she walked with a cane. This petite woman told me about her son who had climbed to the summit of Mount McKinley. She has kept a picture of her son on the summit on the piano for many years; the pride she had for his accomplishment poured out of her every pore. She said she was getting up there in her years and really wanted to see Mount McKinley before she died. We had a nice chat, wished her safe travels and told her she had just made my day. It truly was a heartwarming story.

    Whitewater Rafting

    There were 2 final adventures I wanted to do while I was in Denali. First, I went whitewater rafting down the Nanena River! The rafting excursion covered 11 stream miles and had 6 class III rapids and 1 class IV rapid (on a scale of I-V, V being the toughest). I had done rafting once before when I was in Costa Rica and loved the experience. I was very excited for this opportunity to shoot the rapids here in Denali. There were 4 other grad students on the raft along with our guide. The guides make $50 each trip (3 trips a day). Imagine how fun it would be to whitewater raft every day and get paid to be on the river! The guide told stories all the way down the river and in the middle he asked us, "how do you know when your river guide is lying?"…"his lips are moving"! So the guide made the rafting experience that much more enjoyable. Each of the rapids has its own name. One of them used to be named Custer's Last Corner. However, the name has been changed to The Royal Flush. Prince William and Harry of England were said to be rafting down this particular rapid and William got bounced out of the boat and got hurt. Hence the name, The Royal Flush! The water was pretty cloudy from the silt coming down from one of the glaciers. The temperature of the water was 38 degrees Fahrenheit and I was given a dry suit to keep warm and dry. The suit worked great as I even was able to jump into the water and swim for a mile downstream. I wasn't able to take any pictures on the river, but I did buy a picture of myself in the boat that I will post when I can get to a scanner.

    Jeff King's Husky Homestead Tour

    Husky Homestead
    4-time Iditarod Winner, Jeff King's Husky Homestead

    The final adventure I had while in Denali was visiting the homestead of Jeff King, 4-time winner of the Iditarod Dog Sled Race. Jeff has tours of his homestead 3 times a day so people can get to see his training operation, learn about his experiences while racing in the most popular dog sled race in the world, and play with this year's new batch of puppies! Jeff currently has approximately 50 dogs on site including the new puppies. The first thing I was handed when I got off of the bus was a 3-week old puppy. They really knew how to introduce you into the experience! My puppy was pretty tired and inactive as he had been playing all morning.

    Me and a puppy
    3-week old puppy I got to play with when we first got the Homestead. I was searched before I got on the bus to make sure I had not dognapped him! So close.... haha

    These dogs did not look anything like the sled dogs you see in the movies. The movies portray Siberian Huskies, a much bigger and fluffier version of the Alaskan Huskies used in Alaska. I was surprised at how small they were and how little of a coat they had compared to the Siberian Huskies. The training of the dogs is intense! During the summer months when there is no snow, the dogs get hitched to an ATV or actually train by swimming in the lake right next door to his house! While I was there, Jeff started getting the dogs ready for a training run. The excitement of the dogs was palpable; I could feel the electricity in the air as it was filled with dogs barking to be chosen to go on this particular training run.


    Also, the dogs train on a carousel (see the video below) as well as a giant spinning wheel - like a wheel in a gerbil or hamster cage (see the video below).



    Jeff uses both male and female dogs on the team and believes that 9-10 dogs gives him the best run (meaning that 9-10 dogs perform just as good as 15-16 dogs). During the Iditarod, the health and safety of the dogs is the most important aspect of the race. Before the race, each dog must undergo a physical, blood work, drug test, and even an EKG monitoring the electrical activity of the heart! The dogs are trained to pull approximately 300 pounds (Jeff, the sled, and his supplies) at approximately 10mph for 6 hours. During the race, the dogs will race 6 hours and be off for 6 hours for approximately 9 days (generally the length of the race) and must consume over 10,000 calories every day! This was a great tour and very informational; plus I got to play with some cute puppies. I had to go through a search before I got back on the bus to make sure I wasn't smuggling any of the puppies home with me. Believe me….I was seriously tempted!

    Denali was an amazing place filled with awesome views of the mountains, fresh flowers everywhere I looked, and a cornucopia of people temporarily working there from across the globe. The businesses actually hire and recruit people to work there for the summer months from the continental U.S. as well as from other countries. Hmmmm maybe a new adventure for me for next summer - living/working in Denali?!?!?!?!

    There were so many fresh, planted flowers throughout the Denali Village. I was amazed at all of the work that must have gone into the flowers!

    Fact of the Day

    Today's Fact of the Day Question: What country did the U.S. buy Alaska from in 1867?? Hint - no, I cannot see this country from where I am in Alaska!!

    Yesterday's Fact of the Day Answer: When Alaska was approved for statehood, out of the current 50 states, what number was Alaska? Hint - It wasn’t the first state approved!! Alaska was the 49th state admitted into the U.S.A.

    Inuit Word of the Day

    Yesterday's Word: kaakpunga = I am hungry! Hint: A statement when you haven't ate all day!!! Did you get it right?

    Today's word: titiraut - Hint: You need this every day in school - and most of my kids don't bring one!!! What is the word of the day?

    Please take 2 seconds and reply with your guesses to the fact of the day or Inuit word of the day in the "Ask the Team" section link below: