A return to Denali
North America’s highest peak rises 20,310 feet above forests of spruce and aspen, a snow-shrouded behemoth that has always defied description. Trying his best in 1906, naturalist Charles Sheldon said that nothing he wrote “could convey any suggestion of it”—perhaps the reason that the native Athabaskan people called the mountain “Denali,” meaning simply, “the great one.”
This week, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell made that moniker official, honoring Alaskans’ longstanding request to revert from “Mount McKinley” to the snowy summit’s native name. With the mountain making news this week, we took the opportunity for a dip into the photo archives.
Established in 1917, Denali National Park was perhaps the first founded with support of local miners. Gold had been discovered in the Kantishna Hills northwest of the mountain, and prospectors wanted to use the park’s entry road to access to the most promising sites.
When a 1988 lawsuit halted mining within the park’s boundaries, many of the private claims went up for sale. Properties on the rocky ridges of Kantishna offered sweeping views that made them highly desirable target for developers. Concerned that subdivision would permanently scar the landscape, the National Park Service listed the Kantishna Mining District as its number-one conservation priority in the state of Alaska.
In the 1990s, The Trust for Public Land protected 350 acres of the old mining district for the park, helping to preserve the wilderness experience that visitors enjoy today. Instead of resorts and summer homes, visitors to Denali National Park and Preserve can experience true wild country—including fragile alpine tundra and tiaga forest. Millions of acres of unbroken habitat also makes for spectacular wildlife viewing: more than 130 species of bird live in the park, plus grizzly and black bears, wolves, wolverines, caribou, and moose.
Have you made it to Alaska to explore”the last frontier”? What do you think of the Denali name change? Let us know in the comment section.
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