Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sled Dogs of Denali

Here we are, sitting in the park service bus, on our way to the dog kennels in Denali. For some undetermined reason, travel in Denali National Park is highly restricted. Cars are only allowed in 15 miles. Any deeper into the park, you have to take a bus for $125. So, yeah, not quite as accessible as, say, Yosemite Valley. Though they don't make it easy to see it, they did let us board the bus to see the dogs for free, and that was a treat!

This is Jamie the park ranger. He gave us the rules and regs before he let us off the bus. More restrictions, but it's okay, cuz it's dogs. No one wants to hurt the dogs.

Looks government, doesn't it. Kinda creepy, right? Okay, I'll stop.

Back to the business at hand: a snow sled. All wood. Beautiful, curvy, sturdy, with leather harnesses.

And cute little log cabin dog houses...with dogs sleeping on the roofs...

as such...

or in the shade, as such. These dogs love it when it's 10 degrees below zero. Love it. Not so much when it's 75 degrees. They are all over-heated and doing their best to keep themselves cool.

They are friendly enough, but they do get petted by 300 people a day. They are bred to be patient and gentle animals, and if they are tired of you, they just turn the other way. They seem to like kids a lot.

And sniffing hands. Don't you love this dog's crystal blue eyes?   The dogs are all different colors. They are a mix of breeds, but must be smart, strong, have deep warm coats and fur in their ears to keep them warm in winter. At one time, Denali modernized to snow machines in the winter, but found that the dogs were cheaper and more reliable in the terrain. They could go where a machine couldn't go, ran on the simple fuel of dog food, and required no repairs. The dog sled teams patrol the park all winter long.

Aidan gave the sled a try.

Here's a roomful of them. Wood, metal, long and extra long. Very cool machines.

And another roomful of dog leashes and harnesses, and the nameplates of retired dogs.

Aidan was fascinated by the demonstration.

Here the dogs get harnessed to the sled. They are soooo excited to run. They love this. Even the dogs who aren't running are excited. They are all barking and prancing. It is the highlight of their day.

Whoosh--here it goes. Watch out. They are fast.

Here they are coming round the bend. They are pulling the sled on gravel, and look like they could go forever. They run a long pace of 8 mph, but on this short run, they ran about 15 mph. Beautiful, happy, powerful dogs.

Some of them like to eat rocks. They're tough guys. They all look different, and are placed in the lineup depending on their skills and temperaments. The smartest dogs are lead dogs and know to watch out for ravines and crevasses and cornices on the mountains. The back dogs are good turners. The middle dogs have to balance between the leads and back dogs to make sure they don't tip. It's quite a ballet, and they each serve a purpose.

Resting after that amazing demonstration. They are the happiest employees in the park service.

This is the only dog we were allowed to feed. His name is Buck, and if you look in his fish bowl belly, you will see lots of green stuff in there. It buys dog biscuits and pays the vet bills. A great investment as far as we were concerned. 


Anonymous said...

Simply not enough comments for the grandiose pictures and being able to share in your vacation.
I'm Denali bound one day!
Thanks so very much for sharing with us all!

Anonymous said...

I remember Denali well. What a great vacation and much loved pictures. xoxo Sharon

karen gerstenberger said...

I feel as if I got to go along with you - thank you! What a great adventure. I hope that Aidan is having as much fun as it looks like he is having. That sounds as if it was a wonderful, educational experience. Good basis for a school report next year?

Jeri said...

The vacation of a lifetime and it went by way too fast. Thanks for sharing the pics here to look back at and remember fondly. Love you lots!

Jo Anne said...

So, in your professional opinion, between Cody, Rommel, Maggie, MJ, and Ozzy, who would make the best snow dog? :) I know who I would pick :)

Anonymous said...

Wani... They all would! They each have their own part to play. Rommel and Cody in the lead. Maggie can hold the middle. MJ and Ozzy can make the sharp turns:)). If you added Juma and Bay-Lloyd it would be one big play day in the snow. AV

Anna/Flowergardengirl said...

Fascinating stuff Karen. I had no idea a bus trip in a park could be so expensive either. Loved your descriptions of the dogs and dog life in Denali.

They do have very pretty eyes.

Susan A. Smith, NBCT said...

Motorized vehicles are prohibited except for park buses because of the environmental impact and too many of them will alter the animals' behavior. Can you imagine if everyone who wanted to drive there did? The litter, noise, and destruction of tundra are but three reasons for this regulation.