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. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

To Denali

Cliff and Jeri picked us up in the RV; our home for a week.

Off to Talkeetna. This is the site of most Denali flight-seeing tours. Loved this building. We stayed on the ground, though. Next time we will fly over.

A gnarly treepost. There are a lot of these decorating the town. Apparently formed by trees trying to heal themselves.

A caribou or a reindeer? One and the same they tell me.

Our sweet view of Denali/Mt. McKinley from the river. The Great One is indeed.

After a long day, closing all the shades to sleep in the land of the midnight sun. G'night Cliff and Jeri.

Papa's up bright and early to build the fire and have a cup of coffee.

Aidan looks as grumpy as a bear.

He bears a striking similarity to this guy.

Hiking through Denali National Park wilderness. Such an incredibly beautiful place.

Jeri and Cliff and Aidan. Great hiking companions.

On the trail.

Weasel footprints?

Pop goes the weasel. A different one.

Yup, there's the real thing. Aidan crawled up to him and took this shot. Pretty nice work.

A moose print. Aidan got some plaster of paris from the park ranger and made this footprint mold for a school science project.

We got as close as we could to the caribou.

A typical Alaskan panorama. The braided river with mountains behind and big sky.

A step closer to the caribou. Wow. A great moment for us. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Anchorage Museum

This museum is a gem. Extraordinary. It contains an exhibit on the native peoples of Alaska that came from  the Smithsonian. It's beautiful, but the room was dark and no flashes were permitted, so I was unable to photograph any of it.

Fortunately there was another amazing travelling exhibit from the Field Museum of Chicago. It was on Mammoths and Mastodons. Mr. Grizzly met us at the entrance.

He and his mastodon neighbor were mighty impressive.

Aidan was particularly impressed by this life-like exhibit on animal scat, and how researchers determine exactly what animals eat. Aidan wanted to gross out his family.

I love  museums. The order, beauty and heavy silence, the shiny halls and gleaming surfaces, all organized to teach and inspire.

We had a delicious lunch at the museum's gourmet restaurant, Muse. Aidan ordered gourmet mac and cheese, but was really into Papa's cell phone.

After lunch, we hit the children's wing called the Imaginarium. It was fabulous. All kinds of fascinating machines and devices to intrigue children. This chair was self-hoisting with a rope and wheel. 

Aidan launched this hot air balloon by pressing buttons that filled it with hot air.

Pretty amazing cause and effect environment for an 8 year old.

This was an infra-red photo of the three of us. Can you see our cameras?

This addictive device allowed you to pull a bubble up and around you. Can you see that Aidan is surrounded by a giant bubble?

Here's a smaller version. He pulls a smaller ring through the air...

and flips it over his head, creating a u-shaped bubble over himself.

Here it popped, raining soapy droplets all over him.

Translucent jellyfish are always magical, looking like aliens floating in space.

This machine recorded him jumping and replayed it in slow motion so he could see himself off lifting off the ground.

Another grandiose bubble machine. Can you see him blowing bubbles out into the space behind?

An enormous ball machine thing. I have no idea what you call this, but it's amazing to see the genius behind the many pathways the balls travel in perpetual motion. You just want to sit and stare.

On the walk back to the hotel , there are many carved moose lining the sidewalks in front of the shops. Here's one in a plaid shirt and overalls. Aidan patiently poses for me each time I ask. He's got an easy-going nature and is still smiling in the cold walk home after several hours in the museum. He's an easy kid with whom to travel, and I hope he feels the same about us. : )

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