National Geographic : 1956 Jun
The National Geographic Magazine Our last and in some ways loveliest trip in Alaska was to Mount McKinley National Park, second largest of U. S. national parks (after Yellowstone), covering 3,030 square miles. Its superintendent, Mr. Grant H. Pear son, started working at the park as a ranger in 1926. Now he runs not only McKinley but also the Katmai National Monument. The McKinley Park Hotel, where we stayed, is modern, very comfortable, and open all year round. Teachers and students from Alaska and from all over the States come here during their summer vacations to work as hostesses and waitresses. Mount McKinley Hides Its Head At present the park can be reached by air and rail but not by car. A connecting road to the Alaska Highway is under construction, however, and camping sites are being pre pared for an expected influx of visitors. The park is famous for its mountain scen ery, including Mount McKinley, highest peak in North America (page 760). Its altitude is 20,320 feet; this is a new figure, based on in formation supplied by various expeditions sponsored by the National Geographic Society and U. S. Government agencies.* We saw Mount McKinley above the clouds at evening from Anchorage, 140 miles away. But when we were in the park there was just enough mist to hide the mountain. We drove to Wonder Lake, where one can usually get the finest view of the peak, but even there it was obscured. On the drive we observed wild flowers and animals we had never seen before. With binoculars we watched a flock of Dall sheep on a mountainside, and on another mountain we saw grizzly bears, a mother and her little one playing together. In one of the upland ponds we saw several loons with a checkerboard pat tern, different from our striped Nova Scotia loons. We also watched porcupines, beavers, and a variety of ducks.t Our particular thrill was a covey of ptarmi gan in the road in front of us-a cock and hen and about a dozen chicks. We stopped the car and Dr. Grosvenor and Mr. Pearson got out to try for a picture. The male bird pre tended he had a broken wing and flopped down in the middle of the road, the sickest looking bird you ever saw. The mother and little ones wandered off to the other side. Dr. Grosvenor got out his camera and Mr. Pearson assured him he could get quite close to the cock without frightening him. Hardly had he spoken when the ptarmigan flew up in my husband's face. "You have had a unique experience," said Mr. Pearson, "to be attacked by a ptarmigan. I've never seen it happen before." Before we took the park bus for the station, Mr. Pearson introduced us to the superin tendent of a mixed school for Eskimos and white children. The Eskimos, he told us, are very bright and interested in their studies. Some of the girls who were preparing to attend boarding school at Sitka would walk miles in winter at -40° F. just for a couple of hours of evening tutoring. From McKinley we took the train back to Anchorage. The engineer hospitably invited us into the cab of the train for a better view of the beautiful mountain scenery. Every now and then we passed a lonely station where families waved to us from cottages with neat grass plots bordered by flowers. Homeward Through the Inside Passage From Anchorage we regretfully headed south, leaving Alaska, as we had entered it, by ship through the Inside Passage. So much had we enjoyed this cruise, in fact, that we took the same ship and the same stateroom we had occupied on the trip north. We were extremely sorry to hear later that passenger service on the Alaska Steamship Company had been discontinued. Happily, both Cana dian National Railways and Canadian Pacific offer cruises over this route from Vancouver. Our visit to Alaska was primarily a pleasure trip. We made some new friends and saw much that was interesting and exciting, in cluding magnificent scenery. But we made no real attempt to cover the whole Territory, and most of what we saw basked under a warm summer sun. Mr. W. Robert Moore, who followed us on a separate assignment for the NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC MAGAZINE, traveled to the Territory's northernmost outposts and also had a taste of some of the worst winter weather civilized Alaska has seen in recent years. His account of some aspects of Alaska that we did not see begins on page 776. * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Mount McKinley Conquered by New Route," Au gust, 1953; and "Over the Roof of Our Continent," July, 1938, both by Bradford Washburn. t See "Wildlife of Mount McKinley National Park," by Adolph Murie, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAG AZINE, August, 1953.