At a sharp bend in the Alaska Range, the forces of nature have conspired to give rise to Mt. McKinley, at 20,320 ft. the highest peak in North America. Named for a man who wasn't even president at the time and who certainly never set foot in Alaska, McKinley is more commonly referred to this days by its Athabascan native name, Denali, meaning "The Great One". The national park is now known as Denali National Park, for example. Only the USGS seems to be unwilling to give up the McKinley name, so McKinley it is on all the maps.

With surrounding valleys as low as 2000 ft., Denali's vertical vista of 18,000 ft. is considered the largest in the world, well eclipsing Everest's 11,000 ft. Standing head and shoulders above its neighbors, Denali is a weather phenomenon in its own right, which accounts for the statistic that visitors catch glimpses of the mountain only one out of three days.

This also accounts for the fact that I have few pictures of the mountain. The above picture is my most revealing, showing the mountain bulk in all its glory. But this view was only possible because I was well clear of the weather system that is Denali. It is taken from the outskirts of Fairbanks, nearly 100 miles distant.

Denali National Park is one of the most vast in the park system. The mountain itself is 50 miles from the main Anchorage to Fairbanks road and is not visible from the park entrance. And yet its open tundra landscape and a well organized bus system make the park and its wildlife readily accessible to the visitor and I consider it a must place to visit.

But allow plenty of time. The road into the park cannot be driven by casual visitors beyond about 10 miles into the park, although a limited amount of campers are allowed in. The bus system is terrific, but I had to wait 3 days for a seat on one of the busses (that may have changed since then). The bus ride takes all day and takes you all the way into the park, past the peak and optionally on to Wonder Lake (with a marvelous vista, well worth the extra travel time). Along the way, I saw fox, wolf, lots of caribou, golden eagle and even a few grizzly (from a long and very safe distance).

No talk by the rangers is complete without education about the grizzlies. While undoubtedly a creature to be feared, an aggressive program by the rangers to keep the grizzlies wild and unaccustomed to humans as well as educating those same humans has avoided the problems that have plagued parks in the lower 48 states. The rangers of Denali are justly proud that no grizzly related fatalities have occurred in the park.