Last week we left off on the way to the sled dog demonstration. Denali National Park and Preserve is the only national park that uses sled dogs. These dogs are descendants of centuries of breeding to be sled dogs. They are not an AKC recognized breed because there is too much variety, if you want a breed they are Alaskan Huskies. Anyway, we get to the bus stop and the guide lets those of us who want to watch the demonstration off the bus. I was the only one in my family to get off. They were cold and tired but you know what I didn’t know if I would get this chance again. So screw being tired and cold. I got off the bus.
It was a short walk from where the bus dropped us off to where the demonstration was to take place. Upon reaching the kennels I was delighted to learn that there were dogs that you could pet. I am a dog lover and was having serious dog withdrawals since my Bear was in Texas. I definitely gave them some good scratches after taking some pictures of them. The sled dogs were in a variety of colors: tan and white, black and tan, grey and black. The kennels also have a historical area where you can read about sled dogs in Denali and see some of the older style sleds.
There are a bunch of people at this demonstration, all ages and from a variety of places – there were a bunch of different accents. Once everyone was settled and was behind the line the park ranger began to tell a bit about the dogs while two other rangers hooked five dogs up to what was essentially a sled with wheels. Due to the corners used on the demonstration course the ranger told us that they can’t hook two dogs up in the middle because then they take the turn to fast and over turn the cart. I’ve never seen dogs so excited to work. They were literally jumping up and down when they stood hooked up to the cart. When they were told to go they surged forward and rocketed around the small demonstration course. These dogs are born and bred to run in the harsh cold of an Alaskan winter and they love it.
After the dogs ran we were given more information about them before a short Q&A session with the park ranger. After all the questions had been asked the dogs were released from their harnesses one at a time. The sled dogs sprinted to their ranger handler at the far end of the kennels. These dogs just loved to work and to run, there was joy in all of their movements and I could have watched them work for much longer.
After the demonstration ended I headed back to where the tour bus had dropped me off, which I soon realized was not where the normal buses stopped to take visitors from the kennels to the Denali Visitor Center. Now I could have walked back to the bus pick up stop but I realized that there was a walking trail to the Visitor Center and the sign said that it was only two miles. So I decided to walk. Two miles is not that far and Alaska is fairly close to sea level, thus no altitude sickness but the trail felt like it went on forever. Most of the way I walked alone and the trail ran in sight of the road. I stopped to take pictures here and there. Along this impromptu hike my thoughts alternated from: “it is beautiful out here! This was a great idea.” to “I’m going to run into a bear or moose and I’m going to die.” Regretfully, I did not see any wildlife.
Part of the way I walked and spoke with an retired man who was visiting Alaska with his son and his son’s friend. I don’t remember what we discussed just that it was nice to talk with someone on a stroll through the woods. We walked together until Brooke called wondering where in the heck I was. I said my goodbyes then to my walking companion and jogged on to the visitor center. I met Baba and Papa there; together we took a shuttle back to the lodge to meet the rest of the family for lunch.
Remember the earrings that Brooke and I had gotten for Baba the night before? Well, as we were waiting to be seated for lunch she brought up wanting to go back and purchase them before we had to catch the bus to Talkeetna later that afternoon. We decided them that it was time to surprise her with them. The look on her face was worth it. She was surprised and delighted and it made the rest of us smile.
After lunch it was back on a bus and we were off to the Mount McKinley Princess Lodge outside of Talkeetna, Alaska. Our adventure in Talkeetna was probably one of my favorites but you will have to wait until next week to read about it.
**All pictures by Laci McGee. The first sled dog is Nuna. I don’t remember the other dogs name.