Thursday, March 20, 2014

An Alaska Pictorial: Denali--Mount McKinley

The months of February and March are appropriate times to look to and celebrate our forty-ninth state, Alaska, and one of its most famous landmarks as well as the third-highest mountain in the world, Denali, also known as Mount McKinley. 

Why these months, you ask? Because they are the official, or maybe unofficial, American "birthday"months of what today constitutes the state of Alaska and the national park over which its highest mountain presides. The park, first designated Mount McKinley National Park but now called Denali National Park and Preserve, was established by Congress on February 26, 1917, making it 97 years old.

The state of Alaska may be a mere 55 years old, having received Congress' approval only in 1959. But the birthday to which I refer was on March 30, 1867, when Alaska was "reborn" as part of the United States. It was first designated a "department" before becoming a state, then a "district," and then a "territory." So, at the end of this month, this Alaska of many designations will be 147 years old.

Happy birthday, Alaska and Denali.


Randolph Rogers, William H. Seward, 1876, New York City, Madison Square Park


I begin, briefly, with William Seward, a great Republican, back when America's Grand Old Party produced many such men. He served as Governor of New York, United States Senator, and then Secretary of State under Presidents Lincoln and Johnson. It was Seward, as Secretary of State, who negotiated the treaty with Russia that gave Alaska to the United States. Many of his contemporaries lambasted this action as “Seward’s Folly,” but only until gold was discovered there in 1898.

Russia had sold Alaska (for $7 million, or two-cents/acre) because its remote location made the region difficult to defend and Russia feared losing it in another possible war with the British. Given Russia’s most recent history--its invasion of Crimea and claim that Krushchev made a mistake in 1954 by handing it over to the Ukraine--one might wonder what designs Putin might have on Alaska. A Russian, after all, could argue that Czar Alexander II made a much bigger mistake than Krushchev when he allowed the sale of Alaska in 1867. 


Of course, it’s also possible that Putin one day may simply want to give some truth to Tina Fey’s impersonation of Sarah Palin, when Fey uttered one of the funniest comedy lines of 2008: “I can see Russia from my house.”

Today, “Seward’s Folly” would seem a most shrewd piece of statesmanship and horse-trading, even as it was carried off in secretive, all-night sessions, signed at 4:00 am on the 30th of March, and subsequently barely squeaking by the Senate with a single vote, ten days later.

Randolph Rogers, the sculptor of this monument to Seward that sits at the south-west corner of Madison Square Park, was an American expatriate who lived most of his life, and died, in Rome. Still, he was born in New York (Waterloo), and it is claimed that this statue of Seward is the first work of public sculpture in the city dedicated to a person from the state.



Sydney Laurence, Mount McKinley, 1922, Rockwell Museum of Western Art, Corning, NY

This is one of several paintings of Alaska's Mount McKinley by the American Artist, Sydney Mortimer Laurence. Born in Brooklyn and trained at the Arts Student's League in Manhattan, Laurence moved to Alaska in 1904, becoming the first artist with professional training to settle there.  

Mount McKinley was among his best known subjects, and he captured its looming majesty in a style clearly indebted to such great 19th-century, second-generation Hudson River painters as Frederick Edwin Church

Laurence has been called "the most famous painter of the grandeur of Alaska's landscape," and the writer Deloris Ament observes that "he painted the mountain so often and so devotedly in later years that Alaskans themselves began to see their beloved mountain through Laurence's eyes."




Paul (our pilot), Rust's Flying Service, Stopover in Talkeetna, Alaska, February 25, 2013

Alaska Range (detail), Showing Denali Flightseeing Route

The best way to see Denali, or Mount McKinley, however, is not by a visit to some museum. Rather, make a trip to Anchorage, where Laurence would settle, reserve a flight from one of several flying services, and step into one of those ultra-reliable deHaviland Beavers for a trip up the glaciers and around Denali, itself.

In the top photograph, I show our pilot, Paul, after we landed briefly in Talkeetna on the way back to Anchorage. Although Talkeetna is small, with a population of under 1,000, it also boasts several Denali flying services, and it clearly is a town that knows how to have fun. For example, it's honorary mayor is a cat named Stubbs. It also holds a Moose Dropping Festival every July in which hardened, varnished moose feces are dropped from the sky while participants guess the correct number in a lottery. Then, in December, Talkeetna sponsors the Wilderness Woman and Bachelor Auction & Ball. Need I say more?

The lower photograph, shown above, plots the general route that our plane took around Denali last February. Our approach was from the left (see "Tokositna Glacier") and our return took us down Ruth Glacier, to the right.

Other than this, I am afraid that I can't be more specific. In fact, I am hoping that one of you readers may be familiar enough with Denali to identify some of the following twenty photographs, which I selected out of over 100 that I took just of the Alaskan Range once we closed in on it. The best I can do is present these 20 photographs in the order of the actual flight.

Maybe someone will send this blog post to Paul, our pilot. I am sure that he can identify every one of these photographs.  For the rest of you, my readers, please enjoy this spectacular winter scenery.



Alaska Range, Foothills, February 25, 2013

We are not, yet, near Denali, even though these mountain peaks already look formidable. Keep in mind that the Denali National Park and Preserve now covers 6 million acres, so we must first fly over the flat tundra and lowland areas, which offer their own fascination, before arriving here.



Alaska Range, February 25, 2013



Alaska Range, February 25, 2013



Alaska Range, February 25, 2013

That may be Denali in the last of these three photographs, with a cloud halo circling its summit. Interestingly, because of the Pacific Plate is subducting under the North American Plate here, Denali continues to gain about a millimeter in height each year. Also, because it is mainly a hard granite, it does not easily erode. The tectonic activity that formed the Alaskan Range began about 60 million years ago.



Alaska Range, February 25, 2013



Alaska Range, February 25, 2013



Alaska Range, February 25, 2013



Alaska Range, February 25, 2013



Alaska Range, February 25, 2013



Alaska Range, Andrea taking a cel-phone picture, February 25, 2013

Sometimes, it seemed that our plane was a mere twenty feet away from a sheer cliff of rock and ice, which is what I tried to capture in this photograph of my wife looking out from the other side of the plane. I didn't succeed in conveying the drama of the moment.



Alaska Range, February 25, 2013



Alaska Range, February 25, 2013



Alaska Range, February 25, 2013

I am fascinated by the abrupt edges, sharp as a razor, that are enhanced by the equally sharp contrasts of light. What doesn't come through clearly is the scale--our insignificance in relation to the size of these peaks and cliffs of snow-covered granite.


Alaska Range, February 25, 2013



Alaska Range, February 25, 2013

A face in the snow. I'm sure the Athabascans and other members of the local indigenous cultures could tell me much about the snow and its various configurations, but I simply enjoyed the differing contours, pleats and flow patterns that covered the surfaces lying below. 



Alaska Range, February 25, 2013



Alaska Range, February 25, 2013

I am guessing that this is one of several shots of Denali, which is 20,237 feet high, or 6,168 meters, measured by topographic prominence. When measured in isolation from base to peak, Denali alone is ca. 18,000 feet high, making it the largest  mountain anywhere, situated entirely above sea level.

The topographic prominence of Mount Everest may be greater. However, Everest's vertical rise, base to peak, is only ca. 12,000 feet. Denali, also, records brutally cold temperatures year-round, often as low as -75°F (-60°C), with windchill taking the temperature down to -118°F (-83°C), "cold enough to flash freeze a human."



Alaska Range, February 25, 2013

The abstract rhythm of a sheer cliff of snow and ice.



Alaska Range, February 25, 2013


Alaska Range, February 25, 2013

As this is the last photograph I selected, I am pretty sure this is a section of Ruth Glacier.

Once again, happy birthday months to Denali and Alaska.





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