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   Chapter 9 MT. MCKINLEY NATIONAL PARK

The Land of Tomorrow By William B. Stephenson Characters: 10865

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


IN 1916 a bill was presented in Congress to establish in Alaska the Mt. McKinley National Park. All lovers of the country hoped that the legislation necessary to create this park would not be long in coming. The Alaskan Range (sometimes called the Alaskan Alps), of which Mt. McKinley is the culminating peak, has no rival in scenic grandeur. The snow line is about seven thousand feet. But Mt. McKinley rises twenty thousand three hundred feet, and for the upper thirteen thousand the mountain is clad in glaciers and perpetual snows.

The region of the proposed park offered a last chance for the United States Government to preserve untouched by civilization a great primeval section in its natural beauty. Many parts of Alaska are famous for big game. But for mountain sheep, caribou and moose ranging over wide areas this section is unsurpassed. I have often seen three hundred sheep in a ten mile journey! And more caribou than I ever dreamed of existing! At one time a party of us estimated with the naked eye more than a thousand within half a mile of us and many more straggling off in the distance.

I have made no mention of the mosquitos which abound in Alaska, but so many writers have that perhaps it is not necessary to elaborate upon the subject. It is sufficient to say that here one gives them respectful attention! Many a wanderer has met his death in the early days because he was unprepared to fight them off as he plunged through the swamps and the wilderness. This "respectful attention" is shared by the animals, especially the caribou, which migrate from place to place, avoiding the plains where the mosquitos abound. Sometimes they remain high up in the rugged mountain ridges. Sometimes they even climb the glaciers. One often sees them in huge droves. They do not stay long in any one locality except in the Taklat basin and in the vicinity of Muldrow Glacier. Here they remain during the summer and rear their young.

On February twenty-sixth, 1917, the bill became a law and the Mt. McKinley National Park was created. The long dimension of the park follows the general course of the Alaskan Range from Mt. Russell to Muldrow Glacier, the Park including all the main range from its northwest face to and beyond the summit. East of the glacier the range widens to the north and consists of a number of parallel mountain ridges separated by broad, open basins.

Moose are plentiful in certain parts of the new park but are not so commonly seen as sheep and caribou. They cling to the timbered areas for two reasons. First, because they feed upon the willow and birch twigs and leaves and the roots of water plants. Second, by nature the moose is a cautious, wary animal. He is less likely to permit familiarity than the caribou and remains where he is inconspicuous. The best hunting grounds for moose are not within the park but in the lowlands just north of the Alaskan Range.

Bears,-black, brown and grizzly-are here, as they are in many other parts of Alaska also. Foxes are plentiful. Lynx abound, as do the mink, marten and ermine, to a limited extent. The marshy lowlands, in addition to being the abode of the moose, are likewise the paradise of the beaver. Many a night have I lain in my tent and heard the whack-whack of their tails on the surface of the water and the splash when they went in to swim.

There is no point on which Alaska is more in need of wise and careful legislation than in regard to the game. Game will not last long unless protected. Already the market hunter is in the field. True, there are game laws in Alaska, but I have been reminded more than once of the mother who said of her naughty little daughter, "She has manners-but they're bad!"

The game laws are not strictly enforced and many a sled load of wild meat finds its way into the towns in winter. Fairbanks is the destination of most of it. It is a matter of personal knowledge that from fifteen hundred to two thousand sheep have been taken into this town each winter for the last three years. And if this is being done now, what will be the result when the new government railroad is completed to within fifteen miles of the park? There is but one answer. The game will disappear rapidly. Forebodings on this point have been quieted to a certain extent, however, so far as the game in the park itself is concerned. The law, while it grants miners and prospectors permission to kill what they need for food, stipulates expressly that "in no case shall animals or birds be killed in said park for sale, or removal, or wantonly."

It is the easiest thing in the world to reach Mt. McKinley Park. One may leave Seattle and within a week be in Anchorage, or Seward. From here it is but a day's ride to the Park Station. A couple of days in the saddle and one will find himself in the midst of the herds. Furthermore, this time will be shortened. It is inevitable that a road will be built. Then, half a day in a motor and the horseback journey will be eliminated.

Regarded as a purely business proposition, the creation of this Park was quite worth while. Other and much less attractive lands advertise their natural beauties so alluringly that tourists flock to them, spending millions of dollars for diversion far less pleasurable than that which may be had right here in our own country. A good road, a good hotel or two, and this National Park in Alaska will call to her a much larger per

centage of tourists than our government now imagines.

Almost every animal in Alaska has its own particular locality. The small black bear is the exception. It may be found everywhere. In southeastern Alaska the shy, black-tail deer is to be seen. It is a pretty, graceful creature, with a glossy coat, an impudent little black tail and slender, curving horns. If it were tame one could easily carry it in his arms. It seldom weighs more than a hundred pounds. Hunters have made it afraid, however, and unless forced out by starvation, it seldoms ventures near a human habitation.

At Mt. St. Elias the foxes abound,-blue and silver and sometimes a black one, rarest and most valuable of all. Four hundred dollars is not an unusual price for a black fox skin. Sea otters are getting scarce. The skins of these are valued at seven hundred dollars.

To find the really "Big Game,"-the largest the country affords, the moose, the huge and dangerous Kodiak bear, the caribou and the mountain sheep, one should go to the rugged, mountainous peninsula between Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet. The moose shed their antlers periodically and I quite agree with a fellow hunter who one day remarked that he knew of nothing quite so pathetic-looking, so subdued and sympathy-seeking, so meek and lowly of spirit as a bull moose without its horns! Neither do I.

The Kodiak bear is dark brown of color. And an exceedingly ugly and vicious brute as to temper! He is a born fighter. If he suspects that it is your purpose to interfere with him he will attack you ferociously. If, however, he does not happen to be hungry and you fail to bother him his lack of interest in you is often humiliating! He is, seemingly, impervious to the cold and sleeps in his cave all winter.

The Alaskan miners are great on story-telling and one of them one day related in my presence an amusing episode which he claimed was a personal experience. He said that he found himself suddenly in the immediate presence of a Kodiak bear. It was a position wholly unsought on his part and, as he remarked, unduly familiar! But he added that it was a moment when familiarity bred, not contempt, but fear. He had always heard that a sudden and unusual noise would frighten a bear away provided he hadn't seen you first! So he began hammering his gold pan with his pick, making all the din possible with the means at his command. It failed to work. He spent the night in a tall tree, meekly descending from the same when the bear, tired of waiting, went next morning to seek a breakfast elsewhere. Nor was that all. His gold pan was full of holes from being hammered with his pick!

A cunning and most amusing pet is a black bear cub, and as pets these are quite common in St. Michael and other parts of Alaska. They dance and gambol on hind feet, wrestle like human beings, and not infrequently drink from a bottle as do babies-and men!

The caribou is unquestionably the prettiest animal in Alaska. Its body is sleek and graceful as that of the antelope. Its back is brown, its flanks and legs pure white. It has enormous, out-spreading, re-curving and sharp-pronged antlers, a distinguishing feature of which is that the first branch of one of them curves directly in front of the forehead and then spreads straight out to the front into a broad edge-wise fan which is called a "plow." The caribou roam (in herds) and feed almost entirely on grass. It is most interesting to watch them feed in winter. With the "plow" they break through the crust of the snow. Then they use the horn as a rake, scraping away the snow so that they may get at the grass underneath.

The seal, the walrus, the reindeer and the polar bear,-all are here. They are the oldest residents of the north country. But there is one thing which does not abide with us. This is the serpent. Evidently Ireland is not the only country from which the good St. Patrick banished the snakes. The Eskimos and Indians of Alaska probably never saw one. In fact, it is claimed that no poisonous thing exists here. But to this I make one exception. The mosquito is still with us in certain sections of the country. There are none in St. Michael, however. And no snakes! As a corroboration of this statement I submit the information that the serpent has no place in either the heraldry or the basketry of the natives of Alaska. The absence of the snake in the Northland, however, may be due, not to the influence of St. Patrick, but to the frigidity of the climate. Anyway, we rejoice that it is so. The most timid of women may wade barefooted in the marshes without a shiver! Besides, Alaskans are proverbially kind-hearted and what one of us would willingly put himself in the position of "Old Man Snyder" of whom the mid-western poet who wrote under the name of Ironquill once said:

"Old man Snyder found a snake

Frozen stiffer than a stake

And he tucked it in his vest.

When the saurian became thawed

Mr. Snyder became chawed!

And in one unbroken stream

He proceeded to blaspheme

And eradicate the plug

From a little old brown jug!

Year by year, both day and night,

Snyder tried to cure that bite,

But he didn't have the heft!

So one day he while tug-

Ging at the plug

Caught the jim-jams and got left!

Moral.

Frozen saurians are safer!

And it's bitterer than borax

To be gnawed about the thorax

One's humanity to pay for!"

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