Artist Frustrated by Smoke


My first day as Artist-in-Residence at Denali National Park, August 4th, was a time of discovery. It had been several years since I’ve visited the park and many changes have taken place during my absence. Gone is the old Visitor Information Center at the entrance, that building is now where travelers obtain back country permits and board the regularly scheduled buses to ride the single 90 mile long road into the park. New is an amazing Visitor Information Center, food court, bookstore, and the Murie Science and Learning Center, all impressive, convenient and well designed! What a marvelous improvement and first impression for travelers.

I met my sponsors at the Murie Science and Learning Center, the Artist-in-Resident program is jointly operated by National Geographic Association and the National Park an undertaking that takes a lot of coordination and planning. My briefing included a driving pass and “Rules of the Road”, quite a privilege since most visitors are limited to riding in buses, we were also given bus passes, loaned back packs and hiking poles, handed a huge stack of reference books, along with a box of linens for the bed, towels and dish cloths. All our needs were met, we felt like VIP’s! My one allowed guest was husband Bob, and we were asked not to leave the park for the whole ten days. My food planning and supplies took this into consideration. The one flaw in my preparation was extra gas, I had three 2 1/2 gallon cans of gas that did not come close to covering the needs of my camper-laden Ford F350 gas hog.

There is so much to tell you about the historic Murie cabin where we stayed that I will cover that in another post. The cabin is located at mile 43 along the East Fork of the Toklat River, and my first impression when we arrived was the terrible condition of the willows and alders that looked dead, stripped of most of their leaves. This was the work of a peak population of Snowshoe Hares feeding on the bark during winter, so many of them lived in the immediate area that the surrounding landscape was void of greenery. The photo at the top shows the East Fork river looking south through the denuded bushes, and shows the acrid smoke-filled air that shrouded the landscape. My second impression was disappointment, a haze filled sky was the result of forest fires raging throughout Alaska and the winds filled the park with smoke! My anticipation was crushed the first day, hazy air and dead looking under brush was not the gorgeous landscape I planned to paint and photograph. We were tired from the long trip and fell into bed hoping the weather would be better in the morning.

Gail Niebrugge, Denali Artist-in-Residence

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