Mt. McKinley (now Denali) National Park, Alaska
Friday, June 29, 1973
We left Fairbanks later than usual because of one last car issue, but were on our way by 9 am, and arrived at Mt. McKinley National Park (as it was called then) around three in the afternoon.
After we set up camp at Riley Creek Campground, where the price of a site was $2.00 a night (as opposed to $22 nowadays), we went on a ranger-guided nature walk on the Morino Trail, which is near the entrance to the park. Even back then, you were not allowed to drive on the only road into the heart of the park unless you had a reservation at one of the campgrounds along it, and then you could only go that far. Otherwise you had to take the park service run bus (more about that tomorrow) Since Riley Creek Campground was near the entrance, that was as far as we could go that day.
One of the things that’s really obvious to me in rereading my diary is that I had not realized how much I internalized my parents’ prejudices when I was young. I am not going to repeat what I wrote about the ranger, except that he was not your standard-brand park ranger as we knew them back then, and we were all rather entertained by this. Not that I had a clue what the things my parents found so amusing meant at the time. Now they’re painfully obvious. Oh, well. At least I grew out of that particular brand of bigotry, which is more than I can say about my parents.
The walk was pleasant and informative, however, and so was the talk at the campfire circle that night about Dall sheep, the Alaskan variety of bighorn sheep, one of many animal species native to Mt. McKinley.
Some of my favorite childhood memories are of going to campfire circles at national parks. We went to them every chance we got, and since almost every camping trip we took when I was a kid included at least one national park, we went to a great many of them. When I was really little, I got to be one of the kids who were called down to the front of the campground amphitheater to watch while the ranger lit the fire. I remember one campfire talk at Mesa Verde (I think I was five or six) when we watched Indians dance. I learned enough silly songs to perform an entire concert of them (not that you’d want me to — I can’t carry a tune in a bucket). And I learned a great deal about the places we visited because of them. I have only been to a few campfire programs since I’ve been an adult. Mostly that’s because I don’t camp in national parks much anymore. I generally stay in lodging instead, because I mostly travel alone or with friends who aren’t campers. I don’t know if the park service still does campfire programs, but I hope they do, and that more generations of little kids are coming along who enjoyed them as much as I did.