We left Wasilla after a brief stop for provisions and headed down the Parks Highway toward Denali National Park. I was impressed by the mountains that seemed to surround us on all sides, stretching out as far as the eye could see. We decided to take a short detour to Talkeetna, about 15 miles off the main highway. Alex and I were happily snoozing while Frank drove on toward our destination.
All of a sudden, Frank yelled, “McKinley!” and veered off the road to a scenic overlook. I woke up with a start, thinking he was avoiding a moose or a bear or a Hell’s Angel. I looked around and didn’t see any wildlife, so I quickly figured out that the elusive Mt. McKinley was making a rare appearance through the clouds.
The Mountain Formerly Currently Known as McKinley is that tallest peak in North America at 20,320 feet. It was named for President William McKinley in 1897, but Native Alaskans have petitioned the National Board of Geographic Names to change the name to the Alaskan name, Denali, meaning “The Great One” in Athabaskan. The Alaska Board of Geographic Names changed the name in 1975. They requested that the name be changed by the US Board, but based on some political shenanigans by the Congressman from William McKinley’s home district in Ohio, the name has not yet been officially changed. Alaskans call the mountain Denali; visitors call it McKinley. I call it “Gorgeous”.
It’s hard to describe seeing the mountain emerge in the distance, since most of the time it is shrouded by cloud cover. We were told by numerous people that we had a 20% chance of seeing it during our visit, so I could understand Frank’s excitement when he realized that the snow-covered peak emerging from the mist was the fabled mountain itself. The only thing I can compare it to is riding down the highway from Alexandria to Cairo and seeing the Pyramids emerge from the haze in the distance, like a mirage or a waking dream.