Denali 8. Mr Cheep’s revenge

Day 7:

Last full day in the park.

My plan is to pack up and get to the road in time to meet the first bus out in the morning. I have some things to do in Anchorage so I want to get back ASAP. I think the first bus leaves Wonder Lake at 6:30 but I’m not sure, and more importantly I don’t know how far Wonder Lake is. So since the weather is a bit crappy today anyway, I pack up my day pack and hike to the road. I get on a bus to Wonder Lake. It is weird to be among: 

  1. people 
  2. other campers 
  3. tourists

I realize that the landscape around Wonder Lake is much more in line with the kind of view that Sydney Laurence was portraying of Denali. This picture would be a very Sydney Laurence view of Denali, if not for the clouds.

On top of everything else I hadn’t seen a real TREE in 6 days. Also, I realized that if I were to ever come back here, I might want to use the campground at Wonder Lake as a base. This is what I saw a lot of people doing.

The Wonder Lake area is beautiful. There were a lot of mosquitos, and I felt a smug satisfaction at how much of a hardship this seemed to be for some of the tourists. I used a urinal, and washed my hands in a sink. Seeing my face in a mirror was also kind of strange.

I ride the bus back, past my valley to the Eielson Visiter Center. This is a pretty amazing place with a lot of info. I watch a 17 minute movie about climbing Mt. McKinly. I don’t need to do THAT. A bear shows up and the rangers have to close down one of the trails and one of the observation decks. I have to exert effort not to feel blasé and superior. Yes the guy who spilled half his water the on his first night is now Grizzly Adams.

I had been to the Visiter Center on my way in. All of the buses make a stop at all of the half dozen or so facilities like this. It’s set up very much as a way for people who are only visiting the park on the road to get a direct sense of the park. And they do a good job. I saw a small family get off a bus, kids running around and screaming. Later I saw a ranger corral the same kids, put her hat on each of their heads, make them do something like a scouting salute and swear an oath to protect the environment. The look in the kids’ eyes was really kind of cool. Like a lot of rangers that I’ve met, these people have a sense of which war they’re in the front lines of.


In addition to the bear, there was an arctic fox who appeared to be quite habituated to the center. Nothing was closed down when this guy showed up.

These moose skulls were reportedly found in this locked state.

One spur of one’s antler stabbing deep into the eye socket of the other. They died like this.

John Muir is still very much a guiding spirit in a park like this. Denali National Park would probably not exist without him. There is a stone at the visiter center with a quote by him carved into it:

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

My life is continually teaching me that this is true in art. This thought made me feel closer to Muir than I think I ever have before.

I talk to a ranger after the bear goes away. Mostly I want to verify some things about the caribou from yesterday. I also talk to the bus dispatcher about my plan for tomorrow. Everyone is gratifyingly happy that I’ve been out for week. They say things like “Nice going!” or “Well done!” I don’t know if they would say that if they had seen me stumbling around out there, but it makes me happy. I eat my lunch at a table!! I get a bus back to Mt. Galen and take a bit of a detour to look at the expanse of the Thorofare River delta.

I see another bear on the way back but he doesn’t affect my route.

However, when I get back, Mr. Cheeps is again upset.

Here is some video I shot of Mr. Cheeps the ground squirrel: YouTube video of Mr Cheeps

He has even acted out a bit. There are now two little nibbles out of the heel of one of my Crok flip-flops that were in the vestibule of the tent. More dramatically there are two little holes in the largest of my water bags. It is now useless. Harumph!

As I write this, I am reminded of something Lynn Schooler said to me about nature documentaries. He was talking about how, over the years that he was serving as a guide for a lot of documentaries, he saw a decline in quality, which he correlated with the educations and interests of the people who were shooting them. To paraphrase and generalize: It used to be that they were being shot by people who deeply understood the biological and zoological science behind what they were doing. Genuine experts who were interested in getting good footage that accurately represented the true nature of the animals and environments they were filming. The shift has been towards expert cinematographers who have a deep understanding of dramatic structure who are interested in getting cool shots of good looking animals doing exciting things, whether it’s scientifically representative or not.

He said: If you’re watching something and they give an animal a name… be careful.

So I’m very aware when I anthropomorphize a caribou or a ground squirrel that I am skating on thin ice. I actually have a deep problem with it. As I think I’ve said before, I think when we anthropomorphize, we’re cutting our imaginations off from exploring forms of consciousness that are significantly different from our own. I don’t think that whales are beautiful because they demonstrate sentience that is similar to ours. I think they’re amazing because they are the apex of a form of sentience that is their own. Just as we are. We are profoundly “other” to each other. And therefore we must tread softly when around each other. We can’t assume we know what’s going on in the other mind, and we diminish it when we try.

But Mr Cheeps is a water bag & flip-flop nibbling little terrorist who deserves to be reduced to a YouTube cliche! As much as I can be interested in the alien mind of the other… this guy was driving me NUTS! Cheeping like that RIGHT BESIDE MY HEAD…

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