Hello…my name is Whitney Kempfert and I am from Minnesootah. I grew up in the twin cities, but some of the best times in my life have been spent outdoors and in National Parks. This is why I wanted to work for the National Park Service this summer as an SCA intern, working to support conservation and recreation.
I have been in Alaska for about two months now and have learned a lot through my experiences here. If you want to learn about my experiences in Alaska then follow me as I share, reflect on, and show you what I have learned!
Above left: View of Minneapolis skyscrapers from airplane. Above Right: View of countryside outside of Anchorage from airplane.
I am working at the Talkeetna Ranger Station, which is the South District of Denali National Park and Preserve. Talkeetna is 150 miles south of the entrance to the park. You may wonder why we are associated with the park. Talkeetna serves as an entrance to the mountains in the park because of the flights up to base camp for climbers and flights around the mountain and glacier landings for visitors. Talkeetna is also a historic railroad, gold mining, and more recently, mountaineering town. In the 1960s, climbers began coming to Talkeetna to fly up to Mount Mckinley. Today, about 1200 climbers attempt Mount McKinley each year.
Talkeetna not only offers tourist pleasures such as restaurants, gift shops, and excursions, but it also has historical cabins, a historical museum, and the ranger station. Because the rangers here are separated by space from the parks we work to promote and protect, we utilize the resources Talkeetna offers. This is often challenging to feel connected to the resources we are working to protect, but we are always developing new ways to promote the park’s mission.
Upon arrival in Alaska, the extended sunshine was enjoyable. However, after many nights of feeling like I was going to sleep at 7pm, and not actually falling asleep until 1am, I was a little agitated at the persistent arctic sun. The longest day, the solstice, is a huge celebratory day here, where it is hard to retire from the celebration when the light sky tells you it’s still day! Twilight is what we call the evening sky – not quite dark, but not quite as light as day. It looks like the sky just after sunset in the lower 48. The dark shades in my room and the blanket draped around my bunk bed help keep the brightness out… a little! I have not seen a dark sky in two months. I am looking forward to seeing stars and of course the Aurora Borealis when the sky gets dark again in September!
Living in a small one-room cabin without running water is very common in Talkeetna. Most people fish and hunt, which supplies part of their food for the year. There are no shopping malls to buy new clothes each season. There is a free bin where you can get the last 10 year’s fashions for free. Most people living here are not from here originally but from the “lower 48” and can tell you how long they have been in Alaska. Most people who visit Alaska say they always wanted to come and those who stay say they never wanted to leave.
I don’t miss shopping malls or box stores. But I don’t think I would ever want to live without running water and electricity, especially in the extreme winter here where the sun is only up for four hours and the temperatures often drop below negative 30 degrees Fahrenheit. However, I do respect those who embrace the wilderness life here and endure these conditions. There is something romantic about living the same way people did 100 years ago. Not to mention the minimal carbon footprint one would make!
Above photo: Moose on path while I was walking to work in Denali Park.