While most who visit this area, exclaim over the mountain (it IS the highest peak in North America), Charles Sheldon was fascinated by the Dall sheep that he saw here. As a naturalist, he recognized the need to protect the sheep and lobbied Congress to establish the park to protect the sheep, after observing that commercial hunters were decimating the population. President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill creating the park on Feb. 26, 1917. For its Park Centennial in 2017, Denali National Park chose the Dall sheep to grace its anniversary logo. But Sheldon sheltered much more than the Dall sheep; the park is currently home to 39 species of mammal including caribou, grizzly bear, moose, wolves and many others.
Now so much more than just the wildlife refuge that Sheldon envisioned, the park carries out scientific research, offers educational programs and welcomes more visitors than any other attraction in Alaska. The 92-mile Park Road is a park-bus-only access route, protecting the wildness of the Park’s interior. Bring your camera and binoculars, climb aboard and watch for wildlife and Denali: at 20,310 feet, it’s hard to miss unless it is wrapped in clouds, as it often is.
Before or after your park visit, be sure to stop in at Talkeetna and go through the Talkeetna Historical Society Museum’s Mountain Exhibit. Here the history of mountaineers who pioneered climbing Denali as well as those who have summited more recently, are on display along with a scale model of the mountain and great deal of historical information on Don Sheldon (unrelated to Charles) who was a famous pioneer of Alaska aviation.
Charles Sheldon would likely be surprised at the changes that 100 years have brought to Denali National Park and outlying area but his vision of protecting the Dall sheep and other wildlife here has been wonderfully fulfilled. While mountain climbers continue to brave the eternally snow-covered and often unforgiving mountain that first drew climbers in 1903, some of us simply take the shortcut—a flightseeing trip to view the park and “Great One” from the air.