Alaska’s Savage River
Inside Denali National Park and Preserve
By Valerie Winans
A Writer for Readers of All Ages
Our adventures traveling to and working in Alaska were shared by our friend and companion Remington Beagle. He was most often the first to greet anyone coming onto our campsite. As people stopped to pet Remington it was an opportunity to strike up a conversation. As in most any other job communication is the key to good campground hosting. If you build rapport with campers it is much easier when you have to request that they comply with rules. So Remington was a big help to us in establishing good relations with our customers.
Each day that we were on duty we would walk the whole campground many times. I started my day at 7:00 a.m. with a walk through the campground. At this time of the day, there was a lot of activity because people were eating breakfast and getting ready for their activities for the day. My next walkabout would usually be about 9:00 a.m., and Remington always accompanied me on this second trip around the campground. This hike took longer than the first because Remington needed to stop and sniff along the way. If he saw another dog on a campsite, the next trip through the campground he would be looking for the dog before we reached that site again.
One day as Remington and I traversed the campground we rounded a curve in the road and came face to face with a huge cow moose. I’m not sure which of us was the most startled. I was very scared because we learned that more people are injured by moose every year in the park than by grizzly bears. Moose will trample you, and especially if there is a dog involved because moose look at any dog as though it is a wolf and wolves are a major danger to moose because they eat their young and weak. So after a quick intake of air, I started pulling back on Remington’s leash and speaking softly to the moose. As I backed up so did Remington – he did not make a sound but was fixated on the moose. I was backing toward the trees at the edge of the road thinking that maybe I could escape a trampling by getting behind a tree, but what about Remington? He continued to slowly and silently back up with me when all of a sudden the moose darted into the woofs on the opposite side of the road and away from us. I believe that if Remington had not been silent we probably would have been attacked by that moose. He rarely barks which is unusual for a beagle, but I was thankful that he chose this time to be silent.
I enjoyed working in the park during the early hours of the day and into the afternoon when Dave would take over the hosting duties. Dave walked the park or stayed by our campfire until the park was quiet and we assumed the campers were in bed for the night. During his nightly excursions around the park, he regularly saw a lynx. Snowshoe hares were plentiful in the park and that is a favorite food for a lynx.
A Note From Remington Beagle:
Val and I went for a walk after supper today. I should say that Val went for a walk, and I went for a sniff. I am very happy on a sniff, and I am wagging my tail and sniffing along Let’s see…that’s snowshoe hare, snowshoe hare, the neighbor’s dogs, red squirrel, human, ptarmigan…this is so much fun!
We are walking from our campsite out toward the park road, and on our way, we pass the big park bulletin board where information about the park and schedules for interpretive programs are posted. The bulletin board is enclosed with glass and has a nice shake-shingled roof. It was lying on the ground for a while, because the supporting posts had rotted, and a good wind blew it down. When it was lying on the ground I would chuckle to myself to see humans bending over to read the stuff on the ground. Anyhow, no one is at the bulletin board today as we walk and sniff on by.
We are casually moving along toward the exit of the campground when all of a sudden I smell a smell I have never smelled before. This is so different, and so fresh, and so wild, that ignoring the rules for dogs to keep off of trails and out of the woods, I instinctively head toward the enticing aroma.
“Remington! You can’t go in there.”
“Are you kidding me? This scent is really something – I need to keep going.”
Right about now Val notices that my hackles are up. She kneels down and looks in the direction I am sniffing.
“Yikes! It’s a lynx,” she says.
Her human eyes are better than mine. I can’t see the thing, but I sure know it’s there. Before I know what has hit me, she has picked me up and is hurrying back to the trailer. Well, that was a short walk!
“Dave, Remington found a lynx. I’m going back to get a picture. Wanna come?”
“No, you go ahead. Do you really think that the lynx is going to wait for you to get back with the camera?”
Sure enough, when Val gets back to the spot – no lynx. She just hates it when Dave is always right. Down on one knee, she scans the woods to no avail. Turning to head back and admit failure, she looks on the opposite side of the road, and there he is! Val is able to get her picture and triumphantly return to camp with her prize. She gives me all the credit, saying that she never would have seen it in the first place if it hadn’t been for me.
The ranger doing the interpretive programs told Dave that her program that evening was going to be on lynx. Dave told her that we have been seeing one or two different lynx in the campground nearly every night. Dave jokingly said he would try to get one to walk her way for her presentation. The ranger was just beginning her program when a lynx casually strolled the perimeter of the amphitheater behind her and then went off into the woods. When the program was over, Dave said to the ranger, “That’ll be $20 for the lynx appearance.”
The ranger laughed and said, “Tomorrow I’m doing a program at Riley Creek on grizzly bears. Can you get me a grizzly?
“That’ll be $50,” said Dave.
Walking the park with Remington made me feel somewhat safer because I felt that he would alert me to approaching danger. I never really got over my fear, but the good thing was that worked through it. I had a job to do and just had to suck it up and do it – and I’m so glad that I did.