Where Does Denali (Mount McKinley) Rise?

Denali (background) towering over the Susitna River (foreground) below it.

5. Description

The Denali Mountain, or Mount McKinley, is the highest mountain in North America, and the third highest one among the Seven Summits of the World after Mt. Everest in Asia and Mt. Aconcagua in South America. Mt. Denali is located in the Alaskan Range in south-central Alaska in the United States of America. The mountain rises to a staggering height of 20,310 feet. The Denali National Park and Preserve, encompassing the mountain and its surrounding landscapes, was established in February 26, 1917 to protect and preserve this unique mountain and its ecology. Fairbanks, one of the largest cities in interior Alaska, and Anchorage, Alaska’s most populous city, lie at distances of 275 kilometers and 210 kilometers, respectively, from the mountain.

4. Historical Role

The name of the mountain itself is shrouded in a lot of controversy. The name Denali is based on the local name given to the mountain by the native Koyukon Athabascan people. However, in 1896, William Dickey, a gold prospector, assigned the mountain the name of Mt. McKinley, in honor of President William McKinley of the United States. Since then, a controversial use of both the names has been in use. However, in 2015 President Obama of the United States finally restored the name of the mountain to Denali, establishing its cultural significance to the original inhabitants of the mountain's outlying regions. Throughout history, several attempts have been made to climb to the summit of Mt. Denali, and the first success was achieved in 1913 by a team of four mountaineers. Namely, these climbers were Hudson Stuck, Harry Karstens, Walter Harper, and Robert Tatum.

3. Modern Significance

Mt. Denali and its surrounding landscapes offer a stunning panoramic view with its unique Alaskan beauty. The region draws tourists from far and wide, generating income from the thriving tourism industry in this region. In 2014, 1.9 million visitors were reported to have visited Alaska for tourism, and one in every 13 jobs in the state is linked to the tourism industry. Fossils of prehistoric animals, such as the fossilized footprints of prehistoric wading birds and those of a carnivorous theropod, have been discovered in the Denali National Park and Preserve. The Denali also hosts an iconic array of Alaskan fauna, including 39 mammalian, 169 bird, and 14 fish species within the heart of its natural park.

2. Habitat

The Denali National Park and Preserve primarily is comprised by a vast expanse of tundra landscapes, with its treeline being limited to the lower slopes of the mountain at an altitude of around 2,500 feet. The lowland forests below there are comprised of such trees as willows and spruces. More than 450 species of flowering plants cover the valleys of Denali. The important mammalian species of the park include grizzly bears, the moose, coyotes, black bears, red foxes, lynxes, and beavers. A large and diverse variety of birds also populate the lowland forests and mountains of the Denali ecosystem. Migratory birds like the Arctic warbler, tundra swan, and ptarmigan inhabit the mountain habitat during the warmer seasons. Reptiles and amphibians are nearly completely absent in the Denali National Park and Preserve areas, largely due to the fact that the frigid temperatures often seen in the region make it unable to support these cold-blooded creatures.

1. Threats and Disputes

Nearly 17% of the Denali National Park and Preserve is covered by glaciers, and these play important roles in shaping the landscape of the park, as well as in supporting the flora and fauna of the Denali's ecosystems. Data gathered by aerial surveys and photography, as well as manual surveys of the glaciers on the mountain, have revealed shocking truths about the thinning and retreating nature of Denali’s glaciers. Climate change and global warming are considered to be the culprits inducing such changes. The melting of these glaciers will have significant adverse impacts on the sea water levels, and lead to large-scale flooding of land areas, destroying life and property in the process. Besides the glaciers, the wildlife of Mt. Denali is also under threat at the hands of indiscriminate killing by big game hunters, leading to a sharp decline in the number of wolves, grizzlies, moose, and other important game species of the park. Fewer than 50 wolves are reported to remain in the park as a result of the large-scale hunting of these creatures. Increased tourism pressures and the introduction of non-native, invasive species are also disturbing the fragile ecology of the area.


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