GHC student spends summer in Alaska

Gene Harmon

Gene Harmon giving a tour to visitors at Denali Park contributed
Gene Harmon giving a tour to visitors at Savage Cabin, Denali National Park & Preserve. Photo taken by Stephan Zacharias.

At some point, we all envision having a dream job in which we get paid to do something we truly love to do. It is almost laughable to even refer to it as “work.” However, this reality is rare.

In my case, reality happened this summer. I got my dream job.

Early this spring, I received a job offer for somewhere I never thought possible. Arriving in May, I have worked for the summer as a living history interpreter at Denali National Park & Preserve in Alaska.

I prepared a 10-minute presentation which is given to tour groups at Savage Cabin. This cabin was built in 1924 by the Alaska Road Commission as their first cookhouse during construction of the park road and is still used as a stopover by rangers on winter dogsled patrols.

These presentations were given in third-person until switching over to first-person in mid-August. As of this writing, I have given 262 talks with three weeks left before returning home.

This wilderness is like nothing I have seen before, and I have watched as all four seasons have unfolded. The winter snows gave way to the green colors of summer, the tundra appearing deceptively as a lush green carpet. The dwarf birch which covers most of this is actually three to four feet high.

Recently, summer relinquished its fragile hold as fall exploded in multiple shades of yellow, gold and red. Snow adorns the peaks, moving farther down the slopes with each snowfall.

Wildlife disappears quickly in this landscape. I have seen horseshoe hare, moose, caribou, grizzly, lynx, Dall sheep and assorted smaller mammals and birds. A wolf, so far, has eluded me, even after finding tracks, scat and a recent moose kill.

Denali (aka Mount McKinley) rises over 20,000 feet as the highest mountain in North America. Its two peaks are separated by two miles and are yearly shrouded in snow and ice. It dominates the horizon on clear days. In the park almost daily, I have only seen it about 35 times.

This wildness now has a place in my heart. In the last couple of weeks many have asked if I will return next summer. I cannot answer, but know there is much I have not seen of this vast wilderness. In a way, I am now part of Denali.

Toklat River and Divide Mountain, Denali National Park & Preserve. Photo taken by Gene Harmon.