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Rangifer tarandus

Troy Hamon
Saturday, June 27, 2009

Where once there was a 7,000-foot-tall mountain, there now is a crater 3,000 feet deep. With a caribou (Rangifer tarandus) running across it in this instance.

Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve is one of the most remote parks in the National Park System. Located far north in Alaska, the park's present-day landscape was created about 3,500 years ago when a volcano erupted. The blast turned what had been a 7,00o-foot-tall mountain into a crater that's about six miles wide.

A trip to the park, even in summer, can be a trying experience.

Summer temperatures in this part of Alaska average in the high 40s to low 50s degrees Fahrenheit, with most days overcast and wet. Coastal areas are often shrouded in fog and rain. Winds are frequent and even in summer these conditions can lead to hypothermia, the dangerous lowering of the body's core temperature. As symptoms progress it becomes increasingly difficult to respond to them. Be aware of this danger and know how to avoid and treat hypothermia. Wearing layers of clothing makes it easier to regulate your body temperature.

Ah, brings back memories. I recall flying a Cessna 206 on floats into the crater and landing on Surprise Lake at the bottom. It was truly otherworldly. The weather is perhaps the most extreme of any unit of the National Park System. Aniakchak may also be the least visited park unit.

As Ray points out, Aniakchak is not exactly overwhelmed with visitors. During the last three years of record, Aniakchak had a grand total of 96 recreational visits, which is an average of 32 visitors per year). No visits at all were recorded during 26 of those 36 months. This NPS unit is certainly a great place for solitude seekers. It averages one visitor per 18,836 acres per year.

Can't help looking twice at this photo that shows a slightly underweight beast and wondering what the rest of the herd looks like. Nice photo that catches the grace of the animal.

Caribou tend to be scraggly looking in the spring and early summer. They shed their undercoat and have to endure constant attacks by insects. As fall approaches their coats fill out and they gain weight in preparation for the approaching winter.

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