The clouds were in the way. The snow-covered peak known as Denali was hidden, as it usually is, behind blankets of clouds. Denali is the highest mountain peak in North America with an elevation of 20,310 feet above sea level. Every tourist visiting Alaska wants a picture of it without the clouds. Unfortunately, the clouds are almost always there, morning, noon and night. According to our guide, the wondrous Denali, “the big one, ” was only seen and photographed by about 30% of those who came to visit (tourists). Denali was once known as Mount McKinley, but the Koyukon people who inhabit the area have referred to it as “Denali” for centuries. The U.S.Department of the Interior finally made Denali the official name in 2015.
Determined to have a picture of Denali without the clouds and in spite of the odds, I took photo after photo of it in the early morning, mid-morning, lunchtime, early afternoon, late afternoon and early evening for two days and still the clouds hovered. On the third day the clouds cleared for about ten minutes just before lunch and I was finally able to capture Denali (in its unnatural state—without clouds) and became a part of the thirty percent! Any 5th grader knows that mountains do not attract clouds—mountains make clouds! Yet, almost every tourist (including me) wants a photograph of Denali without clouds! It doesn’t make much sense does it?
I have no idea why this memory came to mind this morning. Perhaps it comes to tell me that it is time for me to get on the road again, or telling me in John Muir’s words, “The mountains are calling and I must go.” Or does this intruding memory suggest something else? Perhaps I am being asked this question: Do I really want to see the mountains as they are, forming and producing clouds and often hidden from view, or do I simply want to see a make-believe and unrealistic mountain without clouds? Is my traveling just “a strategy for accumulating photographs?” When I travel, do I see what is real—real people, real mountains? Charles Kuralt once said, “Thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything,” and it is possible to travel to many distant lands, to see many wonderful things, and to stay in fine hotels, and never see, know or get acquainted with the people who actually live in those places.
Sometimes, I suppose, I even want to be such a tourist in my own town and in my own country, always wanting to see mountains without clouds, life without difficulties, and roses without thorns.