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The Natural Beauty and History of Wrangell-Saint Elias Is Impressive

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  • Pages: 5
  • Word count: 1032
  • Category: Hiking

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For my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary my extended family and I visited Alaska on a weeklong cruise. I was younger at the time, so I was focused on basic site seeing, panning for gold, and attending the classic tourist traps. I only wish that I could have been older to fully appreciate the beauty that the cruise had to offer. One of the stops on the cruise was Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park. I was not able to fully appreciate the awe-inspiring natural beauty and history of the park then so being able to visit Wrangell-Saint Elias is on the top of my bucket list after I graduate.

According to the National Park Service, there are 417 parks throughout the United States covering roughly 84 million acres[1- national parks.org/ how many nation]. The largest of these national parks is Wrangell-Saint Elias covering 13 million acres. To add to the magnificent statistics of this park, nine of the sixteen highest mountain peaks reside in this park. This park includes a 1,000 square mile glacier, Malaspina, which is one of the dominate features. A combination of impressive geologic features and the recreational activities that the park offers would make it impossible to pass up an expense free trip to Wrangell-St Elias National Park.

An overview of my trip to Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park includes hiking, camping, and adventure tours on a five-day excursion. To please all travelers, I will be visiting the park in the spring months. Here, hopefully there is a mix of sunshine, wildflowers, and the brisk weather. I will be sure to take acknowledgement of the geologic features present, as they are the backbone of Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park. With the creation of my itinerary, my group will fly into Anchorage. There, we would rent a motor home and make our way down to Wrangell- Saint Elias National Park. There are several close campgrounds in the area, however the most praised is Kendesnii campground which would allow us to easily reside here. On day one, we would settle into our place and tour the surrounding areas prior to dinner.

Starting early the next morning, we would delve right into the heart of the park with a full day Alpine Guide Adventure. This would include glacier hiking and ice climbing. The full day glacier hike would allow us to explore features such as: blue pools, canyons, caves, and crevasses. The most interesting part for me on this 10-mile hiking day would be the hike through Jumbo Creek ice cave. Here, you are surrounded by blue ice all around. This is carved by the Creek flowing below the glacier and is said to be one of the most unique places of the park. For the third day, a kayaking trip in the glacial lake is planned. A more relaxing day allows for the appreciation and views of the glacial valley. A benefit of this adventure is the geologic processes that are visible by kayak. The fourth day would consist of strictly hiking the trails at your own pace. If desired, one could see the breathtaking views from base to summit, from lookout points, or whatever they so desire. With much disappointment, the fifth day is when I would pack up my crew and start to head back to the airport. The sights at Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park would undoubtedly be a once in a life time opportunity.

The recreational activities pointed out above would not be possible without the geological processes that shaped it to how it is today. This area is said to be a geological wonderland by attracting world wide researchers to investigate the plate tectonics, volcanism, and glaciation of the park. Beneath the main physical geological features such as mountain peaks and valleys lie a wealth of park history. This park holds distinctive fault systems that have been displaced by the motion of crustal plate. The adjacent differing fragments contain structural modifications that show what these areas have endured and exemplify that they are separated by a fault. To distinguish different historic periods of these fragments, they have been categorized into terranes. This park is home to seven differing terranes, representing either old continental crust, oceanic crust, or volcanic island remains. A northward migration of these terraces exposed what the park shows today of difference deformed, metamorphosed rocks.

Among the seven terranes, there is an active terrane known as the Yakutat. This oceanic based crust contains Eocene sedimentary rocks with pockets of basalt. This area is still considered active due to a related subduction zone in the Yakutat block. As learned in lecture, this subduction zone generates a seismically active area. With the uplifting of crust due to the Pacific and North American plate collision and the magma forming, the Wrangell Volcanic Field formed. This includes thousands of lava flows and one of the largest active volcanoes in the world, Mount Wrangell. In addition to the exceptional feat of a volcanically active area, Wrangell- Saint Elias National Park is home to four mountain ranges. These are: Wrangells, St Elias, Chugach, and Mentasta.

Another geological standout of the park is the glacial network. It is estimated to have almost 25 percent of the park covered with glaciers. These headwaters of the river systems characterize the park. Heavy with sediment, the filling up of channels requires the glaciers to change course. These glaciers cut through the mountains, creating valleys. Eventually, these river heads reach the sea. The rivers in the park are used to indicate the changing landscape. Glacier movement is an important geologic feature of the park, which could be argued as the most distinguishable process of the park. One of the most known glaciers is Hubbard Glacier because of its advancing into the channel causing sediment blockage. This may be a result of rising temperatures making ice sheets melt.

After being able to research the geology and potential activities this park holds, it only makes me want to visit it more. I want to be able to appreciate the processes that have been active throughout life and learn the importance of acknowledging geologic history. I hope I will be able to experience the scenery it has to offer soon, rather than day dream and living vicariously through photographs.

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