17 Days of Green – Moss & Lichen

In Denali National Park & Preserve, it’s easy to fixate on the big stuff.

At a staggering 20,320″, Mt. McKinley is high on the list of things Park visitors hope to see.

The south-side view of Mt. McKinley from Byer's Lake, Denali State Park, Alaska.

Due to the Mountain’s height, however, it’s obscured by clouds nearly 70% of the summer.

So glimpsing the Park’s “charismatic megafauna” – moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves & grizzly bears – is next on the wish-list of most Denali Park visitors.

Grizzly bear near Toklat Ranger Station. (Photo by Kent Miller)

However, Denali is a National Park, not a zoo. The wildlife is wild, revealing itself in brief, unpredictable and often far-away glimpses.

Caribou near the Park road between Toklat and Polychrome Pass. (Photo by Kent Miller)

As a Park Ranger, I preferred to focus on the small, everyday stuff all around us. In a subarctic environment, that meant a lot of moss and lichen.

A deep bed of sphagnum moss along the Byer's Lake trail in Denali State Park, 2003.

I’m a firm believer that it’s important to slow down and notice the little things in life.
Little things can change your perspective, and surprise you with unexpected beauty.

Sphagnum moss is fascinating up close.

When you rush through your days, you risk missing the beauty right at your feet.

On every guided Ranger hike, I encouraged Park visitors to slow down and investigate the abundant moss & lichen they might otherwise overlook.

'Old Man's Beard' is a kind of lichen usually found growing on trees.

(So, this would be 'Old Man's Mustache' lichen, then?)

Volunteering with the Park Kennels 3 winters, I had the honor of naming a litter of pups.

Sled dogs are named thematically after Park features such as mountains, rivers & wildflowers. (Photo by Kent Miller)

My choice for a litter theme? (Wait for it…) Lichens!

Dusty, of the Denali Park lichen litter. (NPS photo)

Pixie takes a break during a sled dog demonstration at Park HQ. (NPS photo by Jess O'Connor)

Shadow, enjoying her view from the Wonder Lake Ranger Station. (NPS Photo by Bridget Borg)

For me, learning to enjoy the little things makes all the difference.

17 Days of Green – The Green & Grey of the NPS

Once upon a time, I wore the green & grey uniform of a US National Park Service Ranger.

Embroidered emblem of the National Park Service.

Official NPS Arrowhead embroidered shoulder patch on official NPS green fleece ranger jacket.

The Park Service's official Arrowhead tie tac on the official NPS green tie.

I enjoyed wearing the NPS Ranger uniform. Life is far simpler with fewer clothing options.

NPS regulations specify that the name plate be pinned 1/4" above the right breast pocket, thusly.

When I left the Park Service, I had to relinquish my 2 official NPS Ranger badges.

However, I earned this Junior Ranger badge fair & square, so it’s mine for keeps:

Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges!

And, I still have my National Park Service “Smokey Bear” flat hat:

The USNPS embossed brown leather headband on the felt Park Ranger Hat is an iconic symbol, instantly recognizable.

Nothing says 'Park Ranger' quite like the grey felt ranger hat!

When Andy & I left Denali National Park, we were given a joint Arrowhead plaque:

Meditate, Live purely, Be quiet. Do your work with Mastery. Like the Moon, come out from behind the clouds! Shine. - 'The Enlightened One'

This custom Buddha quote is not standard issue for NPS plaques.

Additionally, I received a Star Award recognizing my “professionalism, dedication and hard work on behalf of Denali National Park“:

NPS Star Award presented to Carrie Cahill Mulligan, 2004.

I'm still proud of my work as a Park Ranger in Denali National Park and Preserve.

The NPS uniform, although simple, is actually quite amazing. It lends authority and credibility, transforming even the scruffiest group of young hippies:

25 Interpretive Park Rangers bundle up against the spring chill at Polychrome Pass in Denali National Park, Alaska.

Denali National Park Service Interpretive Ranger Training, Polychrome Pass, Alaska, May 1998.

In the end, my time in Denali National Park transformed me as well.

No matter what I do, I’ll always consider myself an NPS Park Ranger on the inside.