Wrangell St. Elias National Park

Wrangell St. Elias National Park is the largest national park in America

Wrangell St. Elias National Park is over 8 million acres and protects the convergence of the Alaska, Chugach, and Wrangell-Saint Elias Ranges, which include many of the continent’s tallest mountains and volcanoes, including the 18,008-foot Mount Saint Elias. More than a quarter of the park is covered with glaciers, including the tidewater Hubbard Glacier, piedmont Malaspina Glacier, and valley Nabesna Glacier.

Wrangell St. Elias National Park Geology

Wrangell St. Elias National Park is comprised of 7 exotic terranes

Wrangell St. Elias is a wonderland of geology. Massive peaks, volcanoes, countless glaciers, and huge rivers set the stage for unsurpassed geologic exploration. This diverse landscape attracts researchers from all over the world to investigate volcanism, glaciation, plate tectonics, and quaternary geology.

Diverse Origins

Southern Alaska is a patchwork of geologically distinctive crustal fragments separated by major fault systems. These fragments exist in all shapes and sizes, but each has a history of its own. All are exotic—that is, they were formed elsewhere and transported to their present position by the motions of crustal plates. Some have been rotated relative to their neighbors, and some have been displaced vast distances compared to less traveled nearby fragments. Thus, adjacent fragments generally differ in the characteristics of the rocks which constitute them—their lithologies, and they differ in the structural modifications that those rocks have undergone—their tectonic histories. Thus, these fragments are called lithotectonic terranes—or, in shorthand, just terranes.

In southern Alaska, juxtaposition of disparate terranes has created a collage on a grand scale. Collectively, the processes by which the collage was assembled (by which south-central Alaska has grown by the addition of exotic terranes over the past 200 million years or so) are termed accretionary tectonics. This process continues in Alaska today: the latest terrane to arrive—the Yakutat terrane—still is being displaced, jamming against and beneath terranes to the north and west.

Fragmented Terranes

The makeup of these terranes is diverse: some represent pieces of old continental crust, whereas parts of others consist of oceanic crust. Some fragments represent the remains of volcanic island chains formed in the open ocean (like the Aleutian islands). Others represent volcanic chains formed on the edge of a continent (like western South America). Some terranes consist almost totally of old eroded material from the edge of North America.

Where these Alaskan terranes were formed originally and how they came to be fragmented and brought to Alaska is obscure. Most are presumed to have been derived from in and around the Pacific Ocean basin. Some may have been brought as “rafts” propelled on a conveyor belt of converging oceanic crust. Given sufficient time, oceanic crust created by seafloor spreading has the potential to convey exotic terranes great distances from their places of origin. Other terranes may have been brought northward along faults near the edge of the continent. The Yakutat terrane provides a prime example, having been transposed 375 miles along the Queen Charlotte–Fairweather transform fault system in the last 30 million years.

In fact, it has been shown that so much of Alaska consists of displaced terranes that less than 1 percent of Alaska’s total area is an original part of the North American continent. It is against this ancient continental edge that all terranes to the south accreted, including all the rocks of Wrangell Saint Elias National Park and Preserve. The park includes parts of seven terranes. From north to south, they are the Windy, Gravina Belt, Wrangellia, Alexander, Chugach, Prince William, and Yakutat terranes.

Wrangell St. Elias National Park is comprised of 7 exotic terranes that were formed elsewhere and were “rafted” to the edge of the North American continent.

Forces of Change

Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve is a fantastic laboratory and its extraordinary collection of mountains and geologic features was one of the primary reasons for the creation of the park.

The mountains here are impressive. Four ranges exist within the park – the Wrangell Mountains, St. Elias Mountains, Chugach Mountains, and the Alaska Range (Mentasta/Nutzotin Mountains) – and were created by the collisions of plates in the earth’s crust. Many of the peaks within the Wrangell Mountains were once active volcanoes. Today, only Mount Wrangell (14,163′) remains active.

Geologist have concluded that the bedrock underlying these mountains formed much further south than its present position, perhaps off of California. The movement of this terrane northward and its collision with other crustal plates caused volcanic activity, subduction, and uplift resulting in massive mountain ranges in Alaska. These plate tectonics remain an active and powerful force of change today.

On November 3, 2002 a massive 7.9 magnitude earthquake located in the central Alaska Range extended eastward along the Denali and Toshunda faults, rocking the northern district of the park. Displacement of the fault reached 5 meters in places. Damage to roads and personal property was extensive, but nobody was killed or seriously injured. This earthquake caused incredible changes to the topography of the region. Bedrock fractures were reactivated, cracks appeared in the surface and mountainsides, and huge mudslides came down many slopes. Scientists will be studying the impact of this earthquake for many years.

As you travel throughout the park, imagine the forces and processes of change that created the beautiful scenery and then remember that those same forces continue their work today. This place looks different now than it did six months ago…what will it look like when you visit?

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/wrst/learn/nature/geology.htm


Native American History

Home of the Ahtna peoples

Cover page of the Along the Ałts’e’tnaey-Nal’cine Trail report.
Along the Ałts’e’tnaey-Nal’cine Trail: Historical Narratives, Historical Places tells the story of connections that Upper Ahtna people have to the northern part of Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve, focusing on the early years of the 20th century. It is based on a series of oral history interviews conducted with Ahtna elders from the communities of Chistochina and Mentasta in 2012 along with previously conducted interviews, monographs from early United States Geological Survey expeditions to the area, and other anthropological and historical literature. At the center of this story are two women: Sarah (whose Ahtna name was Nelggodi), the wife of Charley Sanford, and her eldest daughter Daisy (whose Ahtna name was Kendesnii). Under difficult circumstances these women raised large families, and their closest surviving relatives are the primary source of information for this report. Along the Ałts’e’tnaey-Nal’cine Trail is the result of collaboration between Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve, the Cheesh’na Tribal Council, and Mount Sanford Tribal Consortium.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/wrst/learn/historyculture/historical-narratives-of-the-upper-ahtna-people.htm


Wrangell St. Elias National Park History

How Wrangell St. Elias became a National Park

Territorial Director Gruening lobbies Secretary of the Interior Ickes for the protection of the area.

Secretary Ickes recommends that President Franklin D. Roosevelt designate the area a National Monument. Roosevelt declines to act because of World War II impending.

The Statehood Act authorizes the State of Alaska to select 104 million acres from the public domain, excluding property “the right or title to which” was held by Alaska Natives.

Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) is enacted because state selections are infringing on the holdings of Alaska Natives, who file their own land claims based on aboriginal use and occupancy.

The Secretary of the Interior withdraws 80 million acres of Alaska federal lands to study for federal protection as national parks and forests.

President Jimmy Carter designates 11 million acres of federal lands in Alaska as National Monuments. Wrangell-St. Elias National Monument (10,950,000 acres) was established along with 16 other national monuments on November 16, 1978.

Wrangell-St. Elias becomes a World Heritage Site.

Alaska National Interests Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) is enacted – 104.5 million acres of Alaska comes under permanent federal protection. On November 12, 1980, President Carter designates 13.2 million acres of land as Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve. Nine other national parks and 56,000,000 acres of wilderness were designated.

The purpose of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve was and is:

to maintain the natural scenic beauty of the diverse geologic, glacial, and riparian dominated landscapes
to protect the attendant wildlife populations and their habitats
to ensure continued access for a wide range of wilderness-based recreational opportunities
to provide continued opportunities for subsistence use
Administrative History of ANILCA:
“Do Things Right the First Time” ONLINE BOOK

“Contested Ground” (pdf format, 33 MB)
The Administrative History of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/wrst/learn/historyculture/key-park-dates.htm



The best things to do in Wrangell St. Elias National Park

For Kids

Ranger Guided Tours (Interpretive talks, walks, slideshows and demonstrations)


Day Hiking


Floating and Boating

Sport Hunting and Fishing

Wildlife Viewing

Motorized Recreation

Winter Activities

Outfitters and Guides

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/wrst/planyourvisit/things2do.htm


The most common flower in Alaska appears to be the fireweed

The most common flower in Alaska appears to be the fireweed, occurring in vibrant purple rows along the highways. In the Wrangells, there represents 54% of the Alaskan flora (which has approximately 1535 species) and 69% of the Yukon Territory flora. The high diversity of sub-arctic plant communities in Wrangell-St. Elias is due in part to its large size, the three climatic zones it covers (maritime, transitional and interior), the wide variety of landforms, and the extensive and complex topographic relief found within its boundaries. Some regions of the park have a strong coastal influence, particularly in the Chugach-St. Elias and southern Wrangell Mountains. The extent of the Pleistocene glaciation has had a major effect on the distribution and composition of the flora of the park, most of which was glaciated during the last ice age.

A recent inventory of the park’s flora indicates that there are 936 vascular plant species. The sedge family has the highest number of species (111) in the park, followed by the grass family (79), the sunflower family (86) and the mustard family (74). There are 13 tree species, 27 willow species and 43 introduced species in the park. The park also has 327 documented non-vascular plants including 31 species of liverwort, 131 species of lichen and 165 species of moss.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/wrst/learn/nature/plants.htm

Animal Life

Alaska has no rabbits? 

Ten million swans, geese, and ducks nest in Alaska each year. That’s ten times the population of people in Montana!
Only female mosquitoes bite. They use blood for egg production.
Iceworms really do exist! A small segmented black worm, less than an inch long, the iceworm lives in temperatures just below freezing. They can be found in the ice on the surface of glaciers (look like black threads).
In Alaska, caribou outnumber people. There are about 616,000 people in Alaska and 900,000 caribou.
Alaska has NO rabbits (they are all hares). A rabbit is born without hair; hares are born with hair already. In Alaska, you need all the warmth you can get!
Elusive Wildlife
People often ask, “Where is the wildlife in Wrangell-St. Elias?” The answer is – wildlife is everywhere – you just need to know where to look for signs of it! Go to our Wildlife Viewing page to find out tips on how to spot wildlife.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/wrst/learn/nature/animals.htm

Hiking Trails

The best hiking trails in Wrangell St. Elias National Park

Hiking in Wrangell-St. Elias can be spectacular and we encourage you to do it! Most of our hiking trails are maintained for the first few miles and then become routes. Click on the below links to find out more and to discover the trails in each of the park’s visitor services areas.

Copper Center Area- Most of the trails in this area are outside of the park, but are still scenic with endless views of the Wrangell Mountains.
McCarthy Road and Kennecott- While the McCarthy Road has very few day hikes, Kennecott has several trails, including the best ones in the park for glacier viewing.
Nabesna Road Area- Numerous day hikes are available. Follow creeks, head into the mountains, and explore the alpine meadows in this area.
Yakutat and Coastal Area- There are no park trails in this area, but the Tongass National Forest has several trails near Yakutat that take you into the temperate rainforest.
Leave No Trace- Wrangell-St. Elias is recognized as being one of the few places remaining in the world where nature is still in charge. We need your help to keep it this way.
Backcountry Safety- At Wrangell-St. Elias you do not have to stay on maintained trails. If you go off trail, please take precautions for staying safe in this remote park.
Backpacking- for multi-day backpacking opportunities in the park, visit this webpage.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/wrst/planyourvisit/hiking-trails-routes.htm

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