Saturday, April 25, 2015

The East Fork Cabin at Denali National Park and Preserve - Adolf Murie's base camp for pioneering wolf studies

The East Fork (Murie) cabin in the 1990s

As early as 1922, rangers erected a tent near the confluence of the East Fork of the Toklat River and Coal Creek (43 miles from park headquarters) for shelter during winter patrols of Mount McKinley National Park. In 1928 the Alaska Road Commission (ARC), which was building a road through the park, constructed a shelter cabin there.
The “East Fork” cabin became part of a construction camp providing support for constructing a bridge across the East Fork and the section of road over Polychrome Pass. Photos of the camp show about 10 tents spread out below the cabin. After the road was completed, rangers used the cabin for shelter during their patrols.

According to National Register of Historic Places documents, the one-room 14-foot by 16-foot cabin is constructed of peeled logs sawn flat on three sides. The ends of the logs are squared notched. A gable roof extends beyond the cabin front, forming a porch, and there is a small storage platform under the eaves to the left of the front door.

The cabin was originally roofed with rolled roofing, which has been replaced with wood shakes. The rear wall has a small window, and there is a larger double window in the south wall. Both windows were originally multi-pane, but have been upgraded with single-pane windows. When the cabin is not occupied, the windows are protected with bear-proof shutters (with nails protruding outward to discourage bruins) and a removable bear-proof door.

The cabin has been occupied by many park employees in its 80-plus years but the most well-known resident was Adolf Murie, renowned wildlife biologist and wolf expert. Adolf (1899-1974) first came to Denali in 1922 as the assistant to his older half-brother Olaus Murie, who was studying caribou for the U.S. Biological Survey.

During parts of their “off” seasons, the brothers rented a cabin in Fairbanks. While there they became acquainted with Margaret Thomas and her half-sister, Louise Gillette. Olaus married Margaret in 1924, and Adolf and Louise were married in 1932.

After the 1923 field season Adolf returned to the Lower 48 to complete his education, eventually receiving his Ph.D from the University of Michigan in 1929. He was hired by the newly formed Wildlife Division of the National Park Service in 1934 and was sent back to Mount McKinley National Park in 1939 to study the relationship between wolves and Dall sheep.

During the 1939 field season Adolf worked out of the Igloo Creek patrol cabin at 33 Mile of the park road with two assistants. In his book, The Wolves of Mt. McKinley, he wrote that he hiked about 1,700 miles that summer.

The next summer Adolf (along with his wife, 4-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son) moved into the East Fork cabin. Adolf conducted his wildlife studies solo that year, while Louise and children stayed at the cabin. Adolf wrote of arriving home one evening to discover that Louise, brandishing a stove poker, had been forced to chase a grizzly away from the cabin that day.

Adolf’s pioneering wolf study (published in 1944) forever changed how people viewed wolves. He depicted wolves as complex creatures with unique individual personalities and strong family ties. He even named the wolves he studied. Adolf also demonstrated the inter-dependent and generally beneficial relationship between predator and prey.

He later worked full-time at Mount McKinley National Park, and according to the book, Snapshots from the Past; a roadside history of Denali National Park and Preserve, spent several full years and over 25 summers” at Denali. Eight of those summers were spent at what is now called the Murie cabin.


"Adolph Murie: Denali’s wilderness conscience." Linda Franklin. Master’s thesis, University of Alaska Fairbanks. 2004  
 “Patrol Cabins – Mt. McKinley National Park, National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form.” National Park Service. 1986  

Snapshots from the Past: a roadside history of Denali National Park and Preserve. Jane Bryant. National Park Service. 2011  

The Wolves of Mt. McKinley. Adolf Murie. National Park Service. 1944  

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