The first place winners of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) history month essay contest were announced earlier this year.

This year’s topics were, “Celebrating a Century: America’s National Parks” for grades 5-8 and “Technology’s Impact on the Voyage of Christopher Columbus” for grades 9-12.

Below is the essay written by eighth-grade winner Gabrielle Rees Wood


Celebrating a Century: America’s National Parks

Denali National Park and Preserve

By Gabrielle Rees Wood

Faith Christian School


Dear Journal,

This year for our family vacation, my parents decided to take us to Denali National Park in Alaska. To me, it sounds super boring. In the morning, we are going to leave around 5 a.m. I don’t know if my parents realize it, but I’m a teenage girl. I need sleep. My dad said that it would take us 74 hours to get there. That means 74 long hours with a two-year-old sitting beside me. I went and did a little research, and the mountain that the park is named after is actually really cool.


Day one

This morning, we had to wake up at 5 a.m. My dad told me to bring his laptop so that I could do research on the park. I found this awesome website that gave me a lot of cool details about the park. I found out that the name “Denali” means “the high one,” and that name definitely suits the mountain which has the highest elevation of any mountain in North America. It was formerly known as Mount McKinley, named by a local prospector in 1897 after President McKinley. I also learned Charles Alexander Sheldon, a renowned hunter and conservationist and member of The Boone and Crocket Club, founded Denali National Park and Preserve as an idea that took 11 years until it was to be signed into legislation by President Woodrow Wilson on February 26, 1917.


Day two

We decided to drive all day and stop at Starbucks to get coffee. While we were at Starbucks, I took advantage of their free WIFI and watched a short little documentary on the park. It was really cool and showed the forests and tundra as well as the big Dall sheep that inhabit the park. I think I might actually have fun on this trip. Then we got back on the road.


Day three

After driving and driving and driving, we finally made it to Whitehorse, Canada, but our driving wasn’t over yet. I’m so excited to see snow again. We have about 13 more hours of driving to do, but it will be worth it I think.


Day four

Finally, after a long car ride, we made it to Denali National Park and Preserve. It is breath taking. We are going to stay at a lodge somewhere in the park tonight. As we sat together in our car, we decided that in order for us to be able to see everything, we are going to have to stay for about 3 days. My dad told us that in order for us to get to the lodge we are going to go for a shuttle bus ride on the 94-mile long road that goes through the park.

We took the shuttle bus after driving into the park and reaching the Savage Creek Bridge, which is as far as you can drive your car into the park on the Denali Park Road, which is not paved, but gravel and dirt. This was about 15 miles in where we boarded the bus for the trip to the lodge. First we went through what the tour bus guide called Boreal Forest, with tall sporadic pines, and then we went through the wide-open tundra. We saw all kinds of wildlife, including: Grizzly Bears, a moose, and even a wolverine. The roads weaved up into the mountains and in several places there were sheer drops off the cliffs with no guardrails. I am terrified of heights, so this was extremely scary for me. But, the view was majestic.

After a 6-hour bus ride, we finally reached Kantishna River and the lodge area in the park where we are spending the next day. We are staying at the Kantishna Roadhouse Lodge. It’s a really cool log cabin style hotel nestled in this remote Alaska wilderness. And, guess what. There’s no television or internet here. I love it, though. There is a storyteller in the library tonight telling us all about the original use for the lodge: the great gold rush. I can’t wait to go prospecting for gold myself tomorrow.


Day five

Today we took a guided tour in which we panned for gold. I even found some myself. Then we went on to Wonder Lake. Imagine you can see the great mountain. It is jaw dropping to say the least. A great rolling hill of green grass back dropped by a snow-covered mountain with rivers of ice cascading down from its majestic peaks. Ok, I’m blown away. My dad even got to go fly fish in the lake while we picked wild blue berries and cranberries from the ground around the lake. They were so delicious.

Back at the lodge and snuggled in my bed, I couldn’t stop thinking of Denali, the high one shining so white in the sun. This was a vacation I won’t soon forget. And to think I never knew that the park was a national treasure until I saw it for myself.