Alaska’s Greatest Hits

And just like that, no more Alaska.  On Tuesday morning I begin my drive “outside” and head to Grand Teton National Park.  I’ll be filling in temporarily for an open position at our Togwotee Mountain Lodge just outside Grand Teton, and potentially making it a more permanent stay.

I had hoped to show new images in my last AK post, but two things have conspired against that.  One is that we’re in the season-end closing process and I’m really busy, the other is the weather.  It basically hasn’t stopped raining in the last 30 days.  Cold & rain do not a happy photographer make!

Since it’s possible that I may not return to AK, I thought it appropriate to assemble a “greatest hits” – a collection of my best shots, and photos that remind me of good times here.

In 2011 I arrived one week after the start of the Iditarod. So in 2012 I was excited to be here for the Fur Rendezvous Festival and the Iditarod start, both of which are held just 3 blocks from where I stayed in Anchorage. Dog mushing is THE sport in Alaska, watched with as much enthusiasm as football in other places.

Not far south of Anchorage is the Kenai Peninsula, where Seward and Homer are located. The scenery is spectacular, and this sunrise was particularly sublime.

I’ve taken 4 boat tours out of Seward in Resurrection Bay / Kenai Fjords National Park. All have been spectacular – beautiful mountains, glaciers, and lots of wildlife. How can you complain about seeing whales and sea otters?

Potter Marsh is just south of Anchorage, only 10 minutes from downtown. It’s a beautiful spot, and I caught it this April 2011 evening in wonderful light.

Regular readers certainly know that I love the Denali Highway. While the park is amazing, and vastly better for wildlife viewing, I love the scenery on this 135 mile dirt road, and the fact that I can actually drive it, instead of taking a bus. This is one of my favorite ponds on the entire road, and it’s thankfully relatively close to home. May 2011

The same pond, different angle. May 2012.

Last year I started a “photo safari” series for our employees, which has been extremely popular. The first one, June 2011, was popular enough that we had to take 2 vans.

We sponsor 2 running races in the park each season to raise funds for local non-profits. I’m not a great runner, but I decided to race in one. I worked hard to keep up with a 22 year old employee on the 5k run. I’ve never run so fast, and I hurt for 3 days after!

Part of my job is helping to organize a monthly Employee Appreciation event. Food, music, games… The managers played the employees at this particular event in July 2012, and got our butts kicked. Next time…

This trip (July 2011) is when things started to get better for me in Alaska. This 3 night camping trip was spectacular, and I loved this particular camping spot.

After a slow start, in July of this year I started to be more active summiting peaks. The late light in Alaska creates surreal experiences, allowing one to reach the top of a peak at nearly 10pm in daylight. This hike was fun – once I got above the brush. The hour it took to thrash through thick willows and mosquitoes had me cursing quite a bit.

My job creates an amazing opportunity to get on tours for incredibly reduced prices, which means that I have gone flightseeing in Denali 5 times in two seasons. While all the flights are spectacular, the glacier landing is a particular treat. This July 2011 trip to the Ruth Glacier at the base of Denali was THE highlight of my summer.

I was able to get away this year for two 3 day trips, which is a mental lifesaver. One day on this trip I hiked out to the head of the Gulkana glacier, off the Richardson Hwy.

A bachelor herd of Dall sheep tend to hang out near Polychrome pass, creating great photo opportunities for bus riders in the park. It’s also prime hiking. One day in July I hiked up to the top of the peak they hang out on, and visited with them for about 30 minutes before continuing further up the ridge.

Lots of peaks! The choice is nearly limitless. I had eyed this peak on the Toklat River several times, and finally decided to make a long day of it. It was a fantastic hike with great scenery. Reality hit a week later when a hiker was killed by a grizzly bear in the very area I visited on this hike! It was the first time a human was killed by a bear in Denali, and created quite a bit of news.

The scenery interacting with the clouds and broken light can be outrageous in central Alaska, and this day in August 2012 was no exception. I think this will continue to be one of my favorite photos from 2 seasons in Alaska.

Alaska wildflowers can’t compare to Colorado. But that makes the ones we do have more special. I caught these flowers on a hike just after it rained, and the light was just right. Probably my favorite flower photo that I’ve shot.

Although they weren’t successful this year, last year I led hikes almost every week with groups of 4-12 employees. On this hike up Dragonfly Creek, 7 of us faced brutal winds but had a great time nonetheless. Jumping up and getting blown 3 feet back by the wind was quite entertaining. This image, along with 3 others, was featured on our 2012 recruiting materials.

My August 2012 trip to Wrangell St. Elias National Park yielded 3 spectacular memories. The ice caves of the Root Glacier were an absolute highlight of my 2 summers here.

While driving to Wrangell St. Elias National park this year, I was treated to my best show of the northern lights (on my birthday!) in 2 seasons here. They were incredibly bright, very active, and lasted for about an hour. They are not quite this bright in real life – the long exposure necessary makes them brighter in photos than in real life. But trust me, they are spectacular in real life.

The end of August and the beginning of September is the best time in Denali. The colors are beyond belief. In 2011 we were blessed with incredible storms that created amazing light.

Colors, colors, and more colors! Late August 2012.

2011 was definitely a better year for me for wildlife viewing. I got pretty lucky with lots of wildlife sightings close to the road. Grizzlies gorge on berries during early fall, typically consuming 100,000 per day.

My last bus ride into the park in 2011 was pretty amazing. The highlight was seeing the entire Grant Creek wolf pack (12 of them!) slowly make their way down the Toklat River and right by the bus. The driver was retiring after 25 years, and that was his 2nd to last drive ever, and he was beyond ecstatic. In 25 years he had never seen that many wolves at one time.

We had a great group of managers this year. We had some very interesting challenges, one of which we are still dealing with the aftermath of, but it’s been a great summer. I love this shot we took just last week. What absolutely makes the shot is Luke, near the side, wearing a bowtie, with a wonderful expression on his face.

I probably won’t be able to post for about 2 weeks, as I’m shipping my computer in the morning, and I can’t do photo editing on my work laptop.  But hopefully in two weeks I’ll have great photos and stories to tell from a few thousand miles of driving the AlCan highway through Canada into the lower 48!