I’m sure all of you will be pleased to know that I returned safely from Denali National Park without incident (okay, most of you). There were several grizzly sightings, including the one I’m including here – a general rule of thumb is: animals are farther away than they appear.
Most of the time, anyway.
I arrived in Denali on Monday afternoon, and with only a two day window decided to get into the park for the remainder of the day despite the weather, which consisted of rain, snow, sleet and scattered sunshine, all pretty much at the same time. Denali is a vast park with essentially one road into it, most of which is accessible only by park buses or approved tour vehicles. You can get off the buses pretty much whenever you please, hike around to your heart’s content and then flag down another one to get back. But you need to be aware of the schedule so as not to get stranded, and if you don’t have your own car, as I didn’t, you may have a hard time getting from the Wilderness Access Center terminal back to your lodging.
That said, late August is a beautiful time to be there. The lower elevations are turning colors, with fireweed and dwarf birches turning red and yellow. I’d followed Tom Bol’s advice and planned to ride the bus to Polychrome Pass, which was a couple of hours in. I passed over the changing colors on Primrose Ridge as the weather seemed to worsen – there was only me and an Indian family on the bus, so I was able to hear the driver’s radio informing us that it was snowing up at Toklat River, one stop past Polychrome, and I would later learn that the buses were not allowed to go past there. I got off the bus at Polychrome, where the threatening sky loomed over two converging rivers, and climbed a ridge where my lightweight tripod and camera were nearly blown into orbit. The words “wind chill,” which I don’t ordinarily hear in August, came to mind. Fortunately I caught a bus quickly and headed back for Primrose Ridge, where I did catch some nice colors as the sun played peek-a-boo with the clouds.
Tuesday was my only full day in the park, so I took the long ride to Wonder Lake – the roundtrip is scheduled at 11 hours, with several stops to wander around. It was raining steadily at dawn – the bus left at 7:15 – but the rain ceased after a couple of hours to reveal a fresh coat of snow on the mountains. This is what the park employees call the “Termination Dusting,” i.e. the End of Summer.
The combination of fresh snow on the vistas and reds and yellows on the tundra were a lovely combination, though there weren’t that many opportunities to get off the bus and photograph. If I’m lucky enough to get that way again, I’ll plan a longer stay with more time to gad about.
The ride back from Wonder Lake was a wildlife riot, with sightings of caribou, wolves, a lynx crossing the road, the aforementioned grizz, dall sheep, and moose. The photo workshop had been a little deficient in the wildlife department, so it was a nice way to conclude my Alaskan journey.
After nearly two weeks of activities, I had a nice relaxing train ride from Denali back to Anchorage. The Alaskan Railroad offers three levels of service, and the best bargain seemed to be the middle priced one, which was a dome car operated by a private company. The private company turned out to be Holland Cruises/Gray Line, with the kind of narrative you often hear from passing Gray Line Tours in Hollywood. I will only say, after eight hours of this, that if I am ever on Jeopardy and the category is Alaska, and I hit the Daily Double, “I’ll bet it all, Alex!”
So I’m back in Santa Monica with lots of images to go through, and hopefully in the next couple of weeks I’ll find the best ones and make them presentable for the vast Katz of the Day and Michael Katz Photography viewing public. It was a great time, with special thanks to Tom Bol and Colby Coombs at AMS (www.climbalaska.org) for leading such a wonderful workshop.