July 30, 2015 Denali Highway and Into Denali National Park

Boondocking Along the Denali Highway
Boondocking Along the Denali Highway

Exploring the Denali Highway

Even though the weather was not ideal, I decided to drive the motorhome 30 miles east on the Denali Highway to the boondocking spot I had scouted the other day. From there, if it didn’t rain too hard, I could take the Prius in another 60 miles east to see what I could see.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Home Sweet Home
Home Sweet Home

This site along the road is a pretty decent spot to spend the night, one of the nicer views out the window I have had in a while. This is just a pull off right along the road, so what traffic there is, and there certainly wasn’t much, whizzes right by your window, but the view out the other side is something else indeed. Though it didn’t happen, I kept looking out there expecting to see moose, or wolves, or a bear, but no such luck, just a great view of the Alaskan wilderness.

As the skies continued to darken, I became aware of just how exposed I really was, atop this esker and prayed there would be no lightning tonight. Thankfully, there wasn’t.

Along the Denali Highway
Along the Denali Highway

Early the next morning, I headed east on the Denali Highway in the Prius. The weather was not cooperating, more gray skies and intermittant rain, with very limited visibility, so sorry, no great landscape shots today.

Along the Denali Highway
Along the Denali Highway

The gravel road, though washboarded in sections, is a fairly well maintained road, wide with no serious grades over the first 67 miles in heading east from Cantwell. I hope to explore the rest of the road when I go through Paxton, the western terminus of this highway, on my way south from Fairbanks.

Swan
Swan

Not much of anything in the way of wildlife today either, just a pair of swans feeding on one of the ponds along the road …

Swan Feeding
Swan Feeding
Beaver Heading to Work
Beaver Heading to Work

… and an industrious beaver out working on repairs to his dam. No large animals spotted whatsoever, so kind of disappointing.

Tomorrow I head into Denali National Park for my camping reservations at Teklanika Campground, 29 miles into the park, so I turned around at MM67 on the Denali Highway and headed back to my boondocking site to break camp and make my way north a little closer to the Park.

Feeding in the Depths
Feeding in the Depths

As seems to happen way too often, once I was back on the road in the motorhome, with the Prius in tow, now of course I run into the wildlife I was looking for when out in the Prius. Fortunately, the Denali Highway is wide enough that I could pull the motorhome over to the side of the road and park, get out and spend some serious time with this cow moose feeding on underwater plants in a kettle pond along the highway.

Moose Surfacing
Surfacing

I watched for over an hour as she would submerge, grab mouthfulls of plant material, then surface noisily, to devour her meal.

Gathering the Harvest
Gathering the Harvest

Sometimes she would remain underwater for as much as a couple of minutes and I could see plant material floating to the surface. Then she would come up, kind of rake in all the floating plants and begin browsing.

Uh-Oh Got Water in My Ear
Uh-Oh Got Water in My Ear

Those large ears obviously collect a lot of water and often she would do this violent head shaking to clear the water out.

Uh-Oh Got Water in My Ear
Uh-Oh Got Water in My Ear
Uh-Oh Got Water in My Ear
Uh-Oh Got Water in My Ear
Keeping an Eye on Junior
Keeping an Eye on Junior

Every few minutes, she would stop and scan the water’s edge watching for her calf, making sure he/she was still safe and not wandering too far away from Mom.

Calf Uninterested in Feeding Underwater
Calf Uninterested in Feeding Underwater

The calf showed no signs whatsoever that it had any desire to join Mom out in the water, mostly just browsing amongst the willows and taking short naps.

On to Denali N.P.

Rejoining the Parks Highway in Cantwell, I headed north to a pull off around MM 222 for a nice  boondocking site along the river. Since I still had a few hours of daylight, I unloaded the Prius and headed up into Denali NP and once again drove the first 14 miles of the Park Road into the Savage River checkpoint station.

Following Mom
Following Mom

As I was heading in, I spotted this moose and calf coming up one of the riverbeds toward the highway. I get a kick out of how closely these calves follow mom, learning the ropes and staying very close to the protective hooves of mother.

Wildlife Viewing on the Park Road
Wildlife Viewing on the Park Road

Fortunately this bus driver was paying attention and not driving too fast, for this protective mom was serving as a bad example for her impressionable young calf, never even slowing down, much less looking both ways, before crossing the road.

Road Crossing
Road Crossing

But they made it safely across. Tomorrow, I dump the tow dolly and Prius in the Visitor Center parking lot, and drive in the 29 miles of the Park Road for my stay at the Teklanika Campground. Stay tuned!

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May 20, 2015 Valdez, Alaska

Above the Clouds
Above the Clouds

Head in the Clouds and Water, Falling

In actuality, technically, my head was above the clouds!

Above the Clouds
Above the Clouds

When I awoke this morning, around 3:30 AM, there was a solid gray cloud cover over the area, with just a ray of light shining through here and there.  So, nothing to shoot here below the cloud cover, let’s climb back up Thompson Pass and see what’s happening there, if nothing else, I can do waterfalls with the soft diffused light from the cloud cover.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version, and many of these shots do deserve that you do so.

Above the Clouds
Above the Clouds
Above the Clouds
Above the Clouds

As I climbed the grade up Thompson Pass, I actually entered the clouds I had been viewing from below, soon a solid dense fog bank, all but obscurring the road. So much for any dramatic shots from Thompson Pass, I thought as I continued my climb to the top.

Above the Clouds
Above the Clouds
Above the Clouds
Above the Clouds

But I persevered onward, and upward, and there suddenly appeared a little shimmering of light from above, and then I emerged from the cloud cover, was at the top of Thompson Pass, and, boy, was I ever wrong about no dramatic shots from up here this morning!

Above the Clouds
Above the Clouds

Here, at the top of the pass, it was as if you were in a plane doing a flyover of the mountains, high above the clouds, yet I was able to set the tripod up on terra firma.

Above the Clouds
Above the Clouds

Just a magical morning at the top of Thompson Pass, gray and gloomy below, simply spectacular above. As I mentioned in my last post, catching the “Golden Hours” here in Alaska is going to require some severe self discipline, seeing as they occur at some very early, and very late times. Getting out before 4 AM this particular morning, I was well rewarded for the effort.

Horsetail Falls Detail
Horsetail Falls Detail

Keystone Canyon Waterfalls

Keystone Canyon on the road to Valdez
Keystone Canyon on the road to Valdez

On the road to Valdez, after descending from Thompson Pass, you enter the very dramatic Keystone Canyon, where suddenly, the road is swallowed by immense rock walls, towering over you to all but unimagineable heights. And as you round the first bend in the canyon, you are greeted by a pair of incredibly tall waterfalls.

Keystone Canyon Waterfalls
Keystone Canyon Waterfalls
Keystone Canyon Waterfall
Keystone Canyon Waterfall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This morning, since the falls were still completely in the shade, I decided to stop and spend a little time ( ended up being well over an hour ), searching out details of rock and spray, looking for that ideal composition of water flowing over rock.

Horsetail Falls Detail
Horsetail Falls Detail
Horsetail Falls Detail
Horsetail Falls Detail
Horsetail Falls Detail
Horsetail Falls Detail
Bridal Falls Detail
Bridal Falls Detail
Bridal Falls Detail
Bridal Falls Detail
Bridal Falls Detail
Bridal Falls Detail
Horsetail Falls Detail
Horsetail Falls Detail

Extensive playing around with various ISO’s, DOF, and shutter speed settings produces a wide, and sometimes wild, variety of images of the very same portion of a waterfall. One of the things I enjoy about photography is being able to capture images that your eye actually doesn’t see.

Horsetail Falls Detail
Horsetail Falls Detail
Trumpeter Swan on Her nest
Trumpeter Swan on Her nest

On this same road I noticed this Trumpeter Swan dutifully sitting on her clutch of eggs. I will have to keep an eye on her over the next few days here, just in case I am lucky enough to catch some newly hatched signets.

Yet More Watercolor Subjects

Valdez Drydock
Valdez Drydock

And lastly, back in the village of Valdez, I found three more potential watercolor subjects sitting in dry dock. Though I know I’ll never get the brushes out this summer while here in Alaska, I swear this winter I will resume my painting career.

Valdez Drydock
Valdez Drydock
Valdez Drydock
Valdez Drydock

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September 23, 2013 Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone fall color
Yellowstone fall color

Another trip to Hayden Valley

Headed out early this morning to do the same trip around the upper loop road and down to Hayden valley but in the reverse order of Saturday’s trip. Today was one of those days where I cover a lot of ground, at the proper time of day, but just pretty much come up empty. I may have set some kind of reverse record for wildlife sightings in Hayden Valley. I traversed the entire valley north to south and then again south to north and saw but one lone bison in the distance, no elk, antelope, bison herds, wolves, bears, or coyotes. If you have ever been to the Hayden Valley, you know how rare it is to have it virtually empty of wildlife.

Yellowstone swans
Yellowstone swans
Yellowstone swans and Canada geese
Yellowstone swans and Canada geese

 

 

 

 

 

I did manage to find these swans to photograph. I was excited to see some Canada Geese floating downstream towards the swans, for I seem to recall that the swans are extremely territorial, and will drive off other birds such as the geese. I was ready for some action! But these guys seemed like they were the best of friends.

Roadside black bear cub
Roadside black bear cub

I was rounding a sharp corner and saw this young black bear cub all but in the road grazing on the curbside clover. With no mother in sight and other people stopping and getting within 6 feet of the youngster, for once, I was almost hoping a ranger would come along and break this up before the cub was startled out into the road and struck by a car. At times, his head was only a foot or so from the pavement and he acted as if he didn’t even see or hear the cars only a couple of feet from his head whizzing by, and he was completely oblivious to the growing crowd of people all but reaching out to pet him. I hope he survived this, but with no mother and this lack of fear of traffic and people, it probably doesn’t look like much of a future for this guy.

Bison on the centerline of road
Bison on the centerline

Lastly, a couple more bison shots. I got a kick out of this guy, once again using the centerline of the highway to negotiate his way down the road. They do move at a very slow pace while traveling on the highway, but they can seriously unnerve you as they pass by at only a couple of feet from your vehicle.

Bison
Sharing the road

Especially if you are on a very narrow gravel road, such as the one to the fire tower, and you encounter a fellow like this coming down the road as you head up. At least he was using the shoulder of the road, I assume because there was no yellow centerline on the gravel road.

Yellowstone Bison
Yellowstone Bison