Posted by: kerryl29 | September 10, 2018

Alaska: An Introduction

On Wednesday of last week I returned to the Midwest after nearly two weeks in Alaska.  Virtually everyone I know who has visited Alaska has spent most–if not all–of their time cruising the Inside Passage of the state’s southeast peninsula.  While it sounds like a great trip, it doesn’t sound like a particularly good opportunity for photography–at least as it pertains to the type of photography I like to engage in.  I have always wanted to spend time in Alaska’s vast interior and that’s what I did on this trip.

The trip’s itinerary involved flying in and out of Fairbanks–the second largest community in Alaska (behind the much, much larger Anchorage)–and then spending parts of six days based near the entrance of Denali National Park, roughly 140 miles south of Fairbanks.  Then, parts of five days would be spent far to the north, based in the tiny community of Wiseman, just off the Dalton Highway in the midst of the Brooks Mountain Range, approximately 270 miles north of Fairbanks.

The map below should help provide some geographic orientation.  (It will help if you magnify your screen.)

The pin marker represents Fairbanks.  The words in red represent some key points.  Near the top of the screen is the word “northernmost,” which roughly marks the farthest north I made it on this trip–essentially where the Brooks Range gives way to the southernmost edge of the Arctic coastal plain.  “Wiseman” shows the location of my base camp during the second part of the trip.  “Carlo Creek” is the approximate location of base camp during the first part of the trip; “Denali Hwy” shows the location of the (mostly unpaved) road that runs between the tiny communities of Cantwell and Paxson.  (I spent most of a day on this road.)  And “Denali State Park” shows, roughly, how far south I made it on the trip.

For those of you interested, here are some approximate driving distances between these points and a few other points of interest:

  • Fairbanks to Denali NP entrance:  130 miles
  • Denali NP entrance to Carlo Creek:  15 miles
  • Carlo Creek to Cantwell (western terminus of Denali Highway):  20 miles
  • Cantwell to northern boundary of Denali State Park:  42 miles
  • Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle:  198 miles
  • Arctic Circle to Wiseman:  72 miles
  • Wiseman to nothernmost point of trip:  125 miles
  • southernmost point to northernmost point:  650 miles

The images accompanying this post should give you a taste of what I saw–and, obviously, photographed–on the trip.  I’ll add a bit of commentary to provide some context and begin the process of fleshing out what the experience was like.  I will have a great deal more to say–both in general and in terms of specifics–in future entries.  The post-processing of all the images has only begun and will take many weeks to complete, so there will be plenty of material for the forthcoming series.

Sandhill Cranes in Flight, Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge, Fairbanks Northstar Borough, Alaska

Dall Sheep, Atigun Pass, Brooks Range, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Tundra Swans, Ermine Hill Trail, Denali State Park, Alaska

The sandhill crane migration was in full swing on the first full day of the trip at a wildlife refuge on the northern edge of Fairbanks.  There was a lot of wandering around through on-and-off rain, but the cranes were relatively cooperative and I managed a few passable images.  This was the first wildlife I saw on the trip but it wouldn’t be the last.  I ultimately spotted roughly two dozen species of mammals and birds, though getting decent photographs of most of them ranged from difficult to impossible.  As I’ve said many times, I’m no wildlife photographer.

Aurora Borealis, Denali National Park, Alaska

The first day in the Denali area was an incredibly event-filled one, as I will undoubtedly document later.  One of those events was the first and, as it turned out, only display of the Northern Lights during the trip.  I’d never seen the aurora borealis before, let alone photographed this phenomenon, but let’s just say it was one of the most memorable events I’ve ever experienced.

The Mountain Black & White, Denali National Park, Alaska

Apparently roughly 80% of visitors to Denali National Park leave without ever seeing the Mountain.  Guess I was lucky; I saw it multiple times, including during my closest proximity to the peak–the Eielson Visitors Center.

Braided River Abstract Black & White, Polychrome Pass, Denali National Park, Alaska

Mountain Crevice, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

Atigun Pass Abstract Black & White, Brooks Range, Dalton Highway, Alaska

There were countless opportunities to photograph abstracts on this trip, from braided rivers viewed from high points at Denali to snow-covered mountainsides above the tree line in the Brooks Range and everything in between.

Savage River at Sunset, Denali National Park, Alaska

Koyukuk River, Brooks Range, Alaska

It seemed as though the number of rivers and creeks that served as photogenic subjects was infinite, surpassed only by the compositional options they afforded.

Alaska Range from Unnamed Ridge, Denali Borough, Alaska

On the same evening as the aurora event, I had the opportunity to photograph–in beautiful light–from a location that ordinarily would have been unreachable.  That experience will be detailed in a later entry.

Alaska Range from the Denali Highway, Denali Borough, Alaska

Autumn Fireweed, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

Fall Color, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

Fall Color, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Fall color was, by all accounts, late in central and northern Alaska this year.  But while that meant that color opportunities in and around Denali National Park were limited, by the last few days of the time I spent in the Brooks Range, the trees and tundra were essentially at peak.

Ferns and Birch Trunks, Ermine Hill Trail, Denali State Park, Alaska

Birch Trunks, Ermine Hill Trail, Denali State Park, Alaska

Some of the subject matter I encountered really surprised me, given the location.  “I never would have guessed that was Alaska,” sums up the remarks of many of the people who have seen these images prior to my posting them on this blog.

Evening Sky, Horseshoe Lake, Denali National Park, Alaska

Brooks Range, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Wetland Tunnel, Denali Highway, Denali Borough, Alaska

Brooks Range, Dalton Highway, Alaska

While I always try to let locations “speak for themselves” when I photograph, inevitably a bit of myself seems to leak into the images.  Hopefully that isn’t a bad thing.

Sunset Sky, Fairbanks Northstar Borough, Alaska

More next time.



  1. This is a great introduction with inspiring images that bring back so many memories. I hope your blog followers enjoy coming along for the journey in the coming weeks.

    • Thanks, Ellen!

  2. Stunning!

    • Thanks very much!

  3. Beautiful, Kerry. Alaska is something else. I look forward to seeing more in the near future!

    • Thanks, Mike!

  4. A truly amazing bit of a tease. I look forward to much more! We’re about to head north -not as far as you went, but places I’ve never explored before. Likely won’t have much in the way of signal most places we’ll be…. I look forward to finding more of your singular beauty in images when we get back! 😀

    • Thanks, Gunta. Where are you headed? Across the Canadian border?

      • We haven’t actually planned much beyond heading up the coast of Washington. Might be a stop on Whidbey Island for a quick visit and back down along the Hood Canal. We haven’t been planning to cross the border, though… thanks for a reminder to pack the passports… just in case! Should be fun. I’ve never seen the Olympic Peninsula before. Washington has always been a quick dash on I-5 for me. Surely there must be more to it than THAT? 😀

        • The Olympic Peninsula is terrific–tremendous variety. Direct access to the high country (via Hurricane Ridge), waterfalls (Madison, Marymere, Sol Duc, etc.), lakes (Crescent, etc.), thick forests (including, but not limited to, the Hoh Rainforest) and wild beaches (Ruby, Rialto, First, Second, etc.). I’ve not been there at this time of the year, but Olympic is outstanding. I really need to get back there one of these days…of course I say exactly that about countless places. 🙂

        • Just back and facing the usual catch-up routine sorting through far too many shots and visiting the blogs I’ve missed (can’t wait to see your Alaska visit, but…. in time!) 😉

        • No sweat–I’ve only produced one post since you left, so there’s not much of a backlog.

          Hope your trip was a good one.

        • Simply marvelous… clear up to Neah Bay or Cape Flattery then on to Mt Rainier, with stops along the way. The weather was even cooperative. This trip was encounters with places I’ve never been to and it was simply gorgeous.

        • Glad to hear it. You certainly were in some beautiful places.

  5. All your descriptions and explanations are really clear here, and the photos are a great teaser. 🙂 What a good idea to be based way inland, then go north and south. The Aurora is gorgeous….the birch trees – I love those shapes, that’s beautifully composed….but I think Mountain Crevice might be my favorite, for the way the top of the photo is almost monochromatic, and icy cold, and then it evolves into a warmer, more colorful scene as you get lower in elevation. Very cool!

    • Thanks very much!

      The mountain crevice shot really seems to have struck a chord with a lot of people (both online and otherwise), which I find kind of interesting. I like it a lot but it’s not the sort of image that usually resonates with a lot of people.

  6. That’s one hell of an introduction, Kerry…I can’t wait for the rest!

    And what beautiful images….wow!

    • Thanks very much, Scott!

      • You’re very welcome, Kerry!

  7. It’s spectacular country there. One of my longtime friends and her family lives there while her sister and BIL live in the bush and off the grid. Looking forward to seeing more.

    • The base of operations for time in the Brooks Range is totally off the grid, about 75 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

  8. Hi Kerry, thank you for the beautiful photos. Alaska reminds me of my home province of British Columbia. One of my dreams is to experience northern B.C., the Yukon and Alaska. You take amazing photos. I always enjoy them.

    • Thanks very much, Roland. I wouldn’t mind visiting northern B.C. and the Yukon some day myself.

  9. Love the “Mountain Black & White”.

  10. […] researched solo endeavor.  There were some significant divergences from the norm as part of the Alaska experience and I thought it would be worthwhile for me to provide some background on the […]

  11. […] most graphic-rich location that I’ve ever visited.  I still stand by that assessment but on this year’s trip to Alaska I had the opportunity to experience something that gave White Sands a run for its money:  Atigun […]

  12. Brings back so many memories from three weeks ago! I just starting bloging about Alaska. Next post will be about the placed I visited ❤️ oh how I wish I was still there

    • Feel free to post a link to your next blog entry here in the comments!

      • thank you so much!! I just posted this entry last night. Will be uploading the first journal entry about the Alaskan adventure soon!
        There are a couple of other blog posts regarding my travel adventures. Please click on the below link 🙂

  13. […] I noted in my overview of the entire trip, and fleshed out a bit more in the entry covering the planning details, the last few days of our […]

  14. […] K., one of my companions on this year’s photo excursion to Alaska, was in the Chicago area last week and had a free afternoon.  I offered to show her around Starved […]

  15. […] our trip to Alaska late last summer (early fall in Alaska), Ellen, Debbie and I dealt with more than our share of poor […]

  16. […] been a year since my last extended photo trip–the well-documented journey to the interior of Alaska.  On September 10 I will board a plane for Hawaii, the prelude to nearly two weeks in the islands […]

  17. […] first proposed that I consider a trip to Hawaii late last year some time–after returning from Alaska.  I want to publicly offer thanks to E.J. Peiker, who has spent more time photographing in Hawaii […]

  18. […] 2018, Alaska was the destination of choice, and it proved to be an exceptionally good one for fall […]

  19. […] I hadn’t planned to go anywhere this fall, due to the pandemic; in fact, a long-planned return trip to Alaska in late August/early September had been cancelled months earlier.  But Jason’s inquiry made […]

  20. […] my second photo trip to Alaska. This was almost exactly three years after the first trip, which was chronicled on this […]

  21. […] single most important shortcoming that I think Ellen and I both wanted to rectify based on our 2018 experience in Alaska was a lack of time on the Denali Highway. Contrary to popular belief, the Denali Highway is not […]

Please feel free to comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: