Posted by: kerryl29 | November 19, 2018

Alaska: A Day in Denali National Park

In an earlier post, I shared my thoughts on the Denali National Park bus.  What I didn’t do, at least at any length, was describe the photographic experience that day.  And, my complaining about the bus notwithstanding, it was pretty spectacular.

After a series of wildlife sightings (but not photo opportunities), the first chance to use my camera was when the bus made a brief rest stop at Polychrome Pass, at mile marker 46 on the park road.  As mentioned in the earlier post, I didn’t have access to my tripod, so the images you see are (gack) handheld.

Alaska Range Black & White, Polychrome Pass, Denali National Park, Alaska

Toklat River Black & White, Polychrome Pass, Denali National Park, Alaska

The process repeated itself when an equally brief rest stop was made at the Toklat River Rest Stop, at Mile Marker 53.

Alaska Range Black & White, Toklat Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

Roughly four hours after we departed the Denali bus depot we arrived at the Eielson Visitors Center, at mile marker 66.  This was our end point; we had made the ride all the way out to this spot with the hope that we’d have a clear view of The Mountain from this magnificent perch.  But when we arrived, the skies were almost entirely cloudy and the Mountain was hidden from view.  We had to decide what to do.  The original itinerary had us returning to the Polychrome Pass area to do some hiking (and photographing) there.  Then, we’d pick up another bus at that point and return to the starting spot before nightfall.

The bus we’d taken from Eileson would turn around after a 45-minute break at the visitors center and begin the trip back toward the depot.  We had to decide whether to reboard the bus and get off at Polychrome or to stay longer at Eielson and take a later bus.  Once we got off the bus, I walked back up the park road about 1/8 of a mile to a hillside waterfall that I’d noticed on the bus ride.

Mountainside Waterfall, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

The waterfall was part of a creek that ran down the mountainside above the road.  I spent a bit of time teasing out some compositions of that creek.

Rushing Stream, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

Rushing Stream Black & White, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

Rushing Stream, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

After I finished at the creek, I walked back to the visitors center parking lot and caught up with Ellen and Debbie.  They were photographing a particularly cooperative Arctic ground squirrel.  Said squirrel was sufficiently cooperative to allow me to switch cameras.

Arctic Ground Squirrel, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

By now, it appeared to us as though the clouds in the direction of Denali, more or less to the northwest of our position, were beginning to lift.  The bus we’d taken to Eielson was set to leave in about 15 minutes and we decided to let it go.  This would be our one opportunity to photograph The Mountain from a relatively near proximity and we had reason to believe that we’d have the chance if we were patient enough.  We’d catch a later bus.

The Eileson area of Denali, like Toklat and Polychrome, is treeless, so there are broad plains containing forms of stunted vegetation.  There were still plenty of clouds in the sky and some interesting spotted lighting hitting the landscape and for the better part of the next hour, I spent my time capturing it.

Eielson View Black & White, Denali National Park, Alaska

Eielson View, Denali National Park, Alaska

Meandering Creek, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

McKinley River Valley, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

Eielson View, Denali National Park, Alaska

McKinley River Valley Black & White, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

Eielson View, Denali National Park, Alaska

After an hour, a glance in the direction of the Mountain showed the clouds plainly thinning.  A “window” in the clouds showed part of the Mountain for the first time since our arrival at Eielson.

Denali Obscured Black & White, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

Denali Obscured, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

It was obvious, at this point, that we had made the right call.  More and more of the Mountain gradually was revealed.

Denali Revealed, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

Denali Revealed, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

The Mountain Black & White, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

The Mountain Panoracama, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

The Mountain and the McKinley River Valley Black & White, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

The Mountain and the McKinley River Valley, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

As a parting shot, I maneuvered myself into a position where I was able to produce an image of a remarkable display of red, autumn-tinged fireweed amid the tundra.

Autumn Fireweed, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

We arranged with the bus coordinator at the visitors center for a spot on a bus that was due to leave at around 3 PM.  While we were waiting, I made a few parting images of the Alaska Range.

Alaska Range Black & White, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

McKinley River Valley, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

From the bus itself, on the return trip, we were afforded the opportunity (by the bus driver) to capture a classic view of The Mountain.  The below image was literally made from an open window on the bus…yes, handheld.

The Mountain and the Park Road Black & White, Denali National Park, Alaska

Given the length of the trip back to the depot, we decided not to get off at Polychrome.  We’d have no more than a couple of hours on the ground and there would be no guarantee that we’d be able to find seats when flagging down a late bus.

We did have a number of additional wildlife sightings on the return trip, the vast majority of which were too far away to photograph.  The one semi-exception is this record image of a caribou.

Caribou, Denali National Park, Alaska

It was nearly 7 PM when we got back to the depot (the outgoing bus had departed at roughly 6:30 AM), which left us with about 2 1/2 hours of daylight.  We decided to check out the Horseshoe Lake Trail first.  It was only about a five-minute drive from the depot to the trailhead and within 15 minutes or so, we were astride the lake.  I immediately found a lakeshore shot that interested me so Ellen and Debbie moved along the loop trail and I didn’t catch up to them again until I had circumnavigated the entire thing (a couple of miles, more or less).

Horseshoe Lake, Denali National Park, Alaska

This is a very nice photo trail; it’s a location I’ll return to in a heartbeat if I have the opportunity.  The area around the lake is enchanting, with endless compositional possibilities–and not just of the lake.  There are beavers (I spent some time observing a trio of them), a scree slope on the far hillside, beaver-dammed areas below the league, access to the Nenana River, a fascinating, moss-draped forest and more.

Horseshoe Lake Reflections, Denali National Park, Alaska

Horseshoe Lake Reflections, Denali National Park, Alaska

Horseshoe Lake Reflections Black & White, Denali National Park, Alaska

Horseshoe Lake Reflections, Denali National Park, Alaska

Horseshoe Lake Reflections, Denali National Park, Alaska

Nenana River Abstract, Horseshoe Lake Trail, Denali National Park, Alaska

I enjoyed the experience around the lake so much that I nearly lost track of time.  I’d wanted to photograph along the Savage River in good light–something that was determined during an impromptu scouting session on our first day in the area.  So we hustled down the park road, back to the Mountain View area, where the trail provides river access.  Ellen and I made the trek down to the river while Debbie took the car to check out another nearby location.  I took my rubber boots with me, fully intending to descend into the water.  Most of the river images below were in fact made while standing in the water.

Savage River Black & White, Denali National Park, Alaska

It was a simple matter to climb down into the river bed.  I ended up producing a number of photographs looking both up and down river.

Savage River at Sunset, Denali National Park, Alaska

Savage River at Sunset, Denali National Park, Alaska

The channel between the shore and the gravel bar wasn’t particularly deep and it was fairly easy to negotiate a series of routes through the water that were no more than up to mid-calf level.

Savage River at Sunset, Denali National Park, Alaska

Savage River at Sunset, Denali National Park, Alaska

Savage River at Sunset, Denali National Park, Alaska

Savage River at Sunset, Denali National Park, Alaska

After climbing out of the river, I made one final image from up on the bank.

Savage River at Sunset, Denali National Park, Alaska

There was an interesting meadow along the trail, not far from the river, and Ellen and I hiked to it, in the hopes that we’d get an interesting sunset.  We made some images, but the sky that evening, while interesting, was not of the epic variety.

Meadow Sunset, Mountain View, Denali National Park, Alaska

Meadow Sunset, Mountain View, Denali National Park, Alaska

And that brought the day’s photography to a close.  It hadn’t been quite as long a day as the one that ended with the aurora, but we’d been up for a solid 18 hours by the time we called it quits.  This was our last day in the Denali area.  The following day, we’d return to Fairbanks and prepare for our foray north, into the Brooks Range.

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Responses

  1. It’s so lovely down there!

  2. In spite of the bus, it really was a great trip into Denali National Park. And, in spite of the necessity to shoot without a tripod, you definitely came away with some stellar shots.

    • Thanks. I should note, for the record, that only the images from Polychrome and Toklat (and the two from the bus) were taken sans tripod, so about 90% of what appears in this post is tripod-based

  3. The stuff of dreams, Kerry…what a beautiful record of your visit. Thank you for sharing them with us. 🙂

    • Thanks, Scott!

      • You’re welcome!


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