Posted by: kerryl29 | November 26, 2018

Alaska: A Preview of the Brooks Range

As 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 time in Alaska were spent in the Brooks Mountain Range, in the north-central part of the state.  (I’ve already posted one entry, displaying a series of images from a part of one day in the Brooks Range.)  The Brooks Range runs for roughly 700 miles east-west and approximately 150 miles north-south, covering portions of Alaska and the Yukon Territory in Canada.

Finger Mountain Rock Garden, Dalton Highway, Alaska

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

There is only one form of road access to the Brooks Range–the Dalton Highway, which bisects the range.  Running  for 414 miles from the tiny hamlet of Livengood in the south to Deadhorse, on the Arctic Ocean in the north, the highway was built to service the construction and maintenance of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipline in the early 1970s.  It’s still used for that purpose today, and is also used as a means of supply for the Prudhoe Bay pumping station near Deadhorse.  The entire length of the highway wasn’t opened to the general public until 1994.

Atigun River Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Sukukpak Mountain Evening, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

There’s a marvelous visitors center (the Arctic Interagency Visitors Center) at the tiny town of Coldfoot (175 miles north of the Dalton Highway’s southern terminus), run as a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service.  An informational placard at the center notes that fewer than 1% of the visitors to Alaska venture north of Fairbanks (roughly 260 miles south of Coldfoot).  While we were part of that less than 1%, our time in the Brooks Range demonstrated why such a small number of people travel to this part of Alaska:  there are virtually no services of any kind.

Reindeer Lichen, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

Koyukuk River Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Koyukuk River Evening, Brooks Range, Alaska

A trip on the Dalton Highway, from Fairbanks, begins with roughly an hour’s drive northwest on the Elliott Highway (AK-2).  At the town (such as it is) of Livengood, the Elliott Highway junctions with the Dalton Highway; there are no through roads off the Dalton Highway, which crosses the Arctic Circle at mile marker 115, for its entire length of 415 miles.  Prior to its northern terminus in Deadhorse, there are only two towns–Coldfoot at mile marker 175 and Wiseman (turn off at mile marker 187), with a combined population of fewer than 25 residents.  There are only two gas stations (one at the Yukon River Bridge, at mile marker 60; the other at Coldfoot; for the final 240 miles of the road, there are no gas stations, no sources of food and, north of Wiseman, no lodging other than a couple of campgrounds.  Cell service is non-existent.

Grassy Lake Reflections, Sukukpak Mountain, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Koyukuk River Sunrise, Brooks Range, Alaska

The Highway itself is paved in places, graded gravel in others.  It can, in spots, be a pretty rough ride; it can also be extremely muddy in certain locations.  Despite the obviously remote nature of the road, there’s a fair amount of truck traffic, due to the supply needs of Prudhoe Bay.  150-250 trucks a day travel the road (the number varies by season, with more activity in the winter).

Dietrich River Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Autumn Meadow, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Over the 16 years that I’ve been taking photography trips, I’ve been to some locations that I considered remote.  None of them have been anything like the Brooks Range.  We spent parts of five days in the region and, aside from the occasional truck along the highway, scarcely saw another soul.

Dall Sheep, Atigun Pass, Brooks Range, Alaska

Brooks Range Wetland, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Marion Creek Cascade, Brooks Range, Alaska

When Ellen and I discussed trip planning, once we decided to look into spending time in the Brooks Range (on Ellen’s suggestion), we never considered doing that part of the trip on our own.  This was just a bit too remote for us to feel confident that we weren’t going beyond our comfort zone, so Ellen started looking for a suitable guide and that’s when she contacted David Shaw.  I’ll discuss the specific experience with Dave’s guide service in some detail in a future post, but for now I’ll simply say that the decision to contract a guide for this part of the trip was the right move.  Having now done this trip–having had the opportunity to experience the reality of the Brooks Range and what it’s all about–I’d feel comfortable going in the future without a guide, but it’s only because of having the guided trip and everything that entailed that I can make that statement.  Winging it–going up there by ourselves without any practical experience–would have been a mistake.

Brooks Range Autumn, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Marion Creek Falls, Brooks Range, Alaska

The Brooks Range is magnificent country.  While not quite as majestic as, say, the Alaska Range (the Brooks Range peaks are relatively low; the tallest peak in the entire range is just under 9000 feet above sea level), there’s no end of beautiful scenery in which to immerse oneself in the Brooks Range without ever leaving sight of the Dalton Highway.  And, while there are no formal trails anywhere in the Brooks Range, a short excursion off the road can pay major dividends.

Koyukuk River Reflections, Brooks Range, Alaska

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

Our trip coincided with peak fall color along much of the Dalton Highway.  The seasonal change appears to have been a bit late in central Alaska this year and while that didn’t necessarily work to our advantage during our time in the Denali area, it was spectacularly successful in the Brooks Range.  I seldom hear Alaska referred to as a prime location for fall color photography but my experience on this trip made me wonder why not.  The color change of the tundra, coupled with that of the birches, aspens and poplars, is as spectacular as anything I’ve ever seen anywhere, from the North Woods of New England to the Great Lakes region to the Rocky Mountains.  Coupled with the mountain backdrops, rivers and creeks, lakes, meadows and wetlands, the northern Alaskan autumn provides seemingly infinite photographic opportunities, as I hope to demonstrate in a series of ensuing posts.

Brooks Range Rainbow, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Aven Field Autumn, Brooks Range, Alaska



  1. Stunning shots, that Sukukpak mountain top is so fine it looks like you could break a piece off. The first image’s colours are so pretty, looks like shrubs and lichen but all of the images make for a great series with lines, shapes and colours. Despite some difficulties, hope it made the trip satisfactory for you. Would you go again?.

    • Thanks, Jane. Some of what you see in the Finger Mountain Rock Garden image is wild blueberry; some of it is bearberry and there’s a tiny bit of reindeer lichen mixed in.

      “Would you go again?”

      In a heartbeat.

  2. The extensive expanse of the Mountain avens along the shoreline of the Koyokuk River, the endless Reindeer lichen at Marion Creek, the amazing colors at Finger Rock, the wetland reflections…I wonder how many people driving from Fairbanks to Deadhorse take the time to appreciate this amazing place.

    • There are so few people–outside of the commercial traffic–making that drive…I’d like to think that just about everyone else who’s doing so is taking at least a bit of time to smell the proverbial roses.

  3. Hello! I think that your shots are absolutely wonderful! The colors and the landscapes are gorgeous to begin with but I think you definitely captured it in a brilliant way. I’ve only just begun a photography blog and I would love if you could follow so that I can build my site and get some amazing feedback!

    • Thanks very much!

      I’ll be sure to check out your blog.

  4. Brilliant photos! Thank you for sharing!

    • Thanks very much!

  5. Beautiful photos! The far north is so beautiful!

    • Thanks, Roland!

  6. Beautiful compositions and colors … and textures too!

    • Thanks, Denise!

  7. It always amazes me how well B&W captures the essence of mountain landscapes.

  8. These are my favorite photos so far, from your Alaska trip, and you’ve lit the fire – now I want to go up there. 🙂 The black and white – Atigun River – is wonderful, and reminds me of Death Valley images. Love the Koyukuk River images, too. Also the angle you used for the Marion Creek Falls photo – very effective – I love that rock! What you said about using a guide, and about fall color, are duly noted.

    • Thanks! That Marion Creek Falls image was a five-frame focus stack–I was very close to the nearest object, so depth of field was a real issue.

      I think it’s wise to at least consider using a guide if you plan to venture up the Dalton Highway, even for a day. For one thing, you can’t take a normal rental vehicle on that road; you’d need to rent from one of a number of agencies in Fairbanks that permit driving on unpaved roads. (Part of the Dalton Highway is paved and part of it isn’t, and there’s a very real potential for body damage from flying gravel from a passing truck, which really move on that road.) Beyond that, it’s difficult to meaningfully describe just how remote this area is. If anything goes wrong, you could be in a peck of trouble. You’d need a satellite phone for communication and, regardless, it’s going to take a long, long time for anyone to come to your assistance even if you are able to contact someone.

      Those who have been reading this blog for a long time know that I’ve gone, by myself, to a lot of places that are well off the beaten track. I would be pretty uneasy about a solo trip up the Dalton Highway, I think.

  9. One more thing – did you make repeated forays out from Fairbanks? With only campsites, and almost no supplies, I’m thinking that’s what you did.

    • In a word, no. There was just one trip to/from Fairbanks. Coldfoot–kind of a midway point on the road (it’s probably 45% of the way from the southern terminus of the Dalton Highway to Deadhorse) is a 5-6 hour one-way drive from Fairbanks so it’s really not practical to go back and forth to Fairbanks; it simply takes too much time.

      There are three places with indoor lodging available along the Dalton Highway, two in Wiseman and one in Coldfoot. We stayed in Wiseman; the place we stayed had two cabins (described as “rustic but comfortable”) and a kind of motel-style lodge with something like six rooms. Our guide rented the cabins for us. The cabins had full kitchen facilities and our guide brought plenty of supplies–easily enough for us for our (parts of) five days.

      I’ll discuss all of this at length in a future post, but if you want more in the way of details now feel free to contact me via e-mail. My e-mail address is listed on this page:

      Or, you can fill out and submit the contact form on my website and I’ll get back to you via e-mail:

  10. […] I mentioned in my post previewing the Brooks Range experience, it’s a remote place.  Really remote.  What does that mean in […]

  11. […] first day of our trip up to the Brooks Range started in Fairbanks, where we met our guide, David Shaw, and began the drive to the tiny town of […]

  12. […] In any event, this lens switching thing was an issue off and on throughout our time in the Denali area of Alaska this past August–probably most notably during our time on the Denali Highway, but during other excursions as well.  But it became a nearly constant occurrence when we were in the Brooks Range. […]

  13. […] Wiseman about 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Following 2018’s trip to Alaska, I wrote a post describing the broad outlines of a trip up the Dalton Highway and I direct you there for the basic facts (since they haven’t changed in the last three […]

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