Posted by: kerryl29 | December 17, 2018

Alaska: The Brooks Range – The Drive to Wiseman

The 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 Wiseman, where we’d be based for our time in the area.  It was a lengthy–I’d estimate about six hours–drive, which began on the Elliott Highway for about an hour northwest of Fairbanks, to the point where it junctions with the Dalton Highway, due north.  The turn off from Wiseman is 187 miles from the southern terminus of the Dalton Highway.

Trees in Fog, Dalton Highway, Alaska

It had been mostly cloudy in Fairbanks upon our departure and the overcast conditions followed us part of the way up the Dalton Highway.  At one point we hit full-blown fog and stopped to make a few images from a spot alongside the road.

Trees in Fog, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Trees in Fog, Dalton Highway, Alaska

We stopped a few times along the way, mostly just to take a brief break (and, when possible, to refuel).  As we moved further north, the skies slowly started to clear.  I also took note how just green most of the coniferous growth was–somewhat to my surprise.  I had expected this area to be at or at least near peak color, but it wasn’t particularly close at this point.  David noted that fall was coming a bit late to this part of Alaska and that would work to our advantage in the coming days.  (Foreshadowing:  he was right.)

We finally did see some exceptional fall color in the tundra near Finger Mountain, about 100 miles up the Highway.  This area has the feel of a tundra rock garden; it’s almost completely wide open and was very windy while we were in the area, but the colors–which included the autumn incarnations of blueberry and bearberry–were phenomenal.

Autumn Tundra, Finger Mountain, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Autumn Tundra, Finger Mountain, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Despite the wind, I focus stacked almost every image I made at this location and, with a bit of patience, was able to produce image sets that could be combined in post processing without any ghosting.  These are mainly two- and three-image stacks.

Autumn Tundra, Finger Mountain, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Autumn Tundra, Finger Mountain, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Autumn Tundra, Finger Mountain, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Our last photo stop before we reached Coldfoot was an attractive wetland area that we spotted to the west of the raised road bed.

Brooks Range Wetland, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Brooks Range Wetland, Dalton Highway, Alaska

I should note that we did briefly top at the sign that marks the location where the Arctic Circle meets the road.  There’s a pull-out at this location, and Debbie snagged a quick snap with her phone for posterity’s sake, but I like to think that we didn’t make any bigger of a deal of this event than it actually was.

Brooks Range Wetland, Dalton Highway, Alaska

The further north we moved, the better developed the color became, and the tundra was undeniably running ahead of the deciduous trees (primarily birch, aspen and dwarf willow).

It was early evening by the time we reached Wiseman and David took us down to the banks of the Koyukuk River to show us what this area–a short walk from the cabins we’d be staying in for the next few nights–had to offer.  The answer was:  a lot.

Within moments of scouring the scene, I saw multiple images I wanted to make, beginning with a shallow reflecting pool formed by a spillover arm of the river.

Koyukuk River Reflections, Brooks Range, Alaska

I was also fascinated by an area along a shoal that contained a set of rapids where the shallow water was rushing over the stony river bed.  I wanted to get onto the shoal, but there was no way to do so without wading.  I was going to go back to the cabin to retrieve my rubber boots (yes, I hauled these things all the way to Alaska and, yes, I did use them on multiple occasions, most prominently when photographing along the Savage River in Denali National Park), but Ellen had a pair of soft waterproof overshoes with her and offered to let me use them.  (These things worked so well–and are so small and light–that when I returned home from the trip, I immediately ordered a pair for myself for future use.)  I thankfully took her up on the offer, quickly slipped them on, and waded out to the shoal.  I stayed in this location, modestly adjusting my position, for some time.

Koyukuk River, Brooks Range, Alaska

Koyukuk River at Sunset, Brooks Range, Alaska

Koyukuk River at Sunset, Brooks Range, Alaska

I gradually traipsed back to the main shore, thanked Ellen for letting me use her overshoes, and then made some images from this spot.

Koyukuk River at Sunset, Brooks Range, Alaska

Before the sun set completely, there was one last location I wanted to explore:  a thick aven field along the river bank.  The mountain aven is a common alpine flower that blows to tufts in the late summer and fall.

Aven Field Autumn, Koyukuk River, Brooks Range, Alaska

I was charmed by this scene, and produced several photographs as the light became increasingly enchanting.

Aven Field Autumn at Sunset, Brooks Range, Alaska

Aven Field Autumn Black & White, Brooks Range, Alaska

Finally, before heading back to the cabin, I pulled out the long lens and made a final image as the day expired.

Conifer Sunset, Brooks Range, Alaska

On this day, we’d had a mere taste of the Brooks Range.  Beginning the following morning we’d get our first all-day taste.



  1. Having lived and worked for 14 years up North near Livengood
    and traveling at least twice each year up the Dalton past Wiseman

    I know it felt like you were once again a child in a candy store
    with the myriad of possibilities to photograph.

    • Thanks very much for taking the time to leave a comment.

      You’re absolutely correct; the opportunity to photograph along the Dalton Highway–as far north as Galbraith Lake on one day–was phenomenal. There are few locations along the road that AREN’T inspiring to the photographer. With any luck, I’ll have the opportunity to visit the area again some day.

  2. I’m finally caught up on all of your Alaska posts Kerry! These are some of the most impressive photographs that I’ve seen of the Alaskan landscape…..and your detailed commentary that goes along with the photos was fascinating to read. I’m so happy for you that this trip has gone so well. You pour your heart and soul into your photography and it really shows in your work. I am so impressed with the fact that you traveled to such remote places, and got the shots you were after. Well done my friend! Looking forward to more of your adventures.

    • Thanks very much, Carol; I greatly appreciate the kind words.

  3. Gorgeous, Kerry…just wonderful….

    • Thanks very much, Scott!

  4. I love the Aven fields, and those Finger Mountain photos, beautiful!

  5. […] the length of the drive–we got a good sense of how much time it would take on the drive to Wiseman a few days earlier–the number of stops would necessarily be limited.  But that didn’t […]

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