Posted by: kerryl29 | December 31, 2018

Alaska: The Brooks Range — The First Full Day

Our first full day based in the Brooks Range brought incessant clouds and the occasional sprinkle of rain; neither impacted our enthusiasm or our time in the field.  During the day, we remained within about 25 miles north or south of Wiseman on the Dalton Highway; it was an opportunity to get a more intimate look at the many photogenic locations within roughly 30 minutes of our home base.  People who know me and how I approach photographing the landscape will not be surprised to learn that I didn’t feel an ounce of creative restriction in this comparatively limited area.

Mountain Scene Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

We started the day by investigating the area to the north of Wiseman–previously unseen territory for Ellen, Debbie and myself.  We found a short, unpaved road that led to the remnants of an old gravel pit, to the east of the Dalton Highway.  David told us that there were a number of these old pits, that had been used for material during the building of the pipeline and that had been “mostly” restored subsequently.

Foothills, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

It was an interesting location, with a surprisingly large number of possible compositions, and I used both wide angle and telephoto lenses to capture images.  The biggest impediment–something that was a constant annoyance on this day–was a fairly stiff breeze.

Conifer Hillside Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

We continued north, up to–and slightly beyond–the imposing edifice of Sukakpak Mountain, a uniquely shaped stony edifice which rises dramatically from the surrounding tundra.  Amid some shallow pools along the highway, just west of the mountain itself, we stopped to make some images.

Sukakpak Mountain, Brooks Range, Alaska

Sukakpak Mountain Black & White, Brooks Range, Alaska

We would return to Sukakpak later on the trip–more than once–under markedly different conditions.

Sukakpak Mountain, Brooks Range, Alaska

The Koyukuk River parallels the Dalton Highway for many miles, and the road crosses over the waterway on several occasions.  Near one of these crossover spots–also within sight of Sukakpak–we stopped, at a particularly interesting bend in the river.  Once again, numerous compositions awaited the curious photographer at this location.

Koyukuk River Autumn, Brooks Range, Alaska

Koyukuk River Rapids, Brooks Range, Alaska

Rock Pile and Sukukpak Mountain Black & White, Brooks Range, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Early in the afternoon, during what was ostensibly a lunch break, a rainbow appeared…seemingly out of nowhere.  We all kind of watched it for awhile, but I was the only one to pull out my gear in an attempt to capture it.  I have very few rainbow images in my portfolio, partly because they tend to be fleeting, partly because I haven’t seen all that many of them and partly because…the thing about rainbow images is they tend to be, well, lousy.  (Most of mine certainly have been, in any event.)  Much like some spectacular sunrise/sunset skies, unless you already have a strong composition in place and a rainbow happens to appear, the best you’re going to do most of the time is get a generally prosaic image that happens to include a rainbow (or a brilliant sky, in the case of the sunrise/sunset).

The composition, I would argue matters.  The composition always matters.  But I digress.

Here is the only rainbow image that I’ve previously captured that I’m at all fond of:

Morning Rainbow, Council Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

And here’s the rainbow image from astride the Dalton Highway:

Rainbow, Brooks Range, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Additional image opportunities presented themselves as we moved along during the afternoon:

Brooks Range Splendor, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Autumn Meadow, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

We also stopped at Minnie Creek, which intersects the highway just north of the turnoff to Wiseman.

Minnie Creek, Brooks Range, Alaska

Minnie Creek Black & White, Brooks Range, Alaska

Minnie Creek, Brooks Range, Alaska

The last stop of the day, made very late in the afternoon, proved to be the most fruitful of all.  We made a pit stop at the Marion Creek Campground, on the east side of the highway, about halfway between Wiseman and Coldfoot.  Though the campground itself was effectively deserted, we found a sign there, without any embellishment, for the Marion Creek Falls Trail, so we decided to check it out.  After a short walk–perhaps 1/4 of a mile–we came to an overlook of Marion Creek itself, near a sharp bend in the waterway.

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

The creek itself was an unmistakable glacial blue…though we know for certain that it’s not glacially fed.

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

The easily traversed trail continued into a (mostly) spruce forest that contained the thickest carpet of reindeer lichen that I’ve ever seen in my life.

Reindeer Lichen Forest, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Alaska

This was a location that I wanted to explore extensively, but since we were anxious to make our way to the falls, we didn’t linger here long.  After another 1/4 of a mile or so the trail, while still clearly discernible, turned into what can only be regarded as an unmaintained “social” trail.  We followed it for some distance further, but after awhile we turned back, not sure how much longer it was to the falls.  We decided that, time permitting, we’d return–at an earlier hour–on a subsequent day, and see if we couldn’t make it all the way to the end.

In the meantime, since we’d decided that this would be our last stop on this cloudy day, I decided to nab at least a few more images from the lichen strewn spruce forest.

Reindeer Lichen Forest, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Alaska

Reindeer Lichen Intimate, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Alaska

Reindeer Lichen Intimate, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Alaska

As we returned to the point near the creek overlook, I made a pair of parting images.

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

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

And, with little light remaining, we returned to the car and headed back to Wiseman.

It had been a long, productive day.  The next day would, somehow, be even longer and more productive.


  1. beautiful

  2. I love the textures you have captured. The proportions too are beautiful.

  3. Your usual great photos and illuminating text. Thanks for inspiring us all in 2018. 🙂

    • Thanks very much, Frank!

  4. Enjoyed – thanks

    • Thanks very much!

  5. I really like the photos of the forest at Marion Creek that provide a feeling of the extensive carpet of reindeer lichen. Your compositions do it justice.

    • Thanks, Ellen!

  6. Hope you had a good holiday season.

    Beautiful photos. I have to agree with you regarding rainbows, very difficult to capture a good image. Most of the time, by the time we’re get set up, the colors have faded – at least that in my case. Or, it looks better to the naked eye than after reviewing the image on the camera.

    Here’s to more great images.

    Way O/T: I’m glad Zinke is gone from Interior; very much a poster boy regarding corruption. However, I don’t hold out for much of an improvement from his successor. I always thought Zinke was ill-suited for Interior, or matter of fact any position within the federal government. That letter of censure in his Navy personnel file should have precluded any sort of nomination, or naming to a position involving the public trust. But, Trump is not known to be worried about appearances in which honesty matters.

    • Thanks, David.

      Yeah, rainbows are tough. They’re typically quite fleeting and they also imply some degree of inclement weather; it it’s not right where you are, it’s nearby.

      On the Zinke thing…I don’t want to get too deep into the political weeds in this space, so for now I’ll limit myself to saying that I agree with all of your points. Zinke is more a symptom of what’s wrong than he is the vanguard of the cause.

  7. […] the small pools located on the west side of the mountain that we’d used as a foreground the previous day under cloudy skies.  (The perspective of Sukakpak from the above series is essentially […]

  8. […] I noted during the chronicling of the day of exploration that was our first full day in the Brooks Range, we discovered the Marion Creek Falls trailhead.  […]

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