Posted by: kerryl29 | January 24, 2022

Alaska Revisited, Day 6: South on the Dalton Highway

Day 5 was our last full day in the Brooks Range. Our itinerary called for our return to Fairbanks on Day 6, but when we established that itinerary many months earlier, we had deliberately built in enough time to be able to make our return as leisurely as we liked. On our previous Alaska trip, three years earlier, our drive back to Fairbanks at the end of our time in the Brooks Range was constricted, by errands we had to run before the end of that day and a ridiculously early flight home the following morning. As a result, we hadn’t been able to stop anywhere near as often as we liked as we drove south on the Dalton Highway. This time would be different, and it would pay dividends.

I had noted on the drive north, on Day 2 of the trip, that there was every reason to believe that fall color along the southern half of the highway, which was already decent, would be at or very near peak by the time we were ready to return. Would that be realized? You be the judge.

It was cloudy for the entirety of the return trip, but wind was mercifully very light, temperatures were in the mid-40s (F) for most of the day and rain was limited to an occasional very light sprinkle. Our first stop came before we had been driving for 30 minutes. The color at this location was simply too nice to ignore.

Fall Color, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Fall Color, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

The highway at this spot was on a down slope, but still raised above the adjacent landscape, which allowed for a bit of an overlook perspective, as you can see in the images above. But it was possible to climb down an embankment, without much difficulty, and obtain an entirely different point of view.

Fall Color, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Fall Color Intimate, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Our next stop was astride the bridge where the highway crossed the South Fork of the Koyukuk River. We had scouted this location a bit during our explorations on Day 4.

South Fork Koyokuk River, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Foggy Mountain Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Further south, as we approached Grayling Lake, I spotted a moose out in the water and we hastened to a pull-out that doubled as a boat launch and hauled out our telephoto lenses to photograph the cooperative moose.

Moose and Ducks, Grayling Lake, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Moose Environmental, Grayling Lake, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Moose, Grayling Lake, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Moose, Grayling Lake, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Moose, Grayling Lake, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Moose, Grayling Lake, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

We pulled off the road again when we reached the point where the Kanuti River flows under the highway. We’d stopped here on the drive up, four days earlier, and had marked the spot on our GPS unit. On this day, the weather was sufficiently cooperative to encourage a fairly thorough photographic exploration.

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

A broad, open meadow, dotted with spruce saplings amidst the colorful foliage of the tundra vegetation, lay just north of the river on the east side of the highway and, after photographing the river facing both east and west, I hastened to the meadow.

Fall Color, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Fall Color, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Only five miles or so farther down the road, we reached Finger Mountain, and hastened to take advantage of the (somewhat) more forgiving weather conditions than that which had thwarted our photography after such a promising start on Day 2.

We spent a pretty fair amount of time at Finger Mountain–this time on the west side of the highway. My focus here was on the intimate, if not close-up, perspective.

Finger Mountain, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Finger Mountain, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

The color at this location–at a high point on the highway–had been very nice four days earlier. It seemed no less intense, or compelling, to us now.

Fall Color and Lichen Closeup, Finger Mountain, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Finger Mountain, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Bearberry and Club Moss Intimate, Finger Mountain, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Fall Color and Lichen Closeup, Finger Mountain, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Club Moss Intimate, Finger Mountain, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Bearberry Intimate, Finger Mountain, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

The Finger Mountain experience was one that was a direct result of our decision to give ourselves extra time on the drive south. We knew that we had literally all day–approximately 16 hours of daylight (since the one thing we didn’t want to do was drive on the Dalton Highway in the dark)–to make it back to Livengood, the southern terminus of the highway. We couldn’t imagine that we’d take it all (and we didn’t), but we’d given ourselves the freedom to, virtually, forget about the clock, and that has innumerable physical and psychological benefits when it comes to photographing. Our time at Finger Mountain was a textbook illustration of that principle.

We had one more location along the Dalton Highway that merited a lengthy stop. Well, two locations, actually, but they were close enough together (less than one mile apart) that we have tended to think of them as one. We had stumbled across this spot on the return to Fairbanks three years earlier. This time, Ellen and I made sure to keep a look out on the Day 2 drive north so that we could mark the location and check it out on the southward return. When it came into view on the drive north, we immediately recognized the scene, even though it was almost entirely green. On this day, once we left Finger Mountain, we punched the waypoint into the GPS so there would be no chance of missing it. But, about a mile before we got there, we found another scene–on both sides of the road–that was almost as nice. Maybe it was as nice. Either way, we stopped and had a good long look, before pulling out the cameras and trying to do it justice and then, after a lengthy shoot, we moved the mile or so south and photographed the location we’d been looking for originally. These two nearby, but distinct, locations are now known collectively (at least to Ellen and myself) simply as “The Spot.”

The Spot, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
The Spot, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
The Spot, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
The Spot, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
The Spot, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
The Spot, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
The Spot, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

“The Spot” has become one of my all-time favorite photo locations.

The Spot, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
The Spot, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
The Spot, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
The Spot, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
The Spot, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
The Spot, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
The Spot, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
The Spot, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
The Spot, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

We spent quite a bit of time at “The Spot,” obviously, and it appeared for some time as though it would be the last photo location of the day. But after we reached the southern end of the Dalton Highway, we still had about a 90-minute drive on the Elliott Highway east to Fairbanks. It was early evening by now and when we reached Olnes Pond, we spotted two more moose. It was a moose cow and her calf and, though they were pretty far away with no apparent inclination to move any closer, we had one last photo opportunity.

Moose Cow and Calf, Olnes Pond, Lower Chatanikia State Recreation Site;, Alaska
Moose Cow and Calf, Olnes Pond, Lower Chatanikia State Recreation Site;, Alaska
Moose Cow, Olnes Pond, Lower Chatanikia State Recreation Site;, Alaska

The Brooks Range portion of our trip had come to an end, but there was still much to come. As we prepared to make an unrushed transition in the direction of the Denali Highway, we had a couple of days in the Delta Junction area, just north of the Alaska Range, to look forward to.


Responses

  1. Gorgeous Fall colors and the moose in the lake is amazing! Thanks for sharing🙂

    • Thanks very much!

  2. Such bright beautiful colors, and I love the moose!

  3. Kerry, what a rich tapestry of colors, especially along the Dalton Highway! The intimates were especially nice. I really like the b&w version of Kanuti River — surprising given that b&w is not usually the choice for fall foliage. “The Spot” also provided some complex compositional elements with parallel lines nestling into an ‘S’ curve in some comps. Looks like it was a smorgasbord of color and a lot of fun to shoot! Looking forward to the next installment…
    Steve

    • Thanks, Steve. Yeah, this was, on balance, a very satisfying day of photography. We hit a lot of locations along the way and found a great deal of compelling subject matter, most of it buttressed by the exceptional color we found, just about everywhere.

  4. Interesting photos, I really like the ones you got of the funny looking devilish creatures. haha Moose, they are so funny looking and even dive underwater for lillypads.

    Interesting type of terrain where you are, kind of semi Tundra/ Tagia forest, all the trees are tiny, I also like how the weeds are turning red since it is late summer heading into fall. I know the “Brooks Range” is way up near the Arctic Ocean.

    • Thanks!

      We covered probably 275 miles or so on the Dalton Highway during the time we were in the area. Many different ecosystems are present, given the change in latitude and altitude. We were over the treeline (which is pretty low that far north) on multiple occasions.

      The northern edge of the Brooks Range is roughly 125 miles south of the Arctic Ocean. North of the mountains is the broad Arctic Coastal Plain which runs all the way up to the Arctic Ocean.

  5. Definitely a nice Spot! Beautiful Photographs!

    • Thanks very much!

  6. […] 7 of the Alaska trip was a transitional one, as we moved from the Brooks Range and the Dalton Highway more broadly toward our much anticipated time on the Denali Highway. In between, we had a couple of […]


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