Alaska

This is an illustrated trip report with thirty-one Ektachrome slide photos from a trip in 2000. They are mostly scenic, but there are some wildlife and plant photos that have scenic value.

Introduction Map of route from Anchorage to the Tangle River Inn to Denali National Park and back to Anchorage Long Lake  There was a park here where we stopped to eat lunch on June 23, our first full day in Alaska.  It was along the Glenn Highway on the way from Anchorage to Glennallen.  I thought it was a pretty scene with the reflections of the trees in the water and the mountains in the background.  I would soon learn that the scenery in Alaska is magnificent almost anywhere you look.
Matanuska Valley  This photo, also taken from the Glenn Highway, shows the Matanuska Valley with its river and glacier and the surrounding mountains.  The Matanuska Valley is one of the few places in Alaska with any agriculture.  It is famous for giant vegetables.  Apparently, the nearly 24 hours of daylight in the summer makes up for the short growing season and cool temperatures. Road Back to Anchorage  This photo was taken from almost the same spot as the Matanuska photo.  However, it was looking back along the Glenn Highway towards Anchorage. Gypsum Rocks  This scene along the Glenn Highway is confusingly called Gypsum Rocks.  Gypsum is a white or colorless mineral made of calcium sulfate.  The color here is due to iron salts.
Glennallen and Mt. St. Elias  This photo shows Mt. St. Elias from the town of Glennallen (population 500).  We stopped here to get gas before leaving the paved road.  It was the last settlement we were to see for several days.  The sign leaves no doubt that you are in Alaska.  Almost everyone in the group got a picture of it, although the perspective varied greatly.  From Glennallen, we followed the Richardson Highway north, paralleling the notorious Alaska Pipeline, before taking the Denali Highway west.  The latter two are actually unpaved seasonal roads. Alaska Range  This was our first glimpse of the Alaska Range seen across treeless tundra at the beginning of the Denali Highway.  Although it was late June, there were patches of snow which we touched.  It seemed unreal to be surrounded by snow on a sunny day with the temperature in the 60s or 70s. Scene at Tangle River Inn  This nameless mountain and lake were across the Denali Highway from our headquarters at the Tangle River Inn.  It was 6:30 AM, and there was no wind to disturb the lake.  The inn was seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The accommodations were a bit primitive, but, the hospitality was very warm.  All the food and fuel for the generator had to be trucked in from hundreds of miles away.  Our rooms had private sinks and toilets, but the showers were communal.  The inn is used mainly by fishermen and hunters.  Dozens of cliff swallows nested under the eaves.
Cow Moose with Calf  This cow moose and calf were seen from the Denali Highway not far from the Tangle River Inn.  Since this was a telephoto shot, they were farther away than they seem.  This explains why the animals seemed oblivious to our presence.  The scene is idyllic, but a cow moose with a calf is fiercely protective and very dangerous.  A visitor to Denali National Park was killed by a cow moose with a calf.  These were the first moose I ever saw. Cow Moose  We saw this second cow moose browsing in an alder thicket only a few minutes after the first one.  This one also had a calf, but it was hidden from view.  We saw several cow moose and calves in Alaska, but curiously, we never saw a bull. Arctic Ground Squirrel  This photo was taken along the Denali Highway from one of the vans.  This is the largest North American ground squirrel.  It is a favorite prey of foxes, wolves, bears, and eagles.  Note the hump-backed appearance.  I suspect that the hump enables them to store extra energy and water for hibernation just as the hump of a camel enables it to go for a long time without eating or drinking.
Grizzly Bear  We saw this very pale grizzly during the six hour bus ride from the entrance of Denali National Park to our lodgings at the Kantishna Road House.  The park is bigger than the state of Massachusetts.  Private cars are not allowed.  The bus was operated by the Road House.  Although the bus ride was long, it was very scenic and full of wildlife.  Denali is like a North American version of the Serengeti Plains with the emphasis on north.  We were at 62.5 °N, only about 200 miles from the Arctic Circle.  Although it never gets completely dark at this latitude in June, the late afternoon light was weak.  My attempt to get a photo of the bear raising its head was ruined by motion blur.  The grizzlies of the interior are smaller and paler than their salmon-fed coastal relatives.  Although the bear was peaceful, and it did not seem to notice us, I was glad to have the relative safety of the bus.  Only 20% of visitors to Denali see bears, so we were lucky.  On the way out, we saw a female grizzly with a cub. Polychrome Pass  This photo was taken by evening light at an observation area on the drive into Denali National Park.  You can see the road we came over.  It was just an unpaved ledge cut into the side of the cliff with no guard rail.  It was so narrow that two buses going in opposite directions could not pass until one of them found a pull-out. Mount McKinley as seen from Quigley Ridge  Ater a midnight walk at Mirror Lake during which we saw a cow moose and calf drink from the lake, on our first and only full day in Denali, a very small number of us made the tough climb up Quigley Ridge.  There were just three of us plus our leader, Steve Daniel.  Amazingly, one of us was the oldest participant in the trip, a man of 73 who may have been the fittest of all.  We were later joined by co-leader Doug Bassett.  However, most of the participants were not fit enough.  Most of the time, the mountain was hidden by clouds, but it came out just long enough for me to get the photo.  Whereas the mosquitoes were the worst I have ever seen near the Kantishna Roadhouse (bug hats with veils were a necessity), they were not a problem on Quigley Ridge, most of which is above the tree line.
King of the Ridge  This hoary marmot was one of the denizens of Quigley Ridge.  It is closely related to the woodchuck but somewhat larger. They are found only at high altitudes and latitudes.  It is hard to believe that any vegetarian can survive in such a bleak, inhospitable environment.  Of course, they hibernate for much of the year.  Even in summer, they have long shaggy coats.  Only those few who went on the Quigley Ridge hike got to see hoary marmots.  They seemed unafraid of people.  This photo was made with a zoom lens set at its maximum focal length of 85 mm.  This was not really strong enough, but I was unwilling to carry a stronger and heavier lens on this hike. Hoary Marmot Pair  Hoary marmots are social animals.  These two were nuzzling each other moments before I took this picture.  A third animal was visible at the same time.  After Quigley Ridge, I headed back to Kantishna Roadhouse on my own while the others continued on to Wickersham Dome.  On the way back, I saw a distant black bear bounding around on a hillside across a river.  Fortunately, it did not seem to notice me as the shallow river would have been no obstacle.  In spite of seeing the bear while  hiking alone, I was glad that I turned back because the others did not return until many hours later around 8:00 PM in a state of exhaustion.  However, that was not the end of the day as most of us went on another little jaunt to see a putative Siberian tit.  I thought it was just another boreal chickadee.  We didn't get much sleep or rest on this trip. Mt. McKinley  This photo reminds me of an aerial photo.  Actually, it was made from the Eilson Visitor Center with a telephoto lens as we drove out of Denali National Park.
Barren Ground Caribou  We saw many caribous at Denali, but this female, photographed from the bus during the ride out of the park,  was definitely the closest and most photogenic.  The coat is patchy because it was molting.  After Denali, we rode on the scenic Alaska Railroad for a few hours to the village of Talkeetna where Steve and Doug met us with the vans.  After bumming around Talkeetna for a while and having a so-so dinner, we drove back to Anchorage, arriving around 10:00 PM. Anchorage to Seward Map  This map shows the route for the 2nd loop of our trip from Anchorage to Seward, Resurrection Bay, and back to Anchorage. Dall's Sheep Ram  We saw Dall’s sheep at Denali, but they were just white specks on distant mountainsides.  We had a fairly close encounter with a group which included this young ram on the drive from Anchorage to Seward along the coastal highway.  One woman actually made a video of him urinating which she proudly showed at a reunion after the trip!  The group also included an older ram whose horns made a full circle.
Portage Lake  On the way to Seward, we stopped at Portage Glacier National Monument.  The photo shows Portage Lake with the Burns Glacier in the background.  The blue ice in the foreground is glacial ice which is hundreds or thousands of years old and was compressed by the weight of other ice and snow.  Compression changes the way it reflects light and makes it blue.  Except for the blue ice, it is almost like a black-and-white photo.  An hour later, when we came out of the visitor center, the blue ice had dispersed, and the photo op was gone.  Portage Lake was one of the coldest spots on the trip with the temperature around 40°F and an icy wind off the lake. Portage Glacier  I wish I could say that this photo was taken while clinging to the side of an ice fall after a grueling technical climb.  Actually, it was taken from a roadside stop with a telephoto lens.  Again, blue ice provides almost the only color.  This was as close as we got to the glacier.  However, we did take a hike to a snow field at the bottom of another smaller glacier.  Along the way, we heard, but didn’t see, our first varied thrush.  Also, we came across a large pile of fresh bear scat right in the middle of the trail.  I think that bear was expressing its feelings about people.  One lady took pictures of it. White Bog Orchis (Habenaria dilatata)  This is a somewhat rare but widespread plant which was photographed in a roadside boggy area on the way to Seward.  It can also be found in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State and at Zurich Bog near Rochester.
Tidewater Glaciers  At Seward, we went on a pelagic boat trip on Resurrection Bay in Kenai Fjords National Park.  It was a calm but gray and drizzly day.  We saw many birds and some mammals.  Birds included puffins, murres, murrelets, auklets, cormorants, gulls, kittiwakes, and pigeon guillemot.  Mammals included sea otters, the endangered Steller’s sealion, humpbacked whales, and a dead gray whale.  However, because of distance and boat motion, conditions were unsatisfactory for wildlife photography.  This photo shows the Tidewater Glaciers with the Ojay Glacier on the left and the Northwestern Glacier on the right.  They are so named because the ice from the glaciers goes directly into the salt water of the bay.  The bright ice is rather dramatic in a scene which is otherwise gloomy and gray.  On a sunny day, the glare might have been too great for photography. Ojay Glacier  This is a close-up of the left glacier shown in the previous photo. Northwestern Glacier  Our 44 foot boat was actually surrounded by chunks of floating ice when this photo was taken.  The moving ice of the glacier made very loud and unearthly cracking and groaning sounds, but we didn’t see the glacier calve.  I was told that the bare rock between the ice flows was not visible 20 years previously in 1980.  It has become visible because this glacier, like others all over the world, is receding due to global warming.
Cataract Cove  This waterfall on an island in Resurrection Bay, resulting from melting ice and snow, fell directly into the salt water of the bay.  Our very competent captain, a 29 year old woman named Leslie, said that it is her favorite place. Seward  At first glance, this photo looks like just a shot of Alaska’s rugged coastal mountains seen from the water.  Actually, it is a photo of the town of Seward taken as we were returning from Resurrection Bay.  It may look insignificant, but it can be very significant if you need a meal and a place to stay. Glaucous-winged Gulls  They were sharing  the remains of a fish, not always in a friendly way, near the docks at Seward.  They are like vultures of the sea.  This accidental bait enabled me to get my only half decent bird photo of the trip.  This is one of the two very common gull species in southern Alaska.  The other is the mew gull.
Chocolate Lilies (Fritillaria camschatcensis)  With their reddish-brown flowers, bright yellow pistils and stamens, and silvery leaves, these plants are distinctive and attractive in a somewhat sinister way.  It is also called the outhouse lily or skunk lily because of its foul odor which attracts flies as pollinators.  The bulbs are edible.  We saw these along the road on the drive back towards Anchorage from Seward along the coastal highway.  A little earlier, we stopped at a fish hatchery where we all saw a distant American dipper, and I was one of the lucky few to get a decent look at a singing varied thrush; two life birds in a few minutes! Lupines  (Lupinus arcticus)  Lupines are among the most characteristic flowers of southern Alaska in June.  These were in the same field as the chocolate lilies.  I saw a postcard which showed a huge brown bear in a vast field of lupines with mountains in the background.  For me, it epitomized Alaska.  We saw lupines, bears, mountains, and much more, but we never saw all three at the same time.  I suspect that the card was a composite. Temperate Rain Forest  On the way back to Anchorage, we stopped at the Aleyeska Resort where we had a banquet.  We also took a walk in the lush and beautiful temperate rain forest which is part of the Chugach National Forest.  I believe the trees are Douglas firs.  The resort was very nice, but, after a day of hiking and driving, I felt too dirty and grungy for the elegant surroundings.  We also took a cable car to the top of the ski run, but it was a bit disappointing.  Of course, there was no skiing in June.  It was a hazy day, so visibility was not good.  Although people do hang gliding there, it was too windy that day.
Bunchberries and Ferns  These flowering bunchberries ( Cornus canadensis ) and ferns were part of the understory in the temperate rain forest.  Bunchberries are in the dogwood family.  After the banquet, we took an evening drive and hike.  As we drove over a bridge across a stream, I spotted a small bird perched on a branch.  Although I couldn’t tell what it was, I told Steve about it after we stopped.  He took off like a jackrabbit in his van.  When the rest of us caught up, we found out that the bird was an American dipper which was apparently roosting for the night.  We watched it for at least 15 minutes.  Although it blinked its eyes and sang once, it never moved.  This was my great find for the trip.  Unfortunately, the light was too weak for good photography.  We also attracted a crowd of onlookers from a nearby tavern and a policeman who asked us not to block the road.  After that, we drove back to Anchorage.  After spending the next day in the Anchorage area, we departed for home.