Alaska (Aug 21-Aug 28, 2016)

Highlights

  • Mount Denali & Denali National Park
  • Seward & Exit Glacier
  • Fjords around Whittier
  • Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage

From August 21 thru 28 of 2016, 2 of my cousins, Ganesh and Ramu, and I spent a week in Alaska driving between Seward in the South and the Denali National Park in North and covered about 1200 miles.

Alaska Trip 2016

Day 1 (Aug 21) – Anchorage to Alyeska

We landed at the Ted Stevens International Airport at around 11am and drove into town for lunch and beer @ the Glacier Brewhouse. After a good sampling of Alaskan beer and elaborate lunch, we started driving towards the ski town of Alyeska. The first stop was at the McHugh Creek Falls along the Seward Highway. You can shoot the falls from the parking area. It was extremely windy but as the temperature was normal, it was tolerable.

McHugh Creek Falls near Anchorage, AK
Nikon D800E 112mm f14 0.3sec ISO100
(61°0’59” N 149°43’54” W)

We drove along the northern shores of Turnagain Arm and stopped at a few spots to photograph the landscape. Considering we are in the Chugach rainforest, it was not a surprise that it was a very cloudy day and there was no opportunity to shoot sunset.

Turnagain Arm near Anchorage, AK
Nikon D800E 35mm f16 1/8 ISO100
(60°56’13” N 149°15’51” W)
Turnagain Arm near Anchorage, AK
Nikon D800E 16mm f16 1/15 ISO100
(60°56’13” N 149°15’51” W)

We checked into the awesome Alyeska Resort and after a nice pizza + beer dinner, we called it a day.

Day 2 (Aug 22) – Alyeska to Moose Pass

After a terrific breakfast consisting of an egg white omelet and fruits, we left the Resort and headed to the Virgin Creek Falls in the town of Girdwood. The trailhead is in a residential area at the end of Timberline Drive. It was an easy 5 minute hike to the viewpoint of the falls. It was drizzling and we had to cover the camera equipment to capture the images of the falls.

Virgin Creek Falls, Girdwood, AK
Nikon D800E 48mm f10 0.6 ISO320
(60°56’51” N 149°7’24” W)

From the falls, we headed to Whittier and took a 6-hr Prince William Sound fjord cruise. It was raining off and on and the visibility was poor. I decided not to lug around my camera equipment and used my iPhone6 exclusively to shoot images of the glaciers.

A glacier along Harriman Fjord
iPhone6 photo
(61.113895, -148.145129)

The naturalist on board talked about the impact of global warming on the fjords. The marine map below is 6 yrs old. White stuff on the map is supposed to be the glacier. Notice where our cruise boat is on the map. What was a glacier 6 yrs ago is now water!!! We can debate the causes all day long but the impact is clear. Sad!!!

6-yr old Marine Map aboard the Cruise Ship in Prince William Sound
iPhone6 photo

After the conclusion of the cruise, we drove to our hotel at Moose Pass and checked in.

Day 3 (Aug 23) – Moose Pass to Seward

At the start of the third day, we were yet to see even a small patch of blue sky in Alaska. After a quick breakfast, we headed towards Seward. The first stop was at Tern Lake where we took a selfie.

Three Amigos @ Tern Lake
Nikon D800E 48mm f13 1/60 ISO320
(60°32’3″ N 149°32’49” W)

We reached the Kenai Fjords National Park outside the town of Seward in the afternoon. The National Park was established in 1980 by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The park covers an area of 669,984 acres. The park contains the Harding Icefield, one of the largest ice fields in the United States. The park is named for the numerous fjords carved by glaciers moving down the mountains from the ice field. The field is the source of at least 38 glaciers, the largest of which is Bear Glacier. Exit Glacier within the park is reachable by road. The remainder of the park is primarily accessible by boat. It is a visible indicator of glacial recession due to climate change. It retreated approximately 187 feet from 2013 to 2014.

A network of short trails leads to different views of Exit Glacier, beginning at the Exit Glacier Nature Center and the parking lot. We start by turning left at the nature center with the a park ranger and followed the main trail through the cottonwood forest to the Glacier View, a panoramic vista of Exit Glacier spilling down from the Harding Icefield. This one-mile trail looped back to the parking area. Below are 2 images from the 1-mile hike.

Exit Glacier Hike
Nikon D800E 85mm f10 1/250 ISO400
(60°11’4″ N 149°37’49” W)
Exit Glacier receding @ about 150′ per year shot from the spot where it was in 2010
Nikon D800E 24mm f11 1/15 ISO125
(60°11’5″ N 149°38’41” W)

If you want to see the Exit Glacier, you need make a trip over there soon as the Park Service does not plan to extend the trails anymore with the receding of the glacier. At the current rate, I doubt you will be able to see it after another 10-15 years.

We reached Seward in the late afternoon and drove around the small town. We came across an interesting looking church converted to a coffee house and art gallery.

An Interesting Coffee Shop in Seward
iPhone6 photo
(60.103726, -149.441364)
Seward Coffee Shop Door
iPhone6 photo
(60.103726, -149.441364)

Nearby at the intersection of 2nd Ave and Adam St was an Episcopal church that was good to photograph.

Seward St Peters Episcopal Church
iPhone6 photo
(60.102905, -149.443689)

After dinner at Woody’s Thai Kitchen we checked into a motel in Seward for the night.

Day 4 (Aug 24) – Seward to Anchorage

From Seward, we retraced our way back to Anchorage on the way to the Denali National Park. We stopped at the Lower Summit Lake in Moose Pass to take a shot of a small cabin behind the water. Ganesh was kind enough to walk to the small footbridge over the water.

Ganesh @ Lower Summit Lake
Nikon D800E 86mm f13 1/25 ISO100
(60°39’52” N 149°28’49” W)

The next stop was at the town of Portage where the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is located. Near the center, we spotted the nearby mountains covered by fog and mist. This turned out to be an awesome photo opportunity.

Mountains & Fog @ Portage, AK
Nikon D800E 120mm f13 1/60 ISO100
(60°49’7″ N 148°58’24” W)

We then spent the next few hours at the Wildlife Conservation Center where we shot a bunch of Alaskan wildlife.

A Moose @ Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center
Nikon D7100 110mm f5.6 1/400 ISO400
(60.822259, -148.982896)
A Caribou @ Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center
Nikon D7100 185mm f5.6 1/400 ISO640
(60.825208, -148.983779)
A Muskox @ Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center
Nikon D7100 155mm f8 1/125 ISO400
(60.825047, -148.985747)
An Alaskan Bison @ Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center
Nikon D7100 125mm f5.6 1/160 ISO400
(60.827097, -148.985031)
A Black Bear Cub @ Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center
Nikon D7100 240mm f5.6 1/400 ISO1000
(60.821072, -148.981501)
An Alaskan Brown Bear @ Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center
Nikon D7100 300mm f5.6 1/125 ISO400
(60.823715, -148.985004)
A Roosevelt Elk @ Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center
Nikon D7100 300mm f5.6 1/160 ISO640
(60.825859, -148.986617)

We stopped at the Falls Creek along Seward Highway to take a few shots.

Falls Creek along Seward Highway
Nikon D800E 35mm f11 0.3sec ISO400
(60.984290, -149.576048)

Day 5 (Aug 25) – Seward to Talkteetna

After breakfast at our hotel, we headed to Denali National Park. We had reserved a cabin in Talkeetna for one night. Our first stop of the day was at Thunderbird Falls just outside of Anchorage. From the parking lot, it was an easy 1.8 mile out and back trail walk. It was definitely a worth a visit.

Thunderbird Falls
Nikon D800E; 85mm; f11; 1/4 ISO 100
(61.442414, -149.359209)

We reached Talkeetna early afternoon. After checking into our cabin just outside the town, we went to downtown for a late lunch/early dinner and strolled around the town.

Day 6 (Aug 26) – Flightseeing Tour including a Glacier Landing & Drive from Talkteena to Denali National Park

The day turned out to be terrific. After 6 weeks the Denali goddess emerged from the cloud cover and appeared in all her glory. We had reserved seats on the Grand Denali morning flightseeing tour including a glacier landing with Talkeetna Air Taxi. We reached the airport at 815am. The tour started at around 845 and lasted 2 hours on a DeHavilland Turbine Otter. There were 4 others on the flight along with us. The flight & the glacier landing experience was sublime.

On the Denali Flightseeing Tour
Nikon D800E; 24mm; f11; 1/320 ISO 125
On the Denali Flightseeing Tour
Nikon D800E; 40mm; f8; 1/500 ISO 125
On the Denali Flightseeing Tour
Nikon D800E; 58mm; f11; 1/500 ISO 125
On the Denali Flightseeing Tour
Nikon D800E; 55mm; f11; 1/400 ISO 125
On the Denali Flightseeing Tour
Nikon D800E; 65mm; f11; 1/400 ISO 125
Denali Grand Tour Glacier Landing at Kahiltna Glacier
Nikon D800E; 46mm; f11; 1/320 ISO 200

After the flightseeing tour, we headed north on the Parks Highway to the Denali National Park. Along the way, stopped at a few viewpoints including the one at the Hurricane Gulch Bridge.

Hurricane Gulch Bridge
Nikon D800E; 31mm; f13; 1/200 ISO 200
(61°0’59.08″ N 149°43’54.43″ W)

We reached Denali at around 1pm and checked into the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge.

Day 7 (Aug 27) – Denali National Park – Kantishna Experience Tour

After early breakfast, we parked the car at the Denali National Park Visitor Center and boarded the bus for the 12-hour Kantishna Experience Tour. Considering no private cars are allowed inside the park, this was a reasonable alternative. Denali was cloud covered that day but we did see some caribous and reindeer. Bears that we encountered were far away and couldn’t be photographed without a 2000mm lens :-(.

Denali Reindeer
Nikon D7100; 300mm; f6.3; 1/640 ISO 1000
Denali Caribou
Nikon D7100; 300mm; f5.6; 1/1600 ISO 800
Denali National Park – Eielson Visitor Center Viewpoint
Nikon D800E; 40mm; f13; 1/100 ISO 200
63°25’51.649″ N 150°18’38.957″ W

Day 8 (Aug 28) – Denali National Park back to Anchorage

After breakfast, we started driving back to Anchorage to fly back to Seattle. We stopped at the bridge over Riley Creek just outside the park entrance to photograph the river.

Riley Creek near the Denali National Park Entrance
Nikon D800E; 40mm; f13; 1/100 ISO 200
63°43’40” N 148°53’16.859″ W

We stopped at the Denali Viewpoint South at Trapper Creek and shot a few panos of Mt. Denali.

Mount Denali Pano shot from the Denali Viewpoint South at Trapper Creek
Nikon D800E; 120mm; f14; 1/125 ISO 100
62°35’42.91″ N 150°14’25.969″ W

After dinner at a Thai restaurant in Anchorage, we checked into our hotel to catch a very early morning Delta flight back to Seattle.

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