It was hard to believe that a week had gone by, and this was our last day in Denali National Park with Hector’s “golden pass”. We were out for 13 hours the day before, and Angel and I were pretty tired, but Hector was on a photographers’ adrenaline high.
And we made our customary stop at Toklat before anyone else was around.
The wildflowers, especially the fireweed, were still putting on a show, framing the scenery in bright pink. The peak of the wildflowers was about three weeks ago, and I cannot imagine how exquisite that must have been.
We saw more Arctic ground squirrel, our little buddies.
Hard to think of them as food, but they make up a very important part of the circle of life here.
We spotted our first porcupine! When Hector and I walked over to get a closer look (we do not have to get too close, since we have long lens and binoculars), I heard a sudden commotion in the branches on the hill just below my feet. A little ball with spines ran out and hid under some other branches. A baby porcupine!
We know that some mothers in the wild will abandon their babies when frightened. So since I startled the baby, we figured the mother was frightened as well, and decided to leave immediately. There are no photos, but I will never forget that baby porcupine.
We walked down to the stream amongst tons of wildflowers, beautiful grasses and bright mosses.
Back on the road, we saw another grizzly bear, it would have been tough not to see bear on our last day. I had heard a ranger talking with someone about a bear named Fabio, whose hair grew much longer than the others. And the blond mane on this one made me think he was Fabio (if you do not know who this is, google it 😉 ).
He had always planned to go out again, so he went off on his own And it was the right thing for him to have some time alone on this last day to reflect on this amazing opportunity as a photographer.
And below are his reflections on this special week.
It was good to be alone with my thoughts. I didn’t take many pictures. I just drove and let the scenery wash over me as I reflected on the week we have had. My heart was full of gratitude for all the extraordinary privileges afforded to me this week.
Over the five passes I went. Sable Pass, scary Polychrome, across the broad Toklat River then over the three high alpine passes of Highway, Stony Point and Thorofare before turning around at the beautiful Eilson Visitor Center. Time did not permit going the last 20 miles out to Wonder Lake.
Approaching Stony Point I saw two park buses stopped on an upcoming hill, a good sign that wildlife has been spotted. They were looking down at a grizzly bear near the road and had a great view of it.
Soon he got close enough that it was time to fold up the tripod and get behind the driver’s door. Then I was sitting in the driver’s seat leaning out to keep taking pictures.
Until the bear was so close it was time to close the door. I thought he was going to climb up on the hood! He walked right by my door without even a glance and casually continued down the road behind me. It was a great moment and the second time this happened this week.
What I did not expect is what happened next. The buses rolled silently down the hill with their engines off to stay in view of the bear. As they passed me, all the passengers, who had witnessed the entire sequence of events, cheered wildly and gave me waves and thumbs up signs as they went by.
Pretty much sums up my entire week.
We knew this photographer pass would be special but we hadn’t realized that by camping at Teklanika we had such a huge head start on the first morning bus that we had this giant national park with its sweeping views and amazing wildlife literally to ourselves for 4 to 6 hours every morning. It was absolutely incredible. We needed to pinch ourselves.
This week was a photographer’s dream. We could stop anywhere we wanted. Wildlife everywhere. We had the entire range of weather. From severe clear to puffy clouds to driving rain and everything in between with some smoke and fog and even a rainbow for good measure.
And the Mountain was generous. Only 30 percent of visitors to Denali ever see the mountain at all let alone see her multiple days from completely clear to draped in various combinations of clouds. On this last day Denali was hiding, with only glimpses of other peaks of the Alaska Range.
I worked hard to capture the essence of this place in images. Ultimately a hopeless task, but some pretty pictures did result. Exactly as the park service intended when they issued me this precious permit.
But also the soft tundra absorbs sound. It is a very quiet place.
Observing the wildlife at length and in solitude. Bears being adorable and rolling comically around, tender caribou with their improbable antlers running gracefully, the cute little ground squirrels, moose with their goofy legs, rare things like gyrfalcon and on and on.
Best of all was to share this experience with the love of my life, Brenda. Who loves nature so much and writes so naturally and beautifully about our walkabout adventures.
What a privilege.