Our Last Day in Denali

Denali Day Seven 7It 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.

Denali Day Seven 20It was very cloudy so we left just after 6 a.m. Hector really wanted to make the most of this day, and his plan was to “get down low”, closer to the earth as much as possible.

Denali Day Seven 3Denali Day Seven 2Denali Day Seven 8We tried to take all of the scenery in as if we would never be back again. The beautiful fireweed with the mountains as backdrop, the braided rivers, the meadows, the glittering ponds.

Denali Day Seven 5The Dall’s sheep made another appearance up high.Denali Day Seven 9

And we made our customary stop at Toklat before anyone else was around.

Denali Day Seven 10The bright green ground cover on the mountainsides really popped on this cloudy day.

Denali Day Seven 44Denali Day Seven 19

Denali Day Seven 43And our friends the gentle caribou were out as always. We just love them.

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Denali Day Seven 15Denali Day Seven 1Denali Day Seven 22The 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.

Denali Day Seven 26

Denali Day Seven 29And more caribou running. They float across the soft tundra. And their unique hooves make a clicking noise when they run.  We have been fortunate enough to hear it!

Denali Day Seven 28Denali was still hiding amongst clouds, tempting us to come back and see her again.

Denali Day Seven 30Denali Day Seven 31We 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.

Denali Day Seven 35It was still very cloudy, and Hector drove us back to the area where we had watched a caribou drinking out of a little stream earlier in the week.

We walked down to the stream amongst tons of wildflowers, beautiful grasses and bright mosses.

Denali Day Seven 23And I finally got some great photos of the happy photographer.

Denali Day Seven 36Denali Day Seven 41Denali Day Seven 42Back 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 😉 ).Denali Day Seven 38

Denali Day Seven 40The mountains wore their soft pastels today.

Denali Day Seven 39And we watched the buses doing their perilous dances on the passes once again.

Denali Day Seven 46Another bear came out to say goodbye. We felt like we knew a couple of these bears.

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Denali Day Seven 49The three of us spent a magical eight hours in the park on this day. Angel and I were pretty pooped so I asked Hector to drop us off at the campground.Denali Day Seven 55

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.

~ Brenda

Denali Day Seven 56We were both exhausted and elated. But every outing to the park is different and I wasn’t going to pass up a last chance to drive the park road. So off I went by myself.

Denali Day Seven 17Denali Day Seven 60It 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.

Denali Day Seven 6Over 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.

Denali Day Seven 58Denali Day Seven 61Denali Day Seven 65Approaching 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.Denali Day Seven 63

Denali Day Seven 66Denali Day Seven 62Denali Day Seven 67I stopped down the hill from them where I could see the bear more at eye level but quite a distance away. So I got out of the car and set up my tripod and camera and started taking some photos.Denali Day Seven 68

Denali Day Seven 69Denali Day Seven 70The bear was headed in my direction, great for photos. Then he walked up onto the park road right in front of the first bus and started walking down the road towards me.

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.

Denali Day Seven 74Until 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.

Denali Day Seven 75What 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.

Denali Day Seven 95We 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.

Denali Day Seven 84Denali Day Seven 81Denali Day Seven 89This 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.

Denali Day Seven 78Denali Day Seven 79But this was a week to nourish the soul. It was an intimate and contemplative wilderness experience unlike any I’ve had before.The grand scale of the landscape is spectacular.

But also the soft tundra absorbs sound. It is a very quiet place.

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Denali Day Seven 85Observing 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.

Awesome.Denali Day Seven 83

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.

Denali Day Seven 77Having our sweet and faithful companion Angel still with us was a treat. She is still going strong and always up for the next big adventure.Denali Day Seven 91

Denali Day Seven 92I am humbled by the events of this wonderful week. Denali National Park was a moving and spiritual experience.

What a privilege.

~ HectorDenali Day Seven 87


39 thoughts on “Our Last Day in Denali

  1. I have so enjoyed all your posts from Denali. When we visited two years ago we only spent three nights at Teklanika and of course we had to endure those long bus rides but I remember how quiet it was and how special it was to just be there. I agree with you – a moving and spiritual experience. Oh how nice it would have been to be able to drive when we wanted and stop when we wanted! That truly is a once in a lifetime experience that I’m sure you both will never forget. Thanks for sharing your wonderful week with us.

  2. Beautiful post, Hector. You and Brenda write so beautifully. I am so grateful to feel like I am a part of your wonderful journey.

  3. Hector and Brenda, thank you for taking us on this beautiful trip. The Sellers family went to Alaska in 1994 and loved it. This was a wonderful reminder. And you both write beautifully and with great heart and soul! We look forward to seeing you in Tucson this winter.
    Nancy and Bill

  4. I can feel your excitement in your writing and see the beauty in your photos! What a combo! You two really convey all that you see and with wonderful words accompanying the photos, I almost think the photos can show the full splendor of the park! Thanks!!
    Sorry this is an ending although I know it is really the beginning of another new adventure!

    • So glad you enjoyed it! We are still in Alaska but have done quite a lot since leaving Denali – will be catching up on blogs for a few days.

  5. Great post guys!

    Some very nice shots Hector. Unfortunately, I may miss you in Hyder as I will be stuck here in Dawson City until the end of next week at least, the shop tells me. I’d really appreciate it if you would keep me informed as to conditions when you get to Hyder. Maybe tie down a bear or two to a big rock or something so I might get a chance to shoot a few images when/if I get there.

    Stay in touch

    • Thanks Bob!. I’m surprised you are still in DC. we thought you blew thru DC and were long gone! That dinner invite will need to be held for later. We went to Tombstone … stunning. You might consider it. The road to the campground at mile 40ish is fine for the rig and we drove to the arctic circle in the car. the colors are GREAT. we are now in Haines … we’ve heard there are bears here although havent seen one yet. our neighbor just came from Hyder and says that that is pretty done, although the pinks haven’t run yet / and I here the bears dont care for the pinks as much. The aurora has been active – we wish we were further north – and from tombstone … could be awesome. we got some nice shots last night. We are headed to Hyder next week, we’ve decided not to hurry.

  6. Another set of gorgeous photos. Baby porcupine…wow. Must be quite cold if Hector is wearing a fleece jacket and long pants!

    Travel safely.

    • Thanks, Joyce! It was nippy in the early morning when we went out, especially on the windy passes. But Hector also wore long pants to protect against mosquitoes (although there weren’t many).

  7. I have so enjoyed traveling with you into Denali during your week in the park. What an memorable experience you have had. Your images and words have captured the spirit of this incredible place, and I am so thankful to have been able to experience Denali through your eyes. We are in Denali now, but the rain has been nonstop. The trees and tundra are changing to reds and golds, and it might even snow at the end of the week. Tim has a contract with the park for this week and next, but we are hoping we will be able to travel the park road on our days off.

    • So glad you enjoyed the blog! Hope it stops raining soon. I would love to see the reds and golds on the tundra, we saw a bit of it in Tombstone National Park (Yukon Territory) and so I can imagine it. I know Denali will reward you 🙂 Take care.

  8. Just incredible!!!! Thank you, thank you for sharing. I will look at these pictures and re-read these Denali posts many, many times.


  9. What a fantastic experience. I hope to try for the Denali Lottery in the fall when we go … not as good as the pass Hector got, but if we win, at least we’ll be able to drive in ourselves for two days.

    • Great! I plan to write some final posts at the end of our Alaska trip, including one on Denali, and will include information about the lottery. Should be just beautiful in the fall!

  10. Thanks, Brenda and Hector, for taking us along on this amazing adventure! Wow! Your last day was filled with more spectacular photos of the beautiful scenery and the adorable wildlife. I can only imagine how hard it was too leave. So glad you had wonderful weather for your time. Love, love, love the grizzle photos:) And the caribou are so unique with those very strange antlers. Boy, the fireweed sure brightens up the photos. Thanks Brenda for capturing some great photos of the photographer:) Love your final shot, Hector:)

  11. This was written like the beautiful love story that it is, a real love with nature that shone through in your words and your stunning photos, an intimate experience shared with the two of you who walk this amazing journey together, and that beautiful little girl of yours who is still going strong, ready to join you both in each of your adventures. Thank you so much for sharing these Alaskan moments with us.

    • Denali is amazing. Since you’ll likely be taking the bus, do it more than once if you can, everyday is different. Also, since you are allowed to drive the first 17 miles into the park, I would do that more than once and different times of the day. There are surprising sightings on that part of the road sometimes!

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