Denali and the End of Summer

            Right before heading off to Denali we finally had a clear day in Skagway.  It has been a very dreary summer in town and the sun hasn’t shown itself much.  It was so nice, I decided to go on a flight seeing tour of the mountains around the area to get some glacier photos from the air. What a great decision! The flight was incredible and the views were even better.  I’ll let the pictures do the talking for me.

            On August 11th I left Skagway to drive to Denali.  It’s a very long drive, 14 hours, and I picked up my friend Tim Auer in Anchorage to take with me.  We camped in the park on the 12th, and then began photographing on the 13th.  With my special photo permit we could drive anywhere in the park, which is very nice.  I love spending time further back in the park where you can get animals with incredible landscapes behind them.  But the terrain is so large that it can be very difficult to find the animals. Our first day was slow and we hardly saw anything worth taking a picture of.

            We found a nice moose on the morning of the 14th, but it didn’t cooperate and left quickly.  Denali Mountain did come out for a little, so we got some nice scenic shots with the mountain, and I was also glad Tim got to see the mountain.  The next day we found some nice caribou in the morning and spent a long time with them.  We still didn’t have anything great, but that evening we found some nice moose that cooperated.  We didn’t know it when we went up to photograph them, but one had a split antler on one side and basically had two antlers on that side.  It was really neat and different, and we had a good time photographing those two moose, and they were both big.

            I had never seen a short-eared owl in Denali before this trip, but we sure found a lot of them.  Most of them we only had close enough to photograph in dark light, but it was still fun trying.  The sun didn’t show itself much for us either, but on the evening of the 16th we had nice light and finally found a caribou to photograph in the light.  We got some real nice photos of it on a ridge with mountains behind it.  Our last day on my permit was the 17th, and that morning we found a mother bear and her two cubs on a caribou carcass.  They weren’t real close, but we stayed most of the day and watched and took photos.

            Tim flew out on the 18th from Anchorage, and I killed time before Twila flew in on the 20th at my friends Ben and Jen.  It was fun catching up with them! Once Twila flew in we went back to Denali because I had another permit.  This was Twilas first time in the park on a permit, and I was excited to show her the park in this way.  While we were setting up camp on the 21st we noticed a northern haw owl, and we got our cameras out and followed it.  We got some real nice shots and was a great way to start our week!

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            We got up early, 4 am early, and headed into the park.  Tim and I got up this early every morning as well, so I struggled a little as we headed into the park.  I almost even pulled over to take a quick nap because I was so tired, but the photographer in me wouldn’t let me stop because I wanted to see what was around the next corner.  On the last corner, literally, and at a spot I have gone to for 9 years since I first saw moose there and haven’t seen any since, there were three moose! We were immediately wide-awake, and I was incredibly happy we didn’t stop sooner to take a nap.  You just never know where and when you will see wildlife, and that is what makes it so exciting and worth being sleep deprived for!

            There were two females and a small bull in Wonder Lake with some of the mountains showing.  Denali wasn’t out, but enough of the mountains were to create a dramatic shot.  I knew we would be here as long as the moose were.  It really was incredible seeing the moose there because I have waited since 2008 to see moose there again.  The moose stayed for a long time in the lake eating grasses from the bottom of the lake and gave us many different opportunities for great pictures! What a morning!

            That evening back at camp we found a northern hawk owl again, and watched it for quite some time.  I was giving up on finding it again in the woods, but Twila went a little further just in case.  Sure enough, she found it on a branch at eye level only a few yards away.  It didn’t fly away, but just sat there and looked at us! It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had with an owl to get to be that close for over 5 minutes and have an intimate experience with it. What an incredible day!

            On the 23rd we really didn’t find much, but we did find a few more northern hawk owls.  It’s so crazy that we are seeing so many, because in all my years in Denali I’ve only ever seen two or three.  But it’s always exciting seeing owls. We ended up spending the large part of the 24th with a grizzly bear and her two cubs.  They stayed roadside a long time and gave us some nice opportunities. I kept looking for the moose with the split antler, but didn’t find him again until the 25th. He was a very long way up a mountain in very thick brush, but I wanted more pictures of him and we went for it. The effort was worth it as we found him and he was in a spot we could photograph him in.  We may never see a moose like this again, so I really wanted more photos. We got some nice ones and barely got back to the car before dark.

            We hadn’t been seeing many moose in the area I really wanted to see moose, so I almost didn’t drive all the way back to that area on the 26th.  But my wildlife senses told me too, and I’m glad we did.  We found a couple small bull moose, and yes they were small, but they were together and they ended up going to a pond and being reflected together.  We waited and waited for this moment and hoped they would go to the pond, and when they did it was very exciting.  There is a lot more to wildlife photography than luck!

            Twila and I left Denali on the 27th and I dropped her off at the airport in Fairbanks, and I continued driving all the way back to Skagway.  I didn’t make it all the way to Skagway because it is so far.  It was sad to drop her off and be leaving Denali, but I had to get back to the gallery.  My cousin William covered the gallery while I was gone, as my other employee left to go back to school.  After William left on the 30th I was at the gallery by myself until closing on the 14th.         

            It really is hard to believe the summer is already over and to be packing things up.  Where did it go? I had a great time and the gallery ran smoother than last year, which was great, but I was ready for the summer to end and to get married. I left Skagway on the 15th and headed to Canmore to get ready for our wedding on September 31st.  Somewhere in northern BC that night I saw the best northern lights of my life as they danced and danced across the whole sky!

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