Doin' Denali

Rise and shine trail buddies, it's 4:00am in Denali National Park. On the road patroling by 4:30am. Once again this year I was offered another opportunity to camp and ride along with a old friend (a video photographer) on a film permit. A solid week of scouting for wildlife along the 90+ mile road that runs out to Wonder Lake. On a typical day, we rose at 4:00am and were on the road by 4:30am drinking our coffee and having dash board muffins to go. As sleep was optional, we put in 20 hour days. Some mornings we might encounter brown bears right alongside the road early in our day. Other mornings maybe a little later in the day. Maybe catching a red fox running with morning breakfast, heading for the den at the Polychrome Pass overlook area. Scouting along the road looking for brown bears with cubs, maybe catching a view of a wolf running not to far off the road looking for its morning meal as well. June is an exciting time to be in Denali National Park for a variety of reasons - from wildflowers blooming to the many brown bears both single brown bear boars and sows with cubs ranging from the smallest cubs weighing in at about 5lbs. Some of the brown bears would have just one cub while others would have two. Ranging in size and weight. Catching a view of a golden eagle soaring overhead, looking for an opportunity to snag one of the many snowshoe hares we encountered. When you are out here, you're looking for anything and everything along the road as well as far off the road that might prove to be photo worthy. If you have enough patience and are willing to wait for that chance. On one such morning in the Toklat River area along the road, a couple of magpies lead us to a lynx about 20 feet up in a tree sitting waiting for just the right chance to take a snowshoe hare (gallery picture in previous post). Taking several pictures of the lynx I'm sure that his dislike of the magpies sitting just above and below on the branches was enough to persuade it to move on. Some areas proved to be very good on the wildlife settings while other areas just didn't pan out. Move on . Midday sun, high in the sky was time to catch a catnap and refresh the energy we would need to finish out the rest of the day. Seeing Mt. McKinley (Denali) out in full glory is always a reminder of how big and beautiful this mountain is when you do get to see it. For many of you that have traveled up here to Alaska and making it to Denali National Park, it's a lucky day if you even get to see the full mountain. More times than not it is hidden in the clouds, so if you do get to see it - good for you! So, yes, I took another picture of Mt. McKinley from Stoney Hill overlook. Mid-afternoon when the sun is at the high point and light is dull, we found ourselves along the roadside somewhere sharing good conversations with other film/still photographers working the road on permit as well.
In conversations with many people I meet out in the field where ever I might be, work ethics on the amount of time spent in the field looking, searching, finding and waiting to photograph many of the wildlife is always an eyebrow raiser. Call me CRAZY! Odds of seeing and appreciating the wildlife you choose to view are far greater if you get up early, as we did all week. That's before sunrise for many of you who are still in bed (although sunrise at this time of the year in Alaska is about an hour or so after sunset!). Birds are calling, wildlife is out there moving, eating or searching for their morning meal. And yes, they do take mid-morning naps just like we did. On one such occasion, we parked beside the road and watched two brown bears, a sow and her cub take a nap not to far off the roadside, so we did the same, keeping one eye open just in case any action started to take place. Which later proved us right as the cub went to mom to start nursing (see picture in gallery). My list of wildlife subjects grew the very first day of being in the Park. Up early in the mornings, riding and scouting, going back to areas of the park I have previously been successful. See Buford's list of subjects below. All week, a lot of hours on the road, eating on the run, catching mid-afternoon naps, evening coffee, heading in just before midnight, with a lot of light at that hour it was hard to go in and catch a few hours of sleep. All of this proved to me once again why I continue to come back to Denali National Park at every opportunity I get. Don't over look your state and national parks by just merely going there once. Many wildlife opportunities are right out your back door. Your odds will increase dramatically by getting up early and going to your favorite park. Walking your favorite trail more than once. I constantly remind myself that my style of photography is always an education, learning about the world in which I live. From the time of morning/late afternoon well into after sunset, the subjects I am out to locate and photogragh are all about being out there in the peace and solitude that I seek. I hope you do the same.

Among the wildlife I saw on this trip were: brown bears (adults and cubs), snowshoe hare, caribou w/calf, golden eagles/nest, dall sheep (ram, ewes & kids), wolves, foxes, ptarmigan, ravens, northern harrier, bald eagle, lynx, magpies, Wilson's warbler, white crowned sparrows, wolverines, rock ptarmigan, long-tailed yaeger, moose cow, merlin/nest - just to name a few and I'm sure there are some that I can't remember!

As mentioned a couple times in this post, I previously posted some pictures from this Denali trip in a gallery. Take a look!

See you on down the trail somewhere...

Buford T. Porcupine


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