Archive for August, 2009

Quick trip to Denali

Thursday, August 27th, 2009
Quick trip to Denali

I took another quick trip up to Denali National Park & Preserve on the 27th and 28th.  This time, I headed up to the Denali Backcountry Lodge to give two evening presentations on my photography.  The first evening was a program entitled, “Celebrating Our Public Lands,” featuring mostly my photography from national parks in the Lower 48.  The second evening was a slide show on my photography in Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve, “America’s Great Wilderness.”

It was my first time to the lodge since 2005, during our hellacious fire season where we saw 6 million acres of forest go up in flames.  My first time at the lodge, however, was much more eventful than that.  I used to go out with a group of photographers from the Alaska Society of Outdoor and Nature Photographers.  We would go up and spend the last two nights the lodge was open for the season.  That first time, our first night at the lodge was September 10, 2001.  On the morning of September 11, I was with a half dozen other photographers capturing the first light on the mountain at Wonder Lake.  When we returned, we knew that something happened, but information was slim.  The lodge then, and still today, did not have television or radio.  The only phone in the lodge is a satellite phone.  (They apparently have Internet now, but the Wi-Fi signal is intermittent. )  We did not find out until three days later that the towers had collapsed.

Now, four years after my last trip, the lodge is even a better destination than before.  They still have exceptional food – a lodge stay is all-inclusive – and dedicated service.   But they have also expanded the facilities to include a screened gazebo with wood-burning stove and a new day lodge for lunches.  Nestled against Moose Creek in Kantishna, the lodge is surrounded by hills and trees and is a magnificent getaway.  For the other guests at the lodge, it was a getaway to explore and experience an isolated part of a state that is itself isolated.  The lodge offers several guided hikes throughout the day for guests to choose from.  For me, it was a nice chance to relax and work on photo editing and my slide shows without the distraction of phones and the Internet.

The ride out to the lodge was spectacular.  The skies were mostly clear, and the mountain was out and standing tall and spectacular.  The tundra colors were approaching peak, and I was able to capture some good fall colors for the first time in several years.  The wildlife was also abundant, but mostly fairly far from the road.  On the way out of the park two days later, the clouds had rolled in, but the wildlife sightings were fantastic – caribou, moose, bear, wolf, and fox – all close to the road.

It made me really wish I was not bound by the bus I had to ride back to the park entrance.  I wished that I had more time to spend along the road in the park, but so does every other Tom, Dick and Harry with a camera these days.  You would almost think there was no other park in Alaska given how many images are published of Denali.  The beauty of the fall colors made me want to be in the park more, but the nature of photo business and publishable images made me glad that I was dedicating more time to a park where hardly anyone is photographing these days – Gates of the Arctic.  I look forward to heading back up there next week for another week of photography – some aerial, and some on the ground.

Farewell, Tash

Monday, August 24th, 2009
Farewell, Tash

We lost a loved and valued member of our family yesterday morning.  My 13-year-old orange tabby, Tash, died after his kidneys completely shut down and I had to make the very difficult decision of ending his discomfort and steepening decline.  I held him in my arms, his favorite way to be held, as I felt him breathe his last breath.

Many of those who have visited our home knew Tash, because he really stood out.  As one friend put it, he was a “presence.”  Of course, he was a large presence, weighing around twenty pounds. But he was also loved by guests because he had a strong personality and was always inclusive toward everyone.  Not everyone knew Tash’s story, though.

Tash was rescued in late 2005, early 2006 when his original owner, an elderly woman in Valdez, passed away.  I have been told by those involved with his rescue that Tash was among thirty or so cats in the household.  When his original owner died, no one found out about it for several days, as she lived alone and was rather isolated.  Tash was one of two cats who stood guard over her body until friends and eventually paramedics arrived.  He had sat there so long, his 28-pound body had left a depression in the carpet.  When they took his owner’s body away, he tried to leave with the gurney.

I met Tash through someone associated with Friends of Pets.  He was in foster care, and was in need of a new home.  I had just moved from renting to owning, and I wanted to adopt a cat.  During my first visit with him at his foster home, he was rather aloof.  I went back for a second visit, and he was more engaging.  Then I took him home to my condo for a day visit, and we really seemed to hit it off.  I made the decision to take him home for good.  (And along with him came the much younger, then only 10-months old, Harriet.)

I knew that Tash was an older cat, and I knew he was looking for a place to retire in a nice, quiet home.  I had no idea of how attached I would become to him.

Over the years, he developed certain traits, certain habits, and certain ways of communicating.  In particular, he had a voice that let you know that he meant business in no uncertain terms – after all, he was the cat and you merely the human, there to do his bidding. Early on, I came to learn that he had a thing for showers.  Every time I would take a shower, he would sit outside on the bathroom rug and squawk at me, with this very insistent, loud voice he had.  He would squawk at me with that voice pretty much any time I sang or whistled.  I never knew if he was singing with me or telling me to stop.

Shortly after moving in with me, after he got over his uncertainty about joining me on the bed at night, he developed a habit of crawling up to sleep in my armpit that stayed until his final days.  He always was the first to greet me when I came home, no matter what time of day (or night) it was.  Sometimes I knew he was greeting me because it was that time of day to feed him his evening canned cat food, and he would be very persistent with that voice of his until he got fed.  When I held him, whether he was in bed at night or sitting with me on the couch in the evenings, he had this deep, resonating purr that you could really feel and hear.  (When he sat with me on the couch, he did not just sit on my lap, he climbed up and extended his forearms onto my shoulder – I called it “climbing the mountain”).

Tash also had a thing for the ladies – he was always in the middle of things when I would have members of the Alaska Wild cheerleader squad over to photograph their team head shots.  He sometimes had to be in the photos, like one I took of a client, Stephanie, who wanted to produce a calendar for her husband in the 40s-50s pin-up girl style.  Any time there was a female portrait client, he would find his way in there.

Tash almost always joined me in my office when I would sit and photo edit at the computer.  He so liked sitting under the corner of the desk (I have a glass, wrap-around desk with a high top that is open below), that we placed a cat bed there for him.  He would also sometimes sit behind me on the floor, so he could make sure to catch me as I am on my way out of the office.  Most of the time this would be late at night, and I would have to tell him that it was time to go to bed.  Shortly thereafter, I would hear his claws (he still had all of them, and dutifully used the scratching post to sharpen them) clicking on the hallway floor as he made his way to the bedroom to join us.  In the last six months or so, he also took to sitting on my chair in the mornings.  Perhaps he also knew this was a way to get attention, as I always went in the office to check email and web statistics first thing after breakfast.

In this last winter and spring, Tash also learned something new.  We have a large picture window with a ledge bird feeder on the other side.  We call it our Kitty Big Screen TV.  All of the other cats had long realized this entertainment potential and had spent countless hours watching and chatting at birds.  This last winter, we put Tash up there (he could not make that high of a jump), and he finally learned what the other cats had been doing there.  We set down a dining table chair next to the shelf so he could find his own way up there eventually.  At first, he would just squawk at the birds with a shorter version of his regular meow.  Soon, though, he learned how to make the “bird chirp” noise that most cats know how to do.  It was such a treat watching him learn about this whole new world at such a late age.

There are countless things that I will miss about my boy, Tash.  He was stoutly loyal to me, and among our four cats, the one who always wanted to be with me and missed me the most when I was out of town on photo assignments.  I will miss him sleeping at my arm pit at night, climbing up to be with me at the couch, miss his cranky sounding meow, miss the look on his face when you scratch the top of his head – his ears would go out and look like Yoda ears, and he would close his eyes.  I will miss how, when I held him, he would scratch his jaw against my beard or corner of my glasses.  I will miss that comforting purr that put me to sleep so many nights over the 3+ years he was with me.

As Michelle told me, you always lose the ones you love too soon.  Based on his original diagnosis with a loss of kidney function, our vet led us to believe that with proper diet (which Tash went on immediately), Tash would be with us for at least another year or so.  It took just less than a month.  Such a sudden loss leaves me with a palatable tinge of regret, especially when I learned that I only had a handful of photos I had taken of Tash in the whole time he was with me, and none with just him in the shot.  So much about being with Tash was being close to him, holding him; quiet moments that did not make me think of taking a picture.

I think now of all the many wonderful things that made him such a special cat.  I think of all the things that I knew he enjoyed, that he will no longer be able to.  I know I gave him a good home, and, if cats really can be aware of such things, I know that he knew he was loved.  I will miss him, this wonderful cat who was the first pet that was mine as an adult, who found a home and helped me to build my own home for the first time.  Farewell, Tash, my loyal and beloved friend.

Out on the glacier

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009
Out on the glacier

For Daniel’s last “Out in Alaska” experience, we decided to head out to the Matanuska Glacier.  We rented the Matanuska Glacier public use cabin for two nights, and planned to go for a hike on the glacier on the full day we would have in the area.

After settling in at our public use cabin, we headed down to MICA Guides to gear up for our Ice Fall Trek.  Normally, I would not be interested in a guide to take me on a hike, especially since I have been on the glacier before without a guide.  But, the fee includes crampons and I thought Daniel could benefit from the naturalist information that would likely be provided.  Our small group of five was guided by Phil, a business student from Georgia spending his first summer in Alaska (he was planning on returning to Georgia to escape our winters).  Another group that went out at the same time was guided by Steve, an English lit student from Iowa State.  Chatting with both of the guides reminded me of what seems like a distant past of being a recent college graduate working as a canoe guide in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northern Minnesota.  It is clear that the call of naturalist guiding still reaches out to the same kinds of people.

Phil took us along the terminal and lateral moraine to eventually the glacier itself, pointing out various features along the way such as black ice, dirt cones, and various other features of glacial formation.  He also pointed out what I had never really noticed before, that the low hills between the glacier and nearby mountains, now covered with trees and all manner of plants, are actually the lateral moraine left over from the last Ice Age.  He eventually took us over to a nice view of an ice fall, replete with great scalloping formations and seracs.  The light was really perfect for glacial photography, high overcast with enough light to provide some detail but not shadows.   We also sampled some really delicious, fresh glacial water coming out from an opening in the ice.  Michelle and I agreed it would make a great beer and I started figuring out how to carry out five gallons of it.

With so many glaciers in Alaska, over 100,000, the hike gave me some ideas on how more I could explore different aspects of this state.  Glaciers are essentially ice highways that could take a traveler deep into a mountain range.  But with all of the hazards they offer – crevasses in particular – it would take some training and gear to make better use of them.


Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

So, we decided to take a little break before heading back out for our final destination with Daniel.  After a relaxing evening, we took the canoe out of the garage and walked over to Jewel Lake for a late paddle.  I was eager to see if the loons were around, as well as to take my nephew out for another nature experience here in Alaska.

While we did not see the loon family – just one lone loon out there, fishing along in the middle of the lake – we did end up seeing a lot of red necked grebes.  This is quite a change from last year, when we just had a lone grebe living on the lake.  Now, there is at least one full family of grebes – two adults and four of this year’s chicks.  Well, at least we figured that was the situation – we found two chicks with two parents and later on down the shoreline two more chicks by themselves.

With my Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 lens, we were able to keep some distance while I hand-held from the stern of the canoe.  At one point, the two adults and two chicks really got into a squawking match about something.  I guess there are a few things to learn about grebe behavior.  Fortunately, living so close to a lake with an active population will help.


Monday, August 10th, 2009

After being chased out by the rains yesterday, I wanted to go back to Kennicott and photograph the buildings some more, as well as scout out possible views and locations for coming back to photograph in the autumn.  We also wanted to check out McCarthy some more, and have lunch at a place recommended by Peter Christian, “The Potato,” also called the “Roadside Potatohead.”

As I mentioned yesterday, I first learned about Kennicott and its world-famous copper output in about 1979, when I was learning the ways of mineralogy from a local professor in Rapid City.  But that was just over forty years after copper mining operations in the area closed in 1938, shortly after the world’s copper prices crashed.  Today, there is an ongoing effort to restore the many buildings that remain, despite an attempt by the corporation that owned the town before becoming part of a national park to completely raze all the buildings.  But efforts to restore the buildings are slow.  Wrangell-St. Elias is a horribly underfunded national park, and this historic part of the park is accessible only through a sixty-mile seldom-maintained gravel road — not exactly the type of conditions to bring in throngs of tourists.

After checking out more of the Kennicott area, we headed into McCarthy to explore and have lunch.  Michelle and I were very impressed by a public photo exhibition, printed on weather resistant vinyl – very clever and attractive – that is essentially a show of the town’s people.  Each panel represents a portrait of an invidual, couple or family, with one large group portrait of the entire town.  I really could not find any information displayed as to who the photographer was … but whoever it is has a great eye.

The town itself is rather small, but has some gorgeous, well-maintained historical buildings.  It seems that the company that owns the Ma Johnson Hotel owns half the town, and is making an effort to keep its buildings in top shape.  I stepped briefly inside the Ma Johnson and was rather impressed with how immaculate and beautiful it was on the inside.  It made me imagine how nice it would be to stay there at a future time.  To learn about one author’s experience there, I would suggest reading Pete McCarthy‘s “The Road to McCarthy.”

On our way back down the road, we stopped at the Gilahina River bridge, or what is left of it.  Originally built in 8 days in -67 F temperatures as part of the Copper River Railroad, it burned down and was subsequently rebuilt in only 10 days.  Now, only a fragment of it remains as a testament to the history of the area.  I spied it on our way in and knew it would make a great photo subject.  I decided to shoot it using my Hoya IR filter, because I knew the aspens would represent well in that medium.

Up to McCarthy

Sunday, August 9th, 2009
Up to McCarthy

I have wanted for many years to make my way to McCarthy, particularly up to the Kennicott Mine.  I learned of Kennicott Copper when I was about twelve years old, informally mentoring in mineralogy with Professor Willard Lincoln Roberts at the School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City.  He was teaching me about ores and mining, and had a sample of Kennicott copper that he gave to me, and I still have to this day.  As I got older and became a photographer, I wanted to visit the mines to photograph the beautiful, historic buildings that were part of the thriving mining town that once existed.

After leaving the Christians, we headed on down the Edgerton Highway to Chitina (pronounced without the second “i”) to check out the fish wheels on the river.  A fish wheel is a high volume method of catching fish popular among subsistence users, as it churns and turns with the flow of the river, scooping up salmon, up to a hundred a day, into catching baskets.  As much as I wanted to spend more time photographing the wheels, I wanted more to get on the McCarthy Road and up to our destination.  It took us only about two hours, and, after checking in at the Aspen Meadows B&B (quite a gem if you are staying in the area), headed over to park at the foot bridge.  There is no public road into McCarthy, but instead a walking bridge.  You can drive across the private bridge that some entrepeneuring citizen built for a mere $100 crossing fee (made expensive to specifically deter tourists), but you simply do not need a car in this town.  It is only about a mile walk into the town, and there is a shuttle service that, for $10 round trip, can take you to the mine.

So, we caught the shuttle and headed up to explore the mines.  The rain cut short our visit of the mining town, so we decided to come back again tomorrow when the weather was forecasted to improve.  What little I was able to photograph, though, really whet my appetite.

The Christians

Sunday, August 9th, 2009
The Christians

No, not those who belong to the religion, but our friends Peter & Patty Christian who live in the Kenny Lake area along the Edgerton Highway.  I met Peter last year when I did some aerial photography for the National Park Service up in Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve.  He is a law enforcement ranger and pilot for the Park Service.  At the time, he was stationed at the Marion Creek Ranger Station for Gates of the Arctic, just north of Coldfoot, where he and his family had lived for seven years.  All-in-all, he served the Brooks Range area, starting with Kotzebue, for thirteen years.  But, due to changes in the winter management for the park – the NPS decided not to spend the funds needed to have a winter presence in Gates of the Arctic – Peter and Patty had to make a decision as to where they would go next.  They decided, and I think rightfully so, to take a post as the District Ranger for the Chitina District for Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve.

When I knew that we would be heading to McCarthy as part of our Around-Alaska trek with Daniel, I emailed Peter and indicated I would like to connect when we were in the area.  When we were in Fairbanks, Patty offered for us to stay a night at their new home.  Remembering that they had three boys – Elias, Brooks and Orion – and knowing Daniel would prefer a break from the adults, we accepted.  I also knew it would be nice to have a break before we embarked on the 2 1/2 to 3 hour drive it would take to go the 90 miles to McCarthy from the Richardson Highway (the McCarthy Road is a gravel road that is graded only twice a year by the Alaska DOT, so the optimum speed is 30 mph at best).

Upon pulling into the Christian’s property, the two things you notice at first are the classic and beautiful log home – with moose antlers – off to the left and the sea of sled dog homes off to the right.  You really know you are visiting real Alaskans when you see sled dogs.  Many people who live out away from the urban areas rely heavily on sled dogs for getting around in the winter.  They are an important asset for those many times when vehicles won’t work or cannot get you where you want to go, whether it is for hunting, trapping, or simply exploring.

After a delicious dinner of moose meat tacos – a moose they had shot themselves – we took a walk down a trail to a spectacular view, replete with wooden benches for sitting, courtesy of the students at the nearby Kenny Lake Elementary School.  The view of the mountains was a bit obscured by the clouds that have been in the area bringing much-needed rains, but the view below to the Tonsina River was fantastic.  Weaving among the gravel bars laden with large fallen trees, the swift gray waters flow their way down to the Chitina River.

Daniel enjoyed playing with the twin cats, Minnie and Marion, as well as the old dog of the house, Rora, and any of the sled dogs that would let him pet them.  And that was when he was not jumping on the trampoline with the other boys.  I think one of the highlights, though, was the next morning when Peter took him out on an ATV (what we call Four-Wheelers in Alaska) and let him drive for a while.

Alaska is known for its beautiful landscapes and amazing animals, as well as its many outdoor recreational opportunities.  But its hidden treasure, one that I think most people don’t think of exploring when they visit, its its lifestyle, its people.  As a photographer, I am often blessed with getting to know people of all sorts of backgrounds.  Fortunately for me, my photography allowed me to get to know Peter and Patty.

Out of Denali

Friday, August 7th, 2009
Out of Denali
We arose to a break in the weather, with no rain and the clouds breaking up to expose brief glimpses of blue sky. We had a brief moment of excitement as the lynx in the area was spotted and moving near us. Unfortunately, when it got to the road, it was spooked by a passing truck and headed north into the thick woods and out of sight. I never caught a glimpse of it, but a nearby RV camper showed me a shot on his point and shoot digital of the lynx sitting upright at a picnic table, the top of its head nearly reaching the underside of the table. The animal looked so lean and tall, and really fluffy.
With our time up at the campground, we struck camp and, after enjoying a breakfast of coffee cake courtesy of my camp Dutch oven, headed slowly back out of the park. One of the nice things about driving the road in Denali National Park & Preserve is that every one understands why you are driving slowly – it is the norm. You and almost everyone else driving on the road are looking for wildlife. We encountered two groups of Willow ptarmigan, the state bird, along the road and spent some time with them. We had seen some the previous day, but I did not have a chance to photograph any. Here, I could get out, set up the tripod and take my time.

After we passed the Sanctuary River area, Daniel spotted a couple of rather large bull caribou on a ridge far to the right. Fortunately, there was a nice pullout so we parked and sat on the caribou for a while. The misty mountains in the background provided a nice backdrop, giving me more of the animal-in-the-landcape shot that I prefer to capture. As we watched and waited, we saw an owl flying around the area, scoping the land for its next meal.

We finally made it out to the park entrance, wrapping up our short stay in the park. While we did not get to see The Mountain (Denali) during our time in the park, that is not uncommon. We had such a good wildlife experience, it more than made up for it. Most importantly, Daniel had an experience that he can take back to Texas and share with all of his friends – and he will have his own digital photos from the Olympus Stylus 850 SW I loaned him so he could leave his disposable film cameras behind for this leg of the trip.

I look forward to returning in a few weeks when I go to give two evening presentations at the Denali Backcountry Lodge in Kantishna.


A rainy, but good, day

Thursday, August 6th, 2009
A rainy, but good, day
We caught an earlier shuttle bus ride into the park this morning, with the goal of setting out from the road for a day hike to explore. Ike Waits, who has now spent over forty years in the park, is a strong advocate for getting off the bus and hiking into the park. Over his time in the park, he has mapped out routes and game trails, putting them together in his book, [title]. We were not going to be doing any extensive traversing in the park, but it was going to be nice to get out and get away from the road.

On the way to our getting out point, we came upon a sow with spring cubs in the Sable Pass area. One of the cubs had a particularly striking color pattern, with a bright blonde collar, setting him aside from his much darker sibling. The blonde collar cub was also more assertive and attentive, making me think he would have a better survival chance than his sibling. While they were first off in the distance, they eventually wound their way to the road and completely crossed over, providing for a great photo opportunity. We later found a golden eagle perched on top of a rather thin spruce, sitting up high surveying the land for breakfast. Before this year, I had never seen a golden eagle in the wild. Then, when I was down in Rocky Mountain National Park, I saw one, but couldn’t photograph it. Now, I had a great chance to capture one, and took advantage.

We eventually came to the area where we wanted to hike, near the highest point of Highway Pass, and hopped of the bus. It is a particularly great place to hike when it has been raining, and it had, because the ground cover is low and there was a drainage we could hike to avoid wet plants all together. Instead, we let Daniel pick where we would go first, and he chose a nice steep hill off to the north. On our way up the hill, we found a good spot for lunch, practically in the middle of an Arctic ground squirrel condominium complex. One, then two, and eventually three squirrels poked their heads out and squeaked at us while we had lunch.

As we reached the top of the hill, we saw another golden eagle soaring overhead. Two in one day, after never before seeing any in Alaska after ten years. We hiked down behind the hill, across the drainage, and up to another hill to the north. Along the way, I stopped frequently to photograph flowers and all manner of small flora. It was the first time I had ever photographed wild flowers in Denali. The earliest I had ever come into the park before was August 28, when the flowers had long since gone to seed and the colors of autumn are beginning to dominate the landscape. Needless to say, it took a long time to finish the crossing over to the other hill. Once on the other side, we took another break, this time a break from the wet chill in the air. We pulled out the MSR Whisperlite stove, heated up some water and enjoyed hot chocolate.

As we hiked down the spine of the hill to the road, we encountered a couple of caribou, which were first bedded down but got up and headed south upon catching sight of us. The rains returned and reminded us of our exposed position as we stood along the roadside waiting for the next bus. As we headed back to Tek, we picked up several other hikers who had the drenched, beaten dog look as well when they got on board to enjoy the sheltered, heated bus. We again saw the fox at Polychrome Pass, caught a glimpse of the sow and spring cubs from earlier, and saw our Tek subadult boar near Igloo Pass.

First full day in Denali

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009
First full day in Denali
For our first full day in the park, we acquired tickets for the shuttle bus to the Eielson Visitor Center. From Savage River, which is about mile 17 of the park road, private vehicles cannot drive the road unless they have a special permit. We had a permit to drive to Teklanika (“Tek” for short) because we had reserved the required minimum three nights, but that is where we had to stop. To go further into the park, you have to use the shuttle bus system. So, our plan was to ride to Eielson, about a three hour ride from our campground, to look for wildlife and check out areas to hike the next day.
As is often the case riding the shuttle bus system, it was a good wildlife day. The road was built through mountain passes, as it was the easiest route to build a road. The original plan was to build a straighter road with tunnels, but Adolph Murie, the first wildlife biologist for the park, adamantly opposed it. He believed any road through the park should match the character of the park, so the road winds and meanders through several mountain passes on its way to Wonder Lake. As such, it also happens to follow the same migratory corridor that all wildlife in the park follow. This leads to lots of opportunities for wildlife.

For us, the total count for the day was four bears, three or four caribou, a large bull moose (hiding in the thick of Igloo Forest), a red fox, and a wolf. The first bear came along shortly after we left our campground. He was a subadult, probably about five years old, digging in the gravel bars along the Tek River. Next was the moose, who first crossed the road behind us, then hid in the thick, dense forest near the Igloo River. While at Eielson, which was reconstructed to sit below the ground to allow for more habitat and views, I photographed an Arcitc ground squirrel feeding on a patch of grains sitting essentially on top of the center’s roof.  On our way back from Eielson, we came upon a wolf trotting along the road, heading west toward Eielson. Along in Polychome pass, we saw a red fox heading up a hill to eventually sit at its den. This was one of the times it would have been handy to have the 500mm lens, but I did not feel like toting it along for the bus ride. Finally, as we headed down toward Sable Pass, one of the more narrow mountain passes along the route, we saw a sow with two 2-year-old cubs along the hill to the left. The only animal we were missing from the Big Five (moose, caribou, bear, wolf, and Dall sheep), was the elusive Dall sheep for whom this park was created. We were less likely to see them at this time of year because they were higher up, taking advantage of the melted snow pack at higher elevations to avoid predators.

Due to the many fires burning in the interior of Alaska, approximately two and a half million acres so far this summer, the landscape views were greatly limited. The winds had shifted over night and blown thick smoke into the area. It reminded me of the last time I was this deep into the park, in 2004 when we had a six million acre fire summer.