Finally realizing that I had the ultimate background subject, I quickly drove up in front of the bear a ways, setting up a good shot of him grazing below the summit of Denali, as the sun set behind that, lighting up the North slopes and the surrounding clouds. Of course now the bear is working his way almost directly towards me, so I got my pickup ready for action, rolling up the windows and leaving my door open, prepped for a quick exit!Read More
When you think about Alaska, Denali & the surrounding National Park is usually one of the first thoughts, as it should be! The mountain towers over most views in Alaska, whether you're in Anchorage or near Fairbanks. Most people would guess that the best views of the mountain would be from the National Park, but there are also incredible views just South of the park. Easily accessible with a 4x4 or snowmachine in the winter, Petersville road winds almost all the way to the Southern park boundary.
I had wanted to drive this road for a while, after hearing about the amazing views from friends and a far-too-long Google Earth research session. A good friend finally rounded up a group of us to head up there to celebrate a birthday, even though the forecast called for a cloudy and rainy weekend. We headed out in my pickup, packed to the brim with 5 dudes and 2 dogs, finding a pretty easy dirt road for most of the drive (though lots of pot-holes!). The road narrows as you approach Peter's Hills and the deep canyon Peter's Creek cuts through them, transitioning into a good 4x4 trail. There are many mine roads in the area, so it takes some exploring to find roads and trails that go through without getting stuck. After several back-tracks, we found the trail we were looking for, which literally took us right up the creek-bed of one of the many drainages into Peter's Creek. Climbing steeply out of the drainage, we came to our camp spot (though we tried to go higher without any help from the slick, muddy trail).
It had rained on us all the way from Anchorage, and wasn't showing any signs of quitting, so we quickly set up camp. We explored the area around camp and blasted some clays with the shotguns we brought as the rain came-and-went for the rest of the night. A lack of firewood brought our fire to an early end and we called it a night, with the pitter-patter of the rain still on our tents. Another friend who joined us had an early departure Sunday to get back to town, and I awoke as they left to the quiet darkness, realizing the rain had finally quit! I stuck my head out to find not only had the rain gone, but so had all the clouds, leaving a star and aurora filled sky! I kicked off the warmth of my sleeping bag, wishing I had thrown in my winter layers, and rushed out to start shooting the Northern Lights.
The nights are getting longer up here in Alaska, giving us a few more hours to enjoy the borealis. I woke up somewhere around 6:30am and shot these lights until the sun rose about two and a half hours later. Our camp was below a hill blocking our view of Denali, so after sunrise and breakfast we hiked up the remaining 4x4 trail to the top where we could see Denali and the toe of the Tokositna Glacier. The view was a little blocked by the not-insignificant Dutch hills, but with a little more exploration (and snow), you can easily find even better views than we had. We will definitely be making a return trip with our snowmachines in tow!
A beautiful location near Anchorage is Eklutna Lake (which also provides much of our drinking water), where we went with our bikes on Sunday. The weekends are popular up there, but there were still a few spots open when we pulled in after lunch. The lakeside trail is open to ATV's Sunday through Wednesday, and their parking lot looked busy as we passed by. The lakeside trail has just been reworked this summer after erosion had its way with the trail in a few places. It's now very wide and smooth nearly the whole length of the lake! It's a very easy trail, so great for beginning mountain bikers, or just for getting to some incredible Alaskan landscapes! But don't tell anyone, instead say you bushwacked for days to get to that incredible scenic photo of waterfalls and glaciers and huge Chugach peaks.
David was the motivation for the ride, and Julie joined us as well (and Lumi of course). We decided that we wanted to check out the Serenity falls hut at mile 12 of the trail, so we'd be in for a long 24 mile afternoon!
The trail is mostly flat, wide and smooth, with plenty of opportunities for photos! There are a few hiking trails that head up the mountains to the North, and getting up higher makes for even better views. There's a cabin about at the halfway point along the lake, but these have such easy access they are very popular and fill up fast! We pedaled past this cabin, stopping a few times for photos, and once for Lumi to take a swim. There were a few more puddles after the end of the lake, but we stayed mostly dry all the way to Serenity Falls. This was my first time to this cabin, and I'm definitely coming back! It's in a fairly narrow valley with towering cliffs and mountains, and a little farther up-valley is the Eklutna glacier. This hut is pretty big, able to sleep 13 or so, and big windows on the South side for a great view of the falls.
I'll let the photos speak for themselves! Still some great fall colors along the hillsides, with some clouds obscuring a few of the big peaks ...