It was yet another fun filled weekend in Denali National Park! Each time I go into the park I set some photo-goals, or things I would like to see or do in the park. For days 6-10 my goals included:
- Completing a photo that looked like 100 with our fat tire bikes WITH Denali in the background! CHECK
- Seeing and Photographing a new animal/wildlife in Denali. CHECK
3. Seeing and Photographing DENALI!!!! CHECK
Coming into Denali Days 11-13, I had hoped to see/photograph another new animal, get to go to mile 15, and get a good photo of the Milky Way. I traveled down on Friday with Nali. I was going to be car camping again and although she is larger than Elias, she doesn’t have an enormous kennel that takes up half the back of the car! It was a breezy drive with pretty clear roads and minimal traffic. We got to the park in the later evening and immediately took a drive into the park. That evening we say some birds, including a Grey Jay, beautiful snowy mountains, and part of Denali. The park road was also open an extra little ways!
As the sun was setting I went to the campsite and had a variety of the snacks I brought on the trip. While waiting for the stars to come out, I put together my new tripod AND cleaned the sensor of my camera. Little did I know that the sensor would still not be 100% cleaned… When the stars came out, we headed back into the park. It was SO dark. The moon was rising and setting during the daylight hours so it was not in the sky overpowering any of the stars. You could easily see the milky way with your naked eye. It was probably the most stars I have ever seen. It was a little frightening driving in such darkness. You couldn’t see a foot past the actual road, even with the brights on. The Aurora came out a little, just peeking out over the mountains. It was beautiful! I took a few photos and then headed back to the campground to sleep in the car.
I woke up FREEZING! I had thought it was going to be no colder than about -5 but I woke up to -23 degrees Fahrenheit! I actually woke up numerous times in the night and had to turn on the car twice to warm it up. Nali didn’t seem to mind that much. She was curled up next to me.
That morning I woke up and knew I would need to drive to Healy for gas. I have officially made a mental note that I should be carrying a gas can of gas with me when I travel. I decided to drive into the park first to see what I could find! I got all the way in and Nali and I went on the Mountain Vista Trail. Nali was very excited to get out and take a walk. She didn’t want to pose for a photo op but I took a few photos anyway, that is what I do! Ha!
After our walk we got back in the car and decided to head out of the park and drive to Healy. Unfortunately it was at this moment I realized I had left my wallet, with all my money and credit card, at HOME! I had a quarter tank left and I knew it was 10+ miles to Healy. Luckily for me, Josh had already planned on coming down to meet up with me later that day. I had to plan out my driving to make sure I wouldn’t run out of gas. I decided I would drive to a pull off where Nali and I could view Denali. I had lunch, took photos and watched the sun slowly create new shadows on Denali. Nali spent the time napping. Eventually I joined her and we both napped for about an hour and a half. I woke up to her trying to roll me over! She would put her nose on the ground in front of me and on me and push her head up nudging. It was hilarious! I guess I was taking up too much room…
At 1:30 we woke up and I started to make my way out of the park. On the way out I got to see my first Snowshoe Hare!!! The hare hopped off VERY quickly and I was unable to take a photo of the hare. I made it out of the park and called Josh as soon as I got reception. Unfortunately Josh missed my voicemail and text messages that asked him to bring me my wallet… He was also almost an hour behind his schedule that he gave me. I filled up water and used the flush toilets at the Murie Science and Learning Center. I then went and met up with Josh in Healy. He bought me gas and we headed back to the park. We got to the campground and started to set up the tent. It definitely didn’t take us quite as long as that first time.
When we finished putting up the tent, we went into the park in search of some Denali critters. Although the wildlife was a little slow, the scenery was beautiful. I took another photo of Denali and we headed back to the campsite to have dinner. After dinner we, well Josh, made a fire. We had S’mores and waited for the stars to make their appearance. The dogs got cold and ended up spending part of the night in the car. We ended up joining them and heading back out into the park to go photograph more stars! I had driven around most of the day and evening and not until it got SUPER dark did we see our first moose of the trip, which ended up being 3 moose!
I was excited to get to show Josh how incredibly dark and beautiful the night was. There were zero clouds and millions and millions of stars. I felt like I was in a different world out there in the darkness as the Milky Way lit the way. We stayed out for awhile taking it all in. We drove back to the campsite and all ran into the Arctic Oven to start warming up the tent. The tent warmed up very quickly and we all went out to bed.
I again woke up to the cold. Our propane had run out and the tent got pretty chilly. It was warmer than outside for sure, but it was definitely cold. Josh and I could barely see each other across the tent because we were so snug and tucked into our sleeping bags. We finally decided at 7:30 to move to my car. Again I was going to car camp! I auto-started my car and we ran to the car with the two dogs. I slept in the back with the dogs and Josh slept in the drivers seat. It took a short while but we all went back to bed.
We woke up around 11am! I can’t believe how late we slept in. We then headed to the Murie Science and Learning Center to brush our teeth and fill up on water. We had rented snowshoes and we were headed out to make it to mile 15! We drove in and right away we saw a bull moose. It quickly walked into the woods. We stopped and turned off the car to wait out the moose. The moose was pretty cooperative and came back into view. It was very close but liked to hide amongst the trees and branches. The moose walked a few feet and was completely invisible! It is amazing how many moose are out there right in the brush where they blend in.
After the moose, we made our way to where we could see Denali and we had our breakfast. If you didn’t already guess it, we had Biscuits and Gravy Mountain House – AGAIN! It was, as it always is, delicious!
After breakfast we made our way to the end of the road. We parked and attached our snowshoes onto Josh’s backpack. The road was almost completely clear. They had plowed the road really well. There were only about three spots where there was a layer of ice on the road that could make it more challenging for multiple cars. In the last few weeks, the amount of visitors to Denali has seemed to increase substantially! After seeing the car drive off the road last time I was in the park, the ice could cause some trouble. We made it to mile 15 and we were the only ones there! I opened the bathroom door and there was a pile of snow behind it. Obviously not a lot of people have used that bathroom lately. We strapped on our snowshoes and decided to head up the Savage Alpine Trail. Our plan was to get to the top of the Rock area.
It was quite an adventure getting up the hill. There were some great areas where the path was snow-blown and you wouldn’t sink and then other areas where you would sink a GREAT deal. You wouldn’t really know when you would sink either, which made every step exciting, or challenging! We slid a few times and laughed a lot. We did make it to the top where I saw a vole run around. It was very windy at the top of the hill and our sweat quickly helped us feel very cold. We sat and gazed around us at the surrounding hills. On one of the hills we saw three moose! A little while after we saw the three moose, we saw a golden eagle fly. We hung out for awhile and then had to make our way down the hill. Josh was easily able to walk down the hill. One of my snowshoes kept getting loose and I kept falling. I ended up sitting on the snow and sliding down the hill! My butt got very cold and we took quite a few falls but we both safely made our way down the hill.
We walked back to the car and got to see two Grey Jays. I took a few photos and we started making our way back to the campsite to take down the very cold tent. We got everything taken down and started to make our way to Healy to fill up on gas before the drive back to Fairbanks. I checked the Aurora forecast and all the stats dropped. The Aurora was going to be great. I debated staying another night to get some Aurora photos. I ended up heading home though. I was cold and exhausted. After getting home I quickly regretted my decision. The Aurora was beautiful. I hope to get some Aurora opportunities this fall in Denali.
When deciding on doing the 100 days of Denali I knew I would have some challenges. Traveling on my own was on of the challenges I have already faced and have gotten past. Another hurdle I am currently facing with this 100 Days of Denali challenge is having a regular day job, a real-estate photography job, and wildlife/scenery photography job. I would have loved to stay in Denali to photograph the epic Northern Lights shooting across the sky but I knew I had a job I had to get home to and a house photo shoot to go to after my job. I feel blessed I have had so many incredible opportunities and that I have a shot at being able to travel to Denali 100 times but it can be exhausting trying to succeed at so many different jobs. I truly love all my jobs and appreciate the work I have been able to do and accomplish but it doesn’t make my Denali days any easier. I am excited to have been able to spend another 3 days in the park and I am 3 days closer to reaching my 100 day goal! 13 days down and 87 days left of adventure!
I did meet my three new goals:
- I had hoped to see/photograph another new animal CHECK (although these aren’t stellar photographs of either of these animals – they are still documented nonetheless!)
2. get to go to mile 15
3. photograph the Milky Way CHECK – after getting to see so many stars I was hoping to catch a meteor! I caught a TON of satellites and finally ended up with one meteor shot! Can you tell which one of these streaks is the meteor?