A brown bear takes a pause from eating soapberries in Denali National Park. The brown bears in the interior of Alaska often have a blonde coat with darker legs. Despite being the same species, the brown bears of the interior are often called grizzlies because of their more “grizzled” appearance due to the contrast in light and dark fur. They’re considerably smaller than the coastal brown bears that feed on plentiful salmon all day. A male grizzly in the interior can still weigh around 400 lb, about 80 lb less than the species average.
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A monstrous display of the northern lights over the Chena River Valley and Hills from the Angel Rocks trail. The night started out pretty slow with low aurora activity. Hiking up the Angel Rocks Loop was fairly easy, but we continued along the Angel Rocks to Chena Hot Springs trail headed for the top of the hill. We soon found ourselves in deep snow and had to stop to put on snowshoes. Then the wind picked up. The auroral activity didn’t seem to be changing much, and it was cold. Cold enough that the batteries in my headlamp fizzled. I replaced them with my last set of AAAs and decided to head back. On the way down the aurora peaked in brightness over the hills, long enough to get this shot and a few others. Then it fizzled to a diffuse glow across the sky. Here’s a link to the full gallery.
Hoarfrost and columnar ice on the roof of a glacier cave beneath the Castner Glacier. These enormous caves form from water flowing beneath the glacier. Warmer air in the summer often helps melt out and open up the entrances. This was taken during a short hike yesterday. Check out the full story with lots of photos and video below!
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A small, yet fast stream near the northern lateral moraine of the Black Rapids Glacier in the Alaska Range. McGinnis Peak on the right dominates the skyline in this area. Glacial streams are some of my favorite subjects to photograph. There’s just something calming that draws me to them. And the freshest tasting water ever!
I was walking on the Alaska Dog Musher’s Association trails to Creamer’s Field to take some sunrise photos when I heard rustling up ahead. I kept walking cautiously when I noticed a face slowly turning as I passed. The full moose came into view around some willows and I saw her watching me with ears forward. At this point, my line to her was perpendicular to the trail, so I would be the same distance continuing as if I backed off. I was uncomfortably close, but I managed to still take one photo before continuing. I had only taken a few steps when her ears went down and she resumed chewing on the willows.
This gorgeous view of the Alaska Range lies along the Mt. Healy Trail in Denali National Park & Preserve. It’s not a far walk from the end of the Healy Overlook Trail, a fun short, but steep hike from the main visitor’s center. I’m amazed at the limitless hiking this mountain range affords.
I took my camera while walking the dog with Cat yesterday. There have been fox tracks all over the yard and road lately, so I wanted to get some shots of it. Rounding the corner from the road, I saw the fox sitting on the snowbank a couple of hundred yards away. He stayed long enough that I managed to snap one shot, just good enough to tell that, yes, the dot sitting on the snow was indeed a fox. Cat walked the dog back a bit while I walked ahead to see If I could spot him in the trees, but there was no sign of the fox.
When Cat caught back up with me, she said she saw a snowshoe hare just off the snowbank. We walked back together and this little guy was sitting in the bushes motionless. I managed to get a few shots, slowly creeping forward before it disappeared in the brush.
There have been quite a few snowshoe hares around lately. They undergo an approximately 10-year cycle in population growth in conjunction with one of their main predators, the Canada lynx. The brilliant white coat of the snowshoe hare turns brown in summer.
A few years ago I hiked the Savage Alpine Trail in Denali National Park with my friend CJ. It turned out to be one of the windiest days I’ve ever spent in the mountains. Hiking from the Mountain Vista parking area, the wind grew stronger the closer we came to the Savage Canyon, which is a natural funnel for wind. Even on otherwise calm days, it tends to be windy here. This day, it was strong enough to knock us over a few times. I had to sit for a while to give the stabilizer muscles in my legs a break.
A raft of Steller Sea lions near the Solomon Gulch Hatchery in Valdez, Alaska. Steller sea lions are the largest sea lion species with the males reaching over 2400 lb (1088 kg). This “rafting” behavior is a way of resting offshore. They hang out here because of the plethora of incoming salmon to the hatchery is an abundant food source.
I was lucky to witness this incredible display of the northern lights from the Granite Tors Trail, about 40 miles outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. It was a miserable two days pulling camera and camping gear by sled on snowshoes up the hill. Wind crust snow was on top of 3 feet of powder and unconsolidated hoarfrost. Every other step I would punch through to my waist and have to crawl out of it. But, I had two incredible nights of aurora viewing, so it was totally worth it. In the photo above, you can see a bit of the city lights from Fairbanks and North Pole on the distant left. Check out the story below!
The moon over the monolithic Asgard Tor at Granite Tors. It was a gorgeous evening to take a walk from our campsite about a mile from here. The 15-mile trail isn’t too difficult to do in a day, but there are benefits to taking a weekend for the hike. This was my first backpacking trip here and was totally worth taking the extra time to explore the ridge at sunset.
The Granite Tors trail is only a 45-minute drive from Fairbanks, Alaska. I highly recommend the hike as a long-day or overnight. Link to the trail guide with map and more photos is below!
A sea otter watches us in Valdez Harbor. These guys are so curious, playful, and absolutely adorable! The largest member of the weasel family, the sea otter is one of the smallest marine mammals, but can weigh as much as 100 lbs (45 kg)!
Sea otters don’t rely on fat, or blubber for insulation from the cold water, but rather their dense, heavy fur (up to 150,000 strands per square inch). Because of this, they end up spending a lot of their time grooming and cleaning their fur. This necessary fur density also makes them susceptible to oil spills. Thousands were killed in Prince William Sound after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Luckily, their numbers in the area have made a strong recovery .
While sea otters live much of their life alone while foraging, they typically rest together in social rafts. In Valdez, we’ll often see solitary otters feeding on shellfish and octopus near the docks and floating in their rafts further out in the harbor. They are definitely calming to watch!
A hanging glacier on Peak 8100 and a few icefalls leading up toward Icefall Peak. Taken on College Glacier in the Hoodoo region of the Alaska Range. There were some threatening clouds and fog over the ice on our first day, but they cleared overnight. Quite a stunning area.
I photographed this awesome sight while doing field work out on the Black Rapids Glacier in the eastern Alaska Range. The view is to the southeast and you can see the Loket Tributary flowing into the main branch of the glacier center-right. Living in Fairbanks (a little under 100 miles north of here) we get to see a lot of optical phenomena from ice in the atmosphere. In the winter we frequently see halos and parhelia (sun dogs). It’s pretty rare to see the tangent arc and even rarer to see a parhelic circle – the line that continues ‘horizontally’ from the sundog. At times this made a full 360° circle around our heads from camp.
Alpenglow disappears slowly on a peak in the Alaska Range. Incredible pastels filled the sky and glance a few of the higher ridges and peaks during the “blue hour”. A gorgeous yet cold evening on the Black Rapids Glacier.
Intense aurora appears in a spiral pattern over snow-covered spruce trees. More magical light from Fairbanks. This was taken during a week in 2015 when the aurora was incredibly active almost every evening. I remember having never felt more tired before. Luckily it was during winter break while in grad school. Check out the story below!
Incredible ground foliage in Denali National Park during the short autumn season. This is overlooking the Park Road and the Savage River bridge and parking area. This is mile-15 on the park road, the extent to which you can drive without a special permit. Generally, the public must use the shuttle or tour buses operated by Doyon Aramark to go further on the 92-mile road. The photo was taken along the Savage Alpine Trail, a 4.18-mile out-and-back hike, or a 6.5-mile loop. More details on the hiking in this area below!
A nearly full moon illuminates a snow-covered boreal forest in Fairbanks, Alaska. I loved the sparkly little snowflakes in the foreground. Except they’re not actually snowflakes, but hoarfrost crystals that form on the snow surface during cold nights. We have no shortage of cold nights here in Fairbanks, so we see a lot of hoarfrost on the ground and vegetation. Really, it’s March 5th and the temperature at the airport is -38°F (-39°C).
Sea otters deciding whether or not to flee the comfort of their iceberg while they curiously watch our boat pass. This photo was taken in Columbia Bay near Glacier Island while on a Lu-Lu Belle Glacier and Wildlife Cruise from Valdez. I’d highly recommend their tour for a relaxing and beautiful day out on Prince William Sound.
Columbia Bay near Valdez, Alaska. This is one of the old tributaries (West Branch) of the main Columbia trunk that filled the bay in the Chugach Mountains. The main trunk of the glacier is one of the fastest retreating glaciers in the world with an average retreat rate of 0.37 miles (0.6 km) per year since the 1980s. While climate change and atmospheric warming likely played a role in the initiation and extent of this retreat , this mechanical process is a natural cycle in tidewater glaciers [wiki]. Once the glacier recedes to near the shoreline, the retreat will slow, allowing it to begin building a moraine, or shoal of sediment that will slow the calving rate and insulate the ice from the warmer water so it can begin an advancing stage.