The old ammonia leaching plant at the Kennecott copper mine. To the left is the largely debris-covered Kennicott Glacier (yes, the spelling is different) and the flanks of Mt. Blackburn (16,390 ft – 4,996 m) hiding behind the clouds. Kennecott is a stunning historical mining town in Wrangell St. Elias National Park in southcentral Alaska that is accessed via a 60-mile long dirt road.
This stream is located along the Park Road at mile-7. This is where you emerge out of the lower forests into open tundra. Further along the road, the open tundra is overtaken by alpine peaks and alpine tundra. The landscape is constantly changing along the road. And that is exactly the reason that I love Denali National Park so much. The diverse landscapes and wildlife in such a big area make it a spectacular place to visit.
A hilly landscape divides pristine snow from the vibrant blue sky. Taken along the Granite Tors trail in the Chena River State Recreation Area. This is easily one of my favorite hikes in the Fairbanks area. There is a 14.1-mile loop and a shorter 3-mile loop. This photo is taken along the shorter section so it is fairly accessible and usually well-traveled in the winter (not so much for the longer loop).
Get my 2023 Alaska Wall Calendar or Aurora Calendar here!
An architectural delight in Fairbanks, the Museum of the North is home to many local cultural and natural exhibits. This photo was taken on the west side of the building just as the Sun was rising on an October morning. I remember feeling a bit surprised that the grass was still green since usually, the snow has stuck by then.
Tall peaks dominate the landscape high up on the Black Rapids Glacier in the Eastern Alaska Range. Meteor Peak is one of the little guys, at only 8133 ft (2479 m). There are numerous others between 10,000 and 12,000 ft, rising 6000 ft over the glacier surface. This photo was taken from a hill on the other side of the glacier 3-miles from the summit.
Moonlight illuminates the snow-covered spruce trees while the aurora borealis dances overhead. The boreal forests in the interior of Alaska are one of my favorite parts of living here. The aurora is a nice bonus.
Savage River Loop and extension in Denali National Park
The Savage River Loop is a 1.7 mile long well-maintained trail in Denali National Park that begins at the Savage River parking lot. It’s a very flat river-walk on a leveled trail. At the end of the trail, a footbridge crosses the river and brings you back to the road. On the west side of the bridge, a little black sign denotes “End of Maintained Trail.” Turn back on the opposite side of the bridge to complete the 1.7-mile loop, or hike past the sign to find some more beautiful scenery (described below).
In the summer months (late May-early September), this trail is easy to walk. It’s a simple, well-maintained, well-traveled loop that returns to the parking area via the Park Road. There are some smaller interpretive trails down on the gravel bar near the west parking lot (other side of the bridge).
In winter (February – May), this hike can be tricky because of ice. This is especially true on the east side of the loop. I highly recommend putting on Microspikes or a similar traction device in icy spots or you could end up in icy water! I’d bring snowshoes as well, although I’ve rarely had to put them on for this loop. You will need snowshoes or skis if hiking higher up.
Typically, October-February the Park Road is not plowed to mile-15, so you won’t be able to access the trailhead without a 12-mile ski or snowshoe from the Park Headquarters.
Walking beyond the sign at the footbridge brings you to the location in the cover photo in about 0.1 miles. There are a few little meandering steep sections. A narrow part of the valley funnels wind. I’ve been here on an otherwise windless day and it was absolutely howling. Most of the time I’ve hiked this section I’ve been able to lean with my body against the wind.
The hillsides become increasingly rocky and the river more turbulent. And there are fewer people. The hill on the west meanders up Mt. Margaret if you are feeling more adventurous. The path continues along the river for quite a while, but the landscape begins to level out. Although, there are a few small waterfalls along the way. You can hike as far as you are comfortable getting away from civilization. Beyond 1-mile the scenery doesn’t change much.
The end of the trail on this map is where I have started the hike for Mt. Margaret. It is very steep with loose footing and difficult to navigate. There is no real trail here, I typically follow ridgelines and social or animal trails to the ridge. Do not attempt this hike without proper equipment and navigational experience. It is possible to return via Primrose Ridge.
This is a great area to see Dall Sheep. Numerous times I’ve seen caribou in nearer the parking lots in the brush as well.
I have only included the small extension trail to the photo location above because it is already heavily trafficked. This can be the start of the hike up Mt. Margaret as well. Denali National Park encourages off-trail travel to reduce impact in the area, so I don’t want to simply post my GPX tracks as that will encourage travel along the same path. This map will be expanded soon with other developed trails in the area and information on starting my suggested hikes, but within the park boundaries, I probably won’t be mapping much.
A juvenile bald eagle causes a commotion among the seagulls at the Solomon Gulch Hatchery in Valdez, Alaska. Eagles are plentiful on the Alaska coastlines and one of my favorite animals to sit and watch. The hatchery is an excellent place to find them. Sea lions, seals, and also bears frequent the area, so it’s good to stay aware if you’re visiting!
There was strong parhelia and sun pillar while driving home from the Yukon Quest start yesterday. This photo was taken at 1:40 pm, very close to solar noon. So that’s about as high in the sky the Sun gets this time of year. The bright side is that we are gaining 7 minutes of sunlight per day. It’s already very noticeable, a month ago we didn’t see the Sun above those trees.
But this is about the parhelia or sun dogs, sun pillar, and partial 22° halo. The refraction of sunlight through ice crystals in the air causes these atmospheric optic effects. When it’s cold in Fairbanks (it was -30°F/-34°C) we get a lot of ice hanging in the air close to the ground and occasional ice fog. That ice and fog make conditions ideal for some significant atmospheric phenomena. If you look closely, directly under the Sun and over the snow, you can see little specs of glowing ice crystals.
This effect also happens with the moon, although typically not as bright because the moon isn’t as bright. Most often, I’ll see a 22° halo around the moon and occasionally a moon dog, or paraselene. Although, all the same effects from the Sun can apply to the moon as well. All that matters is the ice in the air and a bright enough light source.
A few years ago I was lucky enough to witness this while watching the aurora one night. The photo below is a moon dog (paraselene) and a 22-degree halo. There’s a bit of a partial paraselenic circle as well (moon equivalent of a parhelic circle).
Aurora borealis from the Granite Tors trail in the Chena River State Recreation Area near Fairbanks. This was one of the longest-lasting bright displays I have ever seen. What started as a faint glow when I opened my tent door, erupted overhead and shimmered strong for over 40 minutes. In this shot, you can see the city lights glow of Fairbanks about 30 miles away.
Cauldron-like depressions called potholes are scattered around the upper reaches of the Black Rapids Glacier. They often fill with water over the summer, eventually draining on the surface or subglacially. They are left-over remnants of crevasses that formed during the 1936-1937 surge of Black Rapids. During the surge, the glacier terminus advanced by about 3 miles and earned the nickname the “galloping glacier”.
One of the biggest draws of Denali National Park is definitely the possibility of seeing wildlife. With only one 90-mile road in a park the size of Massachusetts, people are definitely outnumbered here. The tour and shuttle buses (the only way of traveling beyond mile-15 for the general public) stop frequently for all sorts of animals. With very limited human interaction, this is one of the few places you can see all bears, lynx, wolves, coyotes, moose, and caribou up close in their natural habitat.
We saw this grizzly from the bus. I also frequently see them while hiking in the park, usually far away on the tundra (as close as I want to be). Often they just look like brown blobs meandering around a hill. A few times on the shuttle I’ve had the opportunity of seeing them real close, only about 15-20 feet away. I sat and watched this one for probably 15 minutes, devouring every berry in its path. Look at the claws! It’s an absolutely incredible experience, I highly recommend visiting.
Looking over the rock-covered surface of the Castner Glacier in the Eastern Alaska Range at the O’Brien Icefall. This was easily one of the warmest days I ever spent on the ice. I thought for sure that dehydration was going to get the best of me near the end of this 16-mile day. Read more about this adventure in the following post: Castner Glacier for the 4th of July
Sunset from on top of the terminus of the Canwell Glacier. We spent the day hiking to the snowline, about 3 miles up-glacier from the toe. There were still about three miles left to hike back to the car when I took this photo. The steep face on Mt. Shand (12,454 ft.) sticking up on the left 30 miles away is awe-inspiring up close.
The downside about a bright moon is that it can often drown out the northern lights. But not always. Sometimes the aurora borealis is so bright it seems to overwhelm the moonlight. This was definitely one of those nights!
Near the horizon the oranges were dominant. You can see a bit of that cool arctic blue/green in the sky. Winter light is absolutely gorgeous here and it’s good that it is because we get so little of it!
A musher sets out for a cold evening run on the Tanana River. All I can see against the setting Sun is the silhouettes of the musher with his dogs and the trees in the distance. The fog around the dogs is actually from their breath. The air was 40 below.
I took this photo at 12:30 in the afternoon one beautiful December morning. Around the winter solstice, we don’t see the Sun from Fairbanks. It stays just below the base of the trees. There is enough light that we do get some delicate “tree glow” for a few hours, though.
Another beautiful day in the Alaska Range. Peaks in the Trinity Basin, the main accumulation area for the Black Rapids Glacier. Located at the head of the Susitna and Black Rapids Glaciers in the Hayes region.
Recommended Print Sizes 6″x24″ or 10″x40″ – 12″x48″ max for 250 dpi resolution I suggest paper print or float metal formats