Some photos from home and from Wickersham Dome

The view from the ridge just south of Wickersham Dome. Rain can be seen falling in the valley over the winding Elliott Highway far below while the hillside is showing signs of green-up. Bright sunlight filters in through the dark clouds, illuminating some of the surrounding landscape.
The view from Wickersham Dome on a rainy evening – May 19, 2024

Yesterday was a fantastic day. I spent my morning updating an old wildflower guide post for woolly lousewort (Pedicularis lanata) and then walked around the yard to take photos. Looping around the trails with my telephoto, hoping for some animals or birds, yielded nothing, so I swapped for my macro lens to photograph some more of the horsetails and catkins.

There was some lovely sunlight filtering through the clouds and an occasional sprinkle of rain. The juxtaposition of bright light and dark shadow made for what I thought were some interesting compositions.

Close-up side profile of a horsetail plant with green segmented stem and small whorls of needle-like leaves opening up along the joints.
Side profile of horsetail opening-up
Close-up side profile of a different species of horsetail plant, with a segmented green stem and clusters of small, spiky, green leaves emerging from the joints.
Another side profile of a different species of horsetail
Close-up of a whorl of foliage on a horsetail plant, showing green, needle-like leaves radiating from a central point along the stem.
A whorl of foliage on a horsetail

Cat and I spent a couple of hours cleaning and organizing around the house while I mulled over where to go hiking that afternoon and evening. I couldn’t decide between doing part of the Granite Tors Trail or Wickersham Dome.

We were slowly loading some gear in the car while settling on a destination when a black-capped chickadee landed on the ground a few feet away while on the porch stairs. There were some tufts of Tut’s fur from a brushing last year, and the chickadee was collecting them for a nest. I was surprised to see it just standing there so close, somewhat motionless, for a while. I commented that I wished I had my camera at the ready because it was a perfect photo opportunity. But the camera was in the house with the wrong lens on it, so I just watched it collect fur, figuring it would be pointless to try to grab the camera.

After a minute or two of the chickadee not moving, I went inside to grab the camera and swap the lens anyway. Sure enough, it was still there collecting fur when I returned. It just kept stuffing its mouth full of more fur while I snapped some shots.

Close-up of a black-capped chickadee on the ground, holding a tuft of dog's fur in its beak, collecting it for nesting material.
Chickadee stealing some of our dog’s fur
Close-up of a black-capped chickadee on the ground, with a large tuft of dog's fur in its beak, preparing to use it for nesting material.

It was just after 4 p.m. when I settled on hiking Wickersham Dome. This can be a tough time of the year for hiking in the Alaska Interior because there’s often still snow, sometimes deep enough to wind up post-holing quite a bit, and where there’s not snow, there is usually mud. I knew Wickersham would be muddy, while Granite Tors would be mostly on a boardwalk until reaching a relatively rocky hillside. But we also live closer to Wickersham Dome and get better views relatively quickly.

When we arrived at the trailhead, only a couple of cars were there, and one guy got out of his car near the trailhead. I did a double take when I realized I recognized my old hiking and photography buddy from grad school, Jason. I hadn’t seen him or heard much from him in at least six or seven years and I felt it shockingly hard to believe that it had been ten years since we worked together at UAF.



The three of us hiked out together while Jason and I caught up on what we were up to and reminisced about our often weird times at UAF and some of our hiking adventures that often turned epic for one reason or another.

I saw two of my first wildflower blooms of this season. The first, down lower on the trail, was a narcissus anemone (Anemone narcissiflora), which I didn’t stop to photograph (I have hundreds). Near the upper ridge that leads to the summit of Wickersham Dome, the ground was littered with northern kittentails (Synthyris borealis) already in bloom and woolly lousewort (Pedicularis lanata), not yet flowering.

Close-up of the flowering head of Synthyris borealis, commonly known as northern kittentails, with vibrant blue-purple flowers blooming on Wickersham Dome.
Flowering head of Synthyris borealis, commonly known as northern kittentails on Wickersham Dome
Close-up of the new growth of woolly lousewort (Pedicularis lanata) on Wickersham Dome, showing fuzzy, green leaves with maroon tips emerging from the ground
New growth of woolly lousewort (Pedicularis lanata) on Wickersham Dome
Scenic view from Wickersham Dome showing the Elliot Highway winding through the valley, with a mix of forested and snow-patched terrain under a cloudy sky.
The Elliot Highway winding around the valley from Wickersham Dome

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View of the White Mountains in the distance from Wickersham Dome, with scattered snow patches and sparse trees on the rolling hills in the foreground.
The White Mountains in the distance from Wickersham Dome

Only a few minutes after gaining the ridge, we were caught in a huge gust of wind, followed by heavy rain. Running for cover behind a rock outcropping, we hoped to wait it out. It didn’t seem to be letting up, and the sky was pretty dark in the direction of the rain, so we decided to make our way briskly back down into the tree cover.

View from Wickersham Dome with a bonus rainbow arching over the forested landscape, taken during a brief break in the rain.
Bonus rainbow as we were hurrying down

Of course, once we were off the tundra, the rain stopped almost immediately, and shortly after, the sun came out again. The return hike was relatively quick, though we did encounter some post-holing in the remaining snow patches in the valley. Despite the muddy conditions and occasional snow, I was thrilled to have the chance to hike with Jason again. We mentioned possibly making plans to get in touch for more hiking and exploring this summer. The day, filled with unexpected encounters and beautiful moments, left me grateful to have photography in my life and a wife willing to put up with hours of photography-related conversation along the way.

A hiker on the Sugarloaf Ridge Trail outside of Denali National Park in Alaska

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