Alaska Photos

Bears, Bikes, and Denali

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

In May 2010, I took one of the funnest trips I logged during my six-year stay living and working in Alaska. I joined a group of some adventurous and fun outdoor-loving Alaskans for a mountain-bike day trip into Denali National Park.

Before the National Park Service opens the main park road to tourist buses, it allows cyclists to pedal up this mostly dirt road. On that trip, I went with a group of four other mountain bikers, getting as far as the Polychrome Overlook. I didn’t see Denali. Clouds will cover the majestic peak more than half the tourist season, so I didn’t expect to see it. I did expect wildlife, maybe some waking grizzly bears, other wild animals, and beautiful terrain. On that front, the trip was a stunning success.

Denali by Mountain Bike, the Only Way to Travel in Mid-May

The adventure began, as you can expect, around a campfire after all of us had driven up from Anchorage (amazing drive, by the way). We secured a camping spot at the Riley Creek Campground, near the main entrance. This is still a surprisingly wild and beautiful area. Staying up late in the arctic night, we talked story around a fire and planned for an early start on a Friday morning in mid-May.

The next morning, we drove as far as the park service allows, not far from the Savage River Campground. From here, you bike in,

A group of five of us cycled ahead of most of the other mountain bikers that day and reached the overlook, 31 miles from the Savage River parking area. It’s a beautiful stretch of road that climbs up 1,500 feet vertically, with a few long up and down hills. The terrain is mostly brown and still snow-covered that time of year. Along the way, we had to stop because of traffic, namely, a grizzly mother and her two cubs. We laughed a lot as she and her young one slowly walked down the hill, calmly crossed the road, and then ambled down the hillside. We saw another pair close to this group, of a mother and just one cub, on a ridge, framed against a mastic mountain backdrop. That’s five bears in less than one hour!

Respecting, Not Fearing, the Bears

For people who don’t live in Alaska or those who pack guns to kill wild critters, this would appear to be a terrifying moment. It was not, and is not.

Bears are relatively predictable, but still lethal. If you respect their space, don’t threaten their food source or young, and don’t startle them, they mostly will leave you alone. Mostly, respect them and their home. And I can say that having travelled hundreds of hours and many more miles in Alaska’s wild bear country, by bike and foot, not once having been threatened.

I have not published these shots on my websites before and forgot until I saw them again how amazingly breathtaking the “Great Land” (that’s what Alaskans call their state) is. I miss it, particularly this time of year, when the snow begins to melt and the big critters begin to explore, eat, hunt, fish, and be wild–the way they were meant to be.

Here’s the video I published almost exactly eight years ago today from that great trip.

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Fourth of July, Alaska style…ah the memories

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Fourth of July is always a great time to enjoy the outdoors and the incredible nature in Alaska. Many Alaskans who live in its largest city, Anchorage, celebrate by going to Seward for the annual Mt. Marathon race. This is a 3.1-mile race, with an elevation gain of 3,022 feet, and slopes average 34 degrees. This all takes place above the breathtaking scenery of Resurrection Bay, where sea otters and orcas can be spotted from the boat and even the shore.

Up to 10,000 people will gather in the city’s historic downtown for the start and finish of the state’s most famous mountain race–and there are many mountain races. This contest is the shortest of the state’s “official” mountain races, but one of the most grueling, because of the sheer verticality of the climb and the risk of injury.

One year an older male racer who likely never should have competed went missing and his body was never recovered. Another year a man suffered brain trauma during a terrible fall near the end of the descent. So this is not a race for sissies and people who do not respect and understand the mountains. A bunch of my friends always competed, and I went a number of times during my six years living in Anchorage.

The race pictures seen here are from 2009 and 2010. The 2010 shot features the top three female runners: hometown favorite and champion Cedar Bourgeois, Olympic skier Holly Brooks. and Olympic skier Kikkan Randall. That year, Bourgeois won her sixth race in a row (tieing a course record), with a personal best of 51:48. All three of these racers are among the state’s finest athletes ever. Randall and Brooks have competed for the United States Nordic Ski Team in the Olympics.

The other pictures shown in the gallery come from the Forest Fair, a laid-back carnival and craft fair held during the Fourth of July weekend in Girdwood, the scenic town at the base of the Chugach Mountains about 45 miles from Anchorage. It celebrates its 41st year right this summer. I loved this event. The setting is unbelievably gorgeous.

Sadly, in past years, the local yahoos–and they are many, and awful–became so rowdy and engaged in so many drunken and destructive behaviors, organizers wisely shut the event down. If you go the the Greal Land (aka Alaska), don’t worry about the bears. Make a lot of noise, and you will be perfectly fine. Happy Fourth of July, Alaska!

Sitka National Historic Park totem poles

 

The Sitka National Historic Park, in the beautiful southeast Alaska city of Sitka, features some of the finest examples of Tlingit totem carvings, old and new, in the world. It is also among my favorite sanctuaries in the world. I lived in Sitka for a summer in 1992 and visited this place several times a week. These photos were taken during a trip I took in 1999, now 15 years ago (wow). So many of these totems most certainly have aged since I photographed them. More examples of my Alaska photos can be found on my Alaska gallery. (Please click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)