Month: October 2019


3 September 2015, Thursday

I snapped the photo above when I stepped outside our room at 7:30am. Looks like another promising day. I think I missed several photo opportunities by not getting up at sunrise each morning.

Reflections were on the agenda today, and they were awesome. A few more clouds in the sky, but that only added to the drama.

Repetitious, but we were here for quite some time, and it is such a wonderful scene. There aren’t a lot of different ways to frame this shot, but it probably would have been a good idea to turn around and capture some of the surrounding views as well 😝 I find I often get zoned in on one area and forget about the rest of the world. A lot like real life …

Forced to look around now, as we drove to the Wonder Lake Campground and walked down to the lake and took a short hike. After that, we hopped back on the bus and drove to Eielson Visitor Center. This was good, because we didn’t have much time to visit on our first trip into the park. We also ate our sack lunch here, before heading back to the Lodge. We didn’t see much – just awe-inspiring scenery.

Proof that we did eat at meal times. Funny, the few photos I do have are of salad, and soup or dessert with a flower on top of it. This seemed to be an off week for the kitchen, because people always comment about the wonderful food when reviewing the lodge. We thought it was just OK.

Here is one of our guys giving a recap of our day. This is a tradition at North Face, where someone from each group gives an overview of their activities for the day. Our travel mate gave a short and sweet report on how awesome it is to be in Denali National Park. He was right!

We were not in sync with every aspect of the North Face Lodge. But we are obviously the exception, since the lodge gets rave reviews on TripAdvisor. It might be different if visiting them independently, and not as part of a group. Lou’s memories from his first visit in 2008 are much more positive. To sum up our feelings about the North Face Lodge – we just thought they took themselves too seriously, and the staff were part of a super elite club – guests were lucky to be there to participate in their process and rituals. It was a touchy feely summer camp for adults.

The North Face Lodge holds a privileged position in Denali National Park, and their special permissions allow them to take guests back into the park on their busses and vans. I would stay there again, although Lou might not agree. We would just have to adjust our grumpy non-new age attitudes 😉😏😀 (As I mentioned earlier in the report, the North Face Lodge is no longer hosting guests – we first saw the announcement of the shutdown in their online newsletter at the end of 2019). Camp Denali will continue to operate as usual.

Nothing can take away from the perfect weather we experienced. Denali graced us with clear views every day, and we got to see the landscape covered in snow and in the colors of fall. We saw enough wildlife to make us thankful. The bus rides into and out of the Park were subject to all the weather of the season – rain, fog. sunshine, and snow! It is always a pleasure to have Len Rue, Jr. as our leader. He is happy to answer questions, and genuinely wants to make sure everyone in the group has a good experience. I regret not getting a group photo, and noting everyone’s name. This was a very agreeable group to travel with, which is a plus on a trip like this.

Click HERE to take the last bus ride.

Sunrise at Wonder Lake & Roaming the Park Road

2 September 2015, Wednesday

We were back at our Wonder Lake vista point by 6:30am. Score! Another clear day and some early morning Alpenglow. The statistic is something like only a third of visitors actually see Denali – we are beating the odds. I wonder what our photo tour would have been like if Denali was covered up every day? Probably a lot like our tour of the Grand Tetons, where we couldn’t see the mountain because of wildfire smoke – you adapt and make the best of it.

We got back on the bus and set off on the Park Road. We stopped whenever Len saw a good vista, or something interesting. Don’t forget to click to see a larger photo.

The caribou and moose were actually in the same area. We don’t go to Denali to photograph wildlife. It is wonderful to see the animals, but they are generally far away and we aren’t carrying super long zoom lenses. We consider wildlife sightings a bonus, but the landscape is our prime attraction.

A stop at Reflection Pond brings … reflections.

A unique opportunity to compare the map of the mountain peaks with the real thing – at Eielson Visitor Center. And the perfect antler photo op. Note – clicking on the photo should bring up a larger version, if you are trying to read the names of the mountains on the map.

A hippity hoppity arctic ground squirrel

We left Eielson and drove back towards the lodge, stopping at a small pond to watch the ducks and loons. We also made a quick stop at Reflection Pond – we will spend more time here tomorrow.

We continued past the turnoff to our lodge, and drove to the end of the road in Kantishna. There isn’t much in Kantishna – a few historical sites, the Kantishna Air Office and Landing Strip, and the Kantishna Lodge (where we stayed in 2013).

Back to the lodge for an uneventful dinner. I have very few photos of the food … as I recall it was just “OK.” Not bad, but not as good as what we’d just experienced at The Alaska Homestead Lodge. I also didn’t want to disturb the zen-like aura of the communal experience within the North Face dining hall.

Click HERE to see tomorrow’s tour.

Checking Out Wonder Lake

1 September 2015, Tuesday

Wonder Lake is the crown jewel of Denali National Park. Normally it requires an 85 mile one-way bus ride to get to it. From the North Face, we are just a few miles away, so we will be seeing a lot of Wonder Lake on this trip. We woke up to an absolutely clear day. Not a cloud in the sky, and the mountain was clearly visible. After breakfast, we took a short ride to Wonder Lake.

There are small kettle ponds across the road from the shore of Wonder Lake. These were formed by receding glaciers. They are fun to photograph because of the reflections and the colorful fall flora.

This morning was just about familiarizing ourselves with the area, and enjoying the morning sunshine. We hiked up a small hill where the views were even better. There were 10 of us plus Len in our small group, and we were free to wander the area on our own.

We came on our excursion on one of the North Face busses. A naturalist guide from the lodge accompanied us, and she also brought sack lunches and snacks. Before we ate our picnic, she made hot drinks for everyone.

If we were staying at the North Face Lodge on our own, we would have the option of three different levels of hikes each day. These range from strenuous hikes, to easier forays where the terrain is mostly flat and you can focus on photography, instead of finding the next place to put your foot without killing yourself. The lodge has special permits to take their busses back into the National Park to facilitate these exploration adventures. This system is much like the graduated activity options offered by UnCruise – think Bushwacks to Shorewalks.

It was a fun morning. After lunch, we enjoyed more Wonder Lake and worked on some macro photography before heading back towards the lodge. We toured the sister lodge to North Face – called Camp Denali. It sits above the North Face Lodge, with a small reflective lake in the middle. Camp Denali has shared bathrooms and showers, where North Face has private baths in each room. (2021 Update – North Face Lodge is no longer taking guests, but Camp Denali has re-opened after the pandemic.)

People gathered in the main lounge area by the dining room before dinner. There wasn’t a lot of mingling, since most of us were there with our own travel groups. One thing Lou and I don’t care for is assigned seating at dinner – if you are in the middle of a conversation with someone, it is annoying to have to sit at a different table. Len did get the lodge to agree to keep our group mostly together during dinners, but we still had to hunt for our pins each time!

After dinner, our group set off for an evening shoot at Wonder Lake. This was a better opportunity for photographing the lake and Denali than we had in the mid-day light.

At 8:15pm it is still very light outside. We have had the pleasure of being able to see Denali, the mountain, all day long. Some of you may know the mountain by the name Mt. McKinley. Denali or Mount McKinley? Check out the link to read more from the National Park Service on the Mountain naming controversy.

At 9:15pm, it was still light outside, but we were beginning to capture the Alpenglow on the mountain.

The ideal conditions would include some soft puffy clouds above the mountains, and perfectly flat water in the lake. We had no complaints. We will have another chance to capture the Alpenglow at sunrise tomorrow.

Click HERE to see Wonder Lake at sunrise.

Take a Hike, Lou !!!

Lou opted to go on the early morning hike. They saw some interesting scenery. Lou did not provide a narrative, so will let the photos tell the story. Still impressed he went for the hike!

Click HERE to check out Wonder Lake.

The Long Road Ahead

31 August 2015, Monday

It was less then 10 miles to the entrance of Denali National Park, so we had time to do some leisurely sight seeing along the way. We stopped a couple of times for those who wanted to take a short hike – others took an early morning nap. You will notice there are no photos from any hikes in this post – at least not from me. Lou did go on a hike, and he just gave me his photos, so check out the link to the next post.

All aboard The Magic Bus:

We watched the the whitewater rafting adventure prepare the rafts and head down river. There has to be an easier way to make a living.

We made it – the official entrance to Denali National Park! Now we had another bus to catch – the one that would take us to the North Face Lodge. We caught this bus at the Alaska RR station.

Here is our next bus. We are going to the North Face Lodge for the next five nights. This is the premier lodge in Denali NP and only one of two full service lodges located within the park. You need to take a 90 mile bus ride, mostly on a dirt road, to get to the lodge. For those not familiar with Denali NP, there is only one road in, and you can’t go by car. You will take either a green bus operated by the Park Service, or one of the special lodge busses. Off we go!

At about Mile 15, a park ranger hops onboard the bus and gives us an enthusiastic welcome. She goes over a few rules and regulations but mostly just wants us to enjoy the park. She also gave a weather update … earlier in the morning, there was concern about keeping the busses running, but fortunately the snow stopped and she predicted we would be able to make it to our lodge.

Seeing snow as we drove along the park road was amazing. Lou had visited in the fall before, but they didn’t have snow. The photos he took showed the rich, deep fall colors. The snowy views are different, but still awesomel.

The blustery weather did impact our bus adventure, as we only made very short stops at the visitor centers, and we skipped the picnic supper that is part of the usual North Face arrival day. But, the snow-scaped vistas were beautiful and a lovely way to experience Denali NP in the snow. The sun popped out now and then, as did the wildlife..

A Willow Ptarmigan, the Alaska State Bird. They are well-camouflaged. I’m not sure I even saw there were three of them until I was reviewing the photos.

The scenery didn’t stop …

And then we saw our first bear of the trip – a large grizzly bear foraging in the snow covered grass for food:

The scenery changed as we came down the grade into the area near Eielson Visitor Center.

We made a very short stop at Eielson Visitor Center, and it started to snow again. We would make it back for a longer visit later in the week. Here is Lou, comparing notes with Laurie, one of our travel mates. Laurie is also from Maine, and is a talented photographer.

Clouds cleared briefly after we left the Eielson Visitor Center, and the mountain was visible for a short time. We also saw less snow on the tundra as we got closer to our destination for the evening – we will be back in the Wonder Lake area for more photography during the week. It was amazing to see no snow at all at the Lodge.

It was 7:15pm by the time we reached the North Face Lodge. Six hours on the bus, with a few short breaks to stretch our legs. Len checked us in, and after a quick break, we went to the main area where we had dinner.

I normally wouldn’t include so many photos in a single post … but this is representative of our long long travel day. If you were mesmerized by the beauty of Denali as you scrolled down the page, then you will enjoy (or maybe already have enjoyed) a trip to Denali National Park.

If you skipped to the end, moaning “Oh my Lord, when will this stop?”, then you might not be a candidate for touring Denali National Park. Or, it could just be a reflection on my choice of photos 🤣

Click HERE to check out Lou’s morning hike.

Denali in the Fall

30 August 2015, Sunday

Note – if you arrived here via a link we provided to read about our 2015 Denali in the Fall Adventure, you will find a link at the bottom of each post that takes you to the next post in the series.

Denali National Park. Alaska. Fall Colors. Epic.

Let’s time warp back to 2015. Its been four short years since we set off on a road trip from Anchorage to Denali National Park. This was the second week of our Awesome Alaska Adventure. The first week took us to Silver Salmon Creek in Lake Clark National Park. We stayed at the Alaska Homestead Lodge and danced with bears – maybe we didn’t dance, but only because we didn’t want to scare the bears.

We had one day to recuperate between journeys, and I recall most of that being taken up with napping and doing laundry. Fortunately, both of our tours were with Van Os Photo Safaris, and both used the same anchorage hotel – the Lakefront Hotel on Lake Ho0d. We met up with our Denali tour group for dinner on Saturday night, then all met up the next day to board our bus enroute to Denali. Our favorite tour leader, Len Rue, Jr. was handling the Denali trip. He has been going to Denali for years, and was also the leader when Lou took this trip back in 20o8.

We had good weather for most of the trip. We had the bus to ourselves, so Len had the driver stop anytime there might be a good photo op. We could see Denali, which doesn’t always happen. There wasn’t much evidence of Fall Color on the early part of the road trip.

Our bus was called The Magic Bus. It was nice to have lots of empty seats, room to spread out, and a driver who stopped when we wanted. This was a nice perk, since the Van Os Tours haven’t always had the best transport vehicles. Lou said this was the same bus they had on his previous trip.

We stopped for lunch along the way, and enjoyed the view point set up outside the restaurant. By now it had started to cloud over, and our view of Denali was obstructed by clouds.

Perfect Cloud Cover! Right on top of Denali.

The scenery along the Glenn Highway is spectacular, especially on a mostly clear day like we had. The scenic views are much like you see on the train ride, and you see the tracks along much of the highway. We took the train to Denali NP in 2013, and enjoyed the journey.

Now we are starting to see some evidence of fall having arrived in Alaska. From the research I had done, I was concerned we might be a week or two early. Unfounded worries.

It was quite cloudy by early evening when we pulled up to the Denali Park Village, and it rained off and on during the evening. We had dinner at the restaurant, not memorable but not bad. We overnighted here, leaving after breakfast the next day. Our goal was to meet up with another bus at noon. It was only a few miles to the entrance to Denali National Park, so we had some time to sight see the next morning. God forbid Len would let us sleep in!

Click HERE to follow our journey to Denali National Park.