March 30, 2010

Denali Park – First Trip of the Season

Filed under: Interesting Things,Photography,Travel — Susan Stevenson @ 2:08 pm

On Saturday, my friend Lori and I took a drive to Denali Park after hearing that the road was open to Savage River. We didn’t get on the road as early as I would have liked to, but it worked out OK anyway. Lori met me at my house at 10:30am and off we went.

The sun was shining as we left Fairbanks on the Parks Highway. Generally, if you can see Denali from the scenic overlook just outside of town (mile 344.4), there’s a very good chance that the mountain will be out when you get to the park.  We could see the base of Denali, but the top of it was obscured with clouds. That wasn’t a good sign. If the top is already obscured when you get there, chances are the clouds will come in and totally wrap around the mountain before you get to the park. Regardless, we were both looking forward to the drive, even if the mountain wasn’t out.

Several years ago, a friend of mine who lived in Nenana (Carol – who is now deceased unfortunately) told me about a cemetery in Nenana that was for the non-native population. If you’ve been reading my blog for some time, you may recall that my friend Lisa and I visited the Native Cemetery, which is in a gorgeous location, on the side of Toghotthele Hill, overlooking the Tanana River. (Toghotthele means “mountain which parallels the river”.) While visiting Nenana, Lisa and I asked a resident where the other cemetery was, but we weren’t able to find it.

I used Google Earth to look at the area around Nenana, hoping to find the other cemetery. While I wasn’t able to see any grave markers (I LOVE Google Earth!), I did see a dirt road named “Cemetery Road”! What are the chances of a road being named “Cemetery Road” if it doesn’t lead to a cemetery? Armed with a general location, Lori and I kept our eyes open just after we passed through Nenana. Unfortunately there are several roads without street signs. We had a general idea of where it was, but decided we’d look for it on our way back from the park.

The drive into the park, while gorgeous, was not fruitful for wildlife sightings. I saw one (dead!) hare, and that’s it. No ptarmigan, no moose, no lynx, nothing! What a disappointment in that respect, but still a lovely day for a drive.  My favorite thing about the Denali early spring landscape is the deep russet color of the willow brush against the bright white of the snow.


March 28, 2010

Denali Park Road Open to Savage River!

Filed under: Everyday Life — Susan Stevenson @ 8:19 pm

Another first sign of spring is when Denali Park opens the park road to traffic. It’s a long process, but the crews are working hard to get the road cleared all the way in. For now, we have to be happy that it’s clear to mile 15 – Savage River. At the rate the crews are working, I hope to be able to drive into mile 30 within the next couple of weeks.

Yesterday, my friend Lori and I drove to the park. Although Steve is off for seven days, he was more interested in staying home to watch basketball, than to take a scenic drive. I was very thankful for Lori’s company. We made a full day of it, with a stop at Monderosa for burgers, a short deviation off the highway in Nenana to seek out a cemetery, and a lap through Nenana to see the tripod perched on the frozen river, as well as other interesting things. (Lori has never stopped in Nenana to have a look around, and I was happy to point out those things I am familiar with.)

I’m working on photos from our excursion and will be posting some when I get them re-sized. We had a beautiful day, with views of the mountain all the way to the park. Unfortunately the clouds rolled in and obscured Denali from view by the time we got there. It was a poor day for wildlife sightings too. All we saw was a gray jay and some ravens. No ptarmigan, no hares, nothing. That was a bummer, but we still had a great day.

I look forward to my next visit!

March 22, 2010

You’d Think Spring Has Sprung…

Filed under: Everyday Life,Interesting Things,Photography — Susan Stevenson @ 12:55 pm

… because I’ve been absent for so long! While it is officially ‘spring’ according to the calendar, it’s not quite spring here in Alaska. My friends in the Lower 48 are seeing crocuses and daffodils blooming, while we still have snow-covered lawns and icy spots on the side roads. However, the weather has been beautiful lately, and that means we’ve been outdoors as much as possible.


The aurora has been particularly active over the last week. Since my last blog entry nine (!) days ago, I had two occasions to photograph the northern lights, and several missed opportunities. With clear skies, and little moonlight, the glow of the aurora was quite the contrast against the starry skies.

About a week ago, a local friend posted a status update in Facebook announcing that the lights were out. It was close to midnight, and Steve was at work. I’m not fond of driving anywhere late at night (alone), because I have a problem with night vision, and I also have a huge fear of moose encounters on the road. In a car vs. moose situation, it almost never turns out well for either.

However, I just didn’t want to lose the opportunity for a light show, and the activity I could see from my driveway was bright enough to warrant a drive out to Nordale Rd. I took Sedona with me for company, and threw some winter gear in the back seat (since I only had my pjs on under my coat!)

Here are some of my favorite photographs from that night. As you can see, the light band was very low on the horizon, and the stars were brilliant in the sky (there was no moon):