Some Alaska Highway Highlights:
(More coming soon)!
Okay–so I’ve actually DONE it, and it was more amazing than I ever could have dreamed! I drove north from Arizona, following the west coast of the U.S. as far as Vancouver, then north and east through British Columbia To Dawson’s Creek, the start of the Alaska Highway proper.
I followed the Al-Can for 1500 miles, through Whitehorse, Beaver Creek, Tok, and Delta Junction to Fairbanks. Then I drove all over Alaska (the relatively small portion of it that’s accessible by road).
Finally, I drove drove back south again, first along the Klondike Highway, from Dawson City in the Yukon Territory, a well preserved gold mining town that’s like a relic from the days of the Klondike Gold Rush:
The Klondike Highway was a wonderfully isolated road. In one four hour stretch of more than 200 miles, I saw just two other vehicles, and not a single town, farmhouse, or man-made structure of any kind, other than the road I was driving on. That road took me back to Whitehorse, and from Whitehorse it was an easy three day drive (despite some fairly nasty weather), back along the now familiar Al-Can Highway to mile zero, Dawson’s Creek:
But it was too soon to celebrate–I wasn’t finished! From Dawson’s Creek I drove almost 400 miles out of my way to Edmonton, the capitol of the Canadian Province of Alberta. In Edmonton, I picked up an old friend who’d flown up there to meet me, and the two of us traveled together on the last leg of the trip, following the great range of the Rocky Mountains south through Canada and the US, taking in an astonishing assortment of natural wonders along the way.
Altogether, I drove almost THIRTEEN THOUSAND MILES, through some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet! The whole trip lasted more than eight weeks, and was the equivalent, in terms of distance, to driving halfway around the world!
Beginning on my way north from Arizona: First, I visited Yosemite National Park:
Next, Muir Woods, north of San Francisco:
The Giant Redwoods:
Crater Lake and the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon:
Mount Rainier and Olympic National Park in Washington State:
And all of that before I even got started on my way to Alaska. Once I got up into Canada, things really took off for me.
After driving the entire 1523 miles of the Al-Can Highway, from its beginning in Dawson’s Creek, British Columbia to its terminus in the heart of downtown Fairbanks, I stopped for a few days in Alaska’s second city–the land of the midnight sun. The first time I tried camping at those latitudes, I realized that they were serious about all that! The sun doesn’t go down at all, which makes it tricky to sleep in a tent, and dusk, the official “mosquito hour” when the little buggers are most active, lasts all night long. (Truth be known, it lasts all day long as well). While I was in Fairbanks, I had the unexpected pleasure of checking out the World Eskimo Indian Olympics:
On my way from Fairbanks to Anchorage and points south, I was lucky enough to actually see Denali, the largest mountain in North America. I say lucky, because the mountain is so big it generates its own weather, and cloaks itself in cloud far more often than not. Visitors who actually do “get lucky” automatically join the “30%” club, becoming a part of the elite one in three visitors who actually get what they came for: a glimpse of that extraordinary peak that rises from the surrounding plain like nobody’s business, in a geographic drama of rare proportion. I’m not much of a joiner, but the 30% club? I’m IN it, all the way!
After Denali, I breezed through crowded, over-priced Anchorage, then headed straight to the Kenai peninsula, where I saw glaciers, humpback whales, eagles, and breathtakingly beautiful scenery.
When the Alaska adventure ended, I headed back south through Canada. En-route, I went to Banff, to Jasper, and to five other National Parks in the spectacular Canadian Rockies:
Back in the USA, (where my smart phone magically started working again–joy, joy) I stopped at Glacier National Park in Montana (tragically damaged by wildfires that were still actively burning at the time of my visit), reducing the world-class mountain views in the most scenic portions of the park to barely discernible shapes, lost in the thick haze. This photo was an exception, taken on Many Glacier Road, one valley north of the area hardest hit by the fires, which have been burning most of the summer (2015):
And of course Yellowstone National Park, and its amazing geysers:
Right next door to Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons:
Ending, on my very last day of travel, with an extraordinary sunrise at Bryce Canyon in southern Utah.
And those are just a few of the highlights! The trip lasted more than eight weeks, and I had so many “Oh, wow!” moments that I totally lost track! So! Where the heck are all the pictures? Where are the blog posts, the insightful commentary, the inside spin on all these world class scenic attractions? Nothing new has been added to this big-whoop website of mine in months! What’s up with that?
“Ahem,” he replies, clearing his throat and smiling sheepishly. “It seems I’m the victim of too much of a good thing.”
When I was on the road, it took all my resources just to keep moving! Driving 13,000 miles is an incredible feat of momentum, not to mention endurance, and me with my bad back? Quite frankly, the fact that I pulled this off at all, much less that I thrived in the process, is borderline miraculous. Since I was very deliberately avoiding high speed Interstate Highways, keeping to the much slower two-lane scenic alternates, the epic drive was also a full time job–6 to 8 hours behind the wheel, on average, day after day after day. Almost all of it was new, unfamiliar territory, far too beautiful to be boring, so every minute of that drive was filled with the wonder of discovery. At the end of those long, very full driving days, despite my best intentions, I had very little energy, and absolutely no free time, to even pretend to keep up with the blog and all from the road. I don’t just write all this stuff off the top of my head, or from memory–I research it, and even though I keep reasonably careful field notes, I still check all my facts pretty meticulously before I actually publish anything here. Since I can’t very well carry around a complete set of hard copy reference materials, I’m dependent on an internet connection, so that I can actually DO the necessary research. Here’s a news flash: there are vast sections of northwestern Canada, not to mention most of Alaska outside the cities and towns, where you can’t ask Siri ANYTHING, because there’s no cellular data network. There simply aren’t enough people, living there or passing through, to justify the investment in cell towers and associated infrastructure. Which is, quite frankly, pretty awesome, but as a net result, the writing portion of this blog and website is dramatically behind the curve.
And the photographs! Ay, yi-yi! I shoot in a RAW file format, using two completely different (hence, mutually incompatible) camera systems–a Nikon DSLR, and one of the newer Sony mirrorless cameras. There are some situations where the Nikon excels (I have amazing lenses for that camera, with spectacular range), but there are other situations (tricky light, high speed action) where the Sony is the hands-down winner. By using both, and by taking a LOT of exposures, I’m stacking the deck in my own favor, bumping my odds of coming away with a winner that truly captures the moment, the colors, the patterns, the expressions, the LIGHT. The resulting RAW image files, the digital negatives, have incredible tonal range and resolution, allowing me to maximize the capabilities of my equipment, but each of those files requires processing with as many as three different software programs, in order to bring out its full potential. Let’s say I’m so fast at this stuff that I can zip through all those little tweaks in sixty seconds flat. Fine. That’s one down, 9,599 more to go. No matter what I do with them, it’s going to take time. Potentially? Hundreds of hours! So, if you’re reading this blog expecting instant updates? Not gonna happen. This is, was, and always will be a labor of love, and, so far, at least, I don’t take short cuts with the photos.
When this little sub-project is complete–my journey to Alaska and back–I expect to have posted on the order of 30 new articles to my blog. I’ll be giving you my inside spin on everything from avoiding the crowds at Yosemite to avoiding getting gored while photographing herds of buffalo at sunrise in the Grand Tetons. There will be many hundreds of new, seriously awesome photographs in as many as three dozen new photo galleries. And, keep in mind, that’s just from the Alaska trip–merely the first of many! Long before I’m finished writing all this up, I’ll be having new adventures, checking off more boxes on that bucket list and adding more work to my workload. Call it job security!
I’ve resigned myself to the notion that I’ll always be at least a bit behind with my updates. But that’s okay: what it means for anyone who is actually following my adventures in this medium, there will always be something new in the works, something more to look forward to.