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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Chugach Adventures

Michael DeYoung shares his experiences amid the stunning landscapes and wildlife opportunities that this part of Alaska has to offer

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Explorer Glacier from Moose Pond in the Portage Valley, Chugach National Forest, Alaska.

Just beyond the foothills of Anchorage lies Chugach State Park—a half-million acres of some of the most accessible hiking, skiing, camping, rafting, climbing, wildlife-viewing and photographic opportunities in Alaska. These are the grounds that New Mexico-based photographer Michael DeYoung has been exploring, camera in hand, for over two decades. His experience as an Air Force meteorologist has given him the tools to be acutely aware of weather patterns, using this knowledge to get into position at the right time and right place in a place known for climatic extremes.

Sockeye salmon spawning pair in Sixmile Lake, Anchorage, Alaska.
The name "Chugach" derives from the native Alutiiq culture in the regions of the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound. This magnificent area of the 49th state has survived both man-made and natural disasters. In 1964, a tsunami generated by the Good Friday Earthquake destroyed the Chugach village of Chenega. Twenty-five years later, the fishing-based Chugach economy was severely damaged by the environmental catastrophe caused by the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Yet as DeYoung's photographs illustrate, this area first designated as a protected area in 1907 by Theodore Roosevelt has persevered.

OP: How did Alaska and, in particular, the Chugach become a focal point for your photographic efforts?

Michael DeYoung: I'm originally from Florida. The Air Force brought me to Alaska in October 1988. It really was the beginning of a new life. My wife Lauri and I had just gotten married, and our trip up there was pretty much our honeymoon. I had also recently won Best of Show in the Montana State Fair photo contest and had my first picture published as a full page in Montana Magazine. I was already thinking of wanting to turn pro, so when I got out of the Air Force in 1992, I started as a freelance photographer. In 2006, Lauri and I moved from Alaska to New Mexico, but we keep returning, mostly during the summer and a few times in late winter. We keep going back because though we've traveled the world, it's the most awesome place we've been. Also, we have friends and business contacts there—I'm still a major contributor to Alaska Stock, I get Alaska shooting assignments, and I teach workshops for the Alaska Society of Outdoor and Nature Photographers, Alaska's most prominent photo club. Chugach, in particular, is an amazing place to photograph.

Squirrel-tail grass, Glenn Highway near Tahneeta Pass, Alaska.
OP: How are you able to capture the essence of Chugach?

DeYoung: I don't know if I've captured the essence of Chugach, but I keep trying. I think my primary skill in the attempt is my study and awareness of the light. The changes in seasonal light are far more extreme in Alaska than in the Lower 48. The Chugach Range straddles the 60th parallel, so even a month can make a huge difference in lighting. Valleys that are beautifully lit in June aren't lit at all in October. The area also has a predominantly cloudy wet climate, which can limit the days with really nice light. When I was starting out as a photographer, I didn't have a lot of funding, so I learned to shoot in my own backyard, which was the Chugach. For those who have never been to Alaska, the Chugach are just as majestic and exotic as the Brooks Range. To this day, I haven't forgotten that.

OP: What are the most important subjects to focus on to best tell the story of the area?


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