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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Last Frontier

Grizzly bears, old-growth rain forest and state-sized glaciers are just a few of the photo opportunities in Alaska‚’s Chugach Mountains

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The Last Frontier
Iceberg Lake, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska
Another great photography location in Chugach State Park is Eklutna Lake. Take the Glenn Highway north out of Anchorage and turn at the Eklutna Lake exit at mile 26. Follow the signs for 10 miles to Eklutna Lake. Eklutna Glacier carved out this narrow valley, leaving seven-mile-long Eklutna Lake sandwiched between steep mountains in the Chugach. There’s a flat, easy trail along the north side of the lake, with numerous vantage points to photograph the milky turquoise waters framed by birch and spruce trees. For the adventurous, try renting a kayak and paddling on the lake for unique perspectives (kayak rentals are available near the parking lot). For great views of the entire lake, take the Twin Peaks Trail from the parking lot. This trail slowly climbs out of the valley into the tundra with stunning views of Eklutna Lake. This area is a kaleidoscope of yellows during the fall.

Matanuska Glacier. Located two hours north of Anchorage on the Glenn Highway, the Matanuska Glacier is the best location to photograph on an actual glacier. This valley glacier winds 27 miles from the highest peaks in the Chugach down to the highway. From the parking lot at the toe, or end of the glacier, you walk less than a quarter mile before stepping onto the ice. The photography is incredible, from cerulean streams running on top of the glacier to huge scalloped fins of ice. Occasionally, you’ll hear a popping sound as the glacier continues its movement below your feet! In mid- to late summer, pink fireweed blooms along the edges of the glacier, offering a great contrast to the blue ice in the distance.

If you visit Alaska in the winter, the Glenn Highway near the Matanuska Glacier and nearby Eklutna Summit are excellent vantages from which to photograph the northern lights. These displays are sporadic, but a great resource for predicting the northern lights is the Geophysical Institute in Fairbanks, Alaska. Go to the Aurora forecast page at www.gedds.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast.

Thompson Pass/Worthington Glacier.
Located about five hours from Anchorage, close to Valdez, Alaska, Thompson Pass and the Worthington Glacier are two more scenic areas of the Chugach Mountains accessible by car. The Worthington Glacier is similar to the Matanuska, although smaller, with a short trail leading out to excellent views of the ice. This glacier isn’t good for hiking on the ice. The glacier drops steeply from the Chugach Mountains, and morainal pools near the base offer great reflections. Fireweed is common near the glacier in late summer.

Moose, Denali National Park, Alaska
Fairbanks And Denali National Park & Preserve

No discussion of an Alaska adventure would be complete without addressing the region near Denali National Park & Preserve. Fairbanks, the gateway to the Arctic and the Alaskan Interior, is a 45-minute drive north from Anchorage and provides some of the most lush and rugged parts of Alaska’s wilderness. It's also the second-largest city in Alaska and is close to Denali. Catching a stunning glimpse of the northern lights during the early-morning hours, from late August to April, you can capture stunning greens, reds, purples and the most consistent yellow-green swirling lights.

And if you’re in Fairbanks during the summer months, you’ll fall asleep with plenty of sun—with more than 21 hours of daylight.

If you want to photograph wildlife and rivers, meandering mountain lakes, vast frozen tundra and alpine meadows, hop on the road for a two-hour drive to Denali National Park & Preserve (www.nps.gov/dena) or board a train for the four-hour trip.

One of the largest national parks in the U.S. (it’s larger than the state of Massachusetts), Denali covers six million acres of wilderness.

Mostly tundra, the park is home to Mount McKinley, the highest mountain peak in North America, which rises to 20,320 feet.

There’s only one road, the Denali Park Road, and most private vehicles aren't permitted on this 91-mile stretch of gravel highway, but you can catch a bus that runs along boreal forests and tundra that takes you to scenic vistas and mountain views. If you’re hiking, be cautious; the area is home to grizzly and black bear, caribou, Dall sheep and gray wolf (and their dens), among other species

Just down the road toward Valdez is Thompson Pass, where you can photograph tundra right from your car. Tundra plants, including bearberry, crowberry and blueberry, make excellent macro subjects. In the fall, the bearberry turns crimson, transforming the pass into shades of red. Thompson Pass is famous for the World Extreme Skiing Championship. Receiving 75 feet of snow in the winter, this is one of the best places to photograph extreme skiing and snowboarding.


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