A five-hour drive north of Anchorage, Alaska, brings you to the eastern section of the Alaska Range and the beautiful Delta Mountains, where jagged peaks, splintered glaciers, boreal forests, turquoise lakes and milky rivers can be found. The Delta Mountains are the most accessible mountains in the range and are surrounded by three of Alaska’s main highways—the Glenn, the Richardson and the Alaska.My favorite stretch is along the Richardson Highway, which follows the path carved by the Delta River, hugging the sides of the polychrome-colored mountains and the white glaciers that squeeze down from between them. The spot I visit the most is a short dirt road at mile 164.5. This bumpy road squirrels its way straight into the mountains, ending at an Indiana Jones-style suspension bridge. From here, you have superb access to the heart of the mountains, and this area offers some of the best off-trail backpacking and wilderness photography in the state.
Though the Delta Mountains are known for having the best weather of the Alaska Range, you should expect the unexpected. Summer daytime temperatures can range from the mid-70s to the low 40s, and sun, rain and snow all can occur in a single day. Good rain and wind protection is a necessity. With such sudden changes in weather, a layering system is the most appropriate clothing
technique for Alaska.
The rugged hills alongside the Richardson Highway beg to be explored, and a sturdy pair of hiking boots is essential. Two zooms that cover from 17mm to 200mm will give you plenty of options when photographing the peaks and glaciers and should provide you with enough reach for that chance encounter with one of the many caribou that roam this area in the summer. Include in your arsenal a selection of split and graduated neutral-density filters to help balance the harsh contrast often encountered in the high mountains.
If your back is strong and you have extra room in your pack, bring along a macro lens so when the peaks and glaciers become engulfed by clouds, you can turn your attention to the fascinating lichens, mosses, berries and flowers that create the tundra.
Winter arrives early and stays late in the Delta Mountains. Snow can linger in the mountains into June, so that’s a great time to photograph the thousands of migrating birds that spend their summer vacation in the numerous ponds, lakes and bogs that dot the Deltas. July has the most stable weather and the most variety of subjects, from flowering plants and towering peaks to an abundance of wildlife, both large and small.
Many photographers come to Alaska in search of the elusive fall colors. The tundra begins to turn somewhere between the last week of August and the first week of September and lasts about five to 10 days. The aspens, birch and willows begin their display shortly after. Don’t be surprised or too disappointed if you wake up to find the beautiful fall display covered in a fresh dusting of snow. It’s the Delta’s way of saying, "Time to head south."
Contact: If you visit the Delta Mountains, show your images to as many people as possible. The Deltas are an unprotected area much in need of public support. For information on photographing the Deltas, contact the author at www.battreallphoto.com. Information on environmental threats against the Delta Mountains can be found at the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, www.northern.org.
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