After the Lights…
I left Talkeetna with a sense of accomplishment and adrenaline still rushing through my veins. I successfully viewed and captured the Northern Lights and now it was road trip time! We headed southbound to explore the Seaward Drive with a few days to kill before having to be in Homer, AK. The drive from Anchorage to the town of Seward is famous for its roadside glaciers, mountains, waterfalls and whale watching to name a few. Featured in National Geographic as a must do road trip, it did not disappoint!
Photographically speaking, my main goal for this part of the trip was to capture scenic and wildlife images along the way. I had no shot list or specific itinerary so I was out scouting locations every morning before dawn and out shooting every night at sunset. Sometimes an entire trip revolves around an exact moment of sunlight or a single composition. I know that must sound crazy if you are not a photographer, but it’s true. In landscape photography, you often end up tripod to tripod with other photographers trying to capture a natural wonder. It’s really amazing when you get the chance to just go out in nature, find a beautiful scene and create in complete solitude. There is this stillness at dawn, with only sounds from nature and you know that there are large predators out patrolling their habitat, and you are in their world. It was an oddly familiar feeling, similar to when I am out in the ocean photographing waves.
Blue rivers winding through spruce trees with mountain backdrops straight out of a Bob Ross painting were beyond every turn, making it really difficult to not pull over at every mile marker along the way. The blue water of the Kenai River is caused by an ultra fine glacial silt in the water that sometimes took on a turquoise/greenish hue. I got hooked on photographing it!
I have never seen water so still as the water of an Alaskan lake. This made for the most perfect mirror reflections I have ever seen. I’ll let the images below speak for themselves…
Hikes and Adventures
As we made our way through the small villages of the Kenai Peninsula we realized that other then a few restaurants, the place was shut down for the season. With no kayaks, quads, bikes, paddle boards or jet skies to rent, we were on our own in the fun and adventure department. Remember the pros and cons I talked about in Part I of this blog? Well, this was the first time we saw any of the negative effects of the late season travel, and considering that I was counting my pennies, it really was no big deal. The bulk of my budget was being consumed by the bear adventure that I had booked at the end of the trip. The one I didn’t even know if the bears would still be around for, or if the trip would get canceled due to weather…Yeah, that one.
Alaska is home to the two largest national forests in the country. Tongass National Forest and Chugach National Forest. We did quite a few hikes on this trip in the Chugach National Forest…below are a few favorites!
The Portage Pass hike is located just outside of Wittier, a small town with just over 200 residents. It is an out and back trail that was about 5.4 miles round trip that leads to a gravel beach at the base of the glacier. The trail begins with a 750 feet elevation gain over fairly strenuous terrain and then levels out. From that point on, the entire trail is filled with beautiful views, small lakes, and glacier run offs that are really fun to photograph!
Winner Creek Trail
This trail was really special! The actual Winner Creek Gorge (featured below) is amazing. When you walk over the bridge, you can literally feel the thunder from the water as it forces itself through small gaps of solid rock .
The hike out to the gorge rivals the gorge itself . The lush forests and old wooden bridges are pretty cool, but, hands down, the hand tram steals the show. What’s a hand tram you ask? You come to a metal cage on a rope with instructions on how to pull yourself over a rapid glacier river! At the highest point you are suspended over one hundred feet in the air. As the cage sways back and forth, you look down below to see huge boulders and frothing rapids. It’s definitely a thrill!
Virgin Creek Falls/ Russian River Trail
Virgin Creek Falls was a fun little hike. It’s about 1 mile each way and you are rewarded with a beautiful heavily flowing and photogenic waterfall. There are a ton of compositions to play around with. You can even climb the rocks and shoot down on the falls if you want a unique angle.
The Russian River hike was also really fun! This trail is known for its salmon swim up stream. Where the salmon are, the bears are sure to follow. So we hiked out in hope of finding brown bears fishing the falls. Unfortunately, we had no luck. We did see some salmon trying to launch themselves up and over the cascades. It was definitely not as graceful as you might imagine, but it was still pretty amazing. It seemed more often then not they didn’t make the leap of faith resulting in a dramatic fall bouncing on several rocks before ending up back where they started. It’s a rough life for a salmon in Alaska!
An unexpected adventure turned into one of the highlights of the trip for me! We were staying in a really nice cabin in the quiet town of Coopers Landing for the night. After talking to our host for a while he offered to lend us his two person canoe. We had access to the Kenai Lake directly across the street from the cabin so we gladly took him up on his offer! Truly an amazing paddle led us from one beautiful view to the next. Eventually, we ended up in a part of Kenai Lake that had calm waters and huge rock walls. In what some would call a moment of clarity, we decided to beach our canoe, climb the rocks and determine if they were jump-able . Once deciding it was a safe height, we searched the surrounding areas for rocks and checked the depth of the water, (like any responsible adult who was about to heave themselves off a 45 foot rock wall into 40 degree water would do). I learned two things that day: 1) There is more to do in Coopers Landing then fish and 2) Glacial run off is really freakin cold!
The Bald Eagle: the symbol of our nation and the reason I caught the photography bug way back in 2007. When I lived in Florida, I was fascinated by the resident bald eagles of a small state park called Lover’s Key in which I lived just outside of. I bought a DSLR camera, started documenting my sightings and next thing I knew, I dedicated an entire decade to making a career with my camera. Since moving to California in 2011, I haven’t seen many eagles. So one of my main goals was to observe and photograph as many eagles as I could!
In 2007, the bald eagle was removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species. That is pretty remarkable considering Bald Eagles were once on the edge of extinction with only 487 remaining nests. Now, in certain parts of Alaska, they are everywhere! The eagle below had built a nest near by an old boat yard in Homer, AK. This crane was its favorite perch!
Fun Fact: Bald Eagles are actually born without their signature white head and tail feathers. It takes about 5 years for their white plumage to fully come in. Make sure to look at the second image in the gallery below and you will see a juvenile eagle in mid transformation.
Did you know Bald Eagles tend to mate for life in the wild? They also share responsibilities such as incubating eggs, hunting and feeding their young. My best eagle observation of the trip was a pair of eagles working together. I laid down, set my camera up and observed for over an hour as they watched each others back in the rain. The bigger eagle in this photo is actually the female. I had a couple of hours to kill before heading out on a back country excursion. With every rain drop I grew more anxious that my excursion was going to get cancelled, but I was able to look through my telephoto lens and see every detail of these massive birds which helped to temporarily take my mind off of the possibility that something that I had worked so hard for was potentially going to get cancelled do to weather.
Shortly after I took these photos I received word from my pilot that the radar was showing a bit of a clearing in the storm and he was ready to fly me out to Lake Clark National Park for the experience of a lifetime. I can’t wait to take you all on my journey in Part III of this blog.