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Denali National Park is roughly half the size of Switzerland, cut by a single, 90 mile long gravel road. For 6 months of the year, that road is under several feet of ice and snow. For the rest of the year, the first 15 miles only are open to private vehicles, and the remaining 75 miles to tour buses only. The are two exceptions to that: 1. The fall road lottery, which, if you win, allows you to buy a pass to drive your car however far weather allows. This is one weekend only. 2. The spring road opening, where private vehicles are allowed out to the Teklanika River (mile 30) from the time the road is plowed until tourist season starts. This past weekend, the road opened to Teklanika, so Lee, Kate, and I took advantage of the opportunity and paid a visit.
Before we even got inside, a wolf crossed the road in front of the car just outside the park, but neither Lee or I were quick enough to get a photo.
Once inside we made a quick stop at the winter visitor center inside the Murie Science building, then headed down the park road. The first 15 miles - the part open to public traffic all summer - are paved. After crossing the Savage River, the road turns gravel, and we were in 'never been here before' territory. We saw a group of caribou up on a ridge, but they were too far away for decent photos. A guy told us he saw a pack of wolves further back, we were disappointed to miss out on that. We had hoped to see some bears this trip, but no luck there. The crew plowing the road saw the first bear of the season that day, so maybe if we make a trip back in the coming weeks we'll get lucky. For this trip, we drove to the gate at the Tek and got out and walked a couple of miles further up the road. Mostly it was a day of just enjoying the weather and scenery. We stopped to take some pictures out on the frozen Tek, chunks of driftwood made decent foreground elements for the mountains in the distance, and I played a bit with depth of field there:
I also toyed with wide angle vs. telephoto of the same scene. In the first, wide angle shot, the foreground element dominates, but in the telelphoto the background mountains dominate. Same scene, completely different effect:
A lot of photography websites say this is because the telephoto lens 'compresses' the scene. I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean, but it's wrong. It's just the relative sizes and distances of things. Walking 50 feet away from a stick right in front of you makes a much bigger difference than walking 50 feet away from a mountain 10 miles away. The only say the telephoto has in the equation is it lets you crop in tight on the stick after you walk away.
Anyway, most of the wildlife we saw were birds. The ubiquitous ravens, of course, but others as well. I saw my first Spruce Grouse, a male and female pair. They were tough to shoot through the trees, but I managed a good shot or two of the male:
On the drive back out of the park, we spotted three Magpies - haven't seen any of those all winter:
It's migration season, and interior Alaska is about to become a bird haven.
And what Alaskan adventure would be complete without a moose encounter? This mother and calf were grazing a few feet off the road. I slipped the Prius into electric mode and we crept up right next to them and watched for a while, before a truck came and scared them off: