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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa
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Denali

October 5th, 2013 · No Comments

One of the places that I most wanted to experience on this trip to Alaska was Denali National Park and Preserve. On my previous two trips to Alaska I had barely visited this national treasure that is larger than the state of Massachusetts and includes the highest peak in North America.

Denali is more than six million acres of wild land, bisected by only one road. I traveled that 92 mile long road by shuttle bus, the only way that tourists are allowed to get there by motorized vehicle. I stayed three nights at Denali Backcountry Lodge at the end of the road.

Actually, I had stepped foot in Denali National Park in September 2009 when the small plane that my friend John and I took landed on a glacier there. ​But that was all.

​The one road in the park is the best way to see Denali’s wildlife. I most wanted to see a grizzly bear, which is a subspecies of the larger coastal brown bear. The grizzly bear gets its name from the grayish, or grizzled, tips of its fur. I lucked out by seeing three grizzly bears at once.

​A Grizzly Bear Sow and Her Two Cubs

A Grizzly Bear Sow and Her Two Cubs

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The Grizzly Bear Sow and One Cub Are Ready to Attack Me​

The Grizzly Bear Sow and One Cub Are Ready to Attack Me

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​A grizzly bear with cubs is the most dangerous animal in North America. But I was unafraid. I knew that I was in no danger because I could run faster than some of the people on the bus.

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North to Fairbanks

October 4th, 2013 · No Comments

On June 28 when I got to Fairbanks, Alaska’s second largest city with a population of about 32,000 people, I had driven as far north as I would travel on this trip. Fairbanks is approximately 65 degrees north of the equator, only one degree short of the Arctic Circle.

In the summer Fairbanks has long days. Technically the sun didn’t set the first night I was there. It set the next tomorrow morning at 12:44 a.m. Then, at 3:04 a.m. it rose again. But don’t think that this means that I had 2 hours and 20 minutes of darkness. For my first days in Alaska it never got completely dark. While I brought my night light for the bathroom, I never needed it in Canada or Alaska. Much more useful was an eyeshade.

My first overnight stop in Alaska was near a small town of about 1,000 people with an appropriately short name, Tok. Between Tok and Fairbanks I took a side trip into Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Only two roads penetrate this 13.2 million acre park, the biggest national park in the United States. It’s bigger than the entire country of Switzerland.

I drove 30 miles down and back the gravel Nabesna Road. I didn’t know about it until a ranger mentioned it, but as soon as I knew that it went into a national park that I had never seen before, I had to go there. I collect national parks for a life list the way that some birders collect birds. My life list for national parks is now 38 of the 58 that we have in the United States.

I went as far as Big Twin Lake, where a different park ranger said that I could see trumpeter swans. I hiked a short trail down to the lake and didn’t see any. But I stood there, just me and the mosquitoes, admiring the beauty of the lake anyway. Then, I heard the unmistakable sound of big wings flapping. An adult trumpeter swan, the heaviest bird native to North America and the largest living waterfowl species on Earth, had taken off from the lake and was flying right into my camera’s view. This was the biggest thrill of my trip so far.

A Trumpeter Swan Takes Off in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

A Trumpeter Swan Takes Off in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

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On to Alaska

October 3rd, 2013 · 3 Comments

After 12 days on the road, I made it through Wyoming, Montana, Alberta, British Columbia, and the Yukon to Alaska. The weather in the Yukon was the hottest in 45 years, more evidence of global warming. The official temperature reached 97°, which would truly be a heatwave anyplace. It also brought “a bumper crop of mosquitoes,” in the well-chosen words of Amanda, the friendly woman who owns Discovery Yukon Lodgings on the White River.

I went there because the invaluable guidebook to the Alaska Highway, The Milepost, told me that she has a botanic garden. Amanda showed me the plants and flowers there, and one of them was an orchid. For people who are surprised that we have orchids in Colorado, this Yukon orchid must be a real shock.

A Northern Lady's Slipper Orchid Grows in the Yukon

A Northern Lady's Slipper Orchid Grows in the Yukon

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The road through the Yukon was a bit worse and wavy from the permafrost than that further south, but the photography was better than ever. I captured landscapes, mammals, insects, birds, flowers, and myself.

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The Yukon

October 2nd, 2013 · 3 Comments

En route to Alaska I traveled for four days and nights through an even wilder place, the Yukon Territory of Canada. The Yukon has always symbolized the North for me even more than Alaska does for many people. Alaska is indeed America’s frontier, but the Yukon has even fewer people.

While about 730,000 people live in Alaska nowadays, the population of the Yukon is about 34,000 of which two-thirds live in the capital city, Whitehorse. In land area, the Yukon is about the same size as Spain, where more than 47 million people live.

Just before arriving in the Yukon, I took a short detour to Liard River Hot Springs in the far north of British Columbia. I like hot springs, and birds like them too.

Even though the bird I photographed there is clearly a woodpecker, I had a hard time identifying it. Nothing called a woodpecker that is ever seen wild in northwestern Canada has a red throat. Finally, I realized that while it is a woodpecker we name it something else. If they had asked me, I would have named it a Red-throated Woodpecker.

This Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Spends the Summer in Canada

This Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Spends the Summer in Canada

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I arrived on June 22 in Watson Lake, which with a population of 802 is the third biggest city in the Yukon. My accommodation for the night was the “Air Force Lodge.” Built in February 1942 for U.S. Army Air Corps pilots, the current owner has modernized the rooms. They are spotless and warm, but no bigger than what the pilots had. In fact, my room was about 6 feet by 10 feet, equivalent in size to the room I had when I was a student at the University of Würzburg many years ago.

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Stone Sheep

October 1st, 2013 · No Comments

I found a herd of about 30 Stone Sheep in Stone Mountain Provincial Park. I was en route to Alaska in northern British Columbia, which, except for a small section of the Yukon, is about the only place you can find Stone Sheep, and it’s definitely the only place you can find Stone Mountain Provincial Park (although Georgia has its own Stone Mountain Park).

At first I wondered if the sheep were named for the park or vice versa. After a little digging I found that both the sheep and the mountain are named after Andrew J. Stone, a naturalist who explored northern British Columbia in 1896-97 for the American Museum of Natural History. In fact, some people call these animals Stone’s Sheep.

They are a darker subspecies of the much more common Dall Sheep (formerly Dall’s Sheep) of northwestern North America. The only other wild sheep of North America are the Rocky Mountain Bighorn and their small cousins, the Desert Bighorn.

I also considered that Stone Sheep might have been named for their diet. When I saw them, they seemed to be eating stones. They actually prefer grasses and sedges, and were just licking the stones for their minerals.

A Stone Sheep Family Licks Together

A Stone Sheep Family Licks Together

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The Lamb Peeks from Safety

The Lamb Peeks from Safety

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The Alaska Highway

September 30th, 2013 · 3 Comments

Not until I drove through the province of Alberta, Canada, on my road trip to Alaska did the weather clear. While I avoided the province’s devastating floods, the near constant rain and overcast skies limited my photography. I stayed two nights only a mile from Lake Louise in Banff National Park and hiked from one end of the lake to the other, but didn’t see the sun for more than a couple of minutes.

I especially wanted to see Lake Louise, because my mother had stayed there in 1931 when she came west and met my father. She had told me many times that this was the most beautiful place she ever saw. My mother had undoubtedly stayed at the Chateau Lake Louise, which stands smack-dab on the eastern shore of the lake. No hotel could have a more perfect setting.

The Chateau Lake Louise Dominates the Eastern Shore of the Lake

The Chateau Lake Louise Dominates the Eastern Shore of the Lake

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The hotel now has 554 guest rooms. That’s a lot, and that’s a problem. From the outside, the hotel is worth the many photographs that I took of it. From the inside, the guests were too many, and I’m glad that I stayed a mile away.

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Benton Lake

September 29th, 2013 · No Comments

Before leaving the United States on my road trip to Alaska, I had one more American wildlife sanctuary to visit. Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge on the western edge of the northern Great Plains and 12 miles north of Great Falls, Montana, has a well-deserved reputation for its abundance and diversity of birdlife. The American Bird Conservancy designates it as a Globally Important Bird Area. After a morning there, I know why.

Despite its name, Benton Lake is actually a 5,000 acre shallow wetland created by glaciers thousands of years ago. It is an oasis for water birds.

A Black-necked Stilt Hunts for a Breakfast Bite

A Black-necked Stilt Hunts for a Breakfast Bite

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A Black-crowned Night-Heron Forages at Water's Edge

A Black-crowned Night-Heron Forages at Water's Edge

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North to Alaska

September 29th, 2013 · No Comments

A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. This is the usual translation of the words of Lao Tsu in the Tao Te Ching. My journey from home in Boulder, Colorado, to Alaska began on June 15 this year with a 382-mile drive to the town Buffalo, Wyoming, and ended nine weeks later after I had driven 8,720 miles. I took seven airline flights for another 2,300 miles and five trips by ship and boat for 2,000 more miles. The total journey of at least 13,000 miles was the longest and best trip of my life.

En route to and from Alaska, I traveled through Wyoming, Montana, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon Territory, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Utah and have now driven almost all the paved roads in the state of Alaska. I took uncounted photos of birds, animals, flowers, and landscapes. I am thankful for the gracious hospitality of my dear friends Marveen and Wayne Coggins in Nikiski, Alaska, where I stayed for five weeks, and to Martha and Tom Schulte in Redmond, Washington, where I stayed overnight. I made many other new friends along the way. I had a great time.

My health and that of my trusty SUV remained fine throughout. No major mishaps marred the journey and the only thing that I left behind was one sock that Marveen found and mailed to me. I am a lucky man.

The most plentiful wildlife on Wyoming’s rolling hills were pronghorn. I saw at least 60 of them between Casper and Buffalo. After settling in to my motel room, I went out to see what I could find nearby. The name Klondike Road attracted me, probably because I was headed off to Alaska. There I found more pronghorn and a herd of about 20 horses.

A Pronghorn Climbs a Ridge Near Buffalo

A Pronghorn Climbs a Ridge Near Buffalo

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I don’t know if the horses are wild mustangs, but they weren’t fenced in and were roaming freely down the road past a sign where it told me to proceed at my own risk (as if I would blame someone else for my problems). I stayed with the horses until the sun began to go down, all the time photographing them in the beautiful light of the late afternoon in an attractive area of rolling hills.

This Handsome Stallion Is the Leader of the Pack

This Handsome Stallion Is the Leader of the Pack

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Soon, Some of His Friends Followed

Soon, Some of His Friends Followed

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My long journey was off to a splendid start.

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The Orchids of Colorado

June 12th, 2013 · No Comments

Many people are surprised that orchids grow in Colorado. While they are common in the tropics, we also have them here in the cool mountains.

I have seen only two species of wild orchids in Colorado. But they are probably the most beautiful of at least 33 species of orchids that grow here. Scott Smith has photographs of each of them at Colorado Orchids. By comparison, subtropical Hawaii has only four species of orchids.

Another nature photographer who also lives in Boulder, Rich Wolf, brought those links to my attention. Even more importantly, when Rich found a Spotted Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata) on the North Mesa Trail last week, he alerted me immediately. Later, he posted his photo essay at “Improbably Parasites on the Mesa Trail.”

I made sure to look for this orchid beauty as soon as I could and found it easily using Rich’s precise directions.

The Spotted Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata) May Look Tall in this Photo, But They Don't Grow More Than 20" High

The Spotted Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata) May Look Tall in this Photo, But They Don't Grow More Than 20" High

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This morning I found Colorado’s other exceptionally beautiful orchid. I made sure to return the favor and alerted Rich immediately.

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Prospect Park

June 11th, 2013 · No Comments

Sharon and I planned to celebrate her birthday by finding birds on Clear Creek in Jefferson County, Colorado. But the usually clear and plaid creek was a muddy and raging torrent from the heavy snowfall last month in the Rocky Mountains last month. Every bird had flown to calmer waters, and we followed.

Since Clear Creek runs through Prospect Park, we looked for birds on the three lakes there instead, and we found them. On the shore of Tabor Lake we found the bird that I had most hoped to see on the creek, a male Wood Duck.

A Male Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) Is the Most Colorful Waterbird Native to North America

A Male Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) Is the Most Colorful Waterbird Native to North America

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We also saw the usual species. But some of their activity was unusual.

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