Tag: Aerial Photography

Alaska Expedition

Travel Itinerary – WMF

22 August, 2020 – 1 September, 2020


By William M. Fox


After watching with great interest a number of documentary shows on life in Alaska, I decided to book travel this past August.   I am always in search of adventure far from home and Alaska was one of the few locations open to US travelers during the Pandemic (with proof of a negative Covid result within forty eight hours of arrival).    The sheer size of Alaska made it impossible to cover all the territory on an eleven day trip.   Consider the statistics:  it’s 1,000 miles from Barrow to Juneau-the same distance as New York to Tampa, it’s twice the size of Texas, and one-fifth the size of the lower forty-eight states.  I traveled with a friend and we agreed to focus on the “South Central” region of Alaska.   

I collected my own trip statistics after eleven days: 850 miles driven, six cities visited, a dual F-22 intercept in a charter plane over Elmendorf AF Base in Anchorage, a supermax prison flyover in Seward Alaska in a charter helicopter and a landing at Godwin Glacier, two bear encounters (one unplanned in Girdwood),  whitewater rafting in class IV rapids in Nina Gorge, Iditarod dog sled ride, private tour of Denali National Park, whale watching in Resurrection Bay.    We hit the beginning of the wet season. It misted every day and the sun set at close to midnight. 

DAY 1  – Arrival 

22 August – 51/73 Sunny 

Flight from Chicago ORD to Anchorage ANC (8 hours)

Hyatt House Anchorage


DAY 2 – Hiking in Anchorage 

23 August  – 59/66 Rain

30 minute Uber to Flattop Mountain 

Hiked all day on various trails from moderate to challenging.   As novices, we quickly learned the difference between brown and black bears-the former kill humans, the latter rarely attack unless its young are threatened.   We were urged by park rangers to bring a whistle, bear spray, and poles as an absolute last resort in case of physical confrontation.  Dinner at 49th State Brewing Company. 


Day 3 – Drive to Denali National Park

24 August – 42/49 Rain 

Rented a 4WD at Anchorage Airport for the 133 Miles from Anchorage to Denali.   We made good time with light traffic and empty roads and decided to take a small detour to Talkeenta Alaska.   It’s a one street town with dilapidated looking wood structures set-up for tourists but worth the short detour for lunch.    We rented a cabin at Denali Cabins, milepost 229 George Parks Highway, in Denali National Park.   The cabins were newer, comfortable, and there was a wood burning outdoor sauna.    I wish I had brought something to cover my eyes at night since the sun did not set until close to midnight and the blinds were not exactly blackout. 

Denali Cabins, Denali National Park

DAY 4 – Whitewater Rafting Nina Gorge, Denali National Park

25 August – 39/45 Rain

We hired a rafting guide from Denali Backcountry Guides that was experienced in navigating the Nina Gorge which was at class 4 rapids.   A dunk in the river at that temperature would be survivable, since we rented dry suits, but not enjoyable.  The challenge we faced was keeping the boat from flipping over.   We had a great view at dinner at the Overlook restaurant which served baked Alaska dessert, which I have since learned originated in Antoine’s in New Orleans.   I explored the woods behind the cabins one evening after hearing what sounded like airplanes only to discover a massive unmarked gravel runway behind the property.    This was not built for pleasure planes; it looked like a heavy freight strip for cargo into Denali National Park-no buildings just a strip.


Day 5 – Hiking with private guide at Denali National Park

26 August – 39/55 Rain

Denali National Park, which is larger than the state of New Hampshire in size, is a mixture of forest at low elevations, glaciers and mid-elevation, and bare rock mountain.  It’s capped with the tallest peak in North America-formerly named Mt. McKinley (20,310 feet).    As most visitors will experience, ourselves included, the best view of Denali peak (formerly Mt. McKinley) is from the post-cards at the gift shop-as the peak is normally under cloud cover and not visible.   Although the park is serviced by a 91 mile road, only the first 15 miles is open to private vehicles.   A guided tour (private or group) is required beyond that point.  

Denali National Park

Denali National Park

Denali National Park

Denali National Park

Denali National Park

Denali National Park


Day 6 – Drive from Denali to Anchorage 

27 August – 53/65 Rain

We drove the scenic 133 mike drive back to Anchorage.   You can opt to hire a charter flight to Denali, and had traffic been bad (under normal conditions) we may have chosen to do so.  Flight time is 1.5 hours, a car is 5 hours (we did it in under 2 not including lunch), a train is 8 hours.  We stopped in Healy Alaska for lunch at the Black Diamond Resort and had dinner at The Lakefront in Anchorage which was also our hotel. 

Charter Float Plane, Anchorage, Alaska


DAY 7 – Drive Anchorage to Seward and Charter Helicopter to Godwin Glacier

28 August – 48/65 overcast

The drive to Seward was 123 miles (nothing in Alaska is a short drive).   Seward is a port city nestled between mountains and the ocean and it’s the gateway to the Kenai Fjords National Park.   I chartered a helicopter from Seward Helicopter Tours to take us up to the Godwin Glacier.  Bring your boots-there is snow in August.  The views in the bubble front helicopter were breathtaking.   On the way back, and because it was just the two of us, I had put in a verbal request with the pilot for a steep approach and slope down maneuver through the mountains, which he obliged.    I may have pushed our luck when I asked for a fly-over at the maximum security prison at Spring Correctional Center in the middle of the national park.   I could see the orange jumpsuits behind the double wall of the chain link fence. Suddenly, a flare was fired off from a guard tower to warn us off.  We had a nice lunch at Chinooks in Seward Harbor and spent some time with the commercial Salmon fisherman.   Dinner was at the Salmon Bake Restaurant “Home of Cheap Beer and Lousy Food,” but they do serve decent house white wine. 

Godwin Glacier, Alaska

View from helicopter cockpit, Seward Alaska


View from helicopter cockpit, Seward Alaska

Seward Harbor


DAY 8 – Seward Kenai Fjords Whale Watching 

29 August – 50/60

We boarded the ship from Major Marine Tours at Seward Small Boat Harbor for the half day cruise.   I watched the depth gauge with great interest.  Just offshore it showed a 600 foot depth reading and we reached a maximum depth of 1,000 feet.   Wildlife include sea otters, fin whales, mountain goats, harbor seals, and humpback whales.   We saw cape Resurrection, Fox Island, and towering walls of rock.   We stayed at Seward Windsong Lodge and liked the “Lousy Food” at the Salmon Bake so much that we went for a second night of dinner. 

DAY 9 – Drive to Girdwood and Tour Iditarod Dog Kennel  

30 August – 45/65

A 90 mile drive from Seward, Girdwood is known for two things-winter skiing/snowboarding and the famous 1967 9.2 earthquake.  We stayed at the famed Alyeska Resort-likely the finest hotel in Alaska.  Each morning I took advantage of the magnificent trails for my runs.   The two golden rules for bear encounters are: make noise (do not surprise the bear), and do not run.   I managed to break both with a silent run on the trail and a face-to-face encounter with a mature male black bear.    After 9 days of morning runs with no bears in sight, I decided to leave the bear spray in the car-a mistake.   We booked a private tour of Turning Heads Kennel with Iditarod winning musher Travis Beals.   Puppy play and a sled ride included.

Black Bear encounter, Trails at Girdwood, Alaska

Iditarod Turning Heads Kennel,

Girdwood, Alaska

Iditarod Sled Ride, Turning Heads Kennel,

Girdwood, Alaska


DAY 10 – Explore Girdwood  and visit Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center 

31 August – 45/65

We visited the outdoor conservation center at mile 79 of Seward Highway that had timber wolves, black and brown bears, moose and bison.   You can stay in the car or venture out for photos.   Not to worry, the animals are behind a fence or the humans are behind a fence depending on your vantage point. 

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, Girdwood Alaska

DAY 11 – AM Float Plane Charter, PM Flight home Anchorage ANC to Chicago ORD (8 hours)

1 September  63/52

On our final day we drove the 40 miles back to Anchorage and rented a float place at Trail Ridge Air for a water takeoff and landing and aerial view of Anchorage.   Again, as a charter tour, I made a request…this time I asked to see Elmendorf Air Force Base which was in the news in June for launching fighter jets to intercept the Russian incursion into US Airspace.     Perhaps the AF was a little on edge or we approached too close, as we were met with a dual F-22 intercept at my three o’clock that forced us out of the airspace over Elmendorf.     My concern was our little propeller place getting caught in the wake turbulence.

View from float plane cockpit, Anchorage Alaska

View from float plane cockpit, Anchorage Alaska

View from float plane cockpit, Anchorage Alaska