Saturday, June 20, 2015

Alaska Ultimate Wildlife Photo Safari

This summer's travel adventure will be Natural Habitat's “Alaska Ultimate Wildlife Photo Safari". I've had this trip in the works for more than a year now. When I couldn't get a space on Joseph Van Os's 2014 Spitsbergen Island/Svalbard Archipelago trip, I tried hitching onto this one. But they were all booked up, too. So I put in a reservation for the 2015 trip before moving on to scheming my Grand Tour of Southern Africa, 2014.

Anyway, check out the itinerary to see why I was willing to put a deposit on this photo sojourn 15 months in advance.

Ultimate Alaska Wildlife Photo Safari
A small-group Alaska photography adventure to the state’s best wildlife spots!
Day 1: Fairbanks, Alaska
Our Alaska photography adventure begins in Fairbanks, Alaska's thriving "second city" that retains its frontier flavor with pioneer saloons, paddlewheelers and mining camps on the edge of town. This evening, we meet the rest of our small group and our Expedition Leader, who is not just an expert naturalist but an accomplished nature photographer, specializing in Alaska's legendary wildlife. [Springhill Suites]

Days 2-4: Denali – Kantishna 
Denali National Park, larger than the state of Massachusetts, is one of the world’s great wilderness preserves. Denali, which means 'The Great One,' is the native Athabascan name for Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America at 20,320 feet. Its icy summit towers over the tundra and taiga below the provides habitat for grizzlies, wolves, moose and caribou. Every photographer who travels to Alaska wants photos of the elusive mountain, and we position you for the best odds of getting them. From our historic lodge base 90 miles inside the park, we are much closer to the peak than most visitors, especially those on organized tours, ever get. Here we have time and space to encounter and photograph the wilderness, away from hordes of other people. Hiking, nature walks, biking, fishing and optional flightseeing—a must for photographers—are available.

The climate and environment of Alaska's interior at this latitude is harsh much of the year, and it takes a vast amount of habitat to sustain animals—wildlife encounters thus tend to be fleeting, though always thrilling! [North Face Lodge]

Days 5 & 6: Denali / Girdwood 
Depart Denali by rail on a journey through Alaska’s rugged interior, over Broad Pass and along the Susitna River. Photograph panoramic landscapes from the train as vistas of endless wild country unfurl in every direction. From Anchorage we drive south to Alyeska Resort, Alaska’s premier ski area, where a host of exciting summer activities is offered. Set in a lush glacial valley in the Chugach Range, Alyeska offers nature and luxury in tandem. Explore the northernmost temperate rain forest in North America surrounding our lodge, or board the tram to the summit, where you may choose to dine at Seven Glaciers, a 5-star restaurant with views of the ice-bound peaks and Turnagain Arm far below. On Day 6 we'll explore the area's scenic splendor on a gentle float trip down the Placer River into Spencer Lake, choked with icebergs, before returning to Girdwood for the evening.

Day 7: Fox Island 
Fox Island, a private island bordering Kenai Fjords National Park, reveals the pristine side of Alaska most visitors miss. The region is famed for sea kayaking, and an easy paddling trip will unveil some of the fjord estuary system's prolific wildlife. Keep your camera handy during paddling breaks to capture possible shots of Steller sea lions, sea otters, harbor seals and black bears wandering ashore. [Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge]

Day 8: Kenai Fjords – Private Cruise
Iconic images of Alaska are on display today as we board a private charter boat for a cruise through a realm where the Ice Age still lingers. Our small boat allows us to approach wildlife at intimate range, and Kenai Fjords National Park provides unparalleled opportunities for photographing marine life including orcas, Dall's porpoise, a large colony of puffins and myriad other seabirds. Mighty tidewater glaciers grind their way to the sea's edge, and we may be fortunate to capture exciting images of icebergs calving with a huge splash. The water is filled with floating bits of ice, often tinged blue, and we'll be able to get plenty of classic Alaskan shots. Following our all-day outing, our boat returns us to Fox Island for a final night.

Day 9: Fox Island / Seward
After a final morning of photographing the wild environs of Fox Island, we transfer back to Seward. This afternoon we tour the Alaska SeaLife Center on Resurrection Bay. Visitors to Alaska’s only public aquarium and ocean wildlife rescue center find a "window on the sea," enjoying close encounters with puffins, octopus, sea lions and other creatures while peering over the shoulders of marine biologists studying Alaska’s rich and diverse sea life. We spend the night in Seward, surrounded by some of Alaska's most majestic peaks. [Breeze Inn]

Day 10: Kenai Peninsula / Anchorage
The mountain ranges of the Kenai Peninsula rise one after another on our drive to Anchorage, each offering a more enticing photo than the last. Time permitting, we’ll stop at Exit Glacier for a chance to get close-up shots of this active river of ice. We spend the night in Anchorage. [Historic Anchorage Hotel]

Days 11 & 12: Katmai National Park - Brooks Falls 
It's hard to imagine that anything could top all we've experienced so far, but for most wildlife photographers, today is the ultimate highlight of our Alaskan adventure. Katmai National Park is home to the world’s largest population of brown bears, and it takes some effort to get here. We fly by small plane to King Salmon, then by float plane to world-renowned Brooks Lodge, one of the best places to view these coastal grizzlies in their natural habitat. From the safety of platforms built over Brooks Falls, we photograph this classic spectacle up close, as the bears fish vigorously for salmon swimming upstream to spawn. Every photographer dreams of that iconic shot, 'freezing time' as a salmon leaps from the boiling falls into the waiting jaws of a giant brown bear—and our Expedition Leader is by your side with tips to help you achieve this compelling image!

Day 13: Katmai / Anchorage 
After one more chance to photograph the fishing bears of Katmai, we return to Anchorage this afternoon. We celebrate our Alaskan adventure at a farewell dinner with our Expedition Leader.  [Historic Anchorage Hotel]

Day 14: Anchorage / Home 
Today, our Alaska photo safari comes to a close as we transfer to the airport for flights home.

My 2015 Alaska Trip Google Map of the lodging and destinations.

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