From One Extreme to the Other — Part I
Alaska to Hawaii
text & photography by Ryan Stikeleather
Raise your hand if you have always wanted to go to Alaska…Ok, you don’t actually need to raise your hand…but you get the idea. Next question, who wants to go to Hawaii? Now, who wants to go from Alaska to Hawaii? That would be a trip to remember. For many people (myself included) visiting iconic locations is a dream. And a lot of people, who are drawn to the Great-Outdoors, would love to go to Alaska or Hawaii, but to get to do both, in one epic trip…that is pretty awesome. So, there you are, in Alaska, and what do you want to remember? Seeing moose? Of course! Seeing Denali? That’s a no-brainer! Alaska has a lot to offer, but maybe you would rather be at the ocean! Ah, O’ahu. Watching the setting sun just kiss the tops of the ocean waves. Sandy beaches and warm sunshine…not a care in the world. It is pretty amazing how your everyday routine can instantly melt away by just lying on the beach, the rhythm of the ocean drowning out all the noise.
Over the past several years, my job has taken me all around the United States, but it wasn’t until 2014 that I realized that I was missing the best part of my travels…being outdoors and taking pictures. I don’t get a lot of downtime while traveling and most of the time I am not always in the best location for a great hike. That creates a challenge, not a problem…will I be able to find a good trail or park, and will I have enough time to get to it.
I was given this opportunity in October. Alaska to Hawaii. I figured, if I wanted to find good landscape photography spots, this would be about as good an opportunity as I was going to get. I started my two week trip from my home city of Colorado Springs, CO. Colorado is a outdoor destination in and of itself (more on that later), but to be in Alaska..that’s the dream. I would be splitting my time between Fort Greely (near Delta Junction, AK) and Fort Wainwright, which is located in Fairbanks, AK. I knew that my best chance to get outdoors would be at Fort Greely, since I would be very close to the Alaska Range. It’s always nice to have local suggestions, especially if you are new to an area. But, I knew I would only have a few hours and not enough time for a good hike. I would also be about 200 miles from the Canadian border and the Yukon Territory…hopefully I will be able to venture over the border someday.
I knew that the light in Alaska would be much different in October than in Colorado. Shorter days are a hallmark of Fall and Winter months, but I have never experienced the effect that Alaska provides. The sunrise was around 8:30 am, which is pretty late, but the odd feeling was at noon…the height of the sun made it feel like 3 pm. That just messes you up. At the actual 3 pm I felt like I had been waiting all day for it to get near sunset, and when sunset (around 6:30 pm) actually happened, I felt very tired. I only had a few hours on one day to capture good shots near Fort Greely, but it was a very productive few hours. I really enjoyed the solitude while scouting around. I had to rely on locations close to Richardson Highway, but it worked out pretty well. The last night in Delta Junction, I tried to capture a photograph of the Northern Lights. Even though I knew that my photography gear was not particularly good for this purpose, I had to try. And even though the Northern Lights were very faint, it was fun being out at 1:00 am and having no streetlights or much of a city glow. It was completely quiet and very relaxing.
Come to Fairbanks, See the Lights
While at Fort Wainwright my goal was to get a good view of the Northern Lights and if I had a chance, make my way to Denali National Park and see if I could get a shot of Denali itself. Fairbanks, AK is actually one of best locations to see Northern Lights, and if you have a clear, moonless night, you will have the best chance at seeing them. The hard part is getting out away from all the city lights…at the right time. There are several websites that help give you a good idea of when the Northern Lights will be at their peak, and they all seem to be at 1 am. If you are a night owl, this might not be so bad, but it was a difficult thing for me to do. I was able to get out a few times and see some very faint examples, but nothing very extreme. Still, the complete darkness, total silence and solitude, really adds to the experience. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.
I had one day between Alaska and Hawaii that was free and I had planned on driving down to Denali National Park and see if I could get a sunrise picture. And, wouldn’t you know it…a slow moving weather system moved in and set over Denali and Fairbanks the entire day. I have heard that seeing Denali is actually quite rare. And I guess I was just not going to get that rare chance, plus it is about a 3.5 hour drive from Fairbanks to Denali National Park. So, I will have to wait for another trip.