Denali Reflection Pond
Capturing a complete essence of what Alaska is all about in photographs may take a lifetime. Certainly it can’t be
achieved during a two week land and sea cruise , but it might be fun to give it a good shot. It was a challenge to
schedule a trip like this, combining my wife’s work schedule, my business schedule and the best timing for good
weather conditions in Alaska.
But what better way to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary than visiting Canada’s grand neighbour to the
As a guy from a small, densely populated state on the east cost of the continental USA, it’s overwhelming to
comprehend the vastness and magnificence of America’s 49th state. The state of Alaska stretches east to west
about 2400 miles.
That’s about the same distance from New York City to Yosemite National Park in California and only a few hundred
miles less than the distance from Toronto, Ontario to Dawson in the Yukon Territory in Canada.
When people are asked what they think of when mentioning a trip to Alaska, they mention whales, glaciers and
bears. We wanted to experience the sea life, the glaciers, and the land- based animals as best we could in one
trip. Based on our limited experience as traveling adventurers, we chose a land and sea package with a company
called UN-cruise Adventures.
Alaska rail road train detail vintage
Alaska railroad train HDR view to Denali
The UN-Cruise way
UN-cruise combines great accommodations with an emphasis on active excursions that let you get a true close-up
involved experience, unlike the jumbo cruise lines that are so popular with regular tourists.
Our chosen package gave us a chance to see the interior of Alaska via the glass-topped Alaskan Railroad, a bus
trip, a two-night sleepover deep within Denali National Park, and some moderate hiking. The second part of our
adventure was a full week aboard a small ship, aptly named The Wilderness Explorer.
Bartlet cove Wilderness Explorer
We traveled through the Inside Passage, Glacier Bay, and Icy Straight. UN-cruises smaller cruise ships can go
where the big boys can’t and they’re still big enough to have all of the creature comforts you could ever need.
We had excellent meals three times every day, a fully stocked bar, happy hour snacks, evening entertainment,
warm and dry beds, and hot showers.
Wilderness explorer from lamplugh glacier
Packing my equipment safely.
This was the first trip where I wanted to take a complete arsenal of camera equipment with me and I was a bit anxious
on the best way to do so with the least amount of risk of damage or theft. I read a ton of reviews, and did an
extensive search for the right combination of size and features, with a big emphasis on airline carry-on luggage
I settled on the pricey, but perfectly sized ThinkTankPhoto Airport Airstream. It held my two pro camera bodies,
my high-end compact camera, an assortment of lenses, flash, batteries and chargers. A small carbon fiber tripod
was the only gear that traveled with my regular suitcase.
What I like most about the Airstream is that it looks like typical clothing luggage, and it’s small enough to fit under
the airplane seat, to avoid forced checking of bags at the gate from an overcrowded plane.
The Traveling Itinerary for the Entire Trip
Drive from New Jersey to Philadelphia
Flight from Philadelphia to Chicago
Flight from Chicago to Fairbanks Alaska
Train from Fairbanks to Denali entrance
Bus trip from entrance to Kantishna
Bus trip back to entrance
Photographing the Vastness of Alaska
Train ride to Anchorage
Flight from Anchorage to Juneau
Small cruise ship from Juneau to Sitka
Flight from Sitka to Seattle
Flight from Seattle to Philadelphia
Drive from Philadelphia to New Jersey.
Looking at this travel schedule looks daunting, but at the time, it was a lot of fun. We were visiting all of these
places for the first time.
Top 4 highlights of the trip
1. Denali. Not only did we get to see Mt. McKinley (“The Big One,” “The Mountain,” “Denali” as it’s more commonly
referred to) on the long bus ride into the park, but we also had spectacular views on the trek back to
the entrance to the park. This was special because, for many short-term visitors to Denali, the changing
Alaskan weather conditions prevent them from seeing the mountain clearly at all.
Train ride to Denali
2. The Wildlife. By land and by sea, we experienced a good variety of the wildlife that make Alaska such a
special place to visit and photograph. We saw bear, Dali sheep, moose, eagles, sea otters, sea stars, and
whales to mention a few.
Caribou in Denali
Moose in Denali photographed during bus departure
3. The Glaciers. Although somewhat sad to view because of their receding movement from global warming,
these seemingly living bodies are amazing to view up close and in person. The experience of seeing them
from a distance, kayaking to them and hiking onto them is very difficult for me to put into words.
Sandy and Bruce kayaking
4. The Bushwhacking Hikes. Forging through the rain forest. Alaska’s Tongass National Forest is the largest
remaining temperate rainforest in the world. We trekked through thickly wooded forests, hiked through
bogs, muskegs and tundra, and were often accompanied by that famous Alaskan “liquid sunshine,” also
known as rain.
Pink clouded mountain
One of the elements that emerges out of photo excursions like this for me is the scope of shapes, colors and
textures that nature presents for us to enjoy. From the seemingly random shapes and textures of the massive
glaciers, to the subtle hues and patterns of color in the foot hills of the Alaskan Mountain Range, there were
many great vistas to photograph.
The rapidly changing lighting conditions make Alaska another one of those photographer’s paradises that
should make it to everyone’s bucket list to explore.
Sunset over mountains in Alaska
One final everlasting memory of the trip happened on our last day before arriving at the port of Sitka. We took
a final skiff ride to a private cove that only the smallest of boats can enter. We killed the skiff’s motor and
floated in complete silence to experience the remote quietness that comes only when separated from all evidence
of mankind’s influence.
Then, as if on cue, as we headed back to the Wilderness Explorer, a bald eagle passed directly overhead (see the
photo) as if to say, “thanks for visiting and come again sometime.”
I still smile when I vividly remember how it all started. My wife turned to me from her computer desk in the
kitchen and exclaimed with excitement, “We’re going to Alaska!”
See Bruce's first Article - 3 Days to Photograph Mount Desert Island