Chasing the Fall Colors in the Alaska Range

Skull and fall colors, north side, Hayes Range.

Skull and fall colors, last year’s trip to the north side of the Hayes Range.

The fall season is short in the Alaska Range. The shoulder between Summer and Winter only last a few weeks at best. I have often had snow cover the fall colors right at their prime.

This is my last chance to capture the brief, fall display for the book (all photographs need to be to the publisher by August of next year). The last two years I have flown in to a remote section of the Alaska Range, with limited success. It is very difficult to predict when and where the colors will be at their prime. Everyone has their theories on why the colors change when they do, but I have yet to find any reasonable way to predict when and where, all one can do is search.

So this year I will be approaching it differently. Generally, the alpine colors on the north side of the Range change first, followed by the south side tundra, then the lower shrubs and trees on the north…etc. I have found the alpine tundra turning red as early as the last week of August and is late as the second week of September!

Rumor has it that the alpine tundra on the north side of the Alaska Range is already beginning to turn. The goal is to drive until we find the colors and hike in, spend a few days and then move on to the next display. I am not a fan of roadside photography, but it may be the only way to find those elusive colors when they are at their best.

Fall colors were just beginning to hit their prime.

The holy grail of Alaska fall colors is when you find the alpine tundra and the lower shrubs and bushes changing at the same time. This was the last day of last year’s trip. The tundra had just turned and the lower shrubs were almost there, I just missed it!

 

Alpine Flora of the Alaska Range

“He who can take no interest in what is small, will take false interest in what is great.”  -John Ruskin

Bear Flowers and Stream, Clearwater Mountains

Bear Flowers and Stream, Clearwater Mountains

The mountains of the Alaska Range command a visitor’s attention. It often takes days to allow oneself to look beyond them, or more accurately, below them. I just returned from a trip into the Clearwater Mountains. My goal was to focus on the more intimate side of the mountains, to see beyond the grandeur.

I want this project to be a complete visual story of the Alaska Range. The plants, lichens, mosses and insects are a small but vital part of the mountain landscape. The mountains are stoic, they do not share their weaknesses, the plants, lichens and insects however, can tell us much about the health of the Alaska Range.

Lichen, Clearwater Mountains

Lichen, Clearwater Mountains

Caribou antlers and waterfalls, Clearwater Mountains

Caribou antlers and waterfalls, Clearwater Mountains

Rosewort, Clearwater Mountains

Rosewort, Clearwater Mountains

Pink Plumes, Clearwater Mountains

Pink Plumes, Clearwater Mountains