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What’s good: Spending the night in Denali

Clouds lower over the mountains in Denali National Park.

The greatest thing about being a photographer is going places most other people don’t. Last night Walter did a shoot for a corporate client who is doing road repair 85 miles inside Denali National Park. After the first 12 miles the road isn’t open to the public and is gravel. You can ride a modified school bus that stops at a few places and the round trip is eight hours. They can only do the repairs after 9 p.m., so we went into the park with them for the night. The drive is through single-lane mountain passes, along narrow ledges and through massive valleys. It nevers gets dark in Denali this time of year, which makes working at night fairly easy. Sunset was at 11:48 p.m. and it didn’t get darker than about 30 minutes after sunset at home. It is strange to be standing along a river a 1 a.m. and taking a photo without a tripod.

Dall sheep graze on a Denali ridge.

We were promised wildlife, especially bears, during our drive. The rain was steady all night and the critters are smarter than us, they were hunkered down. We saw some Dall Sheep on ridge right way and later a large caribou. One of the workers was driving the truck and stopped where he sees a wolf and her litter of five every night, but not tonight. He guaranteed us we’d see bears. He drove us from their base, where the workers live in campers and spend two to three weeks at a time in the park before getting a day off to go home. He took us on the hour drive out to the work site, but no bears. All the workers were stunned at the lack of wildlife but the scenery was incredible. Since the public can’t drive on this road, few people are able to stop anywhere for photos like we did.

The Clearwater Fork of the Toklat River at 12:25 a.m..

We finally had to end our adventure in the park and head back out. Walter and I were were plenty sleepy and bummed at the lack of wildlife. We got back to the paved section of the road, where Walter and I had driven twice during the day, and our driver was apologizing for the lack of bears and wolves. He and I both yelled at the same time. There was a grizzly bear at the side of the road! It was incredibly cute. The bears in Denali are cream color with black legs and they only look like that there. The bear ran into some brush and we could see its back as it walked along the road about 50 feet away. It would stop, pop its head up to check us out and then move on. It was too dark and rainy to make any pictures before it vanished into the deep brush. But the picture of the cute grizzly face will always stick in my mind.

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