Tag Archives: Arctic Ground Squirrel

A Portrait of the Great One

You never know what you will experience when you start into Denali National Park. I guess the beginner’s luck of my brother Sean and sister-in-law Jada, first time Park visitors, was what allowed us some of the magnificent views of Mount Denali. During my previous trips to the park I have never experienced the magnitude of the Mountain like we did. The first time we saw it from about 50-60 miles away the twin summits were fully exposed against blue bird skies, and it lay across a broad river valley. We crossed the valley and crested a rise which brought full views of the Mountain. The beauty and size of Denali simultaneously released endorphins and adrenaline which made me smile and babble about its incredible beauty. The significance of its name,the Great One, was evident!

Denali National Park, Black and White
A full panorama of Denali as seen from Eilson Visitor Center. I love this black and white transformation of this shot.
Denali
Denali from Eilson Visitor Center. This shot captures well Mount Brooks and the foothills of Denali. Mount Brooks. Although Brooks is almost 12,000 feet it, it was dwarfed by the 20,000+ foot Denali!
Denali Pano
As we moved further into the park, clouds starting to form over Denali. The twin summits were slowly hidden from sight.
P6090048-Pano
A full view of Mount Brooks and Denali from Wonder Lake. Clouds had moved over the top of the mountain.
Denali Wonder Lake
The clouds formed quickly, obscuring the summit
Here was our first view of Denali across a broad river valley. The far rise brought us to our first full (and spectacular) views of Denali!
Here was our first view of Denali across a broad river valley. The far rise brought us to our first full (and spectacular) views of Denali!
Alpine Tundra and Denali
A common tundra alpine tundra flower, Narcisus Anenome, sits in front of the Great One. Wildflowers like these were everywhere in the park.
Denali Group
The lucky group in our first opportunity to get a photo in front of Denali. From this point on the mountain continued to grow was we go closer and closer…
Denali Group, Wonder Lake
…And then we were a lot closer! The mountain stood far above all else!

As we sat and and soaked in the views of the Mountain from Wonder Lake Campground, I took advantage of the time by shooting a nice timelapse. It’s fascinating watching the clouds form over the peaks! Check it out here :

Wonder Lake
The water of wonder lake is very clear. The lake stretches for a couple miles and reaches over 300 feet deep. On it we found a nesting Common Loon.

Our entire trip was marked with fun wildlife sightings and remarkable beauty. In particular, wildflowers were found on each slope accenting the mountain scenery. Mountain Avens, One Flower Cinquefoil, Moss Campion and many others. Rather than write, I’ll let the captions and pictures speak for themselves on this one!

Caribou Savage River
As we walked back along the Savage River trail, and group of bachelor bulls had moved across the trail. It was easily my best opportunities to see caribou to date!
Curious Caribou
Although the caribou did not mind me much, this one was eyeing me up a bit. This shot gives you a great idea of how big those antlers are!
Caribou Science
One of these caribou is not like the others. I’m not talking about its coat, nose, or antlers. The middle one is wearing a collar! I’m not sure of the intent of this study, but he’s being monitored.
Arctic Ground Squirrel
Arctic ground squirrels are winter survival masters. Once hibernating, their heart rate slows, metabolism slows, and brain activity nearly ceases. However, they wake up once per month enough to re-establish brain activity before falling back into deep hibernation.
Dall Sheep Kids
Three ewe dall sheep perch on the cliffs below us near polychrome pass. This particular spot offered shade, and as always, the mountains protected them from terrestrial predators. Although safe from four-leggers, golden eagles are known to take the kids (lambs)!
Teklanika Ridgeline
Hiking the ridgeline over Teklanika Campground. Endless scenery!
Savage River Hike
At the end of the Savage River loop, the valley gorge pours over loose boulders. We found a natural bench and took advantage of it. I love this group shot!
Savage River Bridge
A small footbridge cross the Savage River as it flows down the gorge. Alaska scenery is the best!
Polychrome Pass Wildflowers
One-leaf cinquefoil in the alpine tundra of Polychrome Pass. The Polychrome Mountains in the distance were shrouded and beautiful!
Alpine Arnica
Alpine arnica are a common and beautiful flower in the rocky slopes and along the roads. We hiked to this ridgeline just a mile or two out of Teklanika Campground.
Alpine Moon
As if the shrouded clouds weren’t enough, the moon appeared above the polychrome mountains. Can you pick it out?

The Loon, The Moon, The Fox, and The Dalton Highway

Summer is waning here in Alaska. In Fairbanks, tundra breeding birds are being seen in fields and overhead. Particularly the Sandhill Cranes make themselves known with their raucous and odd cries. Kassie and I wanted to experience the tundra and birds before they leave for the year.

In the recent style of my blogs, I’ll open up with the video of the trip. It captures the beauty of constant scenery, the curiosity of a fox, the detail of small birds, and the disparity of millions of mosquitoes. If you have questions about the ID of anything in the video keep reading, they’ll be discussed further below!

To get to the tundra we head north on the Dalton Highway. The Dalton Highway was completed in 1974 to service the Alaska Pipeline. The road traverses the Brooks Range via Atigun Pass at about 5000 feet – a large climb from about 400 feet in the flats of Fairbanks! It is the only complete corridor across the interior and is also called the ‘haul road’ due to the high semi-truck traffic hauling goods and supplies. On television it was made famous by the reality show Ice Road Truckers – which I experienced in a sense first hand last winter 

On the topic of mosquitoes, I might as well put to rest any thoughts you have of “I’ve seen mosquitoes because I have lived in Maine or Minnesota”. I thought I was prepared for the bugs based on my living in those areas. Nothing could have prepared me for the swarms of bugs. They are tolerable in a breeze, but nearly impossible to deal with when the breeze disappears. Any knee high bush in the tundra contained hundreds of the small buzzards which well up in the eddies of the wind created by your body. The lee of your body allows mosquitoes and black flies to fly into your eyes, nose, ears and mouth. They are vicious and aim for your hairline, temples and hands.

The Fox

North of the Brooks Range we happened across this Red Fox. Incredibly, it gave little notice to the two gaping humans in the truck and went about his business of marking his territory and hunting. The Red Fox and Arctic Fox overlap in range north of the Brooks Range. If they encounter each other the larger and stronger Red Fox will chase off or kill the Arctic Fox. Fox are able to hunt even in the snow and many film clips show them diving for prey (e.g. BBC’s “Life”). It’s possible that Red Fox can align themselves to the magnetic field before the pounce, and that it enables them to successfully hunt prey. I’m just the messenger on this one – I have no idea how that works!

The Loons

Four species of loons occur just north of the Brooks Range. They are the Pacific, Red-Throated, Arctic, and Yellow-billed Loons. These loons raise their chicks in the many pot-holes of the tundra before migrating to Russia, or further south on the coast. We were fortunate enough to see two of these species! The Pacific Loon swam towards us in a small pond along the Dalton. It called in a croaking voice – it seems to have a much different voice than the Common Loons we are used to. The Red-throated loon was much more nervous as it was protecting a chick.

Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica), South of Atigun Pass
Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica), South of Atigun Pass
A red-throated loon watches me catiously - it had at least one chick to protect on the lake.
A red-throated loon watches me catiously – it had at least one chick to protect on the lake.
The Moon

As we drove south of Atigun Pass watching the climaxing sunset, Kassie scared me by suddenly exclaiming, “STOP! MOON!”. I looked up, and in the same motion pulled my vehicle to the shoulder of the road and dropped my jaw. The large super-moon which is bigger, brighter and ‘better’ than the ordinary moon because it is closer to the earth, emerged over the mountains. It was framed by the last pieces of the sunset and perched in the valley of the peaks. I declared an emergency photographic opportunity and set up my camera, snapping a few stills before timelapsing its quickly moving path. What an incredible experience!

We were driving down the Dalton Highway when Kassie exclaimed "STOP!, MOON!". The "supermoon" rising over the mountains was one of the most incredible moonrises we had ever seen!
We were driving down the Dalton Highway when Kassie exclaimed “STOP!, MOON!”. The “supermoon” rising over the mountains was one of the most incredible moonrises we had ever seen!
Super Moonrise Dalton Highway
The Odds-and-Ends

Of course, there are lots of things to see along the Dalton Highway. The pictures below help capture the surrounding beauty and wildlife. I’ve included information in their captions, thanks for reading!

This dragonfly posed along the Yukon River in the sunlight. I hope it ate many mosquitoes!
This dragonfly posed along the Yukon River in the sunlight. I hope it ate many mosquitoes!
The Dalton Highway was completed in 1974 to service the Alaska Pipeline. The road traverses the Brooks Range via Atigun Pass at about 5000 feet - a large climb from about 400 feet in the flats of Fairbanks! It is the only complete corridor across the interior and is also called the 'haul road' due to the high semi-truck traffic hauling goods and supplies. On television it was made famous by the reality show Ice Road Truckers - which I experienced in a sense first hand last winter 
A female Northern Wheatear eyes me up while the rain falls in the background. These birds were elusive on Wickersham Dome, but weren’t afraid to pose here! Tundra birds are notoriously fearless because they are not used to people. It is likely this bird will migrate to Eurasia or North Africa!
Arctic ground squirrels actually freeze during the winters. They preserve enough 'brown fat' to wake up once a month. Their body warms up, the become conscious, and then go back to sleep. Researchers think they wake up to preserve memories - amaaaaazing!
Arctic ground squirrels actually freeze during the winters. They preserve enough ‘brown fat’ to wake up once a month. Their body warms up, the become conscious, and then they fall back to sleep. Researchers think they wake up to preserve memories – amaaaaazing!
A river runs all the way up Atigun Gorge. The gorge is walled on each side funneling the river to an unknown end.
A river runs all the way up Atigun Gorge. The gorge is walled on each side funneling the river to an unknown end.
Kassie and I took a break on a large bluff before heading further up Atigun Gorge. What a day!
Kassie and I took a break on a large bluff before heading further up Atigun Gorge. What a day!
Another breeding season comes to an end. This eggshell is from an unknown species, but is quite beautiful in the bearberry!
Another breeding season comes to an end. This eggshell is from an unknown species, but is quite beautiful in the bearberry!
A juvenile American Pipit hangs out in the rain. It can be found throughout North America and may be mis-identified as a sparrow. Keep your eyes out :)
A juvenile American Pipit hangs out in the rain. It can be found throughout North America and may be mis-identified as a sparrow. Keep your eyes out 🙂
In the shelter of our tent we could still enjoy the sunset over the foothills north of the Brooks Range. It was pretty amazing!
In the shelter of our tent we could still enjoy the sunset over the foothills north of the Brooks Range. It was pretty amazing!
Camping on the high tundra is pretty comfortable! Like a mattress.
Camping on the high tundra is pretty comfortable! Like a mattress.