Coke Smith Photography & Travelogue

Alaska: Wow!

A red fox in its "blue" phase trotting along the roadside in Denali National Park. 


Lien and I were actually married twice.  Once in a cute ceremony on a cliff face overlooking Lake Tahoe from the Nevada Side and another time with the families in a huge bash in Sacramento.  So of course we had to have two honeymoons!  Our first honeymoon was a full-on expedition to Belize, Guatemala and Costa Rica in 1992.  Lien never let me forget the horrific experiences in the jungles of Central America – being eaten alive by no-see-ums in Pine Ridge Belize; being chased by Fer de Lance vipers in La Selva Reserve in Costa Rica; and being surrounded all night in Cockscomb Reserve, Belize by very irritated and aggressive Jaguars who kept us up all night with their barks and warning calls (I didn’t know it at the time that they were warning me!  (See the Belize page for the details on this one…)).  Poor Lien was mortified!

So naturally for our next honeymoon, I decided to take her to another wilderness – one with no Jaguars or deadly pit vipers or anything as horrible as that.  This time I was going to take her on a three month safari to Alaska, where we would be surrounded by packs of howling, growling wolves (who were so close that we wouldn’t even get out of our truck and had to sleep in the cab all night long!).  We would also be on whale watching boats in rough seas where she (and one other honeymooning lady) would spend the entire time puking her brains out!  And of course there was the campsite in Valdez where a Grizzly sow visited and ravaged our campsite while we watched in horror from the camper of our truck.  I was such a sadist…poor Lien!  (I finally gave in and treated her to a civilized two-month trip to Europe the following year – no wild animals or death-defying nights in the wilderness…so I don't feel so bad anymore...)

Our trip to Alaska was spectacular even with the many horror-filled sunny nights in the Alaskan bush.  It all started with a drive north from California – three days to Prince Rupert where we caught one of Canadian Ferries up to Skagway, Alaska.  The three day ferry ride through the Inside Passage was sublime.  I could not believe the incredible beauty of the Passage.  The wildlife was amazing as well.  We saw countless Orca and Humpback Whales cruising the Passage on their way to who knows where.  Bald Eagles were as common as starlings in some places as well.  There was one spot near Juneau where a fisherman was cleaning his salmon catch and there were over 50 eagles in the trees near his home!  They looked like little white Christmas tree ornaments.

From Skagway, we drove through the Yukon (treated on a separate webpage) and made our way in to Alaska.  We camped at a taiga preserve near Tetslin.  We explored the black spruce forest and had good luck with birds and wildlife.  We also camped for a bit at Wrangell Saint Elias National Park in search of Alaska wildlife!  An amazing wilderness for sure.

After a couple days in Anchorage, were we caught the opening night of Jurassic Park, we made our way down to Valdez for a week of explorations there.  I wanted to travel there to see the Exxon-Valdez oil spill recovery efforts for myself.  I was impressed with the informative museum and exhibits there as well as the overall appearance of a fairly healthy and basically recovered ecosystem.  We saw loads of Sea Otters, Steller’s Sea Lions and Northern Fur Seals in and around Prince William Sound.  We even went whale watching and caught fantastic glimpses of Humpbacks, Fin and Sei Whales in the Sound.  The views of the bird bazaars in the Sound were awesome.  Both Tufted and Horn Puffins were seen up close in the bazaars right next to the nesting Black-legged Kittiwakes.  What a great place.

We explored many of the glaciers in the Kenai Fjords and inland areas in this part of Alaska.  But perhaps my favorite part of the trip was our week trip in to the great Denali National Park.  On the road through to the Denali view point (we had two days of phenomenal views of the awesome mountain – something that few people can say!), we came across at least 13 Grizzly Bears, some with cubs!  We saw loads of Dall’s Sheep and Caribou as well.  Watching the Golden Eagles hunt at the base of Denali is a natural spectacle. 


Please take a look at our North America Image Galleries!

Alaska & Yukon Landscapes Image Gallery


Check out some of the images of this spectacular expedition (sorry, I was not much of a photographer back then...):




The vast endless tundra wilderness of Denali National Park.  Trekking this trailess wilderness was amazing.  All we had to do was to start walking in any direction and experience what was there!  



A typical scene from one of our many treks in Denali.  Note the Grant's Caribou taking a break from the mosquitos and bot flies while standing in the middle of the ice sheet.



Polychrome Pass is one of the few areas of exposed geology in the park. 



Mount Denali seen on one of our two incredibly clear days!  Evidently less than 5% of the visitors to the park get a chance to see the mountain.



A classic hanging glacier as seen from from our ferry in the Inside Passage of Southeast Alaska.



A beautiful late evening scene of the Inside Passage.



Not quite a sunset, as the sun does not set in the summer here!




Iris setosa is omnipresent in the meadows of Alaska during the summer months.



Arctic Lupine (Lupinus arcticus) seen growing in the wild along the Dawson Highway in the far central east of Alaska.



Azure blue "bergy bits" seen in the moraine lake of the Portage Glacier.  From the images I have seen lately, the glacier has receded considerably over the past decade or so.



More hanging alpine glaciers.  These were seen in the Kenai Fjords National Park in the far south.



A mosquite-filled marsh in Tetslin National Wildlife Refuge in the eastern stretches of Alaska, near Tok.  Here we trekked the spectacular taiga populated with stands of Picea glauca (white fir) and black fir.




The dwarf taiga forest of Tetslin.  These trees could be hundreds of years old yet barely over a couple three meters in height.




Valdez Falls just a few miles trek from the town of Valdez, Alaska.



A lone Grant's Caribou bull taking a break from the mosquitos in Denali National Park.



During one of our whale watching trips in Prince William Sound, we came across large numbers of the increasingly rare Steller's Sea Lions.  Here is a small group with a nursery of young being cared for by females and a lone bull while the others are out fishing.



One of the 13 Grizzlies seen during our 28 mile bus ride in to the heart of Denali.



One of my main wildlife photography goals is to capture some better images of Grizzlies in the wild.  I would love to see one as close as this one (cap.) in its natural habitat when I have my camera ready to go!




Some of the most impressive wildlife sights during the entire Alaska expedition were the amazing bird bazaars in Prince William Sound.  Filled with Black-legged Kittiwakes and Horned and Tufted Puffins, the rocks are as noisy as they are smelly!



An impressive Dall's Bighorn Sheep bull seen while trekking in the Kenai Wilderness.



One of the many playful Sea Otters seen in Prince William Sound.