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Adventures of a wildlife photographer "Hidden Alaska" part 1

November 18, 2011

Photo by Rocky Holland – Rocky finally saw his first Grizzly bears. A mother and two cubs.

It is mid July just before 10 p.m. and I’m flying over the city of Seattle, Washington. The city is spectacular at night, with the famous Space Needle illuminated against the skyline. This is actually my second visit to the city. My first trip, over forty years ago, I was heading for the Army base at Fort Lewis. In that era, I felt sure I was on my way to South Vietnam, but as fate would have it, our company was deployed to another destination. You see, the Vietnam War was winding down, and the decision was made to reduce personnel going in that direction. Engineering companies, which at that time were very much in demand in Vietnam, were reassigned to Alaska. Alaska, I thought, was this a dream or what? This current trip would be much different. I was to meet with a group of professional and semi-professional wildlife photographers to tour the interior and coastal areas of the state, photographing the scenic vistas and wildlife that few tourists get to see. Called “Hidden Alaska”, the expedition promised travel far from typical tourist routes, focusing on up close viewing of Alaska’s mighty brown bears fishing for salmon.
Our group of only thirteen was sponsored by Natural Habitat Adventures out of Boulder, Colorado. They are well known for catering to smaller groups, maximizing sightseeing and, of course, photography. When I landed in Fairbanks around one in the morning, it was light enough that headlights weren’t needed and, as I already knew, I wouldn’t see it totally dark again for the next two weeks. As I prepared to find a taxi to my motel, I was greeted, to my amazement, by my guide Eric Rock. Eric came to the airport personally to make sure I got to the motel safe and sound, knowing that I would be arriving on a late flight. What other tour guide would do such a thing? I felt I was in good hands and would talk more with Eric in the days to come, but at this hour and being up for over twenty hours, I couldn’t wait to crash.
I spent most of the next day checking all my equipment and gear, hoping that I would impress the accomplished photographers that I would soon meet. Later that day I had the chance to wander around the city of Fairbanks, and was very surprised on how small and friendly a town it was. It was in the low 70’s, and little did I know that there was a heat wave brewing in the lower 48. Later that evening our group met for the first time, and discussed our plans for the next two weeks. The next day we were heading south to Denali National Park, home of the tallest mountain in North America, Mt. McKinley. On the trip towards Denali I added a new bird to my life list, Sandhill Cranes. Although I didn’t get to photograph them, a new sighting was a good start for my trip...

See full article by purchasing the Nov. 18 edition of The Kane Republican.

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