The Alaskan Railroad

The first 24 hours of our grand adventure north was a tale of trains, planes, and automobiles.  So much distance to travel to reach the beautiful Alaskan wilderness!

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

It began with a late night flight into Anchorage.  We managed to find flights at an insanely reasonable rate, but that price came only with one airline, and that airline literally had one flight to Anchorage a day, late at night.  I briefly considered flying in the night prior, as it wouldn’t require any extra days off from work (Friday night instead of Saturday), but I didn’t really care to putter around the city by myself for a day, and in the end, I was grateful for the extra day to finish pulling my things together.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

The craziest thing about that flight was the sun.  This far north, the sun sets very late; daylight clings on well past 9pm.  So when we took off around 9, the horizon still held a glow… and that glow just never went away.  When we landed several hours later, it was still dusk – well past midnight.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

The next day, we woke to drizzle as we packed our things, called an Uber, and made our way to the train station.  Checking our bags was considerably easier than in an airport (if a bit more wet), and we then waited for our train.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Our accommodations in “Adventure Class” aboard the Denali Star were quite pleasant.  There was no wireless aboard, and we were lucky to even get signal when we passed a town here and there.  However, there was more than enough room to spread out, and some chose to take advantage of that, sleeping away much of the trip.  I, for one, couldn’t fathom sleep when there was so much to photograph.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

I wandered back and forth, from the dining car to the car with the viewing bubble, filming clips (Aaron insisted I do a bit of filming in his absence) and snapping interesting vantages.

But my favorite spots, by far, were those between the cars.  These were open air, bare to the cool wind and the crisp air, and with unhindered views of the passing landscapes.  I’d shoot from one side, then dash to the other, then race to the far end of the dining car to get a different view of the cars both forward and back.  And just when I would tire of a view and return to my seat for a bit of a break, I’d notice something new that tickled my fancy.  Or I’d race back to my seat to change out a lens.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

And all throughout, our conductor (in an honest-to-goodness train conductor hat) would pop on the intercom to announce a passing site or point out spotted wildlife.  There’s a moose, or here you can espy the “Dr. Seuss Tower.”

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Along the way, we passed lakes, rivers, mountains, and marshlands; the famed Hurricane Gulch Bridge 296 feet above the creek.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

We even passed Summit, which is the highest point of the rail and where it claims to cross the Continental Divide.  However, in attempting to verify this, maps of the Great Divide show it actually snakes much farther north through Alaska, so I don’t understand how we could have been anywhere near it south of Denali.  I’m calling baloney on that claim, but if you happen to have any information on this, I would love to hear from you!

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

We also passed a recreational park where a line of kayakers saw fit to drop their drawers and give the passing train a bit of moonshine.  I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to catch that… but you’re probably thinking that’s a good thing!

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

All told, we rolled into the Denali station about 7.5 hours later, tired from the journey, and hungry for some real food.  Fortunately, Healy was more than happy to offer us the 49th State Brewery, where we returned each night for their killer frozen margaritas.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Day 1: train: achievement unlocked!

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Stay tuned next week for Day 2: bus!


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WC: Helpless

It feels somewhat easy to distance myself from the devastation in Texas, and I turn only a concerned brow toward what lies in wait for Florida.  It’s tragic, and my heart aches for all who have lost their homes and livelihoods (and all this month, I am donating 25% of all proceeds from print sales to Harvey relief efforts).  But once the news is turned off, my personal life creeps back in, pushing the drenched scenes, the tears, the pleas for help – back across the miles from whence they came.

But when tragedy strikes so close to home, I can no longer shut it out – intentionally or otherwise.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

The Columbia River Gorge is one of my many playgrounds, and I’ve blogged about several hikes in the area.  In fact, I just wrote about the famous Multnomah Falls last week.  The Gorge is lush and green, spidered with tantalizing trails and breathtaking views.  It’s full of waterfalls and moss-covered trees, paths begging to be explored, and hidden nooks just waiting to be photographed.  I love it dearly, and I’ve remarked on more than one occasion how grateful I am to have it in my very own backyard.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

And as I type this, it is being destroyed.

A senseless act of recklessness sparked a massive wildfire that has consumed tens of thousands of acres of this stunning landscape.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

It has threatened homes, and it trapped hikers.  It has closed a major freeway and diverted boat traffic.

Multnomah Falls was on fire.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Visibility dwindled.  Ash sprinkled from the sky and collected on the cars.  And it has darkened the city’s skies for days, forcing residents to remain indoors to take shelter from the harmful air.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

The only meager silver lining is that it has made for some powerfully compelling photos.

But documenting this tragedy is all I can do.  The fire is still burning, and it will likely continue to burn until the autumn rains return.  Beautiful trails are being ravaged.  And all I can do is wait for it to stop.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

I hike there every summer.  I take visitors out there whenever they’re in town.  Aaron and I got married there.  That historic highway was one of the things that made me first fall in love with the Pacific Northwest.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

And it is forever changed.

I can’t ignore it when I’m surrounded by thousands who are likewise mourning this loss.  I can’t shrug it off with, “I’m glad that didn’t happen to me.”  This literally hits home.  And I am utterly heartbroken.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

But I also know that I’ll return.  New trees will sprout, and with enough time, it will be green again.  I’ll do whatever is in my power to restore the grandeur of that beautiful wilderness and ensure this playground is around for future generations.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

A news article quoted a spokesman from Portland Fire and Rescue saying, “The Gorge still looks like the Gorge; it’s not a wasteland.”  That’s heartening amidst this despair, and it’s exactly what I needed to hear.  I may feel somewhat helpless right now, but I’m not without hope that I’ll play there again.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015


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Photostory: Rainy Camping

I’ll be frank.  It’s kind of miserable camping in the rain.

As most of you should know by now, I am preparing for a big backpacking trip in July.  I am going to Alaska to shoot bears (not that kind of shooting – this is a photography blog, folks).  And if you read my post on my first backpacking training hike, you’ll also know that I’ve never done backpacking before.  I refuse to be the one holding everyone else up; I’m dedicated to getting my weak butt trained and prepped for this thing.

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