Birding and Blooming on the Denali Highway

On our last trek to Alaska, we somehow missed the Denali and Richardson Highways and the region called the “Interior”.
Yah. I know. I don’t know either.

Our plan this time is to spend more time in different regions, settling into an area and really exporing it for a week or two, rather than just cruising through and skimming the surface.
So, having by-passed this region last time, this time it was on our A-list. Good choice.We found a great boondock spot in Paxton on an old highway road alignment right near the junction of the Denali Highway and the Richardson Highway.

Paxton Boondock Camp

Paxton Boondock Camp

It had a wheeler road for hiking up to a higher elevation. A little muddy in spots, and a place where you really want to have that bear spray ready.

Ric Foot and a Bear Print

Ric Foot and a Bear Print

During our stay here we were richly rewarded with absolutely stunning scenery, beautiful wildflowers, glaciers and great birding all in one package.

Gulkana Glacier and Summit Lake

Gulkana Glacier and Summit Lake. Taken from the Denali Highway. Dimmed by Smoke from the Many Fires that Were Burning in Alaska – But Still Beautiful.

The Richardson Highway runs all the way from Fairbanks to Valdez. We accessed it from Delta Junction at the end of the Alaska Highway, and then headed southwest toward Paxson and the junction of the Denali Highway (Route 8). (If you were to follow the Denali Highway all the way, it would take you to the town of Cantwell, which is just a short distance from Denali National Park.)

Interior Alaska Map

Map of Interior Alaska Region

We found an excellent boondock site conveniently located near the Richardson/Denali Highway intersections. It was on an old section of hardtop that paralleled the highway, but was abandoned for a highway re-alignment. It was a bit mosquitoe-ey, but that is to be expected in Alaska, and besides, we are fairly used to dealing with mosquitoes from our time in Maine.

"Mosquitoes" at Delta Junction

“Mosquitoes” at Delta Junction

One of our first explorations out on the Denali bought us to a great roadside rest with interpretive signs. This one picture pretty much explains why the scenery is so spectacular…

Diagram of Alaska Range Geology

Diagram of Alaska Range Geology. Yep. That’ll do it.

This area is, of course, riddled with faults. You can’t just push mountains into the sky without some sort of payback. The Denali fault produced a 7.9 magnitude earthquake in 2002. It’s probably overdue. But we only think about that constantly.
At about 13 miles out on the Denali Highway we came to a BLM rest area. There was a hiking trail across the road so we decided to explore. The path quickly rose into alpine tundra. Luck was with us as we soon encountered another birder (named “Dan”) who was a board member of Audubon and did birding walks for members. He gave us a lot of his time and wonderful advice about what birds to look for in the area… plus some excellent tips on binoculars for birding. We really appreciate his taking time for us. It just turns out that this location (13-Mile Hill) is one of the primo birding hikes in this area.

Ric on 13-mile Hill

Ric on 13-mile Hill

We would come back to this trail again in a few days, and between the two hikes here, plus one at Landmark Gap, we managed to bag most of the birds he mentioned, including American Golden Plovers, Lapland Longspurs, and Arctic Warblers. (The Ptarmigan are a gimme in Alaska.) Thanks again, Dan!

American Golden Plover

American Golden Plover on 13-mile Hill.

Rock Ptarmigan?

I’m leaning toward “Rock Ptarmigan” for the ID. Please comment if you disagree!

We really hit the wildflower timing right on this trip. June and early July  are a good time to catch them in bloom. We have taken many photos, and are working to ID them using an excellent wildflower guide we recently purchased. We’re not always thrilled about every field guide we purchase, but this one is a good one:
Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers: Commonly Seen Along Highways and Byways

Book - Alaskan Wildflowers

Alaskan Wildflowers by Verna E. Pratt. I Love This Book!

One of Linda’s goals this trip is to create an album of Alaska flower reference photos for future botanical paintings. Here are a few highlights of the kazillion floral pics we taken. We’ll post the best of the rest in a Flikr album, and add to that as we go along. As always – feel free to correct us if we screw up an ID!

Mountain Avens (Dryas octopetala)

Mountain Avens (Dryas octopetala)

Pink Plume (Polygonum bistorta)

Pink Plume (Polygonum bistorta). An easily identified edible plant. Leaves may be eaten raw or cooked.

Nagoonberry (Rubus arcticus)

Nagoonberry (Rubus arcticus). Love that Name!

Here’s the link to Linda’s Alaska Flower album on Flickr:


Filed under Alaska Journal, Birding, Hike, Uncategorized

4 responses to “Birding and Blooming on the Denali Highway

  1. Awesome
    I pressed many wildflower for my album

  2. I’m going with Rock Ptarmigan for the win – the eye patch gives it away.

    Okay…I’m swooning down here! You and Lin are going to have to host a photo presentation when you get home! Seriously!

    I cannot say it enough! It is wonderful to follow along with your adventures!

    ❤ Hugs to you!

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