Joe and Mary Ann McDonald's

Wildlife Photography

Denali, Alaska Fall Photo Tour

The Landscapes and Mammals of Autumnal Alaska
Featuring 6 Full Days at North Face Lodge

This brochure can serve as a reference until we finalize.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, this is a popular, GREAT, trip, so if you're
interested, contact our office ASAP.

Location: North Face Lodge, Denali National Park
Specifics: 11 days/10 nights,
including six full days at

Group Size: 10 photographers plus two leaders (Joe and Mary Ann McDonald)
.Price:$TBA, includes first and last night in Fairbanks, based on double occupancy, and all meals.
Gratuities for the NFL bus driver and NFL staff are included in this price

We are finalizing plans and prices for this trip. The brochure, below, was written for our 2005 trip and may not accurately reflect our next trip, however, there may be minor changes. For now, use this brochure as a reference, but CONTACT OUR OFFICE ASAP if you are interested.

At 22,000 feet Denali dominates the Alaskan landscape and the park where the mountain is only twenty-five miles away. We'll be visiting Denali as the tundra begins its autumn change -- sometimes a process that takes less than one week as the tundra subtly shifts from green to gold, yellow, red, and orange.
We'll be staying at North Face Lodge on the western edge of the Park. In conjunction with Camp Denali, North Face Lodge has the only private vehicle permit for the park that allows tourists access to the interior of the park without having to use the crowded and extremely inconvenient park buses or the almost impossible to obtain professional photography permit-vehicles.

At this time of year moose will be fully antlered, and caribou should be shedding their velvet. While Denali is not an easy park to film wildlife (it is far better considered as a grand scenic location), expect to see interior grizzlies, caribou, moose, dall sheep, ptarmigan, arctic ground squirrels, and more. If we're lucky, we'll get to film several of these species as well, but certainly expect to film the grand landscape of Denali. In this transitional period between late summer and early fall, you'll also have the greatest chance of seeing this often cloud-shrouded mountain -- a sight that is truly unforgettable.

Because we'll be using the vehicles of North Face Lodge, we'll have the opportunity to travel into the park's interior, to Eilson and Marmot Valley, to Sable Pass, and to fabled Wonder Lake. Having a vehicle will provide us with the best opportunity to film roadside wildlife, or to embark upon hikes or explorations of our own. If the weather permits and we can muster a fit crew of photographers together, we'll probably attempt a hike into the high country for dall sheep, hoary marmot,and pika.

Usually, we have opportunities to film caribou, moose, or grizzly bear from our vehicle, and, should we make excursions on foot, we should have chances to film moose, caribou, ptarmigan, and ground squirrels. One year, and the only time in all the trips I've made to Denali, we had the chance to film a dall sheep ram from the roadside. It was running, because a grizzly bear one quarter mile away had spotted the sheep and came running. The Dall saw it, and took off in the opposite direction, running past our position as it did so!

Although the wildlife of Denali is exciting and inticing, truly it is the grand landscape of Denali that is the attraction in this park. There is real magic in the tundra as it. changes from green to red to brown, sometimes in a period of just a few short days, must be seen to be appreciated. The mountain, Denali, is an elusive subject, with clouds often shrouding the peak, but we've never missed seeing, and shooting, the mountain at this time of year. Statistically, this time of the year offers the best weather and clearest skies. In contrast, in June or July the entire month may pass without a single clear day.

Our hosts at North Face Lodge are photographers themselves, and the staff at NFL and nearby Camp Denali have been extremely helpful to our photo groups. There's really no better way to do Denali, and truly, no better time to visit.

Our Shooting Base - the North Face Lodge

North Face Lodge lies in the heart of Denali National Park, literally almost in the shadow of Mt. McKinley (Denali). The lodge, just two miles from Wonder Lake, provides accommodations in well-appointed, comfortable rooms, down comforters, Alaskan artwork, and a private bath and electricity. The lodg was designed in the style and atmosphere of a comfortable north country guest house and features a spacious living room-gathering area with a sone fireplace, a large dining room, patio, and covered porch. Although are group will be together for our photo excursions, North Face Lodge offers several daily, guided nature outings and hikes for anyone who wants a change of pace. The staff is enthusiastic, dedicated, and incredibly knowledgeable, and are offer hikes or excursions for exploring the Denali landscape and its wildlife. Truly delicious meals and fresh baked goods are a standard feature of the dining room, where we'll have breakfast and dinner each day. Lunches are packed -- a diverse food spread is laid out and you'll pack what you'll need for the day. Most evenings there will be some type of natural history program , covering geology, natural and cultural history, land use, and natural resource issues.

Make no mistake, Denali is a difficult shoot, as private vehicle traffic is extremely limited to a few lucky professional photographers who must obtain an extremely difficult to obtain permit. Most visitors to the park travel by means of the park bus system which is, in our opinion, a disaster. In the busy season a photographer may get off the bus to film, expecting to pick up another bus later. However, if that bus is full and they often are, you'll have to wait until a bus passes with an available seat! Further, the bus will not drop off anyone within a quarter mile or so of wildlife, and by the time you hoof it back to your quarry it may be over the next ridge.

Most lodges at the far western end of the park have bus transportation into the park, and access into the park only to within a long walk of Wonder Lake. We've gone that route in the past, and our photography was limited to where we could walk from our drop-off point near Wonder Lake. That just doesn't work.

North Face Lodge and Camp Denali have the only permits to travel inside the park in their private buses. Accordingly, each day we'll travel to, and passed, Wonder Lake, visiting the tundra and the high country to, on some days, nearly a third of the distance toward the east entrance. En route we'll be able to stop for landscapes and wildlife and our bus will be there waiting! Please note that Denali's game viewing restrictions are unlike any other national park's, and we may be required to shoot from inside the bus if we encounter a grizzly bear nearby. Our driver and us will do the best we can for every circumstance, but we are dealing with federal bureaucracy here. At any rate, this is the only way to go if you want to photograph in Denali. No other system works, unless you're willing to camp in Denali and put up with the shuttle bus system. Please note, a photographer-naturalist friend of mine did just that this summer and he classified the experience a disaster. On his last trip, he had traveled with me when, in 1982, I had obtained a professional photography permit where we drove the roads for two weeks in my rental car!

It's for this reason that we must emphasize the scenic and landscape potential of this trip. For everyone going that should surely be enough, for Denali is one of the most spectacular scenic locations in North America. If you've never seen the mountain ... well, there's nothing like it. My first view, ever, occured on a cloudy day with the mountain completely obscurred by clouds. A front was passing through and a stiff breeze began tearing clouds from the mountain slopes. Suddenly, at an impossible height, portions of the mountain appeared above the clouds! By this I mean, above any height I'd have expected to see a mountain. It was an incredible experience that only sweetened as we drove toward Eilson Visitor Center and the mountain cleared. By Wonder Lake we were treated to late evening light and a great reflection -- what a welcome to Denali!

The tundra has the potential of being breath-taking at this time of year as we'll be visiting the park at the cusp of the seasons. Willows should be gliding from green to bright yellow, and bearberry and salmon berry should glow crimson while we're there. The tundra is not flat; it is rolling hills and potholes, and anywhere across its reaches we may spot moose, caribou, grizzly bear, or wolf. Macro possibilities of the plant life and fungi are practically endless.

We'll have the chance to shoot all of this, and the wildlife as well. Because we'll have North Face Lodge's transportation, we'll have the chance to hike up Marmot Valley for pika and hoary marmots, or continue even further into the high country for Dall sheep. This is impossible to do any other way, but the hike is steep and I'd suggest only the fittest and most enthusiastic make that hike -- if the opportunity presents itself. For the rest, if a Marmot Valley hike is undertaken, you'll be able to continue on for the usual bus-safari in the park where, no doubt, you'll get the only roadside wolf while the nuts, like me, bust our lungs looking for Dall sheep!


Landscapes will be the guaranteed focus of this trip, weather permitting! Throughout the summer Denali, the mountain, is often socked in with clouds, as the height of the peak actually generates its own weather. Denali is said to be the tallest mountain in the world when compared to its surrounding landscape, as the peak's height far surpasses any of the other ridges in the nearby Alaskan range. Accordingly, any clouds that pass are often trapped by the mountain and linger, and June and July can be rather disappointing. Late August through mid-September are the best viewing days for Denali, and we should have plenty of shooting opportunities.
Wonder Lake reflects the entire mountain, and virtually every journey we make will pass this lake twice. Because it is so frequently traveled, wildlife along the roadside here are quite habituated, and if we're lucky we may find moose feeding in the shallows close by. Loons, grebes, geese, and other water birds often fish or forage along the road edge here.

The tundra offers limitless possibilities, from shadow studies of rolling hills to 'habitat shots' featuring the tundra and the mountain, to macro details of the mosses, fungi, colorful forbes, and lichen-covered rocks, many being glacier erratics from the geologic past.

In six full days of traveling in the park we're almost certain to have some opportunities to film caribou, moose, and ptarmigan. If you spend any time in the tundra, simply filming macro and landscapes, you're likely to have an encounter with caribou, for they travel widely during the fall as the rut approaches. On my last trip a group of us hiked across the tundra to a group of four bulls, one -- a huge bull -- that was in the process of stripping off its velvet, sporting blood-red gleaming beams and tines.

The tundra is filled with shallow potholes virtually throughout the park and moose often forage in these pools. We've had some very good luck with moose -- both bulls and cows. Some pools and some small streams offer beaver as well, as depending upon the year and their accessibility to visitors these huge rodents can be remarkably tame. One year we filmed for an entire afternoon as beaver passed to and fro, dragging freshly cut willows to their underwater larders.

We're almost certain to see bears, but we won't be approaching any bears on foot and, if they're close to the road, it's likely that we'll be filming bears right from the bus. You might consider carrying a Molar Bag for window shooting -- you could fill it with a few river rocks and some spare clothes. While vehicle-shooting is not my favorite I've seen some really remarkable shots made right from these vehicles.

If we're lucky we'll see gray wolves and red fox. In six full days afield we're apt to, and sometimes wolves walk quite close to the road. Let's hope. Red foxes sometimes mouse unconcernedly along the roadside and it's easy to keep pace with a hunting fox intent on mice or voles.

Arctic ground squirrels are common at a few locations and make neat, animated subjects that you're likely to overlook. Don't! Hoary marmots, resembling a frosty grizzly bear at a distance, believe it or not, are found in rocky country and, particulary, in Marmot Valley where we may get an opportunity to hike. Collared pikas are common here as well, and a previous visitor to NFL photographed a wolverine here! Long-tailed weasels frequent these talus slopes, possibly hunting pikas, and any visit here should yield a weasel.

Hiking further up Marmot Valley, or undertaking a leg-grueling hike straight up from Eilson Visitor Center, one can reach the high country where Dall sheep are most commonly found. Unfortunately, the home of the sheep is invisible from below, so climbing up is an act of faith and a matter of luck. The sheep, however, are incredibly tame and, as the only cream-white species in the world and carrying the most dramatic unbroomed horns of any North American variety, they are the ultimate Denali trophy. I'd like to make a journey for them before I get too old! If our schedule permits, and we have a few takers, we'll give it a try.

Bird life is rather limited. We'll surely photograph willow ptarmigan along the road, but we could get great images of this grouse-like bird if we encounter any in the tundra. Well-camouflaged, the birds are likely to forage quietly without alarm. Along the tundra pools and at Wonder Lake any number of waterfowl, loon, or grebe may appear -- especially if you're quietly sitting and letting things happen. One year, while I was hiking for Dall sheep, a friend of mine photographed a gyrfalcon, North America's largest falcon, right on the berm of the main road! Golden eagles are a common sight overhead, but good shots are unlikely (although I said the same thing about Andean condors, and had frame-filling shots!). Hawkowls can be found in the forests, but I've yet to have one to date.

With DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY it is especially easy to do panorama shots where several images are shot and composited. Denali really lends itself to this, for broad vistas of the Alaskan range punctuated by Denali looming tall come immediately to mind. Exposure composites may be in order too, as the white mountain reflects much more light than a middle tone tundra. Film shooters will need neutral density filters for some of these shots -- digital shooters need only vision. We'll show you how to make these types of shots in the field, and if time permits we will demonstrate the technique in how to put a panorama or an exposure composite together.


This trip is a 'tour,' where our daylight hours will be involved in finding, and filming, subjects. Unlike our workshops where we conduct compositional exercises and provide planned instruction, we'll be using our daylight hours and field time solely for photography. That certainly does not imply that we're not available to help you in whatever ways we can. Mary and I will be offering our on-the-spot suggestions on the best way to compose the images before us, as well as suggestions on making the correct exposures, choosing the correct lenses, and obtaining the best perspectives. We're always there for you -- if you have questions, if you'd like an opinion on a composition, if you'd like to see what we're doing, whatever, WE ARE THERE FOR YOU. On a tour, we too will be shooting but we'll be with you, orchestrating the shoot to provide the best opportunities for our group. We won't disappear and let you to your own luck, although we also won't sit on the bus with those less motivated. We'll be in Denali to film, hopefully side by side with all of our participants, and we hope that everyone will share that same enthusiasm to photograph.

DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY and the workload, image management, and editing always generates questions and opinions. On the tour during lunches or while we're driving, or during the day if we have the very rare day that is so miserable that we lquit early we'll have the opportunity to present our views, and to demonstrate our workflow and editing procedures.


We'll be forwarding a complete list of equipment and film recommendations to our registered participants. However, this tour will require long lenses for anyone seriously hoping to shoot frame-filling portraits of elk, pronghorn, or other large mammals. I'd suggest lenses of 300mm or longer (Mary and I will be using 500mm and 600mm lenses). If you only own an 80-200mm zoom, I'd recommend either purchasing a 400mm lens or renting a telephoto, unless you will be satisfied to shoot 'mammals in the environment' type images. Sigma makes a very sharp 400mm F5.6 lens that sells for under $500, depending upon the lens mount. Too frequently people with short lenses attempt to do what people with longer lenses can do quite easily, which requires them to move in too close, either stressing the animal or putting themselves in jeopardy of being injured. Registered participants will be forwarded a complete list of suggested equipment, film choices, and recommendations.


Denali's weather in early fall can be eratic, ranging from cool, sunny days to nearly winter conditions. Temperatures rarely reach 70 at this time of year and mornings can be very cold, so gloves, and a wool cap, will be required. Typically, by mid-afternoon the weather warms up, and we advise people to wear layers that can be shed as the temperature increases. Alaska is famous for its wet weather, even at this 'statistically best season,' so make sure you have rain gear.We might even have heavy snow flurries -- or perhaps a real snowfall or damp fog, too, so we advise people to pack for cold, just in case.

Mary will provide participants with a complete list of suggested clothing.


Your fee includes the tour, all meals (excepting dinner on your arrival in Fairbanks on Day 1, lodging (based on double occupancy), and ground transportation from Fairbanks to Denali and North Face Lodge and the return to Fairbanks..

It is important that our group meets the bus for transportation to North Face Lodge at the appointed time on Day 3.Should you miss a plane or arrive late, and miss our departure from Fairbanks it will be your responsibility to meet the group in Healy on Day 2. If you would miss the bus to North Face Lodge on Day 3 well, you're out of luck! We strongly advise that you obtain trip/travel insurance if there exists the remotest possibility that you may have to cancel at the last minute.

Lodging is included, and is based upon double occupancy. We'll do our best to make roommate matchups. Single rooms are not an option at the Lodge - they are unavailable for this tour.

Our Itinerary

Featuring Six full days at the North Face Lodge, where we'll spend our time photographing the grand and the macro landscape, seeking wildlife like caribou, moose, wolf, grizzly bear, and dall sheep, on our excursions into the park via the NFL bus.

Day 1: Arrive in Fairbanks. Lodging included. We would normally have our welcome dinner on this first evening but because of flight schedules and the varying times participants may arrive we'll have our official welcome dinner on the first full day of the tour. Overnight, Fairbanks.

Day 2 ):
Breakfast at the hotel, where our transit bus driver will meet us for a tour of Fairbanks, including a trip to the Botanical Gardens which are noted for the huge flowers that prosper in the long summer days. We've scheduled this buffer time in Fairbanks for several reasons, including the possibility of flights being delayed and participants arriving late on the 24th. In a worse case scenario, participants that would arrive after our departure from Fairbanks could still catch up to us in Healy. Point is, you cannot miss the bus transit from the east entrance of the park to North Face Lodge! After a tour of Fairbanks we'll start our leisurely drive south toward Denali. En route we'll stop for any animal sightings, rest stops, views of the mountain at scenic overlooks (if the mountain is visible), and a stop in Nenana, the river barge capital of Alaska. We'll have our welcome dinner at the Healy Gold Course, then proceed to our hotel in Healy. Overnight, Healy.

Day 3 ):
Besides this being Joe's birthday, this day may also be special to you because we'll be entering the park! We'll breakfast at the hotel and then head the short distance to the park entrance and the visitor center. There's a dog mushing demonstration daily, films on the park, and a great collection of field guides and books that, at this time of year, are often discounted. Red squirrels, arctic ground squirrels, spruce grouse, gray jays, and boreal chicadees are often found around the grounds, and all are accustomed to people so photography is easy. We'll get to the train station to we'll meet our North Face Lodge bus driver by noon, and shortly after loading we'll head into the park. En route, we'll travel through the boreal forest and high willows where moose are common before hitting the tundra. We'll have a picnic dinner in the field, and a dessert reception upon our arrival at North Face Lodge at approximately 8pm.
Our journey through the park will give us the most in-depth view of the entire park as we traverse the 90 miles to our lodge. Along the way we're quite likely to see caribou, grizzly bear, willow ptarmigan, and caribou. We could, in fact, see much of Denali's wildlife on that ride -- gray wolves, red fox, and Dall sheep, but because the bus will be filled with passengers for both North Face Lodge and Camp Denali, shooting opportunities are certainly compromised. A good IS or VR lens of 300-400mm range is the ticket -- but don't expect cover-shots on that trip! Overnight, North Face Lodge.

Day 4-9 : Our base for the next six days will be 90 miles into the interior of Denali National Park, just two miles from Wonder Lake, and right in the midst of the Alaska boreal forest/tundra transitional zone. From our base we'll travel into the park each day to photograph landscapes, tundra plants, and whatever wildlife we see. Should weather and interest permit, we'll take a high country hike seeking the elusive Dall sheep. Should we be lucky, we'll get great photos, for Dall sheep are curious and accommodating. There's also the chance we'll not see one! Expect to film plenty of landscapes, great color, and, if luck is with us, great wildlife. Details on the photography end of this trip are found elsewhere in this brochure. Overnight, North Face Lodge.

Day 10. We'll leave North Face Lodge early for our return to the East entrance, where we'll meet our transportation for our drive nouth to Fairbanks. We'll have our Farewell Dinner in Fairbanks, and overnight here as well for those who elect to stay. Red-eye flights are available for your return to home. Overnight, Fairbanks hotel ...or in the air!

Day 11.
Departure for home or arrival home. Either way, you will be home on September 3rd.

What's Included: Overnights, day 1 and day 11 in Fairbanks. All meals, from Day 2 to our Farewell Dinner, Day 7 (our Fairbanks hotel may have a complimentary breakfast on Day 11). Gratuities for our transit bus driver, our NFL bus driver, and the NFL kitchen and guiding staff are also included.
What's NOT Included: Flights to or from Fairbanks.









Location: Fairbanks, Healy, and the North Face Lodge in Denali National Park.
Accommodations: Lodging (double-occupancy only) is included.
Photo Tour Duration: August 24 to September 3. Red-eye flights are available on the night of September 2.
Costs: $1,495, including all meals beginning Day 2, lodging (double occupancy), transportation, all gratuities, and all handouts. For our cancellation and payment schedule, please see our brown sheet detailing same.
Participation: Limited to 14 participants.
Liability Release: Our release form must be signed prior to participation.

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