A large cat-like creature crossed the road ahead of me, and I knew immediately it must be a lynx. My wife, Beth, and I were in Denali National Park in Alaska, driving slowly along the fifteen mile stretch of road on which cars are allowed and had just passed the first viewpoint of Denali Mountain. I was convinced the creature that I had seen 200 feet ahead of us was a lynx – though I’ve never seen a lynx before.
Oh, how I have dreamed of seeing one in the wild and maybe even photographing one on a rare day. They are secretive and elusive creatures. But based on rumors of high lynx activity in the area (snowshoe hare population was rising) I knew that it had to be a lynx. My very first sighting!
I stepped on the accelerator, simultaneously grabbing my camera and rolling down the window. Seconds later when we arrived at the location of the sighting, the lynx was still on the left shoulder. As I raised the camera, it darted into the bush – the only image I captured was a butt disappearing into the woods. I stepped out of the car (there were no other cars in sight) and walked around the area hoping to see it, again. Then it suddenly darted back across the road only 10 yards in front of me, so quickly, that I did not even have time to raise my camera before it disappeared into the brush.
Wow, I thought – my first and only encounter with a lynx and I missed the shot. What was the probability of my seeing another lynx in the wild – very small, I thought. What bad luck!
Dejected, I got back in the car, and we drove on. Then suddenly the whole scene repeated itself like a film rewound and re-played. Another lynx darted across the road, again I sped up to the location, and again the lynx was gone–another photoshot missed. Another car approaching in the opposite direction stopped since they saw the lynx, too. We chatted for a few seconds. As we chatted, that lynx bolted across the road, behind my back. I never saw it. The folks in the car saw it all. Collectively we walked along the shoulder for a few hundred feet hoping for another sighting. But, no luck. Finally, we drove on, simultaneously excited about the sighting, but upset that I, once again, missed my opportunity of photographing a lynx. What bad luck!
We drove to the Savage River Canyon parking area. This is the end of the road for public cars. While the road continues another 85 miles into Denali National Park, cars aren’t allowed on it; the only way forward is on foot, special permitted vehicles and tour buses. We turned around and started back towards the entrance to the Park.
As we approached the location of the last sighting, there before my very eyes is a photographer standing along the road photographing into the brush. I needed no debriefing to know what was happening. I pulled over, grabbed my 500mm lens, and stepped up to the lone photographer. Sure enough there was “my Lynx” hunkered down in the brush about 100-150 feet from the road partially hidden by bushes. Fortunately, it poked its head up clear of the obstructions and I took this shot:
Within minutes a crowd gathered. Over the next 30 minutes, I counted over 20 photographers, 3 buses of tourists with people hanging out the windows to get a picture, 5-8 cars and trucks all backed up and crowded around the site.
After minutes of excitement and hundreds of images shot the lynx finally got up and moved on. As she disappeared into the bush, we saw that there was a baby lynx following her. We were electrified–a cub, glimpsed and then gone and we never got to see it or photograph it. What bad luck!
But the story doesn’t end here. I lingered as the crowd dispersed, and the mother and kit reappeared and curled up to relax under the shade of a tree. While they were a long distance away (200-250 feet) and the light was shaded, it was a clear shot of the two of them. I watched and photographed in amazement for the next hour as mother and cub interacted and posed for the cameras.
My lucky day!
End of story
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