Pro Pho in Denali

This is not an Asian dinner. “Pro Pho” is short for Professional Photographer permit. This is a National Park Service permit that allows a professional photographer access to the “inner Denali” in a private vehicle.   For the general public, access to Denali National Park (beyond the first 15 miles of park road) is normally only possible by riding a bus.  No riding on the buses for this photographer!  The permit allowed us to drive through the gates at Savage River in our 19 foot recreational vehicle (RV), and to continue 75 miles through wild, remote terrain to the road’s end at Kantishna. In the “inner Denali,” the park road is a narrow dirt road that snakes through boreal forests, beautiful autumn colored tundra, up over 3 hair-raising mountain passes, across braided rivers, past pond-studded marsh land, all dominated by spectacular views of snow-covered Mt. McKinley and the Alaska Range.

This is also grizzly bear country!

Dont Mess With Me

Don’t Mess With Me

Mother Daughter Duo

Mother Daughter Duo

Grizzly in the Bear Berryies

Grizzly in the Bear Berries

These grizzlies were safely photographed from the inside of our RV. Frequently the bears were too close to photograph from outside the vehicle (regulation distance is 300 yards), and in some cases so close that my camera lens would not focus.  One crossed the road right in front of our bumper, and another trotted down the road in front of one of the buses.

Moose Emerging

Moose Emerging

Tourist Buses Make Way for Bull Moose

Tourist Buses Make Way for Bull Moose

As exciting and as menacing as a grizzly can be, the most dangerous animal in Denali is the moose.  Alaskan moose are the largest in the world (a bull can be 7 feet tall at the shoulders, have antlers 6 feet across, and weigh 1500 pounds). Many people are fooled by their docile demeanor and approach too closely, leading to more incidents of moose attacks than bear attacks.

Big Bad Bull

Big Bad Bull

Driving over Polychrome pass in an RV, on a dirt road that is 1.5 lanes wide with no guard rails, that must be shared with the tourist “school buses” around blind curves, is a sweaty-palm, white-knuckle experience for this photographer. At one point we had to back up to allow a tourist bus to pass. The buses always get priority!  The reward was waking up the next morning to a spectacular alpenglow sunrise and reflection of Mt. McKinley (aka Denali – the tallest mountain in North America) that, up until then, I could only dream about.

Denali Alpenglow Sunrise and Reflection

Denali Alpenglow Sunrise and Reflection

I have been inspired by the work of Tom Mangelsen (, whose photographic print of the alpenglow reflection of Denali has haunted me since the day that I first saw it years ago. It has taken me 3 trips to Denali before luck finally  struck. The probability of seeing any part of Denali is 30%. The probability of seeing the full mountain is 16%. The probability of being able to photograph the sunrise alpenglow reflection is less than 5%.

View my video panorama of Denali and the Alaska Range taken later that morning:

My lucky day!

For the travel blog of our “Denver to Denali and Back” road trip see:

~ by richardseeley on October 18, 2012.

4 Responses to “Pro Pho in Denali”

  1. And…if you are looking for a local wildlife photography experience….come on by our house! Mark spotted both a coyote AND a bear on our street last night. 😉


    MaryBeth Vellequette 303.817.8970


  2. Well written, made me think about my tourist bus ride to inner-Denali.


  3. the mountain, sunrise and photographer’s gods all smiled on you that morning. just spectacular!


  4. Jolies scènes d’intimité animalière magnifiées par les couleurs automnales.


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