Up in the Air

Ever wanted to shoot from an airplane?  You get a view most folks never get to see.  Today's airliners fly too high to see much more than patterns in the fields and cities, 30,000 feet below you.  To get the best view with a regular, hand-held camera, you want to go slower and lower. During this year's trip to Alaska, we rode the bus deeper into Denali National Park, about 90 miles.  This is as far as you can go in the park vehicles.  You can go further by foot, but I'm not the hiker I used to be.

Cabin in Kantishna, Denali National Park, Alaska

At the end of the trail is Kantishna Roadhouse.  They have a nice lodge there, with rustic cabins, for you to spend a couple of days of peaceful rest and relaxation.  We didn't have time for that because we needed to get to Ft. Wainwritght, so, our tour director (who doubles as my wife) had scheduled our group of siblings, spouses, and now my son and daughter-in-law, with a couple of Cessnas to fly us back to the hotel in Denali.

After a quick meal, we headed for the airstrip to try and beat the weather.  The clouds were moving in, and these pilots usually fly by visual flight rules.   I've flown around the state many times in small planes, but for several it was a first time experience.  After being accustomed to big jets, it can be a little unnerving to walk up to a small Cessna, which is loaded when you pile in four passengers.

Cessna 206 on the airstrip

It wasn't very scenic for us with the marginal weather. We hadn't seen Denali (Mt. McKinley) all day because of the low clouds.  Luckily, the flight was smooth and enjoyable for all.

Low clouds on a flight in Denali National Park, Alaska

When Cathy first told me of the plan, I was really looking forward to shooting some aerial photos, but it wasn't meant to be.  Shooting through the plexiglass windows, in reduced light, wasn't ideal for the photos I wanted.  I kept bumping the lens shade on the window, so I turned it around.  After awhile, I just put the camera down and enjoyed the ride.  Tiffany grabbed a couple of shots of Cathy and I during the trip. passenger in a small airplane shooting photos from a small airplane

We overflew one site of note: the bus where Christopher McCandless lived for a few months before he died of starvation in 1992.  The 2007 movie about him, Into the Wild, was adapted from Jon Karakauer's 1996 book by the same name.  Apparently, McCandless hiked in with very few supplies and was searching for solitude.  He came upon the bus and stayed inside.  He realized too late that he couldn't get out the way he came in because the river was too high, and he was too weak to hike back out.  The pilot told us that many hikers had tried to find the bus and got themselves into trouble.  Wikepedia has articles about McCandless and the movie if you are interested.

The small town of Healy (10 miles north of Denali) purchased the movie prop bus and put it outside a bar, so tourists could take pictures without endangering themselves deep inside the park.  Here is the real bus, right next to the Teklanika River, followed by my brother-in-law in the movie prop bus.

McCandless bus in Denali National Park, Alaska

Prop bus from the movie, Into the Wild, Healy, Alaska

Finally, we overflew our hotel and landed on the gravel airstrip, near the Park's visitor center and beside the railroad tracks.  The trip was less than an hour.

Hotel in Denali, Alaska

I would like to do it again on a bright, sunny day.  You can tell by the photos that I'm not an aerial photographer.  I don't think I have any great techniques to pass on, since this was the first time I've ever attempted taking pictures from a small plane.  I can tell you it was loads of fun, even if my results were unimpressive.  It was a another great day in the great State of Alaska.