Tangle Lakes Sunrise

Round Tangle Lake and the Amphitheater Mountains along the Denali Highway

The Denali Highway is a 135-mile gravel road (Alaskan for “highway”) that connects Paxson on the east with Cantwell on the west.  Prior to completion of the paved Parks Highway in 1971, it was the only route for people living in Anchorage to get to Denali National Park, home to the western Alaska Range and Denali (Mt. McKinley), the tallest mountain in North America.

The road is a popular recreational destination for Alaskans as it offers similar stunning wilderness landscapes as the national park without the access restrictions.  The eastern Alaska Range is on full display with glaciers flowing down from high peaks, braided rivers, expansive taiga and tundra, lakes and ponds, and iconic Alaskan wildlife.  By early September, fall colors peak and put on a spectacular display of reds and oranges on the ground with the occasional patch of yellow from aspens.  Nearly every year my wife and I take our recreational vehicle and camp at Tangle Lakes off the eastern end of the highway to hike, pick blueberries and cranberries, and disconnect from the rest of the world. 

Despite the inclement weather on this particular outing we always enjoy our stay.  Usually, we leave with some sadness knowing the end of our camping season for the year is near as winter often arrives soon after.  On the morning of our departure for the long ride home we had just left the campground as the rising sun was clearing the surrounding mountains.  Sunlight was illuminating the Amphitheater Mountains and dark storm clouds in the background, with a patch of brilliant aspen trees along the lake’s hillside in the foreground.  I knew I had to act quickly to photograph as I didn’t know how long the light would last.  Finding a place to stop with a low maneuverability trailer in tow was the challenge.  Fortunately, I was able to use a nearby pullout to park.

Even so, I felt I didn’t have enough time to assemble my full-frame camera with the appropriate focal length lens.  So I turned to my Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark III micro four-thirds camera with the all-purpose Olympus M.Zuiko ED12-100mm f/4 IS Pro Lens already attached.  Because I thought this would make a nice large print, I opted to use the Tripod High Res Shot mode which produces a single 80 MPix image by combining eight sequentially recorded 20 MPix frames.  The low lighting added great depth by accentuating the various layers from foreground to background.  A focal length equivalent to 70 mm on a 35 mm sensor added more impact to the the mountains. I was hoping to wait long enough for the wind to calm down on the lake’s surface for a more complete reflection.  However, about five minutes after I started photographing the light was gone.  Nevertheless, this photo was a great way to end a memorable trip along the Denali Highway.

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