On this truly unique photo safari, spend nights observing and photographing the magical, yet ephemeral phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis and days immersed in the magnificent wilderness and wildlife of the Brooks Range and the Arctic coastal plain. Visit an Inupiat village along the beautiful Beaufort Sea coastline for the chance to view and photograph Polar Bears. En route to this remote destination, we will cover great distances, traveling primarily along the amazing Dalton Highway, often called the most scenic road in North America! We'll search for Moose, Wolf, and Grizzly Bear surrounded by vibrant autumn colors and spectacular landscapes. This is the best time of year for this trip as foraging Polar Bears often feed on whale carcasses while they wait for the winter sea ice to form. It is also at this time of year, near the equinox, that the northern lights peak in activity. Temperatures are still moderate, allowing for comfortable photography and wildlife viewing. Days are long enough to provide light for plenty of wildlife photography with beautiful scenic backgrounds, while nights are long enough for the transitory Auroras to be enjoyed. See nature's beauty at its finest under the guidance of one of Alaska's best naturalists and professional photographers!
Cost: $7,100 per person, double occupancy, not including airfare to and from Fairbanks. Review cost details.
Leader: Hugh Rose.
Group Size: 8 participants, plus leader.
Number of Days: 10, including estimated travel time.
Conditions: A non-smoking safari for people who are very interested in wildlife (mammals, birds and reptiles) and spending the maximum time in the field.
Itinerary Updated: September 2012.
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September 2, Monday Arrive in Fairbanks
September 3, Tuesday Drive north to Wiseman
Our destination for the day is Wiseman, a turn of the 20th Century gold mining town that offers a glimpse into the recent human history of this region. Wiseman is located approximately 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle in the heart of the spectacular Brooks Range and is the perfect base for exploration and photography in the area. Accommodations in Wiseman may be considered slightly rustic, but are certainly cozy and comfortable. There is a main sleeping cabin that has three bedrooms, a large living area with kitchen facilities, and a single bathroom with shower that is shared by all occupants. A second sleeping cabin features two bedrooms with queen beds, a sitting area, and bathroom with shower shared by the occupants of this building. It still amazes us that a hot shower can be had in this wilderness setting! Meals are served family style in the dance hall of the old Wiseman community center.
About the aurora borealis: The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, is an ephemeral phenomenon that occurs in a band at extreme north and south latitudes (Southern Lights or Aurora Australealis). The northern sky lights up when streams of electrons that are emitted from the sun in the form of solar flares impact molecules of gas found in the atmosphere of the earth. The impact of these electrons against gas molecules causes the gas to go into an unbalanced state of energy and the only way for the gas to become stable again is to give off energy in the form of light. The Auroral Band (an area from roughly 60 to 70 degrees north latitude in Alaska, where aurora is concentrated) is formed because the earth acts as a huge magnet and attracts the charged electrons to this specific location. Wiseman is located at roughly 67 degrees north latitude inside the Auroral Band and makes an ideal location for the lights, despite being fickle and transitory. Aurora can occur at any time of year, but tends to peak around the equinoxes, making this an ideal time of year to visit this area. In addition, nights are just getting dark and long enough to allow viewing of the Aurora.
September 4, Wednesday Drive North beyond the treeline and Continental Divide, to the Arctic Coast
September 5, Thursda Drive from Brooks Range to Prudhoe Bay; Fly to Native Village
Upon arrival at the Prudhoe Bay airport, we will check in for our flight. Luggage weight and size will be restricted on this flight to 70 pounds total (including camera gear), so everyone will consolidate their gear and take only what is needed for the next three nights in the Arctic. Gear should consist of necessary camera equipment and a small duffel with toothbrush, change of underwear and cold weather gear. Arctic weather conditions will be encountered, so suitable clothing and gear will be needed. A detailed packing list will be provided to all participants upon registration.
The 40-minute flight takes us over the spectacular Arctic coastal plain and the well known, if not controversial, "1002" area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Depending on the plane's altitude, we may see herds of Caribou, Muskoxen, Grizzly Bears, and Polar Bears. Upon arrival in the Native Village in late afternoon, we will be transported from the village airstrip to our accommodations for the next three nights. Although our lodging is not luxurious, what it lacks in appearance is made up for in hospitality and a certain charm. Built from modular oilfield camp buildings, the Inn is basic yet comfortable. Accommodations are in double rooms with twin beds; bathrooms with showers are located down a short hall. All of our meals are prepared and eaten in the cafe located on site and are always hearty and tasty! Our schedule will depend on weather and individual interests, but the best photography tends to be early in the morning and later in the evening, so we will try and schedule meals around our photographic forays! In the remainder of the day, we will settle in and get oriented with our surroundings and hopefully see and photograph bears!
About the native village: We will be visiting a native village inhabited by approximately 250 Inupiat "Eskimo" people who are endemic to this region of arctic Alaska. The village is located on a small island just off the arctic coastline. This island was an important stop for whalers at the turn of the last century, but did not become a permanent settlement for the semi-nomadic Inupiat people until 1923 with the establishment of a fur trading post. The island is characterized by a large saltwater lagoon that is located on the east side and provides a sheltered anchorage for the village fishing boats. The downtown consists of a cluster of homes built on the barren tundra approximately one mile from the village airport. There are limited roads and vehicles located in this village, but a vehicle is important for travel and photography of the Polar Bears. We will have the only rental vehicle available and although it may not be pretty, it will be sufficient for the purpose. Keep in mind that we are visitors from a different culture and our sense of time and schedule may be different than the Inuit's. Experiencing the culture of the Inupiat is as much of an experience as watching the Polar Bears!
Why are Polar Bears (Nanook) here? The Inupiat name for the polar bear is "Nanook" and the domain of Nanook is not the beaches and tundra of the arctic coast, but the pack ice that covers the sea surface for 9 months of the year. Polar Bears feed mainly on seals that live on and under the arctic ice, hunting them with a number of different techniques. Like their cousins the brown bears from whom they evolved, during times of hunger, Polar Bears can be opportunistic and will feed on whatever food opportunities appear. Other food sources can include vegetation, small rodents, bird eggs, other marine mammals, and scavenging on carrion. Polar Bears are attracted to this area to scavenge on the carcasses of butchered whales, and begin to arrive here before the whale hunt begins on Labor Day each year. In mid summer when the arctic pack ice moves off shore, Beaufort Sea Polar Bears are often marooned on shore where there is little to eat. These bears enter the fall season hungry from lack of readily available food and have keyed into the presence of whale carcasses in this area starting in September. A bear's memory is so good they will remember the time and place where food was available and return to that same spot the next year at the same time. The bears typically arrive in late August before the whale hunt begins, and will scavenge on the remains of whale carcasses from previous year's hunts. We will be visiting this area during the annual hunt and if we are fortunate, we may witness the community event that surrounds the harvesting of a whale. The circumpolar indigenous people of the world have been hunting marine mammals and whales for thousands of years and the Inupiat of Alaska are no different. In a very tightly controlled hunt, arctic coastal villages are allowed to hunt the Bowhead Whale, which frequent the waters of the adjacent Beaufort Sea/Arctic Ocean. A whale harvest quota is awarded to each village according to number of residents and the historic harvest.
September 6 - 7, Friday - Saturday Photography and Bear Viewing
September 8, Sunday Return to Prudhoe and Wiseman
September 9, Monday Explore Around Wiseman
September 10, Tuesday Drive South to Fairbanks
September 11, Wednesday Flights Home
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Payments and Cancellations: All reservations require a deposit due at the time of making the reservation. Upon receiving your deposit and reservation form, we will send trip materials with additional information to help you prepare for your safari. Until the final payment due date, deposits are refundable except for a cancellation fee of $150 per person. This fee may go toward another tour if reserved within six months of the cancelled trip's departure date. There are no refunds given after the final payment due date. We reserve the right to charge for cost increases that occur between now and the date of travel.
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To Make a Reservation: Please contact us (there are many methods of contacting us) to assure space availability and to let us answer your questions. Then, print our reservation form, fill out one form per person, and post it to us in the mail with your deposit. Or fill out our handy online information request and we will send you more information.
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Leader: Hugh Rose is an exceptional resident naturalist and has a wonderful personality. Hugh has led Alaska trips since 1991 receiving unending praise for his amazing knowledge and attention to details, including attention to everyone's needs. He has extensive knowledge of all aspects of Alaskan natural history from in-depth bird behavior to geology. Hugh is a professional photographer and also a member of our Antarctica expedition staff.
Flights: Arrive in Fairbanks no later than 4:30pm on September 2. Round trip airfare to Fairbanks (FAI) is approximately $650-$800 from the lower 48 states, depending on departure point (quoted September 2010, subject to change). Depart from Fairbanks around midday on September 11, or later if you decide to extend your trip. Please contact us if you would like us to arrange additional nights in Fairbanks before or after your safari. If arriving early or departing late, please plan to handle your own airport transfer. Internal flights, round trip from Prudhoe to the Native Village, will be arranged by Hugh Rose and are included in the tour price.
Important Disclaimer about weather-related travel delays: In the unlikely event that our return flight from the Native Village back to Prudhoe Bay is cancelled due to weather, an additional fee of $250 per person will be collected from each trip participant for each additional night that we have to stay in the village. This is to cover the extra cost of staying in the village (higher cost relative to Wiseman or Prudhoe) and the cost of a rental vehicle so that we can make the most of the situation and continue to view and photograph Polar Bears. Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris and Hugh Rose would absorb some of the additional cost caused by any such delay, but cannot absorb all of it. We apologize in advance if it becomes necessary to collect this additional fee, but weather in the Arctic can be unpredictable.
Travel Insurance: Emergency Medical Insurance is optional, but encouraged, for this tour. Read about travel insurance and our recommendations and requirements.
Vehicles: Distances are large in Alaska and a significant amount of time will be spent in vehicles searching for wildlife and driving to destinations. We will make our journey in a custom Dodge "Sprinter" van, specially modified for doing these trips. The Sprinter is outfitted with tall, untinted, sliding windows for superior viewing and it is tall enough to allow people to stand up inside. These features make wildlife viewing and photography possible from the van, which often acts as a blind for animals and birds we see along the roadway.
Climate: Even though it is early September, weather can be winter-like and temperatures could range significantly. Keep in mind the Arctic has ever changing weather with temperatures that can swing from below freezing to warm in a matter of hours at this time of year. Expect daytime temperatures in the 40's (perhaps as high as the 60's) with nights below freezing. Both rain and snow are possible as well, so think layers when packing starting with a waterproof and windproof outer shell with layers of wool or fleece underneath. Warm hat and gloves are essential, as are liner gloves for photography. Be prepared for rainy cool weather. Dressing in layers is best, as you can remove or add as the temperature dictates.
Equipment: Advice on suitable camera gear and personal gear for traveling and photographing in the Arctic will be given to all trip participants. Instruction on winter and Arctic wildlife photography as well as Aurora photography will be provided throughout the trip.
Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris is registered as California Seller of Travel #2063050-40. Registration as a seller of travel does not constitute approval by the State of California. Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris is a participant in the Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation (TCRC). In event of a client canceling where a refund is applicable in accordance with the schedule above, or in the event that CES needs to cancel the trip, all payments for transportation or travel service not provided to the client shall be promptly refunded, unless the client instructs us otherwise in writing. All client payments are deposited into a trust account in accordance with California law. If for any reason a valid refund is not forthcoming, the client may request reimbursement from the TCRC within six months of the scheduled end of the tour. Please feel free to ask us for more information.
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