A natural bounty of color has exploded across hills, mountains, and tundra of Alaska's Interior. As the state takes its annual, inevitable turn toward winter after an unusually sunny -- and busy -- summer, Mother Nature has one more gift for Alaskans before coloring everything white and drawing down the window shades for some well-earned rest.
Near Tok, a small community 318 road miles northeast of the state's largest city, September has brought with it falling temperatures and dropping jaws. Residents there, like many who live in the first pew of the natural cathedral that is the Last Frontier, can be downright unmoved by the same scenery that lures tourists to the state by the thousands. But even the most hardened and grizzled Alaskan must admit this year's fall colors are gorgeous.
From Fairbanks to Chickaloon, the colors dazzle in the angular autumn light, thrown into high relief against eternal glacier blues, slate grays and spruce greens.
And they are not going unnoticed. Last week, hunters afield in search of caribou, moose, and ducks could be seen putting down their guns and reaching for a camera at times. Golden hues of aspen, birch, and alder trees contrast with the burnt orange and flaming red of mountainside bushes. Unusually sunny September days have only increased the focus on nature's annual wardrobe change.
In the remote mining town of Chicken -- 76 miles northeast from Tok up the beaten, dusty Taylor Highway -- burly miners took time to gander at their own backyards. All-terrain vehicles -- the modern equivalent of pack mules -- were not laden with hoses and pumps, but with an extra rider under the spell of seasonal awe.
Saturday night, locals gathered in the Chicken Bar to celebrate the end of the mining season. People beamed about the golden colors they were seeing, and not the gold nuggets they found this year -- or even about the biggest news to hit the area in a long time, the recent EPA-led raids of area mines.
"I took a 30-mile drive down the trail the other day, just so I could see the fall colors," said Chris Race, as he leaned on a barstool late Saturday night, sipping one of the last beers left in the tiny tavern.
"You know it's especially beautiful out when the miners are acting like tourists," Race said.