N68 W133 – AURORA!

In Emily and I, News & Stuff, Postcards From..., Travel by David25 Comments

Camped on the shore of Lake Ethel in the Yukon, I woke at 4am, poked my head out of the tent, and saw the sky aflame with the northern lights, it was like coming face to face with glory, or hearing the voice of God. There’s something ineffable about the experience, the lights just hanging there as if they’re just waiting for you to show up before they dance. I crawled down the ladder from the tent on top of my Jeep, fumbled for my gear and my headlamp, and spent an hour photographing the lights as they danced across the sky over the lake and nearby hills. I’ve got one shot I’m thrilled with, hoping it survives the monitor shock when I get it onto my larger displays at home. That photograph, and others I’m making on this trip, will end up in the my fine-art book next year.

This trip has been amazing. There have been times, driving through the hills ablaze with golden aspens, that I’ve lost my breath, other times, in the solitude and serenity of the hills that I’ve come close to tears for the beauty as it spreads out before me towards the horizon in ochre and russet browns, to meet snowy hills and blue skies. I missed the peak of the turning of the leaves here in the north, but would easily trade that for seeing these first snows falling on the still-colourful taiga. I’ve spent two weeks wandering around the muskeg with my tripod and cameras, playing at being a photographer while secretly just being an observer, there for the heady bliss of being somewhere so beautiful, so wild, so remote.  I’ve crossed rivers, the water halfway up my doors, to camp on rocky spits in the middle of rivers, and climbed high into the hills to explore old mines and feel the wind whip the mud, thick from the Dempster Highway, off the Jeep. On days like this, as much as I adore what I do with a camera to my face, the photographs pale next to the experience itself.

I’m in Whitehorse now. Stocking up on things, looking for a shower, and getting Emily’s windshield repaired. By the time I rolled into town this morning she was held together with superglue and duct-tape after taking a bullet, a really large rock, and the weight of my buddy Al as we fixed my roof-rack. Holes and cracks, the poor thing was quite a sight! Back to the woods this afternoon, and the beginning of a long slow, week-long, return to Vancouver. See you when I get back!


  1. Dave Benson

    sure hope you treat Emily to a bubble bath upon her return to Vancouver… she deserves it after where she has been able to take you…

  2. Anna Velkey-Solvberg

    What an adventure in the true sense of the word! So serene and so humbling – the great outdoors gets to you, doesn’t it? :)

  3. Joe Becker

    Thanks for sharing your trip. I’ve been wanting to drive up the Dempster Highway from my home in Tacoma for many years now. I keep a pdf of the road guide on my computer desktop as a reminder. Following your adventures on the highway are renewing my passion for getting there. Now that the kids are out of college and on their own, I might be able to afford to take a month off from work and go – with any luck, next August or September. David, you say you are past the peak, when, do you think, is the best time to go?

    1. André Joanisse

      Joe, I was there back in 2009 at the start of Sept, 2nd-6th, and the colours were at their peak in Tombstone Park, like for David, the scenery there just took my breath away. Darwin Wiggett has also been there for the fall colours, so you can check with him. Obviously it can vary from year to year but late August, early September tends to be the time.

  4. Jim

    I’ve been wanting to leave a comment on a number of posts as you’ve described your trip. I’ve been at a loss for words that are different from what everyone else is expressed. After today’s post I’m just going to give up and say with all sincerity: WOW!

  5. Jeff Bartlett

    Nice David. Finally abusing that Jeep in good old northern canadian ways!

    That is deep water in photo number 3. Were you worried when it started leaking around your feet?

  6. Paul Bousquet

    Great to hear we will be able to see some of the images from this trip in your book next year. Hopefully some of these Jeep shots will make it to one of their brochures soon, who wouldn’t want a vehicle who could make it through an adventure like this.

  7. Matt

    Are you serious about the shot at your windshield? Your material is amazing. Please keep it coming as it inspires and motivates me. Thank you!

  8. Len

    Thank you for keeping the world in awe of this adventure through your voice and vision.
    It’s my 50th approaching fast and the Dempster is my planned solo adventure.

    Awesome David, just awesome!

  9. Sandy Silva

    Emily rocks!!!!!! Love the images!!!!! Can’t wait for your fine art book….true hightlights in my life …:) Safe travels home David…:)

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  11. Tom Kostes

    The aurora image is truly beautiful. Great work. Was the sky really that green? I think you may find that it is a bit out of gamut when you print it…… No matter, I’m sure you can fix that, and it is so breathtaking.

    You are a brave man, my friend, that image with the water halfway up the side of the jeep proves that! May luck and good fortune be with you all the way back home!

  12. Craig Carlson


    Awesome stuff! Great photos but maybe even more moving text too! I’m using your stuff to slowly wear down the wife’s aversion to camping! Keep it coming! 😉


  13. Ralph Milton

    I recently bought but just tonight began to read “Photographically Speaking.” I didn’t read the blurb about you (athour blurbs are generally tiresome) but by the time I got to page 23 I found myself saying, “I know this guy!” Not in the sense of being an aquaintence, but in the sense of resonating with who you are. What really gave you away was quoting Anne Lamont, ML King and Lear. I’m sure you’ll get Annie Dillard in there soon.
    Reading your bio, I wasn’t surprised at the four years of theology, from VST, I bet. Well, I haven’t studied there, but they gave me a DD a few years ago. My life has bopped around like yours has, early years spent in broadcasting, then teaching communications in the Philippines and in Nairobi, 10 years as a TV producer, then a writer and publisher, and finally, now in my dotage, photography. All the above is simply to thank you for your clear writing, your no-bs style, and your clear vision. I look forward to learning from you in the future. Bon Voyage!

  14. Daniel

    I so wished I’d had the holiday time to join you and Al on the trip, the pictures look amazing: especially the Aurora shot! Looking forward to seeing your fine-art book.

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