Alaska’s Hidden Gems

Alaska Wilderness League has conducted annual photography contests through which participants reveal the beauty and bounty of Alaska’s Hidden Gems. The contests feature lands in Alaska under the management of the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which hold some of our nation’s greatest natural treasures: the world’s largest wild salmon fishery, the largest surging glacier in North America, millions of migratory and resident birds, the state’s largest caribou herd and longest River; the mighty Yukon.

Despite containing the superlatives of Alaska’s natural beauty, the unique history, cultures, and untouched beauty in much of these wild places are yet to be discovered by many Americans, in and out of Alaska. Our hope is that the photographs and stories from these places will inspire the public to learn more about them, to visit them and to push for lasting protections for them.

We are not conducting a contest in 2011, but are planning new ways to promote Alaska’s Hidden Gems! Please visit our page in spring 2011 for more details on how you can help us reveal Alaska’s Hidden Gems.

2010 Winning Photos

American Pipit, Toolik Lake Field Station. Photographer: Jake Schas
Jake Schas from Sisters, OR was the overall contest winner and was the first place winner in the Wildlife category with his photograph “American Pipit, Toolik Lake Field Station.” Jake is a naturalist at the Toolik Field Station. During a rainstorm, Jake ventured out and took a walk around Toolik Field. He happened upon a few American Pipits feeding in the rain. Jake’s photo captures the weather and birds beautifully.

Pinnell Mountain Trail, Eagle Summit. Photographer: Laura Vines
Laura Vines from Fairbanks, AK took second place in the overall contest and was the first place winner of the Landscapes and Natural Features category with “Pinnell Mountain Trail, Eagle Summit.” Laura visits the Pinnell Mountain Trail as frequently as she can. When this landscape was captured, she had decided to forge on to Eagle Summit from 12-mile Summit even through it was raining and sleeting heavily. When she arrived on Pinnell Mountain, the sky cleared and it was warmer and more beautiful than she had ever experienced. Laura captured the passing weather perfectly – a beautiful day on the mountain with moving, passing clouds overhead.

Dalton Highway. Photographer: Susan L. Stevenson
Susan L. Stevenson from North Pole, AK took third place in the overall contest and was the first place winner of the Humans and the Environment category with her photograph “Dalton Highway.” Susan and her husband were driving the “Haul Road” otherwise known as Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay last June. Inspired by the vastness and beauty of the state, Susan felt this photo was a true representation of the sheer aloneness that people can feel when making this trip. In her photo, Susan captures the singleness of the experience and contrasts the beauty of the wilderness with the development of the highway.

Abandoned Gold Dredge, Steese Highway. Photographer: Krystin Bogan
Krystin Bogan from North Pole, AK took fourth place in the overall contest and was the first place winner of the Historical and Cultural Features category with her photograph “Abandoned Gold Dredge, Steese Highway.” Krystin is no stranger to BLM lands – she and her family have made many trips to their cabin in central Alaska to experience the wilderness. Krystin captures an old abandoned gold dredge which is located across from the Chatanika Lodge just up from the Steese Highway. The photograph is a reminder of Alaska’s gold mining past – set among a scenery of beautiful mountains, trees, and streams.

About BLM-managed Areas in Alaska

  • The Bristol Bay area contains the world’s largest wild sockeye runs and salmon fishery, generates more than $420 million in revenues for the state and creates more than 12,000 jobs annually.
  • East Alaska covers 7.6 million acres and holds the Bering Glacier, the largest glacier in North America and a world renowned glacial study site.
  • Eastern Interior covers 10.5 million acres and is home to the Yukon River, Alaska’s longest river, which directly supports the subsistence needs of more than 45 rural communities.
  • Kobuk-Seward covers 12 million acres and is home to the largest caribou herd in North America, the Northwest Arctic Caribou Herd.
  • The Ring-of-Fire covers 1.3 million acres and encompasses Kodiak, the Aleutian Islands, South-Central and Southeast Alaska. This area contains more than 500 miles of salmon streams, three caribou herds, more than 10 million migratory birds, unparalleled moose and bear habitats, and the most productive commercial fisheries in the world.

Visit our BLM Program Page for more info on BLM-managed lands in Alaska.


Photos were accepted in the following categories:

Landscapes and Natural Features
Description: Photographs that capture or were inspired by natural landscapes, wildlife habitat, or iconic geologic features, including, but not limited to, mountain ranges, rivers, glaciers, valleys, sunsets.

Description: Photographs that capture or were inspired by characteristic wildlife and keystone species, including, but not limited to, caribou, bears, salmon, moose, waterfowl, wolves, herds, flocks.

Humans and the Environment
Description: Photographs that capture or were inspired by human activities and relationship with the health of the natural environment, including, but not limited to, Alaska Native subsistence, recreation, commercial fishing, sport, hunting and tourism.

Historical and Cultural Features

2009 Winning Photos

Alaska Wilderness League and Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association teamed up in May 2009 on a national photography contest to highlight national park-quality public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Alaska. The Alaska’s Hidden Gems Photography Contest attracted 61 submissions from all over and had 50 that qualified for entry. These are the winners:

Sand Hill Cranes, by Sue SteinacherSue Steinacher of Nome, Alaska; overall contest winner and first place winner in the Wildlife category. Sue has lived in Nome off and on since the mid-1980s and considers it one of Alaska’s best kept secrets. In September 2007, while camping with friends from Fairbanks in the Kigluaik Mountains, some 60 miles north of Nome on the Seward Peninsula, and watching the sun rise on the north face of the “Kigs,” she heard the gargling of the approaching cranes and grabbed her camera for the winning shot. “The opportunity to enjoy these magnificent mountains and the refuge they provide to the wildlife we value, are what sustains most of us who tough it out year after year in this distant northwest corner of Alaska,” says Sue. Photo of migrating Sand Hill Cranes taken September 2007 in the Kigluaik Mountains, 60 miles north of Nome on the Seward Peninsula.

Pushing a snow bike, by Kathi MerchantKathi Merchant of Chickaloon, Alaska; second place in overall contest, first place in the Humans and the Environment category. Along with her husband, Bill, Kathi runs a wilderness adventure guide business on public lands out of their 16′ by 24′ one-room cabin near Castle Mountain. They also organize the “Iditarod Trail Invitational,” a 1,100 mile race on the BLM-managed Iditarod Trail that is the world’s longest human powered ultra marathon. Her picture captures Bill, an eight-time finisher of the race, pushing a snow bike on the sea ice between Koyuk and Elim. “The winds blow the snow drifts over the trail and create terrible visibility. I was lucky to get the picture. The temperature that day was -30 deg F with 50 mph winds, or about -75 deg F with wind-chill. You don’t stop for drinks or food, you just push through, sometimes for 20 hours.” Photo of husband, Bill Merchant, pushing a snow bike on the sea ice between Koyuk and Elim taken March 2008.

Marion Creek, by Greg GusseGreg Gusse of Palmer, Alaska; third place in overall contest, first place in the Landscape category. Greg came to Alaska in 2000 and has visited public BLM lands across the state. Greg has driven nearly every stretch of road in Alaska looking for hidden gems. Some of his favorite BLM landscapes include those off the Denali Highway, Dalton Highway and Jim Creek. “For this picture, I was staying at one of the wonderful BLM cabins outside of Coldfoot and walking around just after the first frost when the colors were full, taking pictures of the brilliant autumn scenery. BLM lands represent some of the best but least-known places in Alaska.” Photo of Marion Creek off the Dalton Highway in the BLM’s Eastern Interior Planning Area, approximately 200 miles north of Fairbanks, taken Fall 2003.