Exploring in Alaska

I’m no expert by any means when it comes to locations to visit in Alaska. However, I have been there five times since 1999 (most recently last month) and I’ve seen quite a lot of territory via air, sea and land transportation. I’ve traveled on 1-2 week small ship organized tours, organized land tours; and most recently on my own, unencumbered by departure schedules and limited time to devote to any single destination. We simply flew to Anchorage, rented a car and off we went exploring. Here’s a tip if you decide such an option is for you. Definitely drive about an hour north from Anchorage and visit the Historic Independence Gold Mine. I don’t believe it’s on most organized tour itineraries, and that’s what made it so special to me. The photos below are what we saw, spending a leisurely half-day walking around over marked trails, easy and less so. That afternoon we drove up the winding Hatcher Pass road to Summit Lake (another incredible destination not on your typical organized tour). I’ll post photos from there in a future blog post.

IMG_0976

IMG_0978

IMG_0983

IMG_0993

IMG_0992

IMG_0988

Exploring Alaska Streams

Regular readers of my Blog might think I’ve changed it’s focus completely on Alaska. It’s true I have lots of recent photos from there I want to share. The main reason for doing that is because we were exceptionally fortunate during the five days spent traveling via car, with just about perfect photo weather. I’ve been home for two weeks and am still in awe about the weather. Mainly because it went completely downhill after we flew home. Sadly for others who came after us. I’m going to keep sharing what I saw. Thankfully I wasn’t alone. My youngest daughter and her son went along. My fifth time, their first. What a way for them to start.

IMG_0932

IMG_0971

IMG_0986

IMG_0934

Visiting Dutch Harbor Alaska

I suppose when many people think of Dutch Harbor it’s because of it being famous for being the hub for King Crab fishing, as seen on the popular TV show, “Deadliest Catch.” Actually, it is located on Unalaska/Amaknak Island which are a part of the western portion of the Aleutian Island chain. For us sailing on a small cruise ship in 2007, it was the last place we stopped before heading into the center of the Bering Sea, and northward to Eastern Siberia. The Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor during World War Two and it later became a military base for U.S. forces. Today it has become the number one fishing port in the United States measured in pounds of fish processed and the total dollar value delivered.

Early morning as we approached Dutch Harbor, my spirits sunk because the location was pretty much fogged in, a common occurrence. However, the closer we came to docking, the weather improved considerably, making it possible for me to make a number of interesting photos, some of which are shown below. My favorite series of images relate to the old Russian Orthodox Church with its onion-shaped spires, the oldest such style church in North America. Near the church I wandered along a steep bright green hillside containing many Russian Orthodox grave sites with their unique crosses. The fields were full of various wild flowers, which became subjects for my camera. It was a grand day, and one we will never forget. Oh yes, our incredible “photographic weather” which followed us throughout our two-week exploration cruise was wonderful when we needed it, but as soon as we left Dutch Harbor, the fog rolled back in. The hands of God were on us travelers for sure.

Bering Sea-29

Bering Sea-26-2

Bering Sea-33

Bering Sea-58-3

Bering Sea-52-3

Bering Sea-49

Bering Sea-44

Bering Sea-51-2

Bering Sea-53-3

Bering Sea-54-2

Up Close with Brown Bears

Before our 2007 trip to Alaska, my wife Barb and I had been there together on two other occasions. We saw lots of wildlife, including black and brown bears, but never really up close. With our 100-passenger cruise ship anchored in a sheltered bay in Katmai National Park, we formed into small groups and boarded Zodiac inflatable boats with outboard motor, and with a guide at the tiller, off we went to see what we could find over several hours of riding slowly and as silently as we could along the shoreline with lots of undersea vegetation exposed. We were, in my opinion lucky to have an extremely capable guide who knew where to look. And what we saw caused our jaws to drop open in awe, and camera shutters began clicking excitedly. We were required to stay about fifty yards away from any bears we saw, and to be as inconspicuous as possible. Some like me had 300mm telephoto lens attached so we were able to get in much closer visually than the fifty yard limit. Our guide told us about a passenger he had on another cruise who had a habit of whistling to get a bear’s attention so it would look into the camera lens. After he did it twice, the guide told him once more and he’d be banned from further excursions. So, we were being exceptionally quiet.

As we floated along we began to see bear after bear, feeding and otherwise browsing around the intertidal zone. There were two mother bears with cub and I was able to capture several very nice images of them. Then there was the “sleeping bear” we snuck up on. What a scene! In fact it was so good, I had the photo enlarged professionally and framed and it is now hanging over the head of my bed. While the photo opportunities came one after another, we eventually began to find fewer bears. But we did spot an Eagle sitting along the shoreline. And then I spotted a young brown bear walking down the shoreline toward the Eagle. My heart raced and I prayed the Eagle would not fly away. Thankfully, the majestic bird sat solidly as the large brown bear walked by. It was an incredible photo opportunity and something I will always remember.

In summary, that day seeing so many brown bears in Katmai was a distinct highlight of our two week trip But, there’s more to show you so stay tuned for the next installment.

Bering Sea-39

Bering Sea-51

Bering Sea-46

Bering Sea-58

Bering Sea-65

Bering Sea-79-2

Bering Sea-84-2

Bering Sea-86-2

Shoreline Beauty in Katmai

Katmai National Park and Preserve is a United States National Park and Preserve in southern Alaska, notable for its brown bears. In 2007, my wife Barb and I were visitors there aboard a small, approximately 100 passenger cruise ship and were simply overcome by the beauty we saw from the deck of our ship as we cruised along the shoreline, getting ready to anchor in a sheltered cove, where we were to load in small groups of six into Zodiac rubber inflatable boats, to quietly ride along large sections of the shore, seeking to find as many brown bears as we could, and whatever else came our way. I will save the “bear story” to my follow-on post, but here I wanted to give you a feel for the beautiful landscape which spread before our eyes. The day did not begin on a hopeful note, for when I stepped onto the small patio outside our cabin right after I got up from my bed I saw low, gray clouds and dull-colored water. But, as we got closer to shore, and the sun began to rise, it all turned perfect. Simply perfect! As the day began, a float plane landed and tied up next to the ship, with a National Park representative who would serve as the ship’s guide and “pilot” to escort us through the pristine and protected region. I was lucky to have my camera ready when the plane made a low pass overhead.

Note: You can see the tan colored remains of volcanic ash covering large sections of the open slopes of many high mountains. There are numerous dormant volcanoes in this area, thus its name “The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.”

Bering Sea-13-2-Edit

Bering Sea-23

Bering Sea-27

Bering Sea-98

Bering Sea-101

Clouds and Sun on Kodiak Island

To continue my photoblog series of photographs taken during our 2007 trip to Alaska, the Bering Sea and Eastern Siberia, I’d like to focus on a location where we had always wanted to visit … a spot where most tourists never get to because of its remote location in the Gulf of Alaska. The night before our arrival my excitement level rose and I started to pray for good weather in order to provide for some nice photography. We woke up early, ate breakfast and then went on deck to watch as the ship began to slowly sail toward the harbor, Not only was it not sunny, but there was a low fog bank covering much of the island’s coast and high mountains. My heart sunk, until from nowhere my prayers were answered and a ray of sunshine poked through, illuminating a beautiful expanse of the island. From that point on during the day, it was “sun out, sun in” and we even had a few light rain showers. However, it seemed that every time I found a great photo opportunity, the sun came out, or the light was really nice even when it was a bit cloudy. We first toured the center part of the City of Kodiak with its Russian Orthodox Churches, and then boarded a bus which took us off into the interior of the island where we could hike through rain forests and stand on high cliffs overlooking a portion of the rugged shoreline. The wild flowers we saw were beautiful, especially seeing and photographing a rare Chocolate Iris. It was a great day!

Bering Sea-21

Bering Sea-35

Bering Sea-45

Bering Sea-52-2

Bering Sea-54

Bering Sea-63-2

Bering Sea-67

Bering Sea-73

Bering Sea-76

Bering Sea-80

Bering Sea-48

Alaska via Small Ship

In my last post I wrote about a 2007 vacation trip my wife Barb and I made to Alaska, the Bering Sea and Eastern Siberia. On each of our three trips there together we were passengers on a small ship, with around 100 or less passengers. THere are several reasons why visiting Alaska this way is (in our opinion) the only way to go. First and very important is the informal and very friendly atmosphere on the ship such that you really get to know your fellow travelers. The second and perhaps even more important reason is that you are able to get really close to the scenery, the glaciers, and especially the varied wildlife.

This trip was essentially an exploration cruise, following the routes of early explorers to this region of the world, to several locations where few if any humans have set foot before. The Spirit of Oceanus was the flag ship of Cruise West Lines. Sadly, the company stopped operating a few years after we made this trip … the poor economy being partially responsible. Anyway, even though the ship was quite spacious, having so few passengers made it possible to do and see many things as we traveled along the Alaska Sea coast headed to the Aleutian Islands and destinations in the Bering Sea.

It was on day three of the cruise when we experienced for the first time what would become a normal activity throughout the trip. Those who elected to go, were loaded and unloaded into Zodiac rubber inflatable boats off the stern of the ship, and with a crew member at the motor, and another acting as a guide, off we went, boat-by-boat, to explore and see what we could find. Scenery was spectacular with steep snow-capped mountains all around, and our boat was lucky enough to be able to get rather close to a very large and intimidating Gray Whale. We also saw many more species of wildlife, which made for some interesting photographs.

After several hours bouncing up and down in the boat, making photo after photo, we returned to the Oceanus cold, a bit damp, but totally happy with what we’d experienced. After supper that evening, we returned to our cabin and stood on its outside deck to view close up, one of many glaciers we would visit over the time we were at sea. I trust the following photos I made then will give you an overall impression of the joy we had while on this trip. We were very lucky to be able to do this together.

Note: I plan to continue this series in following posts, so check back later to see lots more.

Bering Sea-94

Bering Sea-61

Bering Sea-96

Bering Sea-75

Bering Sea-73

Bering Sea-83
Bering Sea-86

Bering Sea-15

Bering Sea-53