Wide Open Alaska

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The scenery in Alaska is just incredible … no other word describes it better. Other than photo opportunities by living full time there, I’ve been extremely fortunate to have visited our great frontier state five times since 1999 and thus I’ve accumulated a very nice collection of photos. Of course, weather plays a key part up there because much can be hidden from view with low clouds, fog and misty conditions. I’ve said to many of my friends, if you’re worried about weather in Alaska, don’t go. My latest visit this month was just about perfect in that regard. But the week after, it all went downhill. In a way I felt like we stole all the perfect photo weather. Having said that, however, there really is no “bad” weather in Alaska. It’s what you make of it.

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World’s Largest

Lake Hood is the world’s busiest seaplane base, handling an average of 190 flights per day. It is located on Lakes Hood and Spenard, next to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, three miles from downtown Anchorage. Last week I was there, enjoying a picnic supper with our daughter and grandson, watching float planes land and take off. As you can see, the weather was perfect for photography.

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Along most of the lake’s shoreline there are small “hut’s adjacent to the dock where planes are secured. Some are decorated in unique ways.

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The best part of our evening was making photos of planes, close up. It took my telephoto lens to make a few, and the images I was able to capture made me smile.

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There is lots to do in Alaska, watching small planes is just one activity. There are more small planes in the state than anywhere else in the country, because that’s the primary way to get around such remote and wide open spaces. That’s what makes our “last frontier” so special. Go if you can.

I’m back … from Alaska

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My fifth time in my absolute favorite place on the planet. Each visit had its own character and experiences, but this one was special to me because I was able to share my joy with our youngest daughter and youngest grandson. Over the next several blog posts I’ll share with you some of the best things we saw. I’m almost 76 and whether or not I’ll be able to go back again is a question to be answered later. But for now, I’m sitting here kinda tired, because long distance traveling isn’t as easy as it once was. However, for the first time ever, we flew First Class both ways and that made it much, much more comfortable and enjoyable. Thank you Alaska Airlines! Commercial intended. So, here we go, my first entry. Mind you, these photos were all made within a relatively short drive from Anchorage. These were made near Portage Lake with its surrounding glaciers. Oh yes, over five trips up north I’ve learned to take the weather as you get it. Some days are perfect, others not so much. If you’re more worried about the weather than the place you’re standing, don’t go.

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Three “hanging” glaciers on the peak of the mountain in the first photo. (top left, right and bottom center)

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That’s Alaska Fireweed in the foreground. It’s all over up there and beautiful every time.

Native People in the Bering Sea

A definite highlight of our 2007 two-week exploration cruise to Alaska, the Bering Sea and Far Eastern Siberia in Russia was having an opportunity to interact with many people living a hardy life on remote islands and mainland areas in the region. We were given many native cultural presentations, noting that the people here have ancestors which date back over 2000 years. Many villages depend year-by-year on subsistence fishing and as such they are concerned with climate change in the region, not that I am taking a position either way on this subject. The basic fact is, when you depend on four large whales taken during the annual fishing season to feed the village, and you only get two for whatever reasons, life becomes much more difficult. I hope you enjoy the colorful and generally happy faces I was able to photograph while we were there. Especially the young people!

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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.

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One Happy Day in Alaska

My wife Barb and I have been fortunate enough to be able to take three vacation trips to our favorite location to visit — the great State of Alaska. Our first trip involved an Inside Passage journey via a small 100 passenger cruise ship, departing from Seattle and winding up in Juneau. From there we flew to Anchorage and traveled as a part of a land tour, afterwards we flew back home. That trip was great and it served as an incentive to make us want to return. So, we made a second trip up north for another small cruise ship and land tour, this time with Barb’s brother and his wife. Again, we loved every minute of it and I went through over 20 rolls of film (no digital then). But, just like before, we wanted more. So, in 2007 we splurged and signed up for a Voyage to the Bering Sea and Eastern Siberia. Two weeks on another cruise ship, less than 150 passengers, but the vessel was much larger and more luxurious than the ships we’d been on before.The trip was scheduled to depart from Whittier, a short road trip south of Anchorage. But, we set our plans to give us a few days before the ship’s departure, so we could rent a car and drive to some of the locations south of Anchorage we’d seen before, but mostly from bus windows, hardly stopping.

I must say that the first day of our unplanned rental car road trip was pretty special, because Barb was about as excited as I’d ever seen her, being free to roam where we might and stop when we wanted. As we drove south from Anchorage toward Seward we passed an Alaska Rail train traveling on the track parallel to the highway. We recalled that on our last trip to Alaska we rode one of those trains. After we got a bit further down the highway I saw a pull-off that was very close to the train tracks. I told Barb we could get our cameras out and take a couple of photos (this time digital…hooray!) as the train approached. Barb has one of the photos I made that day of the train as her computer “desktop” image, and for whatever reason she can’t find anything better. I think she likes it so much because of what then followed.

Driving further south we drove on a side road which was to take us to Portage Glacier, another location we’d visited before, but the day we were there it was cloudy and rainy with hardly any suitable views. This day, the weather was much better, albeit a bit overcast at times; but hey, this was Alaska and that’s what you get. As I drove along, with Barb looking out her window, she shouted for me to stop. “I see a glacier up there!” she said excitedly. So, we stopped and got out to see what we could see. The views were spectacular from where we were, and we had found a glacier we never before knew existed. Not only did we see and photograph that glacier, but we found a couple of others up in the mountains along the road. To top it all off, by the time we arrived at our destination, the famous and much visited Portage Glacier, Barb and I were literally jumping for joy. To say it was happy day in Alaska is a gross understatement. The photos below show a portion of what we saw that day.

Note: Over the next week or so, I plan to post more photos I made on this trip to Alaska, the Bering Sea and Eastern Siberia, and will have a brief story to go along for your journalistic interest.

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