Archive for August 2012

Alaska Trip (Part 5) — Denali, The Mountains   2 comments

I’m an unapologetic fan of mountains.  I love to photograph them, and I somehow manage to climb them (often bent over and gasping for breath).  I especially love to photograph mountains when the light is “special”, whether that means mist and cloud cover, or spotlighted sun.  Denali provided both conditions and some great photo ops.

Our national parks have spectacular mountains.  I’ve photographed and hiked mountains in Yosemite, Olympic, Rainier, Great Smoky Mountains, Badlands, Rocky Mountain, Shenandoah, and several other parks.  The mountain scenery in Denali is second to none.  And for the lucky few, the big mountain — Mt. McKinley Denali — is at least partially visible about seven or eight days a month in August.  The rest of the time it’s covered in clouds.

We were among the lucky few . . .

(Above)  About a quarter-mile walk from our campground, Melanie sits by the Savage River and writes in her journal.

(Above)  Denali (I prefer the original native name over Mt. McKinley) from 70+ miles away.  It came out for only a few hours on our second-to-last day.  At 20,328 feet it is North America’s highest peak.  Not only tall, it is a massive, massive mountain.


Posted August 28, 2012 by ~ Bruce in Landscapes, Travel Photography

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Alaska Trip (Part 4) — Denali Animals   Leave a comment

After our brief stop at Exit Glacier outside of Seward we hopped back on the bus for the 6+ hour drive back through Anchorage and on to Denali National Park.  There were not a lot of highlights, unless you consider the bus driver pointing out Sarah Palin’s house on the far side of a lake in Wasilla to be a highlight.  (Apparently she now lives almost full time in Phoenix, making it anti-climactic anyway).

Mostly we drove through mile after mile of willow and spruce forests, passing fishing lodges, hunting camps, and the occasional small town.  But we had fun becoming more familiar with others in the group, eating sandwiches on the bus, and catching some Zzzzzz’s.

Denali, as we soon learned, is a national park that is focused to a large extent on the wildlife contained within its borders.  There is certainly no shortage of stunning scenery, but Denali is first and foremost about the animals.  So instead of mixing up a post with anecdotes about camping, hiking, cooking meals, and waking up to 45-degree sink baths, I’ll simply focus on the animals in this post.

First, we learned a lot from the NPS Rangers at Denali:

For example, you never ever run from a grizzly bear.  Why?  Because bears assume that anything that runs away must be tasty.  So  if a grizzly sees you, you are supposed to stand there, wave your arms over your head, speak sweet nothings to it, and wait for it to figure out that you’re not something it wants to eat.  (Nothing on a grizzly’s dinner menu can lift its arms above shoulder height or speak in a human voice.  And everything it eats tries to run away first).  Now if said bear is perturbed for some reason it is likely to charge you.  According to the NPS Ranger , 95% of the time the bear will veer off at the last second (I was beginning to doubt him at this point).  In this case — and if you haven’t dropped dead on the spot — you will now have a wonderful story to relate to your friends when you get back to camp.  In fact, I suggest taking a picture of the charging bear since no one will remotely believe your story.  Supposedly confused by your failure to run away, the bear will now leave you alone (uh-huh).  However, if it doesn’t leave you alone the next step is to drop face down, cover the back of your neck with your hands, and then spread-eagle your legs so the bear can’t flip you over.  (By now I was pretty sure that this ranger — from Pittsburgh of all places — was totally full of it).  But hey, there has never been one single human fatality from a bear attack since Denali was declared to be a national park back in 1917.  On the other hand, some people have been maimed when (you guessed it) they ran away.  So maybe Ranger Pittsburgh knew what he was talking about after all.

Moose, on the other hand, are really ornery and have killed the occasional tourist.  If one of those bad boys charges you, you are being asked to leave its’ territory, and according to Ranger Pittsburgh you should accommodate the request as quickly as possible.  Unfortunately, a moose is faster than you.  Actually, it’s faster than Usain Bolt, too.  But the one saving grace is that a moose “has a turning radius of an RV”, quoting our urban east coast ranger.   So you should run like a drunken sailor, get behind a (big enough) tree, and play ring-around-the-rosy until the moose loses interest or one of you drops dead from exhaustion.

That was it.  Nothing else poses much of a threat, unless you decide to chase after a porcupine.  In which case you’ll have a self-proving story that everyone else back at camp will enjoy hearing over and over again.


Edit:  Unfortunately, our fellow travelers and friends Chris Hoffert and Brian Jackson inform us that a photographer was killed by a grizzly within the past few days — the first person ever killed by a bear in Denali, and something that was brought to my attention after having already written this blog post.  According to the Anchorage Daily News, the hiker / photographer apparently ignored instructions given to all backcountry hikers to immediately leave the area upon coming across a bear.

Photos on the camera and the images’ timestamps showed that White was within 50 yards of the bear for at least eight minutes, without retreating. Permitted backcountry travelers in Denali are required to stay at least a quarter-mile from bears and leave the area if they happen upon one . . .

A very unfortunate (and avoidable) situation.

(Above)  Speaking of moose, here are a mother and calf.  Image taken from the safety of the bus that was taking us to our campsite immediately after we arrived.

(Above)  A watchful ground squirrel.  Image taken during one of our hikes along the Savage River.

(Above)  Unfortunately, these little guys occasionally become tasty treats for the grizzlies.  In the arctic we saw several places where the bears simply dug up the underground dens to get an easy ground squirrel meal.

(Above)  Caribou in Denali are protected and showed little fear of the humans running up the slope to photograph them.  Several rangers had to warn people to back off.

(Above)  A recent grizzly paw print next to Melanie’s hiking boot.  There must have been a big bear attached to that paw.  Taken during a four-hour hike along the Savage River.

(Above)  A very young and unconcerned caribou on Mt. Margaret.  The Mt. Margaret hike was pretty aggressive (elevation-wise) and tiring, but well worth it as there were even greater photographic rewards awaiting us at the top.

(Above)  The photographic rewards included these Dall Sheep near the peak of Mt. Margaret.

(Above)  These were a couple of youngsters “play fighting”.  They still rammed into each other with surprising force.

(Above)  The sheep allowed us to get within less than 100 feet.  They probably saw me do a face plant on the tundra after stepping in a ground squirrel hole — I was watching the sheep instead of where I was walking — and rightly concluded that we were no threat to them.  Walking on tundra is like walking on pillows.  It’s exceptionally tiring, but a good place to do a face plant if you’re going to be a klutz.

(Above)  Our group leader, David Radcliff, an accomplished photographer, checks out some of the images he was able to capture.

(Above)  The backdrop for these photos could not have been better.  Well worth the two thousand or so feet we climbed to get up there.

(Above)  Within minutes of leaving the herd of sheep David spotted this ptarmigan in the tundra grass.  Well camouflaged member of the grouse family.

(Above)  A grizzly bear grazes on berries.  They eat upwards of 100,000 berries a day, raking them in by the paw full.  Photo taken from a bus with a 300mm zoom lens and cropped.  Otherwise, this would be way too close.

(Above)  A pair of bears foraging in a berry patch.  Again, image taken from the safety of a bus with a 300mm zoom lens and heavily cropped.

(Above)  Porcupine carcass along the Savage River.  I have no idea of the cause of death, but my research indicates that the only real and consistent predator of porcupines is . . . you guessed it — grizzly bears.

Posted August 26, 2012 by ~ Bruce in Landscapes, Nature and Wildlife, Travel Photography

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Alaska Trip (Part 3) — Glaciers and Orcas   6 comments

Okay, so we’re on “Part 3” and still on the first day.  Sorry about that.  I’ll try to streamline it when we hit Denali.

Anyway, back on the boat . . .

(Above)  Aialik Glacier from . . . a long way off.  The scale in Alaska is so mammoth that I really had a difficult time judging distances.  The trees along the shoreline give you an indication however.

(Above)  Aialik Glacier as our ship closed in.  Still difficult to judge the distance and size.

(Above)  How about adding a boat for some size perspective?  Yep.  That’s a 400 foot high wall of ice, and we were probably still a quarter-mile away from it.

Oh yeah, it sometimes does this (random but pretty cool YouTube video).

(Above)  Some friendly (they’re waving to us) and intrepid kayakers making their way through the floating ice.

(Above)  The blue color of the ice was amazing.  And the ice in the water “fizzed” as oxygen trapped in it for thousands of years was released.

(Above)  As a photographer I really appreciated the subtle lighting and colors, but ice cracked like thunder from time to time.  Enough to make me jump and snap me out of concentrating on photography a few times.

(Above)  Almost all of Alaska’s glaciers are receding as the earth’s climate warms.  We have to solve this fossil fuel thing.  We simply have to.  There’s no other choice.

(Above)  One more shot as we departed for the trip back to Seward.  Even two-level boats look tiny in comparison to Aialik.

(Above)  On the way back we came across a family of Orcas.  I believe the large dorsal fin on this one indicates that this is the primary male of the pod.

(Above)  I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t get a bit closer to them, but the captain was (rightfully) cautious of intruding.  I see a 400mm or 500mm lens in my future.  Anyone have a couple thousand dollars to loan me?  :o)

(Above)  I can’t remember the name of these birds.  We had a real birding expert in our group — Paul Brubaker.  I’m sure he could tell us off the top of his head!

(Above)  One more sea lion photo.  This one was obviously looking for attention.  You could hear him/her hundreds of yards away over the noise from the boat engine.

(Above)  About a half hour outside of Seward — as we started our journey to Denali — we stopped off at Exit Glacier.  Here’s your obligatory tourist photo of Bruce and Melanie.

(Above)  People from our group stand near the glacier and give some perspective as to size.  All along the trail up to the glacier were signs showing were the glacier had extended to in past decades.  Again, what is happening to our climate needs to be reversed.

(Above)  Dirty, blue, and beautiful.  No saturation added to the photo.  That’s the actual color my camera captured.

Peace out.

Posted August 23, 2012 by ~ Bruce in Landscapes, Seascapes, Travel Photography, Uncategorized

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Alaska Trip (Part 2) — Coastal Beauty   5 comments

Probably the most “touristy” thing that we did in Alaska was our day cruise from Resurrection Bay along the Kenai Peninsula.  I’m a sucker for coastal landscape photography, so I burned through about 500 photos during the day (eventually deleting 200 of them).  Oh how I wish I had a 400mm or 500mm lens!  But I’m pretty happy with the shots that I got.

I suspect there will be a sizable number of photos on this blog post.  You’ve been warned!

(Above)  Obligatory tourist type photo as we waited to board our boat, the Glacier Explorer.  Hey, if I have a camera in my hand I have to shoot something.

(Above)  A pair of sea otters in Resurrection Bay.

(Above)  Glaciers and spruce-covered mountains drop to the sea.  Not exactly the Jersey shore that we east-coasters are used to.

(Above)  Somewhat harsh early morning light created very contrasty conditions.  Still, this was much better than the alternative of clouds and rain which is typical of Alaska in August.

(Above)  Now we’re talking.  A cooperative humpback whale dives for food close to shoreline.  The particular whale was doing “bubble net feeding”, which is not commonly observed.

(Above)  Plenty of sea lion activity along the coast.  In my next life I want to be a sea lion and hang out on the rocks, sunbathing.  Except, you know, for that Orca problem.

(Above)  Thank goodness for digital.  If this was film I’d probably have run out already.

(Above)  One of my favorites from Day 1.  I like the depth-of-field and the painterly effect.

Not even half way through our day’s cruise to the glacier.  That will be the subject for the next post.  If you’ve made it this far, thanks for checking out the photos!

Posted August 22, 2012 by ~ Bruce in Seascapes, Travel Photography

Alaska Trip (Part 1) — 20 Marvelous and Tiring Days   3 comments

We just returned from a nearly three-week trip to Alaska.  This was not your typical Alaska vacation trip — it was a learning tour.  Actually, two separate learning tours with an organization called New Community Project.  NCP is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2003 by David Radcliff — our learning tour leader — with the encouragement and financial support of other like-minded individuals.  According to New Community Project’s website:

“Our neighbors are struggling, the earth is a mess, many people don’t seem to know or care, and we all wonder what we can do about it.  Our mission: to provide resources that challenge us, experiences that change us, opportunities that channel our passions, and a community that gives us hope.”

How does Alaska fit in, and what did we do?  The short version:  We hiked.  We ascended mountains.  We camped in tents.  We took sink baths and stream baths.  We improved a handicap-access trail in a national park.  We cleaned a church . . . in a native Alaskan village . . . above the arctic circle.  We cooked.  We ate caribou stew and PBJ’s.  We washed dishes.  We used an outhouse.  We learned about native plants.  We learned about an ancient noble culture.  We learned that you run from a moose but you stand your ground against a grizzly (yeah, good luck with that last one).  We carried a rifle for protection on some of our arctic hikes.  We talked to Gwich’in elders and soaked in their wisdom, and shared in their sorrows and frustrations as their world slowly changes.  Most importantly, we talked to each other . . . about our individual lives and our shared concern for our earth and its inhabitants.  And that’s only a part of what we experienced.

Oh yeah, and I took a lot of photographs.  Somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000.  I promise not to post them all.

To begin, here are a few photos from my first hour with camera in hand.  The location was Seward, Alaska — our jumping off point.

(Above)  Melanie and I were up early so we decided to walk down to the waterfront.  This photo was my reward for getting my butt out of bed.

(Above)  We snagged a couple of coffees and watched the commercial and charter fishing boats head out.

(Above)  Not an eagle.  Just a plain old seagull . . . flying across a foggy Resurrection Bay.

(Above)  Weather vane, monument, and mountain tops peeking through the early morning fog.

Posted August 22, 2012 by ~ Bruce in Uncategorized