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An Alaskan Visual Feast

Some of My Favorite Memories of July in Alaska

semi-overcast 69 °F

For this week's entry, I'm going to let the scenery do the talking. Alaska is an amazingly wild place, that I've been fortunate enough to explore with my eyes and camera. Here are a few of my favorite shots of the last two weeks. Enjoy!

Glacier Bay National Park

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Waterfalls and Brown Bears
Near this waterfall we saw six bears foraging in the grasses.
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Near George Island
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Humpback
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Scenery Cove
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Fjord!
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Sunrise to Sunset
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Leaf
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I have three more weeks of work before I begin my next adventures. In august I'm hoping to explore Denali, Yosemite, and Isle Royale National Parks...

Posted by Rhombus 17:25 Archived in USA Tagged trees birds sunset wildlife alaska sunrise oceans glaciers photography forests Comments (2)

Highlights Of An Alaskan Summer

Wildflowers, Stellar Sea Lions, Zodiacs and Glacier Bay National Park

semi-overcast 63 °F

This past week I’ve spent some time exploring the greater Alaskan landscapes by zodiac and by foot. I enjoyed getting out, and the weather has been fantastic. There hasn’t been much rain, and there has been good lighting, and phenomenal sunsets. Summer is all about us, and the days are Loooonnnnggg. Sunrise around three and sets around ten or so at night. There is plenty of light to enjoy the sights.

On Alaskan Wildflowers
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The other day I went on a long hike with a small group of our guests and it was led by one of our interpretive biologists. Now, not all biologists are created equal. I’ve listen to some drone on about whatever they happen to be interested in dodecahedrons or some other jibber jabber. However, some of them can be quite entertaining, and such was the case with David. He not only explained some of the intricate features of the coastal rainforest, but also challenged us, quizzed us, teased us when we didn’t know Latin, mocked our ignorance, and made us laugh. Go for a walk in the woods with a good biologist. You can learn more in three hours than you could read twelve books.
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I was struck by the different types of wildflowers, and their unique designs. Some smelled of cinnamon and spices, others like urine soaked road kill. I enjoyed the different forms and colors they take on to make themselves propagate. In the flower business, it’s all about how to attract pollinators (bees, insects, and birds). They must be doing fairly well for themselves, as I was very much attracted to their color display and scent. Perhaps, I was an unwitting pollinator myself.
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Stellar Sea Lions
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We arrived at the Inian islands under a cloudless, brilliant blue sky. I had finished my night shift, and decided to have one of my deck partners save me breakfast while I went on the zodiac cruise. I love breakfast. This is one of my favorite ways of setting up my morning: I work all night, head out and explore for a couple of hours and come back to a giant heart attack breakfast before going to bed. I know it sounds weird and unhealthy, but the fact remains, I burn a lot of calories running around this ship, and I can pretty much eat what I want without gaining much weight. At least that’s what I tell myself… It’s amazing what we can justify to ourselves.
Anyway, the cruise was good. The naturalist, tittered around like a bird from subject to subject, and I soon lost interest in what she was droning on about. I know a lot about Alaskan wildlife myself, having lived and worked up here for three summers now, and I entertained myself with taking some photos of the pigeon guillemots, river otters (which do quite well in the sea), sea otters, bald eagles, sea gulls, pelagic cormorants, shearwaters, and kelp.

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I smelled the sea lions before I saw them. You can tell you are near sea lions, because of the strong odor of shit that exudes from any place they dwell, usually low lying rock “haul outs“. Along with their pleasant aroma, they also add a chorus of horrible barfing noises that they use for everyday communication. I’m serious. Stellar Sea Lions sound as though they are dry heaving putrid piles of sewer waste, which considering they eat a lot of raw fish (mostly salmon), I’m probably not that far off. Considering adult sea lions weigh well over 500 pounds, the din they make is tremendous.

The big bull males rule the roost and take the top of the rock. The females appreciate a man with a lot of property and lie about the alpha males as a harem. The males spend their days bellowing at one another, shitting, mating, and eating salmon. They are not unlike Alaskan human males actually…

On Positioning Zodiacs
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There are days on the boat where it makes sense to drive the zodiacs to the next island instead of raising them to the top of the ship before moving two miles only to have to drop them back down. On those days, our bosun usually asks me if I want to reposition the zodiac. She doesn’t even need to ask anymore. Hell Yes! I want to reposition a zodiac! So away we go, and I find myself grinning from ear to ear as I zip over the water in an inflatable boat through the amazing Alaskan waters. There are mountains, islands, seascapes, landscapes, clouds, and wildlife all around me. It these moments when I realize I’m being paid for this. I’m a happy man.
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There are usually three boats to position, so after awhile I’ll meet up with the others and shoot the breeze while we wait for the ship to arrive.

Glacier Bay National Park

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Glacier Bay has a lot going for it. I’m continually amazed by it’s wildlife, mountains, glaciers, seascapes, icebergs, and massive scale. It’s a good representative of wild Alaska if there ever was one. John Muir explored this amazing bay by canoe, way back when, and since then it has become a protected jewel in Alaska’s crown. These selected shots are from the marble islands, and are mostly of one of my favorite birds: Puffins! Enjoy!
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June has been good to me up here in Alaska. There are times when I just sit still and take it all in. Life is good. Go play outside!
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Posted by Rhombus 15:03 Archived in USA Tagged mountains birds boats islands flowers wildlife alaska oceans wild photography sealions Comments (0)

Glacier Blue

The Most Amazing Piece of Ice I've Ever Seen

overcast 58 °F

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The berg emerged out of the thick fog glowing dull blue against the heavy, low cloud cover. At this distance, I could see that it was HUGE. As we drew closer, the vivid blue of deep glacier ice grew stronger. Blue glacier ice is more vivid with cloudy skies than with sunny ones. This is thought to be due to several factors, but there is no definitive answer as to why. All I know, is that this piece of ice was the most remarkable I have ever seen.
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Since it was still early morning (around 5 am) and we were ahead of schedule, the captain decided to make slow circles around the berg, allowing everyone to get a fantastic look at the floating glowing sapphire. I grabbed my camera, and spent a couple of hours taking photos, and finishing my early morning chores. Even as I worked, my eyes were drawn to the ice. I couldn’t get over how blue it was! It was amazing, mesmerizing, and just plain zing to the dreary morning.
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This berg was a “shooter.” A shooter is a piece of ice that comes from the bottom of the glacier underneath the water. As forces shape the ice, they occasionally crack off, and come shooting towards the surface in a massive upwelling of surging water and ice. Shooters can be massive, as this piece shows, and to witness this hunk rising to the surface must have been amazing. The water displaced by the ice surges outward in a large circular wave. The next time you are in the tub, stick your hand on the bottom and lift upward sharply, keeping your hand underneath the surface. The upwelling of water is on a micro scale compared to glacier size chunks of ice.

I could also tell this was a shooter just by the surface of the ice. It had bizarre waves and carvings all over the surface. Most of the berg had clear crisp ice. It hadn’t been exposed to weather for very long which breaks down the surface of the ice allowing air to permeate the inside causing it to turn white and cloudy.
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When the ice is held in place under the water by the glacier, the ice is carved by pressure and currents of the surrounding sea. When icebergs break free and float away, more forces continue to work on its surface. The weather erodes the exposed ice, and the water continues to carve the underwater surface. After awhile, the iceberg will roll exposing new areas to the air, continuing the cycle until it melts.

Enough science. Look at this ice as a beautiful work of art. How many eons have patiently carved the delicate ice forms? Look at the coloring, the myriad of subtle blues. This is a masterpiece of ice carving, and one I won’t soon forget. Words don’t really do this piece justice, but perhaps these pictures can.
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This iceberg started at the Sawyer Glacier, or the South Sawyer Glacier. This afternoon, we were able to position the ship within easy sight of the Sawyer glacier at the head of Tracy Arm. I write a lot about Tracy Arm, and I’ve been lucky to visit here once a week. This place just keeps getting better, and the views that strike me continue to change. It could be the countless waterfalls, the rock formations, the icebergs, the glaciers, wildlife or clouds. Tracy Arm has it all, and shows off more of its stunning beauty with each visit.
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Posted by Rhombus 17:49 Archived in USA Tagged birds boats ice alaska oceans glaciers photography icebergs Comments (0)

Fjords, Glaciers and Elfin Cove

Tracy Arm, South Sawyer Glacier, and Elfin Cove: Population 12

semi-overcast 46 °F

This time of year in southeast Alaska, it gets light out at about four o’clock in the morning. I like to take advantage of the early morning light because nobody on board is awake. As a deckhand who works the night shift, I have ample time to watch the alluring scenery pass by. I’ve been known to pull out my camera while on duty, but that is a fringe benefit of this job. I like to get my early morning chores done as quickly as possible to allow for more quality time enthralled with these marvelous Fjords. I like fjords. The word fjord is fun to say, and the geological feature is a great place to explore.
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I was sitting on a deck box of the aft deck of our upper deck, sharing a blueberry muffin from Heritage Coffee with one of my deck partners and sipping good mint tea. Bakery tastes better when it is shared, especially with good comrades.
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I decided to count all of the waterfalls I could see around me, and I finally gave up after I reached nineteen. It’s not that there weren’t more of them, it’s just that deckhands lose interest in numbers after awhile, and really I just enjoyed being surrounded by falling water.
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The waterfalls ramble down the rock face of the cliffs of the fjord in long narrow ribbons often falling hundreds of feet into the water. The surrounding mountains have a lot of melting snow at this time of year, and with the continual rainfall of southeast Alaska, their flow is constant and healthy.

Tracy Arm Wildlife:

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Mountain Goats
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Arctic Tern
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Long Tailed Duck
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Black Bears

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Looking at the rock walls of the fjord, I was intrigued by the striated rock. There is little vegetation that has taken root here. This is because this is the newest rock to escape the icy grinding of the glacier. It’s fresh rock, so to speak, and it was cool to see the effects of a glacier close up, and so soon after it had released its grip on the rock.
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Tracy Arm is an inspiring piece of landscape. There is a beautiful view in every direction to inspire those susceptible to its charm. At its head are two glaciers, the Sawyer and the South Sawyer. I was fortunate enough to spend a beautiful morning watching ice calving off of the face of the glacier and listening to the white thunder.
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As an early birthday present, I witnessed a gigantic house sized hunk of dense glacier blue ice roll off of the face of the glacier and bob into the water. It was incredible. I was lucky to have my binoculars handy, and I had a really good look at this amazing phenomena. A large wave swelled up from the displaced water, and started rolling outward. It made our zodiacs bob up and down while it passed crashing against the far side of the bay.
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“White Thunder” is what the natives would call the sound of ice cracking off of a glacier. It is an apt description. It sounds just like the sound of a thunder clap after a lightening strike, and it’s really cool to hear one echo around in the fjord.

Elfin Cove Population 12.
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Elfin cove is a nice little cove on the west side of Chichagoff Island in Alaska’s Southeast. It’s a very small village, with 12 full time resilient residents, and several dogs. When we walked up the slippery boardwalk that makes up the main street of the village, the welcoming committee came out to welcome us to town.
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My friends could not resist, and gave it all the attention it wanted. Who can resist petting a friendly dog? We explored along through the misting rain until we found a good bench swing facing the bay. We sat down, and cuddled up close to keep warm against the cold wind and increasing rainfall. It was a very pleasant way to spend our time, swinging, talking and slowly getting soaked. I enjoyed the good company, that my fellow deckhands bring, and we capped off our day with hot chocolate when we returned to the boat.
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Should you find yourself in Elfin Cove, take advantage of the hospitality and good seating available at this nice little village.

This ends my first stint in Alaska. After seven months aboard the Sea Bird, they’ve finally decided to give me a break, and I have a month to spend chasing my muse before returning to Alaska in June. Look for me in California Wine Country, on the coast of California, rock climbing at the New River Gorge in West Virginia, and revisiting my old stomping grounds on the shore of Lake Superior.

The wanderer is seldom bored.

Happy Travels!

Posted by Rhombus 17:13 Archived in USA Tagged mountains birds boats wildlife towns fjords ice alaska clouds glaciers bears harbors Comments (0)

One Week in Alaska: Why I love My Life

Twenty Four Southeast Alaskan Scenes of Grandeur

semi-overcast 49 °F

I’ve been re-inspired by Alaska. Close encounters with Orca whales will do that to a guy. Hell, just looking out at the wilderness landscapes of this state will re-inspire a guy. I’m glad to be back in Alaska. I’ve surprised myself this week by realizing how badly I’ve missed this untamed place. Here are 24 photos that are just a glimpse into the vast wildness that makes up this amazing state. I’ve seen all this in only a week. Imagine what a summer could hold…

TRACY ARM
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GREEN SCENES
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WHERE OCEAN MEETS LAND
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ORCAS
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GLACIER
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TREES
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YOUR HERO
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Alaska is everything you've ever dreamed of. Go.

Posted by Rhombus 10:29 Archived in USA Tagged trees birds boats islands ocean fjords whales alaska glaciers forests moss icebergs Comments (2)

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