I decided to make a bit of a change from the blurry water photos I’ve been using for my calendar lately and try something a little “cooler.” This photo is from our trip to Alaska a few years ago. It still somewhat fits the abstract theme, although it certainly isn’t blurry!
I hope everyone has a great July and manages to stay cool!
On our first visit to Ketchikan several years ago we did a boat tour around the area to look at “Lighthouses, Totems & Eagles” then we took in the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. Kathy wanted to see the lumberjacks, and I wanted to see Annie Oakley.
For our day in Ketchikan this time we decided to try a boat tour to Misty Fjords National Monument. Dubbed “Yosemite of the North” for its similar geology, many of the glacial valleys are filled with sea water and are called “canals”, but they are not man-made in any way; the walls of these valleys are near-vertical and often rise 2,000 to 3,000 feet above sea level, and in some places drop 1,000 feet below it.
We sailed about the ‘St. Nona,’ one of several vessels operated by Allen Marine Tours, a family-owned tour company and one of the longest running operators in Alaska.
One of the landmarks of Misty Fjords is New Eddystone Rock, which is actually a pillar of basalt that came from fractures in the floor of Behm Canal in the last 5 million years. The broken, haphazard texture of these basalts indicates that New Eddystone Rock was part of a volcanic vent where magma rose repeatedly to the surface of the earth.
After returning from our adventure we took some time to explore the shops on Creek Street, which at one time housed the “red light district” of Ketchikan but that now takes your money in different and possibly more legal ways. We bought a few genuine Alaskan souvenirs then set out in search of ice cream. Amazingly we came up empty-handed. Not to say that there is no ice cream shop in Ketchikan, just that we didn’t find one. Hmmm, could be a business opportunity!
The next time we go to Ketchikan I think I’ll plan to spend some more time exploring the area right around the town. There were a number of commercial areas that were too far for us to walk in the short time we had, some that might be good places for lunch and some more genuine Alaskan handicrafts and art. That’s one of the problems with being on someone else’s schedule – so much to see, so little time!
Several people commented about the boat I used to illustrate my last post, and as it turns out I had taken some other photos of it but hadn’t gone back and looked at the rest of that day’s photos until yesterday. I thought it would be amusing to post a few more. I can’t imagine that the person who owns this boat pays dock fees for it, so I can only guess that he works for the marina or for one of the tour boats that operates from there. Hopefully he doesn’t have far to travel.
I don’t know much about boats but I don’t think this one would pass a Coast Guard inspection.
I’m slowly catching up on my processing after a momentary slowdown. Stay tuned for some better subject matter very soon!
At work the other morning, someone asked me how I was doing. She was somewhat taken aback when I replied that I was doing “fantastic.” She looked at me like I had just spoken to her in Swahili. I then said that having just gotten back from a 2-week vacation that I was loving life, even though the benefit of the time off was quickly fading. Cue the “must be nice,” “wish I had your money,” I could never take 2 weeks,” etc., etc., etc. commentary. Then she said something about “coming back to this place” to which I replied that I would gladly come back to work in order to be able to do another vacation like I just did, that I thought it was a fair trade. More Swahili.
We all know and work with people who are, let’s say, “happiness challenged.” Not that they are depressed or anything – although it’s possible that some of them are – but mostly they just spend a lot of time with negative attitudes – toward work, their spouse, their kids, their cars, etc. And they’re not too shy to talk about it. But that attitude carries over to how they live their lives, to the point where, for many people, they don’t seem to have the ability to understand the concept of doing things that make them happy. Sometimes I meet up with friends for lunch or dinner, and way too often all they do is complain about things.
We all have stuff that makes us angry or drives us crazy. But I have come to the conclusion – and this was a long time coming – is that it is not all of these outside things that bother me and make me crazy. It is my reaction to those things that makes them intolerable. So I’ve been working really hard at managing my own attitude, and I’ve found that it really helps. Don’t like the way people are driving? Back off and think about something else. Don’t like your cube neighbor’s Polka ringtone on his cell phone? Laugh it off. Neighbor’s dog barking endlessly while they are away? I haven’t solved that one yet, so I just turn up the music. Blue jeans in the cruise ship dining room? Whatever! I can’t change any of it, so fix the things I can fix, and for those things I can’t fix, I accept them and move on. Works for me.
The great thing about taking a vacation is that it does tend to put things in perspective. There’s a lot more to life than work, and there is way more to life than finding things to complain about. So look for the positives! While coming home and going back to work can be difficult, I would gladly trade a few months’ work in order to take another nice vacation. It’s a worthwhile trade.
One of the best sayings I saw or heard on our trip to Alaska: “There is no such thing as inclement weather, only inappropriate clothing.” That pretty much says it!
Our day in Glacier Bay was my single best day, photographically, in a long, long time. I don’t know if that is a result of the place being so photogenic, or the fact that I was prepared for my time there, with my only goal for the day to make photographs. It’s probably a combination of the two, since Glacier Bay is certainly an amazing place and I found it quite inspirational on my first visit several years ago. I have to imagine that what I experienced was a confluence of my own openness to the place and the renewed inspiration I felt from being there.
The Tourist Approach would be to slap a wide angle lens on the camera and shoot the huge expanse of icebergs, blue water and glaciers. But what I was feeling was more intimate, although even with a 400mm lens, the actual slice of landscape I captured was still quite large. The scale of the place never ceases to amaze me.
One of the most striking things about being in Glacier Bay aboard a cruise ship is how quiet everything becomes. They mercifully turn off the sound on the outdoor “Movies Under The Stars” entertainment system (it’s just a big television), the ship slows to maneuvering speed, and except for a few comments from the onboard naturalist, the place is silent. And I crave silent. Silent makes me happy.
Only one ship at a time is allowed in each area of the park, which is huge (3.3 million acres!) with several “inlets,” so the captain is able to essentially stop the in front of the glaciers, and when the ship moves from one place to another it does so slowly, barely creating a wake. The slower movement of the ship makes using a tripod very easy, both for composition and for holding the camera still. People ask me why I use a tripod on a moving ship, but it really does make a difference. Other than a couple of videographers, mine was the only tripod I saw on board the entire cruise.
I scouted ahead of time and found a great spot on the aft of the ship that had good, unobstructed views, access to both sides of the ship and had enough room to get out of the way. You would think that, with 2000 people on a ship in a place like Glacier Bay it would be crowded, but except for the time in front of the major glaciers and the times when they were giving away free hot chocolate on deck (there are always crowds around Free Food) I had the place pretty much to myself. Most of the people hung out in the center of the ship, closer to the pools, the restrooms and the bars. Silly me, the bars!
The onboard naturalist told us that one of her most frequently asked questions was, “what’s the best side of the ship to be on to see wildlife?” To which she replies, “the OUTSIDE!” She also stated that wildlife watching involved a lot of wildlife “waiting.” But amazingly, most people didn’t like the idea of waiting. I saw dozens of seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises and whales, and often I was the only person around to see them. Once in a while someone would walk by, see all my gear and ask me if I had seen any whales. When I replied that I had, they looked at me like they thought I was lying. Most of them were too far away to take photos of them, but they were still fun to watch through my binoculars.
Even on a ship large enough to hold 2000 passengers – small by modern cruise ship standards – I was struck by the enormous scale of the landscape and how small I felt within it, the ability for it to remain relatively undisturbed and how quiet it was.
My personal favorite photos from the day are the abstracts. They really speak to the quiet and calm I felt that day. I seem to have a thing for moving water, and some of the patterns are simply spectactular. I’m thrilled that the photos reflect them so well. I also enjoyed finding patterns in the glaciers and on the mountainsides along our route. Again, the relatively slow speed made for some pretty easy composition, although I did find that I had to “lead” the scene just a bit in places. All I did there was to keep the panning knob within easy reach, so that once I had the composition framed up and level, I could just pan the camera just a bit as needed.
One of the funny things about being an obviously serious photographer on a cruise ship is that people always ask me to take their pictures. I always oblige, although Kathy often handles that task so I can keep making my own pictures. What was really funny was that I think every one of the ship’s photographers took our picture at some point during the day. They knew we would understand that they had a count to make and almost looked like they wanted to apologize for it. We didn’t buy any of their photos but it was interesting to see the difference in composition and framing between the different photographers. Good photos, reluctant subjects!
I suppose the port areas that the typical cruise ship passengers see are about as “Alaskan” as the Caribbean cruise ports are “Caribbean.” It’s possible to find actual native art, handcrafts and souvenirs, but you have to really look. My impression of Skagway is that it might be a little more “Alaskan” than some of the other places we visited, but that is only my impression. There were still the usual “Ship Recommended” stores, but based on my research those weren’t the places you were going to get the real deal.
We started our day with a ride aboard the White Pass & Yukon Railroad. A 110-mile railroad line originally constructed in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, it is now operated as a scenic railway constructed along the original gold rush route. Our tour covered only the first 20 miles of the route, to a turnaround point at the US-Canada border. It was a very interesting 20 miles, however, as the WP&YR climbs almost 3000 feet in just 20 miles and features steep grades of up to 3.9%, cliff-hanging turns of 16 degrees, two tunnels and numerous bridges and trestles. The steel cantilever bridge was the tallest of its kind in the world when it was constructed in 1901.
Since we were early in the season I knew that we would see snow, but I was not prepared for just how much snow we would see! In some places near the White Pass Summit the snow was as high as the train cars. They told us that the railroad owns a rotary snow plow – which we later saw in town – that had been restored as a showpiece but that had been put into service this winter to keep the tracks cleared. That snow will mostly be gone by mid summer, but they’ll start seeing snow again in early September. Short summer!
The scenery is simply breathtaking along the way, and if you don’t mind standing on one of the outside platforms of the train you can get some pretty good photos. Since the train is moving and doesn’t have the smoothest ride, you need to be a little careful with shutter speed, and you have to be a little strategic with timing since there is really only one good spot on each end of the car, and the side to be on varies on which side of the mountain the train is on. Since we had done this tour on our first visit and were lucky enough to have the last car on that tour, with unobstructed views from the back of the train, I mostly stayed inside and enjoyed the view from where it was warm, except for a few spots where I knew the views were good. I also spent a good bit of time outside at the summit while they swapped the engine from one end of train to the other. Best to have the engine in front on the downhill run!
Since we didn’t have far to travel from our previous stop in Juneau, and didn’t have far to sail to our next destination in Glacier Bay, we were essentially in Skagway from 7:00AM until 10:00PM. That gave us plenty of time to explore after our train ride, but we only needed a few hours before we felt like we had pretty much seen Skagway. Go figure! We did make time to have a very good lunch and some locally brewed beer at the Skagway Brewing Company. It was a good spot, a little pricey but worth every dollar. There aren’t too many places where you can get an authentic Alaskan Salmon sandwich for lunch!
We had been to Skagway on a previous cruise, but didn’t see any of the town on that trip because we ended up booking two tours, and since we barely had time between the two of them for lunch, we didn’t have any chance to explore. We took a much slower pace on this trip and were glad to get a chance to see the town. The focus on tourism is very apparent, as the storefronts are all very attractive and inviting. A lot of it is very kitschey, like the brothel tours “10 for 10 minutes, we call it The Quickie,” Glacier Ice Cream (really?) and the usual T-shirt outlets, but there were a number of shops with some really nice, locally made merchandise, such as a lot of jewelry, carvings and paintings. You could find diamonds and tanzanite too, but I’d be willing to bet that most of those proceeds would not be staying in Alaska. Many of the business had signs touting their native-ness, proclaiming “Alaskan-owned since 19XX” or “Alaskan Homeowners since 19XX.” So there is a little bit of contentiousness between the natives, the seasonal business people and the permanent transplants. I suppose that is the same everywhere.
One of the interesting features of Skagway that I have only seen in a few other ports, is that the rock cliff by the pier is covered with paintings commemorating ships that have visited. As I understand it, each time a ship makes its first call in Skagway, it is traditional for the crew to paint a spot on the rock wall with the name of the ship, the date and the name of the captain.
We really enjoyed our visit to Skagway and are very glad that we took the time to visit the town.
Sorry, but I’m having so much fun going through my Alaska photos that I’m going to stick with that theme for this month’s wallpaper calendar. I got a number of good shots in Glacier Bay, so stay tuned to an upcoming post with more photos. This one sort of best fits my criteria for wallpaper, so hopefully it’s a photo you don’t mind looking at for a month or so while summer here gets geared up!
It’s hard to imagine as I sit here with the temperature outside hovering around 90 that I was standing on the deck of a cruise ship in boots, wool socks, long underwear, a hat and gloves! I tried to bring some of that cold home with me but I think it slipped out of my bag in San Francisco. 🙂
I hope everyone has a splendid June. We’ve got a few birthdays in the family in June, so special wishes to those-who-know-who-they-are!
Our arrival in Juneau was delayed by about 3 hours due to a combination of a late departure from San Francisco, rough seas and wind, and a temporary problem with one of the ship’s diesel generators (described by the captain as a “bolt” that took about 2 hours to restore). As a result, we had to forgo our planned dockside lunch at a little crab shack we had heard about, but fortunately we did not miss our whale watching tour with Harv & Marv’s Outback Alaska.
Our tour had been scheduled for 3:30, but since we didn’t arrive until 4:00 I called the company and they assured me that they were aware of our late arrival and had made plans for our tour to go on as scheduled. We were very relieved at this, as several of the ship-sponsored tours and most of their earlier tours for other passengers on our ship had to be cancelled. The tour turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip, so we’re glad we didn’t miss it.
After a short van ride to the Auke Bay harbor, we met up with Captain Shawn and boarded the M/V Alaskan, a custom-built boat designed specifically for wildlife viewing. Captain Shawn is a 14-year veteran of whale watching tours and has been with the company since 2010. If I remember correctly, he told us that he has a degree in Marine Biology, so he was well-suited for the tour and turned out to be an excellent guide. There ended up being only 4 of us on this vessel designed for 14 passengers, so we had the run of the boat, which was very nice.
We spent about 3 hours cruising the waters of Auke Bay, Lynn Canal, Saginaw Channel and Favorite Channel. We saw a lot of whales, most of which were too far away to properly photograph, but we did get close to a few. Because they are very unpredictable, photographing one is a little like playing Whack-a-Mole. They blow, surface and dive in a very short time, all while they are moving. But it’s an amazing sight to see! We also saw a number of seals Sea Lions, Dall’s Porpoises and bald eagles.
Since sunset in mid-May is around 10:00, we had pretty nice light for most of the tour, although it was starting to get a little dark by the end. We arrived back at the dock a little tired and cold, but overall very happy, and headed back to the ship for a late dinner.
If you are ever in Juneau, I highly recommend Harv & Marv for your whale-watching adventure!