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!
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!
With just under 24-hours to spend in San Francisco, we admittedly got a very thin slice of this city. But we made the most of it, I think.
The Golden Gate Bridge viewed from our harbor tour aboard Blue & Gold Fleet
We had originally booked a hotel on our own near Fisherman’s Wharf, figuring that being in the middle of all the action would be the place to be. We later heard that due to some construction at the port that there could be some heavy congestion there, so we cancelled that reservation and booked our hotel through Princess, knowing that they would provide the transfer from the airport to the hotel, and from the hotel to the ship. That turned out to be a very good move, as they had a special lot for our bus to drop us off, and they made special arrangements for our luggage. Since we were making independent arrangements for after the cruise (more on that later) we knew we would be on our own then, but also knew that would not be a problem.
Wildlife at Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco
Princess uses the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel, which is located at the top of Nob Hill, so the view was great, it was right near a number of restaurants, and a short walk to Chinatown and other interesting venues. We arrived at the hotel just after noon, so once we checked in we headed out in search of lunch. We found a nice little Italian restaurant a couple of blocks from the hotel, and had a nice lunch of pizza and salad. Then we started to explore.
Cappuccino, pizza and a good book. Nob Hill Cafe, San Francisco
We had talked about riding the Cable Car around, foolishly unaware that you can’t just “hop on” a cable car any time you want! Most of them are packed, and since we (a) didn’t want to hang off the side, and (b) knew that if we rode inside we wouldn’t be able to see, we decided to see how far our feet would take us. We ended up pointing ourselves in the general direction of the bay, and after walking for a couple of hours we ended up at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Famous Cable Car in San Francisco, California prior to our cruise on Sea Princess
We spent some time exploring the Wharf area, checked out the seals at Pier 39, tried to find Alcatraz through the fog, then bought tickets for a harbor cruise. The famous fog was in full force, and the tour was windy and chilly, but it was a great way to see the sights. We cruised under the Golden Gate Bridge, around Alcatraz and had a nice over view of the skyline. At least what we could see of it! After a nice dinner at The Pier Market, we wisely took a taxi back up the hill to our hotel.
Uphill all the way, San Francisco
Sunday morning came quickly, given the time change, and we did a little more exploring, finding a nice little neighborhood diner for breakfast. A walk back up the hill was our exercise for the day, so we headed to our room to pack up for our trip to the port and our ship.
My first impression of San Francisco is that it is a clean, vibrant and diverse town, with pride in their community, good food and friendly people with a respect for historical buildings and architecture. We definitely would like to return and spend more time. I think we would be hard pressed to do it justice in even a week, but I’d be willing to give it a try! A return trip is definitely on the Wish List.
Chung King Produce Co, San Francisco, California
“BY FIRE SHALL HEARTS BE PROVEN, LEST VIRTUE’S GOLD CROWN DIM, AND HIS FIRE WAS TESTED IN LIFE’S ORDEAL OF HIM. NOW CALIFORNIA RENDERS THE LAURELS THAT HE WON-DEAD ON THE FIELD OF HONOR, HER HERO AND HER SON.” Dennis T Sullivan, 1852-1906
Aboard Sea Princess departing from San Francisco, California
Kathy & I are planners, and we have developed a number of tools to help us gather and pack the clothing, sundries, camera equipment and other essentials for every kind of trip we take. I was talking with a friend the other day about our upcoming Alaska/California adventure, with the usual small talk (have you started packing, how many suitcases are you taking, etc.). I replied that while Kathy & I have talked about the fact that our packing for this trip will be a little different than our packing for a typical Caribbean cruise (it’s rainy and 44 in Skagway as I write this, with snow and lows in the 30’s in the short-term forecast!) it’s not that difficult because we’re pretty organized.
“Pretty organized” may be an understatement.
We haven’t worried about packing because it’s not a big deal. We’ve developed a workbook in Excel that contains checklists for every kind of trip we’ve ever taken. It we did something different, we would probably be able to adapt one or more of our existing lists to make a new one. It’s partly because we’ve traveled a lot and don’t like to reinvent the wheel every time, but it’s also because we try hard to not take too much stuff. It’s a bit of a challenge, but we both try very hard to enjoy coming back from a trip with stuff we didn’t use or clothes we didn’t wear. Especially the latter.
Being organized is a real advantage, though. On one hand, we love to be serendipitous. Decide on Thursday night to head for the mountains after work on Friday. Sometimes we do, and we can be packed for a weekend in 30 minutes. On the other hand, we never worry about having what we need because if we’ve needed it before it’s on the list, and if we haven’t needed it before it’s not. So when we need to we can pack in a hurry, and we take comfort in knowing that – ruling out something unexpected – if it’s not on the list, we don’t need it! And THAT allows us to enjoy the journey and not worry about the gear.
Packing camera gear is a lot like packing shirts. I decide how many I think I need, know that I’ll leave a favorite or two at home, put them in a bag or case, and go. For this upcoming trip I’ve decided to take just 3 lenses. I could take more, but then I would have to take my huge Think Tank roller and I know I’d end up having to check it. Plus, that’s a lot of gear that I just don’t need. So I’ve decided to pare things down to a small backpack that I’m confident will fit under the seat. My current lens choices are the 17-40, 24-105 and 100-400. I keep going back and forth between the 24-105 and the 24-70. It’s tough because the 24-70 is a significantly better lens (to me), but the 24-105 gives me a bit more coverage and I think the IS will come in handy. Handy enough to give up the better lens? That’s the question.
I have the same struggle with the 100-400. My 70-200 is my favorite lens of all, and I hate to leave it at home. But I really think I’m going to want the 400 focal length in Alaska, and while I could get that with the 70-200 and a 2X converter, having the converter is kind of like having another lens, because then I either have a 70-200 or I have a 140-400, and the 100-400 pretty much solves that.
And as I’m so fond of saying – repeat after me – the more lens choices I have the more likely I’ll decide I’ve got the wrong one on the camera.
My next decision involves whether to take a backup body, a point & shoot, or both. There may be a few times when I’ll want to have the 100-400 on one body and a wide-angle on another body. Not too many, but enough that I’m taking the 5D as a second body. It would be a shame to carry all that glass to Alaska and have something happen to the new 5D, so it will be good to have a worthy backup.
I originally planned to take along my G12 as a “walking around” camera, but when I really started thinking about it, I had to ask myself how likely it would be that I would leave the 5D Mark III behind anywhere? I’m pretty sure that the new camera will go with me everywhere, and that I’d end up never using the G12. So, as of right this moment it is staying at home.
One of the things I liked about my previous choices of camera bodies was that the 5D, 40D and 20D all use the same battery. The 5D Mark III uses the same battery as the 7D, but alas I didn’t buy that one, so I’ll need to take a separate set of batteries and a charger for the other camera, too. That’s not really a problem, but it is a bit more stuff to pack.
I don’t usually take a computer when we travel these days, but I’m taking one for this trip. I’m taking it mostly because I know I’m going to take a lot of photos, and even though I think I’m taking plenty of cards I want to be able to back them up. And just in case I do run out of empty cards I want to be able to re-use them. So the computer goes with me, along with an external hard drive for backup. And if I get inspired to write a blog post or two, it’s a heck of a lot easier to type on the computer than on the iPad!
Since this trip involves lots of different destinations with activities in each, with appointments and directions once we get back to California, I’ve added all my maps and documents to my iPad. So in addition to having plenty of things to read I’ve got everything I need to get us where we need to go. Pretty slick!
So, now that I’ve got all the camera gear and computer equipment figured out, the clothes should be a – relatively speaking – piece of cake!
Life maintains a fragile balance. Most of us take this balance for granted, but the result when this changes even a little can be devastating. A life full of health and optimism can quickly turn to pain and misery with little or no warning.
Kathy’s Mom passed away this past week. The funeral was Saturday. Just a few short years ago she was healthy and energetic, walking and exercising regularly, optimistic for a long and happy future. A series of falls and illnesses were eventually diagnosed as Parkinson’s. A disease as diverse as those who are afflicted, there is little to be done, save for some medicines whose side effects tend to be as horrible as the illness they are designed to alleviate. Eventually the inevitable prevailed, and in too short a time she was gone.
A loving wife and caring mother, she left a family who misses her greatly. Her wit, wisdom and sense of humor inspires us all, and I am grateful that she was even able to find a few redeeming qualities in me.
Kathy & I make frequent trips to Marion, NC to visit our friends at Bruce’s Fabulous Foods on Main Street in Marion. We stumbled on Bruce’s a few years ago and have been making regular visits ever since. This past Saturday we made our most recent pilgrimage.
I’ve had an ongoing love for train stations and enjoy photographing them. Not sure exactly why, but I do. We often plan trips around train stations just to check them out.
The station in Marion is one we had visited before, but with a new camera to play with it was time to stop by again! The light was a little tough and we were hungry, so we didn’t spend a lot of time but I got a few shots.
I’ve gotten a little more time to shoot with the 5D Mark III over the last few days. Saturday I was teaching a digital point & shoot class for The Light Factory, and part of the class time is spent out actually taking photos. What a concept – a photography class that actually goes out and takes photos…amazing if I do say so myself! I cheated a little and took the 5D, with full disclosure to the class, of course. And after using my G12 in the previous session.
I’ve still a little vexed by what I feel is most likely a learning curve in Lightroom…my files seem to be coming in flat and dark, and only after applying a pretty aggressive tone curve adjustment can I get them where I want them. I thought maybe I had some kind of Auto Tone turned on, but nothing I see indicates that I do, and even if I did I think the images, if anything, would look lighter instead of darker. I also saw on a video tutorial something about some automatic highlight suppression that Lightroom is doing, but I haven’t found anything definitive about that. So for now I’ve got something that works and I’m using it.
I’ve posted this photos a little larger than usual in case anyone wants to do some peeping. Click on each photo to make them bigger (dare I say “embiggen?”). They look pretty good, I think.