How appropriate to photograph an American bald eagle on the Fourth of July in Alaska. In Hoonah, Alaska I was able to slowly approach this eagle which had apparently just eaten some fish. Yep, we made a return visit to Alaska to visit Denali National Park and cruise the beautiful coastline for a second time in two months.
Denali National Park
Cruising by Seward on our first trip, there was not enough time to drive the four or so hours from Seward to Denali National Park, take a five-hour bus tour and drive back to port. We were excited to get three more national park visits under our belts during our visit to Alaska. We have now been to 44 of 59 National Parks. Denali seems to be very restrictive in what visitors are allowed to do. The tourist has few options when visiting. Tours are given in either an old school bus or a more modern bus. You then have the option of a five, eight or twelve-hour tour. All tours use the same road, the difference is how far into the park you travel. We elected to join the eight-hour tour.
This is no photo tour; it is sightseeing for the masses. The scenery photos of Denali were taken from a bus going 35 miles an hour over bumpy dirt roads through dirty windows. The driver was not about to pull over for a photo opportunity on this scenic road. Loading and unloading all tourists aboard would mean 30 minutes additional time each stop. It is a beautiful park, but very frustrating for a serious photographer.
Of course you will see lots of wildlife on the tour. This disheveled looking caribou was walking within a few feet of the bus, blocking traffic in each direction. Not quite the view you would see on a postcard.
Do you know the difference between a caribou and a reindeer? Absolutely nothing physically. The reindeer is simply a captured and domesticated caribou.
Near the end of our day trip into Denali, we spotted “the three bears.” After only two minutes of viewing, our bus driver drove off despite all the yells from the passengers and photographers wishing to stay for more photos. Our driver then drove only a few hundred more yards to the end of our route to show us where we could actually see Mount Denali if it had not been socked in by fog. We then drove back a few hundred yards to see if the bears were still there. Such is the life of a photographer on a tour bus.
The day after our Denali bus tour we were lucky to see two grazing moose on the side of a busy four lane highway. We were so close we could hear the mom snorting. I felt extra safe thinking her head was simply too big to fit into the rolled down car window.
We never did see Mount Denali in its full glory. At the roadside stop below we waited for an hour as it teased us by partially clearing before clouding up again. Regardless, spectacular scenery is abundant in Alaska.
Our Alaskan Cruise Begins
Photographers are suckers for layer upon layer of blue mountains. The views were quite different from our first trip, much less fog.
We stopped at many interesting towns along the way and took a self-guided tour of the State capitol in Juneau. For very good reasons, Alaska’s State Capitol building was voted the ugliest in all of the USA. We also took an ATV tour, rode a tram and a train high into the mountains. But none of these produced much in the way of quality photographs, so we will stick to the couple of glaciers visited during the cruise. There are over 10,000 glaciers in Alaska, most without names.
Visiting these glaciers is an all-day affair. You will be cruising up and back in the relatively narrow inlets from dawn to dusk. Finally at the end of the bay where the glacier is, the cruise ship will spin around slowly so all sides of the ship get a good view and get to experience the warmth of the sun vs. the very cold shady side. There is a naturalist on board from the National Park Service telling us more facts than I ever cared to know about this glacier.
The goal is to see the glacier calving off large chunks of ice, which happens regularly. The roar of the resulting falling ice is heard well after the ice actually falls. It is surprising how very loud and what a very low rumble sound the ice slide produces. In the photo below the splash of one ice slide can be seen.
The onboard naturalist tried to impress upon us the size of the glaciers by using huge numbers like billions and billions of barrels of water or something similar. My best opportunity to convey their massive size was when a plane few in front of the glacier. Look at the photo below and see the airplane almost dead center on the photograph. In addition to the thickness of this glacier, it is many miles long.
You will not be alone cruising these waters. The Carnival Legend passes by one of the many waterfalls.
Upon leaving the glacier the late afternoon sun shown through the blue ice, highlighting their unique sculptural forms.
I would like to be in a kayak with the ability to paddle up close to these beautiful icebergs to zoom in on the round designs on the right of the ice chunk below.
More Whale Flukes,
I went on more whale watching tours, alone this time as the rest of the group had seen enough by now. What was special about this particular tour is I was able to identify this specific whale as “Smudge.” The markings on the whale fluke are unique and act as a fingerprint of sorts. If you are the lucky individual who is the first to prove you have spotted a new whale, apparently you have the naming rights. Rather than think I am the lucky one who somehow discovered several new whales while on an Alaskan tourist whale cruise, I think I did not look at enough photos to identify them all. I’m just happy I was able to locate Smudge… or is it Flame? The whale tail book is divided into sections such as 25% white, 50% white etc. to make your search easier.
On this cruise we saw a pod of orca whales. It is the habit of every whale watching cruise to tell us how lucky we were to see such rare sights as we saw during their tour. This cruise said we were very luck to have seen any orca whales.
Thank You, Russia
When boarding this whale cruise we all sat inside during the cold thirty minute trip to view the whales. The couple across from me certainly appeared well to do, or they at least dressed so. I introduced myself and asked where they were from. St. Petersburg, Russia, it turns out. I immediately shook the man’s hand and thanked him for selling us this beautiful area. He knew enough English to get the joke and laugh.
What a different land this would be if Russia had continued to rule it. Prior to Russia selling Alaska to the United States, the Russian trading companies had almost completely depleted the region of all sea otters for their fur and the walruses for their ivory. However, during the Crimean War, France and England dominated the Pacific. It became clear Russia could neither supply nor defend Alaska, so they opted for a quick sale. While the USA did obtain Alaska for a very cheap price in 1867, Russia was happy to be able to walk away with anything. The total price was $7,200,000, or about 2 cents per acre. Still many in Congress thought it was a terrible deal and were quite vocal against it.
My Weekly Blogs are Over
Upon hearing that we were traveling throughout Europe for months at a time and now concluding the Pacific Rim for six months, someone recently asked what it was we were looking for or hoped to find. The answer was, “Nothing and nothing.” Given enough time, having no permanent home, and an inclination to see new sights around the world, we simply decided to travel. We discovered it can be a lot of work to make so many reservations and move so many times. Others, more adept at travel, simply wing it for years and have a great time doing so. I will still do some traveling, but for shorter duration and with more targeted photographic goals.
We have lived in the big city, but will now opt for a more rural flavor and continue to explore our beautiful country. Thank you for reading our blog and looking at our photos all these months.
I will likely do another blog of some of the highlights of our travels, but for now I will work on my golf game which is in desperate need of some attention.