Archive for the ‘Wild Anchorage’ Category

Correcting yet another inaccurate piece about Alaska

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014
Correcting yet another inaccurate piece about Alaska

It’s in all-to-common phenomenon to see articles written about Alaska by people who are not from here. Or, at least, with this one in particular I have to assume the author is not from here because she got so many things wrong.

The piece I am referring to was published in a real estate blog called “Movoto,” and claimed to detail “22 Things You Need to Know About Anchorage Before You Move There.” Setting aside the grammatically challenged approach to capitalizing every word in the headline, as I read the piece, I started seeing some errors. I was going to rebut some of them on a Facebook post where I first learned of the piece, but after further review, found too many to put in a simple Facebook response. Hence, this blog post was born. I will respond only to those specific assertions that were either incomplete, misleading or completely inaccurate.

1. “To State the Obvious, Winter is Really Cold.” Well, duh, Alaska has its cold spots, but it’s all relative. The winters in Anchorage are actually warmer than the winters in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Here, the author also claims you need Carharts and Bunny Boots to get around in the Anchorage winters. But Carharts are not specifically a winter, insulating outdoor wear, they happened to be worn by people who do heavy, dirty work in the winter time. And the temperatures never really get cold enough in Anchorage to warrant wearing Bunny Boots – that is more for the Interior or Brooks Range areas.

2. “Icebergs, Right Ahead! And Left, And Right, And Behind You.” This is hyperbole at its best. There is not a single glacier that is visible with the naked eye from the heart of Anchorage, where the actual city is located (what we call the “Anchorage bowl”). You have to drive about a half an hour south of Anchorage to see them on the Turnagain Arm, or head northeast of town and do some hiking or flying to see any. She also mentions the “massive” Portage Glacier. It has retreated so much it is no longer in contact with Portage Lake, so it’s not massive anymore.  (The photo associated with this part of the article is clearly from Prince William Sound, not anywhere near Anchorage, or even within the massive municipal boundaries.)

3. “You Don’t Need To Know How To Pronounce The Aurora Borealis To Fall In Love.” I do not disagree with this sentiment, but spring temperatures in Anchorage are not “sub zero.” Recent Spring aurora chasing has involved temperatures in the upper 30s, low 40s.

4. “The Parks In Anchorage Are Just A Little Different Than Yours.” In this part, she talks about Kenai Fjords, but fails to mention that access to Kenai Fjords National Park is a two-hour drive south of Anchorage and not even close to its municipal boundaries. Additionally, she asserts that “mountains like Prospect Heights tower up to 8,000 feet high.” There is no mountain called “Prospect Heights” in Alaska. Rather, Prospect Heights is the name of a trailhead connecting with several trails in the Chugach Mountains as part of a fantastic trail system in Chugach State Park in the Anchorage hillside. Additionally, there are no peaks of 8,000 feet elevation in the Anchorage area.  The tallest nearby peaks are  Pioneer Peak (6,398) and Eagle Peak (6,955).

16. “Snowmobiling Means Something Different In Anchorage.” The top thing she should have done here is to advise newcomers that we call it “snowmachining” in Anchorage, not “snowmobiling.” (Out in the Bush, many people call it going out on a “SnowGo” not a snowmachine.)

19. “Moby Dick Is Waiting For You.” Here, the author claims you can whale-watch from the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail or out in Kenai Fjords National Park. There is not a single location along the coastal trail that is suitable for whale-watching. Beluga whales are known to come up to the mouth of Ship Creek in the summer as they chase salmon. The starting point to the coastal trail is immediately south of that area, but does not provide a vantage point for watching beluga whales. You may have some chance encounters from the trail near Earthquake Park, but if you are going just for whale watching, it is not a reliable spot. Rather, your best bet is to head south of Anchorage and drive along the Turnagain Arm on the Seward Highway to look for the tell-tale flash of white flesh out in the water with an incoming tide as they chase hooligan in the Spring or salmon in the summer. But rather than taking the two-hour drive to Seward to catch a whale-watching cruise in Kenai Fjords National Park (which I reiterate is not in Anchorage), taking the 45-minute drive to Whittier and catching a whale cruise in Prince William Sound is a much closer option.

A little basic Internet research could have corrected the errors in this piece. I know that I did a lot of research about Anchorage before moving here. I certainly would do as much if I were writing about a place where I didn’t live. And clearly, either the author does not live here or she has not been paying attention.

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Best of 2011

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012
Best of 2011

In 2011, I was fortunate to have many travel opportunities, from familiar places to new places here in Alaska and to new continents.  This made for a rather challenging effort to come up with around a dozen images that reflected my best images from 2011.  With Michelle’s help, I narrowed it down to 13.  With this post, I will tell a little about what is behind each image.

Canoes at Dusk.”  The feature image was captured during Michelle’s and my visit to Maui in late December to mid-January.  I had been wanting to capture an iconic beach with palm trees sunset photo and found this beach with outrigger canoes in North Kihei.  After capturing sunset, the canoes, and a paddleboarder, I was loading my gear back into our rental car when I saw how the colors of dusk were developing.  I set up literally next to the car and captured the elements of color, shape, and canoe.

Rainbow Eucalyptus, Maui.”  Michelle and I decided to give ourselves a whole two days to explore the Hana side of the island of Maui.  On our way across the top, northeast portion of the island, we spotted what I would later learn is an oft-photographed Rainbow Eucalyptus grove alongside the Hana Highway.  I photographed the trees both on the way down to Hana and on the way back to Kihei.  I found the lighting better on the return trip due to the overcast skies.

Grasses and Snow.”  I have increasingly come to enjoy venturing out onto the flats of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge in the wintertime.  On this particular day, I accessed the coast through Kincaid Park, and started to hike out to the water’s edge, where large boulders of ice had been accumulating.  Along the way, I looked to my right and to the north and caught this view of grasses and snow drifts with Mt. Susitna in the background.

Mesa and Sunset.” I was in the Page, Arizona area attending a landscape photography workshop led by Alain Briot.  After an evening of working some hoodoos on a cliff overlooking the Lake Powell area, we were starting to head back to our vehicles when I noticed this tremendous buildup of clouds.  Knowing that they would capture the sunset’s colors well, I scurried over to where I could set up a composition that included this mesa I had spotted earlier in the evening. 

Framed Rock.”  Still in the Page area for this Alain Briot workshop, we were exploring some rock formations over in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on the Utah side of the border.  I was maneuvering to capture this balanced rock I had been eyeing for a while when I happened upon this natural frame created by fallen rocks.  It took a while to position the tripod and camera, and to select the right lens to fulfill my vision of this balanced rock.

Worn and Weathered.” In May, I had the pleasure of joining the Tony Robbins Platinum Partners as they ventured to Africa for a five day, three-country excursion.  My primary purpose was to provide photographic instruction, both through lectures and one-on-one interaction at various locations.  But, I also took many, many pictures, paticularly on the day we went to the Nakatindi School in Zambia for a contribution day that consisted of repairing doors, desks, floors and windows, repainting rooms, and planting trees and other plants. While in the school’s cafeteria, I spotted this older man, who I had seen earlier out in the school yard, and simply loved the texture on his face and how it seemed to reflect the aged texture on the walls.

Lincoln Memorial, Sunrise.”  When I was in Washington D.C. in May to attend the Nature’s Best awards reception at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, I spent some time getting up early to photograph the memorials on the mall.  Here, the early light of the sun lights up the face of the Lincoln Memorial.  I previsualized this as a black and white because of the great contrast and textures.

First Toss.”  While out in the Bristol Bay region to begin fieldwork on my Bristol Bay/Pebble Mine book, I spent a couple of days on the driftboat F/V Chulyen, skippered by lifelong Naknek resident Everett Thompson.  Our first opener was right after sunrise, and I wanted to capture the first toss of the buoy that would secure one end of the gill nets in place.  Using a graduated neutral denstify filter to balance out the exposure and give more drama to the clouds, I waited until the desired moment and just started clicking.  The end result was a gorgeous image that has turned out to be a powerful representation of the life of a driftnetter.

Turnagain Lichens.” While heading out one morning in July to go for a sunrise hike with my friend John Pope, I asked if he wouldn’t mind if we bypass the trailhead for a few minutes to go check out what the morning light was doing on the Turnagain Arm.  I found the perfect spot to capture the morning light on the Kenai Mountains and their reflection on the calm waters of the Turnagain Arm, then found an even better vantage point that offered this patch of organge lichens.

Anaktuvuk Pass, Sunrise.”  After spending a few days for my weeklong visit in Anaktuvuk Pass in August, I had scouted what I hoped would be the perfect sunrise location.  There was a large patch of crimson red bear berries on the hillside, a row of mountains to the west, and a great overlook view of the village to the east.  While the sun did not rise and shine in the way I had originally anticipated, I ended up very much liking how the sunshine turned out.  This is perhaps one of my most shared images of the year.  The greatest compliment I received came from a village resident who stated that she never knew her village could be so beautiful. 

Moose over Anchorage.”  This autumn marked the tenth year I have been going up to photograph the moose during the rut as they gather in Chugach State Park near the abundant trail system in the hillside area of Anchorage that spawns from the Glen Alps trailhead.  During those many years, a great several of which I have spent with my good friend Nick Fucci, I have envisioned capturing an image of a large bull moose in the foreground and the downtown skyline of Anchorage in the background.  Not only did I finally find the perfect vantage point this last autumn, but found a cooperating bull moose as well. 

Fall Colors and Denali, Sunrise.”  I spent Labor Day weekend up at the Denali Backcountry Lodge in Kantishna.  It was my third time there as a presenter, and sixth time to the lodge in a ten-year period.  But it was Michelle’s first time at the lodge.  On our way out of the park, we stopped to watch and capture sunrise on Denali (Mt. McKinley) just past Wonder Lake.  The light was perfect, the fall colors were at peak; it was perhaps the best morning I have ever had for photographing The Mountain at sunrise. 

Collared Pika Snack.”  While Nick was up visiting for his annual fall moose safaris and Redoubt Mountain Lodge bear workshop, we spent some time up in Hatcher Pass in September climbing amoung the rocks in a boulder field to capture the elusive collard pika.  We had a great day with some bright diffuse light and several active pika, giving Nick and I plenty of opportunities to photograph the enjoyable rodent.  While Nick has countless superb images of pika in his library, this was the best day I had experienced yet in photographing the collared pika.

These images are all available for purchase in the new “Best of 2011” gallery on my website.

Around the Page and Glen Canyon area

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011
Around the Page and Glen Canyon area

The desert southwest is simply magnificent country.  Sure, Alaska is pretty amazing, don’t get me wrong.  But we do not have the diversity of rock formations that you can find in the desert southwest, particularly in canyon country.  (Note, another magnificent area for rock formations is Joshua Tree National Park, California.)  During my visit to northern Arizona, I spent some time exploring various rock formations south of Page near Highway 89, and then across the Colorado River over on the Utah side of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

As with most landscape photography situations, the best time to photograph was at first light and last light, with clouds and storms not only adding drama but frequently injecting the colors necessary to make the image successful.  I often find that the landscape composition will be more interesting by incorporating various “rules” of composition.  One such rule or guidance is to create what is called a “near-far” composition – placing a prominent image in the foreground while showing the expansive landscape in the background.  Another such rule or guidance is to use leading lines to draw the eye of the viewer into the subject.

All of these images and more are now available in my Newest Images gallery.

Iditarod, a Great Alaska Tradition

Monday, March 7th, 2011
Iditarod, a Great Alaska Tradition

DeeDee Jonrowe, one of the more well-known dog mushers in Alaska, not only because she has had many successful runs but is a cancer survivor, said during this weekend’s Iditarod start that the Iditarod is a celebration of Alaskan culture.  Dog mushing is certainly not unique to Alaska, nor is professional dog mushing racing, but there is something special about the Iditarod and its place in the Alaskan worldview.

Before living in Alaska, I spent nine years in Minnesota, where I attended college and graduate school.  In between the two schools, I spent a couple of years up north working as a canoe guide in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.  It was there that I began to learn about dog mushing because of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon.  But I never made it down to Duluth (I was living in Grand Marais) to see any part of the race.  I never got the sense that it was the sort of thing that people traveled long distances to see, that it had more of a regional impact.

But the Iditarod is something else entirely.  People come from all over the world to Anchorage just to see the ceremonial start, and stay to see the official start in Willow the next day.  Some even stay long enough to go to Nome – NOME – to see the first finishers come in to town.

There are so many things that make Iditarod not only a great Alaskan tradition, but one of the many things that makes Anchorage a special place to live.  The entire downtown atmosphere during the day of the ceremonial start (always the first Saturday in March) is an extremely festive atmosphere, mixed with the excitement of being in the midst of some of the biggest stars in the wild sport of dog mushing.  Prior to the official start, members of the public are free to interact with the mushers and their dogs, ask questions, pose for pictures, and simply be part of the excitement of getting ready for heading out on the trail.  Once the first team leaves the starting mark, members of the public can still line the streets, holding the Anchorage Daily News Iditarod guide that identifies each musher, allowing people to cheer on each musher by name.

Given the very public nature of the Iditarod, there are always other things going on that take advantage of the publicity.  Usually, someone from the Alaska congressional delegation and/or the governor are there to perform some official function.  In 2008, Governor Sarah Palin was on hand to sign into law a bill that commemorates the first Saturday of March as Susan Butcher Day, named after a four-time winning musher who died of cancer in 2006.  There is always someone waving a protest sign, promoting some issue of local concern.  And frequently some corporation is passing out swag to promote product recognition, like when Target first came to Alaska and had a crew there in force.

But the ceremonial start of the Iditarod is just one part of the festive atmosphere in Anchorage.  The dog teams mush down through town, along the Chester Creek trail, through Far North Bicentennial Park, and over to the Campbell Creek airstrip on BLM land in the heart of the city.  All along the way, fans line up to look for their favorite mushers and to cheer teams as they tour through town.  I can think of no other major sporting event where people of the public have such access to the event participants.  It is an openness and accessibility that is rather fitting for Alaska, and Anchorage, where the land is open and people are free to pursue what they enjoy doing in the outdoors.

To follow the progress of this year’s Iditarod, visit the official Iditarod website.

A hike into winter’s stark beauty

Friday, February 4th, 2011
A hike into winter's stark beauty

I am increasingly becoming very fond of taking afternoon hikes on the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge in the winter.  The refuge wraps around the western side of Anchorage, from Point Woronzof all the way down past Potter Marsh.  While trekking out onto it in the summer time is generally not recommended, as the glacial silt often has a quicksand-like quality to it, winter is a completely different story.  The frozen, snow-covered surface offers a rather stable surface for exploring.  However, for any time of the year, it is best to go at low tide.  Not only is it safer and offers a larger area to explore, it is a transformed into a magical boulder field of stranded, large chunks of ice, waiting for the next high tide to be liberated and back en route to the Gulf of Alaska via the Cook Inlet.

I chose Kincaid Park as my point of entry.  Until the new Campbell Creek preserve is completed and ready for use, Kincaid Park offers the best access to the heart of the refuge.  You could enter and hike down from Point Woronzof, but that lies on the northernmost portion of the refuge.  Plus, the area out from Kincaid Park is rather expansive at low tide.  Once you hike down the trail from the chalet, there are several access trails leading down the bluff to the flats of the refuge.  With my camera gear tucked inside of my Lowe Pro Orion AW bag and my tripod strapped underneath, I headed down, carrying my snowshoes in case the snow was deep and unmanageable on the coast.  As it turned out, I did not need them.

I reached the bluff and shuffled down its steep slopes to the mudflats, looking out onto a vast, flat expanse of snow and ice crystals, with a line of ice boulders in the distance.  At that line is where I would find the swift moving waters of a still-outgoing tide, where deeper channels allowed the broken ice of winter to keep flowing past.  While the sun was still up and casting a late pinkish alpenglow hue on the snow, I photographed some of the grasses growing along what is presumably a sandbar, looking to the north and the trio of Foraker, Hunter and Denali.  As the sun reached its destination on the horizon, I focused on a couple of grounded ice boulders and the background elements of the sun and Mt. Redoubt, which I could see was spouting off some steam that was nicely backlit by the sun.  Even after the sun went down, I continued to work.  I find that the post-sunset hues of dusk offer some of the best colors in the winter, and the slower shutter speed allowed me to capture the movement of the ice and water as it sped past me.

My only company during the entire time was a cow and calf moose that came along, working their way from the south and up into Kincaid Park.  Otherwise, I was completely alone and isolated in a magical winter landscape, a few minutes drive (after a half hour hike back up to the car) from the heart of a nearly 300,000 population city.  The only way I even knew I was near a city from this vantage point was the frequent movement of aircraft overhead, working their way either to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport or Merrill Field.  I could not think of a better place to live.

The great moose hunt on the hillside

Saturday, October 16th, 2010
The great moose hunt on the hillside

After being used to either solo or duo (with Nick Fucci) journeys up to the South Fork Campbell Creek valley for moose, it was a bit of a change to go up there with four other photographers: Joe Connolly, Josh Martinez, Chris Beck, and Brian Weeks.  Quite the motley crew, not only in terms of photo styles and emphases, but in terms of how we all met.  But that is the way it is with photographers; we often meet new people who are already known to our existing friends.  For example, I met Chris Beck five or six years ago after joining a local chapter of Business Networking International.  A couple of years later, I met Joe Connolly at one of the many wedding fairs, where photographers like he and I would provide information about our business to prospective clients.  Yet separately, Chris and Joe became friends through their own experiences.  Perhaps that is also a great example of life in Alaska; America’s biggest small town.

We all gathered at Joe’s house at 8:00 in the morning; I knew from my experience that it would be way too early to bother looking for moose because it would be hours before any sunlight hit the valley floor.  But Joe’s home is conveniently located just up the hill from the Glen Alps parking lot, a premiere location for launching any moose photo exhibition.  As we were chilling out up at Joe’s house, enjoying his hospitality, I noticed the dawn colors starting to form, so I sprinted down (in my car) to the Glen Alps lot, arriving with barely enough time to capture some of the color before it faded.

I went back up to the house, and we all gathered together our gear to head out into the wilds.  Well, at least out onto the Powerline Trail, a wide, gravel trail for hiking and mountainbiking in the summer, skiing and snowmachining in the winter.  Unfortunately, there were no moose anywhere near us, and the ones we could find way off in the distance were all cows.  Quite frankly, I was not interested in hiking all the way across the landscape for photos of cow moose in crappy light (the sun quickly became obscured in clouds following sunrise).  But it was a great opportunity to get out, go for a hike, enjoy some company, and photograph the changing landscape.  We stopped and spent some time along the South Fork of Campbell Creek, which was starting to form ice along its banks and various pockets of ice capturing leaves and other remnants of the autumn.

With some Flickr folk at Upper Huffman

Saturday, October 9th, 2010
With some Flickr folk at Upper Huffman

Whoever says that social media like Facebook divides people rather than bringing them together socially does not know how to use social media.  I have many Facebook “friends” whom I have never met face-to-face, or, if so, fleetingly once several years ago.  But with the knowledge of those connections and your shared interests, you can reach out to those people in person once you get a sense of who they are.  Recently, I received an invitation to join a group of photographers for a Saturday evening cookout at the Upper Huffman parking area, which is near a popular trailhead into the Chugach State Park trail system in the upper hillside above Anchorage.  The invitation came through Facebook. It seemed like it would be a good time, so I grabbed some camera beer and some homebrew (Amber and Hefeweizen) that Michelle and I had made, and headed up.  Turns out, it is a group of people who all have Flickr accounts, and have been having these get-togethers over the years.  Now, I am not a Flickr account member, so I don’t get the whole gist of it.  But, it seems like essentially a social media for amatuer photographers and serious hobbyists; a place to share and discuss photos, which can be especially fun when the photos are shared among people who have been on a photo outing together.  As is often the case in social settings where you are the new person and everyone else has known each other for quite a while, I learned a lot of names that I promptly forgot.  (I hope to get to know them as time goes by; very nice and fun group.)  But the evening sky and light was simply amazing, keeping me quite busy for a while as I moved from one location to another, capturing Cook Inlet, the sky, the city, the neighborhood with Denali looming behind it … lots of wonderful opportunities that kept my focus for some time.

Moose hunting with Nick

Friday, September 10th, 2010
Moose hunting with Nick

Long-time friend and superb photographer Nick Fucci was up visiting again for his autumn Alaska photo tours, a combination of one-on-one moose safaris into the Chugach Mountains or other photo sessions in Hatcher Pass, and a bear photography workshop out at the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge.  As always, he stayed with us, taking advantage of our spare bedroom and engaging in his annual feline fix.  As is often the case during his visits, we found a day where both of our schedules were open and headed up to the South Fork of Campbell Creek in Chugach State Park and along the Willawaw Lakes Trail to check out two of the main wallows where moose tend to mingle in the pre-rut.

We got up to the Glen Alps parking lot at around eight, well before the sun had come up over the ridge to sweep down into the valley.  We made our way down the Powerline trail, across the South Fork of Campbell Creek and over on the Willawaw Lakes Trail to the “knob” that marks the eastern turn to Willawaw Lakes.  That was our stopping point, the location of two primary gathering areas for moose.  Unfortunately, we had not spotted a single moose during the entire hike.  It was now 9:30, and light was starting to hit the valley.  Nick went out to explore in a little more detail, while I waited and worked on some macro possibilities.  Shortly into photographing some dwarf dogwood and crow berries, Nick signaled: he had found some bulls.  It turns out, they were two younger bulls that had recently shed their velvet.  One had a serious limp, perhaps a healed broken bone or a recent injury, we could not tell.

Later, as we continued to follow these two bulls, we encountered a larger, older bull who was starting to gather his harem.  So far, only two cows, but they were enough for him to get rather territorial and fiesty when one of the younger bulls got too close and started sniffing around one of the cows.  The cow let out a mewling sound that let the older bull know she was not happy about this interloper.  The older bull did not have to get aggressive, he just slowly made his way toward the younger bull with a thousand-mile stare and menacing posture that said everything he needed to say.  Granted, the younger bull did not quite get the message, because he came back a few minutes later to try again.  This time, the older bull was faster in his response, moving more directly at the younger bull than the slower, wider route he took before.  This time, the message sank in, and the younger bull headed back the way he came.

As always, the moose pretty much ignored us.  We got so close that most of the photos I took were with my 70-200mm lens rather than the large 500mm that I had dragged along for the trek.  Being able to interact with moose so closely, where they are not threatened because they are in a safe area, truly is what makes this part of the Chugach State Park one of the best places to photograph moose in the world.

On our way out, that heavy 500mm lens came in handy.  We looked behind us, and a few hundred yards to the south, right where we had first spotted the moose, where a pair of coyote.  They just stood there at the knob, surveying the land.  I set up my camera, got them in the frame and started to focus when one of the coyotes darted away, with the other one starting to move.  I managed only two shots before they were both completely gone.  With so little time, the picture was not perfectly in focus, but I keep it anyway because it documents that moment in time, the fleeting coyote on the hill.  I quickly hiked up to the knob to see if I could spot them again, but no luck.  What I did see, however, was what caused them to spook in the first place: a woman with her three off-leash, larger dogs that were bounding up and down the trail with no control whatsoever.  Thanks, lady, for ruining the moment for me, and for making those coyote feel less secure in their own home.

Finding our way along Campbell Creek

Friday, August 20th, 2010
Finding our way along Campbell Creek

The weather finally let up so that Daniel and I could have a good outing.  After exhausting his appetite for mountains, I decided a good trek would be biking along the Campbell Creek route.  Except, this time, I wanted to take the route all the way to the University, where we could hook up with the Chester Creek system, take that to the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, and then back down to home.  Yes, it was quite an ambitious route.  But my preconception of how ambitious it was fell far short of reality.

The beginning part of the route is an area I have grown to become quite familiar with in the last couple of years.  After a short jaunt down 88th Avenue, we intersected with the Campbell Creek trail system and headed toward Taku Lake.  From there, we followed the trail, with a slight diversion because it was unclear which path would take us on our intended course, until the Seward Highway.  At that point, with Campbell Creek flowing right next to us, the trail disintegrates into a jumble of rocks and mud leading under the very low hanging highway.  At this point, you have to get off your bike, duck and walk under the bridge.  As Daniel and I were doing this, a group of college students went by – three in a canoe and one in a kayak, wearing a Captain’s hat and a blue blazer over his topless body.  Now there’s a moment when I really wish I had my camera at the ready.

Once we finished our scramble under the highway, we found ourselves back in touch with the Campbell Creek trail system.  It was a treat to explore this area, which runs south of and parallel to Tudor Road.  It was a completely new area, marked with complex metal framed bridges and viewing platforms over the creek.  Although I did not see it on the ride, we passed right near the point where the North and South Fork of Campbell Creek joined to form the main stem of the creek.  Someday, I will go back to this area specifically to find and photograph that convergence.  After a couple of wrong turns, we found ourselves at Elmore Road, leading to the bridge that crosses over Tudor Road and leads to University Lake.  It is the same bridge that dog mushers use during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod as they mush on their way from downtown to the Campbell Science Center to load up their dogs for the trip up to Willow and the official start the next day.

Since I have photographed Iditarod mushers along this stretch of trail before, I knew that the trail winded around the east side of University Lake.  What I did not know, was that this trail on the east side did not readily connect with the trail that would lead me back into the heart of the University and connect us with the Chester Creek trail system, which is what we planned to take down to the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.  What I also did not know was that this part of the trail was also the notoriously obnoxious dog park I had read about in the paper, where Alaska Pacific University was complaining about unleashed dogs encroaching on its property.  Despite the several signs on the trail forbidding free range dogs, I had to break on numerous occasions for unleashed, unmanaged, free-running dogs whose owners paid no attention to the havoc that their dogs were wreaking upon other trail users.  We passed around the north side of the lake and headed west, looking to connect with the trail and leave the dog frenzy behind.  With one problem solved, another one emerged.

Earlier in the ride, I received a call from Joe Connolly, wondering if I would like to fly up to Denali and do some aerial photography in the Ruth Glacier gorge.  Sure, I said, so long as Daniel could come with.  No problem.  So, I called Michelle and arranged for her to meet us at the Goose Lake parking lot, on the north side of UAA campus near Northern Lights Boulevard.  Little did I know, however, that when we took the trail on the northwest side of University Lake and headed north that we were working our way into a dizzying maze of unmarked mountain bike trails.  At every turn, I took the trail that seemed to be heading in the direction we needed to go, to the northwest.  At one point, we encountered a cow and her two spring calves, forcing us to hang back until they got away from the trail.  There are few worse things to encounter on a bike trail in this town than a cow and her spring calves or calf.

Another phone call, this time from Michelle.  She was at Goose Lake and wondering where we were.  So did I, I told her, mentioning that we were essentially lost in a maze of trails.  After a little while, we found some familiar territory on the edge of the APU campus.  I called Michelle and we arranged to meet over at the UAA Arts building.  But, yet again, we were stalled by a moose, this time a solo cow right on the bike trail.  As we were waiting to clear the moose, Michelle drove by and pulled off to a parking lot so we could load up, head home and shower to get ready for our flight with Joe.  As much as I like adventure, sometimes I just want an uneventful bike ride.  But in Anchorage, so many times a bike ride is more than just a bike ride.

Morning moose

Thursday, August 5th, 2010
Morning moose

I was awoke one morning to the sound of Daniel’s voice, saying, “There’s a moose in the backyard.”  Since the only moose we have ever had actually in our yard were cows and calves, I was slow to get up and check the moose.  Michelle hardly budged – she certainly was not going to get up at that hour to look at moose.  Of course, in her waking hours, if she ever sees a moose she calls me up – no matter the time of day, no matter where she is or where I am – to let me know she just saw a moose.  But, she withdraws from her role as the “Moose Whisperer” when there is sleep to be had.

When I got up and saw this handsome bull resting in our freshly installed sod strip (laid to replace the empty ground where the pointless cement sidewalk existed previously), I quickly increased my pace, got dressed, and set up a large tripod with large lens in Daniel’s bedroom – the best vantage point for the moose.  Plus, I also thought it was appropriate for me to set up and use his room as a blind, as he is the one who woke me anyway.  But since it is later in the summer, even after jacking up the ISO to 3200, and opening all the way up to f/2.8, I still was getting low shutter speeds and fuzzy images.  After about ten minutes, I left Daniel in charge of watching the moose, noting that I would try again later, closer to sunrise and my usual time to get up.  Daniel proceeded to watch the moose, then video tape it on the loaner digital camera I let him use while he is visiting.  In a while, the moose got up, laid down a couple of spots of new fertilizer in the backyard, browsed for a little bit on our new aspen grove that is growing by the shed (I encourage him to eat as much as he can of that stuff), then cross through the front yard and off our property.

We have seen that very bull at least three times since, passing through our yard from back to front and exiting at the southeast corner, and always at around 5-6 a.m.  We are on his irregular morning route, which is rather exciting.  Who knows, maybe we will get lucky and he will start to develop a harem in our backyard.  Probably not, but one can always hope.  But, for some reason, he like the other moose who pass through, find our property appealing as they move from the wetlands to the north of Jewel Lake and on through the neighborhood to the south.  I consider it one of the many wonders and gifts of living where we do, not only in this city, but in this particular part of it.  We get all the benefits of some wildlife encounters, like the moose, bats and our many avian visitors, and none of the drawbacks like troublesome bears.

Whatever his future plans, I hope he has a good rutting season, our visiting moose.  And best wishes for a healthy winter, although we are going to have to cover our new apple and cherry trees to make sure it is not too good of a winter.