Archive for the ‘Wild Anchorage’ Category

I get it, but my mayor is clueless

Sunday, July 18th, 2010
I get it, but my mayor is clueless

I have lived in two rather large metropolitan areas: the Twin Cities, with its two million people, and Los Angeles, with, well, way too many people. I chose to move to Anchorage eleven years ago not because I was looking for urban, but because I was looking for wild with just the right amount of urban. I have grown in my knowledge over time that I had made the right decision, enjoying many years hiking, biking and Nordic skiing on Anchorage trails, enjoying fishing for salmon in its streams, savoring moments paddling in my canoe on its lakes, and enjoying picking berries in its forests and alpine slopes. Most of all, over those years, I have enjoyed photographing in the wild places of Anchorage, in its greenbelts, watersheds, valleys and coastal areas.

I have lived here only eleven years, but I get it. I get why Anchorage is a special place. I get what makes it stand out against Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York … all the cities where I have been. Anchorage has actual, real wild habitat within the confines of the actual city, and most of that is accessible by the public. You can see bear, moose, red fox, coyote, even wolves within the confines of the city. You can fish for salmon only a five minute walk from downtown. You can enjoy the call of a loon in the evening if you live near a lake. You can be on a mountainside picking blueberries after only a twenty minute drive or so.

I get it. But our mayor, Dan Sullivan, sure as hell does not.

About two years ago, I made contact with the Great Land Trust to put my photography to use in helping them to secure wild places so they could be set aside for conservation purposes. Simply put, the Trust works with private landowners who have property of some greater value to habitat, public use, or some other aspect that makes the property worth while in preserving for public use or conservation.  The Trust raises money to purchase the land, then either maintains ownership of the land and makes it available for public or conservation benefit, or donates the land to the state or local government, with the caveat that the property is preserved in a conservation trust, often in the form of a conservation easement.  The Trust will also negotiate with private landowners to obtain a conservation easement over the owner’s land, allowing access to public lands that are otherwise not easily reachable. Sometimes that involves purchasing private land outright so that existing parks and preserves, like Chugach State Park and the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, have more public access.

Last year, I met up with someone from the Trust to go photograph the Campbell Creek estuary in the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge. Not that the estuary itself is not already protected to some degree, but the purpose of the visit was to highlight the estuary to assist in fundraising for purchasing private land that would provide public access to the coastal refuge in that area and ensure greater protection for the estuary by limiting development. You see, there is no legal public access to the coastal refuge on the west side of Seward Highway from all the way down by Potter Marsh to all the way up to Kincaid Park. Why not? Because half of the land is all privately owned, and the other half is blocked by an easement for the Alaska Railroad. The Railroad, a State-owned entity, considers it trespassing to cross the tracks to access the Refuge, and I have been threatened by Alaska Railroad security before for, God forbid, trying to access public land so I could photograph it.

So I took these photos of the Campbell Creek estuary in hopes that the Trust would be able to meet its goal to purchase the land. I saw the value of having the access, of making more of the coastal refuge accessible to the public. There is no reason that a handful of property owners should be able to block access. I had not heard of how the Trust was progressing in its effort to secure funding. Until yesterday.

I felt my stomach sink when I saw the headline on the Anchorage Daily News website yesterday: “Mayor turns down deal for park at Campbell Lake.” I read the article, and became increasingly furious as I read. I will not reiterate all of the idiocy that spewed from the mayor’s lips and translated to a few statements in the article, but the most egregious were his assertions that there is not enough money to manage the parks as it is, and the land would be better used to plant thirty or forty homes anyway. But the worst, the absolute worst, is his claim that we have too much parkland already. Among the too many parks that the mayor identified is the Lake George Preserve, which can only be accessed by float plane. Yep, I bet a lot of people can freely get out there.

I have to wonder if our mayor even uses the parks. Has he ever been to Jewel Lake on a hot day? How many families enjoy just that one park over a weekend? I will bet you anything, because I have seen that park on busy days, that it is a lot more than thirty families. The whole point of having parks is that they are enjoyed by the many – by whoever wants to – not just the few. They provide recreation, solace, peace and enjoyment to anyone, regardless of their station in life. They add VALUE to a city that a subdivision never could. When you look at national listings for livable cities, do you see a category for “Developable Land”? Or, do you see a category that highlights park and recreational space in the city? I think we know the answer to that question. Anchorage has not been named an All-America City four times because of the amount of its developable land.

And, I am sorry, but it is a lame, pathetic, hollow and convenient excuse to say the city cannot afford to maintain another park. The main point of this property purchase was to provide public access to the coastal refuge. You know what that takes? A trail. I have maintained hiking trails before. It is not that challenging, and certainly not rocket science. Given this mayor’s financial decisions to date, the fact that there is not money in the budget to maintain more parks, or maintain the existing ones better, is not for lack of money. It is for lack of respecting the value that those parks and open spaces provide to our city.

Instead, the city is more than willing to throw all sorts of tax breaks for developers to tear up the land and install ugly, gaudy, rapacious strip malls or other monstrosities, with little or no control over aesthetics. If our mayor wants sprawl, he can move to the Midwest. I would prefer if he moved to some smalfl suburb that really is a city wannabe, and he can sprawl and develop to his heart’s content. I just don’t want him to do that with our city. Providing $2.7 million to set aside this land along the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge would provide more long-term value to far more people than any other expenditure of $2.7 million for private development could. And that is really the problem here, our mayor has no interest in the public good; his interests lie more in how much money someone can make on selling land to build thirty homes.

And let us not forget that it was a private landowner who made the decision to partner with the Great Land Trust to set aside this land for the public good. If we are so respectful of the rights of landowners to make decisions on the disposition of their land, why does our mayor not value that decision when it benefits the entire community?

I share images from Alaska with people from all over the world, whether on my website, my blog or my Facebook fan site. Quite often, the most feedback I receive are from images I have captured right here in the Anchorage bowl. People are often so amazed that so much beauty in the land can exist in an urban environment. They share their envy when I show them images of wildlife I have captured within Anchorage’s many suitable habitat areas. They tell me how lucky I am.

There is a reason that the Anchorage Convention and Visitor’s Bureau chose “Big Wild Life” for its marketing slogan. Anchorage is not great for its restaurants, its museums, its live music, its theatre, or all the other things you can find in other cities. That is because you can find them in other cities! I cannot think of another city this size in the United States where you can do all of the things you can do, see all of the wildlife you can see, in the outdoors, that you can do in Anchorage.

The mayor has simply reached a new low in his total and complete disregard for the values of green and wild spaces, wildlife and habitat in this city. If he does not see value in greater public access to designated park and refuge lands, if he does not see value in protecting and celebrating our wild and green spaces, if he does not see the value of our wildlife (see earlier comments this summer on brown bears by our mayor), if he does not see value in promoting what makes Anchorage great, then he is the mayor of the wrong city. I urge everyone to call, write, email, fax, or even make a personal visit to City Hall and tell the mayor’s office to reverse his position and allow the funding to go through for the purchase of the land to provide the access to the coastal refuge and provide even greater assurances that the Campbell Creek estuary will be protected and enjoyed.


The Swallow situation

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010
The Swallow situation

After hearing the Violet Green Swallow chicks in the bird house above our side door for the last couple of weeks, and seeing parents fly in and out to feed them, we finally got our first glimpses at the chicks on Friday evening.  They had reached the stage in their growth and boldness to be sticking their fuzzy little heads out into the opening to speed up the feeding process.  On Saturday, I had a bit more of a chance to observe and photograph them as Michelle and I were outside working on the yard and house.

I set up my 500mm manual with my Nikon D300 on a Gitzo tripod with the Wimberly Head for greatest stability.  I simply wanted to frame the shot, then sit back and wait with a cable release.  My cue to start the shutter clicking was when the chicks would open their mouths – that meant a parent was on final approach.  At the stellar burst rate of 8 frames per second I get with my D300 in RAW mode, the entire feeding transaction would typically only last about four frames before the parent was off again.

But it was not until I was able to look at the still images and zoom in on the feeding parent that I realized how much food was being brought each time.  In one count, I saw as many as ten mosquitos in the mouth of the parent before it literally stuck its head inside the mouth of its chick to, presumably, spit out or regurgitate the food quickly and take flight again.  I had to wonder how the parent kept so many bugs in its mouth while still going out and catching more.  Of course, I knew it was one of the reasons why we like having swallows on our property; their propensity for eating mosquitoes.  It is the same reason we installed a bat house as well; no bats yet, but it can take a couple of years.  But when they do move in, they, too will contribute to the mosquito abatement by eating up to 5,000 mosquitoes per bat in a day.

Every once in a while, after the parent fed the chicks, we could hear some furious beating of wings from inside the house.  The chicks were building up strength in their wings, getting eager to fledge.  I knew they would not be ready to go on Saturday, but imagined it would happen sometime in the next week.   Later in the afternoon, I think the parents were starting to get a little tired of the constant hunting.  They started to take turns taking a brake on the peak of the roof top, just a few feet above and out of sight of their chicks.

On Sunday afternoon, we had some friends and family over for a little grilling in the back yard.  Later in the afternoon, one of the kids noticed a fledged swallow chick in the grass.  She wanted to tell the boys – oh, how cool they would think THIS was!  NO!  We advised.  We certainly do not want the boys to know there is a vulnerable animal in the yard, that is, if we want it to survive.  It seemed calm resting in the grass and clover, and we wondered what to do with it.  Soon, it was decided we would try to put it back in the nest.  We simply assumed it had come from the bird house above the door, as we were not aware of any other nests nearby.  Michelle put on gloves to handle the bird and I positioned the ladder and took a look inside the bird house – both chicks were there.  Michelle tried to put the swallow chick in the bird house, but it wouldn’t go – perhaps realizing that it was best not to invade a foreign nest – and flew/glided back down to the ground.

Knowing the number of outdoor cats in the area, we thought it best to take the chick and put it up someplace high.  We chose a corner of the roof over our large storage shed.  Our friend Joe go the idea to try to feed it an ant … no success.  The little chick, which Michelle and I later named “Icky” (short for Icarus), kept a tight beak.  We decided to build him a nest consisting of a small terrarium, a towel and some grass, and covered it with a towel to help keep in warmth.  After our guests left, Michelle and I wondered what we could do to help Icky gain his strength to where he could survive on his own.  Clearly he had been abandoned.  He soon stopped chirping out to his parents, perhaps succumbing to his fate.

We decided we would try to figure out how to feed him, then perhaps investigate whether the Bird Treatment and Learning Center could take him in.  I could not find anything using Google on feeding abandoned swallow chicks (just when you thought you could find anything using the Google), so I found the Bird TLC website and called their number.  As luck would have it, they have a relationship with the PET Emergency Treatment center.  PET takes in all abandoned or injured birds that need care after Bird TLC’s hours.  So, we called PET, learned what we needed to do, and took Icky over there.  They would feed him and keep him warm until Bird TLC could take him in on the next business day.  Eventually, he will be strengthed and cared for until he is strong enough, then released into our neighborhood so he could return to his original habitat.

The last time we had been to PET Emergency was under some very unhappy circumstances, so it was nice to be able to go there for a good reason.  And while we did not aid in natural selection by helping Icky out of his pickle, Michelle and I discussed on the way home how it is our ability for compassion and empathy that truly sets us aside from the other animals.  In the wild, it is unheard of to accept even animals from the same species into your care if they are not from the same family unit.  Yet we as humans have the capability to accept and care for all sorts of animals from various species, and have even spent thousands of years in genetically modifying wild animals to make them more compatible as companions.  Natural selection still has plenty of opportunities to take care of business.  There was no need for it to have success with our little feathered friend.

It’s Breakup, just look up

Friday, February 19th, 2010
It's Breakup, just look up

I hate Breakup.  One of the reasons I enjoyed my monthlong visit to Badlands National Park last spring as the Artist-in-Residence for the park is that I got to avoid Breakup, that annual exercise of sloughing off winter to make way for spring.  Vast amounts of snow and ice melt, at first gradually but eventually at breakneck speed, leading to chaos on the roads and walkways.  Mud and slush become the norm, decorated with the browns and dark greys of a winter’s-worth of dirt and gunk collecting on the ground.  You have to keep a jug of windshield wiper fluid in your car at all times because of the frequent use of your wipers to beat back the constant road spray of watered-down mud that becomes the norm of any commute anywhere in the state.

To put things simply, it’s an ugly time of the year.  Michelle loves it.  She likes how it signals the beginning of spring and the promise for new things.  As a nature photographer, I hate it because it heralds a period of several weeks where everything around is pretty darn messy and ugly.  Now that I am represented by Alaska Stock, perhaps I should invest time in taking images of the ugliness for editorial or commercial users that need images of such things.  I suppose I will get around to it.  I am just hoping that the current Breakup we are experiencing is not the real deal; it’s about two months early.  One of the things that makes winter worthwhile here is the snow.  Losing it without the benefit of actual warmer spring temperatures that are here to stay takes away that finer aspect of living in southcentral Alaska in the winter.

My first impression of spring Breakup came not from living here, but television.  Yes, leave it to “Hollywood” to educate me on a culture that I would later become a part of.  I am talking, of course, about the TV series “Northern Exposure.”  The episode aired in 1991, during the second season, and was called “Spring Break.”  One of the key elements of the plot line is that everyone in the small town of Cicely obsesses about the ice breaking up, heralding the beginning of spring.  While I have yet to find any town in Alaska that celebrates Breakup with a “Running of the Bulls” (all of the men in town going for a naked jog with all the ladies cheering them on), we do obsess about Breakup in Alaska.  We even have  a lottery (the “Nenana Ice Classic“) where you can guess, with a cash deposit for each time slot you pick, when the ice on the Tanana River will break apart in the spring.

While I may not care for the sloppy weather, forcing me to switch from wearing my Sorels to wearing Extra Tuffs to get around, it doesn’t mean that there are no photos to be found at all.  At times like this, I find myself looking up more, seeing how the light its hitting the buildings downtown or perhaps what special show the sky provides for sunrise or sunset.  And maybe someday too, I will warm up to Breakup itself, embracing the gritty muddy chaos that it brings by photographing some of its spirit as well.

Come for the moon, stay for the show

Saturday, January 30th, 2010
Come for the moon, stay for the show

I arose this morning to see a large, glowing orb hovering on the horizon.  No, this is not a journal entry for someone who has a close encounter of some kind.  Rather, it was my simultaneous realization that the skies were clear and the full moon was on its way down to the horizon.  I checked the U.S. Naval Observatory sun and moon data page and learned how much time I had before the moon set.  Just enough time for a quick cup of coffee.

My original intent was to go to Point Woronzof, a rather accessible, high point along the coast with an unobstructed view to the west … and a convenient parking lot.  As I was approaching the hill that leads a driver down to the point, I noticed a side trail off to the right I had never explored before.  I quickly pulled over, grabbed the gear, and headed off.  What I discovered was an even better vantage point – higher than Woronzof, but with a long ledge to the east that gave me a good view of the downtown skyline (which was obscured in fog).  I had my regular gear in my Lowe Pro Orion II (one Nikon D300, a 12-24mm lens, 24-85mm lens, and 70-200mm lens, along with an assortment of GND filters and Moose Polarizing filters).  I had also grabbed my Nikon 500mm manual focus lens as well, knowing it was the perfect lens for larger-than-life moon portraits.

The moon went down fairly quickly after I got there, so I spent my time exploring the ledge and the view.  Taking advantage of the low light, and using my polarizing filter to take away two more stops of light, I captured some long exposure landscapes to show the movement of the inlet ice moving out with the tide.  I captured some images of the Chugach Mountains, as well as the opposite direction with the Tordrillo Mountains and Mt. Susitna (“Sleeping Lady”).  I found a nice, stand alone tree with all sorts of gnarly character that was perfectly situated for some of the compositions.  To balance out the exposures, I switched back and forth between my 2-stop and 3-stop Lee GND filters.  Knowing that there was some fresh coffee cake waiting back for me at home, I packed up and headed back for home once the alpenglow had surpassed its peak in color.

Sunset magic

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010
Sunset magic

To be successful in good landscape photography, a lot of pieces have to fall into place.  Having equipment you know and can rely in is important – it really does not matter if it is the newest, or if it is Canon or Nikon (although, I have been using Nikon for 16 years and am not changing).  A tripod and cable release are important, especially for landscapes because of the depth of field desired.  Weather and lighting are right up there, too, along with being at the right location.  But having them all fall into place, and being there at the right time, is what really makes for magical landscape photography.

So it was today when I decided to go on a little zero-degree Fahrenheit stroll  along the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge.  I knew because of the direction the sun has been setting lately that the Coastal Refuge would be a good location.  I first wanted to access the coast somewhere near the Bayshore subdivision in south Anchorage, but private property completely blocks access to the Refuge.  So, I entered near Potter Marsh, in hearing distance of the rifle range.  The near constant pop-pop-pop of weapons fire continuously interrupted what would have otherwise been a lovely afternoon.  I pulled out my iPod and put on some music to drown it out.

I headed out onto the ice, following an outlet from Potter Marsh.  I figured it would provide some nice foreground and hopefully some reflections of the evening sky as the sun got lower.  I never would have guessed how good those colors would get.  Once the sun dropped down below a band of clouds that were just above the horizon, the gold and eventually pink hues of the evening dominated the sky and kept me moving and firing the trigger.  Almost forty minutes after official sunset, I finally stopped taking pictures.  The fiery pinks were finally starting to fade.  I returned to my car and took one last look at the fading colors of the sky.  My toes were a bit cold, and I was a little thirsty, but those sensations were meaningless when compared to the images I had just captured over the previous two hours.

Snowshoeing through woods on a snowy morning

Saturday, January 16th, 2010
Snowshoeing through woods on a snowy morning

I couldn’t help but think of Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” as I trekked along the Turnagain Arm Trail in showshoes this morning.  Not that I had a horse, or there were any farmhouses, or that it was getting dark.  I just had not though of that poem in a while, and somehow it made its way from the deep recesses of my subconscious to the world where my daily thoughts blend. Perhaps it was the darkness and the depth of these woods, mostly cottonwoods, on the steep slopes of the Chugach Mountains above the Turnagain Arm.  But the woods were certainly lovely.

I started at the Potter Creek trailhead over an hour before sunrise.  I knew I was not going to be able to photograph sunrise, as the clouds to the south and east were pretty thick.  But, I had my snowshoes, my camera gear in my LowePro Orion II bag, some water and a thermos of hot chocolate.  What better thing to do on a Saturday morning then trek out into the woods, in the not cold but not too warm air, and see what nature would present to me?

It took me a few hundred yards to get away from the up-close sounds of traffic on the Seward Highway, heading south out of Anchorage.  Soon, though, the only sounds around were of the crunching of the cleats on my snowshoes, digging into the hard packed snow and ice just beneath our fresh snows of Wednesday and Thursday.  As I heard the metal scraping and finding keep on the hard ice, I was glad to not just be wearing my Sorels.  The hiking poles helped also to add some additional stability with the slick surface.

Shortly after a mile along the trail, I happened upon a cow moose bedded down in the woods below me.  She was acutely aware of me, but not concerned enough to get up or otherwise interrupt her chewing.  I did not really see what she was eating, but I could see her mouth moving back and forth, gnashing her teeth against something.  Not that I really need any more photos of cow moose at this point in my career, but I liked the peaceful look of her sitting there on the ground, careless about my presence.  Good for her this is winter, as this particular stretch of the trail is known to have bear problems, including a fatal mauling of two hikers by a bear that was believed to be protecting a moose kill.

As I am packing up my gear, I notice the moose stand up.  I look up and see the source of her disturbance – an older couple coming down the trail, each with a dog.  It has been my experience that moose generally don’t care much for dogs.  I continue on down the trail toward McHugh Creek, the next intersection along the trail, and am nearly to the two-mile mark on the trail when I see something unexpected: a large spruce decorated as if it were a Christmas tree.  A couple of runners pass me by, and tell me that someone has been anonymously decorating this tree for the last few years, even leaving some of the decorations up in the summer.  Has it been that long since I have been down this trail?

I start to notice that, even though the sun has not broken through the clouds, it has risen and is starting to light up and add some color to the higher altitude clouds.  After a while, I decide to head back.  On my way back to my car, I keep looking for enough of a break through the trees to photograph Gull Rock, on the other side of the Turnagain Arm from my position.  The skies in that area definitely were starting to light up with some color.  I finally find an opening and stamp my way through the bushes with my snowshoes to get to a spot where I can set up my tripod.

I keep heading back up the trail toward the trailhead and my car, running into various small groups, mostly with dogs, along the way.  I learn from one group that the bench where I plan to take a hot chocolate break before the final descent to the trailhead was built as part of an Eagle Scout project.  I find the bench and take the time to capture some sweeping landscapes of the outgoing tide, the coast, the Kenai Mountains, and the gnarly trees on the little knob where the bench rests.  Then, I take a break for some Godiva hot chocolate.  Satisfied, I return to the trail and my car, glad to have taken the time even on this cloudy morning to rediscover a part of my extensive backyard.

Afternoon on the coast

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010
Afternoon on the coast

I took some time to take a break from the day and head over to Westchester Lagoon to catch the afternoon light.  If I were an ice skater, I would spend a lot of my time here in the winter.  Westchester Lagoon is a magificent wetlands resource in our city, nestled against the coast and near downtown.  It provides habitat to numerous birds in the summer, and wonderful recreational opportunities in the winter.  It is also an access point for the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, an 11-mile trail running along the coastal areas of Anchorage, including the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge.

Shortly after leaving the Westchester Lagoon, as you head south along the Coastal Trail, you will find the Fish Creek Estuary.  Fish Creek, originall called King Salmong Creek because of its historical salmon runs, provides a home to nesting Sandhill cranes, red fox, lynx, black bear, moose, nesting owls, birds of prey including eagles, beaver, muskrat, and other small mammals.  It also serves during high tides in the summer as a feeding area for beluga whales just offshore in Cook Inlet.  In 2002, the Great Land Trust acquired an of easement that preserved this significant wetlands in the coastal area and its important habitat.

For the last several years, the Municipality of Anchorage has been working on the Chester Creek Ecosystem Restoration Project, designed to improve fish passage to help restore and sustain the natural run of salmon in Chester Creek.  Westchester Lagoon is the terminus of Chester Creek.  This has included the installation of a culvert underneath the raised track platform for the Alaska Railroad, a fish weir, and a channel leading from Westchester out to the Cook Inlet.  Prior to the completion of this project in June of 2009, the outfall for Chester Creek had been underground, beneath the railroad.

These are the kind of projects that make me very happy to have my real estate taxed.  (As I live in Anchorage, that is the only type of tax assessed against me – no city sales tax, no state sales tax, no state income tax.)  With as many wonderful natural features that Anchorage has, there are many locations, such as Chester Creek, that have been victims of development over the years.  Walking through the area even on a winter day when no salmon running still makes me happy to know that the salmon now have a chance once again to return.

Sun and ski

Saturday, December 26th, 2009
Sun and ski

We finally had noticeable sunlight down here in the Anchorage bowl.  I don’t know how long it has been since the skies have been fully clear, perhaps three weeks or more.  When the sun does come, it is in fits and teases, barely sticking around to take notice.  But today we had a nice shaft of sunlight that stuck around for a couple of hours, finding just the right spot in the clouds to bath us in its golden goodness.

The timing was perfect, too, as Michelle and I were grabbing our skis and gear to head out on the trails somewhere to enjoy the day.  We decided on driving over to Goose Lake and connecting with the trails from there.  There are at least three different ways to go, with the main choices being south along the Chester Creek Trail system all the way to Westchester Lagoon and the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, or north to Russian Jack Springs Park or beyond.  We chose north.

It was such a nice switch from our foray into the Campbell Science Center trails of a couple of weeks ago, as these are not multi-use trails, but trails specifically groomed for classic and skate ski only.  Granted, some winter bicyclists use the trails, but they stay on the skate ski areas and don’t cause damage to the trails.  But skiing in groomed tracks in snow that was slick and smooth, but not icy, was absolutely perfect.

We skied up to Russian Jack park, then turned around, going on a different trail that looked like it would loop back to Goose Lake.  After a while, we realized it was a bit more hilly than we were interested in for the day, so we bushwhacked through the woods back to the main trail.  Even with classic Nordic skis, going through the woods and breaking your own trail in deep snow isn’t all that bad.  The skis do a fine job of distributing your weight so you don’t sink too much, and you are still able to somewhat glide through the snow.  When we reached the main trail, we had a nice break with a cup of hot Godiva chocolate.  Of course, I stopped to take some pictures, admiring a grove of short, dark spruce with the snow clinging on the north side of the trunks.  A skate skier came by, undoubtedly perturbed at me for setting up a tripod in his path.  I obliged him by including him in one of the photos.

Christmas Eve aerial

Thursday, December 24th, 2009
Christmas Eve aerial

If you like doing aerial photography, it helps to know people who are pilots.  When they call and ask if you would like to go up and do some shooting, even if the light isn’t that great, it’s best to take advantage when you can.  So, when I received a call from such a pilot on the morning on Christmas Eve asking if I was interested in going up, I said yes.  Of course, the clouds were dominating the sky, and there were few breaks, but I am ever the optimist when it comes to photography.  I generally try to not let current conditions dictate future photo plans.

We met up over at Merrill Field.  Our aircraft for the flight was a Cessna 172 Skyhawk II, a four-seater of common size for use in Alaska.  The original plan was to fly down along the Turnagain Arm to Portage, but the clouds were getting pretty thick up there.  So, instead, we flew along the Powerline Pass area, across over to Ship Lake, then down along the Ship Creek drainage before turning back for a return along Bear Valley.

It was the first time I had ever glimpsed this portion of the Chugach Mountains.  You get a sense of how connected the valleys and drainages are by looking at them on a map, but you really don’t get a true appreciation for it until you can see the connections from the air.  I visualized many routes that would make for good backpacking trips.  One of the great things about living in Anchorage is the accessible wilderness.

Moose and frost

Sunday, December 13th, 2009
Moose and frost

We have not seen the sun down here in the Anchorage Bowl for over a week.  It’s not that the sun has not been shining.  It has simply being doing so above a fog bank that, at times, has severely limited visibility.  And with the temperatures lingering in the mid-teens, the fog and cold have sculpted millions of tiny ice crystals in the form of hoar frost on trees, bushes, and lingering plants. 

This wintery wonderland was the setting for a beautiful afternoon of Nordic skiing in the woodlands near the Campbell Science Center.  Michelle and I loaded up our classic skis and drove over to the parking lot near the gated entrances to the Campbell Science Center and nearby BLM complex.  Staying purely on the multi-use trails, which were a little slick from lots of use, we did a wide loop around the area.  It was so refreshing to be out in the frosty woods, burning the muscles while sucking in cool, crisp air, listening only to the silence of the woods and our movement through them. 

As we skiied to the west on the trail that runs along the Campbell Airstrip, we came upon a cow moose and her spring calf.  They were working their way along our trail, coming slowly in our direction.  We moved off to the right to get out of their way and gain a better vantage point for photographing them.  A couple of hikers came along on the trail and were not quite as cautious as we were in giving the moose a wide berth.  The two moose eventually moved far enough along for us to bypass them on a side trail and get back on course. 

The encounter confirmed two things for me.  One, it confirmed that Michelle is definitately “The Moose Whisperer” as I often call her.  She frequently calls me throughout the week saying, “I just saw a moose” or “There’s a big bull moose right outside our office.”  Of course, I am not always in the position to chase down the moose she is calling about, and she knows it; it’s part of her fun in calling. 

It also confirmed that I am lucky to live in one of the best larger cities in the United States.  Anchorage has so many wild places, so much habitat, where such animals can still live out their existences despite the city’s tendency to keep growing.  I can only hope that as the city continues to grow, that the city can continue to resist the urge to dispose of its wild places in the name of development.