Archive for April, 2010

A jaunt over to Lake Clark

Saturday, April 24th, 2010
A jaunt over to Lake Clark

I headed out for another bout of aerial photography, this time out to Lake Clark National Park & Preserve, just a short flight of an hour or so across the Cook Inlet and through Lake Clark Pass.  Along the way over, we passed abeam of a steaming Mt. Redoubt, looking like it was developing a lava dome.  It may have also been a rock slide pile; just a bit difficult to tell from our distance.

After flying through the pass, we headed over to Twin Lakes to get a glimpse of Dick Proenneke’s cabin, which I have wanted to see ever since I read One Man’s Wilderness.  After passing by the cabin a few times to capture some photos, we headed over to Turqoise Lake and Telequana Lake.  Unfortunately, all of the lakes still were completely covered with ice and the light was pretty awful for good images, so this part of the trip was primarily for scouting.  Autumn would be a great time to return to the park, particularly this area.  After touring the area, we headed to Iliamna to land and refuel, and wait for the sun to get a little lower in the sky.

While we were at the field in Iliamna, we had a trail dinner and noticed that the building at the south end of the runway sported the logo for the Pebble Partnership.  The Pebble Limited Partnership is the mining company owned in part by Anglo-American – a British mining firm – that wants to construct and operate what would become the largest copper and gold mine in North America right at two of the main rivers that constitute the headwaters for the largest natural sockeye salmon fishery in the world, Bristol Bay.  Despite massive opposition by locals, including fisherman and Alaska Natives (even jewelry companies are against it), Pebble is moving ahead with its plans to build a mine that would most certainly destroy the fishery and leave a permanent footprint on the land.  The mine would never fully be reclaimed, and thus, the land and the fishery it supports would never recover.

At about 8:45, we got back into the plane and headed out east-northeast over Iliamna Lake toward Mt. Iliamna, for a route between Mt. Iliamna and Mt. Redoubt – two of four volcanoes within sight of our flight (Spur, Redoubt, Iliamna and Augustine).  Once through the mountains, we followed the coast back to Anchorage, observing the oil and gas platforms of the Cook Inlet along the way and avoiding several groups of migrating birds – all of which were fortunately below us.  We also passed near that Trading Bay fuel storage facility, the one that some genius decided to put downriver from one of the active volcanoes in Alaska, Mt. Redoubt.  The same facility that, when Redoubt was really kicking up a fuss last year, was threatened by a massive mudslide that came dangerously close to the facility.



Life on the Farm, Arctic-style

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010
Life on the Farm, Arctic-style

Today I photographed what is perhaps the only of its kind in the United States – a musk ox farm.   I was there to capture images of the prehistoric creatures for the Oomingmak Musk Ox Producers’ Cooperative.  “Oomingmak” is the Inupiat word for musk ox, which translates literally to “the Bearded One.” The cooperative produces scarves and hats and other products from the “qiviut” that is harvested from the musk ox.  Qiviut is the soft wool under the main, bristly coat, and is softer than cashmere. 

One way to acquire qiviut is to simply gather it where found naturally in the wild, from musk ox that shed the qiviut following a long winter.  But the Oomingmak Cooperative only obtains 10% of their qiviut this way, with most of it coming from domesticated sources, like the Musk Ox Farm.  Qiviut is extracted manually, rather than machines, to maximize the yield during the harvesting process.  The musk ox is driven through a chute into holding pens, where farm workers stand in the pen with the musk ox and manually removing the qiviut using a comb/pick.  Any qiviut that has impurities, like hay, sticks, or other foreign objects, is set aside.

 I spent about an hour and a half out at the farm, photographing the new calf (only two days old), the yearlings, the bulls, and the workers interacting with the animals.  I never thought I would ever scratch the bridge of the nose for a musk ox, but I found myself doing just that to three of the animals.  What did all of these animals have in common?  They were all bottle fed, which made them a tad more acceptable of human contact.  This was not a common practice, but sometimes necessary if, for a variety of reasons, the mother is unable to feed the newborn calf. 

I also never thought I would stand on the inside of a fence with a musk ox, let alone twenty or so bulls, without the protection of a fence between me and the animal.  I had mentally placed them on the same platform as American bison, which are notoriously unpredictable, cranky and dangerous.  But these musk oxen were either timid or engaging, in the case of the bottle-fed ones.  I found the bulls in particular unwilling to allow people near them, preferring instead to be alone or among their own kind. 

Being close to these amazing creatures gave me a renewed fascination for them.  I can only hope that someday I will be able to capture images of them in the wild.

Last chance for good light

Saturday, April 10th, 2010
Last chance for good light

With nothing but clouds and rain on the horizon for the next two weeks, I knew that this morning would be my last chance for some decent light in a while.  Sure, I will still find ways to photograph various aspects of our spring break up that is fully and finally underway (for good) here, but they will not be the sort of photos that make getting up at 5:00 a.m. something I could look forward to. 

After dropping Michelle off at the airport (she was heading up to Kaktovik for a night for work), I headed down along my favorite morning location to photograph in the winter months, the Turnagain Arm.  At this time of year, it is about the best place to get morning light that is remotely accessible and within a decent drive from Anchorage.  There was a creek that Michelle had spotted when we were down the Turnagain Arm last weekend, so that was my destination for the morning – just one bridge past the Twenty Mile River bridge.  Unbeknownst to me, as I was taking photos of the first pinks to light up the mountain ridges right at 7:00, a friend of mine and Michelle’s, Sean Ruddy, was on his way to Homer for a meeting and saw me as he passed.  He couldn’t stop to chat because he had a 10:30 meeting – and it was a 3 1/2 hour drive to go from that particular spot. 

After working the creek and the first light on various ridges in the vicinity, I continued on down the Seward Highway toward the base of Turnagain Pass, and turned around.  It was too late to start a drive up into the pass for photos this morning, most of the good light would be done by the time I got to where I would want to photograph.  So, I stopped at the mouth of Placer Valley to photograph a dead spruce tree – standing right on a spot that would be deep with water and water lillies in just a couple of months.  As I crossed the bridge over the Placer River, something caught my eye, so I slowed down, pulled a U-turn, then slowed down to look.  The broken ice floating along the river’s surface was breaking up the reflection of early light on the peak beyond – a perfect shot with just one catch: I would have to set up my tripod in the highway on a bridge with no shoulder.  Fortunately, it was about 7:30 in the morning so traffic was light.  As I captured several images of the scene, only three cars passed by – I waved as they passed.  Two of them waved back. 

As I returned to where I parked my car, I looked upriver along the Placer River and liked what I saw.  Thin, plate-sized sheets of ice were breaking up and gathering along the river’s edge, leaving a leading line of ice sheets as a decorative border.  The sounds the ice made as they rubbed against each other was almost musical – I wished I had brought my digital recorder.  So, I captured what I could of the scene visually, and slowly worked my way back up the Seward Highway toward Anchorage.  As I passed Bird Creek, my peripheral vision caught a composition with the wavy patterns in the tide silt and their broken waters reflecting the far shore and Kenai Mountains.  I finished my shots just as the sun crested over Bird Ridge, shedding light on the scene and taking away most of the drama.  Then, it was officially time to go home.