Posts Tagged ‘Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve’

Rediscovering past work

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009
Rediscovering past work

In working on a submission for National Parks magazine, I was reviewing my last two years’-worth of photos from Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve.  I found several images I had captured with the hopes of creating panoramic images, but was unable to due to the limitations of the Photomerge capabilities in Adobe Photoshop CS2.  With my recent purchase of Arcsoft’s Panorama Maker Pro, I decided to revisit these images.  In each case, the full merger of the images into panoramic photos was a complete success.

The feature photo for this post comes from my trip last September down the Noatak River, on one of many perfect weather evenings in the park.  The sunrise photo comes from the Alatna River headwaters, where I base-camped for five days in connection with my 2007 Artist-in-Residence experience in the park.  The wide, golden, sweeping landscape with lakes shows the convergence of three valleys: the Nigu, the Killik, and the Alatna.  Finally, the rugged, mountainous panoramic photo was actually taken while riding in the back seat of an Aviat Husky A1-B aircraft.  I worked as hard as I could to keep the camera level as I bounced around in the back, managing to snap off about twenty images that became part of the final pano.

It goes to show that it pays to revisit your work and see what more you can do with it down the road.

Heading to their deaths

Saturday, September 6th, 2008
Heading to their deaths

After an earlier day hike to a prominent hill on our side of the river, we take a pre-dinner ferry over to the other side of the river to possibly intercept some caribou.  From our earlier vantage point, we had watched a couple of groups move through this area and thought it would be good to check it out.  Sure enough, once we selected an isolated, small hill to sit and watch, we had the chance to observe three large groups, moving at a bit of a distance, migrating from within the park over into the Noatak National Preserve.  Unfortunately for those caribou, that took them out of the protection of the park and into an area where hunters were at that moment sitting and wating to shoot caribou.  Just about an hour earlier we heard two shots come from the direction where all of these caribou where heading.

Glorious morning

Saturday, September 6th, 2008
Glorious morning

The light is hitting the ridges noticeably later in the mornings.  I arise this morning, as I have each day, looking to capture some early light on the land.  Without the prominent ridges in the right location, however, I look around for other ways to take advantage of that early light.  I also take pleasure in the fact that I will not have to rush through the routine of breakfast, strike camp and get on the water that has been the mainstay for the last several days.  Today, we can take our time.  Fortunately, our gravel bar provides many wonderful colors and opportunities with which I can explore that first sun.

Caribou crossings

Friday, September 5th, 2008
Caribou crossings

After a hard day of pushing, we made it from Lake Matcharak to a large gravel bar across the river from the boundary between Gates of the Arctic and the Noatak National Preserve, the Douglas River.  We pushed hard because we wanted this spot for our layover day, as it would offer good opportunities for day trips to hike up to high points and observe wildlife.  As we were setting up our tents, Ben noticed that there was a large group of caribou moving behind us through the willows on their way to cross the river.  My camera was a couple of hundred feet away, so I ran down, set up the tripod and large lens, and was able to get a few shots of the group after it crossed.  I added Ben in the scene to provide the “human-enjoying-nature” element.

A day off from the sun … until the evening

Thursday, September 4th, 2008
A day off from the sun ... until the evening

We arose on our third morning on the Noatak River to find a fully overcast sky.  Well, not fully overcast.  There was an opening to the far west, showing a gap between the horizon and our new ceiling.  It was raining up river and to the south, but holding away from us fortunately.  The cloud pattern stayed just about the same all day, and when we arrived at our gravel bear across from Lake Matcharak to set camp for the night, the gap had widened just a little bit.  I kept watching and waiting, expecting the sun to dip down below the clouds and give us some spectacular evening light.  When it came to a point where I thought I may have been wrong, the warm shafts of light started to streak out from behind a nearby ridge, painted selected areas with spotlights of color.  What turned out to be a gray, colorlless day for most of the sunlight hours ended with a spectacular show, including a blood red sunset and golden light caressing streaks of rain coming down in isolated squalls and creating dramatic spotlights on the landscape.

 

Noatak Nights

Thursday, September 4th, 2008
Noatak Nights

There is a strange thing that happens to me when I am backcountry traveling. I find myself, every night, having to answer to the call of nature somewhere between 2:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. This does not happen when I have the luxury of a bathroom just outside my bedroom, where there is carpet to walk on and a heater keeping the air about 65 degrees. My ranger companion suggests it is because we do not drink enough fluids throughout the day of paddling or hiking, and we make up for it by drinking a lot at night. That may be true. But, unlike prior trips where I have dreaded that nighttime chore, it has become a welcome part of my nightly routine here on the Noatak. That is because, without fail, the aurora borealis, or northern lights, have been out every single night of the trip. They have not been exceedingly vivid displays, so it has taken me a couple of days to get the exposure right. But they have been out, and it has been a treat to see them and photograph them when I can. I have watched them for no more than about twenty minutes or so before they fade too much to warrant staying out in the chill when a sleeping bag awaits.

 

Better and better

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008
Better and better

It just keeps getting better and better.  The weather, the calm river, the sometimes bizarre yet beautiful landscapes, all falling together to provide for me an almost infinite palate for creating great photos.  While I am shooting this trip almost exclusively digital, I do have my Hassleblad along with to capture some of the truly spectacular scenes, like this one.  Unfortunately, after I have set up and captured this shot, but before I can get out my Hassleblad, another bear comes into camp and we have to deal with him.  By the time we are sure he is gone and not coming back, the breeze has kicked up and I have lost my reflection.

 

Strange landscape

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008
Strange landscape

Increasingly I find the landscape of the arctic along the Noatak River to be rather strange, at least not what I have been used to living in Alaska for nine years now.  While the phrase, “We’re not in Kansas anymore” comes to mind, it is not quite accurate since I have never been to Kansas … but you get my point.  The sand bars, the low shrubs, the seemingly barren landscape, all seem so out of place.  I know that is not barren, though, as it is full of water and teeming with wildlife.  We set camp near Anorat Creek after a rather leisurely day on the river.

Pingo Lake

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008
Pingo Lake

One of the primary functions for a backcountry ranger in Gates of the Arctic is to monitor the impacts of usage on the park.  There are certain areas designated as BRIM sites (Brooks Range Impact) which have been identified from previous years of observations by other rangers or users.  These are areas that have frequent usage and traffic, and as a result, show obvious signs such as portage trails, tent pads, and even fire rings.  So we take a break from paddling to examine Pingo Lake, so named after the several pingos in the surrounding landscape.  Pingo Lake has some BRIM sites because it is a popular dropping off point when other lakes or sloughs further up the river, such as Twelve Mile, are too shallow for float planes to land.  Or, at least, too shallow for less experienced pilots to land.

First morning

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008
First morning

Even though it is early September, I am in the arctic, and I am uncertain as to how early the sunrise is.  I know it will be well earlier than what it was in Anchorage, but I failed to check the sunrise information for this latitude and longitude from the U.S. Naval Observatory before heading out.  So, I find sunrise like hitting a target with a shotgun.  I set my alarm for five, but it is still too dark so I reset for six.  The light is better, but still not quite.  I reset the alarm for seven o’clock and, despite no light hitting the ridges near my location, I know the sun is up and it is time to get going.  There is a frost on the ground and a chill in the air, but I watch and wait as the early light starts to work its way into the higher points along the valley.  The perfectly calm air provides for a splendid reflection on the Noatak River.