Snowy Range Pass

Snowy Range Pass

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Columbia Bay, Alaska

The wildlife in this area is almost completely overwhelmed by the  beauty of the bay and glaciers.  This post is all about sharing some of the spectacular scenery we enjoyed.  With the great weather and wind conditions, we did get  closer to the glacier than was possible in many trips out before us..  It is hard to describe or see in photos the scale of the area, but hopefully the pictures will provide some idea of why you should come and see it for yourselves!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Valdez and Prince William Sound

Our lodge in Copper Center sits at the edge of the largest National Park and Preserve managed by the Park Service in all of the USA- Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park.  It is a truly vast wilderness all on its own.  Unfortunately, we were not going to be seeing much of it, as our limited time here was going to be spent traveling to Valdez  for a boat tour of Prince William Sound.  I would venture that most folks know this area from the grounding of the Exxon Valdez tanker just off the harbor. This caused an oil spill of national significance and changed the way the transportation of oil was regulated.  The new rules, referred to as OPA 90, was the largest regulatory project ever. It certainly consumed a lot of the Coast Guard's and my time developing and enforcing these standards.

We did make one quick stop on the way to Valdez to view Mount Billy Mitchell, named  in honor of Lt William Mitchell, who is considered to be the father of the modern US Air force.

Valdez continues as the end point of the Alaskan pipeline, where all the oil from the fields arrives for pick up by the steady stream of tank ships coming and going.  For such an important port, it remains a small and scenic town where fishing and tourism are also important to the economy.

But now we were on a pleasant outing to view the beauty of the glaciers in Columbia Bay and enjoy the abundance of wildlife  along the way.  We were again fortunate to have perfect weather for our outing.  Since we managed to observe all of the expected wildlife that was likely to be seen on the tour, I wanted to make this first Valdez post just about these sightings. We were again told by the boat crew how lucky we were.  The last few cruises had seen little to no wildlife and had a poor view of the scenery.

     There were hundreds of these Sea Otters drifting in the ice packs.

We saw the black bear running uphill at the very top of the mountain and this one of the few in focus shots I got of her at the long range straight uphill.
    This was one of a number of Bald Eagles patrolling the bay this day.

Seeing these mountain goats is apparently very special and this is only the second one we have so far.

Friday, June 21, 2013

History crossing paths with modern Alaska

After leaving Fairbanks, we continued to head towards Copper Center.  There were many fantastic vistas along the way. We made a lunch stop at the roadhouse, which now is a state park along the  old Gold Rush trail between Fairbanks and Valdez. This area was settled originally by the  Ahtna people because of the resources of rivers, streams and available food supplies. 

By the early 1900's the Roadhouse was a important stop for travelers.  With a farm for food, a ferry for crossing the river, and a lodge to rest, it was a very busy location.  Later it would become important as a communications center with a telegraph station providing commercial and military traffic.  Its location proved to be important for the route of the Alaskan oil pipeline as well.  You can stand on the spot where the ferry would cross the river and have a great view of the pipeline stretching across the river today.

I want to mention a little about the camera I took on this trip. I was reluctant to drag all of my SLR Canon equipment with me and searched for simple camera that  would work for me.  I settled on the Canon SX50HS.  I selected this one primarily for its size and features including a 50 optical zoom and 200 digital zoom.  I have to say that I am very happy with the results. It is easy to use, has quick access to all features on an intuitive menu.  The zoom feature works better than I could have hoped for.  Many of the pictures I have posted from Alaska so far have been at extreme zooms without the use of any tripod.  Below is a shot of a row of trees across the river from the roadhouse.  In one of those trees is a bald eagle nest.  Of the 20 or so people standing there trying to get an offhand shot of the bird in gusting conditions, I was one of only a few who managed to get it. It is not perfect but under the conditions, I doubt I could done any better with by SLR camera.

We made a few more photo stops along the way to the lodge.  Again, the wild beauty is hard to stop taking pictures of.  Our next venture will be a waterborne journey out of Valdez for glaciers and wildlife.