Alaska Cruise 2017: Part Five – Skagway Alaska

When we awoke on day 5 the sun was coming through the patio window as normal, and there was land not far from the starboard side of the ship (our side). Guess we had better close the curtains while we get up and get ready for the day!

Not much later, we pulled into the Skagway harbor where we were greeted with this sight. These are logos from ships, cruise lines, and other organizations that have docked here. A little unsightly considering Alaska is known for being a “natural beauty”, but I guess everyplace needs a “hook”. This must be theirs.

We disembark to meet up with the tour guide for our “Skagway In Focus” photo tour of the area. Once more we choose a photo specific tour, not so much for the learning basic camera techniques, but to have a tour that is a little slower paced and give us time to “focus” on what we want to see.  (Did you see what I did there?)  🙂

Our first stop was at the north end of Nahku Bay on the Dyea Road. During the gold rush of the late 1800s there was competition between Skagway and Dyea as to who had the best passage to the Yukon. Since Skagway had the better deep water harbor Dyea soon fell out of favor with the travelers as the larger ships began coming for the gold. Considering that Wikipedia calls Dyea “a former town”, you can guess who won that competition.

There were plenty of sea birds fishing in the bay. You can see them here fighting over a small fish. Apparently they haven’t learned to share.

And there was a herd of seals in the bay as well. While the bank was pretty steep, this one came close enough to look up at the group of photographers to try and figure out what they were doing.

I love Texas, but the mountains still take my breath away! I can’t look at them without the sense of awe at how big God is.

One of the more touristy areas in Skagway is the gold rush cemetery, where many of those who came here to find their fortunes found their final stop. Two graves to note are that of “Soapy” Smith, the town villain, who is actually buried outside of the graveyard proper, and the largest tombstone which belonged to Frank Reid, the man credited with giving his life to stop Soapy. If you want a good story, google these two and enjoy! Here is a short one just to get you started <<here>>.

On our way back to town we stopped at an overlook where we were able to get a full shot of our ship in the harbor…

And to let the tour guide take a shot of us as well!

Once the official tour was over, Karen and I took to the streets of Skagway to explore on our own some. The Camp Skagway No 1 of the Artic Brotherhood building is known as the most photographed building in Alaska. The facade, which dates to 1900, is covered with nearly 9000 pieces of driftwood in 1899.

Definitely an interesting looking building! Add my two shots to the list!

Compared to the stories about its past, Skagway seems to be a quiet little town nestled in the mountains of Alaska. However the locals tell me things can get pretty hectic when more than one cruise ship docks on the same day!

Here is a mural showing the trek up the pass that the prospectors had to take to get to the gold, while taking a ton of supplies along. The Canadian government apparently enacted that rule because they got tired of people searching for gold, running out of food, and dying on their side of the boarder. Note the pictures of Soapy and Frank Reid in the upper left corner. Frank was killed by Soapy at the Shootout on Juneau Wharf which is where Soapy was also shot, though he died later.

Yes, times were lonely for the gold miners in Skagway. Women were in short supply. No, we didn’t visit this place.

Although, I did get a picture of Karen at the “House of Negotiable Affection“. Sorry guys, her contract has already been signed and negotiations are over!

One of the early residents of modern day Skagway, not counting the native residents, was Captain William Moore. He was captain of the mail steamer Queen which was the first of the gold rush flotilla. He built this cabin and settled here. Another interesting story if you care to follow the link attached to his name.

This was the inside of his “house”. I asked about the newspaper and was told by the attendant that they recycled almost everything they could in those days. The newspaper was used as a type of insulation for the cabin.

Skagway is full of colorful buildings against the majestic mountain backdrop. They certainly play to the tourist, but what else would they do?

More colorful buildings recalling the town’s past.

I even found the local Presbyterian church! What a great place this must be for a church!

And…we finally found that turnip truck, and Karen fell off.  🙂

As we return to the ship, I take time to set Karen in place for a shot of her with the ship and mountains. Just a few of my favorite things!

And back in our stateroom, the critter showed up early today. Our cabin steward (stewardess?) was very great. Because we never knew when we would be out of the room she worked around our schedule to keep our room in tip-top shape!

While we were out walking around Skagway, the sun came out and we actually got very warm. In fact, this was the only day we had where a jacket was no longer required! We spent time in the afternoon lounging on the Serenity Desk, watching the clouds and mountains. I might have even caught a long look at the inside of my eyelids while I was there!

And, Karen skunked me again on a bald eagle that flew overhead. She’s really liking the Canon 28-300L lens that I got her for this trip. The quality and extra reach are really working out for her. Once more I was stuck with a wider angle lens as we were just walking around the ship.

From the deck of the ship you can get a nice view of the small town of Skagway nestled between the mountains. What a beautiful place!

As evening approaches we begin our departure from Skagway. Here, as the sun begins getting lower in the sky, the remaining light is only clipping the peaks of the magnificent mountains.

As we round the bend in the Chilkoot Inlet, I notice another small village across the bank.

Pulling up google maps, I find that this is the town of Haines, Alaska. Haines calls itself the “Adventure Capital of Alaska”. It sounds like a place we might wish to plan a return visit. I have also heard it is a great place for Bald Eagles!

Also in the inlet we spotted a raft of sea lions, at least I think they are. With the sun setting it is difficult to make out the ear flaps.


More mountain goodness!

Have I mentioned how much I love mountains?

Finally, the shadows of the mountains begin to fall and the valleys start to become dark. Nightfall is coming. And you know what that means?

Sunset photos! Not a lot of clouds for dramatic effect, but the orange and yellow soon start to appear in the sky.

And as the sun sets behind those beautiful mountains, we are reminded once more of what a wonderful day we have had.

Next stop, Glacier Bay National Park! Stay Tuned!

All words and photos copyright 2017 MHampton Photography
Equipment used: Canon 5DS-R, Canon 7DmII, Canon T6S, and various Canon lenses

Alaska Cruise 2017: Part Four – Juneau and the Mendenhall Glacier

It is hard to believe that here on day 4 of the cruise, it is already half over. As usually happens on a vacation, time seems to have sped up when all you really want it to do is slow down. That said, we are ready to make our first port of call in Juneau Alaska! We are looking forward to this stop because we booked a photography excursion with a local company that will lead us to the Mendenhall Glacier as well as taking us out on a smaller boat to look for whales!

We disembark the ship and head for land. First day on solid land in a few days does seem a little strange. Nothing is swaying anymore. And do you see that big water slide on the top deck of the ship? I don’t remember ever seeing anyone use it this trip, though there were a few people in the hot tubs from time to time. But since this same ship is also used for Hawaii cruises as well, I’m sure it gets used plenty then.

Our excursion was called “Whale Watching & Mendenhall Glacier Photo Safari” and was ran by Gastineau Guiding. Our tour guides were Andy and Tawny and both were very knowledgeable about the area, flora and fauna, as well as the photography aspects of the tour.

First, the led us through the “Trail of Time” which had very interesting flora. I don’t remember all the names of the plants, but they were very interesting.

This one I do remember as being called “Old Man’s Beard“. This is a type of Spanish Moss like we have around here in east Texas. This is just a little sprig of it but it grows into large clumps that hang from the trees.

Karen reminded me that this one is called “Devil’s Club“. The guides told us to be careful and not grab it if you start to fall! Those little points are sharp!

The area gets plenty of rain, as evidenced by all of the moss growing on everything.

And of course, there are plenty of small waterfalls coming down the sides of the mountains from all of the melting ice this time of year. Spring has arrived!

The trail is called the “Trail of Time”. At several points along the way they have markers like this one with dates. These dates are showing where the glacier was on that particular year. In 1920 this rock was under ice. Now you can see that as the ice has receded, life has taken over thanks to all of the sediment that it left behind.

As we near the glacier (still a ways off) there is a large waterfall. This is “Nugget Falls“. The water is coming from Nugget Glacier which is way up in the mountains to the east. Note the very small people at the bottom to get a feel for the size!

And finally, Mendenhall Glacier! Glaciers are created when the snow fall is faster than the snow melt. As the weight build, the snow and ice gets packed more and more dense and then it begins scrubbing its way down the mountain, grinding rocks into dirt and carving those “U” shaped valleys and fjords. The dark streaks you see are mineral deposits from that scrubbing which will be deposited downstream providing places for moss, grass, and then trees to grow.

A close up view of the ice and sediment. Again, you can see that blue color showing how dense that ice has become from all of the weight.

As with the other glacier, they are moving things and as they reach the terminus chunks break off and become icebergs. Here a small group is exploring the area giving you a sense of the size of some of these ice-chunks! Remember, only 10% is visible.

Here is another shot of Nugget Fallas. Again, those little dots at the bottom are people.

This is Andy, our guide. He was a great source of information while leading us on the entire tour. Being a photo tour, he not only had knowledge of the local area and the attractions, he was also there to answer any photo questions anyone might bring up. He had an analogy about a photography that I had never heard and thought was very helpful. He said that a photo is like a cheeseburger. The top bun is your background, the bottom bun is your foreground and the meat is your subject. The cheese? That’s the light. I’m going to be using this in the future! Thanks Andy!

At over a mile away, the glacier is still huge! The people were maybe an eighth of a mile from us.

Andy was even nice enough to take our photo together.

As we were leaving the area we spotted this quiet scene and reflection.

And yet another waterfall coming down the side of the mountain.

And as we were boarding the bus to head to the water portion of our tour, I spotted this young bald eagle fly over and land in a tree. I maneuvered to try and get a clear shot while the others were boarding the bus. When Andy asked about the missing person Karen mentioned, “That would be my husband. He’s chasing a bald eagle. I’m used to it by now.”

Once we boarded the boat and headed out into the bay, it didn’t take too long before we saw signs of humpback whales. This one popped up pretty close to the boat, but then went for a deep dive not to be seen again. We were told up front that the whales would be spotty because they were just arriving in the area from their migration at this time of year. However, they would not be the only wildlife in the water today.

In the bay was this island and lighthouse. I thought it made for a picturesque scene, especially with the bald eagle flying in from the right. As you can tell, it was very cloudy for our day in Juneau. In fact it did rain off and on during the day while we were on the boat, but nothing bad. Still very thankful for the weather during this trip.

I was able to zoom in just in time for the bald eagle to touch down on the small island.

As we surveyed the area, suddenly the boat captain headed towards a new area. As we approached this buoy, it became clear what he was excited about. Soon, we were excited as well!

These are Stellar Sea Lions. The difference between sea lions and seals are small, but easy to recognize once you learn. Sea lions have small flaps over their ear holes whereas seals have none. Sea lions also have longer flippers which they can use to “walk” where seals have shorter flippers and do more sliding around. Here is a link that shows the difference <<here>>.  Most of these were asleep, but this one watched as we circled the buoy a few times.

These guys were so cute. With both the subject and my platform (boat) were moving quite a bit, I was shooting in burst mode just to get a few clear shots. I learned that shooting from a boat on bumpy water is challenging!

It must have been nap time because they didn’t appear bothered by our presence at all.

Lots of interesting points about Juneau, too many to bore you with here, but as the capital of Alaska, the city is pretty remote. The most interesting fact I learned is that there are no roads that lead into town. You can’t drive there! We found this sign in downtown showing how far we were from multiple places on the earth.

And Karen snagged this bald eagle while we were in town. They were around, but we weren’t overwhelmed by eagles like people had told us. We had heard stories that eagles were as prevalent in Alaska as grackles were in Dallas. Not quite, but we were still excited to see them when we could. Perhaps again this had to do with the time or year.

After a full day exploring Juneau, we made our way back to the ship for dinner and unloading the images to my laptop and backup hard drive. Once more we were greeted with another towel creature.

We were still getting accustomed to the three hour time shift but were getting there slowly. Day 5 would be another day on ground as we visit Skagway Alaska!

All words and photos copyright 2017 MHampton Photography
Equipment used: Canon 5DS-R, Canon 7DmII, Canon T6S, and various Canon lenses

Tyler Highland Games

Okay, I’m a little behind on my photo editing, but wanted to share these. Near the end of October was held the Tyler Scottish Festival and Highland Games. Having never been to one, and always admiring men willing to wear a kilt in public, we packed up the cameras and headed over. There were multiple tents for vendors selling their wares, as well as Scottish music and games. As you’ll see, the games were not limited to only men.

When we got there, the games were already underway, but we got to watch a couple of weight toss and caber toss events which I found interesting.

First up were the 56lb and 28lb weight toss events. This was kind of like a discus throw, but with a weight which has a handle attached. The participant spins in a circle to gather momentum, and then lets it fly. These guys and gals were pretty impressive with their strength, as well as their ability to not let it fly in the wrong direction and injure those behind them.





The one I really found interesting was the caber toss. I had see this before, but never understood what the rules were, until now. The purpose is to toss the large pole, have it flip end over end, and then you are judged on how straight it lands to where it was thrown. While it looks easy, apparently it is not. Of course the biggest hurdle is first picking up the rather long pole and balancing it before you actually try to flip it. This was very impressive.


This guy actually accomplished the feat! I think the yelling at the pole actually pushed it over the edge and got it flipped.




The parade of the clans was quite a site. They paraded around the area being led by the piper to the traditional song you usually hear on bagpipes. All the clans and their colors (tartans) were on display. Each clan had their own tent where you could learn some history of the clan and even see if maybe you were a descendant from them.


And of course, what sort of festival would it be if there wasn’t music? This is the Reel Treble Band, hard at work entertaining the crowd.

I didn’t get to stick around as long as I would have liked, but thoroughly enjoyed everything we saw. Next year I’ll plan a full day and see and learn even more!

Until next time…

East Texas Adventure: Part 4

Day 4 of the East Texas Adventure 2016 began at the Mineola Nature Preserve. On the banks of the Sabine River (this thing really gets around) it is a preserve set apart with trails, marshes, and birds of all kinds. There is also a pollinator garden there to attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.

One of the larger animals you can see there is a small herd of American Bison. While commonly referred to as a “buffalo”, its correct name is actually bison. These massive creatures can surprise you with their speed and agility. I remember watching them in Yellowstone leaping over fences. Many other “tourons” (tourist morons) have approached them too closely, only to learn that that massive head can toss a person quite a few yards, sometimes straight up!!


One of my goals for coming here this day was to get a good shot of the pronthotory warbler. My friend Danny Pickens comes here often and had been posting some very nice shots. With my first sighting of one the previous day I had hopes of getting a cleaner shot of one out in the open and I was not disappointed! This one came out and landed on this small branch just a few feet away from the wildlife viewing station. This is a shot that made me happy.


Just like the three days prior, the weather was hot and humid, but I didn’t let that stop me from spending some time on the trails here. I walked down to the gator pond, but did not see any gators. They have been spotted here, but not by me.

I did however spot this indigo bunting on the trail as I was walking back towards the parking lot. I’m always happy to see these little beauties! Combine this with the earlier warbler and I was a hot, sweaty, and happy photographer this day!


After spending the morning here it was off to the town of Mineola to get lunch and decide where to go next.

After a quick lunch at MickyD’s I decided to go tourist for a bit and check out the East Texas Gator and Wildlife Center. I’ve been looking for gators all week, so why not go someplace where I know they exist? This is quite the interesting place and they do a lot of work with local schools and educational organizations. In fact there were a couple of school groups going through the place when I arrived.

Here you can see several young children being introduced to “lemon drop”, the rather large snake.


While they have several reptiles and other animals inside, I came to see gators, so I headed outside to see some gators!

I came to the first pond and looked and at first I saw no gators, but then I saw the eyes sticking up out of the muddy water. If you look closely, you can see them too. And if you look even closer, you can see another on hiding in the muddy water behind the grass on the right. The gators are here all right, but they are very stealthy, at least at first glance.


As I walked around, I soon began to realize that there were many more gators here than I first thought. Of course they are all behind fences for safety, but they are quite close. I would not be wise to be reaching over the fence to try and pet one. This one was practicing some form of gator yoga and it stretched it neck and soaked up some sun.


And while this one looks like it is snarling at me, I think it was just being lazy and waiting for something to land it its mouth for a quick snack.


These are truly ferocious looking creatures and I understand they can bite a mans arm or leg off with a single bite! As I was leaving I asked how many gators they have and they have well over 40 in their ponds. When asked where they get them I was told that they are all local East Texas gators that people have found on their property. Rather than kill them, they have a trapper that can bring them here where they can be cared for.

After spending some time talking with the people here, in their air-conditioned building, I figured I would make one more stop since I was out this direction, and headed to lake Tawakoni. Yet another of Texas’ great state parks where you can enjoy the great outdoors, no matter how how and humid it may be.

The first thing I saw was a squirrel, so like any good dog, I froze to watch it.


Not realizing just how tired I was at this point, I parked my car in the parking lot, and with the motor and AC running, ended up taking about an hour long nap while I was waiting for the sun to get a little lower in the sky. My hope was to stay here until sunset because the sky was full of big fat puffy clouds.

After my little nap, I gathered up my cameras and headed to the nature trail which the rangers at the gate had informed me were well known for birds. And while the trees were not exactly full of birds due to the heat, I did hear a familiar call in the trees and was able to catch this beautiful painted bunting. This is one of my favorite birds and one that I don’t see to see nearly often enough. I occasionally hear their call at my place, but I have yet to actually see one there. Luckily, this male stuck around long enough for me to grab a few shots before heading back into the trees.


And speaking of trees, I also ran across this very interesting looking tree on the trail. With its branches twisting and twirling all around, I could imaging this tree in the middle of some Halloween scene and drunk teenagers are running through the woods being chased by some crazed person with a chainsaw and machete. I’ll just keep walking for now.


Sadly, as I picked out my spot to wait for the sunset over the lake, every last cloud in the sky began to dry up and disappear. At this point, hot, sweaty, and the beginnings of hunger beginning to set in, I decided to head for home. I was about a hour away at this point and I figured I could take a picture of a “bla” sunset anywhere. So I picked up my gear and headed back down the trail towards my car. Once there I loaded up, leaving the cameras in the front seat next to me, just in case.

And am I glad I did. Just as I was exiting the park, this greater roadrunner runs across the road directly in front of me. Seeing that no one else was on the road, I cut across the road to the oncoming side, pull over to the shoulder and grab for my camera. Apparently it was its dinner time as well because I watched as it bug up a rather large worm and then went after this cicada. Unfazed by my presence in my car, it continued on hunting as if I wasn’t there.


Then to my surprise, another roadrunner showed up. I don’t know how to tell the male from the female, but I would guess this was one of each.  I thought maybe that red behind the eye of the second one may be a hint, but from what I’ve read, that is more an indicator of age with the young not having the red patch.


After spending some time with the roadrunners, I headed home to wind down my this four day adventure. and as I pulled into the driveway, I was greeted with this beautiful sunset, right in my own back yard. Now that is a great ending to my week of adventure.

Overton Sunset

Was the week hot and sweaty? Yep. Was it full of adventure? Yep. And was it worth it? You bet! But next time I will try and schedule my time off at a time when it might not be quite so hot.  And I’ll try to sneak in some shorter adventures in the mean time to keep this blog updated. I’ve had several comments from people who have enjoyed reading this and taking the adventure along with me, so I’ll try not to disappoint.

Until next time,


All photos copyright of Michael Hampton 2016 and taken with the Canon 5DS-R or Canon 7D Mark II

Prints and stuff for sale

Just a reminder that if you like the photographs you see here or on my facebook/twitter/instagram pages, check out my Fine Art America page where you can buy prints (framed and unframed), note cards, phone cases, pillows, bed spreads, and even shower curtains.

It is as simple as going to: MHampton Photography @ Fine Art America

If you are interested in other shots from the East Texas area, here is a shortcut: east texas photographs for sale

Now, go buy something and help support my photography habit!  🙂