Alaska Cruise 2017: Part Seven – Ketchikan Alaska

Today is our last port-of-call–the city of Ketchikan. Alaska. We were told that the name Ketchikan is a native word that means “Land of a thousand jewelry stores”. I’m not sure I believe that, but for the size of the town, they certainly have their fair share. They even have a Walmart. We did not go but I did overhear one of the passengers from the boat asking where to catch the “Walmart shuttle”.

We woke pretty much with the sun, as we have most of these mornings and found that we were pulling into the bay. Karen captured this lighthouse as we passed by.

We were told that Ketchican is in the world’s 2nd largest rain forest, the Tongass National Forest. It is actually the largest remaining temperate rainforest. That being the case, we should expect wet weather here. As we get nearer the port, it is certainly more green here than our last two ports.

And yet, the mountains and the clouds, open to show bits of blue sky as we progress through the channel.

Once we arrive in port we disembark for our tour.

This stop we have chosen the Rainforest Wildlife Sanctuary, Eagles, & Totems tour. It promised a “guided nature hike, bald eagles, Alaskan reindeer, native totem carver and historic sawmill, at an exclusive reserve by the forested mountains”.  Our nature hike lead us through parts of the rainforest with the guide explaining interesting facts along the way, for instance, this is skunk cabbage. The name itself is enough reason for me to not eat it though it can be eaten if prepared right. If it isn’t prepared correctly, you could die. So…

There are lots of red pine trees, some of which are decaying. This is actually good for the forest as the dirt here is very thin. The roots of the trees spread out, but without much depth, the trees can blow over in heavy winds. This rotting tree will help create more soil.

As you would expect in a moist environment, moss and other fungi readily grow.

Here, the moss and fungi are helping to break down a tree that has fallen into much needed soil and nutrients for other plants.

Pointing out how the root structures of the trees adapt to the shallow soil, our guide does some explaining.

This is also a wildlife sanctuary. Here we see signs of bear in the area! Maybe we’ll get lucky!

This beautiful flower is the “Chocolate Lily“. The “rancid smell and dark color of the flower attracts flies for pollination”, according to a sign here. I didn’t bend over to smell it.

The root system of the trees can also be used as a small den for bears in the winter. This one was empty at the moment.

Looks like someone didn’t prepare well enough for the winter. Ah, the circle of life.

Well, they did promise Bald Eagles here. This one was still quite a ways away, but I’ll take what I can get.

And then as we rounded a corner, the grand prize! A bear in the woods! This black bear was looking for food, and since they mostly eat vegetation and fish, we’re not too worried, but cameras are a snappin’!

One thing with nature photography, many times you take what you can get. The bear never came out for a nice clean portrait, but at least I got both eyes in this shot. The guide hurried us along so not too many people would be congregated in one spot. This was not a photography tour after all.

Another part of this location was a raptor rehab center. They had a few birds but of course I focused on the eagle. Just look at the talons on that thing! That’s a human hand it is perched on.

And even though it is a captive, I figure that the way things are going, this will be the only close-up shot I get of the eagle’s eye, so I take it.

They also have a gentleman here who is carrying on the native tradition of passing down stories through the use of totem poles. If you remember from day 1, these poles are used to tell stories, either historical or fiction. Each face represents a character in the story and the only person who knows the story is the builder. At least until the time comes to raise the pole in a ceremony, at which time he recounts the story to all who are there.

Once we left there, we headed back into town to see what Ketchikan was like. I told you that they get a lot of rain. This is their yearly rain gauge. In 1949 they had 202.55 inches of rain. According to this, last year they had about 170 inches! According to the sign, average yearly rainfall is 12.5 feet per year. That’s a lot of rain!

We hadn’t taken a lot of “tourist” shots, so here’s the Welcome to Ketchikan sign–“The Salmon Capital of the World”. I didn’t eat any salmon but I did have some fish-n-chips while here, but I ate those for the halibut.  LOL

A monument to the men and women who came here seeking their fortunes. Some found what they were looking for, many didn’t.

Our ship is almost the length of downtown. It strikes an imposing figure in the background.

And for many of the women who came, they ended up here, the red-light district of the gold rush. They even have a girl in costume at Dolly’s. Notice how the row is built on a pier?

And note the sign at Dolly’s…

Being more interested in eagles, I found one on a radio tower. We were still disappointed that they were not everywhere like we had been told, but speaking with an older native gentleman who was walking along the sidewalk, he told us that they gather there in the mornings to fish. So, going back to one of my first statements in the first post, a cruise is not the best vacation for pure wildlife photography because you have little to no control over your schedule, but it certainly does give us ideas for future adventures.

This is what the first few main streets of town are built over. Not earth, a pier. We were told that during prohibition, bootleggers would smuggle booze into the bars in the red-light district by going under the streets of the city and then come up through the floors.

Here’s one of the many jewelry shops in town.

And sometimes, even my beautiful wife has had enough of the lens.

Back on board, we are greeted by a towel-monkey! Yet another creative use of towels by the Carnival stewards.

As we set sail, we bid farewell to Alaska. We won’t be setting foot on its land again this trip. Maybe someday soon once again we will get to come and spend more time.

Those mountains! Even shrouded in mist and clouds, they still take away my breath.

And our final Alaskan Sunset. Sadness…

Tomorrow is a full day at sea before we wind up in Seattle Washington. What to do for a full day at sea…

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

Listen to your Wife!

Here is a life lesson.

When traveling on a turnpike at 75+ MPH and your wife suddenly says, “STOP!! PULL OVER!! I SAW A BALD EAGLE!!”, the smart thing to do is to stop, pull over, and ask her to clarify. This is exactly what happened this weekend as we were traveling to Oklahoma for our yearly Thanksgiving family get-together.

For some reason, let’s just call it providence, I had decided to leave my camera out in the back seat on this trip. Usually, nothing happens so it is safely stored away in the back with the rest of the luggage on these trips. The drive to family is about 4 hours and we were at about the 3 hour mark, making good time when the aforementioned actions took place. I pulled over.

After discussing the fact that what she likely was was just some exposed broken branch in a tree, she finally convinced me to back up. So here I am, backing up on the shoulder while traffic is whizzing by, narrowly missing a mile-marker sign (oops) when Karen declared, “I see it!” It was quite a distance away, and I still could not see it. So I hand her the camera. Of course, my camera settings are completely different than hers so she has a hard time getting a shot but once she does and shows me the proof, well, I hop out of the vehicle with the camera and head toward the field.

There were a line of trees between the and the great bird, but I was able to get a couple of clear shots before it flew off.

So, listen to your life and you may just see something amazing!

Oh, and here are a couple of shots of the Bald Eagle! Quite a distance away, and shooting through a stand of trees, but still a magnificent bird.

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Yellowstone: Day Five!

Day five!  This turned out to be the greatest of our days for wildlife!  We got an early start and headed to the Hayden Valley.  We got up early enough to make the hour and a half trip to be there by sunrise.  We were well rewarded for our trouble.  As soon as we parked at the Alum Creek pullout, we were greeted by the local coyote.  He walked across the street and sat down right behind the vehicle.  What a great way to start the day.  But wait, it gets better.  As the coyote is sitting there, we have the windows rolled down, and suddenly we hear the most amazing sound.  The Canyon Wolf Pack was somewhere nearby, all howling in unison!  Wow!  As much as we loved the sound, the coyote did not appreciate it near as much.  The wolves have had a hand in thinning the coyote population since their reintroduction.  So, upon hearing the wolf choir, the coyote turned and trotted off in the opposite direction.  Given the circumstances, I can’t say that I blame him.

We hang around here for a while, listening to all the sounds of nature as the morning fog moves into the valley.  This really is a beautiful place.  Words and pictures simply do not do it full justice.  As time passes, we notice more cars entering the area so we follow them a little up the road to the next turnout.  By this time there are a few people with their spotting scopes set up, which can mean only one thing: the wolves have been spotted.  We park, I drag out the big lens, and point it in the direction they suggest, and there is the pack.  Of course, they are about a mile away across the valley, but they are there for sure.  That’s them, the spots in the picture on top of the knoll.

As futile as it seemed, I wasn’t the only one who drug out the big glass for a chance to see them.  Karen, sitting in the warmth of the car, snapped this one, while we were freezing our fingers catching glimpses of whatever activity happened to be going on over there.  Every once in a while, the pack would come together again for a howl-fest, and every time it was amazing.

We actually stuck around here watching the wolves playing around on the knoll for a couple of hours.  It was also an opportunity to meet a few of the other photographers and wolf-watchers who were there. They really are some very nice people.  Full of information and not afraid to share.

Finally, there is some action.  A few of the wolves take off toward the road, looking like they are chasing something.  Karen and I jump in the car, and take off, along with several of the others.  One of the others I met, Keith Alan Wright, was a photographer who knows the pack very well.  We trolled up and down the road several times looking for any sign of the wolves.  Suddenly, we pass by Keith who motions that he hasn’t seen them, and then as we pass each other, he honks and I see him speed up.  I turn around and catch up as he is jumping out of his car with lens and tripod.  I follow suit.  This was one picture that Karen missed that she said she wishes she had caught.  Me, running with tripod and big lens, chasing after a wolf (separated by a river).  I guess walking the stairs the past couple of months at work really paid off as I didn’t drop dead.  I was however, very excited, and upon seeing the wolf up close, began shooting a little wild.  This is the best shot I got as the wolf was running and I was out of breath and excited.  But as Moose Peterson says, I have broken the curse.  Next time will be better!

With that excitement, it was time for lunch.  Karen and I headed up to Canyon Junction and had a snack before heading back to the valley for even more excitement.

When we get back to the valley, we find most of our new friends at a different pullout looking at the side of a hill.  We pull up and realize that they are checking out the grizzly bears!  Pretty cool, but they were really too far off for any pictures.  About the same time someone mentioned that a bald eagle was flying around on the other side of the road.  This was turning into the best day yet for wildlife and it wasn’t even half over!

Our main desires for this trip was to see wolves and grizzly bears, and now we have.  Now it’s time to see what else we can find.  Our new friend Keith tells us that many times otters can be spotted out by Mary Bay, so we go.  We find the little pond he told us about, but no otters.  We did however find this Hairy Woodpecker.  That’s one I’ve never seen before, and now I even have photos of one.

Driving back past the bay, we catch a flock of ring-billed gulls flying overhead.  Chalk up another species I previously had no pictures of.  It may be “just a gull”, but I found it very graceful in its flight.

Working our way back, we stopped at the Pelican Creek pullout.  There was a truck parked there and the man appeared to be looking through binoculars.  Way out in the field, there is a dark spot that was moving, but we couldn’t decide what exactly it was, so we camped out there for a while.  Soon enough, the spot came into view enough that we could tell that it was a moose!  Now moose aren’t that common up here, as they are usually down in the Teton NP, so this was a treat.  We watched as it grazed in the field, still too far away for pictures.  Then, as the moose approached the edge of the field, it suddenly turned toward us and began trotting and looking over its shoulder as if something was closing in on it.  At this point, out came the big lens!  I manage to capture several good clear shots before the moose takes a sudden left turn into the wooded area and simply disappears, literally!  Me and another photographer ran into the woods to find her, but no luck.  We couldn’t even find her tracks.  This moose is good!

We make it back to the Hayden Valley and almost immediately find a bunch of cars suddenly pulled to the side of the road.  The grizzly bears have moved and are now closer to the road and everyone is out watching.  They are close enough to the people that a park ranger has now been dispatched to the area, for the safety of both the people and the bears.  Now is the time for the big lens!  What we have here is a sow and her two cubs.  The cubs are thought to be about two years old at this point, and one of them is blond!  Her facial features have been described as looking like a panda.  Very unique looking for sure.  If my information is correct, we have mom, her son, and her blonde daughter.  So…

Mom and son…

Mom…

Son…

And daughter…

Needless to say that at this point we are completely stoked!  What a day this has been!  And it still is not over.  We make our way back to the overlook where we saw the wolves and meet up with our new friends again.  We share stories of what all we have seen today and swap information.  At this point someone says, “Hey, there’s a bald eagle perched just below us!”  Yep, out comes the big lens again!  It’s not just that it is our national bird, but there is truly something regal about this bird.

So, it’s been a full day for sure.  We make plans to meet up with Keith for dinner, say our good-byes to the others, and head back to Gardiner.

But, as they say, wait…there’s more!

Not more than a mile down the road, our friendly coyote is mousing in the field.  Can’t pass up an opportunity to catch a coyote leap!

Wow, what a day!  As we approach Mammoth on our way out of the park, the falling sun is striking the side of the mountains.  What a beautiful end to a beautiful day!

As we start to exit the park, Karen and I are talking and mention that about the only thing we hadn’t seen that we thought we might was…SCREECH!!  BIGHORN SHEEP!  Right there on the side of the road!!  This day just won’t end!  Out comes the big lens once again!

Having never shot these guys before I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but for sure, their agility is truly amazing!  The way they scale the sheer cliffs and rocks without tripping or falling is astounding.  Just like they were designed for an environment such as this. Hmmm.

And as the sun sets and I lose light, I catch one last silhouette before heading back to our room and dinner!

This was an amazing day, and once again, we are thankful for all we have seen.  Thankful to the One who created it all!

The Wyoming Adventure Day 3

After watching the weather forcast for the coming week, we decided that today would be the best day to try and get the sunrise shots of the Tetons because the rain wasn’t supposed to move in until after noon.  Someone forgot to brief the rain because when we stepped out of the motel at 6:30 it was already raining.  Well, we are several miles south of the actual Tetons here in Jackson, so maybe it’s not raining there.  As we left and started driving toward the Snake River Overlook, we actually drove out of the rain.  But it quickly caught back up with us.  Not only that, the mountains were pretty much completely covered.

Morning Rain

I took a couple of shots and we moved on.  Maybe we would have better luck at Ox Bow Bend.  We were there at sunset the last night and if nothing else maybe we would get some early morning wildlife shots.  We got there and by the time I got unloaded, the rain began to spit at me.  It was still before sunrise so it was still pretty dark, however when I looked up, there was a bird flying overhead that had a very distinctive white head!  A Bald Headed Eagle!  I had been hoping that I would get to see one.  I cranked up the ISO to 1600 and fired away.  They may be grainy shots, but I wasn’t going to let this one get away.

Flying Eagle

So, Jackson and the Tetons are rained out for the day.  Plan B.  Let’s just drive up to Yellowstone and see what the weather is like there.  We had origionally planned on spending two days up there, but there was really only two things that I really wanted to see; Old Faithful and the falls in the Grand Caynon of Yellowstone, so why not.

We headed farther north to Yellowstone and it seemed that maybe this was a good idea.  We started to see sunshine peaking through the clouds here and there, and while we were still getting spit on occasionally, the sky looked nothing like it did back in the Jackson area.

We finally make it to Old Faithful and it seems that our timing was pretty close to perfect.  People were starting to make their way out to the viewing area.  I found a spot, threw on a gradient neutral density filter set up the tripod and waited.  After what seemed like a few false starts, away she blew.  It was a pretty cool sight.  Like most people, I have heard about Yellowstone and Old Faithful since I was a kid in grade school, but I’ve never been here to see it before.  This is an amazing place for sure.

Old Faithful

Once Old Faithful was finished, we packed up and headed even deeper into Yellowstone to the Grand Caynon.  I really wanted to see the waterfalls there.  There were a couple of smaller (much I would later see) fall on the way there that we stopped at, but this was what I wanted to see.  Our first stop was at Artist Point.  I knew that if nothing else I had to take the “postcard shot”, you know, the shot that you see everywhere you look.  So, I took that and got it out of the way.  This place is really impressive!

Lower Falls Postcard

From there, we moved to Uncle Toms path which leads about 3/4 of the way down to the floor of the caynon for a more closeup and personal shot of the falls.  By the time we got there and walked down (over 300 stairs and about a half mile of slope) there it was.  And again, our timing couldn’t have been better.  The sun was just starting to hit the spray causing the rainbow to appear!  Wow!  This was breathtaking.

Lower Falls Rainbow

Speaking of breathtaking, now we had to go back UP all those stairs!  Needless to say, it took much longer to go UP than it did to come down!  Both Karen and I were ready to sit for a while after that “little” hike!

Stairway of Pain

No trip to Yellowstone would be complete without at least one view of a pool of boiling mud!  This place has so many geothermal features it is just mind blowing.  With my main objective of the falls behind me, we took time to stop at a few of them on the way back to Jackson.  I’ve got to say that the smell of sulpher is very strong around some of these so be prepared.  I recommend your own oxygen if you can.  🙂

Boiling Mud

And as we made our way back to Jackson, we see that the weather just hasn’t changed much from this morning.  No problem.  After all the climbing we did, we are both ready to get something to eat and just relax for the next two days.  Looks like we’ll be sleeping in tomorrow because the forecast calls for yet even more rain.  Maybe I’ll take pictures of the hotel room.  🙂