Alaska Cruise 2017: Part Three – The Fjord

On the schedule for this day was the Tracy Arm Fjord. This was the only cruise that Karen saw when she was researching that took this side trip, so we were very anxious as to what we were going to see this day.

The day started out early. Sunrise here was earlier that we were used to in Texas, and the time was 3 hours behind, so when we woke up around 7am Texas time, it was really 4am Alaska time. And having a balcony with the curtains open meant that as soon as the sun began to rise, we were up as well. But it did mean that we got to witness this sunrise!

And as we were watching the sun rise over the horizon, we noticed something in the water, right off our balcony. Did you see it in the middle of the photo? Let’s take another photo and zoom in!

Yep, that’s the dorsal fin of a humpback whale swimming along side our ship. We learned that this is the time of year that they are migrating from Hawaii back to Alaska. They go to Hawaii to mate and give birth and then return to Alaska to eat and bulk up in order to start the cycle over. As one guide put it, Alaska is their kitchen and Hawaii is their bedroom. The whale was along side us for a short while, enough to get a few more shots before it slipped back into the darkness of the water.

As we continued to the fjord the mountains began to rise higher and higher against us. They were truly magnificent and humbling, realizing that even on this very large ship, we are tiny in nature.

This part of the world gets a lot of rain. We were fortunate that for the most part it was simply overcast and we got very little actual rain the entire trip.

The clouds however created for very dramatic skies. The on-board biologist explained to us that the fjords were created as the glaciers pushed their way across the land, carving out these “U” shaped valleys. “V” shaped valleys were caused by rushing water, such as the Grand Canyon. One way to tell just how deep the glacier ice was is to look at the mountain peaks. If they are rounded, they were likely covered and smoothed by the glacier. If they are jagged the ice did not cover them. But looking at the height of the mountains it is staggering to think of that much ice being that deep!

The mountains are so tall that they create their own weather patterns. You can judge, by looking at the very large trees in the foreground, just how immense the mountains are. Considering it is several miles from the shoreline to the top of the mountain…well, you can just let your mind run wild trying to calculate that distance. Another shot for scale. Here you can see a five story lighthouse in the foreground, dwarfed by the landscape!

As we arrived at the entrance of the Tracy Arm Fjord, our ship met with the “pilot” who would be responsible for directing the ship through the narrow passage. We were informed that because of the ice flows, we would not be allowed into the Tracy Arm today, but not to worry, there is another fjord that we would be able to explore. While somewhat disappointing, we were happy we would not miss out altogether. We make our way through passages which at first glance don’t look like a place you would take a 44 ton cruise ship.

And then we notice that we are not alone. The humpbacks are in the area as well. They like the fjords because the narrow passages makes it easier for them to scoop up food. The narrower the fjord, the more dense the food they like to eat. It makes their hunting much easier. And when you are trying to gain weight, you want as little exertion as possible.

Another interesting fact about the humpback whales is that the patterns on their tail are as unique to each whale as a human’s fingerprint. Photos like this one are used to track the whales between Alaska and Hawaii on their migration tour.

As we get closer, you can see where, what I would have previously considered a glacier, was sliding down the side of the mountain. After what I will be seeing soon, that’s just a bunch of snow and ice.

As we approach the entrance to the fjord (Endicott Arm according to Google), we begin to see icebergs floating in the water. Two things to notice about the icebergs. First is that their dark blue color comes from the fact that they are so dense the longer red light waves are unable to be reflected from the ice, leaving only the shorter blue light waves. And second, only ten percent of the iceberg is visible. Meaning that 90% of the ice is obscured beneath the water. Remember the Titanic? We proceed slowly…

Some people have paid for an off-ship excursion to get an up-close look at the glacier. I give you this photo of their boat as a reference for later. Notice the size as it pulls along side of our ship. It is a three story boat. Not small by any means.

As we enter the fjord, another amazing sight is all of the little waterfalls running down the walls of the valley. Pure mountain water, direct from the source. I bet is is refreshing!

Turn about is fair play. Karen catches me in her lens. Yes, it was much colder here, especially as the wind was whipping down through the fjord from the glacial ice ahead. On a side note, I did not pack gloves because I was expecting temps in the 50s. Luckily I found a very nice pair of ladies leather gloves that fit me perfectly in the ship’s store. I’m not proud. They were warm.

More icebergs. We are getting closer. We traveled about 33 files from the opening of the fjord to the glacier.

Excitement is building on the ship as everyone rushes to the bow of the ship. We tried to get there but it was just too crowded. But we were already told that the captain would be turning the ship so that everyone would be able to see the glacier, so we stayed put on the top deck.

And finally, the glacier! This one is named “Dawes Glacier” and now you see the difference from what I previously referred to as a glacier. But from this distance, it doesn’t look all that big. Just wait.

But first, what is this off the starboard side? Riding along on an iceberg is a group of seals! Harbor Seals I believe.

They remain on the ice as we get closer, until finally one by one they begin to slip off into the water.

Until finally, there was only one left. It really looked like it didn’t want to get into the water and would rather we just went away.

But finally, it did slip into the water along with the others, and we turned our attention to the massive glacier. Now, remember the photo of the excursion vessel from before? It is a three story ship. Not a small ship. You can notice it up close to the glacier in the lower left of this photo! There are actually two ships there now. That little dark spot is a ship!

Glaciers are not static objects, but rather moving rivers of ice. As the ice reaches the termination point, which is here, the ice begins to break off, or calve, which is what creates all the icebergs in the water. When this happens there is a large splash. We were lucky enough to capture this happening here. Remember, that splash is also several stories high! Nothing is small here.

Here is another shot of the excursion boats close to the glacier. For showing scale we zoomed in a bit more. And what looks like tire tracks on the top of the glacier is actually ground up parts of the mountain which is being carried away by the ice. By doing this the glacier turns rock into dirt which will then be deposited in a place where later life will spring forth. The design of nature is truly spectacular!

Some people however decided to bypass the cold and observer nature in comfort inside the ship. This gentleman was watching from indoors on the lido deck. Yes, we were eating again.  🙂

What a day! After spending a couple of hours here, it was time for the ship to leave the fjord and head for tomorrow’s destination, Juneau and the Mendenhall Glacier! But, as Carnival likes to do, this was waiting for us back in our stateroom. Just how many different ways can you fold a towel?

No sunset tonight as we were between the mountains of the valley. So that’s it for today. I’ll be back in a few days with part four! Still have lots of photos to sort through!

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

Texas Winter Week

Ask pretty much anyone who lives in Texas and they will tell you that generally speaking, we don’t get much of a winter here. That said, this week appears to be our week for Winter here in East Texas and today we had what will probably be our only significant snowfall. Whenever this happens, the feeders are a frenzy of activity as, I’m just guessing here, the birds start to think that the sky is falling and the world is coming to an end.

So, with my back door open and camera pointed to the back porch around the feeder (yes, my wife was yelling at me that she was freezing), I saw some interesting visitors that I thought I would share with you. It did seem that the large falling flakes of snow was playing havoc with my autofocus. Something that I was not counting on.

Here is a Dark-eyed Junco. They are a cute little bird to mostly feeds on the ground. My outside cats, Earl and Dakota, usually keep them on their toes but with the cold weather, I’ve been keeping them warm in the barn.
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And this cute little thing is a Tufted Titmouse. They are regular visitors to the feeder and make a terrible racket if you are disturbing them.

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After a bit of taking their pictures, I noticed that all of the birds just disappeared. I thought maybe I had made too much noise or something. Then I spotted this Red-shouldered Hawk in the tree near the back porch. Although mostly hidden, the snow was not helping with its usual method of camouflage. Apparently it was hungry too and was looking for an easy lunch. The little birds hid and it finally flew away. No more than 5 seconds later, the smaller birds began to reappear.

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And what would winter bird pictures be without the colorful Mister and Misses of the bird kingdom, the Northern Cardinal. The white background really makes their red colors pop out of the frame.

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Another regular visitor this time of year is the American Goldfinch. These little ones pass through each year as they come down south to get away from the cold. We are, of course, happy to have them visit.

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But this little guy, this is the first time I’ve seen him around. If I’m reading my guide correctly, this is a Purple Finch. Apparently I am right on the eastern border of their winter range so when I saw two of them, I considered myself blessed.

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That’s it for today. As the day is drawing to a close, the snow is already beginning to melt away. So, from the house on the snow-covered hill, until next time, enjoy God’s beautiful creation.

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Yellowstone: Day Two

Day two started out in a magnificent manner!  I stepped out of our residence to this view!  Snow capped mountains right out the front door!  What’s not to love about that!  Gardiner is a very small town right at the north entrance of Yellowstone.  I’m told that the actual population of the town is somewhere around 800 people, but obviously, the number of visitors, especially in the summer months, is much higher.  The size of the town is perfect for its location, nestled in a small valley surrounded by the wonderful mountains!

We get a somewhat early start to the day, still recovering from our normal work-life and travel.  One of the places I wanted to visit is a trail over the Blacktail Plateau.  It is known to have copious amounts of wildlife, so we’re really hoping to see and photograph them.  However, this trip, it seems that about the only wildlife to be seen there is this herd of bison grazing in the fields.  Still, any chance to interact (even from the car) with a beast powerful enough to leap it’s 2,000+ pound body over a fence, is a chance not to be missed.  While these animals appear to be very docile, their looks can be deceiving.  In fact. more people are injured each year by bison than pretty much any other creature in the park.

Also, the safety of being in the car, give a great chance for those up-close shots that really accentuates the power of this beautiful animal.

One of the things Karen and I were really hoping to see this trip was snow, and we were not disappointed this day!  It wasn’t much, but coming from Texas where we just suffered through a record-breaking summer of heat, any change was appreciated.  Most mornings started out in the teens and twenties, which really didn’t bother us in the least.

After leaving the Blacktail Plateau, we headed to the Lamar Valley, known for wolf and bear sightings.  These are two animals we seem to always miss out on when we travel.  We are really hoping to get to see them this time.

On our way to the valley, we spot this lone elk in a field at the Roosevelt Junction.  This is another of the creatures which is numerous in Yellowstone.  The males, with their proud antlers always look so majestic.  This one was alone and we just couldn’t pass by the opportunity to capture a few memories of his image.

Once in the Lamar Valley, we traveled up and down the road with no luck.  Normally you can tell if there is wildlife (wolves in particular) in the area because there will be many people pulled off the road with spotting scopes and cameras.  Nothing was to be seen today though.  But even with this bit if disappointment, we were still privy to the wonderful mountain views from the valley!  It just doesn’t get much better than this.

After driving through the Lamar Valley a few times, we come across a guy and his dog Jake, (yes, I rememberd the dogs name and not the guy) and have an opportunity to chat with him for a while.  While talking, he casually asks, “Do you want to see some wolves?”  Well DUH!  He tells us that the Blacktail pack have been spotted over near Elk Creek.  That’s near the exit of the Blacktail Plateau Trail we were on earlier.  That’s all we need to hear and we are off, after we thank him for the information of course.

We arrive, and sure enough, there are all the wolf-watchers with the scopes and cameras set up.  We finally get a spot to park, and I grab the big lens and hike up to where they are.  Then I ask, “Where are they?”  I’m pointed to these little black and gray dots way out in a field!  Well, that’s even too far for my 600mm lens.  Disappointment sets in for a second, then someone says, “Listen!  The wolves are howling!”  How cool is that!  If you have never heard that sound in real life, you really should get to some day.  It is amazing!

But the adventure here isn’t over yet.  A couple of the wolves decide to come closer and cross over the road.  Still a ways off from where I am, but at least I can get a “I saw them” shot and crop it enough to tell they are wolves and not just dots.

Giddy with excitement, we leave the Blacktail pack and begin heading back toward the area of our home-base.  On the way, we spot a herd of Elk on the side of a hill, all grazing together.  We hike the trail at the bottom of the hill and are able to get a few shots.  The male elk was higher on the hill watching over his herd, taking a very masculine pose with his big rack and one of his ladies.  This situation just begged for a photo, so I obliged.

After leaving the elk, we stop off at Udine Falls, which is right off the roadway.  When out photographing areas, it is hard to grow tired of waterfalls, especially when they are surrounded by wilderness.  Waterfalls have that combination of power and beauty that just makes one feel right about the day.

Okay, for those that live in the area, the magpie is a nasty bird.  They are compared to our grackles here in Texas.  But for those of us who don’t live there, this is very pretty bird!  Very basic black and white color scheme just draws my attention.  I thikn I’d trade our grackles for the prettier magpie any day!

One of the craziest areas of the park is the town of Mammoth.  This is the area where the army set  up Fort Yellowstone when they were in charge of the park before the creation of the National Park Service.  This town almost always has wildlife roaming around the buildings.  Usually it is the resident heard of elk, but this day, we spotted this coyote roaming around like he was looking for something.  He didn’t seem to worried about us, as he gave us a single glance and then went about his business of sniffing out whatever he was looking for.

And the aforementioned elk.  This one caught our attention as it appeared he was about to bugle to his harem.  We paused, took pictures, but nothing ever came out of his mouth.  A silent bugle.  That was a big strange, but as you are about to see, strange is relative in this place.

As we get back into Gardiner, the strangeness steps up a notch.  There are elk everywhere.  We see them in people’s front yards and as I look across the river to the hotel there, I see elk, not just in the surrounding yard, but actually right outside the first floor rooms!  It made me wonder if when you check in they ask questions such as, “Smoking or non-smoking?  Elk or no elk?”

Bottom line: This is a very cool place, especially if you like close interactions with wildlife.  Today will not be our last interactions for sure, and the best is yet to come.

Day two comes to a close and we are thankful for all we have seen!

The Great DFW Snowstorm of 2010!

Well, a record setting day for the Dallas/Ft Worth area!  Most snowfall in a 24 hour period ever (recorded)!  Who would have thought that we would have gotten 12-14 inches here in Texas.  Of course, I have to remember that this IS NORTH Texas after all.  It’s not like we live on the border of Mexico.

So I worked from home for a few hours today, but took some time to walk around the neighborhood with Karen, cameras in hand, to see what we could see.  This is not a typical North Texas snow that just barely covers the grass.  The kids are out and they are really enjoying this possible once-in-a-lifetime event!

And I’ll even refrain about making any cracks about “global warming” and just enjoy the beautiful scenery that we so seldom get to see around here.

Enjoy!

Michael

2010 Record Snowfall

2010 Record Snowfall

2010 Record Snowfall

2010 Record Snowfall

2010 Record Snowfall

2010 Record Snowfall

2010 Record Snowfall