Along the Alaska Railroad

Sometimes photos work better in black and white than in color.  This photo was taken somewhere along the Alaska Railroad during our trip from Denali to Anchorage.  The color version wasn’t very memorable.  The overcast sky and dark green of the foliage made monochromatic and, frankly, boring.

The black and white version is much better. Highlights in the sky above and the water below and the dark patches of black spruce give the photo a wide range of shades.  Also, I think the mountains are much more interesting in black and white.  I really like the contrasts between the snow and the exposed portions of the mountains.

Alaska Mountains

Johns Hopkins Glacier, Alaska

Johns Hopkins Glacier is one of many glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.  Named by geophysicist Harry Fielding Reid for his Alma-mater, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.  While most of the glaciers in Glacier Bay are receding, Johns Hopkins is one of the few that is advancing and actively calving.

Interestingly, climate change has a strange effect in Glacier Bay.  We’re used to thinking of rising water levels associated with the melting of the ice caps, but in Glacier Bay the land is actually rising.  This is because as the glaciers recede, the weight of the ice that has been pushing down lessens and the earth, like a sponge, is springing back and rising slightly.

Glacier Bay is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever had the opportunity to visit.  It’s  rugged landscapes are stunning.  The bay is protected by its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Johns Hopkins 12 (4)

 

Denali National Park, Alaska

We were fortunate to be able to visit Denali National Park in May 2016.  Although we didn’t know it at the time, May is probably the best time to visit the park.  Around the beginning of June, the plants leaf out and it’s much harder to spot the amazing wildlife.  I also like the incredible colors you see before everything greens up.

This is a photo of Polychrome Pass which, to me, is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.  It’s rugged and ancient and epitomizes the term “wilderness.”

Polychrome Pass C

Everything is just beginning to green up, giving just a bit of color to an otherwise monochromatic scene.  You see one of the many braided rivers that crisscross Alaska and the row after row of mountains are evidence of how, over millions of years, the land has shifted and pushed the land skyward.

I was fascinated by the landscape and, even today, I love looking at the photograph.

Alaska Statehood Monument

2019 marks the 60th anniversary of Alaska Statehood.  This monument, located a few minutes walk from downtown Anchorage, commemorates Alaska’s admission to the United States. President Dwight D. Eisenhower is depicted holding the Statehood declaration, backed by an eagle and flags.

Anchorage was our last stop on our Alaska tour and made a great impression.  It’s a beautiful city, with monuments, murals and totems scattered throughout the downtown area.  One of the most striking things about the city is its location.  It seems to be completely surrounded by mountains.  It makes for stunning vistas, regardless of what direction you look.  It was well worth the visit.

Alaska Statehood Monument HDR Outdoor 2

Ship Signature Wall, Skagway, AK

Just yards from where cruise ships dock in Skagway, Alaska, there’s a unique “guest book”.  Beginning in 1928, ship crews began “signing” the granite wall across from the ship dock with the ship’s name, the date of the visit and the name of the ship’s captain. The idea caught on and the wall is now covered with the names and logos of visiting ships.

One of the most famous paintings on the cliff face is “Soapy Smith’s Skull”, which was painted on the wall in 1926.  Alexander “Soapy” Smith was a con-man and a crime boss who had earned his nickname through a con involving soap bars that supposedly gave buyers the chance to buy a bar with a $100 bill inside the wrapper.  Unfortunately for purchasers, the only people who ever “discovered” the money were Smith’s cohorts.

Smith had moved to Skagway in 1897 when the Klondike Gold Rush began.  He quickly set himself up as head of the gambling syndicate in Skagway as a means of taking the hard earned gold from miners.  Several efforts were made to expel Smith from Skagway, culminating, eventually, in a shootout between Smith and vigilante Frank Reid which left both men dead.  Reid was buried in the city cemetery, but citizens refused to allow Smith to be interred in the cemetery.  His grave is a few yards outside the cemetery and is a popular tourist stop.

The skull became a landmark in Skagway and the space around the painting prime real estate for the ship signatures.  Today the painting, quite faded but still visible, is still slightly creepy and is a popular draw for visitors to Skagway.

Soapy Smith's Skull
The Ship Signature Wall.  Soapy Smith’s Skull can be seen in the upper right.

World Wildlife Day, 2019

Since 2013, March 3rd has been recognized as World Wildlife Day by United Nations Member States, to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s animal and plant life.  Each year’s celebration has a theme.  The theme for 2019 is “Life below water: for people and planet”.

This photo of Steller’s Sea Lions was taken in Stephens Passage, outside Juneau, Alaska.  To give you a bit of perspective, Steller’s Sea Lions are the largest sea lion and the third largest piniped (behind the walrus and the sea elephant).  Male Steller’s Sea Lions can reach weights of  nearly 2,500 pounds, nearly three times the size of a female.  It’s a pretty safe bet that all the sea lions on this buoy are female.

Traditionally, the population of Steller’s Sea Lions has been divided into two stocks, eastern and western, with the eastern stock, including the sea lions shown here, inhabiting the western coast of North America, ranging from the Gulf of Alaska south to central California.

The eastern stock of Steller’s sea lion is classified as “near threatened” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.  The western stock is listed as “endangered” due to a steadily declining population, possibly due to commercial over-fishing, which has reduced the sea lion’s natural food supply, both in quantity and in quality.

Stellar Sea Lions

Anchorage, Alaska, May 2016

The final stop on our Alaska cruise was the city of Anchorage.  Established in 1914 as the terminus of the newly established Alaska Railroad, Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska, with over 40% of the state’s population living in the city.

Anchorage 4th Ave HDR Outdoor 2

On Good Friday in 1964, much of the city was destroyed by the second strongest earthquake ever recorded.  Downtown Anchorage sustained much of the damage, but many areas of the city were destroyed.  The Turnagain neighborhood was destroyed when the land it was built on dropped seven feet and then slid into Cook Inlet.  The destroyed area was turned into Earthquake Park and can be seen from the Anchorage Trolley tour.

While we’re on the subject of the Trolley tour, our tour guide had an interesting account of the earthquake.  Her husband, a kid at the time, was at the dentist on the day of the earthquake.  When the earthquake happened, the dentist grabbed the child from the chair and they climbed out the first floor window.  The young boy, having never been anesthetized before, thought the shaking was the result of the Novocain.

Despite the extensive damage, Anchorage was quickly rebuilt and today is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited.  Monuments and art, including several totems,  are everywhere.

 

There are murals everywhere in Anchorage, even in back alleys.  The largest and most beautiful is Alaska’s Marine Life, the 54th of artist Robert Wyland’s Whaling Walls.  Other standouts are the Iditarod mural on the side of the Alaska Experience Theater and a small mural on the side of Kobuk Coffee.

 

We had roughly a day in Anchorage and we made the most of it.  We like to research restaurants before we visit a city and the place we chose for dinner was Glacier Brewhouse.  The place was packed when we stopped and we had to wait more than an hour to be seated but it was worth it.  The food, the beer and the service were all great.

The next morning we took a walk to Snow City Cafe for breakfast.  Another popular spot with both locals and tourists, we had about a half hour wait.  While we waited we wandered across the street to Resolution Point and the Captain Cook monument.  Resolution Point gave us a great view of “the Sleeping Lady”, Mount Sisitna.

 

After a wonderful breakfast at Snow City we wandered back to the Anchorage Visitors Center for the Trolley Tour.  The Visitors Center is a cute little “cabin” with a sod roof.  The Trolley Tour took us on a very informative tour of the city.  We visited Earthquake Park, Lake Hood, some of the oldest neighborhoods in Anchorage and saw Engine No. 1, the first locomotive of the Alaska Railroad.

Lake Hood was interesting. We learned that 1 out of every 60 Alaskans have a pilot’s license (the national average is 1 out of 400).  This makes sense when you find out that roads reach only 30% of Alaska.  We also saw the iconic de Havilland Beaver airplane.  Only 1,600 of these airplanes were built between 1948 and 1967.  Despite the last Beaver rolling off the assembly line 50 years ago, hundreds are still operational and are so popular in Alaska that they pass down from family member to family member.

 

After the Trolley Tour we took a leisurely walk back through town, eventually stopping at Town Square Park for a reindeer sausage.  The weather was great and the park was a wonderful little place to enjoy the day.

Anchorage Park HDR Outdoor 1

Eventually it was time to get to the airport.  Ted Stevens Airport was pretty interesting with a lot of art.  The ducks and geese were quite striking.

 

So, after twelve days, it was time for the flight home.  We enjoyed everything about the trip and will always look back on it as a trip of a lifetime.

Polychrome Pass, Denali

One of the highlights of our visit to Alaska was the Tundra Wilderness Tour of Denali National Park and Preserve.  The tour lasted about seven hours and we were fortunate enough to see a great many of the park’s wildlife.  The wildlife sightings were just one part of the tour, though.  There are also many beautiful landscapes in the park that will take your breath away.

One of the stops along the tour was a roadside overlook at the stunning Polychrome Pass.  Polychrome Pass was formed many millions of years ago by the pacific tectonic plate sliding under the continental shelf.  The pass gets its name from the colorful geologic formations, including volcanic rocks.  The mountains, part of the Alaska Range, are home to several small glaciers.

We were there in mid May, and things were just beginning to green up.  I love the colors of the new growth, the blue of the braided rivers that meander through the pass and the whites of the snow on the mountains.

The immensity of the landscape makes you feel very small.  Scenes like this make our trip into the park something I’ll always remember.

Polychrome Pass D

Resting Grizzly, by William Berry

This beautiful sculpture resides at the Denali Visitor Center in Alaska.  Interestingly, the life size bronze was replicated from the original sculpture, which was only 8 inches in length.  The one you see here is 8 feet long.  It’s one of the most photographed works of art in Alaska.

Bill Berry was a California native who, along with his wife Elizabeth, moved to Alaska in the 1950s.  Berry worked with many media, including oils, pastels, murals and of course sculpture.  He also wrote several books, including William D. Berry: 1954-1956 Alaskan Field Sketches and Deneki, An Alaskan Moose, which he wrote and illustrated.

The enlarged sculpture was created by Alaskan sculptor Skip Wallen, with the support of the Berry family, and was installed at the Visitors Center in 2012.

Denali Slumbering Bear

 

Arctic Brotherhood Hall, Skagway, AK

In February 1899, towards the end of the Klondike Gold Rush, eleven men founded the first Arctic Brotherhood in Camp Skagway, one of the starting points into the Klondike.  By the Summer the Arctic Brotherhood Hall had been erected as their meeting place.  The Hall was needed; a month after it was formed the Brotherhood’s membership had swollen to over 300 men.

The Arctic Brotherhood was more than just a drinking club for the men of the Klondike.  Despite initial objections by the churches, the citizens of Skagway soon found that the Brotherhood took care of its sick members, buried their dead and worked to improve the educational and social systems of the mining camps.  The preamble to the Brotherhood’s constitution states:

“The object of this organization shall be to encourage and promote social and intellectual intercourse and benevolence among its members, and to advance the interests of its members and those of the Northwest Section of North America.”

The Arctic Brotherhood proved so popular among the men of the Northwest that 32 camps were eventually established across the North and more than 10,000 men called themselves Arctic Brothers.  They included miners, businessmen, doctors, lawyers, government officials, American Senators, Canadian Members of Parliament and celebrities.  Among its honorary members were King Edward VII and American Presidents Warren G. Harding, Theodore Roosevelt and William McKinley.

The Arctic Brotherhood lasted into the 1920s, long after the Klondike Gold Rush had faded into history.  Today, the building is home to the Visitor Information Center, hosted by the Skagway Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The building is one of the most photographed buildings in Alaska.  The facade is covered with over 8,800 pieces of driftwood collected by the Brotherhood’s members and nailed to the facade in a checkerboard pattern.  The letters A and B, the name Camp Skagway No. 1 and the date of its founding, 1899, all made of driftwood, designate the building as the membership hall of the Arctic Brotherhood.  It’s a unique and beautiful piece of American History and one you shouldn’t miss if you visit Skagway.

Arctic Brotherhood