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

Whaling Wall, Anchorage, AK

In 1981, American artist Robert Wyland set out to paint 100 murals celebrating ocean life.  The first wall, in Laguna Beach, California, was dedicated in August of that year.  Twenty seven years later, Wyland’s 100th wall was dedicated in Beijing China.

Anchorage’s Whaling Wall, officially titled “Alaska’s Marine Life”, was painted by Wyland in 1994 and was his 54th wall in the series.  The huge mural, 400 feet long and 50 feet, high, depicts whales and seals that are native to Alaska.  It’s an impressive work of art and one of Anchorage’s best known landmarks.

Whaling Wall Mural HDR Deep 1

Creek Street, Ketchikan, Alaska

When is a street not a street?  When it’s Creek Street in Ketchikan.  It’s actually a boardwalk on that follows Ketchikan Creek.  When prostitution was outlawed on the city side of Ketchikan Creek in 1903, the enterprising owners figured the way to get around the ordinance was to build a boardwalk on the opposite side of the creek.  From 1903 until 1954, Creek Street was Ketchikan’s red light district.  These days it’s a tourist stop and one of the most photographed streets in America.

This photo highlights several aspects of Creek Street and Ketchikan.  First, you can see how the street is actually a boardwalk.  Second, you can see the street’s most famous bordello, Dolly’s Place, to the right of center.  And third, you can see that Ketchikan is one of the rainiest places on Earth.  It rained the entire time we were there, but we didn’t let the rain keep us from exploring.

Creek Street

Johns Hopkins Glacier, Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is aptly named.  There are over 1,000 glaciers in the park, the most famous of them being the 7 tidewater glaciers.  Johns Hopkins Glacier is one of the few tidewater glaciers that are actually advancing.

Johns Hopkins Glacier gets its start on the east slopes of Lituya Mountain.  Lituya Mountain was the site of two of the largest landslides in history.  In 1958 an earthquake kicked off a landslide that dropped an estimated 40 million cubic yards of rock into Lituya Bay.  The resulting tsunami measured nearly 1,700 feet high and was the largest tsunami ever recorded.

In 2012 another landslide, measuring 5.5 miles long and .5 miles wide, fell on Johns Hopkins Glacier, and was possibly the largest recorded landslide in North America.

I like the way the glacier seems to form a series of steps or terraces leading back  from the bay.  The weather, as usual in Glacier Bay, was overcast, so the colors are quite muted.  You do get a bit of the unique blue hue of the glacier ice in the center of the glacier.

The scale of the photo is a bit misleading.  It looks like we were quite close, but we were actual a few miles away.  Glacier Bay is a beautiful, wild place.

Johns Hopkins CFX Graduated ND

Toklat River, Denali National Park

The interior of Alaska is stunningly beautiful.  This is a photo of the Toklat River in Denali National Park.  The Toklat is a braided river, which is created by an excess of sediment.  Over time the river fills with sediment, in this case from glaciers, and the sediment creates little islands or bars that the river must work its way around.

I really like the monochromatic feel of the photograph, with grays of the mountains, the sky and the river and just a touch of green from the trees.

Tundra Tour Landscape Detail Extractor

Grizzly Bear, Denali

During our stay at Denali, we took a Tundra Wilderness Tour.  The tour lasted about seven hours and went deep into one of the wildest of our National Parks.  The views were stunning and we were fortunate enough to see a great number of animals, including this grizzly, who was just a few yards away from our bus.  He’s quite an impressive creature and doesn’t seem to be too worried about the bus that’s sitting in front of him.

Denali Grizzly

 

Alaska Wilderness

Sometimes I’m left with the feeling of awe at the beauty of nature.  Alaska’s wilderness left me feeling that way over and over.  Even now, two years later, the places that left the deepest impressions were not the tourist locations, but the natural places we saw in passing.

I don’t know exactly where this mountain and valley are located in Alaska.  I can only tell you that I took the photo as we passed by on our Alaska Railroad journey from Denali to Anchorage.  It leaves me with an appreciation of the power and majesty of nature.

Alaska Landscape

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 novacaine.

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 we’d like to visit before we visit a place 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.