Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dyea Township, Alaska

Location. Location. Location. Until visiting Skagway, I was unaware of the Dyea Townsite, about 10 miles north of Skagway, where in 1898 the population rose to an estimated 8,000 people when it was the principal port city of the stampeders bound for the Klondike gold fields via the Chilkoot Pass. The town’s poor harbor, devastating snow slide in April 1898, and newly built White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad out of Skagway all contributed to the end of Dyea. The only structure left “standing” is the A.M. Gregg Real Estate Office on what was then Main Street. At the peak of the last glaciation, the land was covered by a glacier nearly a mile thick. I found it astonishing that due to the removal of the weight of the glacier over the last 10,000 years, the land is 7 feet higher today than it was in 1898.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Skagway, Alaska

Skagway is a tourist town. The Klondike Highway to Skagway was filled with tourist buses. As many as six huge cruise ships can be in port at the same time. Stores selling merchandise to tourists line both sides of Broadway, Skagway’s main street. Lots of jewelry stores with double doors open to the cold outside and salespeople behind display cases inside. I was told in a bar frequented by local Alaskans that the cruise ship lines own the jewelry stores and have a reputation for not hiring locally. While I was there, not many of the tourists had gotten to the east end of 7th Street where the early history of the area was wonderfully preserved and presented at the Skagway Museum and City Hall. Haines, only a 15 mile ferry ride from Skagway, was a very different experience. With only one cruise ship a week docked there for 24 hours, it didn’t feel at all like a tourist town, although of course to some degree, like almost every town in Alaska, it is.

Ferry from Skagway to Haines

On board the ferry Matanuska going from Skagway to Haines, Alaska. Travelers are allowed to use duct-tape to secure their tents to the deck, although strong winds made this a bit of a challenge. Ferry travel to communities along the Alaska Marine Highway (or Inside Passage) runs from Bellingham, Washington to Unalaska/Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands.

S.S. Klondike, Whitehorse, Yukon

On my way to Alaska, I stopped in Whitehorse, Yukon via the Alaska Highway and again coming back from Dawson City via the Klondike Highway. During the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 19th century, most prospectors, or stampeders as they were called, landed at Skagway and Dyea on the coast and traveled the difficult White or Chikoot Pass Trails to Whitehorse, where they built rafts and boats to take them the more than 500 miles down the Yukon River to gold fields around Dawson Creek. The S.S. Klondike wasn’t launched until 1937. It took about 1½ days to get to Dawson City and 4 to 5 days to return to Whitehorse. Before traveling to Alaska, I had no idea the Yukon River at Whitehorse is less than 100 miles from the Pacific Ocean, but empties into the Bering Sea in Western Alaska after running for nearly 2,000 miles.

Change in perspective

It’s fun for me to sometimes change my perspective from grand vistas to small creatures. One way I do this is by putting a macro lens on my Canon 20D; attaching a SmartFlash RF46 Digital Macro Ring Flash to the macro lens; and taking photographs of insects and spiders. The camera and flash are synced to permit shooting at 1/250th of a second at f/16. These settings will usually stop the movement of the bug and the inevitable movement of the plant the bug is sitting on. Shooting at f/16 provides a little depth of field, which is in short supply when shooting with a macro lens. I focus manually having found that on automatic the lens, almost malevolently, will put into focus something other than what I want to be in focus. Shooting with flash at 1/250th of a second and at f/16 will often leave the background dark, which is usually, but not always a good thing.

Chugach Mountains

This photograph of the Chugach Mountains was taken on the Valdez dock shortly before boarding the ferry to Whittier on the Kenai Peninsula. While in Valdez, I visited the Maxine & Jesse Whitney Museum at the Prince William Sound Community College, a private collection of Alaskan Native art and artifacts. The pieces were collected while traveling to Alaskan villages to purchase crafts for sale in Maxine’s gift shop. What makes this one of the most interesting museums I have ever been to is the narrative that accompanies the collection. Without patronizing the Alaskan Natives who produced the craft or the customers who purchased it, the collection examines, mostly through a series of questions, the line between fine art and craft art; art done for art’s sake and art done for money; and other similar issues. Very thought provoking exhibit.

Glacier Highways

As a docent with Berkeley’s Shorebird Park Nature Center, I’ve told visitors that not all that long ago it was possible to walk to the Farallon Islands, 27 miles to the west of the Golden Gate. This is because 18,000 or so years ago (a blink of the eye in geological time) the ocean level is estimated to have been nearly 400 feet lower than it is today. It is thought the lower ocean level permitted humans to travel across the Bering Land Bridge from Asia and begin to populate North America, but there’s no evidence of humans in the Bay Area until about 5,500 years ago. I knew the oceans had been lower in the past because it was colder and the water was locked in glaciers, but until traveling along hundreds of miles of roads located in the beautiful valleys and surrounding mountains carved by the glaciers, I hadn’t appreciated (and probably still don’t) just how massive and powerful the glaciers were. The trip this summer has given me a new perspective on global warming. The photograph was taken headed north on Highway 97 near Prince George in British Columbia. Beginning in the town of Weed in northern California, I traveled the length of Highway 97 to the border of the Yukon Territory when the road becomes Highway 1.