Category Archives: photography

Melting pot

Berkeley, Calif.:

The end of suburbia?

Here’s a pretty amazing photo from the LA Times showing smoke from one of today’s wildfires overtaking the sprawl in the San Fernando Valley:

That particular fire has burned 3700 acres so far, and it just started. There are even fears that the strong, hot winds could spread it all the way to the Pacific — which is 15 miles away. Maybe it’s time to dust off Joan Didion’s book with the essay about the Santa Ana winds.

I see the light come shining…

These photos didn’t come out as well as I hoped. I was aiming for a kind of El Greco or Tintoretto (am I remembering them correctly?) light-from-heaven effect. It sort of worked, but not as well as I wanted.

After an overcast day on the water, the sun began to break through the clouds in some places:


Northwestern Fjord, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

The hike to Exit Glacier the next day was under clearer skies, but there was still a similar effect:

View from near Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

A visual guide to my Alaska photographs so far

I decided to create a Legend to accompany the Alaska photo posts, using Google Maps, so that people can have a better sense of where the hell these places I mention are. Behold Alaska, with a little piece of Russia nosing in to the upper left and the Westernmost edge of Canada on the right (you can also see the deep Aleutian Trench where the Pacific tectonic plate slides under the North American plate, causing the Aleutian Islands to rise out of the sea and making the area an active earthquake and volcano zone; one temblor near Anchorage in 1964 caused a tsunami that killed more than a dozen people on the Northern California coast):

Here is the scale.

The red rectangle at the bottom right shows the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii) in British Columbia, where the myths translated in A Story as Sharp as a Knife come from.

Moving North and West up the coast, past Juneau and Skagway in the Alaska panhandle, past the ginormous Kluane icecap, the next red rectangle shows Prince William Sound, which was also full of Orcas until Exxon spilled more than 10 million gallons of crude oil into it (oil from Prudhoe Bay, which is shown by a red rectangle on Alaska’s Northern coast, runs by pipeline to Prince William Sound because the “city” (pop. 4000) of Valdez in P.W.S. is the northernmost port on the West Coast that remains ice-free all year long). The oil didn’t directly affect the orcas very much, but it did kill off lower animals on the food chain, so the orcas don’t bother looking for food in Prince William Sound for the time being. The ecosystem is slowly returning to its pre-spill state.

The red rectangle West of Prince William Sound shows the Harding Icefield, which is shown in a more detailed image below, with the locations of my previous photographs pointed out on it.

The red X just north of the Harding Icefield shows where Anchorage is. The red oval due North of Anchorage shows where Denali (Mount McKinley) is. You can see a view of Denali from Anchorage in this earlier post. (Wasilla is a strip-malled pitstop on the road between them, about 25 miles Northeast of Anchorage as the crow flies.) The location of Fairbanks is shown by another red X Northeast of Denali. Now here’s the closeup of the Harding Icefield on the Kenai Peninsula South of Anchorage: Continue reading

Northwestern Glacier

In the distance, from further out in the fjord:

Northwestern Glacier is the biggie at the very end of the fjord, and I assume it did the most of all the glaciers I’ve shown to carve out Northwestern Fjord in the first place. It used to stretch out past where the photo was taken, but now it barely reaches to sea level. It also descends from the Harding Icefield, as do the other glaciers I’ve posted photos of so far. Here’s a closer view:

You can see the difference here between the glacier’s bluish tint and the pure white of the snowfields up on the peaks. After snow piles up enough to get compacted into the dense ice of a glacier, it absorbs most colors of the spectrum except blue, which gets refracted out, causing the blue appearance of the ice (but of course, if a glacier is itself covered with snow that hasn’t gotten compressed yet, then it looks white, not blue). Even a couple decades ago, this glacier was a single wall reaching down into the fjord, but as it has receded, the big granite chunk in the center has been exposed, so the ice now splits in two as it descends. Here’s a closer shot of the left half (the iceface at the bottom is perhaps 125-150 feet high):

You can see granite getting exposed at the base. In a few years, the ice may not make it to sea level at all. (But hey, if the oceans rise enough from global warming, then maybe the sea level will rise up to reach the glacier!) Here is the right flank of the glacier, where even more underlying rock is now exposed:

We were told that this glacier descends at about 2 to 10 feet per day. We saw some small pieces of it fall off, but no huge chunks. The little pieces of ice floating in the fjord all came off when these glaciers calved, but when a really dramatic calving occurs, the pieces are large enough to create waves that could capsize a boat it it’s too close. Here are some cropped pieces of the two photos immediately above, which give a better sense of the strange character of the ice:

Northwestern Glacier, Northwestern Fjord, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

Circumstantial evidence

It’s a bit hard to tell that you’re looking at a humpback whale here, but here’s the circumstantial case:

1) The faint plume of moisture hanging above something dark on the water’s surface — thar she blew!

2) The gulls circling above, hoping for a handout

Resurrection Bay, Alaska

After we saw the flukes, the captain of our boat told us he recognized her markings and that she’s been named Tanya by the people who study the whales around there. As far as I know, the puffins bobbing in the foreground are just bystanders — I don’t think they follow the whales around like gulls do.

Little peaks, by Alaskan standards

Some nameless — at least for me — mountains in Chugach State Park, Anchorage, Alaska