Saturday, June 23, 2007

A few more glacier bay photos. Here we're up at the head of Tarr Inlet, looking at the Margerie glacier:

This is a meltwater stream that runs underneath the glacier. When it hits the salt water, it's so much less dense, because it's fresh, that it boils to the surface. Due to the miracle of stop-action photography, it just looks like a kind of frizzy sponge to the right where the glacier meets the water, but you can get the general idea. The seagulls that are flocking around this upwelling are there because the upwelling brings up critters from below - it's a shrimp buffet for the seagulls.

This is the Melburn glacier, which dumps out at the top of the same inlet as the Margerie glacier. Notice the slightly darker color. Dunno why this is - I sort of suspect that this glacier is receding and the other one isn't, or maybe it's just that the other one is moving a lot faster.

The water is this color throughout the park. The photo doesn't really do it justice - it frankly looks like it had to have been airbrushed on. There's no way anything natural could ever be such a perfect color.

We're now heading due west on open ocean across the Gulf of Alaska on our way to Prince William Sound and College Fjord, making full speed, which is something like 23 knots, or about 26.5 mph. This is the first time we've had no land in sight to the port or starboard on the whole trip. Fortunately, at least so far the ocean is very gentle. We actually had much more exciting swells on Wednesday night.

The quality of light in the summer at night is amazing. It's a kind of light you very rarely see further south, because it's basically twilight from 10:30 at night until 4am, when the sun rises. So you can really see quite clearly, but it's very very dark - it's only because the human eye has such amazing range that you can see anything.

But what you see above is blue sky peeking through dark cloud. Land masses show up clearly delineated, but so dark that they're nearly black. It's really eerily beautiful. It has a bit of the feel of a dark charcoal drawing of a nighttime scene in an old victorian book, except in color. The camera can't capture it because there isn't enough light - unlike the pictures I took at twilight on the way north from Ketchikan, when I tried to take a picture in this light it just came out black.

I spent a bit of time on the prow of the boat during the day today, just watching the ocean go by. It has much the same feel as being on the prow at night, but of course all the light changes everything. If it weren't for the snow everywhere, I would swear we were on the Mediterranean sea. The coldest it ever got today was at the head of Tarr Inlet when we went by the Margerie glacier, and that wasn't very challenging at all. When I shot the last picture above, it just felt warm and sunny on the deck, with a cool, gentle breeze to keep it comfortable.
Today we're in Glacier Bay National Park. It's very pretty. This is the first installment of pictures - there are more. This is the scene on the deck - people are out looking at glaciers, and the nice people from the ship are providing hot chocolate and booze (hope nobody goes over a railing into the 38-degree water!). The lady who's running this cart wanted to get a picture, so she asked another crewmember to take her picture. One of the passengers figured that they were a couple, and offered to take a picture of them together. She was *very* amused.

This is the bay, up near the Johns Hopkins glacier. The water is full of ice floes, but no really serious icebergs (although the park ranger called these icebergs nevertheless). If you look near the center of this shot, you can see two seals sunning themselves on an ice floe. It's really warm today - I'm sure this is the moral equivalent of a beach party. The area below the Johns Hopkins glacier is apparently the birthing grounds for the seals.

This is the Johns Hopkins glacier:

Sun-dappled snowfield above the Johns Hopkins glacier:

Looking back the way we came from the glacier:

One of the crew members spotted a seal off the ship. It surfaced several times around this ice floe, as far as I can tell mugging for our cameras.

The seal finally stopped playing coy and chased after the boat a bit:

I saw a seal toward the back of the boat playing. I don't know what it was doing, but it looked like it was just playing in the eddies. I guess cruise ships come in here every day, so the seals must be quite accustomed to their passage.

This is just an ice floe I thought had a particularly nice-looking underside. All fiddly, like one of Slartibartfast's fjords.

Thursday was Skagway. You might have noticed that I haven't been taking pictures of towns. Juneau is a pretty town, but it's not particularly remarkable - there's nothing as cool as the neighborhood by the creek on stilts in Ketchikan. Juneau is big enough that the area around the harbor is ignorable - probably p5% of the residences and businesses in Juneau are nowhere near the docks.

Skagway isn't like that. It has a year-round population of around 700 people, and most of town is within walking distance of the docks, although the Natural Foods store would be a bit of a hike. It seems like it would be a bit maddening to live there, because all of the downtown businesses are aimed at feeding off the tourist trade. There are real businesses there off the main strip, but the place is tiny, so the real businesses are, based on what I saw, which is probably not perfectly accurate, maybe 2% of the total for the town, and the rest of the town is tourist-oriented.

On the other hand, Skagway has a Thai restaurant. This was a really nice discovery - I was really tired of the food on the ship, so Andrea humored me and let us go to the Thai restaurant. It's on Fourth Street, most of a block away from the main drag, so it doesn't appear to get much tourist business. I suspect most of their business is tourists and boat workers, but what I mean is that it's not mobbed. Although they were doing a decent business when Andrea and I went in there. The Tom Kha Pak was really good.

We burnt out on taking photos on the train ride, so I don't have any pictures of the restaurant. But here are some from the train. Andrea had the camera in hand, and I saw a carpet of flowers, so I said "Look! Flowers!" and she pointed the camera and shot. It came out pretty nicely:

This is a lake at the very top of White pass. Supposedly it's 100 feet deep. Brrr. White Pass is one of two passes that the gold rush miners took to the Yukon. The other is Chilkoot Pass. This pass is considered the easy pass - to get up Chilkoot Pass, at one point you have to ascent about three thousand feet in less than two miles. The slope on this one is more gentle, but by no means easy.

This is the Trail of '98. It's as narrow as it seems. Imagine schlepping a ton of stuff along this trail. It's narrower than a typical sidewalk. One of the things that you get from reading accounts like Jack London's is just how rugged the terrain they were crossing is. My imagination conjured up pictures of rugged crags, fields of snow, steep cliffs and trails, but frankly seeing it in person, and seeing the easy trail, no less, is quite sobering. There isn't a word of exaggeration in these accounts - if anything, they fail to truly convey the hardship the miners undertook to get to the Yukon. The picture below is nearly to the pass - it must have been an amazing feeling to get to this point after perhaps a month on the trail.

This is at the top of the mountain. The train did not cross it. Which is fortunate, because I already had the willies from the exposure over Dead Horse Gulch.

But we did cross this one, and indeed the tracks we were on at this point were on a shored-up ledge on a sheer cliff face, although fortunately we couldn't see that that was what we were perched on.

Gratuitous shot of Andrea, in the cabin.

On Wednesday we were in Juneau. Juneau was kind of a weird experience for me, because it reminded me so much of the area where I grew up. If it weren't surrounded by glaciers on one side and a channel of the inside passage on the other, it would feel a lot like Greenfield, Massachusetts. No kidding.

Here are some example of vegetation from the beginning fo the bike ride I did in Juneau:

These were shot on the University of Alaska campus. You could find virtually identical shrubbery in Northfield. They even have skunk cabbage. It's kind of weird. The bike trip was called the Bike&Brew tour. I wasn't interested in the brew part, but I thought a bike ride, even a guided bike ride, would really hit the spot. I was right.

Apparently since the seventies it's been the law that if you build a new road in Alaska, there has to be a bike lane. So there are tons of bike lanes, and bike paths, and they're actually really nice. The longest distance from Juneau that you can get on a road is 40 miles, so there is really nowhere in Juneau that you can't get on a bicycle. Although I imagine you'd freeze your butt off trying to get out to the end of the road on a bicycle in the dead of winter.

We stopped for lunch on the south end of the lake that's at the base of the Mendenhall Glacier (I didn't ask what it was called). One of the tour guides shot a picture of me in my bicycle shirt, which shows off my potbelly quite nicely. There were firemen visiting the park. I love that Juneau, with a population that's probably less than Greenfield (50k) has fire trucks that say "Capitol City" on them. I mean, it's true - it just feels a little weird - I'm used to "Capitol City" being big and grimy with lots of tall buildings. I suspect the tallest building in Juneau is about six or seven stories.

I really like this rock - this is showing off the macro capabilities of our new camera, I guess. The patterns you see are grind patterns from the Mendenhall Glacier when it was covering more of the lake, probably during the Little Ice Age. You see a lot of mashed rock around the glaciers. Glacieti non carborundum, etc.

This is the ice field above the Mendenhall Glacier, and some lovely seracs at the lake below the glacier. The glacier calves directly into the lake, as you can see.

This is a little jetty that sticks out into the lake, covered in lupine:

And there's a babbling brook that runs along the roadside on the way to the parking lot. I didn't really get any shots of the prettiest part, where the brook had flooded its banks and was just flowing through the forest, but this is fairly pretty.

By the way, if you aren't drinker, and you go on the bike and brew, you might try to get a shuttle from the visitor's center at the Mendenhall Glacier (tip your guides off that you're going to do this so that they don't hunt for you for hours!). Or a cab. Cabs aren't cheap in Juneau, but I wound up having to sit around for about an hour or so after the bike ride because the brewery brews about nine different kinds of beers, and people wanted to try them. It's not a brewpub, so it's not like you can drink a glass of ice tea and have a garden burger with fries while you wait (this was the fantasy I'd built up prior to arrival at the brewery).

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Industrial geekery...

Oh, here's one more photo - this one is from Vancouver Harbor. I was particularly pleased with this one for reasons unknown, but didn't upload it yesterday because I was more focused on the Ketchikan pictures.

In case it's not obvious, the silos and the boat are separate structures. They just mash up nicely...

A few more pictures...

I'm desperately afraid of getting behind after yesterday...

This is a bald eagle that some sharp-eyed people in the lounge spotted while I was hanging out uploading the last batch of images. It's shot through a window - that's why the eagle has the funny halo.

Here are some waterfalls coming off the snowfields above Ketchikan:

Two different shots off the bow of the ship at about 10:00pm. The actual light level to my eye was about halfway between the two images. I don't know if I really captured the brooding, blustery quality of the evening - it was quite beautiful. There was a fairly substantial drizzle going on. I'm really enjoying these.

Our cabin steward left a fun surprise for us when he turned down the bed:

(Yes, the whole thing is ridiculous, but still, the elephant was sweet...)

I'm sitting in the internet cafe in Juneau now. Coffee is thin on the ground here. I'll probably go hunting for some shortly. There's a lady sitting next to me at a pay phone speaking staccato Russian. It sounds a little like Italian, the way she's pronouncing it, but it's pretty clearly Russian. Except: "super super."

The floor is swaying rhythmically. I noticed this in Ketchikan, too. Very weird. I think Alaska must be on gimbals or something... :')

Life on the boat has been fun. I would probably never seek out a cruise on my own, for a wide variety of reasons - lack of vegetarian food is a bit hard, the coffee is terrible. The service is weird - we have a cabin steward who makes towel elephants for us, so our room is invaded twice a day, which I really don't like, although my sisters-in-law think I'm crazy, and Andrea does too, and it seems a bit churlish to complain about it.

But I understand why there is such a nostalgia for ocean travel in our culture. The ocean really is spookily, powerfully beautiful at night. The throbbing of the engine sounds like a heartbeat. Even the rocking of the boat is seductive. Watching the world go by at 23mph for hours at a time is surprisingly pleasant. And people on the boat smile at each other a lot, which you don't see so much in the outside world.

On a completely different note...

We're in Ketchikan right now. I'm sitting in the ship, looking out on this:

I'm going to just dump a bunch of images, per my dad's request. I might actually say something later. Here's a closeup of the view from where I'm sitting:

Internet on the ship is by satellite, and hideously expensive, so I've been enjoying the high-speed connection here, which is emanating from this lovely establishment:

I took a walk when we got onshore. The rain started to get a little gnarly, but I stuck it out because it was nice to walk on land after a day and a half at sea. This is what the ship looks like from across the harbor:

The Ketchikan federal building:

Looking the other way from the federal building. Despite the rain, the place is swarming with tourists - there are three large cruise ships docked at Ketchikan right now.

The inside passage appears to be a lot like a submerged mountain range. The mountains that rise up from the shore rise up quickly, so there isn't a lot of flat land. Apparently one way the folks who built Ketchikan adjusted for this was to build houses on stilts. There's a lot of that here, but this is probably the most picturesque section.

We went through a narrow section at dinnertime yesterday. I didn't get any shots inside the narrows because we were pretty much trapped in the dining room (things are pretty regimented here in terms of when you have to arrive at the dining room). The following set of pictures were all shot within about fifteen minutes, at the narrows.

Andrea, looking very intrepid:

And showing off her blanket-whisperer abilities by talking her shawl into being a hoodie:

Looking back at the narrows:

Some fairly obvious damage that I think is the result of logging:

A really pretty wake:

A nice glacier-carved valley (glacier not included):

Sunset off the prow:

Purple Mountains' Majesty:

A cloud that aspires to be a duck (or maybe an SR-71):

Another gratuitous sunset:

Leaving the Cruise Ship terminal in Vancouver:

The terminal becomes fully visible:

Container ship loading in the harbor:

Closeup of container ship. Notice the giant steel girders toward the bottom:

This Chevron station was visible from my hotel room when I was in Vancouver for IETF. Mostly amphibious aircraft fuel up here - one takes off every half hour or so.

The Lion's Gate Bridge:

Giant pile of sulphur:

Looking back at Vancouver:

Under the Lion's Gate Bridge:

Bike path under the bridge:

Log jam on the bike path: