Saturday, September 6, 2008

Drip, sniffle, sneeze

By Friday morning, I had come down with a cold, so along with Dad's sinus infection, which still has him in misery, we are quite the pair. The ride back to Anchorage from Homer was uneventful. There were some periods in which sunlight lit up the mountains around us, but it was mostly overcast with periods of light rain.

At one point the two vehicles in front of us slowed almost to a stop. At the last second I saw the rear end of a black bear disappear into the brush alongside the road up ahead. Dad missed it, but earlier in the week saw a couple of eagles that I missed. I am not sure of the conversion factor, but perhaps one bear butt equals two eagles.

Today, given that we are both feeling relatively crappy, we will probably just kill time until our flight this evening. Perhaps we'll go down to the Botanical Gardens or sit in one of Anchorage's many parks for a while.

I am not looking forward to this long flight...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Sept 4, 2008: Unexpected images

The Augustine Volcano, shot from 75 miles away! There is a speck at around 2 o'clock that looks like it is probably a plane or helicopter (Double-click for an enlarged image).

CV Global Sentinel

The reason for this trip is actually to provide my father and me with time and a setting that would provide us with a good opportunity to share personal stuff with one another. In that regard, today was very successful. On the other hand, there was not much action on the secondary front, wildlife photography. My father was not feeling well enough for us to pursue a whale watching expedition today. We did see an eagle or two, but no photos. Nevertheless, there was a surprising, yet dramatic photo op that appeared suddenly this afternoon.

I walked out on the terrace behind my room late this afternoon to take in the view and saw something very strange on the Southwest horizon. Further inspection with binoculars and camera revealed a perfect conical shape, sitting by itself on the water line in the far distance, with "smoke" coming from its peak. It looked just like a volcano! Well, a minute or two of googling established the feature to be nothing other than an uninhabited, volcanic island called "Augustine" at the mouth of Cook Inlet, 75 miles from our hotel. It turns out that there is a chain of dozens of volcanos that make up the Aleutian archipelego and continue into the Alaskan mainland. Augustine is one of these volcanos, and has been active as recently as 2006. It is of particular concern in this area because when pieces of the island fall into the sea during seismic activity, they often cause tsunamis. Portions of Homer, the town in which I am currently sitting, are barely above sea level and would be washed clean within an hour of a large mountain fragment hitting the water.

Possibly related to the local volcanos, for the past 24 hours the cable-laying ship Global Sentinel has been slowly moving back and forth in the inlet near our position. I cannot find any information about her current activity on the web, but in 2007 she was used to install an array of seismic instruments and sensors on the ocean floor near San Francisco. It seems quite possible that she is doing something similar here in the Cook Inlet. Not that I know a whit about laying communication cables, but her pattern seems unlikely if she were just installing fiber-optic comm cable. At any rate, it has been interesting to watch.

Tomorrow we head back to Anchorage, a five to six hour drive. Hopefully, my father will be feeling significantly better.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sunlight peeks through

For the first time since we arrived in Alaska, we saw some sunshine today!
Today we left Seward and drove around to Homer on the other (North) side of the Kenai Peninsula. There was some sun and dry road for around an hour, but as we approached our destination, the temperature dropped 12 degrees or so (from a high of 61) and it started raining again. In fact, the visibility was even worse than in Seward. That was pretty much in keeping with my father's state of health. Since we got up here, he has increasingly bad nasal congestion, which he has been attributing to allergies. It has gotten very bad - to the point that he cannot breath through his nose and can barely hear. His trouble breathing makes it impossible for him to even get the few hours sleep that he normally gets. I was ready to pack it in and head home this morning, but he insisted that we continue to Homer, saying he would see a doctor there if it was no better. Well, it did not get any better, so we went directly to a local physician as soon as we got here. She spent a long time with him and diagnosed the problem as a an infection in his nasal passages. She gave him some a prescription and instructions, both of which had an immediate psychological, if not physical effect. We checked into the hotel and then went out to look around and find somewhere to eat. He is so tired that he could not stay awake for more than a couple of minutes at a time in the car. It is now a few hours later and we have some reason to be guardedly optimistic. For the moment he is able to breath through one nostril.
We will just have to wait and see how he feels tomorrow. It is quite possible that we will cut the trip short. In the meantime, the views out the back of our motel are simply incredible. The photo does not come close to showing the beauty of this spot. As you can see in the photo, the sun broke through here in Homer. Maybe it will be at least partly sunny tomorrow as well -- that would sure be nice.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sept. 2, 2008: Humpbacks, Stellar Sea Lions, Bald Eagles, Puffins, Mountain Goats

We started the day observing a bald eagle sitting on a stump just the other side of the road from our hotel. Over an hour later, when we had our cameras with us, he was still there, so we got some decent shots. Later we saw several more from the water, but we were nowhere near as close.
Today was our last chance to do a marine wildlife tour in Seward, so we did so, in spite of the weather (rainy and windy). Turned out that we ended up with "the best humpback sighting of the season," according to the crew on our tour boat. The final encounter was very close to the boat, as the larger of the two whales we were following sounded right next to us. She was so close that I could not get the whole scene with my telephoto zoomed in as it was (see close up photo of humpback's humped back)! We also saw a good assortment of other wildlife during the five hour trip, but mostly from inside the cabin. During the time the whales were nearby, the water was quite rough, it was raining, and the wind was blowing close to 50 mph. Outdoor photography would have required an underwater camera and safety straps! Anyway, I am certainly not complaining. In addition to the whales, we saw a large group of huge stellar sea lions resting on an improbable rocky hill protruding from the ocean, eagles (as mentioned above), many puffin, and a couple of mountain goats way up a sheer cliff.

Exit Glacier: Monday, Sept 1, 2008

Moose poop. Each nugget is about thumb-size:

Exit Galcier


The rain continues, but that didn't prevent us from having a pretty good day. After breakfast we drove up the road to Exit Glacier, the only glacier in Alaska that you can walk up to (well, within 30 feet or so). My father wasn't up for it, but I took advantage of a half-mile walk up toward the glacier led by a park ranger, who shared a good bit of information about the glacier, local floral, and local fauna, including more than you want to know about moose poop (see photo).

Once I dried out, we got some lunch and headed to the Alaska Sea Life Center, a small aquarium that focuses on -- you guessed it -- Alaskan sea life. There were very interesting and informative exhibits in addition to the important quality of it being primarily an indoor activity. I cheated a bit and took a couple of photos of incarcerated puffins. Cute little devils, though. We then headed down a previously unexplored road along the coast, carefully threading our way through the potholes. This turned out to be an excellent idea because we ran across a group of four sea otters that were within observation distance from shore. These guys are non-stop eating machines and didn't much mind being watched. Video of the action is here:

We had a moment of real excitement as we were returning to our room. Trotting along toward us in the middle of the road was what we both initially mistook for a timber wolf! Turned out to be a tallish sled dog, but it sure had us going there for a few seconds!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Anchorage to Seward, Aug 31, 2008

The thriving Seward commercial district

The small boat marina in Seward. There is a BIG boat, a Holland America cruise ship in the background.

Resurrection Bay

A loose piece of glacier, floating in the water near Girdwood

August 31, 2008: Cycling content after all!

Beluga Point on the Seward Hwy

Today we met one of my customers and his wife for breakfast. Both are delightful, interesting people and as a result both Dad and I had a very enjoyable morning. We returned to the hotel, finished loading the car and started our drive toward Seward under heavy, gray skies. We stopped briefly at Beluga Point on the Turnagain Arm to take a few photos. The wind was blowing at about 30 mph, which made the 52 degree temperature feel far colder. I asked a couple of bicycle tourists which direction they were headed. Luckily, the were headed downwind. Within a few minutes it started raining, and it has been raining, at least lightly, ever since.

Every so often we passed signs saying, "Caution - Bicycle Race", and soon we begain to pass cyclists wearing numbers, pushing along into the wind and rain. Apparently there was a road race today over the same 115 mile route that we were driving. To our surprise, the finish line was literally in the parking lot of our hotel just outside of Seward! This event was close to the complete cycling nightmare: extreme wind, temperatures hovering around 50 degrees, and almost constant rain over a very long, hilly course. I will say, however, that there was a decent shoulder almost the whole route. We saw nobody wearing rain gear, but quite a few wearing just shorts and a short-sleeve jersey! Amazing! I mean, it was COLD! Whenever we left the car, appropriately dressed, we hurried back to shelter as soon as we could; it was most uncomfortable out. Part of me envied the riders, but there is no way I would have been out there without good rain gear.

The rain was unfortunate because it limited our enjoyment of the scenery the photos hint at. I was hoping to take the Alyeska Tramway near Girdwood up into the mountains for a better view, but with such limited visibility, it would have been pointless. Hopefully the weather will be clear when we drive back up the highway on Friday. We didn't bother with any more stops and just continued straight to our hotel, The Seward Windsong Lodge, taking care to give the cyclists plenty of room so that we did not add to their misery.

After settling in, we went for a ride to look around Seward to find somewhere for an early dinner. Seward is a small town -- about half the population of my own little town of Clermont.
There is, however, an active waterfront area. The picture above shows the small boat marina. You can see a large Holland-America cruise ship in the background.
The photos also include a view of Resurrection Bay. You can make out the mountains across the bay.

We checked with a couple of the companies that run boats that do wildlife tours in the bay and area fjords. It was no surprise to learn that the tours were running alternate, less desirable routes today and tomorrow because of the weather. In order to get from the bay to the fjords, it is necessary to get out into the open water for a little while, but the waves are currently ten feet or better. None of the operators will go out there under those conditions. There is a chance that things will be better on Tuesday, so our plan at this point is to stay on land tomorrow and try for a full-day cruise the next day.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Not cycling, but worth sharing - Alaska Kenai 2008

August 30, 2008: Flying into Anchorage

My father and I have arrived in Anchorage after a long day of flying -- Orlando to Dallas (a bit over two hours), then Dallas to Anchorage (about six hours). Given that it is way late, this will be a short post, but I hope to have lots to share over the next week. We will be spending several days in Seward, which is on the south side of the Kenai Peninsula, then a couple of days in Homer on the north side. We expect to see and photograph lots of wildlife, from birds to whales.

As on my previous visit to Alaska with Kathy years ago, I was knocked out by the awesome nature of this place before we even touched down. This photo gives you a glimpse of what is visible for the last several hundred miles of the flight. Snow-covered mountains and glaciers as far as you can see. It is just incredible.