There’s More to the Kenai Peninsula …

Continuing on with Alaska experiences from 2015 … we find ourselves on the Kenai Peninsula, while returning from Homer and Katmai NP & Preserve.  For some reason, we sometimes don’t venture over to Seward, but this year we decided to do just that.  Of the 9 years visiting Alaska, this would be just the 3rd time to Seward.  Our first was wonderful … our 2nd was a big mistake – 4th of July weekend.  Crazy, crazy place that weekend.  What would our 3rd visit bring?

We stopped off along the way at the Bear Lake Wier to observe the salmon as they tried to return upstream for spawning.  It was quite fascinating to watch them jumping up the rushing falling waters.  I found myself quite mesmerized by their will to complete their cycle, all the while wondering if bears would come check them out with us.  🙂_DSC3181Our arrival into Seward was quite a beautiful one, though it was a bit late in the day already.  We toured the Seward Harbor, a place that makes me feel oddly at home, since I grew up in the midst of all types of boats.  Of course, the mountain backdrop brought it home promptly … we’re not in south Florida anymore!IMG_0996While touring around the docks, I noticed 2 sea otters playing and feeding in the marina and ran (OK, made Tom run) to get the camera.  They were having such a great time swimming around and feeding.  They seemed quite used to company of the human kind and put on a performance for us.DSC_9385DSC_9362DSC_9409We made tentative plans for the Kenai Fjords NP marine tour for the following day, since they were having pretty good wildlife sightings of recent.  But when the morning arrived, it wasn’t to be … it was raining quite a bit and we decided to move on out.IMG_1003-3Along the way, though the skies were rainy and overcast, the area was still beautiful, so we stopped along the way for various landscape shots.DSC_6890_DSC3215_DSC3230We left Seward and eventually the Kenai Peninsula and started our way towards Valdez.  One more thing that we found on the Kenai was Phil Kuntz.  I just love it when we get to meet photographer friends along the way.  Though we had never met in person before, I have long admired his photography work, so this was such a special treat.  We had planned to do more photography together, but sometimes life has other plans.  We did however, get to spend some quality time together and a darned good lunch.  If you don’t know of his work, treat yourself and check it out.IMG_0987-2As you can see we began to get a bit clearer skies and less rain likely.  On one of our stops for a quick snack, I was admiring the mountain views and I could hear a small bush plane flying by.  How beautiful it looked.IMG_1015As we made our way along the Glenn Highway – one of the prettiest stretches of road in Alaska – the overcast skies, low-lying clouds, and rain started up again.  See, though it’s beautiful to have the sunny days, much of Alaska is actually situated in the rain forest._DSC3243A favorite sighting along the Glenn is the Mantanuska Glacier.  We usually stop and go glacier hiking, or sometimes ice climbing, but this year we opted for neither due to the weather.  Sure is pretty either way though … the combination of that glacial blue ice and the beginnings of the fall colors._DSC3258The weather actually didn’t know what it wanted to do, as sometimes along the way, we got that sunny and clear sky._DSC3271Sometimes, the scattered clouds also appeared, which is always a landscape photographer’s dream come true.  As we began our approach through Thompson’s Pass, the Worthington Glacier appears on the horizon.  Also a wonderful place for glacier hiking and exploration of glacial features, as well as ice climbing._DSC3316_DSC3327Yes, the surrounding area between Thompson Pass and the town of Valdez is such a gorgeous area… no matter the season.  Berry picking was in full swing while we were there, but I was too busy shooting._DSC3356

Next up:  More from Valdez … featuring my new marine friends  🙂

© 2015  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

 

Ice Caves Anyone?

Valdez, AK has a lot to offer for the outdoors enthusiast and we ventured there this year with a particular item on our “To Do” list.  While we’ve gone sea kayaking in Alaska on a few of our trips, and also ventured out on glaciers for hiking and ice climbing, there was still something related to both of those activities that we had yet to do…. ice cave exploration on kayaks.  So while we were in Valdez, we did just that.

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We set out for the Valdez Glacier, aptly named as it is located near the town of Valdez.  Just a quick drive to our launch site, where before long, we were on our way on the icy waters filled with icebergs.

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For this trip, I was well equipped with my gear … 2 cameras, landscape lens, telephoto lens, and trusty iPhone.  I quickly informed Tom that though we were sharing a 2-man kayak, that he should be prepared to do the lion’s share of the paddling, as I would be shooting stills and video.  🙂

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We would let the others get ahead of us, so that we could stop as we needed, always being sure to keep them in sight.

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As we meandered through the beautiful iceberg formations, I could help but feel myself at total peace with this place and I couldn’t wait to get to the ice caves, not really being sure of how it would be.  We passed an area where the icebergs had trapped a pool of water within it and I desperately wanted to portage into its center, though I knew that it wasn’t possible.

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See, the glacial and iceberg formations are constantly changing from year to year, season to season, month to month, week to week, and even day to day.  Not to even mention what they say about the “tip of the iceberg” … and what lurks below.  It was so beautiful to even hear the ice crystal in the glacial features popping, the water dripping, the wind blowing.

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When we reached our first preliminary ice cave, I was taken back by the beautiful blue ice at its center.

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We were to paddle up to the formation, turn around, pose for a snapshot, and paddle out, but Tom had specific orders to pause for as long as we could so that I could take it all in.

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As we approached the terminus of the glacier, I could feel my excitement mounting and I was thinking about how fortunate we were to have such beautiful weather.

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Ice caves of different stages of development were seemingly everywhere.  Take a look at the amazing blue ice shining so brightly.  It was stunning to be in the midst of it all.

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Below is an image of the Valdez Glacier terminus and all of those “rocks and dirt” in the foreground are actually part of the moraine of the glacier and under it all is the actual glacial ice … on top is the earth which had been deposited on it as it made it way in its advancement stage.  Of course, very few glaciers are advancing today.  It always amazes me how this type of glacier almost appears to be a big driveway into parts unknown.

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We grounded our kayaks, secured them, and began our exploration of the actual glacier and some of its features found in this limited portion (think a speck on an elephant) of the Valdez Glacier.  Glacial pools were numerous, as were crevasses and moulins.  It was all so amazing.

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In an attempt to provide some perspective, I chose to take an image with some of the others in it.  This is one place you don’t want to lose concentration on, as it could turn dangerous, if not deadly, real quick.

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Not sure why I opted to keep my life vest on … possibly too cold … probably too lazy.  Haha!

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Of course, this guy decided to forego the glacier hike part of this tour and chose to catch some zzz’s instead.  I guess he didn’t want to take chances either, as he kept his life vest on as well … possibly for comfort … probably too lazy as well.  Guess the paddling was too strenuous for him.  I wouldn’t know, as Tom became “paddler Tom” for me.  :-).  OK, I admit, I’m a bit spoiled.

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After lunch and hiking, we returned to kayaking and were really treated to an amazing ice cave.  As we lined up to enter individually, I readied the gear.  After hearing the feedback from the kayaks ahead of us, I decided to take video on the way in and still images on the way out.  For the purpose of this blog, I changed the order of the images.

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As we entered the cave, we first had an obstacle of melting ice water falling all around us to go through.  All I can say was C-O-L-D!  Immediately I forgot the cold and my sense took a visual turn and all that I could say was …”OMG!” … I’m talking repeatedly!  Each turn inside the cave was followed by that OMG statement and since I was sitting in the front of the kayak, I always had that momentary sneak preview before Tom could catch his glimpse.

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Turn after turn, it just kept getting better.

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Do I look forward, to the left, to the right, behind, or overhead?  I had sensory overload and a touch of attention deficit going on at the same time.

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Natural water fountains flowed and others used it to fill up their water bottles but my hands and my mouth were way too busy to think of that while in there.

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The glacial blues were all around us, along with your standard icy looking surfaces.  I didn’t want to leave.  “Keep going” I kept telling Tom.

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At one point, Tom drove my head into the ice and I started to duck and I became aware that I didn’t want to tip this kayak too much … water was way too cold, of course ice was our only surrounding, and my gear couldn’t be jeopardized, as we still had another 11 days to our trip.

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Though I didn’t want to leave, I knew that we had to, so we carefully back out the way we came.  I wished I knew how far that cave went, but suffice it to say, it was a good distance.  Never once did I fear for my safety inside it, though clearly this was a precarious place to be should anything disastrous happen.

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All in all, it was a wonderful day doing that “something new” on what was actually our 6th wedding anniversary.  Very appropriate for the day.  🙂

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Can’t help but wonder where we’ll be on our 7th … I’m a lucky girl!

In the meanwhile, stay tuned for the next post:  The Denali Highway Adventure.

© TNWA Photography

 

 

 

Our Return to Valdez

Yes, the Kenai Peninsula can be a drizzly place, but so can the Glenn Highway on your way to Valdez.  This was my view for pretty much the entire 6 or so hour drive.  On the bright side, I didn’t make Tom pull over incessantly.

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As we reached the Richardson Highway and made our way over the Thompson Pass, a 2,805′ gap in the the Chugach Mountains, it was totally fogged over with limited visibility.  The pass is considered to be the “snowiest place in AK”, averaging 551.5″ of the white stuff annually.  In the winter of 1952-1953, a record 974.1″ was recorded.  The single day record was also achieved in 1955 with 62″ within a 24-hr period!

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On our way into town, we stopped off just outside at the salmon hatchery and were treated to views like this one.

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Here the Solomon Gulch Hatchery Fish Weir, seen below, is designed to harness the adult pink and coho salmon as they return to their spawning site and then die, completing their circle of life.  Here the salmon artificially spawn and the eggs are harvested with a goal of 230 million for just the pink salmon.  Each female salmon produces on average 1700 eggs and the harvesting yields 10-15 million per day (as their goal).  It’s really quite amazing to see.

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Part of the process is the fish ladders that the salmon must navigate on the way.  We would watch them and cheer them on as they put forth much effort to successfully reach their destination.

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All of this fish activity, of course, brings the birds …

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… the bald eagles also find their way there to get their share …

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… the seals also come to check it out …

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… and of course, the bears frequent the area for their easy meal.

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While we didn’t see bears at the hatchery this year, we were able to have a black bear come out to greet us.  Funny, we could see movement, but no bear.  Then all of a sudden I guess that it smelled us.  It got up from feeding on the grasses to check us out.

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To better ascertain as to what we were and what our intentions were the black bear began noticeably catch our scent.  See, bears have eyesight somewhat the same as a human, but their sense of smell are light years superior to ours.

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There were obviously a family of magpies living in the bushes and they made it quite known that they didn’t want that bear hanging around their home, as they officially escorted the bear out of the area.  LOL.  The bear looked so indignant as it moved on its way.

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We don’t get the opportunity to photograph many black bears, so it’s always a thrill for us when we do.

_DSC3942 The Duck Flats area along the Richardson Highway, just outside of Valdez, yields views such as this as you look towards Port Valdez.  The Trans-Alaska Pipeline terminus is directly on the other side.

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A few days later, when we were leaving Valdez, the skies started clearing up and the landscape which was earlier under the cloak of clouds emerged.

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One of the highlights when in the Valdez area is the Worthington Glacier, nicely viewed from the only road into town and accessible by foot, or I guess I should say crampons.  Viewing the glacier reminded me of a few years back when we took my daughter and now son-in-law to Valdez and enjoyed a day of glacial hiking, ice climbing, and whitewater rafting.

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Rainbows almost always abound in Alaska, so they’re usually part of everyone’s memories.

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Earlier this year, during the winter of 2013-2014, there was an epic avalanche through the canyon … called the “biggest avalanche ever seen” … which essentially took out the only road into Valdez and left its residents at risk for obtaining supplies and the subsequent flooding.  Most traces of that avalanche are now gone, but the wildlife seems to be less this year.

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Before we leave the area, I noticed the clouds were quite varied and interesting and I couldn’t help but snap a shot or two.

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Well, that’s it for now.  Our reason for travel to Valdez was also to explore the Valdez Glacier and its infamous ice caves via kayak, so we’re off to do that, but not before having a little bit of fun in town…  🙂

IMG_1994Stay tuned for the Valdez Glacier and our day touring the ice caves … Very cool!

© 2014 TNWA Photography