Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Powered by Rollyo

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Monday, August 13, 2007

Trip to Alaska

Back in July, my wife and I traveled to Alaska and were impressed by the immensity of the landscape, wildlife and the beautiful scenery. Our trip began in Seattle WA where we stopped off for a couple of days to visit relative and get acclimated to the time zone shift. From there, we flew to Anchorage AK to spend the night in preparation for our train ride the next day to Denali National Park. ( Photo - Mt Ranier south of Seattle WA )

We rode the Alaska RR for 7 hours ( 223 miles) to the Denali RR station just outside the park. The train ride was great. It was comfortable, quiet and the scenery quite amazing. From our coach car, we were able to see the changing landscape as we traveled further north. Our car also had a porch off of the back of the car so that you could go outside and take pictures without the glare of the observation windows. There was a brief stop in Talkeenta AK - a small town about halfway on the journey. This town was the inspiration for the 1980's TV show "Northern Exposure". We did see some moose alongside of the tracks, but that was it as far as wildlife was concerned on this leg of the trip.

(To the left is the engine of the Alaska RR train)

We arrived in Denali in the afternoon just missing our bus ride to our final destination. So, we had reserved lodging for the night at McKinley Chalet Resorts just north of the park entrance. Since the sun does not set until 11 PM, we decided that we would take a rafting trip down the Nenanna River. The section of the river we were on was only a Class II and III rapids, so no one was tossed too much.

The next afternoon, we went back to the RR depot to await our bus to take is to our final destination inside the Park - Kantishna. Kantishna was an old gold mining camp back in the early 1900's and was in operation until the 1960's. It was closed to mining at that time because the Federal government turned the area into a National Park. The owners were able to keep the land but could not mine on it. So, they turned it into a lodging area.

The only way to get to Kantishna is by commercial bus ( a glorified school bus). Personal vehicles are only allowed a few miles into the park. This to keep the impact on the wildlife and the environment to a minimum. Kantishna is located about 90 miles from the park entrance. This leg of the trip would last 7 hours as we traversed a winding, narrow, gravel road. We would stop 3 times along the way for rest stops and the bus would stop if wildlife was spotted in the hills, valleys and mountains. Our bus driver was a woman from New Zealand who has been working at Kantishna for 20 years. She was knowledgable about the area, wildlife and history of the Park. She talked almost non-stop for the 7 hour trip. She was excellent at spotting wildlife no matter where it was even as she was navigating the sinuous road.

I was able to get some terrrific photos of the panoramas and some of the wildlife although those shots were not very good. Even though the bus stopped for wildlife sightings, we could not get off the bus to take pictures. So, the sight lines were very limited and the shooting positions very cramped with a telephoto lens. Also, the sheep, moose, and caribou were much too far away from us to yield a good picture. The opportunities were better on the trip back.

(Photo above - remnants of a glacier viewed from the road to Kantishna)

We arrived at Kantishna in the evening ( 8:30 PM) but given that the sun sets very late it still felt like early evening. We stayed in a log cabin that was well accommodated with a full bath and two double beds, but no TV, radio or telephones. No cell service since you are well inside the Park.

By the way, Denali National Park is the size of the state of Massachusetts. The park is huge !!!!

While in Kantishna, we were able to to take hikes around the area. We took a hike starting just a little north of our lodging and it was about 3 miles in total. They provide 3 very good meals each day and beautiful surroundings to enjoy. There was a small creek beside the camp where you could fish if you wanted to. Also, they provided a flight seeing trip to the area around Mount McKinley - for an extra charge. Since we could not see Mount McKinley from the ground we decided to take the flight. It was very exhilarating to see the mountains from that perspective and be able to take decent pictures.

Here are a couple of those pictures.

( Some pictures of peaks near Mt McKinley)

After spending 3 days in Kantishna, it was time to return to the Park entrance and our train ride back to Anchorage. So, bright and early at 5:30 AM we were up and packing up for the long bus ride back to the Denali RR depot. Along the way, we saw bears, sheep, caribou and moose. This time they were closer to the road, so I was able to get some better shots.

After being dropped off at the Denali station, we boarded our train to make the long train ride back to Anchorage. So, we did not get into Anchorage until 8:30 PM. We stayed there overnight, picked up a rental car for our drive the next day to Seward AK about 120 miles south of Anchorage. Along the way to Seward, we stopped off at Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood. We took the tram to the top of the mountain and that is where I took these pictures.

From Alyeska, we continued south to the town of Seward AK. Seward is a small seaport about 120 miles south of Anchorage. It is an ice-free port which means that it can handle shipping year-round and is a vital link to the outside world during the long winter.

We took an 8 hour cruise from Seward south to the Kenai Fjords National Park. Along the way we saw lots of wildlife ( bald eagles, sea otters, sea lions, whales, seals, black bears and puffins). We were also able to get up close to a glacier and hear it move and calve into the Gulf of Alaska.

The next day ( our last full day in Alaska) we drove out of Seward to the sight of several bald eagles. We stopped off at Girdwood for lunch and proceeded north driving along side the Alaska RR line. The scenery was fantastic as we drove along the coast and enjoyed the panoramas one last time.

We left Anchorage at 2:30 AM in order to make our flight back to Seattle so that we could connect for flight back to Baltimore. We arrived in Baltimore around 8 PM EDT. So, we spent 16 hours traveling on that last day.

Without a doubt, this vacation was one of the best we've been on to date. I still think that the trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons was the best and hope to go back there. However, Alaska cannot be beat for its large vistas and tremendous unparalleled wildlife viewings. Next time, it will be Katmai National Park.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Photography and technology

Being a photographer for the past 35 years, I have seen the art form change drastically. When I started out there were very few choices as far as film was concerned. You either shot print or slide film and the choices within those categories were limited to 4 or 5 different film speeds. Any adjustments to the image was done in the darkroom either by you (if you were able to build a darkroom in your home) or the photofinisher. Almost everyone had their images printed by someone else and usually had to wait days for their prints.

Now, you have a 180 degree shift. The choice now is between film or digital with digital overtaking film for the casual and the professional photographer. The digital format has evolved to the point where it competes on an even footing with film although there are some professional photographers who still swear by film, especially slide film. The digital cameras have also evolved over the past 5 years to the point that they are more reliable and not as power hungry. The digital sensors ( where the image is actually recorded) have become more film like over the past few years. Plus, you can print you own picture whenever you want to and make image adjustments that were only possible in a darkroom.

I have owned 8 or 9 film cameras over the years and just over the past 3 have I purchased digital cameras for my own use as well as using them for my wedding photography. I was certainly intrigued with the digital format when I was first introduced to it back in 2002. However, the cost was prohibitive, batteries not powerful enough and the images not as good as film. That has changed significantly since then and I now only shoot in the digital format. I have found that the digital format offers a lot of side benefits. You can use the storage cards over and over which means no film purchases. Going through airport security is easier in that I do not have to worry about the film being ruined by the security x-ray equipment. Also, I do not have to worry about running out of film.


In 2006, my wife and I traveled to Yosemite National Park outside of Fresno, California. Photography is one of my hobbies and this park offered the opportunity to take some great pictures. The park is located about 3 hours east of Fresno and is part of a basalt granite deposit that was carved by glaciers thousands of years ago. Also located within the park are some spectacular waterfalls ( Upper Yosemite, Lower Yosemite and Bridalveil to name a few).

The upper picture is a view of Upper Yosemite Falls. The water that is coming over the falls is being fed by snow and ice melt from the previous winter traveling down the mountains to this point. Since the Yosemite area enjoyed an overabundance of snow fall in the winter of 2005-06 the flow of the falls was spectacular. By the Fall of the year, the flow is a trickle.

The lower picture include here is looking down Yosemite Valley from an overlook called Tunnel View. On the right is Bridalveil Falls and in the center background is Half Dome - a very tall granite dome that was split in half by an earthquake thousands of years ago.

These picture were taken in June 2006.