A Road Trip – Death Valley, Part 1

We shoveled the snow and endured the cold rain and decided it was time to take a road trip Down South (which is how Alaskans refer to anywhere in the Lower 48). We visited Death Valley a few years ago and loved it, so we decided to go back and enjoy it some more…

Located in the southeastern part of California and along the Nevada border, Death Valley advertises itself as the hottest, driest and lowest national park in the U.S. Despite the forbidding name, it’s a sensational place full of mind-blowing shapes and formations, soft pastel colors, craters, sand dunes, curious canyons, a small rare fish that lives in hot salty water, and other forms of life below sea level in the middle of the desert. Death Valley is also a Dark Sky park – known for having almost no light pollution to disturb star gazing.

The nights were pleasant for star gazing, and we lucked out and had no moonlight for a few days so we could see the milky way. The days were in the mid 70s, though we had three afternoons that hit 90 – a little toasty, but we shouldn’t complain after the cold winter we’ve had. The trick is to find narrow canyons to hike when it’s hot in the afternoons, so there’s plenty of shade.

It’s quite a “chariot ride” to drive to Death Valley, climbing up steep grades up to 5000′ or more, then down the steeps into a vast flat valley – Panamint Valley… then up the mountains on the other side, and down again to make an almost straight drop into Death Valley. Whew!

We started with an exploration of a more remote part of the park’s western side – Emigrant Canyon. It’s an area where individuals used to mine for gold, lead and silver, and there were once two small towns in the region. It’s a very different from the rest of the park and not very well visited except by wild burros.

The tiny homestead in the photo below was occupied and mined by a man for about 40 years – can you imagine living and working (mostly) alone in this place for that long?

What amazes me is that explorers and entrepreneurs knew how to find these minerals, and were willing to scour the harsh landscape to look for them.

Miles past this area we found a set of 10 charcoal kilns in Wildrose Canyon. Each of these 25′ high kilns were built in the 1870s to produce charcoal from local trees (which were plentiful in that particular area) for smelting lead and silver. Sadly, they were only used for just a few years. It’s a long way to drive to find them, but it was worth it!

We finished up our first day by hiking up Mosaic Canyon, with its smooth walls of dolomite to scramble up and slide down.

I just fell in love with the pastel colors in the rocks, particularly the soft greens. The landscape is so otherworldly – appropriate since some scenes in the original Star Wars movies were filmed here. It’s easy to let your imagination see all kinds of exotic science fiction settings among the formations.

We tried a new hike – up Titus Canyon. Tall vertical walls and a narrow pathway made us feel so small… and then we bent our minds trying to imagine the forces that created the canyon and the conglomerate rocks in it.

Oh, there’s lots more to show you in Death Valley – stay tuned.

More Bears and Birds

Yep – I’m going to continue to bore you with my favorite critters: bears and birds (but mostly bears).

Grass still makes for a good snack when you’re waiting for the tide to bring more fish into the creek…

…until you hear some splashing and make a dash for the sound…

But sometimes it just pays to sit and be patient.

Keep an eye on those ravens – they will work together to try and steal some of your fish!

There’s other competition in the creek, but at least the heron can’t manage to swallow a nice big salmon.

Why catch your own when you might steal someone else’s fish?

Or chill out while you wait for Mom to catch one for you…

…and snack on some grass.

At least the bears provide some entertainment for the kittiwake!

It’s just another day at Pack Creek!

Pretend It’s Still Summer

We’re in that ugly phase of Winter, when the landscape is just rather dreary and we’re waiting not-so-patiently for Spring. There just hasn’t been that much to photograph – the trails are soggy and boggy, wooden boardwalks are wet and slippery, and we either want the kind of snow we can go play in, or we want flowers to burst forth. I got so far behind on editing photos from the Summer, that I’ve decided to relive a bit of it and share some scenes from August.

Ice from the Sawyer Glaciers at the head of Tracy Arm tends to be intensely blue… sometimes it’s the only real color on a monochrome, overcast day. The tide moves these big icebergs around, and if they’re lucky they will escape through the narrow cut between the shallow bars are the entrance to the Arm and float around in the passages, like this one.

We had to hide in an anchorage for a week while nasty storms blew, waiting for a break so we could head up to Pack Creek to see bears. Yes, more bears. There will never be enough bears for me. Good thing Jim enjoys them too!

Nap interrupted

The fishing was slowing down as the season progressed, but a few bears were still out in the creek as the incoming tide brought more fish up the creek.

Standing gives a better angle of view, helping to spot those tasty salmon!

This pair of second year cubs decided it was easier to try and steal someone else’s fish than chase after their own. At this point in their lives they should be less dependent, but these two were quite the opportunists.

Although the fishing action was pretty far from us, the deer strolling by were almost close enough to touch.

Fawn, still with spots

Anywhere there are fish (pretty much everywhere!) there will be eagles, like this young one…

…and this kingfisher that hung out on the bow rails of the boat for a while. I love their beautiful coloring and expressive, spiky head feathers.

Proof of Life

Once again, the Blog has been neglected – we get busy, and there hasn’t been as much to photograph for a while. I’ve started receiving emails from friends asking for “proof of life” since the Blog appeared to be dormant. Rest assured, we are well… just a little overwhelmed by a long stretch of difficult weather.

First, it started snowing just after Thanksgiving, and it didn’t stop until about mid-January. The snow piles got pretty big… and we were pretty exhausted.

We had single digit temperatures for weeks – which is very unusual for here. The snow was so deep and so light and fluffy that my attempts to snow shoe were a little scary – it wouldn’t have mattered how big the shoes were. I stuck to some packed areas where snowmobiles had been running. Still, the view of the Coastal Mountains and Frederick Sound are worth it, and nothing makes me happier than being outside.

The super cold temperatures gave us some pretty frost formations – everywhere I turned there was something different.

For about six weeks, we moved snow around every single day – which left little time to get out and photograph. When the snow finally stopped, it warmed up to almost 40 degrees F and started to rain, creating a thick layer of ice underneath everything. After a few weeks of that, the snow piles are shrinking, a few optimistic plants think that Spring may be in the offing, and we can finally venture out on foot without fear of slipping on the ice. Winter isn’t over yet, but we’re long overdue for a break from the worst of it and it’s good to be outside without a shovel in hand.

People wonder why we want to live here, and this Winter has certainly been less fun than usual, but it is so breathtakingly beautiful… we can’t resist!

Enjoy this little one-minute drone video showing a little of Winter’s beauty from the water.