The Saying Really Is True

30 07 2009

There’s a line about Whittier, AK that goes something like this: It’s always sh—ier in Whittier.  (I’ll let you fill in the blanks.)

But guess what?  It’s true!  Michele got the opportunity to visit crazy Whittier (located about 75 miles southeast of Anchorage) during the winter a couple years ago.  All she could talk about was how creepy it was and how it would make a great set for a horror movie.  Of course, I have wanted to check this place out ever since.

As you may know, the only way in or out of Juneau is by plane or boat.  But we’ve got nothing on Whittier.  The only way in or out of Whitter is through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel.  That’s right, a tunnel.

During World War II, soldiers coming to Alaska would enter at the port at Whittier.  The tunnel was built through Maynard Mountain so a train could take the troops wherever they were stationed.  Hence, there is also a huge abandoned military building in the town, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

In 1998, a project began to convert the tunnel into a combination rail and car tunnel.  At 2.5 miles, it’s the longest rail/car tunnel in North America and second longest highway tunnel in North America.  The tunnel is only wide enough for one row of cars, so it opens going eastbound for about 20 minutes, then westbound for 20 minutes.  However, in the winter the tunnel is open far less often.  Michele learned (not the hard way) that if you miss the opening for the tunnel in the winter, you are stuck overnight in Whittier until it opens again the next day.

Here’s what the tunnel looks like from the outside…



I must admit – driving through that tunnel is pretty creepy.  We did not actually take the photo below of inside the tunnel (no way I was slowing down enough for this good of a shot), but I found it online and it will give you a good idea of how it looks…


If you notice, there are rock walls on the side, and there’s always the sound of water dripping.  Michele did manage to take a few shots while we were in the tunnel.  And thankfully, the strobe light was not flashing…



Once you emerge from the tunnel, the fun is just beginning.  The town of Whittier only has 182 year-round residents.  The two highlights are Begich Towers and the Buckner Building.  Begich Towers are featured below…


In this apartment complex is where all of Whittier happens.  Almost all of the residents live in this building.  Called “the city under one roof,” this is also where you will find the post office, city hall, the mayor’s office, etc.  And the local school is about 20 feet behind the building.

But the best building for photography in Whittier is the Buckner Building.  This building was built for military purposes about 60 years ago, and has been abandoned for quite some time.  I read that it is actually not cost-effective to demolish the place due to the hassles of getting all the pieces of the premises.  Hence, it’s now apparently a hangout for kids up to no good and bears.  And of course, if our horror movie ever did occur, most of the action would take place in this building.


Imagine living in a town where there are two huge buildings in all of the town… and this is one of them.  Yikes.  But don’t worry, I took some close-ups.





I thought this one below turned out really well.  The place was covered in graffiti, as you might expect.  But this seemed the most appropriate…


And this photo turned out really well.  If you look through the open window frames of the Buckner Building, you can see the Begich Towers in the background.


In taking the photo below, I nearly wet myself.  I wanted to get this shot of the Pepsi sign with the run down building in the background – namely for Matt and Ronnie Dukes’ enjoyment.  But while I was standing near the building trying to take the photo, some guy pops the door open and asks if I need some help.  I don’t know that I replied in clear English.  Needless to say, I snapped this quick and sprinted back to the car.


Now, if anyone sees any ghosts or scary creatures in any of these photos, please let us know.  We have not found any, but that would be pretty awesome.

But we’ll end this post on a less creepy note, as there is a slightly cool glacier just outside of Whittier – the Portage Glacier.  Here are a couple photos of that…




Live In The Now

29 07 2009

Time for some whales and some Barkley.  Here are a few quick ones.  The whale shots are from our trip out fishing with Joe last week.  We saw a whale playing for about 10 minutes, slapping its fin over and over into the water making a splash.  The whale then decided to finish off the show by breaching, which was amazing to see.  The splash from it was enormous.  Unfortunately, we were moving in the boat when all this occurred and did not get any photos.  But our eyes were thankful.

The one with Barkley and Michele is from our weekend jaunt to the glacier and hatchery.





Valley of 10,000 Smokes

29 07 2009

I won’t waste your time going into too many details about the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, but I will offer a quick overview.  We were not aware of this until our trip, but the eruption of Novarupta in Alaska in 1912 was the biggest volcanic event of the 20th century.  On our second day in Katmai, we took a bus tour to the valley that took about 40 minutes to get to.

You can read the full details on the valley and the explosion by clicking here and here.  The eruption covered everything in ash for hundreds of miles and could actually be heard as far away as Juneau.  Since it happened in the middle of nowhere, there actually weren’t any fatalities in the explosion.

The reason it was named the Valley of 10,000 Smokes is that when the first guy go to the site, Robert Griggs, it was all still smoking.  He thought the smoke was occurring due to a Yellowstone type phenomenon of magma just under the surface.  This was not the case.  Mainly, it was just rain having fallen on the ash that was causing the smoke.  Hence, there are very few of the 10,000 smokes still remaining.  (“Well that’s no good,” commented The Marlboro Man.)

On to the photos.

Our ranger/guide for the trip just so happened to be… Daniel Farraday.


For those of you who don’t watch “Lost,” don’t worry about the connection.  In actuality, his name was Mike and he was a pretty cool guy.  But for those of you who are familiar with Farraday, he acted eerily similar to the Lost physicist.  But our trip took the legit amount of time, no loops or anything.

The bus dropped us off at an overlook with a little visitor’s center.  Here’s the view from there, with Michele giving you an idea of how huge the valley is.



While that all looks like sand down there or rock, it’s all ash (except for the river cutting through the ash, of course).  After a quick lunch and discussion about the volcano, we took a 1.5 mile hike down near the bottom of the valley.  The river you see in the above photo ends in a pretty powerful waterfall.  So, we all threw on our mosquito nets and ventured out.


Well, we didn’t all throw on our mosquito net hats.  Just this one odd dude.

The walk down provided for some interesting plant and flower viewing.  With all the ash, much of the greenery had not grown back yet.  But every now and then, you’d see a pretty cool site, like this little flower in the middle of all the dust…


Once we reached the bottom of our hike, it was a rather amazing scene.  The waterfall really was bringing it, though it was more like rapids than an actual waterfall.  Here’s Michele’s reaction first seeing the rapids…


I took a little more of a laid back approach…


And here’s a photo from a distance and then up close of the rapids (minus any humans)…



And of course, we weren’t there 10 minutes before Michele got too close to the edge and this happened…


Our hope was that if Michele did happen to fall, she would at least land in this calm spot where water gather for a moment before being shot back into the rapids…


From the bottom of the valley, you could really appreciate how dense  and how high the ash really was.  Here’s two of me in front of the mound of ash…



It really reminded us of our trip through New Mexico, as the colors and formations were all very similar to the southwest.   And here’s a photo a lady took for us with the rapids and the hills behind us…


And finally, for my grand finale.  It’s not any great work of photography, but just something we realized while we were down there.  These mounds of ash looked amazingly similar to… the Mendenhall Glacier.  The formations were nearly identical.  Don’t believe me?  Check out these photos, all taken by us at some point…

glaciercompare1 glaciercompare3

IMG_6491 IMG_4328

mpfalls IMG_5453

Well, I hope you enjoyed your virtual tour of the Valley of 10,000 Smokes.  I’m not sure what’s next for the blog.  Maybe Seward?

A Short Interlude

28 07 2009

We’re going to take a quick break from our vacation photos to show you a few we took this weekend (photos with people in them are coming later today, I promise!).  Basically, this post is for any of our visitors who have come up and gone to the salmon hatchery when there were no fish in it.  In Juneau, about 5 minutes from our house, there is a salmon hatchery where they work to improve the reproduction of the salmon.  We often take our visitors to check it out, only there don’t seem to be any fish in it.  Well, there’s a run of chum going on right now (and a few kings) and the fish ladder was packed.

Basically, the hatchery has built this fish ladder (which you can read more about here) that tries to recreate the upstream feel for the salmon going to spawn.  Here’s what it looks like…


I have dreams of one day building a fish ladder bridge somewhere on the Kenai peninsula.  Man that will be awesome.  And here’s a closer look at all the fish in the water…


The salmon all fight their way up to the top.  Ocassionally, some get antsy and start jumping out of the water…



For some of the salmon, it takes them just a few hours to maneuver the entire ladder, and some it takes many days.  Of course, all they are fighting to do is get to the top to spawn – which then leads to them dying.  So I guess taking your time getting up the ladder is not the worst thing in the world.

Once they get to the top of the ladder, they chill out in these holding tanks until workers from the hatchery get to them to inspect their eggs and whatnot.  If the salmon are mature enough, they keep them and make the spawning process occur.  If not, the salmon gets dumped back into the water to start all over again.  Here’s all the salmon in the holding tank…


And finally, I took a quick video so I could ensure getting a few of the jumpers on film.  It’s pretty cool.  And please try to ignore some idiots car alarm going off.  It was not us – but it is pretty annoying the background.  Just try to enjoy the salmon…

Close Encounters

24 07 2009

I have gotten a few emails from people wondering exactly how close we were to the bears.  For the most part, the ones near the falls were about 20-25 yards from the platform.  However, a few crept awfully close to that platform – and allowed us to get some pretty absurd close-up shots.



Here’s one we got of a stand-off/pushing match between two bears just behind the platform.  This is the only encounter that made me slightly nervous.  These two were bumping chests (and not in a celebratory way) about 8 feet from us.


And this is a cool sequence of one of the bears eating.  Some would take their catch and hide from the others to eat in peace.  This guy decided to come right behind the platform and chow down.  You can actually see the blood from the salmon in his mouth in the second one, the salmon pieces in the third, and this gutsy bird just behind him in the fourth.





And finally, here’s a close-up of the claws on the ultra-protective mother.


We’ll be back with more on Monday, but I think we’ll take a short break from the bears.  Believe it or not, we have some other great photos from the trip.  Will it be from our tour of the Valley of 10,000 Smokes (where the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century occurred)?  Or maybe some scenes from Whittier or Seward?

Check back to find out!

Following Up

23 07 2009

I realized yesterday that there was an entire set of photos I had somehow missed getting on-line last week.   And that set contained some our best photos – at least in my opinion.  Anyway, I’m not going to get into any major detail about any of these, but most of the pictures would have made it into previous posts had I not overlooked them.

The first two up are ridiculous.  Seriously, I am even impressed with us for having gotten these two pictures of salmon being caught by bears atop the falls.  I would say that getting photos like these is about 80% luck and 20% skill.  But one of the wonderful things about a digital camera is the ability to delete all the times we missed that perfect shot.  And that saves up room for taking ones like these.



After you have taken about 5 minutes to stare at those two (and also think on our greatness as photographers, of course), you can scroll on down for a few others that I think turned out quite well also.  I really like the action shots of a bear running through the water…


And here’s a good one to give you an idea of the number of bears you could see without even turning your head.  I count 7 in this photo, and I’m pretty sure there were two other up on the waterfall just to the left…


Here’s a guy posing with his catch.  Very nice of him to do so…


Here’s one of the guy’s in the jacuzzi area eating his catch immediately.  This one was not the big dog, though, because that guy always went to the beach for his chow…


This fella is eating his salmon right on top of the falls.  He knows that if he leaves that spot, the chances of his fish being taken from him increase dramatically…


And finally, just three huge bears hanging out, playing cards maybe…


The Cubbies

23 07 2009

One of our favorite viewing opportunities at Brooks Camp was watching the cubs with their moms. There were two different families that hung out near the falls – a mom with three cubs and one with two cubs. The mom with the three was definitely our favorite.

But, there were also a few other family groups that would cruise near the lake closer to the lodge.  We did not get to see these quite as much, but we did get a few good shots of them.

First up, it’s the mother with the three cubs.  She was brave enough to take her little ones up on top of the falls with her.  They did not get too close to the edge but instead hung back a safe distance.  Sometimes she would eat the fish she caught herself and not share, other times she would eat a little then let them have the rest.  Since the cubs were still nursing, the mother needed as much food as she could get.  It looked selfish sometimes when she kept a salmon all for herself, but it was a necessity.






See, I told you they get to eat sometimes…


And this was great – all three cubs napping right up against the mom…



Then there was another group of a mom and two cubs that stayed near the falls, but we were less fond of them.  The mom was extremely protective of her cubs, who were around 3 years old.  Most bears would have been on their own by then, but you know how parents of child stars can be.  I will give her credit, though, if another bear got within about 10 feet of her cubs – no matter what size – she went after it like a tornado of teeth and fingernails.



Here’s are shots of the mom watching her cubs from the edge of the water….



And here’s Michele watching the mom watch the cubs…


And here’s me watching cubs…


Fortunately, I remained enough feet away to not draw the wrath of mama cub.

And finally, here are a few we took of the bears near the lake and the platform near the bridge.  We did not observe these family groups quite as much, and they were hard to tell apart.  Though, the mom with the two cubs in this area was fantastic at fishing.  I think we saw her snag three or so in the 45 minutes we watched.

The first one is in my top 5 of photos we took.  I just think it turned out really well.