Photos from sea…

My last Alaska post makes me melancholy. It was so great to share and relive this trip through this blog!

I found, after all the destination images and text, there was a large cache of images that were just taken “at sea” while our ship cut through the multicolored waters – in and out of mist and fog and sunshine.  We traveled often during the crazy long daylight hours and the sunsets every evening were forever imprinted in our hearts.  Below are some of the amazing images we captured, although it should be noted that photos can never really capture the magic of the visions we were treated to.

First are photos of the incredible mountainous islands. There is much deforestation taking place, however all trees that are removed are replaced with new seedings giving the two very different shades of green. The trees that are being cut down look as though they are over 100′ tall with only about 20′ of branches on the top. The forests are so thick that nothing grows under the canopy. Logs are piled up and then shipped on the water by tugboats.

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There were many inlets along the way and I wish I had a small boat to check them all out! Although it was clear and sunny, I could not get over the atmosphere magic that created some of the most amazing images.

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I captured some of the most interesting images that were just located in the water…the color of the sky reflecting in it and the movement from our ship making such amazing patterns.

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And then there are the sunsets…..and we actually saw the majestic purple mountains sung about in America the Beautiful!

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Each evening, during what seemed like a magic hour, the sunlight would be strong enough to push through the clouds. These rays of light reminded me of what I imagine the reactions were when Nikola Tesla first lit up the Chicago sky during the World’s Columbia Exposition in 1893. You’ll see what I mean…

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We were also treated to the occasional visit from water friends! We saw whales and dolphins!

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But I think my favorite night, sitting watching the captivating sunsets, was our last evening at sea. The outdoor movie theater on the ship (which we never made it to because nighttime was quite chilly and breezy) was showing a Pavarotti concert. We could not see the screen from our balcony, but we could hear that amazing voice! Pavarotti playing in the background, the ocean breezes on our face, the sun just hovering over the horizon with boats heading home for the night, and lastly a full moon coming up in the other direction made for the most sublime evening. Yep…Alaska was my Eden.

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Thank you for coming along on my spiritual journey. It was the trip of a lifetime and I was so grateful to spend the time with my parents and husband. I appreciate their willingness to stop and wait as I snapped photos. They were so patient with me. I learned so much about photography and I have a much better understanding for their passion to capture what their eyes see. I also understand their ambitious yearning to share their intimate secret moments with the world. There is an intimacy between the camera and the photographer and I hope that you all share in that solitude moment when you have viewed these images. If you ever get the chance to go to Alaska…I hope that you will do so. It is truly magical and I hope to get back there again!

 

Ketchikan – the Alaskan playground!

We excitedly welcomed back the sunshine and warm temperatures as we headed into Ketchikan! Our ship’s balcony faced out into the waters rather than the port side and it was the way more entertaining option.  The first thing I heard when I woke up was the humming and roaring of airplane engines. I jumped out of bed, grabbed my camera, and ran onto the balcony. To my left were ten float planes lined up to land right at my feet in the water with various fishing boats headed towards the planes in the water.

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How fun these were to watch! Growing up near the insane O’Hare Airport in Chicago has made me highly aware of how busy the skies can be; however O’Hare has nothing on the airplane activity in Ketchikan! Since I didn’t see a control tower anywhere, I concluded that these pilots have a great communication system and respect for each other to orchestrate their takeoffs and landings. I sat there and just watched the water traffic for hours before it was time to check out the town!

One of the main attractions in Ketchikan is Creek Street. It’s not only the shopping district, but it used to be the red light district featuring Dolly’s where good times were guaranteed.

“I realized I could make a lot more money from the attentions of men than I could waiting tables.” – Dolly Arthur

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Ketchikan also has amazing art studios and galleries! The streets are lined with Alaskan heritage attractions and a bustling port!

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I even got Dad to sit with a couple of friends he made while walking around the shops near the pier.

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I think when I come back to Alaska it will be a longer trip because I would like to spend more time here enjoying the blue waters and sunshine!

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Ketchikan was our last port to visit. The remainder of our trip would be wandering through islands and bays as we make our way to Vancouver!

Juneau

When we arrived in Juneau, we were continuing on our misty cloudy days. It was damp and cool but really not uncomfortable at all. Juneau…you can only get into and out of Juneau by boat or plane. Who knew?? When we first pulled in I could not believe how many boats there were. After learning about the only way in and out, it makes perfect sense!

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We were originally planning to take a helicopter to Mendenhall Glacier on this day, but the fog was way too low for the ‘copters to fly so we wound up taking a bus to the glacier but we would no longer be able to stand on it. Sigh. First, we trammed out way up to Mt. Roberts!

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We measured our wing spans, saw eagles, watched a totem be carved, and learned about the signs that are carved in the trees around the area. The particular native sign on the tree below asks viewers to stop and find the reason why this place is so special.

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After Mt. Roberts we boarded a bus to head to Mendenhall! This was a must-see stop! Juneau is the governmental capital of Alaska although there is rumors amongst the locals that they may transfer this back to Anchorage. There is fear by the people of Juneau because it may then ruin the city of Juneau if most of their population leaves town.

Mendenhall Glacier is currently retreating and it was about 60 degrees when we were there. It was such a beautiful place!

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Onto our last port….Ketchikan!

 

 

Glacier Bay National Park….my own personal mecca!

This post may require grabbing a cup of coffee.  There will be a lot of images and each one is worthy of a significant amount of your time. This place is beyond words and each word I type shows me how insignificant language is for this hallowed place. If I had seen this place as a child, I would be working there as a Ranger protecting it with a ferocious passion. Here we go…

Towards the end of this year I will turn 50. Therefore it’s of no surprise that I have been longing for a spiritual adventure. With family in the southwest, I had always imagined it would come somewhere on a mountain hike there or perhaps New Mexico via my artwork. Never in my life had I imagined it would take place in Alaska! Alaska….really….Alaska!  I cannot recall the last time I was so “in” the moment before Glacier Bay National Park. This time I was filled with electricity. I had a narrative playing on the television in our cabin and I was hopping in and out of the balcony door like a small child jumping on the stairway gate on Christmas morning. I could not sit still! At breakfast I was anxious and eager to get back to the balcony and when looking outside it looked the mists of Avalon and the water was eerily still as it swished along our bow.

Here is the imagery that made me run back to my balcony! Something really great was coming into our view….

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As we entered the park, we were treated by otters!

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As we moved into the park we were treated to the vision of a sea of ice….and waterfalls….and interesting inlets.  Even what looked like a very small sailboat. Imagine what an adventure THAT would be!

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Something interesting I learned during this adventure was the way the Rangers take care of the park. In order for our ship to enter into Glacier Bay National Park, we had to allow park security personnel to board our ship to assure them we were ready. In order to be “ready” the ship had to stow away all disposable products. All paper napkins, straws, coffee stirrers, tissues…anything that could possibly be blown into the water area had to be put out of sight. The personnel also stayed aboard our ship until we were leaving the park and then they would transfer back on to their own boats in the water. Our ship was also guided by security boats creating invisible ropes in which we had to stay. As the ship turned into the bay, my eyes and my heart synced together in the most magical of moments. Enjoy the images….

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Just when I thought it could not get any better….it did!  We were idling alongside this huge glacier and everything was so very quiet. There were no voices…no motor sounds…no birds or bugs…just peace. Then out of the blue we heard a loud thunderous CRACK and I was scanning the glacier with my camera lens…it was calving!!!

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As the ship continued on its journey through the park…and I was speechless and not wanting time to move forward for one moment…I just wanted to stay in this moment)…we came around to this amazing glacial cave.

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Then I realized how difficult it was to show the scale of this cave…good thing there was a boat nearby!

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As we left Glacier Bay National Park, we were treated to more ice in the water. I was so taken aback by these images and felt compelled to capture their shapes along with the various shades the water kept turning in the Park. The water in Alaska is so interesting. The water was constantly changing from deep blues to Caribbean aqua to minty greens to almost brown.

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But all there was to see was not necessarily water.  As excited as I was to see glaciers, I was also very aware of their fragility and the sadness I feel when I think they are something that may eventually leave. I believe nothing depicts the violence of the creation and extinction of this area as some of the rocks that were jutting out of the water. These images show the scarring that occurred in the development of this place.

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On our way out of the park, we were again greeted by the wildlife that are so lucky to call this home!

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I really did not want to leave this place! Although I know we have wonderful things planned for our stops in Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan…I could have stayed here for a lifetime.

Glacier! Another glacier! No wait…it may be the same glacier.

Who hasn’t seen the photo of a glacier or a National Geographic show featuring glaciers or wondered about glaciers?  They are cold and blue, but for some reason I didn’t really realize how big, cold, and blue they were!  Silly, I know. While at sea we drifted (because you don’t really speedboat your way past these magnificent landmarks) by Hubbard Glacier! It’s currently an advancing glacier that is over 600′ tall!

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Along with amazing colors, the most fascinating part for me was to see all the various layers within the glacial ice itself.

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I have never felt so one with nature before. It was so easy to breathe and it was comforting to see these. It wasn’t exciting and I wasn’t anxious or jumping up and down. I was humbled, in awe, afraid to speak, respectful and knowing immediately that I would miss these sights as soon as I had passed them. The water around us was littered with ice chunks as well. You would have thought it was cold outside…it was chilly…but tolerable with a light jacket and sweater. The colors are simply breathtaking and the sizes of these are remarkable.

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I cannot wait until we get into Glacier Bay National Park!

Gold!

Skagway, Alaska is the gateway to the Klondike!  There are less than 1000 people who live in Skagway and it’s an extremely popular port for cruise ships.  When we awoke in the morning and I looked out the window this is what I saw….

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The narrow port is all rocks on one side and I loved that they have all been decorated with various cruise ship lines and organizations and individuals. Although I have no idea how they got up so high to do this!  Collectively it was cool!

In town is this amazing building created for the Arctic Brotherhood. The AB was created in 1899 as a membership organization for those who were looking for gold in the Klondike along the Chilkoot pass. It was created following the arrival of the “City of Seattle” ocean steamer.  The facade of the building is made completely out of pieces of driftwood.  So cool!

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Our adventure in Skagway was to take a bus up to Frasier, British Columbia and then take the White Pass and Yukon Rail back down to Skagway. This railway was built against all odds due to the narrow ledges upon which it is built as well as the equipment challenges when it was built in 1901. It climbs almost 3000 feet in 20 miles and is flanked with cliffs on one side almost continuously.

On our way to Frasier, BC we passed along this amazing waterfall, Bridal Veil and other wonderful images!

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Upon arrival into Frasier we transferred onto the train!  During our tour, our guide inquired if it was Tuesday. We answered that it was indeed Tuesday and she became slightly panicked because groceries were only delivered to the ONE town grocery store on Tuesdays only and if you don’t get there right away you risk not having any groceries for the week.  Can you imagine???  Our train ride through the valley along the cliffs was incredibly beautiful.  During the gold rush days, each adventurer had to carry 2000 pounds of gear over the mountain in order to reach the gold. Imagine….

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Along the route, the tour guide snagged me and took me out between the rail cars.  She told me that there was something special coming up.  It is an old storage area from the late 1800’s where the rail construction crews used to store the explosives. It’s hard to see after July 1st because the plants get too tall. So thrilled that I caught this old relic!

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Such an amazing day of adventure!  We didn’t get a chance to get any gold though. Sigh….  Next stop..Juneau!

 

 

 

 

All aboard the Alaska Railroad!

We boarded the train at Denali National Park and we are off to Whittier, Alaska! It is a ten hour train ride in a glass top train car. It was such a great way to travel and there was an open area on the bottom level of the car for us photography nuts…thankfully!  This blog post has no funny stories really….just so many great views and colors of green!

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Finally….our ship!

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Denali National Park….breathtaking.

I used to think Eden would be more like the Caribbean or a tropical island somewhere. I thought it surely lush with tropical plants having gigantic leaves and palm fronds and lipid pools of aqua colored water. The only problem with that thought is you never see the larger overall image of that place because of the thick vegetation. Now, take a place like Denali National Park…wow..now that is what I believe Eden looked like.  In fact, these days I watch Alaskan reality shows with an inclusive sense of humor and the other night an Alaskan gentleman closed out the show by stating that Alaska is where God goes to vacation.  Of course the show was being filed in the winter and I’m not sure if or why anyone would vacation there in the winter….but I definitely think Eden could be located in Alaska.

We took another “coach” to the Princess Denali Lodge. I need to premise this post by saying that our group of 27 with our fearless leader, Bruce, have just enjoyed 3 extremely sublime days at the McKinley lodge in the sunshine while staring lovingly into that rock, Denali. We danced, laughed, sang, made s’mores, listened to music, hiked, snapped countless photos, and ate great food. We were feeling very happy and satisfied!

During our coach ride and our approach to the Denali Lodge, life for us changed. It was now cloudy, misty, and cold! Bruce did a great job narrating the terrain we were passing by and we stopped to take some amazing photographs of lakes, mountains, our first glacier (photo #4) and even an abandoned igloo alongside the highway.

When we arrived at the lodge, the weather was dreary! As we walked through the lodge the other tourists who were swapping out lodges with us looked so unhappy. Upon questioning a staff member as to why; we were informed it was because their previous 3 days at the lodge had been filled with cold and clouds and the dreaded rain. Oh no….was this to be our fate as well? It was as if someone turned the lights out at our party. We all stumbled around for our bearings and grabbed a bite to eat. We dug our warmer sweaters and pants out of our suitcases and wandered around the lodge. Some of us even wished we could go back to McKinley!

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Shortly after lunch and hiking, the sunshine started to emerge! By dinnertime our McKinley weather had arrived at Denali! That evening we enjoyed a theater production of the Music of Denali in which my mother was asked to be a participating character named Fanny. We all had a great time laughing and singing along! Throughout the remainder of the trip, my mother would continue to be comically referred to as Fanny by others in our group.

The next morning we met bright and early for our tour of Denali National Park and once again the bets were on whether or not I would be moved to tears.  This time we were on an old school bus, but it wasn’t any ordinary school bus. This one was equipped with an expert tour guide to show us the land. Denali National Park doesn’t allow vehicles to drive through it with two exceptions. Guided tour buses and shuttle buses who will take hikers in and out of various areas of the park.  Denali National Park consists of SIX MILLION acres of land..thankfully there are shuttles.  We were instructed on the spotting of wild animals and told to call them out so we can collectively stop and view them all! Our tour bus driver even came equipped with a fabulous hat-cam to show us animals on bus monitors that looked like specks to us. The skies were blue and the sun was blaring…great viewing conditions for animals but for me that would not be the highlight of my day! We did get to see moose, caribou, dall sheep, golden bears, and more caribou!

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There was even a spotting of the elusive hubby showing off his antlers! Along with the amazing animals, there are these very cool mudflats that I imagine have much more water in them during a rainy period. I just find the winding ribbons of water to be fascinating!

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For me the landscape was amazing. There is a diversity of land there. Our bus tour went up considerably in elevation the farther into Denali National Park we went. The trees and vegetation at the park entrance is lush and tall and the moose can easily hide in it. However, as we approached the 60 mile mark into the park, the vegetation was now less than a foot tall and most of the flowers were at ground level. This is because at the higher altitudes there, the growing season becomes extremely shortened and therefore plants become more efficient in their reproductive cycles.  Our bus came to a stop at mile 67 and it was our last stop before heading back out. We all stepped out into the tundra to the most breathtaking views!

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But the most amazing view of all was my mountain!  Day two and we got the most spectacular view of Denali ever!  There was nary a cloud around it!!  According to our tour guide, our group was now part of the 10% club because we have had clear days on both sides of the mountain! Such a gorgeous day!  Here is my mountain….DENALI!

Denali

On our way back, and forgive the photo that was taken through the front window of the bus, we were greeted by caribou in the roadway. Thankfully they veered off so we could continue on our way. In Denali National Park…animals always have the right of way…I think they know it too!

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After our exhausting day in the National Park it was time for Happy Hour at the lodge. We would be having to repack for our train ride to Whittier bright and early in the morning.  While looking over the Nenana river winding around our lodge, we noticed that one of the 3 rafts riding the rapids had tipped over. It was a very intense few minutes as all we could do was watch them try to recover. There were seagulls-a-plenty and they were rather bawdy too!

One of the servers shared a story with us from a few years ago. Across the Nenana river is a hiking trail and there was a hiker walking along the river. The people on the outside patio of the restaurant noticed a bear also on the trail a few hundred yards behind the hiker. They yelled to the hiker but because of the rushing water sound and the distance they were unable to get the attention of the hiker. Thinking they are surely going to witness something horrific, they were happily surprised when the bear lost interest and turned around. Whew!

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The view from the resort was amazing…but it’s time to head to the ship!

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Canvassing Alaska – next stop McKinley!

On July 1st we boarded a coach (it looked just like a bus…but we were taught the difference between a “coach” and a “bus” is the very convenient bathroom in the back. However we would come to realize that utilizing the coach bathroom is similar to playing checkers with marbles while on a bus.  Our large group was split into two and 27 of us very lucky people met our funny and brilliant guide, Bruce. We boarded our coach and headed out to our first stop…the Princess McKinley Lodge located in Denali State Park (not to be confused with Denali National Park).  The lodge has a Great Room with a gigantic double-sided fireplace and an enormous deck that juts out towards the great Denali mountain (also referred to as Mt. McKinley). Natives in Alaska changed the name of the great mountain to Denali to keep in with the native naming.  The mountain is 20,320 feet high and is technically a taller rock than Mt. Everest, however Everest is declared a higher altitude because it starts from a higher base than Denali.  We learned that many climbers train at Mt. Rainier in Washington because the climb season is so short in Alaska.  Last year the McKinley Lodge received its first snowfall in the middle of September and shortly after that snow fall they board up the entire resort, drain the water pipes, and everyone heads to warmer places for the winter until the following Spring. The landscape features never ending rows of spruces, shrub roses, lupines, fire week, mountains, and the Talkeetna River (which is very milky in appearance due to the glacial silt that runs into it). This silty characteristic is not conducive to fish and such because of the inability to breathe.  The river and our surroundings are filled with these amazing spruce trees and black magpie birds!

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                McKinleyWhiteSpruce

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The weather was amazing at McKinley Lodge! Our first day consisted of hikes around the lodge trails in search of views of the Talkeetna River and possibly a bear!  Fortunately, we found the river and no bears…unfortunately we could only view the river from a high perch.

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Throughout our second night in Alaska I continued my search for darkness. The idea of darkness and a moon sighting was tricky, but often at night I was giddy with the thought of wanting to hike or jog at 1am because it looked like 7pm in the Midwest.  My first morning waking up at the resort found us imbedded in a thick veil of fog. When we left our lodge, we discovered a cloud had set down on the ground around us and we could barely see our hands in front of our face.  Our expectations of seeing Denali fell, like the cloud had during the night. The locals say that only 30% of the tourists ever see the famous mountain. Due to the height of the mountain, it generally makes its own weather up there and the ability to see it is slim. After having rent this camera equipment to see the mountain, I was saddened to hear how small my chances were. Years ago I went to Florida with my father to watch one of the last shuttle launches at NASA and the closest we made it was a half mile before it was called for a technical problem that would take a month to repair. This disappointment felt very similar to that. Then an employee at the lodge told me to stay out on the deck that faces the mountain and wait a few hours…that the fog is expected to clear.  I must have looked at him like he had an additional eye in his forehead, because he lightly tapped my shoulder and told me to be patient.  No way!  There was no way anything was coming out of this fog!

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Waiting…waiting…waiting…still waiting…then a small patch of blue sky appeared! Slowly..oh so slowly the fog began to burn off…just like the staff member told me.  So there I sat…waiting with my camera at the ready!  My comedic father and husband were taking wagers on whether or not I would cry when the view of the mountain finally arrived…and I was thrilled to deliver.

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Sure enough!  Just as that wise employee had said.  The lodge deck became full of watchers as the great mountain made it’s debut! Denali!  It did not disappoint!

This chunk of land was intoxicating. The blue hues and the atmospheric perspective that filtered out all the details of jutting rocks and sharp ledges had my heart and soul in it’s grasp. There is something hypnotic about mountains. We talk about being at the top of the food chain…the most intelligent creatures…evolved and technologically savvy. But there is a humility that comes with being surrounded by the mountains. They are more numerous than one can count and they are all so majestic…they really make you understand that we are still the new kids on the block, sotospeak. Imagine the tragedy and turmoil that the land endured in order to create a rock that tall! I am certain the impact was great to all who walked the land at the time that happened, if anyone was even here back then. I hated to leave…even for a few hours…so fearful I would miss something special and important! As the day went by I was constantly taking photos as it came in and out of fog and clouds. We were able to also see a mountain range named Little Switzerland because of the way it looks much like the mountains well…in Switzerland! Since I have never been there…I will have to take their word for it.

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The happiness of everyone around was energetic and contagious!  Time for the “I was there!” photos, like the one of my mom and I and Dan and Dad.

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And the celebrating continued all day long! It’s funny to experience how much viewing a mountain in the sunlight in Alaska brings out the best moods in people.  Here is a photo taken of a woman who she was an artist as well. We only met and chatted for a few moments, but being in such a magical place makes even strangers seem like family! The other photo is my hubby with a lovely Australian woman in our travel group!

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This photo was taken approximately 9:30pm and the sun is still blazing high in the sky.  Our fabulous tour guide, Bruce, arranged a party at the lodge’s fire pits for us. We were all celebrating our great fortune to see the glorious Denali all day long! It was funny that we took its magnificence for granted towards the end of the day.  We listened to live music and enjoyed ourselves basking in sundog lit skies.

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After the great party it was time to try and sleep…we have Talkeetna on our schedule in the morning!

Canvassing Alaska!

So….I have never taken any professional photography instruction but I do have the eye of an artist.  With some help from amazing photographer friends, Debi and Sean, I acquired an amazing 100mm-400mm Canon lens through a rental service to accompany me to Alaska for two weeks.  I am forever in the debt of my amazing parents for designing a trip of a lifetime that I was able to enjoy with them.  If you will indulge me, I would love very much to share my adventure with all my readers.  Each post will showcase a stop on our journey…..let’s begin with Anchorage!

We arrived in Anchorage on June 30th of this year.  It was only a mere 9 days after the Summer Solstice and longest day of the year.  Anyone who knows me, really KNOWS me, will know that my least favorite day of the year is June 21st.  While most celebrate it being the longest day….for me it’s the end of long days filled with sunshine and the beginning of the descent into the darkness of winter.  Conversely, December 21 is…yep… my FAVORITE day because summer is on its speedy way!  Okay…I digress…we arrived June 30th and the days were ridiculously long. How excited we were to see the following images from our airplane window!

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We were in Anchorage for not even a day…really just a dinner and breakfast before we were departing for the Princess McKinley Lodge.  Anchorage is full of down to earth active people during the summer months!  We met a pilot who was just idling at a bench near the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail along the mudflats.  We decided to have a walk ourselves and were plenty warned to not walk out onto the mudflats although you’d like to because they are flat and mud and they call to you for walking upon. However, the tide will eventually roll in and when it does it comes very quick and has left many a person stranded out there.

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Along the trails I saw the most peculiar birch tree. There were so many birch trees in Alaska…who knew?

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There were also beautiful leaves and I’m not sure what it belonged to as I left my tree and shrub books at home.

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Alaska is also riddled with lupines!  I have tried to grow these in the midwest year after year with little luck. I loved seeing these along side of the road, in fields, along trails…

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We also saw this ingenious bike rental place…working out of what looks like a train car.

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After dinner that night, three of us headed to find a bar to exhale and enjoy the perpetual daylight!  We stopped in the Pioneer Bar to have fun with the locals. After a while the bar was rather empty but it still looked like it was 6pm. I looked down at my watch and realized it was quite late and we had an early morning!  Yikes! This photograph is taken just after 9pm.

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We ran into a couple of sentries on the way back to the hotel!

AnchorageTotems

My most favorite thing about Anchorage was the way daylight hung around. My first night in Alaska was not restful as I felt utterly compelled to photograph outside of my hotel room all night long!  The first photo was 11:30pm…the second is 1:30am…and the sunlight on the Chugach mountain range is from 4:30am.

Anchorage11pm

Anchorage2am

AnchorageChugachMountains3

 It never really got dark and boy the mountains were just glorious!

AnchorageChugachMountains

This morning’s shot was indication that we would have amazing memories to make on this trip…and a bus to catch quick!  Next stop: McKinley!