Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Denali (Mt. McKinley) from Cook Inlet, Anchorage

It was in early October, the weather was perfect for the weekend in Anchorage.  The sky was clear and the air was crispy clean.  I was waiting for a perfect sunset to dip behind the mountains across the Cook Inlet.  The rugged snow capped mountains: Mt. Susitna, Mt. Spurr, Mt. Redoubt, and Mt. Hayes were in outstanding backdrop!
Located 350 miles south of Fairbanks, Anchorage was 2-3 weeks behind, still in Autumn.  Fall leaves were still hanging on the birch trees, and the temperature was 10 degrees warmer than the interior of Alaska near Fairbanks, where I currently live.
The orange sun was slowly moving to the tips of the volcanic mountains.  Bright orange glare reflected on the calm water.  I was focusing on the dynamic landscape spread in front of me.  It took me a while to notice the high distinctively shaped snow covered mountain standing out in the northwestern horizon.  To my surprise, I realized it was the highest peak in North America, Mount McKinley (Denali)!  When it's clear enough, Mt. McKinley can be seen from 300 miles south in Anchorage!
The warm light from the setting sun glowed on the south side of Denali for a long while.  The colors were slowly changing to soft pink, and then fading out.  The western sky and the inlet were bright orange for awhile afterward.  Viewing Denali from the city was a surprising bonus for the day!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Autumn Aurora

September has been a great month for the northern lights display.  Soon after darkness fell back in the northern sky, the aurora began appearing in the Interior of Alaska.  I've already seen the great aurora several nights in last few weeks.  As I understand it, when the sun's activity is high, it releases solar flares that impact with the atmosphere.  During those times, magnificent northern lights dance across the sky. 
The best part of viewing the northern lights at this time of the year is the weather is still mild.  It has been in the 30s - 50s; warm enough to be outdoors.  I dress with a light jacket and regular hiking boots unlike wearing a big heavy coat with layers inside, ski pants, and bunny boots at -20 degrees.  Waiting to see the aurora outside is much easier and more fun before serious winter arrives.
It was the night before the Harvest Moon, I was heading to a small lake where I planned to set up my camera.  The northern lights were already stretched across the zenith.  A nearly full moon lit up the trail all way to the lake.  The moonlight was incredibly bright; I didn't even need to use my flashlight on the trail through a birch forest!  Those autumn birch were glowing in orange- gold under the moonlight.

It was about 30 degrees, a bit of cold in the air.Mist drifted on the surface of the lake.The lake was still like a mirror, reflecting the autumn colored hill and stars.The whole surrounding was silent in this remote landscape.
I set up my camera and waited for awhile... the faint aurora was in the sky over the millions of stars...  After a while, more aurora showed up on the other side of the sky.  It was a faint white line in the beginning, then slowly brightened to neon green... then moving and waving into the horizon.  At one point, the pink/purple lights were blinking along with the main stream of neon green.  After the moving lights came down, faint green bands of lights appeared and stayed for a long time.  The fall-colored hillside was glowing under the bright moon.

It was peaceful...
surrounded by wooded hillsides
only the sounds of a creek...
under a clear sky with countless stars... 
The aurora was appearing and disappearing... 
I was alone in this silent dream.  That was one of the moments, I've felt closest to mother nature.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Autumn Falls on the Interior Alaska

In the 3rd week of August, some of the Birch leaves (Birch looks just like aspen) began turning yellow. Within a few days, the yellow color was spreading everywhere.  In the interior Alaska, the seasonal change comes very quickly!   It was only 3 months ago when fresh green over took the hillside; and while I was neglecting to upload new posts, the summer is already over!
 In early September, we are already in Autumn.  The surrounding mountains are covered with golden yellow leaves, and some of the small plants on the ground are turning to bright red.  Berries are ripe, the air is crisp, and there are many beautiful days in row!  Fall is another delightful season in Alaska.

The long daylight during summer gradually shortens...  Sunset is around 9pm at this time of the year;  We no longer have a "midnight sun."  The Northern lights have started dancing in the dark sky again...  Animals are urge to prepare for the coming winter...   Summer's ending is always sad.  At the same time, I'm excited as another Aurora season begins.
Here are some more fall colors images...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Michio Hoshino's Memorial Totem Pole

"Are  you Japanese? Do you know Michio Hoshino?" A native man came up to me at the place I was staying in Sitka. His name was Bob, he was a friend of the famous Japanese photographer Michio Hoshino.  Bob has appeared in Michio's books several times.  He told me that he had just come back from Japan after six months of working for Japanese indigenous rights in a small community of Japanese Natives on the North Island of Japan.  He was in Tokyo when the massive earthquake hit the northern part of Japan in March.  Michio and Bob shared many adventures together...  Bob's eyes were looking at the past  - memories of Michio. 

Michio Hoshino is a well known nature photographer who lived in Alaska for many years.  He traveled in the remote wilderness for extensive periods of time capturing amazing images, until he was killed by a bear in Russia.  Along with his photography, his beautiful writings were appeared on many magazines and books in Japan.  Since I first came to Alaska about 10 years ago, I have been reading his books.  As a nature photographer, I respect his works.
It was a heavy overcast day when I visited Michio's totem pole.  Walking through old growth rainforest, the trees opened up to the shore.  Following the trail along the rocky beach, I spotted the pole. Michio's totem pole faces the Pacific Ocean, the small island floating across the shore, the snow capped Mount Edgecumbe, reminds me Mount Fuji, rises on the far island... it was a beautiful location. 

The pole is a story of Michio's life - A glacier bear (blue bear, rare kind of gray colored black bear, Michio searched for years) sits on top, followed by a Caribou and a Whale (Michio's life work of subjects), a Raven (Michio followed the Native legend of the ravens the last few years of his life), and carved Michio holding a camera on the bottom.  Sitting on the shore for a while, I thought about his essays and photographs... it was a spiritual moment to me.  The pole was only 3 years old but it was already weathered and well matched with this old growth landscape.

The sun came out for a bit that afternoon.  I was photographing one of the historic buildings... when an old truck pulled over. "Hey, did you go see the Michio's pole?" It was Tommy Joseph, the master carver, who carved Michio's pole.  He also came and talked to me at the visitor center at Sitka Historical National Park the day before I visited Michio's pole.  It was strange that Michio's friend Bob, and now the carver Tommy Joseph, seemed to somehow know that I was there to visit Michio Hoshino's totem pole.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Sitka National Historic Park, Alaska

It was raining when I spent a whole day exploring Sitka National Historical Park.  As the park is located at sea level, it was a bit greener than the mountain trail I hiked the day before.  When it's wet, the green is brighter than ever.  It was still early spring; the red alder trees were still naked without leaves. 
Walking in the rainforest, I often hear the raven's song echoing from somewhere deep in the woods.  Weathered totem poles stood along the trail, which perfectly blended in the old growth woods. Walking in this rainforest was a spiritual... it somewhat reminds me of an old shrine in the deep forests in Japan.
The trail opened up to the coast.  Numerous small islands covered with trees are scattered around the Sitka Sounds... nobody around in this quiet little cove.

Sitka National Historic Park celebrated its 100th year anniversary in 2010.  It's the oldest National Park in Alaska.   Celebrating the Centennial Year, National Park Service commissioned the special totem pole with the master carver Tommy Joseph.  The totem pole represents Sitka and the surrounding area and the National Park Service.  It contains a buffalo (a symbol of the National Park Services), an old Russian marker plate, the native plants (skunk cabbage and devil's club), two salmons, and a spiritual woman's face.  Its light green and yellow colors are non-traditional for the totem pole.  The pole, almost finished, lays at the Park Visitor Center for the raising ceremony on May 15. Too bad I missed the pole raising by a week!

On my next posting, I'll write about  Michio Hoshino's totem pole, which is the memory of the famous Japanese photographer killed by a bear in 1996.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sitka: "The Most Beautiful Southeast Alaskan Town"

The misty rain enveloped the passage between forest covered islands... It's typical weather in Southeast Alaska region: one of my most favorites area. The Alaska Marine Highway ferry from Juneau arrived to Sitka in the afternoon when my adventure began.
Sitka is located on Baranof Island, about 150 miles south from Juneau. Like other Southeast Alaskan towns, Sitka is surrounded with green moss covered rainforest, glacier carved waterways, and snow capped mountains in the back drop. "Alaska's the most beautiful town" how many times I heard about this... so I'm here to see.
Sitka also has the rich history. It was an old capital for Russian Alaska, and the capital of the territory of Alaska after the United States bought Alaska from Russia, until Juneau became the state capital in 1906. There are some old Russian buildings remains throughout the town. Tlingit Native cultures are still deeply rooted in Sitka: totem poles and Tlingit carvings are scattered over the town.

I was hiking through the rainforest to the alpine ridge, through the wet meadow to the rocky coast, all under the overcast sky and in a misty rain. It was early in the season, the greens starting to appear among the brown grass. There was still snow high up on the mountain trail.
After half a year of living in the interior Alaska, I'm back in the rainforest in Southeast Alaska...for a short while. Surrounded with moss drenched tall trees, the smell of the ocean, and the sound of raven songs... plus hilly old towns... I love the Southeast Alaska!
Here is the Sitka's natural landmark, Mount Edgecumbe; it reminds me Mount Fuji in Japan.

(This story continued to next posting...)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Blaze in the Zenith: The Northern Lights

Spectacular Northern Lights occur at the time of magnetic storms, and when the sun's activity releases solar flares.
In early March, another amazing Aurora was displayed for two nights! The lights were very bright; clear and vivid even in the southern parts of Alaska!

Here in the interior Alaska, right below the Arctic Circle, the brilliant neon green was a waving tapestry of light draped across a nearly full moon.

The huge zenithal fires blazed the entire sky with the edges displaying a rarely seen purple color! The amazing Northern lights show went on and on... At its zenith, the Aurora corona appeared like fireworks!
In older times, Alaskan Natives believed countless myths about the Northern Lights. Many of them feared the active display of the Aurora. Some believed that the Aurora were the spirits of dead ancestors playing a ball game with a walrus skull. Interesting, isn't it?

My short photography excursion will be coming soon. I'll take another Alaska Marine Highway ferry from Whittier to Juneau at the end of April offering many opportunities for dramatic landscapes. I will then explore Sitka, an historic southeast Alaska town, for a week in early May. I'll keep updating new photos and stories in this blog. Please check back soon.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sunset Flight - Denali View!

One winter evening, I was on a small airplane flying outside of Fairbanks. Fairbanks is the second largest city in Alaska, but the city is surrounded with a vast wilderness.
The plane was following along the winding Chena River; frozen and snow covered... the whole area is wild backcountry; hard to see any human imprint. Mountain after mountain spread on all sides.

The sun was about to set on the horizon, lighting up the rugged Alaska Range... The silhouette of Denali (Mount McKinley - the highest peak in the North America) appeared beyond the mountains in the dreamy orange light! It was a gift for the day!