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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Entries Tagged as 'Alaska'

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Captain Cook State Recreation Area

October 13th, 2013 · No Comments

One day while I was visiting my friends Marveen and Wayne at their home near Nikiski, Alaska, I drove about 15 miles to the end of the road at Captain Cook State Recreation Area. I timed my arrival for low tide, the best time to walk on beaches. The tide was way out at minus 5.6 feet and, no one else was there, so I had plenty of room to roam.

Earlier, Marveen had taken me to the overlook, because she wanted to show me the rocks on the beach there. “The boulders, common to the area and called glacial erratics for their random placement across the landscape, were deposited by glaciers from the west side of Cook Inlet,” according to an article in the local newspaper. But that day wasn’t great for photography, so I needed to go back.

Mt. Spurr, an 11,000 Foot Volcano, Rises Across Cook Inlet from Glacial Erratics at Captain Cook State Recreation Area

Mt. Spurr, an 11,000 Foot Volcano, Rises Across Cook Inlet from Glacial Erratics at Captain Cook State Recreation Area

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About one and one-half miles down the beach I got as far as I could go. The mouth of the Swanson River blocked my way. But it attracted birds.

A Sandpiper Where the Swanson River and Cook Inlet Meet

A Sandpiper Where the Swanson River and Cook Inlet Meet

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Beaches turned out to be one of my favorite places on the Kenai Peninsula for hiking. They are one of the few places in Alaska where people are unlikely to surprise bears.

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Posted in: Alaska

The Kenai River

October 12th, 2013 · 2 Comments

After watching the dipnetters, who I wrote about in my previous post, I was in for another surprise. When I got back to Wayne and Marveen’s home, they wanted to go fishing too. But not at the mouth of the Kenai. Instead they prefer to put their boat in at Eagle Rock, about six miles upstream from the mouth of the Kenai in a straight line. But it’s about twice that distance as the river flows. Even that far from the river’s mouth, the Kenai is huge, far wider than any river in Colorado.

We arrived at the river after 8 p.m., which would have been far too late in Colorado, but the sun was still shining brightly even when we left after 10. While Marveen fished for a few minutes, she didn’t catch anything. That was partly because we spotted seven bald eagles and then several moose and took off after them and the other wildlife so I could take pictures.

Wayne and Marveen Put Their Boat into the Kenai

Wayne and Marveen Put Their Boat into the Kenai

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Posted in: Alaska

Loons

October 11th, 2013 · 2 Comments

Until Wayne and Marveen came to my rescue, I was almost ready to declare that loons were my nemesis birds. In vain I had tried again and again to get good photographs of them. Even when my friends drove me to five lakes close to their home where Wayne had seen loons, we didn’t find any.

Loons aren’t rare birds. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world’s main authority on the conservation status of species, says that all five living loon species have a conservation status of least concern.

For almost 40 years loons have been high on my mental list of birds that I wanted see. I still remember hearing their haunting calls one night in 1974 when I camped at a lake in the northern Wisconsin woods, but couldn’t see them. You can hear the​ir​ haunting wails​ on this Cornell Lab of Ornithology video, “Voices: Common Loon.

My first view of a loon was in Colorado, and that was through a spotting scope rather than my naked eyes. On this trip to Alaska ​I saw a common loon on Lake Louise in Canada and a pair of pacific loons on Rock Lake in the Kenai National Wildlife Reserve when Marveen took me there. But all of them were too far away even for my telephoto lens.

Trying to think like a loon, I went back to two lakes that Wayne had showed me and that I thought loons would like the most. Both of these lakes are partly covered by lily pads where the loons could make their nests. At Thetis Lake I briefly glimpsed one loon through my binoculars. And at Salamatof Lake I eventually got an acceptable photo of the male loon.

​A Loon Swims on Salamatof Lake

A Loon Swims on Salamatof Lake

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Dipnetting

October 10th, 2013 · No Comments

The Kenai River, which flows for 82 miles to its outlet into the Cook Inlet of the Pacific Ocean near the city of Kenai, is the most popular sport fishing destination in Alaska, particularly for salmon. This river is known for its large fish, and in 1985 one fisherman caught the world record king salmon, which weighed about 97 pounds, here.

But red salmon, also known as sockeye, are considered the premier salmon for eating, canning, and smoking. They were running when I was there. And many Alaska residents were running after them.

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Exit Glacier

October 9th, 2013 · No Comments

When I returned to Kenai Fjords National Park, I had the experience that I had looked forward to for years. It was the thrill of a lifetime.

The main reason why I went back there might sound trivial to some people, but was meaningful enough for me to make the long drive of more than 100 miles from Nikiski to near Seward, Alaska. Earlier I had taken the wonderful cruise off Kenai Fjords National Park that I wrote up in the previous photo essay. But I wanted to count it as one of the 58 American national parks that I have visited. But my cruise left from Seward, which is outside of the park, and we never stepped foot off the ship anywhere else. I think that the park’s boundaries include the offshore water, but I haven’t been able to verify this hunch. So to be sure that I was correctly adding Kenai Fjords to my lifelist of national parks, I had to step onto the land there.

The other reason why I went back to the Seward areas was to visit more of the areas included in my master guidebook for visiting this area, Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula Wildlife Viewing Trail Guide. In addition to Exit Glacier, I added five new hiking and viewing areas. But nothing compared with my Exit Glacier experience.

I was hiking the most popular trail on the Kenai Peninsula where hundreds, if not thousands, of people go each summer. The trail is at the end of the only road that penetrates Kenai Fjords National Park. While this is a popular trail, I was hiking alone and taking photos of flowers.

A Usual Suspect in Unusual Light

A Usual Suspect in Unusual Light

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And then I saw a bear walking down the same trail directly toward me. The bear came within a few feet of me before it veered off to my left. I had always hoped for such an encounter and also hoped that I would have enough presence of mind to photograph it. I wondered too if I would be frightened. Probably because I knew that this was one of the less aggressive black bears, I stayed calm. Besides, the little fellow looked so cute that it reminded me of a teddy bear. Some people in Alaska carry a pistol or rifle to defend themselves when they hike. I don’t even have a knife with a blade longer than 3 inches, and I didn’t have that with me at the time. I didn’t have my bear spray either, because seeing a bear on such a well-trodden trail was the last thing I expected.

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Kenai Fjords

October 8th, 2013 · 2 Comments

A nine-hour wildlife cruise of the Kenai Fjords National Park on a small ship out of Seward with just 15 other passengers was the most fabulous day of wildlife and nature viewing in my whole life. For starters, the weather was absolutely perfect — hardly a cloud in the sky or a breath of wind, a rarity for a summer day in Alaska. Since I knew that I would be outside most of the day, I dressed warmly with my down jacket.

Second, the scenery is beyond description. But a start has to mention the fjords along the rocky coast, the snow capped mountains, and the glaciers from the Harding Icefield, which covers more than 1,100 square miles, the largest icefield entirely in the United States. We went right up to the Holgate Glacier, which is a tidewater glacier, and Bear Glacier.

At Holgate Glacier I Seem Happy

At Holgate Glacier I Seem Happy

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Thirdly, we had a spectacular day of viewing marine mammals and birds. When we pulled into a cove to see some seals, we also saw a mammal that lives on land. Our sighting was so rare that the captain said that “you guys were superlucky because nobody had seen one in this area for more than 25 years.” I had never seen one anywhere or even hoped that I ever would. It was a wolverine.

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My Alaska Destination

October 7th, 2013 · No Comments

After 20 days on the road and driving 4,208 miles, I finally arrived in Nikiski, Alaska, where my friends Marveen and Wayne live. But I was confused.

The welcome sign told me that I had come to Nikishka. That’s what the Russians called it and the Chamber of Commerce still maintains is the correct name of Nikiski.

Had I Reached Nikishka or Nikiski?

Had I Reached Nikishka or Nikiski?

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Marveen and Wayne had told me that they live near the unincorporated town of Nikiski, population 4,500. The name Nikiski comes from a Russian word, which isn’t surprising because the Russians colonized Alaska until we bought it in 1867 from the Russian Empire for about $7 million.

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Potter Marsh and Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

October 6th, 2013 · No Comments

On my way to visit my friends Marveen and Wayne in Nikiski, Alaska, I passed through the state’s biggest city without stopping. With a 2010 population of 291,826, Anchorage contains more than 41 percent of the 49th state’s people.

But it couldn’t contain me. I didn’t drive 3,226 miles to Anchorage from my home in Boulder to see the city. I had already seen enough of it when I visited my friend John in 2009 just after he had become the senior pastor of Saint John United Methodist Church there. Two years later John married Vicky, who lived a few doors down from him. At their wedding I met Vicky’s sister, Marveen.

Instead of stopping in Anchorage this time, I took a break 13 miles south at Potter Marsh, which John had introduced me to four years earlier. On this trip there I saw one of the most remarkable creatures in the world.

An Arctic Tern Finally Rests at Potter Marsh

An Arctic Tern Finally Rests at Potter Marsh

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I didn’t realize what a remarkable bird that Arctic terns are until I got back home and was reading the chapter on migration in Bird Watcher’s Bible yesterday. Every year these birds make a 49,000 mile roundtrip from the Arctic to Antarctica and back, the longest journey of any creature on Earth. And I thought that I took a long trip, and mine wasn’t even self-propelled!

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Denali

October 5th, 2013 · No Comments

One of the places that I most wanted to experience on this trip to Alaska was Denali National Park and Preserve. On my previous two trips to Alaska I had barely visited this national treasure that is larger than the state of Massachusetts and includes the highest peak in North America.

Denali is more than six million acres of wild land, bisected by only one road. I traveled that 92 mile long road by shuttle bus, the only way that tourists are allowed to get there by motorized vehicle. I stayed three nights at Denali Backcountry Lodge at the end of the road.

Actually, I had stepped foot in Denali National Park in September 2009 when the small plane that my friend John and I took landed on a glacier there. ​But that was all.

​The one road in the park is the best way to see Denali’s wildlife. I most wanted to see a grizzly bear, which is a subspecies of the larger coastal brown bear. The grizzly bear gets its name from the grayish, or grizzled, tips of its fur. I lucked out by seeing three grizzly bears at once.

​A Grizzly Bear Sow and Her Two Cubs

A Grizzly Bear Sow and Her Two Cubs

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The Grizzly Bear Sow and One Cub Are Ready to Attack Me​

The Grizzly Bear Sow and One Cub Are Ready to Attack Me

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​A grizzly bear with cubs is the most dangerous animal in North America. But I was unafraid. I knew that I was in no danger because I could run faster than some of the people on the bus.

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North to Fairbanks

October 4th, 2013 · No Comments

On June 28 when I got to Fairbanks, Alaska’s second largest city with a population of about 32,000 people, I had driven as far north as I would travel on this trip. Fairbanks is approximately 65 degrees north of the equator, only one degree short of the Arctic Circle.

In the summer Fairbanks has long days. Technically the sun didn’t set the first night I was there. It set the next tomorrow morning at 12:44 a.m. Then, at 3:04 a.m. it rose again. But don’t think that this means that I had 2 hours and 20 minutes of darkness. For my first days in Alaska it never got completely dark. While I brought my night light for the bathroom, I never needed it in Canada or Alaska. Much more useful was an eyeshade.

My first overnight stop in Alaska was near a small town of about 1,000 people with an appropriately short name, Tok. Between Tok and Fairbanks I took a side trip into Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Only two roads penetrate this 13.2 million acre park, the biggest national park in the United States. It’s bigger than the entire country of Switzerland.

I drove 30 miles down and back the gravel Nabesna Road. I didn’t know about it until a ranger mentioned it, but as soon as I knew that it went into a national park that I had never seen before, I had to go there. I collect national parks for a life list the way that some birders collect birds. My life list for national parks is now 38 of the 58 that we have in the United States.

I went as far as Big Twin Lake, where a different park ranger said that I could see trumpeter swans. I hiked a short trail down to the lake and didn’t see any. But I stood there, just me and the mosquitoes, admiring the beauty of the lake anyway. Then, I heard the unmistakable sound of big wings flapping. An adult trumpeter swan, the heaviest bird native to North America and the largest living waterfowl species on Earth, had taken off from the lake and was flying right into my camera’s view. This was the biggest thrill of my trip so far.

A Trumpeter Swan Takes Off in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

A Trumpeter Swan Takes Off in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

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