Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Misty Morning on Engineer Lake

A few years back I took a weekend trip with some Homer Women's Nordic gals to the Engineer Lake cabin. We had a beautifully foggy morning, though it made things a bit interesting rowing back to the parking lot through the fog!

Well, folks, a few months ago I went through all my Alaska photos to date and chose ones I thought I might not have shared or that were my favorites. These photos are the end of that list of to-share pictures. It is perfect timing because I will begin working Monday at Kachemak Bay Campus as an Adult Basic Education instructor, on top of my online teaching responsibilities and community communication workshops. My free time will go down to zip till summer, which thankfully I will still have off to go adventuring around Alaska. Part of my new job will be taking me across the bay to the villages of Seldovia, Port Graham and Nanwalek, so I'll keep you posted on adventures over that-a-way. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Kenai Lake Reflections

Here is an example of termination dust on the mountains--light snow that has fallen on the peaks but not yet made its way down the mountain. These photos are of Kenai Lake in Cooper Landing. It seems so rare that the lake is so calm that the mountains are a perfect reflection, so I snapped a few pictures.

While the trees in this second photo are blurry, as I snapped this photo from the car as we drove, the mountains are still clearly reflected in the water. The trees create an interesting foreground--not my usual "pretty picture that I post, but interesting I thought!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Wintery Mountains

I'd never seen the mountains by Summit Lake looking so dramatic before. It was one of those times it was worth taking a picture! That winter lighting again.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Turnagain Arm Winter Bergs

Looking north towards Anchorage over Turnagain Arm

Looking south towards Turnagain Pass

It is fascinating seeing Turnagain Arm just south of Anchorage each time we make the drive. The difference between low tide and high tide is fascinating, whales make fairly regular appearances, and every so often a bore tide can be fun to watch. Because the tide differential from the lowest low tide to the highest high tide is somewhere around 38 feet, a low tide can appear to drain Turnagain Arm of the water leaving mostly mud flats. A high tide fills it up right to the rocks that hold up the railroad tracks. In the winter that means that the water will freeze and when a tide comes in the ice is pushed up and icebergs build up in a messy pile like you see in the pictures.

One interesting fact I learned about Turnagain Arm from an interpretive sign by Bird Creek is that there is 1000 feet of mud below Turnagain Arm from many hundreds of years of sediments flowing in from those strong tides. Since I learned that I like to try to picture a 1000 foot dropoff below the Seward Highway. Yikes! That's a lot of mud! The process of silt coming in continues each day.

Another day on Turnagain, with more mud on a lower tide

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sunlit Mountain

Having driven the road to Anchorage from Homer many, many times in the past 7 years of living in Alaska, I have seen these mountains in many different states and light. One of my favorite times of the year is late fall (October) when the plants make the mountainsides colorful and the termination dust is creeping down from the peaks. The other favorite time is in the winter. Once again, the lighting can be exquisite, making a plain old mountain (like the ones you see in this photo) suddenly something special, awesome and breath-taking. I prefer to be the passenger on the drive to Anchorage so I can gaze around at the peaks and oooooo and aaaaaaah. Of course, plenty of times it is pitch black or snowing and socked in so I can't see anything, but then there are the gloriously beautiful days too. This photo reminds me of one of those days.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Alaska Above the Clouds

Some flight or other between Homer and Anchorage I took this photo on a low-lying cloud day. Those peaks are perhaps 3500-4000 feet, probably in the Kenai Range, so if they're peeking above the clouds then the clouds are hanging pretty low. To be a pilot and get these amazing views daily! I don't fly often between Anchorage and Homer, but often enough there have been some spectacular sights.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Designs on the Beach

Douglas was out walking on the Kenai Beach a while back and was impressed by the color of the nutrients that leached out of the water and made it's way down the cliffs and through the sand. I'm guessing it's iron; that's what I've heard the orange referred to before. Homer's bench has its share of nutrient-rich water, but I haven't heard about water quality issues in the Kenai-Soldotna area before. Makes for some interesting sights nonetheless.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Crescent Creek Fish

Oooooooo!  Look!  Fish!  The first year we lived in Alaska we stopped by Crescent Creek when out exploring and saw all these fish in the river. I was amazed! What a land of plenty if the fish are swimming by in swarms.  Now I just chuckle at my naivete. First of all, this is hardly any fish. I've seen hundreds of fish piled on top of each other, looking literally like you could walk across their backs and not get wet, at the base of the Russian River Falls not far from Crescent Creek. And I also know that most of these fish will be dead shortly, as salmon spawn and then die. In fact, that looks like a dead salmon on the shore in the foreground of this picture. 

Now I am so much more aware of how the fish fit into this ecosystem, how the salmon runs affect the movement and feeding habits of bear, which affects other animals, including people! With so much easy food each year from the salmon run, bear thrive. They are also full so as long as you're not getting between them and their food (or their young), for the most part they seem to mind their own business.

Alaska is a land of plenty in many ways still, but like the rest of the world, that plenty can be depleted in no time, particularly with a world population that continues to grow and those seeking to maximize profits rather than longevity. It is a tough balance to find, and if someone were to walk by an Alaska river and see it full of swarming fish, it might be difficult to convince them that these fish populations are at risk.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Wintery Bishop's Beach

This was taken at a fairly high tide on Bishop's Beach the same day as the whale rock picture. It is obviously cold from the slushy water and frozen slush line. Those are sights we haven't even gotten close to seeing this winter as I think the coldest it has gotten so far is maybe 12 degrees above, and that was just for a night. The temperatures this winter have been holding steady in the 30's and 40's. Still marveling at my green lawn...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Sunny Bishop's Beach on a Low Tide

This picture makes me think of tidepooling galore, even though the best tidepooling is actually further out. I also enjoy this photo because it seems like the beach is always changing. If I were to stand in this spot today, not all those large rocks would be there and the pools might be there, or might not, or there might be more rocks or new boulders. A picture of the beach is just a snapshot of that day. It keeps things interesting, like those puzzles that you try to figure out the differences between the two drawings! 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Ice Skating Grewingk Glacier Lake

I've heard of ice skating on Grewingk Glacier but have not had the opportunity to get over there. When some friends mentioned they were planning to head over Sunday, I put out the word that I'd love to go. With such warm weather (still in the 40's!) we weren't sure it would happen, but figured it would be colder over there. As we discovered, it wasn't, but we still managed to skate! Here's the story of our day.

It all began with meeting at the boat in the Homer harbor at 9:30 a.m. The bay was not quite glassy smooth, but pretty close, so the ride over was smooth and easy. We quickly offloaded at the beach, meeting up with some other friends who'd taken their own boat over. Once the boats were moored and everyone was on shore and ready to go, we headed up the trail. It felt decidedly warm: high 30's or lower 40's even on the beach. We'd all dressed for cold since we were spending a day outside, so soon we were shedding layers as we headed up the switchbacks on the Saddle Trail.

The view from the switchbacks on the Saddle Trail looked pretty much the same as it does in the summer

Ice trail from top of switchbacks to turnoff to glacier
The trail from the top of the switchbacks to the turnoff to the glacier was icy. Most of us had brought our ice cleats, but I didn't put mine on, instead opting to sashay from one side to the other on the moss or grass. Each step was placed carefully though as it was icy, icy, icy. Once we got to the glacier outwash area, the trail wasn't covered with ice like this, but there must have been some freezing rain because all the rocks were covered with a glaze of ice. So we continued on stepping carefully.

When the lake came into view, two things struck me. First of all, it looked like the whole lake was just a big mass of slush--it didn't look frozen at all. Secondly, the glacier was blue, indicating that it was not covered with snow and was probably busily melting. The snowline was high up the mountains as well, both things unusual for January 11th!

Getting through the water to the frozen ice
The folks wearing their extra-tuffs (waterproof muck boots) ventured out on the lake, which involved wading through four inches of water in a moat all the way around the edge. Walking down the lake, we found a spot where the ice had buckled and we could get across to the ice without walking through water. I was nervous at first, but once on the ice, it was obvious it was plenty thick enough--our guess was six inches. There were so many water bubbles frozen into the ice and we could see how deeply they were frozen in.

Pulling on the ice skates
Soon we were all busily getting snacks and pulling on ice skates. Early ventures onto the ice were tentative and along the shore, but as we tested it further, we discovered it wasn't as bad as it looked. And frankly, it looked bad. Looking out over the ice, it appeared to be slush that had frozen together with cracks in the ice. But when we got on it it was slush that had frozen over and was mostly smooth, and the cracks had filled over with water and were frozen as well. 

Admittedly, there were spots that the ice cracked with reports that echoed across the lake and there was some standing water on top of the thicker base of ice. The closer we got to the glacier the rougher it was and we couldn't get near the islands as the ice was melted around them. There was a giant iceberg and the kids were able to get up on it and skate around on the iceberg (yep, a glacier iceberg!) and that was cool.  There were some neat designs in the ice, trails of bubbles, ice bubbles of different sizes that had frozen at different rates creating cool patterns.

Air bubble patterns in the ice

This is as close to Grewingk Glacier as we got. The ice was broken up after this
A couple years ago our friends had been over here skating and the entire lake was smooth as glass and they were able to skate right up to the glacier. I was hoping for that but knew from reports that it wasn't to be. As it was, we were just happy to skate. We had to keep an eye on where we were going and it wasn't completely relaxing, but it was still fun and the lake is fairly large so there was plenty of space to skate.

After a few hours of skating, it was time to reverse our tracks. Skates off, refuel with more food and hot cocoa, and back down the trail. As we were leaving another group from Homer was coming. And a small plane had flown over while we were on the lake, choosing not to land though we have heard that planes have been landing on the lake the past few days.

Muddy trails on the return trip
The ice-glazed rocks were now thawed so walking was a little easier on the first section of trail back, but the ice trail was still icy. The switchbacks were now mud and I cringed as I hiked down them. I've helped build these trails during TRAILS days each June and I hated to think that I was helping ruin them by slipping and sliding down them, adding to the effects of erosion. I avoided the muddy trail when I could.

Back on the beach, we loaded back on the boats and took off. The water was still calm--about as close to glassy as one can get, especially in the winter. Throughout we were all shaking our heads and saying, "We're doing this in January?!" and "There's no snow!" It was a little disorienting because skating is usually a November activity.

As we neared Homer the sunset was making the water glow and a sailboat was silhouetted against the colors. It was a beautiful end to a neat day adventure from Homer!

Sailboat 'n sunset

Friday, January 9, 2015

Local Volcanoes Letting Off Steam

Our local volcanoes have been fairly quiet the past few years and although I regularly think to look for steam when driving by and looking at Mt. Augustine, Mt. Douglas, Mt. Illiamna and Mt. Redoubt, there is rarely steam spewing anymore so it is lower on my radar now. I think about earthquakes more than I think about volcanoes since local talk is that we are overdue for a "big one" and I wonder what it would be like to live through a quake like the one in 1964.

So these pictures just brought up reminiscing of the two eruptions there have been since we moved here in 2007 and the resulting ashfall. Of course volcanoes down the Aleutian Chain have erupted more recently, but although they are part of Alaska, they are a long ways off.

Mt. Augustine lets off steam in 2008 as viewed from Bishop's Beach

Mt. Redoubt letting off steam in 2009, from Sterling Highway a few miles out of Homer

Mt. Redoubt letting off steam, same day as above but view from the beach in Anchor Point

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sunset Over 15 Minutes-Bishop's Beach

I'm not usually a shutter-happy person, but this particular day on the beach last September, I took a photo of the sunset, but then the colors completely changed, and changed again, creating over the course of 15 minutes a plethora of sunsets. I happened to catch a number of the views because each one was exquisite in its own way. If I didn't have my camera telling me these were taken one after another I wouldn't believe it myself!

7:38 p.m.

7:40 p.m.

7:43 p.m.

7:52 p.m.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Revisiting Upper Ohmer Lake Cabin

We've enjoyed visiting the Upper Ohmer Lake Cabin in the Kenai Wildlife Refuge a couple times before, but it is usually booked far in advance so I was pleasantly surprised when I check in mid-November and January 1-3 was available. Although I've blogged about it before I thought I'd give a photo journal of the trip.

Upper Ohmer Lake from Skilak Lake Road looking towards the Alaska Range and with a glowing sunset.

View of the lake and hills from inside the cabin

I brought my yoga mat and kept up my practice in the cabin

Such a cute little outhouse, though I still can't figure out why it has a hinged lower and upper door

View of mountains beyond the cabin from the walking trail to it

The cabin looks so cozy tucked in by the lake with smoke meandering out of the chimney. This is as close to sunshine as the lake and cabin get in the winter.

We did a bushwacking hike up the hill across the lake. View of Skilak Lake from up there.

More bushwacking, which included log balancing!

There was "just" enough snow to pull a sled with our gear
It is a fast downhill walk to the cabin from the road and only .3 miles

This trail and cabin is handicap accessible

The weather was getting colder so our first night there the ice was moaning which was a weird sound that sounded like a drunk moose (or what we imagine one might sound like!), and the next morning when Doug was out on the lake pulling down logs across for firewood it moaned as he was on it and he felt the vibration.

The nights were beautiful with an almost full moon so we went walking on the road after dark. While elsewhere on the peninsula things are very icy, the trails were not icy and walking the road was comfortable though there was ice under a scant bit of snow. 

It was good to get away and boil life down to the basics of eating, getting wood and staying warm, playing games and doing all sorts of tech-free activities like walking around the lake. We probably could have skated but there was maybe a 1/4 inch of snow on the lake so we opted to walk it instead. My aunt and uncle joined us the second day and they appreciated this place as much as we do (they had never been there before).

Our big adventure was bushwacking--hiking up the hills across the lake and then they go up and up and up some more and then down, through the brush and Devil's Club, balancing on logs, plowing through grass and stepping over downed trees. We finally came out onto the road to the Skilak Lake Campground a little over an hour later a mile or two away. While hiking the road back to the cabin we saw plenty of wild cat tracks, probably lynx.

It is amazing how time morphs when out in the woods. It felt like we were gone a long time, but it was only two nights. We've got this place on our "favorites" list!

Ice Skating Lampert Lake

Here were are, January 5, and the ice skating is amazing on local lakes! Go figure. What a weird winter. No snow in Homer and here we are ice skating! But it took a cold snap in the teens to finally freeze up the lakes.

Yesterday a friend called up and invited us to go ice skating on Lampert Lake. It has been a couple years since I've ice skated since I missed last year's very brief (one week) outdoor skating opportunity, which normally happens in November. The day was brilliantly sunny so I just couldn't pass up the opportunity even though we had company coming later in the day for an overnight stay. It was well worth it, and we ended up making a skating party happen for our company as well.

Lampert Lake frozen over with many locals and their dogs enjoying it

The ice was about as smooth as it's going to get!

Cars parked along Kachemak Drive for Lampert Lake ice skating
It is always a little edgy at first getting on a lake, not knowing how frozen it is or if there are unfrozen spots (Beluga Lake right next to Lampert Lake has some thin spots). So at first I followed other's tracks. The ice didn't look very thick, as evidenced by where the methane bubbles were, but 4 uniform inches is enough to hold people. I got more comfortable as I went, and there were probably 25-30 others out there skating, zipping around with hockey sticks and pucks or with their dogs (Bad side effect:  dog poop on the ice, which luckily I didn't run over!). An hour of laps got a sweat worked up, even with the stiff breeze. It was a fun, social time as I knew many folks out there and we skated and talked.

When our company arrived at 5:00, which was 4 college students from Spain, 1 from Honduras and my nephew from Kenai, we asked if they would like to go ice skating. It's always nice to share a good thing like a beautifully frozen lake! They jumped at the chance. We called up a friend who had a bunch of ice skates we could borrow, found jackets, pants, hats, gloves and neckwarmers for all (it was about 15 degrees with a windchill bringing it down to 0 degrees or so) and headed over to the lake. 

The frozen lake with a sunset glow still on the horizon
(same view as the first picture above)

The sun had already set but there was still a glow on the horizon. In the other direction a full moon was rising. We had enough skates for everyone, and soon they were teetering around or blasting around on the ice, depending on their skill level. One boy exclaimed, "It's so big!" when he first saw the lake. They'd ice skated on a pond in Kenai a couple days before. And at first they were all tentative, just staying nearby. Then they asked how much of the lake they could skate on and when I said, "The whole thing!" they started venturing further. Foresight on my husband's part meant we had hot cocoa for all, so soon they were skating around under a full moon with hot cocoa's warming their hands.

The full moon rising over the horizon opposite the sunset

It was so beautiful and magical and we were glad we were able to make it happen for these kids who are visiting the U.S. on their Christmas vacation. One of the gals was an exchange student here 4 years ago and three of them are her friends, and the gal from Honduras is a friend of my niece who lives in Nicaragua now. Conversations flowed seamlessly between Spanish and English and it was a good time for all of us. Who would have thought we would be out ice skating after the first of the year?! I thought we'd missed the skating season completely this year!