Saturday, January 31, 2015

Down the Rabbit Hole: Day 65

I was driving around yesterday scoping out potential vistas for photographing a predicted geomagnetic storm set to arrive this weekend, when I came across a pretty spectacular view of Fairbanks back-lit by the sun. The sun's angle made the smoke and steam emanating from the buildings below really pop, so I took some pictures and stitched them into a panorama. My plan was to distort the image into another tiny world, but Casey had the bright idea of creating an atmosphere wrapped by the landscape instead. The outcome I think is pretty cool, and fits with the theme of the photo; a positive feedback loop of human pollution trapped within a winter bubble.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-200 f/20 @ 1/500 sec, 9 image panorama

Friday, January 30, 2015

Unhealthy Air: Day 64

Burning wood is a cheap, cozy form of heating during the frigid winter months here in Fairbanks. Nothing says "Alaska" like grabbing a few logs from the woodpile outside in your flannel long-johns, and tossing them on the old fire. While wood stoves are nice to sit around on a cold night, the accumulated smoke they exhaust out the chimney is literally making the air we breath up here unbearably toxic. When temperatures fall below zero, a strong inversion layer grips the low lying valley of Fairbanks, creating a thick ceiling that traps tiny particles of exhaust and smoke (referred to as PM-2.5) suspended in the air. Like a silent plague, a dense cloud settles into the city of Fairbanks. It's not just unpleasant, it's a hazard.  PM-2.5 stands for Particulate Matter that is 2.5 microns or less in width, small enough to pass through the lungs and into the bloodstream. Inhale enough of this stuff and symptoms can range from a cough and respiratory irritation to asthma and heart disease. The situation can be so bad in winter that in some years air quality in this modest town of 32,000 is worse than Beijing; a city with over 12 million people. Kind of puts a damper on the old ambiance of the fire, no pun intended. Fortunately Casey and I live up in the hills, high above the inversion layer and the ice fog of death.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-200 f/25 @ 1/500 sec.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Late Night Hooting: Day 63

A creature has been lurking in the dark around our cabin. Although never seen, its "winnowing"call can be heard echoing through the forest on cold clear nights. No it's not Big Foot, he sleeps at the foot of our bed, it's the Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus). These small secretive owls are residents of the boreal and sub-alpine forests of the far north, with a circumpolar range that extends into the Rockies. Their cryptic lifestyle and difficult habitat makes them one of the least known species of owl in North America. The call we've been hearing (SOUNDS), as iconic to the arctic winter night as a robin's call  is to an English summer day, is the male attempting to attract a female. Boreal owls nest in tree cavities excavated by woodpeckers. During the winter males seek out and defend these nesting cavities in hopes of enticing a mate. Once a pair has been established, in the spring females will lay up to six eggs with an incubation period of about one month. We've been hearing a male regularly calling all winter in the trees just outside our cabin, and since nesting cavities can be in high demand, I built an owl box and placed it high in a tree within viewing distance of our living room window. Hopefully by spring we'll have ourselves a pair of owls, and by summer a brood of awkward boreal owl fledglings.

Here's a  cool video of a boreal owl hunting: VIDEO

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-100 f/22 @ 1/4 sec.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Aurora Continues: Day 62

A second night of aurora watching. This time I put hand warmers in my socks and wore five layers of pants instead of four. Displays were more subtle than the previous night, and the moon is gaining intensity, so here's another photo of the big showing from the 26th.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-800 f/4 @ 8 sec.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Surprise Aurora: Day 61

Clear skies after a week of clouds made me think one thing, aurora? Conflicting forecasts, however, shed some doubt onto whether or not the northern lights would actually show itself. One website was calling for a kp of 4 (active) while others were more pessimistic in their predictions. It was cold enough yesterday, -50 F in some places, to freeze the plumbing of our shower; so needless to say I wasn't very eager to freeze my own plumbing waiting outside for something to happen. I did have an excuse to go stargazing though. A near Earth asteroid, 2004 BL86, 1,000 feet in diameter passed within 745,000 miles of our planet (roughly 3x the distance of the moon). The next near earth asteroid isn't scheduled to arrive until 2027, so this one was worth a look. I set up my camera to try and capture its course through the night sky with a long exposure, but very quickly became distracted by a dazzling display of aurora that unexpectedly emerged from the north. I guess I'll have to wait until 2027. Actually, 2004 BL86 is in this shot somewhere above and to the left of Jupiter (the bright point of light), but you can't really see it.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-800 f/4 @ 8 sec

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sun Dog: Day 60

You don't need rain falling over a warm tropical island to see rainbows; freezing air works too. It is now -36 F at the Fairbanks airport and just below -20 F up in the hills. At these temperatures, all moisture in the air freezes into tiny crystals, referred to as diamond dust, that gently rain down and powder coat all surfaces with frost. This diamond dust acts like millions of randomly distributed prisms in the air, refracting the colors of the spectrum into a 22° halo around the sun. As the tiny ice crystals fall from the sky they tend to orient themselves vertically, sort of like having a bunch of falling hexagonal disks all in vertical alignment. These little ice disks flutter as they fall, and due to their orientation instead of refract, they reflect the sun's light, forming a second phenomenon called the parhelic circle; more like like an arc parallel to the horizon with the sun as the midpoint. Are you with me? Where the parhelic circle intersects the 22° halo, the refracted light from the sun is exaggerated by the combined reflection of the ice crystals, forming what are called "sun dogs". Winter's version of a rainbow. This is the left-hand sun dog pictured here, red is always facing the sun.

If that still doesn't make sense check out this link:

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM +1.4x, ISO-200 f/20 @ 1/160 sec

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Negatives: Day 59

The second major winter storm to hit Alaska this season has affected Anchorage more than Fairbanks, but it did manage to once again blanket everything here in a frosty layer of white. This system also brought in our first real cold snap of the season. As the insulating clouds parted yesterday afternoon the thermometer on our deck dropped to -10 F for the first time since we moved here. Temperatures in town drop well into the negatives all the time, but rarely does it dip below zero in the hills where we live. Forecasters expect temperatures will continue to plummet throughout the week as skies remain clear. This morning our deck thermometer is reading -20 F...probably won't be wearing a t-shirt to check the BBQ now.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-100 f/22 @ 0.8 sec

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Good Dog?: Day 58

Alright, in certain lighting I can see why some people would be slightly intimidated by this dog. Especially when he does his "bull ready to charge" stance. Here, Reef is wondering why I called him out on the porch when it was negative 5 out. I wanted to get a photo of his breath in the cold, and he wanted me to stop staring at him and open the damn the door.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-1000 f/4 @ 1/50 sec

Friday, January 23, 2015

FAI: Day 57

When people do finally come visit us, this is the airport you'll be flying into: the Fairbanks International Airport (FAI). The airport itself has been around since the 50's, serving as a refueling stop for transpacific flights to Europe and Asia. This shiny new terminal was completed in the fall of 2009 to meet rigorous new TSA standards. Fun fact the lowest temperature recorded from FIA was -66 F...of course now that I say that you probably won't visit anymore. We haven't felt anything nearly that cold yet this winter, but forecasters are calling for 40 below by the middle of next week.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-100 f/4 @ 3.2 sec

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Still A Tourist: Day 56

There are moments during my day to day, driving with confidence on a freeway made of ice, or wearing a t-shirt when it's zero degrees outside to check the BBQ, where I almost feel like a true Alaskan. Then again there are moments like the one in this photo, seeing a giant moose just casually standing along the side of the road, which remind me that I'm still just a tourist to these parts. Heading back from the post office I ran across this mum with calf  grazing ironically in a shooting range just down the road from our cabin. Of course I pulled over to take a look, and in the process received some looks of my own from people who actually behave like residents here. I felt like an Australian giddy with excitement over the sight of a ground squirrel. Sure there are thousands of moose up here, but I've only seen a handful, so for now I will continue this tourist least when it comes to moose.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-500 f/6.3 1/640 sec

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Birches: Day 55

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

A poem by Robert Frost

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-800 f/5.6 @ 1/125 sec

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Andromeda: Day 54

Auroral activity has been at a minimum lately, forcing me to focus my attention on other aspects of the night sky. Using a high ISO, a wide angle lens, and finding a location with no light pollution, our galaxy the Milky Way can be revealed; but what about other galaxies? Those amazing shots of nebula and other structures in deep space are generally achieved by using a telescope on a moving mount that tracks the stars as they rotate, allowing for a very long exposure. Fancy telescopes and motorized mounts are quite expensive, and not an option for an unemployed field biologist like myself.

The problem is, very few photons of light actually reach earth from distant objects in space. So a long exposure is necessary to gather enough information to produce an image. If you leave the shutter open for too long with just a fixed tripod, everything gets blurred as the earth spins. Turns out there's a free program called Deep Sky Stacker that allows the novice sky watcher to get fairly detailed images of distant objects in space using only a DSLR camera and a tripod. The basic principal is simple. For example instead of taking a single four minute (240 second) exposure on a moving mount, you can take a one second exposure on a fixed mount 240 times, align each frame so the stars stay in the same location, and stack those frames one on top of the other. With both methods the same amount of light is being absorbed by the sensor.

After several failed attempts I finally achieved this very basic image of our sister galaxy Andromeda. Andromeda and the Milky Way are both spiral galaxies, and are very similar in shape. Looking at Andromeda is like looking at a mirror. If you were to jump onto a space ship and rocket beyond the outer limits of the Milky Way for a view, this is what our home would look like. The light contained in this image, the contribution of over one trillion stars, has traveled 2.5 million light years to reach the sensor of my camera. You can even make out some detail in the dust lanes that spiral around the galaxy's dense core. I had no idea this sort of image was possible from a back yard photo shoot.

Amazingly Andromeda is currently hurling towards earth and the Milky Way at a speed of roughly 110 kilometers per second (68 miles per second). When the two galaxies eventually do collide the fate of our solar system will likely be in jeopardy. No need to worry though, at that speed it will still take Andromeda 4 billion years to get here. Life on earth will likely be long gone by then. Really puts it all into perspective.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM, ISO-6400 f/4 @ 265 sec (1.6 sec x 166 frames)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Ptarmagin: Day 53

During our walk around Murphy Dome, Casey noticed a group of large round snowballs on a windswept clearing, which turned out to be a flock of ptarmigan. These are rock ptarmigan, distinguishable from willow ptarmigan by the all white winter plumage. The three birds in this photo are female. Males have a black stripe that extends from the eye to the beak. It is not uncommon to see large flocks of ptarmigan grazing on the buds of dwarf birch around open tundra in the winter. In the spring, flocks disperse as males begin defending territories and females choose a mate with the best territory. Eggs are laid in April and hatch roughly three weeks later. Virtually everything up here eats ptarmigan, including humans, so I was surprised at how easy it was to simply walk up to them for this photo.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-800 f/8 @ 1/1000 sec

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Murphy Dome: Day 52

Checking the domes off our list. Yesterday we explored Murphy Dome, a 3,000 foot vista roughly 20 miles west of town. During the drive up a small sedan we were following, in an effort to avoid an oncoming truck, drove too far over onto the shoulder and became stuck in the snow bank. Turns out the oncoming truck was a state trooper, who pulled along side our car. Casey rolled down his window, "Did he just get stuck?". Trooper with a smirk, "Yeah he just drove right off the road". The stuck driver was a tourist from Hong Kong who explained to us that this was "his first time driving in snow". It showed. We dug out his front tires, and with some rocking, pushed the rental car back onto solid road. Alaskans: neighbors helping neighbors.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-400 f/7.1 @ 1/250 sec

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Open Road: Day 51

Thinking about exploring some new terrain this morning.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-800 f/7.1 @ 1/50 sec

Friday, January 16, 2015

Star Trails: Day 50

Nearly two hours of stacked exposures reveals just how high above the horizon the north star is at this latitude. A fixed camera with a prolonged open shutter shows the stars getting dragged around a single point of light in the night sky. This is Earth's rotational axis which currently points to the star Polaris. Just like a spinning top, a slight wobble exists in Earth's rotational axis that completes a circle every 26,000 years. Polaris will one day have to step down from its status as the north star, and in 13,000 years the star Vega will begin its reign as the leader north.

Canon EOS 60D, Bower 8mm f/3.5 Fisheye CS, ISO-100 f/3.5 @ 1 hour 39 min (10sec x 594 frames)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Morning: Day 49

The morning sun remains reluctant to advance any higher than a few degrees above the peaks of the Alaska Range. Prolonged sunrises happen often this time of year. As winter slowly progresses into spring, the sun will once again reclaim its position high in the sky, increasing the day length and reducing the window of morning and evening colors. Currently we're gaining nearly seven minutes of sunshine each day, adding up to a day-length of seven hours by the end of January. It appears the dark days are behind us.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-100 f/5.6 @ 1/320 sec

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

One Year Away From 30: Day 48

Arguably the best cake I've made yet. Just ate two slices for breakfast...which might have been my first mistake of 2015.

Canon EOS 60D, Bower 8mm f/3.5 Fisheye CS, ISO-1000 f/4 @ 1/40 sec

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Turning 29: Day 47

Today is my birthday, so I thought a self portrait would be appropriate.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM, ISO-800 f/1.8 @ 1/80 sec

Monday, January 12, 2015

Wickersham Dome: Day 46

For a Sunday drive we decided to head north for change along the Elliott Highway. A quick 28 miles from Fairbanks is the Wickersham Dome trail, which weaves through a stunted spruce forest and emerges above the treeline at several rocky clearings like the one pictured above, with stunning views of the White Mountains and the rolling hills that encircle Fairbanks. We had hoped to make the seven mile out and back trek to the summit, but without skies or snowshoes, the deep snow had us turned around just short of the finish line. Not much in the way of wildlife sightings, but we saw numerous snowshoe hare, ptarmigan, moose, and Reef tracks in the snow.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM +1.4x, ISO-400 f/5.6 @ 1/800 sec

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Listen: Day 45

This is "The Place Where You Go to Listen" at the Museum of the North, a unique space that uses light and sound to interpret real-time environmental observations from around Alaska. Constantly evolving, the music of this room changes with the rhythm of the earth. Sub-woofers rumble when seismic activity is high, melodic tones are created based on the position of the sun and moon, and bell-like sounds are produced during periods of active aurora borealis. With oranges and blues, the colors of the room mimic the changing shades of light outside. We visited in the afternoon, just as the sun was beginning to set.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-1250 f/4 @ 1/15 sec

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Museum of the North: Day 44

For weeks now I've been trying to visit the University of Alaska Museum of the North, but it's been closed every time; not because the museum has odd hours, but because we can never seem to remember the place is closed on Sunday. I finally made it yesterday, and discovered a museum overflowing with artifacts, materials, and specimens on the cultural and natural history of the Arctic region. In this photo alone you can see the skulls of a bowhead and gray whale, the harpoon that likely killed them, a stuffed polar bear, fossils from a mammoth, and a native kayak. If you ever visit Fairbanks, the Museum of the North should be on your list of sights to see.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-1250 f/4 @ 1/20 sec

Friday, January 9, 2015

Dralion: Day 43

Alaska has been invaded by clowns. Cirque du Soliel's production of Dralion is on tour in Fairbanks this week, and Casey bought us tickets to last night's show. The strange name is an amalgamation of Dragon and Lion, meant to represent the show's East meets West theme, combining elements of traditional Chinese and contemporary circus acts. Casey and I have had little luck with shows in Fairbanks, the Nutcracker was performed in a high-school gym using a recorded soundtrack and a loud stompy stage, so we didn't know what to expect from this show. The verdict: better than we anticipated. The entire set and costumes were visually stunning, the music was all performed live, and the acts were amazing. My favorites were the trampoline, single hand balance, and the women who hung off a large metal hoop from only her neck. If the clowns invade your town, you should definitely pay them a visit.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM, ISO-1000 f/2.2 @ 1/50 sec

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Another Lovejoy Comet: Day 42

This is not the best photo, I recognize that, but I posted it regardless to call attention to a faint green visitor in our night sky. This is comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy, barely visible to the unaided eye. Last night it skimmed past Earth just 43.6 million miles away, as it heads towards perihelion (closest point with the sun) on January 30th. From there the sun's gravity will slingshot the icy rock back into the outer reaches of our solar system, on an 11,500 year long orbit. Lovejoy can be seen as a diffuse green smudge low in the southern sky just after sunset. The green color of Lovejoy's coma is the result of venting diatomic C2 gases, as the sun heats the comet's core. To find Lovejoy look for the constellation Orion, his bow will literally point the way as the comet tracks through the sky this month. Grab a pair of binoculars and give it a go, this comet won't be back for another 8,000 years. For a star chart of the event, follow this link:

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-800 f/5.6 @ 2sec, 43 images stacked

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Moose: Day 41

Moose are the largest member of the family Cervidae, which includes the deer, caribou, and elk. They can be found in deciduous and mixed conifer forests throughout North America, Europe, and Russia. Of all the moose, the Alaska-Yukon race Alces alces gigas is the most massive, reaching weights of up to 1,600 pounds. During the winter, when vegetation is at its minimum, these giant mammals consume vast amounts of willow, birch, and aspen twigs; and are often spotted grazing in riverbeds or our neighbor's yard. In the growing season they switch to flowering plants and the leaves of willow, birch, and aspen, often around shallow ponds and bogs. There might be as many as 300,000 moose across Alaska, with an estimated 16,000 in the Fairbanks area. We spotted two pairs of moms with calves on our drive back from Fielding Lake.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-1250 f/5.6 @ 1/250 sec

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Blizzard: Day 40

Our New Year's Day can be summed up in two words: horizontal snow. Well more like four words: horizontal snow in face. Struggling to stay awake, once midnight hit we threw some wood on the fire and promptly went to sleep. It turns out wood-stoves are very effective in small spaces, putting three logs on the fire might have been a bit excessive. At one point the thermometer was reading 100 F. Our little cabin was transformed into a sauna. The fire burned so hot it went our rather quickly, and I awoke sometime around 3am uncovered and freezing. The wind at this point was howling outside; my morning pee must have traveled at least 300 ft into the dark. Once we had some light out we reluctantly packed our things and made the slow stinging walk back to the car, with broken sled whipping around in the gale. It was literally breathtaking, the gusts adding a touch of drama to the scene.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-800 f/4 @ 1/320 sec

Monday, January 5, 2015

Fielding Lake Continued: Day 39

We reached Fielding Lake public use cabin around noon after a quick 45 minute walk in the snow, waited for the previous tenants to gather their gear and hike out, and began settling in for the night. Casey went to work chopping firewood that would ultimately heat the cabin way hotter than necessary, and shoveling snow for no particular reason. Reef went to work eating falling snow and peeing everywhere. Turns out when you drag the shutter speed and fire a flash off while snow is being thrown at the camera, an interesting effect is created. It looks like a snowball exploded. A supersnowva?

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-100 f/4 @ 1/4 sec + flash

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Aurora Level 5: Day 38

Last night was cold, -16 Fahrenheit in the valley. One of the coldest nights we've had so far. A good night to kick up the heater and watch a movie in bed. That didn't happen though, the aurora forecast was at Kp 5 on a scale that maxes out at 9, so instead of sleeping we donned many layers and stood out in the freezing wind. Normally the Kp index is around 2 or 3, so a 5 is worth staying up late for. The local newspaper even printed an article about the aurora forecast, reporting Friday would be the big event. I stayed up all night Friday and literally nothing happened. Last night however, even with a nearly full moon, the aurora came through. Casey had to check on some walrus samples in the lab and let them "do their thing"  for a few hours (check Casey's blog for details on his research), so in the mean time we drove up to Ester Dome and watched another fantastic showing of the northern lights. We were hoping for the elusive red aurora, but had to settle for a few subtle pinks.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-400 f/4 @ 8 sec

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Winter Drive: Day 37

Winter returned as we entered the Alaska Range. Fairbanks is great and all, but traveling through this glacial valley rimmed with jagged ice-capped peaks cut by a wild frozen river, felt truly Alaskan. The Richardson Highway is a major artery connecting the coast at Valdez to the interior, and also parallels the Trans Alaskan Pipeline, so crews keep the road plowed and graveled even in the worst winter weather. In fact the highway was originally a pack trail, created by the US Army in 1898 as a way to access the Klondike gold fields. It was upgraded to a wagon road in 1910 in response to the Fairbanks gold-rush and the construction of the Washington to Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System (WAMCATS). The Richardson eventually met modern travel standards and was paved in 1957.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-640 f/5.6 @ 1/160 sec

Friday, January 2, 2015

Caribou Sighting: Day 36

We left the house at 7:00 am to give ourselves enough daylight to view the scenery and hike to the cabin. Driving through town we came upon a small dog wandering around the highway. Casey, being the good guy that he is, pulled the car over and corralled the lost pup into the back of the CRV with Reef. Both dogs got along just fine, however shortly after setting off to find an animal shelter we noticed a very sour pee smell emanating from the back. Great, she peed all over Reef's blankets. Eventually we got a hold of someone willing to take the dog off our hands and strangely enough we couldn't find a drop of urine on any of the bedding. We found this puzzling but fortunate.

Only an hour behind schedule we set off down the Richardson Highway to Delta Junction. The weather was unseasonably warm, so warm that it RAINED. Water should be frozen this time of year. There was virtually no snow on the ground. At Delta Junction the sun was finally up and we continued down the Richardson Highway towards the Alaska Range. Majestic blue mountains outlined in snow began towering all around us. We came across a field that looked promising for wildlife sightings and sure enough, we spotted a small group of grazing caribou.

There are roughly 800,000 caribou in 32 distinct herds which graze in mountainous regions and tundra year-round throughout Alaska. They flee into cool windy climates in high mountains and coasts during the summer to escape the swarms of biting insects, grazing mostly on willow leaves and mushrooms, and migrate back down into the tundra during the winter to feast on lichen. Each heard has separate calving grounds they return to year after year, however herds will mix during the winter season. The dozen or so caribou we spotted on our drive were a subset of the Delta Herd, which is estimated to contain roughly 3,000 animals.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-1600 f/5.6 @ 1/500 sec

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year: Day 35

This is where Casey, Reef, and I spent the New Year, Fielding Lake public use cabin. The drive from Fairbanks was rife with wildlife sightings, including four moose, a herd of caribou, some type of grouse, a northern hawk owl, several black-billed magpies, and even a lone wolf which crossed the road on our drive back. We reached the cabin after a brief 45 minute walk along a snow machine packed road, with a broken plastic sled of firewood in tow. The woodstove worked almost too well, warming the small space to a balmy 100 degrees F in the middle of the night. The beginning of 2015 was a sweaty one. We drank a bottle of champagne each and awoke the next morning to a proper blizzard outside. Needless to say we were reluctant to leave, Reef most of all. I took lots of photos so the next week or so of posts will be devoted to more stories from the trip.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-640 f/4 @ 1/500 sec