Soft pink and blues in the sky over the rolling hills of the Chatanika River Valley. This was taken on Murphy Dome at sunset in March. In the distance you can see the White Mountains peaking out slightly above the surrounding hills on the right. The sparse stands of spruce trees get slightly more dense and taller as you head down the trail into the valley.
Northwestern Glacier is located in Kenai Fjords National Park at the head of the Northwestern Fjord, a nearly 10-mile long, narrow, and steep inlet. This tidewater glacier is reachable only by boat, almost 70-mile boat tour from Seward, Alaska. It was named after Northwestern University, located in Illinois by Ulysses S. Grant (not the Army General and President) in 1909. The origin of Northwestern Glacier is the Harding Icefield, the same icefield that feeds the more well-known Exit Glacier in Seward, 30 miles away as the crow flies.
The southern face of McGinnis Peak and surrounding mountains after a July snowstorm. The contrast of the snow on the rock was incredible, especially when the sky started to clear. At our elevation we only got rain. Very wet rain.
Vast landscape in the Nome Creek region of the White Mountains of Alaska. This place is remarkably beautiful in autumn, although much of Alaska is. This area in the White Mountains is far less traveled than many of the popular tourist destinations in the state. There is a trail that goes out to Mt. Prindle along the creek, but it’s way more fun to go off-trail and just hike along the ridges. The terrain where this photo was taken is incredibly interesting. It’s not really solid ground, but a lot of talus that has soil and vegetation covering it. It moves underfoot. You can hear water flowing beneath the soil through the rocks. Lots of water and the soil is very saturated. In many areas, it flows on the surface as well. All the water flowing toward the lowest point in the valley, where it then flows mostly still under talus until reaching Nome Creek.
The Gabriel Icefall on the Gulkana Glacier sits between Ogive Mountain (left) and Skull Peak (right). This impressive mass of heavily crevassed ice is nearly 700 feet tall, originating in one of the 4 accumulation basins on the Gulkana, the Gabriel being the lowest on the glacier. It’s an impressive sight that can be seen from the Richardson Highway and is one of the first major features that can be seen on the short hike to the glacier. The icefall was named by Troy L. Péwé, a well-known geologist and permafrost scientist with the USGS.
Icefalls are really interesting features on glaciers, often very pretty and impressive as they convey a powerful image. They are heavily crevassed and form seracs because they flow at a much faster rate than the ice can deform plastically like it often can above or below the icefall.
The clear water of the Sanctuary River in Denali National Park is located at mile-23 along the Park Road. This was taken last year on April 5 while biking into the park. In stark contrast with this year, we currently have 3.5 feet of snow in the front yard that hasn’t even begun to melt yet. Thanks to Facebook and Google notifications reminding me of all the awesome trips we were able to go on last year at this time. Between the late road opening, possible long-term closure of the road before Polychrome Pass, and current travel restrictions due to COVID-19, I’m very interested in how the atmosphere of the park differs from regular seasons, especially beyond Polychrome.
My daily photo is a video today. I put this compilation together yesterday of footage I’ve taken over the years. I usually focus on taking still images, but every once in a while I like to turn the video camera on. Hopefully you can find this inspiring if you are stuck at home now. Brighter days are ahead! Stay well, stay happy, stay in touch with one another, and stay motivated!
Here’s another view of the enormous ice crystals and hoarfrost on the ceiling of a glacier cave in the Castner Glacier. This cave is an example of a Röthlisberger channel or R-channel. These are channels formed at the base of the glacier by flowing subglacial water, melting a semi-circular tube through the ice. Near the exit of the channel warm air in the summer melts the channel further, sometimes leading to large cave entrances like this. Further, into the cave, the tunnel is much narrower and will be completely full of water in the summer. Since the meltwater in the channel is almost always at or very near freezing, the primary method of melting the ice is viscous heating from the water due to flow rate and water pressure. Without that water flow and pressure, ice deformation from overburden pressure will slowly close the channel.
The hoarfrost and giant ice crystals on the ceiling grow from water vapor present in the cave. Their formation requires a very unique environment like that present in the ice cave. There is a very large temperature gradient between the floor of the cave and the ice that drives convection that allows for the deposition of ice from supercooled water vapor on the cold surface of the glacier ice. The photo above shows an area full of skeletal growth patterns with much branching. The photo below shows these crystals up close.
In another area of the cave, there was was a section of chandelier-like long c-axis ice spikes that had limited skeletal growth on them. It’s not fully understood what mechanism drives the growth of these spikes, but it is thought that they form much faster than the surrounding skeletal crystals.
A big splash from a calving event on the Columbia Glacier in the Chugach Mountains. The block that collapsed was the full height of the glacier face, over 100 feet tall. I have more photos and a gif of the collapse at the link below with some information on the tours available in the area.
The northern lights dancing over a snow-covered spruce forest lit by moonlight in Fairbanks, Alaska. We finally have clear skies at the house and a good-looking aurora forecast for the next couple of days after a week of snow. It might be time to set up a camera or two around the house tonight!
Golden light on the trees and snow-capped peaks reflecting off a pond at the Ruby Creek Overlook along the Richardson Highway. This was taken in early June last year shortly after 11:00 pm on the way back to Fairbanks from the Gulkana Glacier. I am definitely looking forward to the return of long days after spending so much time indoors this year, first the cold and now the COVID. Time to do some garden planning!
I spent some time packing down the fresh snow on the trails behind the house yesterday. We’ve had close to 18 inches of snow over the last two days. Fairbanks doesn’t typically get a lot of snow at once, usually a few inches here and there. But it’s cold here, so it doesn’t melt. What falls in October stays until April. We had already built up about 3 feet before the last few days, so it’s getting really deep now. I would figure that out every time a foot stepped off the trail.
Something caught my eye above me, as I looked up these massive, light tan wings were held open in front of me. The owl saw me the same time I saw it, and it abruptly turned west through the spruce trees.
I followed the trail slowly back to the house with my head turned up, trying to scan every tree branch around. The wind was kicking up big chunks of snow off the trees all around, sending my eyes all over. About 100 meters from the house a dark blob appeared in a birch tree with a couple of black tufts sticking out the top.
I saw the head following me, it was a Great Horned owl, the tufted ears being the giveaway. The Great Horned is the only tufted ear owl in Alaska. It watched me with squinted eyes in the snow as I took photos, trying to stabilize myself against a tree while standing in knee-deep snow. It stayed long enough for me to go back to the house and bring Cat out to watch.
Later in the day, I heard some ravens making a fuss down in the woods so I went to see if they were chasing the owl off. Sure enough, I startled the owl out of a tree about 15 feet away, I didn’t see it at all until it lifted off the branch. Once in the air, those wings are silent! I wasn’t able to find it again, but with the number of squirrel nests we have in our trees, I’m thinking that it might be preparing to nest in the yard. There’s no shortage of snowshoe hares in the area.
Snow-clad spruce trees at sunrise. Sunrises have to be one of my favorite things about Fairbanks, next to the aurora, and the mountain range to our south. Our sparse boreal forests give nice open views of the sky too. I love seeing those subtle arctic blues behind the brilliant colors. Almost every morning in the winter is wonderful!
Along the Richardson Highway at mile 197.6 on the Richardson Highway is a little pull-off with a monument on the east side. The monument is for Wilds P. Richardson, a brigadier general the U.S. Army. He was well known as an Alaska explorer and was commissioned to construct the 380-mile Richardson Highway (later named in his honor). The monument is situated on a little hill north of Summit Lake and overlooks the Gulkana Glacier. The view is spectacular and it’s definitely worth stopping if you find yourself on the drive.
A brown bear takes a pause from eating soapberries in Denali National Park. The brown bears in the interior of Alaska often have a blonde coat with darker legs. Despite being the same species, the brown bears of the interior are often called grizzlies because of their more “grizzled” appearance due to the contrast in light and dark fur. They’re considerably smaller than the coastal brown bears that feed on plentiful salmon all day. A male grizzly in the interior can still weigh around 400 lb, about 80 lb less than the species average.
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A monstrous display of the northern lights over the Chena River Valley and Hills from the Angel Rocks trail. The night started out pretty slow with low aurora activity. Hiking up the Angel Rocks Loop was fairly easy, but we continued along the Angel Rocks to Chena Hot Springs trail headed for the top of the hill. We soon found ourselves in deep snow and had to stop to put on snowshoes. Then the wind picked up. The auroral activity didn’t seem to be changing much, and it was cold. Cold enough that the batteries in my headlamp fizzled. I replaced them with my last set of AAAs and decided to head back. On the way down the aurora peaked in brightness over the hills, long enough to get this shot and a few others. Then it fizzled to a diffuse glow across the sky. Here’s a link to the full gallery.
Hoarfrost and columnar ice on the roof of a glacier cave beneath the Castner Glacier. These enormous caves form from water flowing beneath the glacier. Warmer air in the summer often helps melt out and open up the entrances. This was taken during a short hike yesterday. Check out the full story with lots of photos and video below!