Alaska, 2014 (Part II)

The morning arrived for my Winter All-In-One with 907 Tours.  Before they arrived, I had received an email advising that a part of the tour had been cancelled due to exceptionally warm weather that Anchorage had been experiencing for the past few weeks.  I was somewhat disappointed at that but it really didn't bother me all that much.  

The van arrived and I was pleased to see that aside from John, our guide, there were only two other folks on the tour, a very nice young couple from Thailand.  They were in Alaska for only a short time before flying on to Pennsylvania to spend some time there.  I learned later that I would be seeing them on the Alaska Railroad as we were all heading to Fairbanks on the same day.  Small world!

The tour began in the city where John provided many details of the history of Alaska and Anchorage in particularly, including such information as the 9.2 earthquake that hit in 1964 which devastated the state.  The entire city of Anchorage was flattened and sea water rushed in leaving the lowlands under water (The tsunami that hit the state was over 180 feet high!).  Evidence of this quake can still easily be seen throughout the area.  After visiting several other sites around the city, we were off to the Seward Highway.

Turnagain Arm Scenic Stop

Driving southeast along the Seward Highway will take you past the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet.  The scenery is absolutely outstanding here with mountains on both sides of the water, low hanging clouds and a sun that didn't rise above 25 or 30 degrees over the horizon.  Following the highway is the Alaska Railroad which runs from Fairbanks to the north to the town of Seward to the south.  There were several stops along the way, each filled with eye-popping mountain views, but I'll share some of those elsewhere.

It was at this point where John let us know that he had a good feeling that our Tour may not have a portion cancelled, and with that said, we drove up a long winding mountain road which ultimately led us to the Alyeska Ski Resort.  As you might expect, the place is beautiful and of course, set among tall mountains of beautiful white snow.  The past several days of coolish weather had enabled the resort to open its runs and to our good fortune, we were able to ride the tram to the top to enjoy the views.  

A father and son ski and snowboard duo.

For me, what this meant was the opportunity to practice action shots on skiiers and snowboarders.  Here, from my elevated vantage point, I caught this father and son duo on a gentle descent after they came down a couple hundred yards of steepness.  Here the son worked up his courage before resuming his track and going down the rest of the slope and into the clouds ahead.  More than a few people paused at this spot to take in what lay ahead.  This is one lucky boy.

After a short while, it was time to return down tho the base of the mountain where a short drive would take us to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.  

I'm sorry to say the above shot was taken with my phone, but at the same time, I'm rather impressed it turned out so well.  This sign is at the entrance to the Center and despite how unreal the shot looks, I assure you, there is no making this up.  This shot is for real.

It wasn't long before we were greeted by the sights and sounds (along with smells) of the inhabitants within.  The lone eagle below appeared immediately before us, almost as a watchman through the fog and gloom of the day.

Guardian of the Park

The Center is a great place.  Good variety of animals and in the winter, although it is closed to the public during weekdays, they have an arrangement with 907 Tours to allow groups in.  Here we met a pair of moose, an injured bald eagle named Adonis who had sadly lost its left wing.  This did little to diminish his regal stature though.

Brown Bear

As we rolled through the park, we came upon an open space where John announced three bears were likely sleeping.  As we exited the van, they were kind enough to come out of their little home and say hello.  This fella was content to chew on a fresh moose leg which had unfortunately seen a tragic end at the hands of a truck.  It is fortunate that the Center was able to obtain it to feed these bears.  This big boy was very calm and paced slowly and quietly while a smaller female moved a little quicker and in the dense mist that hung over the center.  

John casually pointed out that on a prior tour, a customer had pressed his luck and pushed a long lens through the fence.  This proved to be a bad idea when the bear decided to extend one of his enormous paws and swatted it out of his hand, breaking the lens off and falling inside of his area, destroying it.  With a grin, I told John I had no intention of making the same mistake.  I had no trouble getting some nice shots of him.

Following our visit with the bears, we spent some time admiring some reindeer and elk along with a couple of ravens who patrolled above us and before long we found ourselves at a foxes den.

This fella was a bit more shy and it took the coaxing (and a pocket full of assorted fruit and meat) to coax him out to see us.  This beautiful critter paced excitedly, taking fruit and meat from her hand and excitedly bounded about his cage.  He was kind enough to pause for a moment or two for photos and I'm happy to have captured this shot.  Quick-moving animals are always a challenge for me when the light is bad because there is just never enough light to get a good clean shot so keeping shutter speed down is a big challenge.  I'm extremely pleased with this one though and it will soon be in a proud location on my wall.

American Bald Eagle

My final subject here at the Center was a bald eagle.  These guys are massive and have an intensity to their stare that is difficult not to admire.  

With that, the tour was at an end, and it was time to head on back.  You may have guessed by my providing a link to 907 Tours that I highly recommend them to anyone who visits Anchorage.  The price was very reasonable and our Guide was a wealth of information combined with an amazing life story.  

With that, I will call it a day and perhaps continue with the story tomorrow.