08 July, 2011

Alaska, or How My Mind Was Completely Blown

Hi!  My handle on this-here blogthing is Steamforged.  I am here by grace of wonderful happenstance, and I could not be more honored.  Dana and I encountered each other in line for Neil Gaiman's Seattle visit (which occurrence she wrote about in such glowing terms as to make me blush), and we hit it off so famously that about ten minutes into the conversation she asked if I'd guest blog about my Alaska trip for you awesome folks.  She's seriously a special person, but you already knew that since you're here too.  Thank you in advance for welcoming me here, and I hope you enjoy my posts!

A quick disclaimer: I am not a geologist, though I dearly hope to be one someday.  I've recently started self-teaching as I can by reading books and blogs and really anything I can get my grubby mitts on, but I'm no expert.  I might get things wrong, and if I do please PLEASE correct me!  That way I can keep on learning.  With that said, on to Alaska!

There's this story I used to tell people by way of explaining why I wanted to visit Alaska, and I'll share it with you folks too.  I used to work tech support for Canon, their cameras more specifically.  I talked to a lot of people, and many of those people traveled heavily; amongst all the troubleshooting I'd often hear about their vacations.  The one constant, the opinion I heard from everyone echoed as if from a vacationers' hivemind, was that Alaska was the most beautiful place they'd ever seen.  It's really quite the recommendation.

Finally made the trip myself and I am here to tell you that Alaska is the most beautiful place I've ever seen.

Right near Juneau.  And I thought I woke up to great views, living east of Seattle...  These folks totally have me beat.

I took hundreds of pictures, saw countless naked and wild natural wonders, and got my mind completely blown away by it all.  It's not possible to convey everything adequately, and besides which, a lot of it isn't really relevant to our topic here--wait, what?  There's a topic beyond "Alaska is so super-rad," you ask?  Sure!  I'm narrowing things down to GEOLOGICALLY RELEVANT beauty.  Otherwise I'd never shut up.  Trust me, this is for everyone's benefit.

My visit was via cruise ship up the Alaskan Inner Passage.  There are three locations I'll be writing about: Mendenhall Glacier, Tracy Arm, and the Klondike Highway between Skagway and the Yukon.  Three locations, three posts, simple enough!  They'll be image-heavy, which is good, since I'm no John Muir (I just started reading his Travels in Alaska, oh wow) and can't hope to successfully demonstrate Alaska without some photographs to help me out.  It's just that, well...  mind-blowing.

Glacier time!

Mendenhall Glacier: my first river-of-ice, down-to-the-water, massive for-really-real glacier.  I know, Mt Rainier not only counts, but counts heavily.  Still, there's something special about seeing an ancient flow of blue-white ice calving icebergs into the water.  It has all the bells and whistles, too.  The nearby rock faces bear parallel gouges from long years of glacial scouring; erratics litter the terrain, ranging from the size of a Volkswagon Beetle to the size of a Hot Wheels Volkswagon Beetle.  It was a beautiful day.  In fact, it was a little too beautiful.  I'm embarrassed to say that I managed to overheat myself running around near a glacier.  S'what I get for not drinking enough water!

Mendenhall Glacier in all its glory.  According to the excellent Visitor's Center, the place I stood when taking that picture was beneath the glacier's ice within this last century.  It's receded quite a bit.

Even if Mendenhall Glacier wasn't looming over my shoulder, I'd know this was glacier country.  Look at those grooves!  If memory serves, the Visitor's Center was built directly atop the rock in this picture.  Also, I am a bad wannabe geologist, having not provided anything for scale.  This will be rectified in coming photos.

There's so much going on in this picture!  In the foreground we have a beach made of erratics, casually dropped unsorted as Mendenhall made its slow retreat.  Then there's Mendenhall Lake with its summer flotilla of icebergs, and further back there are the sloping hills at the foot of the mountains that cradle the glacier itself.  It really was a beautiful day.  Cloud provided for scale.

Then there are the human-sorted rocks.  I came across rock stacks wherever there were sufficient rocks to support such endeavors.  Maybe people just like to leave their mark, something to say I WAS HERE.  And check out these rocks!  You can see the striations, perfectly linear and parallel.  SO glacial.  Mountain provided for scale.

Now we're getting close.  Those lucky folks had the money for the fancier shore excursions; I relied upon my trusty zoom lens.  That remarkable glacier blue shines through.  I love the jagged crevasses and spikes in the face of the glacier.  There's so much texture there.  Boat provided for scale.

And finally, Mendenhall is ready for its close up.  The color is simply brilliant, down in the cracks.  I feel like there is so much going on there, in the ripples and crevasses and other ice formations, and I don't understand any of it.  I want to, though!  Some of the smoother surfaces almost have the look of wind-sculpted sandstone formations.  ...the glacier IS the scale, darnit!

The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor's Center was really quite nice, with dioramas and a viewing deck and rangers on site to answer all kinds of questions.  I cannot recommend them highly enough.  That's actually where I bought my copy of Travels in Alaska, which is written in such poetic language that I suspect I'll be quoting it for years.  It doesn't hurt that, after I commented on the formation of the nearby mountains, one of the rangers asked if I was a geologist.  TOTALLY made my year.

That's it for my introduction and Mendenhall Glacier!  Next time: Tracy Arm, a journey into awe, my sense of self (rendered tiny) provided for scale.


Dana Hunter said...

Right. I think you can all see now why, after having spoken to her for about five minutes and seeing one photo on her camera phone, I practically demanded she post. With her and Jake, I've got two regular cobloggers who make me damned glad to have started this blog.

Suzanne said...

*picking jaw up off floor*


i'm looking forward to parts two and three (and doubling down on my desire to visit alaska one day)

great into post -- tweeted