For most Americans, summertime is all about backyard barbeques, baseball games on hot evenings, lazy afternoons at the swimming pool and a vacation roadtrip to the mountains or beach. My summers in isolated Glacier Bay National Park have always been a little bit different, since I live in a rainforest on an island cut off from the world. Make no mistake, I usually love my summers in the frontier, but this summer was different for the simple fact that we didn’t actually have summer.
Glacier Bay is in a rain forest, but the summer months are typically the dry-ish season when you can count on a few days of glorious sunshine each week. When the sun shines in Alaska, there is no better place to be. However, this “summer” the sky was permantanly bruised with clouds and rain fell daily. Even longtime residents of the area marveled at the dreariness, saying it was one of the worst summers in 30 years.
As a result, I didn’t take as many photos as usual, hence my extended blogging hiatus. When the sun was out, I made sure to go out and hike, take photos and go on boat tours. The few sunny days were a gift from heaven, and everyone’s mood was lifted the few times the clouds parted.
The highlight of my summer was getting to watch bubble net feeding by a pod of humpback whales for about four hours aboard the MV Taz. To bubble net feed, one whale swims in a circle around a school of fish while blowing bubbles and making loud screaming noises. The bubbles work to corral the fish and the other whales swim up under the school and emerge from the water with a huge mouthful of fish. As this happens, seagulls flock to the spot to eat scraps of fish left by the leviathans and camera shutters click like machine guns on tour boats.
Although I am happy with the photo above, had I been there a bit earlier when the clouds were bright white I think I could have made a truly stunning photo. Since this was the first day to see the sun in about two weeks, I wasn’t complaining.
The Salmon River flows through the middle of Gustavus, the gateway town to Glacier Bay National Park. On this day at high tide it was completely calm, a rare sight.
I only have about two places to go in the front country to watch a sunset, which is a good and bad thing. I have been out to this spot dozens of times which means I’ve had many opportunities to get photos under different circumstances, but I also get a little bored of seeing the same thing. As a result, I used a neutral density filter and made a lot of long exposure shots this summer, which smoothes out the water, blurs the clouds and enhances the color. This photo was made with a one minute and six second exposure.
I almost never wake up for the sunrise in Alaska since it happens at 4am during the summer, but this one was different – I found myself up late and just stayed awake for it. As the first rays of light illuminated the Fairweather Range, a flock of birds came by which made everything a bit more dynamic.
Oyster catchers keep their eggs and chicks in nests in the grass and are aggressively protective. I have been nearly attacked on a few occasions as I was innocently walking along and came too close to a hidden nest. On this day, I was keeping a respectful distance and using a 300mm lens. The guard bird was laying on the rock, aware of me but unconcerned. The bird’s spouse returned to the nest and squawked angrily at the guard bird, as if to say, “Why are you not scaring away that human!” The guard bird in the photo then turned and yelled at me, but we both understood he was doing it to keep his spouse happy and not to be rude. I moved away to give them some space and restore their marital bliss.
One of my favorite places on the entire planet is the beach and meadows in Gustavus. In the summer, the fields are filled with assorted wildflowers, with fireweed growing tall in July. Due to the craptastic weather I only made it here a few times, but on this day I was welcomed by a beautiful sunset and glowing fireweed.
The Fairweather Mountains, named ironically since it snows 12 months a year on the peaks, are the tallest coastal mountains in the world, rising up 15,325 feet (4671 meters) from the sea. This continuus snow is the source of the massive glaciers that carved out Glacier Bay.
The town of Gustavus is a fishing mecca, and each day charters return to the pier laden with halibut and salmon. This sea lion hangs out at the docks looking for scraps from the fisherman and is a bit of a celebrity since photographers can reliably take his photo.
I had to include one more bubble net feeding photo in my top 10. Did I mention that the whales worked in a circle all afternoon, popping up on different sides of the boat as we watched? As a result, I got photos of whales in all different angles of light, a photographers dream. On the downside, once they swam right up to the boat and I got sprayed with whale snot, which I can say smells like a mixture of briny morning breath and fermented salmon.
Thanks for looking at my 10 favorite photos of the summer. Do you have a favorite? I’d love to hear your feedback.