Who am I, anyhow?

This Universal Question of Personal Identity bothered me a good bit when I was a teenager. I thought the crisis would be solved when I grew up. However, it has painfully resurfaced since I made the foolish vow to swear off haircuts until I returned home from the “Great Alaska Trek into the Wilderness for the Summer”.

At first, the hair was my calendar, reminding me each morning about the rapid passing of time in The Last Frontier. Also, it seemed fitting and went well with the bear spray on my belt, the new, defining, Alaska Rubber Boots, and my cool cowboy hat that still smelled like Tourist Gift Store. Somehow, though, it gradually got out of hand.

I first noticed the symptoms in the early morning when I was carefully selected my outfit and hat for the day. It was taking too much time to decide on the daily image, the emotional climate of the neighborhood, and which hat best showed the hair in the contemporary light.

I noticed I was getting paranoid about public opinion. It felt like I was running for office and the press was fickle and didn’t have the facts. Finally, I decided to put it up for a vote – the only way to find the truth. So here are a few possibilities for your consideration.

The Classic Alaska Fisherman

alaska-fisherman

“What’s with the HAIR, sir?”

“Well, son, it’s like this:”

“1- Who has time for hair concerns when the fish are biting?”

“2- It matches my new Alaska boots.”

“3- Have you ever seen a Grizzly bear with a hair cut…just askin.”

 

The Tough Hombre

cowboy-2

What’s with the HAT, sir?”

“I wear this hat for 3 good reasons.”

“First, it makes people sit up straight and call me “sir”.”

“Second, I wear it whenever I feel like robbin a bank or just shootin up the place.”

“Third, I wear this hat to keep the sun outa my eyes when I’m takin aim to shoot any dude that ask too many questions. Anything else you wanta know – DUDE?”

 

The Shining Example of the Quintessential All American Icon of Professional Freelance Landscape Photographers

photographer

“What’s with the CAMERA, sir?”

“Glad you asked. I bought this amazing specimen of the latest technological advancements because it’s really cool hanging around my neck with a megahuge lens attached. Also, it looks nice with this expensive outdoor coat.”

“Hey, could you move a little to the left while I take this self-portrait for Facebook, you’re blocking the subtle, but suggestive, glow of morning light that gives such creative expression of finely chiseled lines and weathered tones to my facial skin.”

Rolling Stones Wannabee

rolling-stones-wanabe “What’s with the NOLSTAGIA, sir?”

“When I was a teenager I wanted to start a rock band and let my hair grow. Now that I am old enough to be my own boss, I am thinking more seriously about it.”

The End Of the Great Hair Growing Saga

I have been wearing so many hats with this hair, that I am getting confused about who I really am. It keeps reminding me of Samson, or The Mighty Mountain Man of the Wild West. My wife, who has little imagination, says it reminds her of the typical generic garden variety of homeless bum.

The reaction on the street is consistent, everyone ignores it. I get absolutely no attention – and not one beautiful strange woman has tried to run her hands through my hair like I expected. (My wife scornfully warned me “your dreaming”) Some days, I get this awful feeling that everyone is looking at me like I am just a “Leftover Hippy” trying desperately to recapture my youth.

I finally couldn’t take it anymore – it was becoming a constant aggravation trying to keep it out of my face. I got it cut yesterday. Suddenly, I started getting all kinds of attention and compliments – especially from my wife!

(Photos by granddaughter – Tiana Shalom Crist}

The End of the Great Alaska Adventure Road Trip: The Canadian Rockies to Montana – Day 77-79 (Sept 3-5)

From the start of the Alaska Highway at Dawson Creek to the Montana border is 690 Miles. We took 43 east, 40 south, 16 to Jasper, and 93 south to the Border. We stayed overnight at the very nice city campground at Grand Cache and the overflow parking lot near Lake Louse in the Canadian Rockies.

It rained every day – of course. There were some clear moments to photograph in the Canadian Rockies – although some of the photos here were taken by keeping a plastic bag over the camera until I pushed the shutter. Even then, rain smeared the lens and I often had to wipe the lens and try the shot again quick before the next drops hit. The atmosphere and rain drops on the water gave an interesting look to some of these shots.

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Wetlands near Jasper
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Reflections in the Canadian Rockies
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Athabasca River
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The Classic Canadian Rockies Scene
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I would never have got this shot without my new Alaska Boots!
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Stormy weather in the Canadian Rockies
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100% Pure Canadian Rocks
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Fresh snow in the Rockies
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Just a hint of fall

A Final Summary

It was labor day weekend  in the Canadian Rockies. I have never seen so much traffic there. After many weeks of wilderness, the masses of humanity, noise, and stress of competition on the roads was overwhelming. We both were ready to get out of the car and stare quietly at the wall for awhile. Our senses were overloaded from a VERY long stretch of scenery viewed through busy windshield wipers.

This was the first time on our trip that I got a serious case of scenery burnout. The brain can only process so much before it goes into pause mode. I have found the best cure for scenery burnout is HIKING. Hiking allows the brain to be entertained and busy at a “normal” level of sensory input. Your processor can keep up, and rest when you rest. Too much extended driving time through scenery will eventually overload your senses and you will feel “bored” even in the most beautiful place. In the rain, we drove constantly with few times to hike. By the time we pulled in the drive at Chad and Sally’s, we were ready to quit traveling. I haven’t even drove through the Bison Range since we have been here. Believe me, when we start home to Ohio, we are taking our time and stopping often to hike.

We drove over 10,000 miles above the border. We were gone 79 days. (This is not counting our time to, from, and in, Montana). This was the adventure of a lifetime for us. I never dreamed I would actually get to do this. It is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It is going to take me a good while to process all this and readjust to our normal daily life.

Thank you for going along with me. I have enjoyed your company. A shared experience makes a larger experience. I appreciated the comments on Facebook, even when I don’t usually respond unless it is a direct question.

I will probably maintain a sporadic blog when something happens in my head, even if I am not going anywhere in particular. If you know me, you know how full of words I am, and this allows me to blow off steam before I explode from the internal pressure. I will post a notice on Facebook when I post a blog. KEEP IN TOUCH!

rainbow-at-kalispell

Dawson Creek at last! – day 74-76 (Aug 31-Sept 2)

It was a long, wet, cold, drive down the Alaska Highway. Not one clear day the entire length. We felt a sense of accomplishment when we got to Dawson Creek at the end. I am elated that we had the opportunity to drive this road. It has been an adventure – but once is enough. I have too many memories of health problems, camper problems, car problems, and weather problems – not to mention the huge amount of time and money it took. That is all part of the adventure of The Alaska Highway. If you ever get a chance – DO IT!

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The end of the road – for us. We missed Dawson Creek on the way up, since we took Rt. 37 instead.
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Our rig at milepost zero in Dawson Creek. We are amazed we made it through in one piece…sort of.

The Northern Rockies

The only place on the entire road that I would like to revisit is the stretch through the Northern Rockies in British Columbia. That was my favorite spot – but it was all obscured by thick overcast and constant rain while we were there. I also liked the stretch near Haines Junction, around Kluane Lake, and along the Alaska Range.

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A wetland in the Northern Rockies
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Alaska Highway through the Northern Rockies. Note the new snow on the peaks. A couple days previous, it snowed on the road at the Pass. This is our reminder to keep moving south.
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A very mellow, clear river in the Northern Rockies. No time to cast for a grayling – but there are some large ones in here.
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The high country in the Northern Rockies has numerous flash flood gravel beds like this one. For miles, it looked like a huge bare gravel pit along the road. I wanted so bad to hike up one of these canyons – probably not a good idea in the rain -although this geological formation is a result of spring floods, not fall rains.
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The mountains were obscured and it was raining too hard to take the camera out for long – but the foggy atmosphere created an intriguing and mysterious place that I will always remember.
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Our last fond memories of the Alaska Highway as it wandered along beautiful lakes and rivers through the Northern Rockies.

After Dawson Creek and The Great Alaska Highway, we went through the Canadian Rockies and on to Montana. That will be the next and last post of The Great Alaska Adventure Road Trip of 2016!

Skagway, Alaska – Day 73 (Aug 30)

From Haines, we took the ferry to Skagway. In one day we toured the town and drove the loop road back to the Alaska Highway. We stayed overnight at a pullover and then headed toward home in the rain.

The Ferry to Skagway

For $170 we took our camper and Tahoe to Skagway on the ferry. It was a one hour trip and the shortcut saved us many hours of driving – plus it was an exciting new experience.

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On the ferry
fire
Neat stuff to look at on the ferry
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Passenger “A”
passenger-2
Passenger “B”
jackie
Passenger “C”
us
Partners in Crime and Adventure

Skagway –  Tourist Heaven.

Skagway has 1,000 residence and 900,000 visitors each summer. There were three mammoth cruise ships in the harbor when we were there. The downtown is a few blocks long and a couple blocks wide, so you can imagine what the sidewalks looked like when we were there.

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Skagway sidewalk
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Skagway Streetcar
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Skagway Downtown and Cruise Ship
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Skagway Hombre hangin with the wrong crowd

Skagway has an amazing gold rush history – at one point it was the largest city in Alaska. It was also the setting for Jack London’s “Call of the Wild”. Many of the storefronts and the general feel of the downtown still maintains an aura of days gone by. The main clue that breaks the spell is the extravagant jewelry stores, which seem to be 30% of the business.

Route 3

Route 3 is he only road to Skagway. It goes over White Pass and ends at the Alaska Highway near Whitehorse. Rt. 8 at Carcross is a shortcut going east to the Alaska Highway.

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High country on Route 3

 

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All this rain has to go someplace.

 

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One last look into Alaska at the border. We didn’t look long – it was cold, windy, and raining – time to get back on the Alaska Highway toward warmer weather.

The Trip to Haines, Alaska – Day 71-72 (Aug 28-29)

Aug 27 we left the Denali Highway and headed down the Alaska Highway towards Haines, Alaska. This trip took us almost two days. It included the worst section of the Alaska Highway, through the Yukon near the border. For us, it was a nightmare.

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Glacier view from the Richardson Highway
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Delta River beside the Richardson Highway through the Alaska Range before the Alaska Highway.
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Fall starting in the Alaska Range

The road and our experience mellowed out at Haines Junction, and the Haines Highway (leading back across the border into a small piece of Alaska) was just as beautiful as the literature claimed – or even more so – since the fall colors were in full bloom.

Haines was under thick overcast, but that never stopped the Grizzlies catching salmon near the town road where everyone could observe from the safety of their cars. We were only there one day and then took the ferry to Skagway and headed straight down the Alaska Highway toward home.

The Trials and Tribulations of Wandering Through the Wilderness.

It has been said, “It is more fun to tell about an adventure than it is to experience it.” After our trip down the Alaska Highway in the Yukon, we would agree.

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Our first morning on the Alaska Highway started early – and with promise.
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In the early morning light after a storm, even an old burn is beautiful.
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Near the border, the Alaska Highway goes through miles and miles of Boreal Forest of thick stands of scraggly, monotonous Black Spruce.

About an hour into the Yukon we stopped at an overlook. The Tahoe would hardly start, kept trying to die, and would only keep running at high throttle. We didn’t dare let it die. We didn’t know what the problem was – only that we were in dire straights. We were about 2-3 hrs from any possible mechanic, and that spells a BIG tow bill. Plus, I wasn’t wanting to sit in the cold rain waiting for who knows how long before someone would see our dilemma and stop to help. Traffic was rare, and there was no cell service. So, we kept the gas up, the gear low, and dodged and bounced through mud, potholes and frost heaves at 25 miles per hour for a couple hours – praying the engine would not die and leave us stranded in the middle of this vast and desolate place.

We eventually passed a cell tower near a small isolated native village and  connected with  Chad – our Montana Mechanical Crisis Consultant. He diagnosed the symptoms and confirmed our suspicions that we had probably got bad gas at the last station before the border. We had stopped at a rundown remnant of a “Wilderness Resort”  because gas in Canada is MUCH more expensive. We never realized until later that this place was going out of business and they were emptying their tanks. Most of the ancient pumps were closed, and we evidentially got the last old gas from the bottom. Our only hope was to keep running till we got to Haines Junction and a fresh tank of gas.

With nerves jangling and prayers ascending, we FINALLY pulled into Haines Junction with an empty tank – and shut off the engine. We filled with high test and held our breath when we hit the starter. It ran like a charm and hasn’t missed a beat since!

The Incredible Haines Highway

Everyone says the Haines Highway is worth the drive. We agree! Especially when it is alive with fall color. We drove it in the rain, so photography was limited, but it was Jackie’s favorite scenery  of anywhere on our trip. For miles the road runs along the edge of the Kluane National Park – the best part of the Yukon. This park adjoins the Wrangell-St Elias National Park in Alaska -which by itself is six times the size of Yellowstone.  Together they make up a “UNESCO World Heritage Site”, an international park set aside by the United Nations as a special place for all mankind to enjoy.

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Late evening on the Haines Highway.
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Even the side ditches are interesting.
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Another photo taken in the rain and wind. Kluane National Park from the Haines Highway.
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Early morning near the pass on the Haines highway. Strange light through the storm clouds created an eerie atmosphere.

The Grizzlies at Haines

The highlight of Haines, for us, was watching the Grizzlies fishing for Pink Salmon spawning on the Chilkoot River near town. They had lost their fear of people and would wander through traffic jams, ignore flocks of photographers, and jump into the river after the Salmon. It was simply amazing. After all this, it is going to be a transition to settle back into our daily life in Ohio.

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Bear Sign. It reads in part: Yield to Bears on Road. Always respect Bears.
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Griz at Rest.

 

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Bear fishing – method #1.

 

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Bear fishing – method #2.

The Denali Highway – Day 69-70 (Aug 26-27)

The Denali Highway is the worst of roads, and it is the best of roads. It is 100 miles of gravel potholes cutting through some of the best scenery in Alaska. Originally, it was the only way to Denali National Park before the Parks Highway was built in 1971. Today, it often looks like it hasn’t been graded since.

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We finally caught a brief glimpse of Denali when the rain began to clear and we started out on the Denali Highway.

Pothole Heaven

It doesn’t help the pothole problem when it rains for weeks during hunting season and thousands of monster pickups and campers pulling 4-wheeler trailers go blasting down the road , banging and bouncing even more gravel out of the holes and onto the windshields of anyone brave enough to face this free-for-all. Such was the case when we were there.

potholes
There are bad sections of potholes on The Denali Highway where it is impossible to dodge them all.. I counted this section and extrapolated it as 2,000 potholes per mile – or 200,000 in a hundred miles. Hopefully, they will grade it before all 100 miles looks like this

For an avid landscape photographer, potholes and crowds of other outdoor enthusiast are minor “occupational hazards”. Especially when the Call of the Wild drives them through the heart of the Alaska Range on a beautiful fall day.

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Hunter camp and photographer camper rig coexisting peacefully on the Denali Highway.
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Folks from France on the Denali Highway. We spoke to them at the beginning and kept “bumping into them” for most of the way. Check out their “European Camper”. We saw a lot of this style camper in Alaska, which resembles bullet proof military vehicles. This one had a map of the world on the back, showing all their travels.
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The folks from France camping with the hunters. There can be unity in sharing the wilderness.

Fall Color on the Denali Highway

We set out early on the Denali Highway for one of the most exciting photography experiences of our Alaska trip. The rain had stopped and glorious light broke through the heavy clouds to set the Alaska landscape on fire with color.

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A first glimpse of the Alaska Range.

We had waited a week for the rain to stop – and it did – for one day! It started to rain at the end of the Denali Highway, and never stopped until our Alaska Trip ended. Every day of of the Alaska Highway home it rained – often all night long. We rarely drove on dry pavement. This made our time on The Denali Highway even more precious. These two days were some of the best memories I have of Alaska.

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The Denali Highway
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Always waiting to see what is around the next curve on The Denali Highway.

I will not bore you here with words, names, geography lessons, or history. If you want the details of our experience on this amazing road, I will be glad to share it with you – but for now – just sit back, forget you problems, and go with me once again to this wonderful place through photographs. Let them speak of that moment when my heart was on fire with awe and wonder; when praise for the Designer and Creator consumed all my earthly desires.

Here are just a few pieces of a vast landscape that is filled with numerous glaciers, rugged mountains, colorful tundra, sparse forest, rivers, lakes, and sky – all fit precisely into place doing exactly what they were designed to do. This beauty is not random molecular motion creating order from chaos by chance. It is more than the work of past and present glaciers, volcanoes, earthquakes and all the laws of physics. It was ordered by design. And the work of that designer is good, and very good!

glacier 1

the river

glacier close

from the top

fall in the canyon

tundra-storm

lake from top

morning lake 2

alaska glacier

a-river-runs-through-it

a-favorite-view

rain

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