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Right Time; Right Place Photography

Porcupine Mountains Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Recently, I went through a review and update of my LightCentric Photography photo website.  As I was systematically checking captioning information (among other things), a couple of the images made me pause and reflect on their circumstances as involving a particularly memorable moment of for whatever reason, just being in the right place at the right time.  Sometimes it was planned. Sometimes it was just serendipity.

This doesn’t mean there haven’t been other times and images. There have been too many photographic memories to cover, including trips to New Mexico, Alaska, New England, California, and around the world.

In some ways, the Porcupine Mountains image is my most memorable photo. Taken back in the days of film, I made this photograph on my very first “dedicated photography trip.” I spent a long weekend in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.) for the first time since my childhood. The trip was planned with much anticipation of fall color imagery.  For the most part, even though I was there during the first week in October, I was still fairly early for foliage, and was largely disappointed in that aspect of the trip. The trip motivated many more similar excursions to the U.P., mostly in the fall.  I arrived at “The Escarpment,” in the Porcupine Mountains late on a Saturday afternoon. From the Escarpment, you can view the Lake of The Clouds, which is often photographed – especially during peak foliage. Conditions were not what I had hoped for.  It was cloudy, with a 40 plus mph wind.  I had seen images of Lake of The Clouds, and that was my goal for this part of the trip.  Foliage conditions were just starting, and I just did not see the image I had visualized. To make matters worse, the forecast called for worsening conditions, with all-out rain by morning.  So I took a number of images, using a much faster shutter speed and lower aperture combination than I normally would have, bracing the tripod against the wind buffets with my own weight (seemingly counterproductive).  Unlike these days, you could not see a representation of the result on the back of the camera.  I would wait until I returned home, and the photographic processor completed developing my slides.  I didn’t expect much from this location. But on the light table, this one image jumped out at me. It is perhaps the only “keeper” from that take. As I viewed it, I realized that the contrast between the lingering greens, the precocious reds, and the developing oranges and yellows, was actually more visually interesting – indeed satisfying – than some of those images that I had seen that were a complete wash of fall color. There is a photographer’s saying:  “F8 and be there.” I don’t think this was F8, but I was there, and this is what I found. The image here, is prepped for printing, and may look a bit saturated. But I did not touch the saturation sliders in Photoshop.  Instead, I used an old technique (surpassed for most of us by plugins such as NIK Viveza 2), converting the scanned image to LAB color space and making adjustments to the A and B curves. This image has continued to be my best selling photo. It hangs in the main conference room of my law firm’s offices, and draws many comments.

Mad River
Waitsfield, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

In 2006, after much bragging to my best buddy, Rich Pomeroy, about the “best fall foliage in the world, bar none,” he called my bluff and we took a week long trip to Vermont. We had take many business trips together before, but this was our first “together” photography adventure. I am delighted to say that we have made numerous other photo trips, and will make many more in future years.  But this one turned out to be kind of a bust. We went during the last part of September and very early October. All during the week, we wished we had waited a week, as the foliage was again in very early (almost non-existent) stages. We worked hard to find some foliage and though we had a lot of fun and made some memorable images, it wasn’t what we had anticipated. Determined to “find” those colors I remembered from my youth in the 1970’s in Vermont, I returned – alone this time – in 1997, a week later. During that trip, I spend a couple nights in central Vermont, driving along it famed Route 100. Mother Nature can be fickle, and the colors were – once again – not as nice as I had hoped (this time a bit past peak in many places).  One morning, I was headed for a waterfall that has turned out to be (in my opinion) unremarkable;  Moss Glen Falls in Granville. But on my way, I got waylaid by a vision:  some color off in the distance of a scenic turnout.  The turnout turned out (see what I did there 🙂 ) to be a nice series of drops in the Mad River. The Mad River is really just a stream or creek that is not really navigable.  It is also the namesake of “Mad River Canoes,” originally built by hand in Waitsfield, where this very same stream wandered through his back yard. A drizzly rain was falling, but I donned my wading boots and spent 2 1/2 hours shooting there.  The image here was actually on a return trip in 2010, when I brought Rich back to “prove” my assertions about Vermont foliage 🙂 . That morning was a magical time. I was all alone with the subject, which remains a really photogenic series of waterfalls.

Otter Cliffs Sunrise
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

In 2009, Rich and I made another memorable photo trip; this time to Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine. Bar Harbor is a quaint little touristy town with just enough non-photographic things to keep our spouses entertained (well, for about a day that is – but we were there for a week 🙂 ). Acadia is probably one of the most photographed National Parks. There a numerous books about the Park Loop Road, and all the different photographic venues. Otter Cliffs is one, but it is most often viewed more distantly, from another cliff to the north.  From the vantage point, you cannot even see this cobblestone beach. I had a friend who strongly recommended that I “work” to find this spot, which is a cobblestone beach that is not well documented or marked (at least, it wasn’t in 2009). The directions in the books don’t really reveal it, but with some perseverance, and some insight from him, we did find it. We visited it for 3 successive mornings in the pre-dawn, before we got this one. There is really nothing like being in a location like this, literally alone, and watching the sunrise and the morning develop. It was a location worth “working” for.

Burton Hill Road
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Vermont has a special place in my heart. Readers here know I make period trips to Vermont to photograph; usually during the vaunted fall foliage season. I wrote my first eBook on this very topic.  As I did my homework, planning each trip, researching and hobnobbing with members of the Scenes of Vermont forum, I “met” two of my wonderful friends, both of whom also happen to be talented photographers and writers. Al Utzig and I carried on a e-mail correspondence for several years before I finally had the pleasure of meeting him in person. We were good friends by that time and the face-to-face didn’t change that (for me at least – I’ll let Al be the judge of it 🙂 ). Carol Smith, who many of you know as my co-author for the current edition of Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage,” was a frequent poster on the Scenes forums and we were all soon to learn, an extremely knowledgeable and observant resource for wannabe Vermont photographers. She was of immeasurable help to me on the first edition and it was a logical progression for her to co-write a second edition which contains much more information, primarily from Carol. In the process we also became good “online” friends. In 2010, Rich and I returned to Vermont. I was there for a week, but Rich was only able to join me on the southern part of the trip for about 3 days.  This trip began with a group of us (particularly Al, Carol and me) meeting at Carol’s Barton house in anticipation of a next-day, early morning “tour,” led by Carol. This was my first face-to-face meeting with Carol, and to my surprise, she still loves me :-). We started at Bean Pond along the US 5 highway, for a foggy sunrise over the pond. The time and images were magical, but while Al and I gushed, Carol promised that the best was yet to come. And boy, was she right. The Burton Hill Road image is by far my personal favorite Vermont image, and perhaps my most “successful.” After others had left, Carol and her very patient husband, guided me around several other areas, including the Craftsbury Common image that appears on the cover of the Vermont eBook. But that morning is one of the most memorable times of any photographic trip. And I got to enjoy it with two of my very favorite friends.

Eagle in Flight
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Some years were big travel years for me. Others not so much. 2010 was one of those big years. In addition to another trip to Vermont, my wife, son and I went on our first cruise; the Inside Passage from Vancouver, B.C., to Whittier, Alaska. It introduced us to cruising (which to my surprise, I really liked), which has opened travel doors to us throughout the world. There were hundreds of images taken on that trip to Alaska, with some pretty great photographic opportunities.  But the most memorable image of that trip came as a complete surprise to me. We were signed up for a “deadliest catch” look-alike excursion (sans the cold and ice and heavy oceans). When we came ashore, one of the crew who met us saw my “big camera” and said “I see you came prepared. We are going to get some eagle photos for you today.”  Right. He was a tour guide. He certainly wasn’t going to promise me crappy photos.  🙂 I think we were scheduled to be out for 3 1/ or 4 hours, during which they talked about the history of these fishing boats (the boat was an actual boat used in the Bering Sea, just like the ones on the “Deadliest Catch” series, which had been shipwrecked, and then salvaged and retro-fitted with observation seating).  All very interesting, but no “knock your socks off” eagle photos. We saw some, but they were a long way in the distance. At the end of the cruise, they announced that they had a special treat for us, and took us by an uninhabited island, which was in native waters (by U.S. treaty) and therefore not subject to U.S. laws. As I looked, I saw a solitary eagle perched in dead tree. O.k. Then I suddenly heard “plop.” “Plop, plop.” The crew was up in the flybridge tossing bait into the water. The skies next to our boat suddenly turned into what I can only describe as a air to air dogfight as about 30 eagles all appeared, diving and often fighting for the food. I really wasn’t prepared and it all happened in about a 5 – 10 minute sequence. But in spite of my ill-preparedness, I was able to get several good shots. This one is my favorite. I doubt that I will ever get an opportunity to photograph eagles in flight from that close a position again. As our first cruise, it was hard to have it come to an end, with so many amazing and new experiences. But it did. It marked the end of a great trip – and the beginning of many more.

San Francisco Bay Bridge
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

In 2011, instead of a fall foliage trip, my wife and I opted to spend a week in California during the first week in October. My daughter lives in San Francisco, so we used that as a staging point, with an overnight excursion to Napa for some wine tasting. Lots of memories from that trip. My daughter’s place at the time was in downtown, south of Market Street (SOMA). She was just two blocks south of Market and just a few blocks west of the Bay Bridge, the Embarcadero and the eastern part of San Francisco bay. I was up early and somewhere on the street each morning by sunrise or earlier (the 3 hour time differential was a positive, making it easy for me to wake up and roust early). What I really noticed was the relative stillness, just before the world “wakes up.” I made numerous images of the Bay Bridge, which is a favorite subject of mine (I prefer these images to those I have made of the more famous Golden Gate). But this one, I think, best illustrates that early morning pre-dawn calm and stillness.

Blue Angels
Fleet Week
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

That trip had other memories. We made friends with a couple of the winery owners, and in later years would travel with one of them, to the Caribbean and to Ireland, as well as returning to the vineyard when back in California. But the unexpected and incredible opportunity of shooting the air show put on by – mostly – the U.S. Navy, during its San Francisco “Fleet Week,” is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. We shot from the ground for over an hour as the planes flew low over us. I worked hard to capture a “bloom” from the jet fighters as they broke the sound barrier. Because sound and light do not travel at the same speed, it was touch to anticipate. I got just one. But am pretty pleased with it.

New River Gorge Lookout
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Returning to California, Rich and I were able to sneak in a quick 3-day trip to West Virginia’s Babcock State Park, to photograph the often photographed Grist Mill in fall foliage. While we probably missed the peak near the mill, we were able to find peak foliage around Boley Lake in the park. What made this trip special was my first opportunity to meet one of my photographic mentors and a great inspiration to me, James Moore. Jim is an uber-talented nature photographer with many sales and publications; primarily in and around West Virginia. We had become on-line friends a year or two before, and he had a group he was guiding there photographing earlier in the week. Jim was still there when we arrived, but left early the next morning.  We had a nice time to chat and he gave us some great insight about when and where to shoot in the park. In 2012, Jim did me the great honor of asking me to act as a guide for one of his photography workshops in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Jim had heard a lot about it but had never visited there. We spent a great week, learning, shooting, and watching the foliage develop from pre-peak to full peak conditions. Jim had some health problems later in life and sadly those of us who knew and admired him have lost touch. For the West Virginia image here, my model was Jim, and the New River Gorge lookout was one of his favorite spots in the park.

Oxbow Bend
Snake River, Wyoming
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

2012, marked yet another photography trip with my buddy, Rich (and spouses). We joke a lot because I am a “planner” when it comes to these trips. I have usually figured out what I want to shoot, how to get there, how long it will take, and what time of day to be on site. For the most part, Rich is happy to let me do that, and quite often comes home with the better image. 🙂 A couple years before, Rich had attended a photography workshop in Jackson Hole, and the Grand Teton National Park. We both wanted to go again. This time I showed up and Rich was the guide. What a fun and memorable week with many great photo opportunities. As an old school photographer (or maybe just an old photographer), when it comes to scenic shots, I think in terms of a print. What we all want to bring back is a “wall-hanger.” Over the years I have made, printed and framed a number of my images. None has been better that this image of Oxbow Bend. We arrived here (I think the second time) in the pre-dawn hours and there was frost on everything. As the sun rose, the warmer water temps created a wonderful low fog over the bend in the river. May some white cotton-candy clouds would have enhanced this, but it was a great morning and I knew walking away from this shoot that this would be a wall-hanger.

Venice
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

2013 was a huge year for us. My wife came from a military family, so she had done some limited world travel as a young person. But in our adult lives, we had not traveled out of the U.S. except for a couple trips to the Caribbean, and Canada (which really doesn’t seem like it counts 🙂 ). We decided to kick our cruising up a notch, and booked a Mediterranean Cruise. In many ways, it may have been the most memorable of all of our cruises. It was our third cruise on the Princess Lines, and we were booked on their newest, and best ship. We were excited to see the world over the next two weeks, disembarking from Venice and ending in Barcelona. The cruise ship decided it wouldn’t cooperate, and our cruise was cut short. There was, however, a happy ending to that.

Gondolas
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

As is our custom, we planned to spend 3-4 days in our originating port city before boarding the cruise ship. We walked around Venice for 3 days and boarded the ship thankful for an immediate “day at sea,” exhausted.  But what I can say about Venice is that it is wall-to-wall “eye-candy” for the photographer. I have hundreds of Venice images, but the two shown here represent moments that separate themselves from the others.  The Gondolier was a case of right time, right place. I was looking for shots, and heard them coming. I found this setup and was blessed with wonderful early morning sunlight. The covered gondolas is not original on my part. I had seen at least one other photographer do this. What it would need was very early light in order to make an exposure long enough to capture the motion of the rocking gondolas. This meant either very early morning, or evening. I chose morning because there would be less people, and less activity on the Grand Canal, producing just some gentle rocking. I use this image on my Facebook LightCentric Photography Page Cover.

Lombard Street
San Francisco
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

In 2014, we returned again to San Francisco for several days. I made more trips to the Bay Bridge. I also walked to the San Francisco Giants ball stadium. My daughter took us to Lands End, to see the Golden Gate Bridge from a different perspective, and to Jones Beach. But what I remember the most is walking from our SOMA location, all the way across town and uphill to Lombard Street (the famous s-curved, brick-paved, switchback street that is a “must photograph” when you visit). I made the usual images (except for the nighttime shot with the streaky headlights). Then I looked for something else to shoot. A unique perspective that possibly nobody else had ever done. I think I might have been successful.

Sailboat
Narragansett Bay, Newport
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

In 2016, I made a last minute trip to join my buddy, Rich, who was in Newport, Rhode Island for business. I flew in on Thursday evening and we spent two days shooting.  Friday morning, I was on my own and walked around the downtown area and the wharfs, making lots of photos of boats, buildings, etc. Everything was a more or less nautical theme. That evening we went to shoot a lighthouse that Rich had found earlier in the week (Castle Hill Light). This was a photogenic lighthouse, and as we often do, we arrived early to scout best perspectives for shooting. And then we waited on the light. It is often worth waiting for the absolute last of the light to see if anything magical happens in the sky. To our west, the sun set over Narragansett Bay, with beautiful orange skies, but no real photographic interest. But as we watched and waited, this white sailboat approached and passed. Knowing a little about sailing from my past, I made note of the wind, and calculated that the boat (it was actually a large, tour charter boat on the last leg of the day) would come about and come back toward us. I quickly swiveled my tripod head around, took some metering measurements, and waited to frame the boat where I wanted it to be.  I knew I would get 2-3 shots at best of this quickly moving boat.

Tokyo Tower
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

2018 has been kind of a slow year, photographically. But we absolutely made up for that in 2017. In July, we spent a week in Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan. We saw many amazing sights and I did my usual early morning walking around both cities. I was intrigued by Tokyo Tower, lit at night, and worked hard to find a good place to photograph it from. I took a few from a couple different places. But it turns out that the best I could do was through the window of our Tokyo Hotel.

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

In September, we made our 3rd, and much anticipated Mediterranean Cruise. We again spent several days in Venice. One of the other places I had seen and wanted to shoot was the Greek Island of Santorini. We had a wonderful tour guide, who happened to also be a photographer, and he the right time and place for us to be to get shots I am certain I would never have found without his help, in spite of the research I had done.  Did I mention that Venice is “eye-candy” for photographers? Ditto Santorini.

Well.  This was an interesting exercise for me.  I tried to keep it to not more than 15 images. There were many more that perhaps fit the bill. And I am sure there will be more to come. As always, thanks for reading.

 

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O.k., I think I am safe here: “The Sun Also Rises”

Otter Beach Sunrise Acadia NP, Bar Harbor, ME Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Otter Beach Sunrise
Acadia NP, Bar Harbor, ME
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

When I — “tongue in cheek” — noted that I didn’t want to offend Hemingway and be guilty of the very thing I occasionally rant against, copyright infringement, an astute friend pointed out that it wasn’t Hemingway’s at all, but actually comes from the bible.  I am reasonably certain we are beyond the copyright expiration date for the particular author.  So there you go.  🙂

Sunrises reveal themselves in a number of varied conditions

Perhaps more meaningfully, my left turn into the topic of “sunrise” vs “sunset,” caused me to wonder just how many times I had ventured into the early morning, pre-dawn darkness, to try to capture the sunrise.  So I went back through my archives.  I was surprised (though I should not have been) to find that my sunrise images were far fewer than my sunset images.  I found about sixteen of them, most of which I had never given any serious post-processing.  I will use the next two posts to showcase some of them.  I will not say they are in every instance, my best work (in fact a couple were taken with lower-quality digital cameras in low light conditions — in a time when sensors were simply not as good as they are today).  The St. Thomas shot was made as the sun broke the horizon in the pre-dawn light, with a Canon G12 (which had a smaller and less capable sensor than my Sony RX100iv).  My Sony body is half its physical size.

St. Thomas, USVI Copyright Andy Richards 2012

St. Thomas, USVI
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

I believe the images here illustrate some of what I said in the prior post.  Sunrises reveal themselves in a number of varied conditions.  Sunsets can often be colorful.  Sunrises are generally more subtle, but as the Otter Beach shot shows, there are occasionally glorious exceptions.  Cooler temperatures create fog and mist.  Cold temperatures create a cool look to the image colors.

Saginaw County Sunrise Copyright Andy Richards 2006

Saginaw County Sunrise
Copyright Andy Richards 2006

The earliest recorded attempt I made at sunrise shooting was on a freezing cold morning in February, not far from my home in Saginaw, Michigan.  Saginaw is part of the so-called, I-75 industrial corridor, formerly known for its General Motors auto manufacturing plants.  But it may not be a well-known that it is also one of the largest agricultural areas in the mid-west.  As soon as you leave the city in almost any direction, there are farms and farmland.  This image was taken with my Nikon 35mm SLR camera and color transparency film.  Slow ISO speeds of such film dictated the use of a sturdy tripod and cable release.  The image here was scanned with an Epson scanner and is not the quality equivalent of the drum scanners that were used back then to digitize media in high resolution.  Even so, I am impressed with what modern “home-brew” digital technology can accomplish.

Horseshoe Lake Huron NF, Glennie, MI Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Horseshoe Lake
Huron NF, Glennie, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

When my son was younger (me too 🙂 ), we used to do an annual late summer camping trip.  One of our favorite spots was a small National Forest Campground called Horseshoe Lake, in Lower Michigan.  One of my early “successful” attempts at sunrise photography was, perhaps, unplanned.  I have never been a fan of camping and especially, of sleeping on the cold, damp, lumpy ground.  So it was not surprising that I woke early in the pre-dawn.  I restarted our campfire and boiled a pot of water for coffee.  My son (like any pre-teenager) was sound asleep and apparently unfazed by the lumpy ground.  So I carried camera and tripod a few hundred feet down to the water’s edge and began looking for compositions.  I made a few images that morning, but the resulting shot was a bit of a surprise.  The image was shot on Fuji Velvia color transparency film.  A characteristic of this film with certain light conditions is to render blue.  While this was not my “vision” while making the image, I liked it well enough to keep it.  And it has been sold a number of times.  Who knew?

Otter Cliff Otter Beach, Acadia NP Bar Harbor, ME Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Otter Cliff
Otter Beach, Acadia NP
Bar Harbor, ME
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

In 2009, my best friend, Rich, and our spouses made a week-long trip to Bar Harbor, Maine, and Acadia National Park.   We always have fun when the 4 of us travel.  But Rich and I are pretty unrelenting on our commitment to be out early.  This trip was no exception, and we picked our way down a little known path (we had found during prior daylight) to a rocky portion of Otter Beach, where both the image above, and the opening image were taken, several mornings, waiting for the elusive sunrise I think it was worth the wait when this one finally came.

Sunrise on the Gastineau Channel; Inside Passage Juneau, AK Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Sunrise on the Gastineau Channel; Inside Passage
Juneau, AK
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

In 2010, we to our first cruise.  I was lukewarm about the whole cruise idea.  In my mind, cruises were about partying shipboard, buffets, and sun and fun in the Caribbean (which, it turns out, isn’t such a bad gig after all).  My wife wanted to do a cruise, so I agreed–as long as I got to pick it.  And I chose the Alaska Inside Passage cruise.  It turned out to be a great trip and we learned that cruising is a pretty comfortable way to see new places.

Inside Passage, AK Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Inside Passage, AK
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Another plus to going west is the time change.  Already a relatively early riser, the 3 and eventually 4 hour time difference had my wide-eyed before first light nearly every morning, as we cruised the inside passage.  The sun was pure gold the morning we approached the port of Juneau.  A day later, approaching Skagway, the rising sun lit the sky with multiple colors.

Whittier, AK Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Whittier, AK
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

On the final morning of our cruise, I walked the rear deck of our ship, the Diamond Princess, and watched a dramatic sunrise under cloudy skies.  I was a convert to cruising, and we would cruise 3 more times between 2010 and 2013.

Sunrise in the Caribbean Royal Princess Cruise Ship Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Sunrise in the Caribbean
Royal Princess Cruise Ship
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Whittier

Port of Whittier, AK

Our arrival at Whittier was bittersweet.  It marked the end of our cruise and of a great time.  Wittier, on first glance seems unremarkable.  There are few or no individual homes here.  There is a high rise apartment building.  There is a very nice harbor and the port is completely surrounded by mountains.  The only access to Whittier is by a tunnel through the mountain which is one way only and is shared by train and vehicular traffic, or by water or air (floatplane only).  Previously primarily a commercial-industrial port, one of the cruise lines determined that it was a good deep water port which avoided the congestion of nearby Seward and provided a good way to carry cruise line passengers by rail or bus, either to Anchorage to depart Alaska, or on up into Denali National Park.  It looks like a nice place to sail or fly into and a nice point of departure for some of Alaska’s wild beauty.  And its hard not to argue that it is gorgeous in the early morning.

Dawn in Whittier, AK

Glacier Bay National Park

Glacier Bay

The rest of the cruise was a slight change of routine.  After departing Skagway at 8:30 in the evening, we were aboard ship until the end of the cruise in Whittier.  The next 2 days involved cruising in Glacier Bay NP and then in College Fiord, north of Whittier.  Both involved up close and personal views of glaciers, as well as some pretty impressive wilderness.

Snowcapped Mountains, Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay National Park has the distinction of being the only U.S. National Park that is accessible only by air or water.  Nearly all wilderness, there is one visitor center and a couple of reservation-only rustic guest cabins.  While I have read much about kayaking in the park, the bay is huge and the water deep and cold.  Such a visit would, in my view, take a particularly hardy soul.

Floating Glacial Ice, Glacier Bay

In the mouth of Glacier Bay, we were joined by National Park Service employees who came aboard for the day to educate us on the park.  The waters in the bay are thousands of feet deep.  We cruised from the mouth, all the way north to the Grand Pacific Glacier, some 65 miles!

Margerie Glacier

Skagway Harbor

Skagway Harbor

We arrived in Skagway around 6:30 a.m. and were cleared to go ashore by 7:00.  Our family excursion on the White Pass Railroad was not until 12:30.  So while the other slept in and then had breakfast aboard, I was among the first passengers to leave the ship.

One thing that consistently impressed me was the small boat harbors in every one of our ports.  I grew up in a Lake Michigan town and have spent much of my life on and around small boats.  I have a natural draw to boats and harbors and find them photogenic.  Skagway harbor was no exception and was one of the most photogenic I have ever seen.  The clear flat water, colorful mix of pleasure and working boats, and the snow capped mountain background stimulated me to spend some time.  The harbor was on the way to the downtown.  I wanted to see the town (and I had learned that there was a Starbucks there!  Coffee on board was mediocre at best, so I was suffering from serious withdrawal symptoms by this time).  So I went downtown first, with a plan to spend some time down in the harbor on my return to the cruise ship.  On the way back to the ship, I spent an hour or so down on the docks in the harbor.

Skagway Harbor

The White Pass

White Pass, Near the Top

White Pass, Near the Top

Black Bear on White Pass

One of the objectives of the trip (for me) was the White Pass Railroad ride.  Every piece of research I did for the AK cruise highly recommended this excursion.  My wife, wisely, found a variation, which involved riding the railroad up to the top in Fraser, B.C., and then boarding a bus and riding the bus back down the highway.  On the way back we stopped at Liarsville and finished with a short tour of the Red Onion brothel.  This was a little light, fun, entertainment, which included a meal, panning for gold, and a beer at the Red Onion.  Liarsville was an encampment near Skagway which was the last point of civilization before entering the White Pass and the Yukon territory.  The story is that it gained its name because reporters who did not want to do the difficult trip into the Yukon, stayed and interviewed returning miners, as if they had actually gone up into the gold mines.  Hence, “Liarsville.”

Skagway River

But the White Pass railroad is definitely the draw for the photographer.  Again, the weather gods were in a charitable mood.  We had mostly sunny skies with lo

ts of blue.  These railroad cars have a balcony on either end, and as soon as possible, I “camped” out on the one closest to our seats.  I never got back in my seat until we neared the top and they required us to go back.

I shot nearly 400 images (hey, its digital, we were moving, and I’ll probably never be back 🙂 ).  If you are as impressed as me by the photographic views, you might agree that it would be worth hiking this pass and spending perhaps a week there!

White Pass

Skagway

Downtown Skagway, AK

Downtown Skagway

I don’t mean this in a bad way.  But Skagway is all theatre.  It is a theme park.  But it really comes by that naturally.  But for the Klondike Gold Rush in the Canadian Yukon, there would be no Skagway.  It was essentially a tent town which was the starting point for the trek into the Yukon for gold seekers.  It lasted 2 years.  After that, there was really no reason for Skagway to be.  It appears to have been reborn as a cruise ship tourist attraction.

Today, it is again, a starting point for some of the most spectacular landscapes Alaska and Canada have to offer.  Our primary purpose for including Skagway on the itinerary was the White Pass Railroad.  Perhaps the most fun explanation of the White Pass and Skagway’s place in history comes in James Michener’s novel epic, “Alaska,” in which he chronicles the requirement of the Canadian Mounted police that in order to enter the Yukon territory, a person must have a one-year supply of food, etc, for each person.  Before the White Pass railroad was built, every miner carried his one-year’s worth of supplies up over the pass, making several trips.

The current town is a series of bars and shops (including, remarkably, a number of diamond stores).  Some of the buildings are remodels of original buildings; notably the Red Onion Saloon, which was the local brothel.  As these photographs show, the architecture is an eclectic mix of influence from Russia and the American West.  Next:  White Pass, Spectacular Scenery and a surprise wildlife shot.

Downtown Skagway