A Short Spring Outing – Part 2

More Coastal Views1318_windCave Our final hike in the coastal part of our trip, we chose the “Wind Cave” hike in Gaviota State Park. Like most hikes near the coast, it goes up, then it goes down. Not an exciting hike, but we thought there might be some nice views.
1323_windCave We reached the caves after a series of steep inclines and were a bit dismayed when a hiker coming down told us to beware the rattler in the first set of caves.
1330_windCaveThis of course made up hyper aware of it, and of course it was nowhere to be seen, or heard, when we got there. The formations, while not extensive, did offer some interesting compositions, but nothing too exciting.1332_windCave 1333_windCave Faria County Beach
1335-FariaBeach We moved a bit further south to Faria County Beach, to set ourselves up to cut over to Highway 395 and the eastern Sierras. The wind and surf were up here, as in most of the state this week. 1346-FariaBeach Our campsite butted up against a rock water break, so we had a front row seat for dramatic surf. The high winds made being outside kind of difficult. Salt spray and spume was covering everything outside with a crust that made me sorry I’d parked here, but of course the views were worth it.1348-FariaBeach Alabama Hills1358-TuttleCreek A couple of days later, we met up with friends Jim & Gayle of Life’s Little Adventures at the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine. We also got to meet another full-timer, Jeanne, who was staying there. 1359-TuttleCreek After setting up, Jim and Gayle, Mary and I, headed out on an afternoon hike up a thousand feet or so over 2.5 miles to an abandoned Ashram. It was a breathless but lovely hike up. The building is quite an impressive structure – especially considering the difficulty of navigating the steep trail.1365-tuttle 1366-tuttle Not sure who is using it, or for what, but it did looks as if it is being cared for.
1375-tuttle The walk down was just as enjoyable. It was much easier to look around when one’s lungs weren’t bursting.1376-tuttle 1381-tuttle Mary and I took a morning walk out to the arch that is nearby our campground. It is just a short hike from the trailhead and easy walking.1397-Alabama The clouds were hanging down over much of the mountain range that usually is used for the background here, so I turned it around and pictured the formations through the arch, then started looking around for a different view.1402-Alabama 1406-Alabama 1409-Alabama 1420-Alabama Our campground amongst the rocks (below)1422-Alabama1426-Alabama 1435-Alabama Afternoons during our stay here followed a pattern. Clouds increase during the day, creating spectacular combinations of sky, clouds, verga, and mountain terrain.1443-Alabama 1448-Alabama Manzanar
1460-ManzanarOn another day, we drove out to Manzanar, the WWII Japanese Internment camp and memorial. The exhibits and artifacts are a fascinating look back to an especially black period of American history. 1512-Alabama1461-Manzanar We wandered the grounds for a good part of the day, spending time at the memorial photographing the origami crane strings that are ever present on the posts around the monument.1467-Manzanar 1471-Manzanar 1474-Manzanar As has happened every day, as the afternoon progressed, clouds gathered and began shedding moisture.1496-Manzanar 1507-Manzanar 1508-Manzanar We sat in the car mesmerized, as the scene before us constantly changed. Huge masses of clouds and rain would collect, then dump on the mountains and desert before us. It rarely reached us where we sat.1521-Manzanar 1523-Manzanar 1525-ManzanarIt was quite inspiring and we sat for a long while, jumping out of the car for images, then being driven back inside by wind and icy rain.1530-AlabamaBack in camp later, we were treated to a rainbow.

Part 3 to continue soon.

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A Short Spring Outing

It’s been fully a year since we we’ve been able to get back on the road. We didn’t really want to leave town while our contractors were digging away on our new basement rooms (now completed). Then we learned my father had lung cancer, so we stayed home to help brothers and sisters care for him. In that time, my mother also became ill, and it was difficult to focus on anything photographic while they struggled. Dad passed away four months after diagnosis, while mom is now on the road to recovery. A difficult time to be sure.

We hadn’t plan to leave at all this spring – it was already a month past the time we would want to go, but we badly wanted to get away. We had a window of about 5 weeks where we could do it, but we had to get it together quickly. We’d hoped to do a wildflower tour this spring, but most of the areas in California we knew about were done by the time we could leave. Still, we decided a month or so just out on the road would be a good way to ease back into our life on wheels.

A number of difficulties arose in the process of getting ready. Our rig just does not like being left along for so long. Despite my “exercising” it from time to time, various items needed replacing or repairing. We barely managed to get out on time trying to get repairs completed.

Some problems followed us onto the road, and taking care of these things took my attention away from photographing and writing. I am now so hopelessly behind on posting images and words, I’ve decided to do a quick catch-up of mostly images. This is part 1.

Pinnacles National Park0962-pinnOak1 We took several nice hikes during our 3 days there. First was the Bench trail. This was a mostly shady flat walk in the valley, and very pleasant. Perfect for a hot afternoon.0967-pinnOak2 0973-pinnFungus0984-pinngrass2 0987-pinn3 0990-pinn4 0997-pinnOak3 1000-pinnOak4 The next day, we hiked the High Peaks Trail. The morning started off under overcast skies that helped cool us on the slow rise up to the rock cliffs.
1012-HighPeaks1 1015-HighPeaks2 1025-HighPeaks3 1029-HighPeaks4 1039-HighPeaks5 1042-HighPeaks6 1046-HighPeaks7 While most of the wildflowers were gone, there still remained a few areas of color. It’s all in how you frame it. This trail did not disappoint. 1049-HighPeaks8 1065-HighPeaks9 1074-HighPeaks10 1078-HighPeaks11 1080-HighPeaks12 1083-HighPeaks13 1088-HighPeaks14 1089-HighPeaks15 1096-HighPeaks16 On final day, we hiked another part of the Bench Trail and found some nice fields of poppies.1102-Bench1 1110-Bench1 1113-Bench3 1115-Bench4 1116-Bench5 1132-Bench6 Paso Robles1138-PasoRobles Moving on to Paso Robles, we discovered our favorite winery there was also a Harvest Host location. Harvest Host is a group of businesses, such as wineries, farms and other attractions, that allow RVers to camp on their properties for free. A $44 fee covers membership for a year and there are locations all over the west where we travel. They do ask you patronize there business during your stay, but in the case of Tobin/James Winery, not a problem since it is one of our favorites. We spent a few days touring the area wineries and, in between, driving the countryside, but again, flowers there were finished. 1139-PasoRobles It was interesting to see a couple of areas looked very similar to the wheat growing areas of Washington, known as the Palouse. It appeared they were also growing wheat here.1147-PasoRobles Pismo Beach1266-Hiway166 We moved over to the coast, as the inland temperatures were set to rise over the next few days. We found one of our favorite campsites unoccupied when we arrived at  Pismo Beach State Park. I was able to find an RV repair shop in Nipomo, about 20 miles south, that could do the step replacement in just a couple of days. No one else I called could get it done this month. So thanks Sea to Sea RV for getting us back on track so fast.1269-Hiway166 On several drives, we only managed to find a few areas where color on the hills remained. It was kind of a teasing taste of how it must have been a few weeks ago, but I am happy with seeing what I have so far.1272-Hiway166 We headed out to Montana de Oro State Park, about 20 north of Pismo, for a hike along the rugged shore. There is always abundant birdlife along this stretch. On this walk we saw Pigeon Guillemots, Oyster Catchers, Cormorants, gulls, Pelicans and more.1165-pigeonGilmont1161-pigeonGilmont 1177-pigeonGilmont The high surf and stiff winds over the water also added to the fun.1181-pigeonGilmont 1187-pigeonGilmont 1203-pigeonGilmont 1207-delOro 1209-delOro 1222-delOro 1244-delOro 1258-delOroAnother day we drove up to the Morro Bay area to hike the Black Hill trail. Once we actually found the trailhead, we found it to be steep, but very scenic. A 3 mile round trip hike, it quickly raises up to a grand view all around the area. On this day, it was a truly wide view.1280-MorroBlackHill2 1284-MorroBlackHill3 1285-MorroBlackHill1 1287-MorroBlackHill4 1297-MorroBlackHill5 1299-MorroBlackHill6 The image below is doctored a bit in Photoshop using a directional blur. I like the way it blended and smoothed the lines of surf coming in.1301-MorroBlackHill7 A little visitor crossed our path on the way up. Just a garter snake – a big one.1305-MorroBlackHill8 From up top, we had wonderful views of the still green hillsides. Haven’t seen that around the state in a very long time.1308-MorroBlackHill9 1309-MorroBlackHill10 1314-MorroBlackHill11We said good-by to Pismo after a 5 day stay and began making our way toward the Eastern Sierras. We’ll be meeting up with friends somewhere along the way. Stay tuned.

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Cape Horn and Going Home

P-51924_goinhome1So all that was left was to go home. Back onboard ship, Steve, Reid and I spent the next several hours topside to experience our departure from this truly remote and otherworldly place. It suddenly hit that we were really leaving. Sometimes these past weeks seemed never ending. The workload was heavy, I thought. Steve and Reid might say it was about equal to requirements of other workshops they’ve been involved with, but I’ve been out of the professional workforce for a long time, so it felt heavy to me.P-51929_goinhome2The ship began working it’s way out of the archipelago, and as we slipped past the last of the shorelines on the many islands along the way, I actually started to feel a bit desperate about leaving. For 2 weeks photographing this landscape has been an everyday activity. Now as I watched the ice fields and icebergs dwindle, I realized it most likely was the last time I will be ever get to be here.P-51944_goinhome4 P-51949_goinhome5P-51935_goinhome3 P-51952_goinhome6 P-51973_goinhome7With every passing minute, the narrow channels began getting wider and iceberg fewer and further in between. I turned to Reid and saw him there with a great reflection in the glass behind, and cool clouds above. I guess this would be from the “Deadpan” school of photography, but the moment did feel a bit somber. Few happy smiles on deck today.P-51962_reidSomber but still dramatic. We watched once again as super-sized blue icebergs floated by. The light was pretty great this final afternoon. Surprisingly, there were only a few other people on deck to watch the ice parade.P-51983_goinhome9 P-52000_goinhome11 P-52005_goinhome12 P-51993_goinhome10Looking through a tinted outdoor window on the top deck, I could see shorelines on both sides, one reflected in the glass.P-52011_goinhome14 P-52010_goinhome13 P-51980_goinhome8Eventually, the ice cleared out completely and we began the 2 day crossing back to South America. The captain announced we would be landing at Cape Horn, near the southern most tip of the continent – weather permitting. During the return crossing, the three of us busied ourselves with the task of editing submitted residents images shot during the excursion. It is part of our contract to create a finished Antarctica book that residents can purchase. We also conducted classes, attended meetings and took down Steve’s show.

Cape HornP-52085_capehorn5Quite early on our second day of the crossing, we saw our first green landscape in 2 weeks. Cape Horn slowly came into view.

It is named after the city of Hoorn in the Netherlands, is the southernmost headland of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago of southern Chile, and is located on the small Hornos Island. Although not the most southerly point of South America (which are the Diego Ramírez Islands), Cape Horn marks the northern boundary of the Drake Passage and marks where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans collide. For decades it was a major milestone on the clipper route, by which sailing ships carried trade around the world. The waters around Cape Horn are particularly hazardous, owing to strong winds, large waves, strong currents and icebergs; these dangers have made it notorious as a sailors’ graveyard.P-52029_capehorn1 P-52030_capehorn2 P-52056_capehorn4 P-52055_capehorn3 P-52106_capehorn7We cruised alone the shoreline quite a way before being met by a Chilean Navy vessel. This to drop off a Chilean pilot to bring us in to the bay where we will anchor. I thought it a bit strange they unfurled the large gun on the deck as they approached. I guess we intimidated them.P-52094_capehorn6There was a question as to whether we would be able to land even as late as the previous day. But today we found the waters to be quite calm. Our luck continues to hold. It is actually a beautiful day with chilly, but only moderate-to-light winds. The landing was on. Our goal was to climb the stairs to the lighthouse and chapel, and visit the large sculpture nearby. This is just a short landing visit. We will be back onboard in an hour.P-52150_capehorn8 P-52167_capehorn10It was a bit of a trek up the wooden steps – especially in the heavy rubber boot we needed to wear for the landings – but worth it for nothing else than the cool extra stamps in my passport. It was wonderful to smell the earthy aromas of dry grass and see a snow-free landscape again.

P-3377 P-52162_capehorn9Once up on the ridge, we made our way over to the lighthouse and nearby chapel for a look around.P-52177_capehorn11 P-52192_capehorn14 P-52184_capehorn13 P-52197_capehorn15 P-52178_capehorn12 P-52200_capehorn16From just outside the chapel I could see off in the distance, the Cape Horn Memorial. On December 5th 1992 the memorial was inaugurated. It was erected through the initiative of the Chilean Section of the Cape Horn Captains Brotherhood, the “Cape Horners”, in memory of the men of the sea from every nation that lost their lives fighting against the merciless forces of nature of the Southern Ocean that prevail in the vicinity of the legendary Cape Horn.P-52201_capehorn17When I first looked at it, what I saw were two angelfish swimming away from each other. Someone nudged me and said,”No, it’s an albatros”. Oh, now I see it. My brain works a little differently sometimes. Near the sculpture on a plaque reads a poem by author Sara Vial of Valparaiso, Chile. It reads:

I, the albatross that awaits for you at the end of the world…

I, the forgotten soul of the sailors lost that crossed Cape Horn from all the seas of the world.

But die they did not
in the fierce waves,
for today towards eternity
in my wings they soar
in the last crevice
of the Antarctic winds

P-52206_capehorn18This was the final stop for us. From here we walked back down to the rocky beach for a quick ride back to ship.P-52220_capehorn19I probably would have been feeling a little depressed if it wasn’t for the fact that tonight is New Year’s Eve. The ship will be back in Uschria later this afternoon, and I am looking forward to the party onboard tonight.P-52234_newyearAll through the trip I had the opportunity to visit the bridge, but was so busy or exhausted most times that I never took the time. What a mistake. Just before the party started, Steve, Reid and I finally went up to have a look. A pretty impressive vantage point. It is not the highest spot on the ship, but the view is somehow unique. I should have come up here during my ship-bound days.P-52237_newyear P-52245_newyear P-52249_newyearBy the time I was showered and dressed, the ice sculptures were already laid out in the main reception area, and balloons were being hung for the midnight drop.P-52228_newyear P-52228a_iphone9 P-52232_newyear

Photobomber Reid

Photobomber Reid

The party itself was a blast. All the pressure of the busy schedule was off now and everyone was relaxed and feeling good. The band was playing loud and strong and the dance floor was busy. Sorry, not many photos. Not really encouraged. The bar was quite popular, especially since the bartender was disgruntled and planning to quit in the morning. I’d made pretty good friends with him over the 2 weeks – you know, lots of visits. He was pouring whatever I wanted quite freely. A good guy to know.bartenderThe party was also a last chance to hang out with other expedition members and a few of the guests I’d gotten to know and like.

Shaun Norman. Researcher.

Shaun Norman. Researcher.

Neville, one of the zodiac drivers.

Neville, one of the zodiac drivers.

The party wound down slowly after the balloon drop, and so did I. Reid went off to the crew lounge for a little more music and drink, but I was done. Hopefully a good night sleep to be ready for a grueling set of flights home tomorrow. All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Except for being shut down for 2 days, everything went better than I’d really expected and my experience was exceptional. It was a lot of work -there were moments when I thought it might not have been worth it. Looking back though, I am thanking the Universe for my good fortune and friends who made this possible.

My trip back was indeed grueling, but also harrowing. Made my 10 hour flight out of Buenos Aries by just minutes when what I thought was a cab driver took me on a ride and shook me down and threatened to leave me under an overpass if I didn’t pony up the extra money. An expensive ride, but I made it back uneventfully after that. Live and learn.

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Port Lockroy

P-51727_portlockroy5Another cold overcast morning greeted us as we lined up to board the zodiacs. As it worked out, Steve and I were brought ashore on our own by the expedition geologist, Wayne Ranney, who was doubling as a zodiac driver. Since it was just the 3 of us, Wayne took a detour to some great looking blue icebergs he’d found earlier. We had some time to just drift around the forms.P-51719_portlockroy1 P-51723_portlockroy2 P-51725_portlockroy3It is difficult to believe these colors are real – let alone the strange shapes they take. Even as I sit here writing, I keep questioning whether this was actually the color I saw. It may be off a little, but this is how I remember it.P-51726_portlockroy4 P-51729_portlockroy6 P-51740-43_PortLockroy7Ah, but the fun had to end some time. Actually, no it didn’t. Because the next thing we did was land at the island base. What the penguins study does here is allow tourists to visit the rookery on this side of the island, while keeping  the rookeries on the other side free of people. They observe and measure the birds emotional reactions to determine what effect our presence has on their behavior.P-51857_portlockroy22Not much by what this amateur observer observed. The birds are just hanging out on virtually every rocky outcropping. Well, actually they are quite busy doing all the things we’ve seen them do in other rookeries. Stealing rocks, defending their nests, moving to and from the water.P-51776_portlockroy12 P-51790_portlockroy13 So, how do they measure emotional reactions? When a german contingent was studying penguins many years ago, they did it by capturing a bird, implanting sensors in it and putting it back on it’s nest. From there, the researchers would hide behind a sheet very near the nest, jump out from behind it to see what the reaction was. They determined that people scare penguins.P-51814_portlockroy15The British did it differently. They would take an egg from a nest and replace it with a false egg containing the sensors, then just walk nearby at various distances from the birds. They determined that about 15′ before behavior was affected. Thus the 15′ buffer we needed to observe.
P-51818_portlockroy16 P-51751_portlockroy8 P-51754_portlockroy10A new bird I hadn’t seen on this trip so far was here in abundance. It is know as the Snowy Sheth-bill. They are nice looking birds from a distance, but learning a little about them makes them a little less attractive. Like other birds (other than penguins) their food source is mainly penguin chicks and eggs. They also subsist on penguin poop. P-51824_portlockroy17What I found unusual though was how calm the penguins were with the sheeth-biils all around. In other rookeries, the penguins were actively defending and going after the skua’s. Here they just seemed less concerned. Perhaps the poop the sheth-bills consume keeps them a bit more satiated.P-51762_portlockroy11 P-51856_portlockroy20 P-51858_portlockroy21 P-51878_portlockroy22 P-51798_portlockroy14I was actually able to get even closer to the birds here. They just seemed so much more relaxed. Quite a few had eggs in their nest and one had a chick that popped out once or twice. it was great to get a peek.P-51887_portlockroy23 P-51894_portlockroy25 P-51889_portlockroy24P-51916_portlockroy26After a couple of hours at the base, it was time to head back to the ship and begin the journey home. Down at the loading site, evidence of the bygone whaling industry that flourished here for so many years, could be viewed along the rocky shore . We departed that very evening. My last post of the trip will cover our final stop.

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Palmer Station to Port Lockroy

P-51632Morning was clear and calm – and cold again, but I could get used to this. The ship was anchored just offshore and it was an easy task to climb into the zodiacs for landing. As I said in the last post, Palmer Station, on Anvers Island, is the only United States research station in Antarctica located north of the Antarctic Circle. Initial construction of the station finished in 1968. The station, like the other U.S. Antarctic stations, is operated by the United States Antarctic Program.P-51546 P-51551In just a few minutes we were walking up one of the few ice-free bits of land I’ve seen on this trip. Even here in mid-summer, ice is almost everywhere. The station seems to have a central snow-free area, but beyond that, there are only paths cut into the snow, or boardwalks, linking one building to another. It has the feel of extreme remoteness.P-51555 P-51565 P-51573The people living here are primarily researchers and support, and maintenance crews. It’s the kind of place where, to some extent, everyone does everything. We were met onshore by our guide, who doubled as a maintenance man when not conducting tours. He was just a bit underwhelming in his expression of the workings of the place as we toured around the various buildings in the complex. He’d point to the aquarium and say something like that is where researchers study the sea life collected from offshore. It kind of felt like getting a tour of a friends new house. But it was nice in it’s homeyness. The tour ended with a warm-up in the community room where they offered a table of  warm chocolate chip cookies and hot coffee.P-51559From there we were allowed to wander around the rest of the station at will – including the gift shop! Leave it to the Americans to know how to make a buck. But they did have a nice selection of t-shirts, designed by one of the researchers no less. The snow all around did kind of hinder much desire to go too far, but the sun on my face and the wonderful views made for a nice few moments.P-51596 P-51590 P-51593It was an interesting, if brief, visit here. The thing I took away most is not so much how impressive the outpost is, but rather THAT it is here at all. One of the spokespeople here talked about what it was like to spend 6 months to a year here, saying something to the effect that, first third of the stay you love it, the second, you hate it, the third, you just get through it.P-51598 P-51608Back in the zodiacs for the return to the ship, we did a short tour of a few icebergs in the bay.P-51615 P-51619 P-51630The ship stayed in the bay until late afternoon. By then, cloudy weather had begun to move in again. Looking at the station from offshore really gave me a sense of how precarious our little constructions appear. In this light, it is a far less appealing looking place to want to spend long periods of time.P-51643We are now headed to Port Lockroy, the British outpost on Wiencke Island located in another part of the Palmer Archipelago. As we eased out of the bay and back around the island, I was again topside watching the ice covered scenes go by. It seems like a never ending parade of shape and color nuance, but only for another day. This trip is nearing it’s end.P-51652 P-51656 P-51657 P-51668I noticed one of the ice-flows going by had an interesting melting portion on it’s surfce. I managed a few images before we moved past, but was one of those situations where I could have lingered to ponder the forms I saw in there. Instead, only a couple images that just begin suggest something great.P-51664The cloud cover became increasingly heavy as the afternoon and evening progressed. There were only occasional outbreaks of sunshine, and then most often way off in the distance.P-51674 P-51680Despite the flat light, there was still plenty of visual drama to experience. It was really just a matter of hanging out on deck until a little light broke through, then looking around to find something to photograph. Watching mile after mile of these rolling hills of ice is simply mesmerizing. It doesn’t seem to matter how monochromatic it can get here. It’s still spectacular.P-51685 P-51691 P-51697 P-51705Later in the evening, we arrived at Port Lockroy. In 1996 the base was renovated and is now a museum and post office operated by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust. That was one of the big draws for many on the ship. You could send  a postcard with an Antarctica postmark. It is also one of the most popular tourist destinations for cruise-ship passengers on the continent. The gift shop is another draw. Here I found penguin earrings, penguin coffee cups, penguin scarves and patches, and on an on. Proceeds from the small shop fund the upkeep of the site and other historic sites and monuments in Antarctica. The Trust collects data for the British Antarctic Survey to observe the effect of tourism on penguins. Half the island is open to tourists, while the other half is reserved for penguins. A staff of four typically process 70,000 pieces of mail sent by 18,000 visitors that arrive during the five month Antarctic cruise season.P-51709 P-51708 P-51710 P-51712We anchored in the bay just around the bend from the station. In the morning we will be going ashore to visit the penguin colonies there – and more shopping. Next post, at Port Lockroy.

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Dallman Bay to Palmer Station

Steve and crew in the zodiac.

Steve and crew in the zodiac.

This morning before leaving the area, the ship paused in Dallman Bay for whale watching zodiac outings. Humpback whales had been spotted in the area and we had some time before moving on to the American Antarctica research station at Palmer Bay. It was another very cold and gray morning. Icy blowing snow stung my face as I stepped into the zodiac. Everyone was in full cold weather regalia. I was thinking this might be a very miserable morning, but all of my protective clothing was doing an admirable job of keeping me warm. I’d been keeping the lower part of my face completely covered on every outing since being released to keep the direct cold air from invading my lungs. So far I’ve had no problems and am feeling better every day.P-51205_dallman5The idea here is to putter around the bay keeping an eye open for any wildlife, especially whales, to surface. It’s another crap shoot as to what one might see, if anything, but it wasn’t long before we indeed did begin to see whales. A fluke here, a tail there. Almost silently, these behemoths break the surface, then exhale in a explosive burst of mist and whale breath. If you are too close you can smell everything the critter has eaten for the last week.P-51189_dallman2 P-51196_dallman3 P-51199_dallman4

It was snowing harder now, and the overcast got heavier. Fine for whale watching, but not whale photographing. Most of my images are choked with snowflakes between the whale and I. Quite often the camera’s auto focus was fixing on the snowflakes, making the whale go out of focus behind. I did get to see more parts of whales than I ever had before, and it was pretty special to be this close to them again, but it wasn’t the best of photo outings for me.P-51246_dallman8 P-51249_dallman9 P-51207_dallman6These are such odd creatures. The little bits I could see when one surfaced gave few clues as to just how large they are. Sometimes I simply couldn’t identify for sure just what I was looking at.P-51260_dallman10 P-51270_dallman12P-51280_dallman14We motored around the bay for an hour or so. Every iceberg was inspected closely for wildlife. Sometimes penguins could be seen just kind of loitering about. On another berg, more crabeater seals were seen. I was disappointed that I never got a look at a Leopard Seal. These guys look kind of cute from afar, but if you’d ever seen a photo of one with it’s hugely open mouth full of teeth, you could understand why they are feared by man and animal. They will chew you up.P-51317_dallman19Eventually a bit of sky and even a little sun broke through. When things got less interesting with the wildlife, I again turned my camera to the shoreline and other icebergs. Landscape is what I do best, so I tend to gravitate to this subject anyway.P-51269_dallman11 P-51282_dallman14 P-51288_dallman15 P-51290_dallman17By mid afternoon, everyone was back onboard and we headed out of the bay. There was little time to relax though because the iceberg-packed bay commanded attention. More sunlight was breaking through the overcast creating both grand and subtle scenes of ice and water. Once out of the bay, it was time for meetings and dinner.P-51289_dallman16 P-51300_dallman18It wasn’t long before many of us were back on deck again. The weather had gotten much calmer with a little more sun. It looked like the clouds were going to break up entirely. It was still deadly cold, but didn’t feel so bad under several layers of thermal wear, jacket and gloves. I think this amazing landscape had something to do with keeping me warm as well – running from one side of the ship to the other. With the lowering sun and lifting cloud cover, it soon became clear that this was going to be a special evening.P-51328_dallman20 P-51330_dallman21 P-51335_dallman22 P-51343_dallman23 P-51353_dallman24As evening began, most of the low clouds had dissipated revealing a layer of lovely lenticular cloud formations above. As the sun lowered on the horizon, fiery reflections contrasted with sea ice creating a golden burnished effect.P-51370_dallman25P-51381_dallman28 P-51403_palmer4 P-51415_palmer7One just had to step over to the other side of the ship to see the water and sky soften, taking on much more of a pastel look.P-51387_palmer1Looking toward the horizon, I’d see this (below).P-51430_palmer10P-51408_palmer6Step to the other side, I’d see this:P-51391_palmer2What was most striking was how quiet it was. No ship noise, no wind. People, when they spoke, spoke quietly. This was a special moment and people knew it. It was icy cold outside as we slipped silently along. Had to be below 20 degrees. My hands would go numb after just minutes out of gloves.P-51401_palmer5As we approached the edge of Avers Island, new mountain ranges came into view. By now it was around 10 pm and the low light was doing wonderful things to water, mountains and sky. It was difficult to know where to point the camera. How does one frame such a place? Again I found myself wishing we could stop at a location and just watch, but we kept drifting along. Even though we were moving kind of slowly, perfect compositions would still only exist for a moment before falling apart. Again, only a moment in the perfect spot and then it’s gone. It was great fun afterwards when comparing images we all took of the same place to see how each had approached the scenes.P-51372_dallman26About an hour later, we got our first look at Mt. William. It’s peak stands at 5250’ – not huge by mountain standards, but one of the most impressive mountains I’ve seen on this trip. We approached from the southern tip of the island and slowly cruised around and up all along the shore – all the time the light was changing. I shot dozens of images of this mountain and nearby peaks as we cruised by. Here is a selection:P-51376_dallman27 P-51384_dallman29 P-51386_dallman30 P-51422_palmer9 P-51421_palmer8 P-51434_palmer11 P-51435_palmer12 P-51439_palmer13The further up along the island coast we cruised, the better the light got. It was approaching midnight and still the sun was up. This time of year, the sun travels in a low arch that, while it does eventually set below the horizon, provides sunset-like light for hours and hours. This is almost the first evening cloud-free enough for us to witness it. I think I can honestly say this is the best light I’ve ever photographed during.P-51444_palmer14 P-51447_palmer15 P-51464_palmer16 P-51467_palmer17 P-51468_palmer18 P-51472_palmer19

Penguin tracks on sea ice

Penguin tracks on sea ice

P-51485_palmer21 P-51500_palmer22 P-51503_palmer23A little after midnight, we came around a point and arrived at Palmer Station. Palmer Station, on Anvers Island, is the only United States research station in Antarctica located north of the Antarctic Circle. Initial construction of the station finished in 1968. The station, like the other U.S. Antarctic stations, is operated by the United States Antarctic Program. In the morning we are going to be landing at the station for tours, but just now, the light was still getting better.P-51505_palmer24 P-51516_palmer26 P-51510_palmer25The ship maneuvered around a bit in the bay before finding a spot behind an iceberg for the night. Somewhere around 12:30 AM, I went to sleep for a few hours. An amazing long day. I will remember this forever.P-51520_palmer27Tomorrow we land.

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Cuverville Island – Arctowski Peninsula

P-50901_curvervilleisland14Morning dawned cold with a gray overcast sky. The wind was fairly calm. I was a bit paranoid about being exposed to the elements again because I will be out for a day at Cuverville Island. I’d been given my clearance, but with a caveat – not to be out if it is exceptionally cold or very windy. On my way to the zodiacs, I kind of put my head down as I walked by expedition leaders, all of who knew my status. No one said anything, so I just kept walking and was loaded onto one of the first boats to go ashore.P-50896_curvervilleisland13Cuverville Island is a dark, rocky island lying in Errera Channel between the Arctowski Peninsula and the northern part of Rongé Island, off the west coast of Graham Land in Antarctica. It is one of the largest Gentoo penguin rookeries in the region. 20 years ago there were around 3500 pairs nesting on the island. Today there are upwards of 9000 breeding pairs. Gentoos are the third-largest of the penguin species.P-50856_curvervilleisland3Before actually getting to the island, our zodiac driver toured us around the iceberg choked inlet. This was an added bonus I wasn’t expecting. I’d lost an earlier opportunity to do this while stuck onboard, so I was feeling pretty good about it.P-50848_curvervilleisland1 P-50854_curvervilleisland2 P-50862_curvervilleisland4 P-50859-2_curvervilleisland4The shapes, textures and other worldly colors of these bergs never ceases to amaze me. Our driver would find an interesting subject and circle around slowly. The low overcast skies had risen enough to brighten up the entire area. Moving around a berg like this really showcased how light transmitted through the ice.P-50866_curvervilleisland6 P-50867_curvervilleisland5 P-50868_curvervilleisland7 P-50870_curvervilleisland8The only real difficulty comes when trying to compose an image. This isn’t the thoughtful contemplative process I normally try to employ. We are moving and bobbing all the time. At times we’d just drift, and the twisting motion of the zodiac would move me away from the right spot. I had to recognize something, compose, check exposure, shoot. That’s life on a boat though. I eventually learned it was best to not compose so tightly. I lost several potential images just because something got cut off or was too crooked. Rather, I would zoom out more than usual, knowing the image I wanted was in there somewhere. Later I could crop and straighten the image to more like what I wanted. I lose a little resolution, but gain a better image.P-50872_curvervilleisland8 P-50877_curvervilleisland9 P-50886_curvervilleisland10 P-50889_curvervilleisland11 P-50895_curvervilleisland12 P-50903_curvervilleisland15Our driver eventually managed to pry me away from the final berg and we headed for the landing. As we skirted the rocky shore, I could already see Gentoos everywhere there wasn’t snow. These birds stand up to 3′ in hight, and they were everywhere. We watched from offshore as a group made ready to enter the water. It was a great way to observe their behavior when approaching a dive. They all walk up close, but none will jump in. They are waiting for someone else to go first. There are several predators lurking in the waters, so none of the penguins want to be the first to find out what is waiting for them underneath. Eventually one will dive and that signals the rest to get in quick.P-50907_curvervilleisland16 P-50915_curvervilleisland17We moved further up the shore to a nice level area to make the landing. From there, support teams made paths in the snow that we were to keep to as much as possible. Part of being here means having as little impact as possible on the environment and wildlife. When people walk through the snow haphazardly, the deep impressions left are very difficult for penguins to navigate.P-51021_curvervilleisland32The created paths moved right along several of the rookeries. I could step off the path if I wanted to linger in a spot for a while. The birds are remarkably tolerant of humans. While we were restricted to staying no less the 15 ft from them, if they decided to come closer, that was OK. Several did, but only to a point.P-50926_curvervilleisland18My first reaction was something like, Oh wow, they are so cute!

My next reaction was, Holy crap, there’s a lot of them!P-50939_curvervilleisland19 P-51014_curvervilleisland30After the initial rush of being here among these waddling creatures wore off a bit, I began to spend more time just watching their behavior. I stepped off the path near one of the “Penguin Highway’s” that connect the various rookeries to each other and to the water. Penguin Highway you ask? Turns out they do much the same thing we do. Create paths. They’re’s are a bit smoother though.P-50995_curvervilleisland27 P-51034_CurvervilleIsland34From this vantage I could sit and make portraits of the birds as they marched past.P-51043_curvervilleisland35 P-51073_curvervilleisland38 P-51074_CurvervilleIsland39 P-51096_curvervilleisland41I moved to a point closer to one of the rookeries and again sat down in the snow to watch. In this way I really got a sense of their behaviors. Often they would crow. Sometimes in syncopation with very elegant movements.P-50964_CurvervilleIsland23 P-51067_curvervilleisland37 P-50987_curvervilleisland26Also in the rookeries, I could witness the constant struggle between penguin and predator. A number of South Polar Skuas – sort of a gull-like bird, were constantly harassing the penguins. Skuas are after eggs and chicks. They fly overhead trying to distract the penguins sitting on nests. They stand just out of reach which makes the penguins pull off the nest. Then the quicker skuas dart in and steal an egg or chick. Confrontations are common.P-50945_curvervilleisland20 P-50951_curvervilleisland21 P-50957_curvervilleisland22Most often, the penguins are sitting on nests. Their mates are busy stealing rocks from other nests to put on theirs. When not looking for food, this seems to be the activity they do most.P-51001_curvervilleisland28 P-50978_curvervilleisland24Another drawback to the heavier than normal lingering snow was that it delayed the start of the hatching period. There should have been far more eggs hatching by now. I did find one nest with chicks. Just a joy to watch the interaction.P-51006_curvervilleisland29I walked up along our human path to get a vantage point for our surroundings. Just as I reached the top, a group of kayakers paddled around the bend. This was another outdoor activity arranged by management. I would have loved paddling around the icebergs, but that activity was not open to me. Being onshore was just fine with me though.P-51082_curvervilleisland40 P-50985_curvervilleisland25 P-51106_curvervilleisland42I spent several hours walking up and down along the paths near the rookeries, but eventually it was time to get back.P-51109_curvervilleisland43The trip back to ship was not a direct route. Again we moved in and around icebergs. This time however, our driver found wildlife basking on bergs. Several Crab Eater seals (they don’t actually eat crabs) were lounging about.P-51142_curvervilleisland46P-51148_curvervilleisland47 P-51155_curvervilleisland48 P-51138_curvervilleisland46 P-51123_curvervilleisland45We were escorted partway back by a flotilla of Gentoos, then finished up with a few more bergs.P-51058_curvervilleisland36 P-51113_curvervilleisland44P-51156_curvervilleisland48 P-51162_curvervilleisland49 P-51179_curvervilleisland51 P-51174_curvervilleisland50

Next post will be Dallman Fjords to Palmer Station.

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