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Alaska’s Inside Passage Photography by Alex Wilson

Copyright 2013 by Alex Wilson All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, according, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from Alex Wilson.


The Inside Passage

The Inside Passage is a coastal route for oceangoing vessels along a network of passages which weave through the islands on the Pacific coast of North America. The route extends from Puget Sound in Washington state through western British Columbia to southeastern Alaska. All varieties of ships use the passage from commercial tugs, fishing boats, freighters to cruise ships. The portion of the Inside Passage in Alaska extends 500 miles from north to south and 100 miles from east to west and there are 1,000 islands and 15,000 miles of shoreline. The jagged mountains, islands and countless bays and inlets were shaped by the massive glaciers that have advanced and retreated over millions of years. The temperate, wet climate has given birth to dense rain forests that host a wide variety of wild life including bald eagles, brown bears and moose. The nutrient rich waters draw countless sea going animals like whales, sea lions and porpoises. Native tribes have lived in this somewhat harsh but bountiful region for nearly 10,000 years and their culture can still be seen in their towering totem poles. I had the opportunity to sail through parts of the Inside Passage and photograph this amazing landscape. I was really only able to scratch the surface on what this place has to offer but it is a region where you can almost simply point your camera anywhere and make great pictures.

On the Gover Taku Glacier seen from Taku Inlet just south of Juneau, AK. The tall peak in the clouds on the right is the 8,584 foot high Devil’s Paw (Boundary Peak No. 93) along the United States - Canada Border


*

* I traveled on Holland America Line’s ms Oosterdam in June, 2013.


Auke Bay near Juneau, AK


Stephens Passage


Mount Sumdum (6666 ft) and Sumdum Glacier


Tracy Arm Located about 50 miles south of Juneau, glaciers gauged out the deep fjord that extends 1,000 feet below and raises 4,000 feet above the water line. There are dozens of waterfalls that cascade down the 4,000 foot granite walls, fed by the melting snowcapped mountain peaks. The fjord is over 30 miles long extending from its entrance along Stephens Passage to the South Sawyer glacier terminus.


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


John Muir

One of the early explorers of southern Alaska was Scottish-born American naturalist John Muir (1838 – 1914). Besides being a well known naturalist, Muir was an accomplished author and early advocate of preservation of wilderness in the United States. He dedicated most of his life to preserving western forests and has become known as the "Father of the National Parks" because of his work in petitioning the U.S. Congress to help secure passage of the National Parks bill in 1890. Muir also founded the Sierra Club which is now a major conservation organization. Muir first travelled to Alaska in 1879 and was the first Euro-American to explore Glacier Bay. Muir Glacier was later named after him. He returned for further explorations in Southeast Alaska in 1880 and documented this experience in journal entries and newspaper articles—later compiled and edited into his books "The Cruise of the Corwin" and "Travels in Alaska."


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


What is a Fjord?

Fjord is an Icelandic term meaning a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs. They are created in a valley carved by glacial activity. Before glaciation, mountain valleys typically have a characteristic "V" shape, produced by erosion from water. However, during glaciation, these valleys are widened, deepened, and smoothed, forming a "U"-shaped glacial valley by the scraping and grinding action of massive glaciers over thousands of years.


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


Holkham Bay


Tracy Arm Fjord


Glacial striations Glaciers can be miles long and hundreds of feet thick. As they move, their immense weight grinds the rock down leaving Glacial striations or scratches cut into bedrock by the glacial abrasion by rock fragments and sand grains embedded in the base of the glacier that act as cutting tools. Glacial striations are usually multiple, straight, and parallel, representing the movement of the glacier.


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


South Sawyer Glacier, Tracy Arm Fjord


Sawyer Glacier

The terminus of the twin Sawyer Glaciers, North Sawyer and South Sawyer, are at the end of the 30 mile long Tracy Arm fjord. Both North and South Sawyer glaciers are tidewater glaciers, meaning that they flow out into the sea where they calve numerous icebergs into the water. As recently as the late 18th century the two glaciers were joined and completely filled the 30 mile fjord. The ice has been in rapid retreat since.


South Sawyer Glacier, Tracy Arm Fjord


Harbor Seal, Tracy Arm Fjord


Harbor Seals Harbor seals are found along temperate and Arctic marine coastlines all around the Northern Hemisphere. They are frequently seen on ice floating in Tracy Arm. Laying on the ice provides protection against whales that sometimes enter the fjord looking for food.


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


Hanging Valleys

Many glaciers deepen their valleys more than their smaller tributaries. Therefore, when glaciers recede, the valleys of the tributary glaciers remain above the main glacier's depression and are called hanging valleys.


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


“Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” -John Muir, Alaska Days with John Muir (1915)


Tracy Arm Fjord


Tracy Arm Fjord


Stephens Passage

Stephens Passage is a channel that runs between Admiralty Island to the west and the Alaska mainland and Douglas Island to the east, and is about 105 miles long. Stephens Passage was named in 1794 by George Vancouver, probably for Sir Philip Stephens ( First Secretary of the Admiralty in the late 18th century). Captain Vancouver was the first European to fully chart the area of southern Alaska between 1793 and 1794. His charts of the North American northwest coast were so extremely accurate that they served as the key reference for coastal navigation for generations.


Ketchikan Creek, Ketchikan, AK


Tongass National Forest The Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska is the largest national forest in the United States at 17 million acres and the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world with rainfall averaging 146 inches yearly. In 2007, National Geographic Magazine noted that the Tongass National Forest is "an exceptionally rich ecosystem that holds more organic matter and more biomass per acre than any other, including tropical jungles."


Sitka National Historical Park


Sitka National Historical Park


Tracy Arm Fjord


“... God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools� -John Muir, Our National Parks (1901)


Bald Eagle The Bald Eagle's natural range covers most of North America. Alaska has the United States’ largest resident population of Bald Eagles, with about 40,000–50,000. The Bald Eagle is an opportunistic feeder which primarily hunts fish. In Southeast Alaska, fish comprise approximately 66% of the year-around diet. They typically seek out old-growth and mature stands of coniferous or hardwood trees surrounding a body of water, for perching, roosting, and nesting. It builds the largest nest of any North American bird and the largest tree nests of any animal species. Bald Eagle nests have been measured up to 13 ft deep, 8.2 ft wide, and can weigh over a ton.


Colt Island


Sitka National Historical Park


Sitka National Historical Park


Admiralty Island Admiralty island, located in Southeast Alaska, is 90 miles long and 35 miles wide making it the seventh largest island in the United States. Most of the Island is occupied by Admiralty Island National Monument, a federally protected wilderness area and is home to the highest density of brown bears in North America. An estimated 1,600 brown bears inhabit the island, outnumbering Admiralty's human residents nearly three to one.


Admiralty Island


Tracy Arm Fjord


Holkham Bay


“But out of all the cold darkness and glacial crushing and grinding comes this warm, abounding beauty and life to teach us that what we in our faithless ignorance and fear call destruction is creation finer and finer.� -John Muir, Travels in Alaska (1915)


Mendenhall Glacier

The 13 mile-long Mendenhall Glacier is located in Mendenhall Valley around 10 miles from Juneau, AK. The glacial ice at the terminus of the Mendenhall Glacier has flowed for 200-250 years on its 13-mile trek to Mendenhall Lake. The glacier has receded 1.75 miles since 1958 and because the average yearly temperatures are currently increasing, the outlook is for this trend to continue. The glacier is easily viewed from the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center operated by The United States Forest Service. The visitor's center receives nearly 500,000 visitors annually.


Mendenhall Glacier


Mendenhall Glacier


Point Retreat Lighthouse The Point Retreat Lighthouse is located on the northern tip of the 90 mile long Admiralty Island near Juneau. The first lighthouse at the location was a six-foot-tall wooden tower that was used until 1924. The current structure was built as a combination lighthouse and fog signal. When commercial flights to Alaska began to increase in the 1950's, aeronautical beacons began to be placed along the Alaska coast to aid in navigation. Instead of building an entirely new structure, the light was removed from the lighthouse and placed on a large concrete block so it could aid both air traffic and boat pilots. In 2003 the light was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Alaska Lighthouse Association plans to use the property to house a maritime museum and a small bed-and-breakfast.


“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.� -John Muir, Steep Trails (1918)


Cathedral of St. Michael, Sitka, AK


Sitka National Historical Park


Ancient Cultures

Humans are thought to have come to the area that is now southeastern Alaska and western British Columbia nearly 10,000 years ago. Over the centuries that followed there were many indigenous societies that inhabited the inside passage, but the largest were the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian. They are well-known for their distinctive art, represented in elegantly carved totem poles that depict stories from their culture. They were not only masters at shaping the large native Spruce trees into totem poles but also into canoes -- a skill that helped them harvest most of their food from the ocean. The shadow of Tlingit culture remains visible in modern coastal towns along southwest Alaska by members of the tribes that still carry out many of the traditions of their native societies.


Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan was founded in 1885 as a salmon cannery site. In its early years the city was known as the “Canned Salmon Capital of the World.” It experienced further growth thanks to the logging industry that developed from the building of Ketchikan Pulp Company's mill in 1954 (the mill closed in 1997). While a part of Ketchikan's economy is still based upon fishing, the city's largest industry is now tourism with over 800,000 visitors a years coming on cruise ships. Ketchikan is also known for it weather. Winters are cool but far milder than what its latitude alone may suggest, with January having an average temperature of 33.6°F. Another feature of the area’s climate is the high amount of rainfall which averages around 160 inches (13 feet) per year. Creek Street has become a popular destination for tourists. The area lays immediately outside of Ketchikan's downtown near the mouth of Ketchikan Creek and became famous during the city's economic heyday for its numerous brothels.


Juneau, Alaska

Juneau was founded as a gold mining camp in October of 1880 as a result of Joe Juneau and Richard Harris discovering gold near the site at the direction of Tlingit Chief Kowee. Juneau became the capital of the Alaska Territory in 1906 when the decline of the fur and whaling industry caused it to move from Sitka. With the growth of state government revenue in the 1970's, primarily from the oil industry, the population more than doubled. The population is currently over 32,000. The government is the largest employer in the city but tourism is the largest private industry with over one million visitors a year coming from cruise ships alone.


Sitka, Alaska

Sitka was originally settled by the Tlingit people over 10,000 years ago. The Russians were the first whites that settled Sitka in 1799. Sitka was also the site of the ceremony in which the Russian flag was lowered and the United States flag raised after Alaska was purchased by the United States and was the original capitol of Alaska Territory until 1906 when it moved to Juneau. The Cathedral of St. Michael was built in Sitka in 1848 and became the seat of the Russian Orthodox church in Alaska. The original church burnt to the ground in 1966, but was restored to its original appearance. Sitka's importance has always lied in its vast natural resources. Its port is ranked the 6th largest by value of seafood harvest in the United States. It is the largest incorporated city in the United States by area, almost as large as Rhode Island and Delaware combined, but only has population of just under 9,000.


Humpback Whales feeding in Stephens Passage near Juneau, Ak.


Humpback Whales Adult humpbacks range in length from 39–52 feet and weigh

around 79,000 pounds. They can migrate several thousand miles each year. Most North Pacific humpbacks spend the summer feeding in southeastern Alaska and breed and calve in Hawaii or Mexico during the winter. The fastest documented humpback migration from Alaska to Hawaii (2,800 miles) was 36 days. Whaling had occurred in the waters off Alaska since the 18th century but it wasn't until the introduction of the steam ship and explosive harpoon in the 1880's that whale populations began to be decimated. During the 20th century more than 200,000 humpbacks were estimated to have been taken, reducing the global population by over 90%. It is estimated that the population in the north Pacific hit a low of 1,500 whales when the hunting ban was imposed in 1966, but the population has rebounded to about 18,000-20,000 today.


Humpback Whales feeding in Stephens Passage near Juneau, Ak.


Humpback Whales feeding in Stephens Passage near Juneau, Ak.


Harvesting the Sea

Fishing remains one of the largest industries in southeast Alaska. By the late 19th century large and independent canneries began to dot the shores of the bays and inlets to take advantage of the large number of salmon in the region. There were 118 canneries operating in Alaska by 1917 which produced half of the world's supply of salmon. Eventually Halibut, cod, shrimp, crab and many other species of fish and shell fish became a draw for fishermen from across the west coast. Fishing continues to thrive on all scales from large commercial ships to small private charter boats that cater to tourists. Halibut, King Salmon, cod, shrimp, crab and many other species of fish and shell fish were a draw for many Americans across the west coast.


The Steller Sea Lion The Stellar sea lion is a threatened species of sea lion that makes its home in the northern Pacific region. Sea lions are known as pinnipeds, meaning fin-footed mammals. Among pinnipeds, only the walrus and elephant seals are larger. The species was discovered and first described in 1741 by naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller for whom they were named. Stellar sea lions have been hunted for thousands of years for meat and other commodities but were seen as only having a slight commercial value by the white Europeans that came to the area in the 19th century. For that reason their numbers didn't initially decline like other more desirable animals. Recently, however, their numbers have been declining rapidly, by 70-80% since the 1970's. The reason is largely unknown but many believe it is because of overfishing in the northern Pacific, making their food sources more and more scarce.


Near Admiralty Island


Stephens Passage


“See how willingly Nature poses herself upon photographers' plates. No earthly chemicals are so sensitive as those of the human soul.�

- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938)


Stephens Passage


Admiralty Island


Stephens Passage


Stephens Passage


The tall peaks in the background are part of the Fairweather Range as seen from Icy Strait. The peak on the left is Mount La Perouse (10,443 ft), the tall peak near the middle is Mt Crillon (12,726 ft) and the flat top peak on the right is Mount Bertha (10,204 ft.).


The world's big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark. - John Muir

Alaska's Inside Passage Photography  

I had the opportunity to tour Southwest Alaska to photograph the magnificent landscape and wildlife. I cruised on Holland America Line's Oo...

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