Caboose View

In Skagway Alaska, we caught a sightseeing train from the sea up into White Pass. I took this just after we reversed directions to head back down.

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Caboose View
The view out the back of the White Pass Railroad in Skagway, Alaska

The whole trip I hung out between the cars where I could get pictures of the landscape. On the way up we were in the first car behind the engine. Then the train pulled into a siding and the locomotive connected to the other end and, as you can see, we were at the back.

more from Alaska in the gallery

It was pretty high up, and the weather dropped about forty-degrees. Skagway used to be a mining town, and in the Klondike days before the train, miners would traverse the pass on foot or mule. That would be a hard slog indeed, so I was glad to be on a train with its trusty breaks all the way back down.

Alaska Train

Here is a shot of the train we took from Seward to Anchorage a couple of years back. It was at the end of a cruise, and the only way back to the airport was a four-hour train ride through the mountains. Needless to say, it was a lot of fun.

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Alaska Train

I ended up roaming the train, back and forth through the cars like a kid in a candy shop. I would stop between the cars to take pictures of the scenery rushing by. This is how travel was meant to be.

more from Alaska

If you stayed in your seat, they would come around and take your order for food and drinks. Unlike an airplane, you have a lot of space to stretch out and enjoy the meal. But I was on my feet most of the time, quite often at the front near the engine snapping photos like this.

Train to Anchorage

I took this on a train to Anchorage Alaska as I stood on the platform of a rail car just behind the engine. It is fair to say I got a good dose of diesel fumes that day, especially in the tunnels. But I wouldn’t have traded it for anything, it was an awesome experience. 

The more I ride trains the more pictures I have of coming through tunnels. It invariable evokes the metaphors of pulling through and the light at the end. These are things we all experience and it’s natural to find corollaries in the world to represent our inner thoughts.

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Train to Anchorage
Train to Anchorage Alaska

As such I wax philosophical about images because sometimes I find it more interesting that what my camera settings were or what I was doing at the time. I’m interesting in interpretation and how we relate to images.

I prefer to find a hopeful meaning in an image. For me it’s important to be open to the possibility of good things. I think good things are not by chance, rather a state of mind; that’s what optimism is.

images with tracks

I am fortunate to have traveled the rails on a high mountain pass and experience re-emerging into the light from a tunnel. It is at once visceral and metaphorical. What more could I want?

Slow Train Through Heaven

I took this on a slow train through heaven, otherwise known as the line from Seward to Anchorage. It was in the middle of summer when the days were long and the weather was warm. As we rolled through the mountains we spotted bears and moose along side of the train.

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Slow Train Through Heaven
Slow Train Through Heaven – aka Alaska

I stood on a platform between the cars and snapped pictures for much of the five hour journey. We had a choice between the train and a bus but choose the train even though it was slower. Given a choice I will always take the train, it’s my favorite way to travel.

The river here is the runoff of a glacier that’s just off to the left. This is in Kenai Peninsula Borough which according to Wikipedia is about 16,000 square miles, half of which is water.

A train is perhaps not the best way to see everything, but it’s a good way to see parts of the land not accessible by road. As large as this land is the borough has a small population. That leaves a lot of room for wilderness and that’s mainly what I saw the whole way; beautiful pristine wilderness.

landscape images in the gallery

By setting the ISO on my camera to 200 I was able to freeze the motion of the train. The shutter speed was one two-thousands of a second. That’s fast enough to remove all trace of motion. Taking pictures hanging out of a train may not be the best way to get a photo, but you work with what you have. And on this day I had a slow train through heaven. That’s something I could work with.

Central Foyer

This is the central foyer of the Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas. I took this early one morning which is the only time that no people are present. The central column is about eight stories high and is serviced by elevators and stairwells. In the evening this is augmented with a colorful lighting display. I found this perspective through a glass portal at the very top.

Central Foyer
Central Foyer on Royal’s Radiance of the Seas

At the very bottom is a bar, the next up is a Starbucks, then a champagne bar and so on up the levels. There are game rooms, libraries, areas for lounging, each level is unique. Often we would lean against the banister and watch the band playing music below or perhaps watch a demonstration on cake making. Certainly there are things to do outside, but on an Alaskan cruise there is plenty to do indoors as well.

This is a small ship by todays standards but it’s a sister of the first ship I ever saw, the Jewel of the Seas. I was and still am amazed that this type of space and architecture can exist on an ocean-going vessel. Yet to the truly big ships this is unremarkable. I’m a simple man, and to me, this is really really big. Getting on a bigger ship seems like maybe going to the mall with a hotel that floats. The sea is almost incidental.

more abstract photos

Anyway, my impression of these ships is one of awe, how they build them is way beyond my ability to comprehend.

Star Princess

As we were sailing out of Skagway the Star Princess remained parallel to ours for about thirty minutes. The straight is not that wide and the sight of two massive ships in the light of dusk silently passing through must have been quite the thing. Only these areas are uninhabited save for the wildlife, so we were unnoticed save for the eagles sitting on treetops.

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Star Princess
Star Princess in Alaska

There were four or five cruise ships in Skagway that day, I believe this is the same one I posted a picture of earlier. It’s hard to tell because in that picture I was standing next to it on the dock and it’s hard to get the full perspective up close.

The low light capabilities of the Sony A7RII allowed me to capture this at ISO4000. These kind of shots still amaze me when I think that just a few years when this type of shot was impossible. My preference is to shoot in low light, I prefer the moodiness of it.

Alaska images

My ship was Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas. I wonder if there was someone on the Princess ship watching our ship and taking a similar shot. If you’re out there somewhere let’s swap photos so we can see our own boat, eh?

Midnight Sun

This is a rendering of the midnight sun in the Alaskan summer. I took this from the balcony of a cruise ship late one evening as we sailed towards Seward. From my perspective on the ship there were hundreds of miles of mountains as far as you can see. The size of Alaska is so big that much of it is untouched by humans. I don’t know that for a fact but given the size, terrain and remoteness it is all but impossible to fully explore. Perhaps Alaska is one of the last remaining frontiers on earth.

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Midnight Sun
The Midnight Sun of Alaska

We live on an amazing planet and often I find myself without adequate words to describe what I’m seeing. Sometimes a photo will do but I may take liberties to express a feeling beyond what eyes can see. Of course, it’s all a matter of interpretation but I do my best. So when I see and experience the vastness of Alaska I am at a loss for words. That’s when I turn to art to convey something just beyond description.

sunset gallery

Of course none of this is unusual. Case in point is the peoples of the original nations. Their art is prolific and profound and is shaped by the landscape, seasons and spirit of the region. Isn’t it interesting how artist seem to congregate in places where beauty is abundant? Obviously there’s something to it.

Red Light District

Back in the days of the gold-rush this was the red light district of the town of Ketchikan. Those days are long gone but naturally there are recreated saloons and bordellos along with souvenir shops.

Red Light District
The red light district of Ketchikan Alaska

There’s a lot of history in towns like this. All I know for sure is that the early settlers of Alaska had to be heart when you consider the hardships required to get here and then make it though a winter. It’s no wonder many spent their money here.

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I was here in the summer at the peak of tourist season, but I’d be curious to see what it looks like in winter. I imagine most of the shops are shuttered with only a few open for residents. Most of the people that work in the shops are from the lower forty-eight, almost everyone I talked to was from somewhere else. I suppose Alaska and Florida have that in common.

Anyway, these buildings on stilts are typical of the area. I took this as I walked around the town on a rainy day.

Blue Thunder

I visited the Hubbard Glacier on a cruise over the summer. We arrived in the morning and the first thing I noticed was a sound like thunder as the ice breaks off the edge of the glacier. I’ve seen plenty of pictures but the noise that accompanies it something unexpected when first there.

Blue Thunder
Blue Thunder from the Hubbard Glacier in Alaska

To be honest I was found it difficult to get a sense of scale. We were about a kilometer away from the wall of ice which was taller than the ship. Our ship rose about thirteen stories above the water. So when these columns of ice broke off it created massive waves. I felt safe because we were a far enough back and we were in a big boat. But I cannot imagine traveling through here on a small craft.

Of course much of the ice is below the surface. That too gave me pause and again I was glad to be on such a large ship. Just sailing into this area we grazed chunks of ice as big as a house. I suppose ice that size is of little consequence to a large ship, but I shudder to think how a small vessel could ever navigate here.

landscapes from the gallery

We stayed here for a few of hours to observe the glacier. I was glad that we had an experienced captain who knew the area. I’m sure he sails here all the time, but it was a first for me and even as a passenger I found it a little unnerving. Having said that, once we returned to the open sea I felt a little less concerned. I was left with an impression of this massive field of ice, it is beautiful, spell binding and not to be trifled with. This is the raw force of nature in all its glory.

Moose Pass in Alaska from the Train

This is a shot of Moose Pass from the train between Seward and Anchorage Alaska. I love the pristine reflection of the mountains on the water. The sun was behind the train and you can see how it casts shadows of the trees onto the water. It’s a nice effect that I didn’t really notice until I looked at this later.

Moose Pass from the Train
Moose Pass in Alaska from the Train

I was fortunate to be on this train. I know nothing about Alaska and I just assumed that the ship I was on would dock in Anchorage. Little did I know that wasn’t the case. Fortunately I received a pamphlet on the first day of the voyage offering transfers to the airport. I figured it would be a thirty minute cab ride at most. Little did I realize it was a four hour drive. I opted for the slightly longer train in hopes that I would have a better view of the scenery along the way. I definitely did and the train ended up right at the airport terminal so it was completely hassle free.

landscapes from the gallery

Travel shenanigans aside, I will always take a train if it’s an option. There is so much more to see and it’s nice to stand up and walk around, more practical in many respects. In this case the scenery was great and I was super happy it turned out this way. If not for reading a brochure I almost certainly would have missed my flight home in Anchorage and, this never-ending scenery that is the great state of Alaska.