Friday, August 20, 2010

Back In Seattle... Again

I'm back in Seattle after flying from Petropavlovsk through Anchorage. With that, my Alaskan Summer travels are officially concluded.

I'm going to hang out in the area for a while, to catch up with myself and my life as usual. I'll also be working on "what's next" for me, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka, Russia

We wrapped up our Aleutians expedition with a quick stop in Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula of far northeast Russia. Although not part of the Aleutian Islands, of course, the area is certainly geographically, geologically and historically similar.

We spent the morning doing a typical tourist city-tour, mostly churches and statues followed by a "local" lunch. It was interesting and informative, but it was so far from my usual style of exploration that I often found myself wanting to jump off the bus and just mingle with the locals for a while.

In the afternoon, we went to a cultural heritage center where we were treated to an excellent traditional dance performance, though I admit to spending most of my time with the local sled dogs who were in residence there. I reprise my global assessment: Dogs are dogs everywhere, and I love them all!

It's been an excellent Aleutian expedition and we fly out tomorrow.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Aleutian Islands: Grizzly Bears

A real highlight of the expedition was zodiac cruising around Geographic Harbor in Katmai Park and seeing grizzly bears everywhere... It was fantastic!

I've always heard about grizzly bears' size, power and aggressiveness, but I don't think I've ever heard or seen anything about their grace, delicacy and perseverance. I hope this video does a little to balance the scales.

(Note: I'm sorry about all the ambient noise -- camera shutters clicking, etc. -- but I couldn't turn down the undesirable audio without losing the "bear sounds" too.)

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Aleutian Islands: WWII

One of my primary interests in the Aleutian Islands area was its role in World War II. The gist of the story is that after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese strategy was to occupy Midway Island in the South Pacific and the Aleutian Islands in the north, anchoring both ends of a naval defense line that would keep the US from retaliating against the Japanese empire and especially its homelands.

The failure to capture Midway is a famous part of the WWII story, but many folks have never heard of the Aleutian campaign and few could tell you that several of the Aleutian Islands were actually invaded and held by the Japanese for several years. The rest of the story includes the building of the AlCan Highway (and subsequent development of the rest of Alaska), aerial bombardment of Dutch Harbor, horrific living and flying conditions for US Army personnel, and a climactic counter-invasion of Attu Island.

I was quite keen to land on Attu and walk the area, especially the primary landing beach. A dense cloud cover provided an ominous feeling, and though the beach may not look like much, it speaks volumes about the battle to those like me who have studied it.

Nature has pretty well reclaimed the area and most everything that was there, but numerous rusted artifacts can still be seen. Besides the truck chassis seen here, one can find gun emplacements, washed up Japanese mini-subs, fueling rigs and even portions of the harbor complex. The nearly 70-year old wreckage of a Japanese ship spoke volumes about the epic encounter.

I don't know how much the "birders" got out of the day, but it was certainly a highlight for me!

Sunday, August 01, 2010

If It's Flappin', They're Snappin'!

The vast majority of folks onboard ship are "birders" -- people who are quite literally bird nuts. For them, the Aleutian Islands provide the only opportunity in the world to see a few species that are on their "life lists." As a result, much of the entire expedition's attention was paid to finding and seeing these birds.

For me -- practically the only non-birder on board -- it was amusing to see the birders in action while we cruised around in the zodiac boats. The amount of camera equipment they carried and the number of shots they took was truly astonishing. I mentioned this to one of the expedition leaders, and she smiled back at me saying, "If it's flappin', they're snappin!"

I happened to get this shot of her the next day, and gave her a copy just for fun:

(To my surprise -- and amusement -- this photo was used on the cover post-trip photo book that was provided by the expedition company. I wonder if the birders know it started as a joke on them!)