The Midnight Sun on Eagle Summit, Alaska

There’s an unavoidable fact in Alaska these days: the days are long… really long! The summer solstice is a celebrated event by Fairbanksians and Alaskans in general. For weeks now the nights have been filled with light and bird song, but the coming of the Solstice means above the Arctic Circle the sun does not set. It spins in circles overhead and drops low on the horizon before ascending for another pass around the pole  That’s what I went to see!

Eagle Summit, Alaska is located 50 miles south of the Arctic Circle. It’s surprising that the sun stays up all day fully above the horizon, but the elevation of Eagle Summit (3,624′) makes the sun refract higher than its actual position of 1.75 degrees above horizon (information from the BLM billboard at Eagle Summit pulloff)

My goal was to set up a long timelapse to capture the day and the swinging sun. The culmination of 13 hours of patient waiting captured the a low lying sun which seemed to go super-nova. Over the course of the day rain showers hung high in the atmosphere and refracted the sun which went from white to orange as it got closer to the horizon. At 2 AM the sun’s path bottomed out, and it began to swing high back into the sky changing back to white.

There was lots of time to explore the summit. Wildflowers were carpeted across the mountain top. Horned Larks and Northern Wheatears were common on the summit, and large marmots were always in vigilance somewhere. Northern Wheatears spend almost 8 months of their time migrating between India and Alaska. They raise their chicks on the tundra before migrating back, which is incredible!

A male northern wheatear watching over his summit at Eagle Summit.
A male northern wheatear watching over his summit at Eagle Summit.
A horned lark sings for females on Eagle Summit.
A horned lark sings for females on Eagle Summit.
A female wheatear hunts for food.
A female wheatear hunts for food.
These marmots were common on the summit of Eagle Summit. They remind me of grizzled old men :)
These marmots were common on the summit of Eagle Summit. They remind me of grizzled old men 🙂

As low sun was captivating – there was nothing else to do but watch it, and enjoy it. I saluted it made sure we were entertained by jamming out “three little birds” (video below) along with some other classic tunes on the Ukulele.

Singing and enjoying the low sun of the solstice.
Singing and enjoying the low sun of the solstice.
Kass and I enjoying the solstice sun at its low point - about 2 AM
Kass and I enjoying the solstice sun at its low point – about 2 AM

Alpine Summer in Full Bloom : Wickersham Dome, AK

It’s been a mild summer in Alaska so far. Temps have been pushing to about 75 degrees in the afternoons and hovering around 50 degrees at night. The conditions could not be MORE perfect to be out-and-about!

I’m just diving in Alaskan flower identification with many of the early summer species coming into full bloom. On the way to Wickersham Dome there is a great assortment of alpine species which can be enjoyed in the open, windy areas out of the clutches of the mosquito clouds. The flowers are beautiful, and this one, 5 mile hike provided well over a dozen species of flowers in all shades of color.

Like I said, I am new to AK flower ID, so I won’t stand by these ID’s 100%. If you know I have one wrong, please tell me. I know several of those who read this blog have great plant ID skills! Also, there’s a section at the bottom of flowers I have not ID’d yet, I would love to get your input!

Low-bush cranberries were common in the open areas along the trail. These small berries are also known as lingonberries and are great to eat once rip! They’re tart and taut with a satistifying pop. These plants, like many of the alpine species, are very, very close to the ground.

Low-bush Cranberry (Lingonberry)
Low-bush Cranberry (Lingonberry)

 

Low-bush Cranberry (lingonberry)
Low-bush Cranberry (lingonberry)
A swallowtail butterfly feeds on and pollinates some low-bush cranberries near the summit of Wickersham Dome
A swallowtail butterfly feeds on and pollinates some low-bush cranberries near the summit of Wickersham Dome

Another edible plant which was common around the trail were the blueberries. They have just formed their fruits and are a rosy pink. Some more time and lots of sun will turn these little morsels blue.

Wild Blueberry
Wild Blueberry

An Alaskan specialty is the cloud berry. I’ve heard no-one makes cloud berry pie, because they’re so good you eat them all before you get home! :D. The berries form a cluster that looks like salmon spawn.

Cloud Berry
Cloud Berry

Mountain avens are small and beautiful. I actually ran into the mustache shaped seed pods last fall which in Denali National Park, so it was great to see what the flowers looked like!

Mountain Avens
Mountain Avens
Mountain Avens overlooking the top of Wickersham Dome.
Mountain Avens overlooking the top of Wickersham Dome.

The rest of the trail was scattered with many other species of flowers which can be seen here along with some of the beautiful scenery.

Lupines along the trail to Wickersham Dome
Lupines along the trail to Wickersham Dome
Pink Plumes! Not even kidding, that's their name!
Pink Plumes! Not even kidding, that’s their name!
Narcissus Anenome
Narcissus Anenome
Arctic Sandwort
Arctic Sandwort

Unknowns

Unknown flower #1, please help you know it! Sorry that I do not have any leaves!
Unknown flower #1 : Probable Cut-leaf anenome or “early thimbleweed”. Both are common names for it.
Unknown Flower # 2! If you know I would love to hear it!
Unknown Flower # 2! – Identified! Elegant Indian Paintbrush
Unknown flower # 3, if you know please tell me!
Unknown flower # 3 : An arnica species (Thanks Justin)… but now… which?

I’ll throw in a shout-out to these great sites which helped me in my Alaska wildflower ID and will be a great resource in the future:

http://www.alaskawildflowers.us/

http://www.turtlepuddle.org/alaskan/wild/flowers-1.html

I’ll leave you with a picture of a super-tree which is defying the odd by surviving on summit and this nesting yellow-rump warbler. She sure was well hid!

This pine tree defied the odds on the summit of Wickersham Dome. Somehow it's thriving when none others could!
This pine tree defied the odds on the summit of Wickersham Dome. Somehow it’s thriving when none others could!
A female yellow-rump sits on her nest along the trail to Wickersham Dome. She was keeping low, but keeping a close eye out.
A female yellow-rump sits on her nest along the trail to Wickersham Dome. She was keeping low, but keeping a close eye out.

A Mirror Lake

This Memorial Day I had a great time with family at our lake cabin in central Minnesota. The night I got there the humidity had dropped from the sky and the stars were intensely clear and beautiful. I walked down to our dock and immediately realized that in the completely still night the earth and sky were the same; the lake was reflecting the stars and lights along the shoreline with mirror-like precision. Not a ripple blurred them. Taking pictures from the dock I did my best to capture the beauty and stillness of the night.

The starry night was reflected perfectly in the lake. The only thing that discerns the the earth is the the dock.
The starry night was reflected perfectly in the lake. The only thing that discerns the the earth is the the dock.

 

I have a tremendous sense of place at our cabin. I’ve been going there since I was a little kid and have helped in many of the building changes, mowed its lawn, ate pancakes cooked by my grandma every morning, fried fish for dinners, and fished its waters. Fish stories and memories have been firmly set in my memory and the lore of the cabin. Bent hooks, broken rods, and big fish are remembered by uncles, nephews and cousins. A walk down the dock is the beginning and end of any fishing trip. Over the years the has changed in length, shape, style, and design. But regardless of how it looks it is ALWAYS there. I took these photos from that dock to capture a beautiful night.

The boat pictured here has been part of many, many fishing trips. It is decades old and has held up through perhaps a dozen different 4-10 horse engines. The night was so still the boat hardly rocked during this long exposure.
The boat pictured here has been part of many, many fishing trips. It is decades old and has held up through perhaps a dozen different 4-10 horse engines. The night was so still the boat hardly rocked during this long exposure.
This image is a single 8 minute exposure. The stillness of the night reflected the spinning stars captured above.
This image is a single 8 minute exposure. The stillness of the night reflected the spinning stars captured above.