By the time we reached Galbraith Lake, North Slope, Alaska, the low light of the solstice sun to the north was casting shadows on the peaks of the Brooks Range, which finally lay to the south of us after hours of driving. Although rain showers had passed through earlier in the day, the lingering clouds were just cotton in the sky, lit to the orange color of hot coils of a stove. Our trip was planned for three days, and our mantra was to have “nowhere to be, and all day to get there”! We observed, absorbed, and enjoyed the birds, flowers, and beauty of the Tundra during solstice. Due to the many photos from the trip, the results will be broken into two chapters, “Solstice, Solitude, Soliloquy”, and “Birds and Blossoms of the Tundra”. I hope you enjoy this first installment!
During the day we drove the Haul Road to various hiking destinations. A creek bed, a bird sighting, or a nice pull-off were all excuses to hike around and check out a new region. Although the road was busy with traveling semi-trucks and tourists, as soon as you walked away from the road the solitude was immediate. Few others hike around on the tundra at this time of the year, and its vast expanse ensures that even if they do, you do not have to see them unless you choose to. Since creek beds offer a natural hiking corridor through and around ankle twisting tundra humps, tussocks, we used them often. The small, bubbling rivers bottoms flowed through rockfields created by spring melts, and were just a fraction of their size during the melt a few weeks prior. However, flow was higher than normal for the time of year, as a snow storm just 10 days earlier fed them from the mountains. I was drawn to the colors and sizes of rocks on the stream beds, and the mountains behind them which birthed the running waters.
At the end of each day we set up camp on the tundra, targeting soft patches of sphagnum moss for our sleeping pads. The mattress companies of the world should take note of the comfort of the tundra – it is unparalleled in soft-yet-supportive sleep. From our camp we took small hikes to check out the local flora and birds. The hikes always brought something new to see and experience. Near one of our camps we discovered this baby longspur (either a Smith’s or Lapland) on the tundra. It perched on the moss in the warm sun, and was likely waiting for food from its parent. Unable to escape, this baby bird’s instinct was to sit as still as possible. I snapped a few shots, and then stepped away so its parents could rejoin and feed it.
As we walked around each night I looked for settings to put up a solstice timelapse. The advantage of a timelapse over a single shot is to show the traveling path of the sun as it reaches the horizon and then curves back into the sky. Over the Brooks Range, being so far north, the sun stayed far above the horizon – it hadn’t dropped below the horizon there for over a month. This was in stark contrast to shooting at Finger Mountain about 15 miles south of the Arctic Circle where the sun just dipped below the curve of the earth. The resulting shots from each location have been fused together, and shown individually below. The lighting of the composite shots, in particular, I believe is very striking. Since each image is made of 8-10 shots over time, each plant has been lit from many angles. Because of this, extreme detail can be seen in each flower in the tundra foreground.
A trip to the Tundra will bring as much to experience as the eye can behold and the brain can perceive. I’m looking forward to the next chapter of birds and blossoms!
14 thoughts on “Solstice, Solitude, Soliloquy”
The image of that baby longspur tweaked my heart, & those mosquitoes – I can just hear & feel them! The best picture of all is that of Kassie, Jess, & you. Thank you!
Thanks Peggy, it was so great to find that little guy/gal!
Really enjoyed this one Ian! Great photos. I really like slow shutter streams, as well as the baby longspur.
Thank you! Slow shutter streams are a new technique for me, and I’m working on what makes the shots ‘work’. They’re great when they turn out!
Reblogged this on Last Frontier Magazine and commented:
Check out this solstice adventure up in the far northern stretches of Alaska by Ian A. Johnson.
An addition to the very appropriate title to this blog, for me, is “Surreal”. The composite with the mountain avens is fascinating, Ian. The B-17s you call mosquitoes…..not so much:) I’m looking forward to the next chapter!
Haha, yeah, their buzz sounds like a B-17 sped up 1000x.
Sure am glad you explained the lighting in that lead photo with the lousewort and the small mountain avens in foreground. You posted that a couple days ago on Facebook (which is also of lesser quality), and the old photographer in me was trying to figure out that lighting. After you explained, the old photographer in me said, “duh”. Question: What focal length did you shoot on that skeety photo? A marvelously horrid photo! Did you live to tell about it? The collection of photos is among your best. Wow!!!
Those mosquitoes nearly killed me. They were tolerable when standing up and the wind was on my face. However, all the times I got my face close to the tundra (many) to take a picture of a flower they tore my exposed hands and face to swiss cheese!
Oh, and those were shot at 11 mm, so super wide!
“Nowhere to be, and all day to get there”. May you abide by that rule when your to-do’s overwhelmeth!
In line with my life phrase, the Lion King’s “Hakunamatatah” – no worries!