Alaska Wildflowers: Black Swamp Gooseberry



Alaska Ferry / Sailing With The Tide

Tide Gauge

The highest tide here in May is a 20.0 – which would put the marker at the very top of the picture. The lowest tide this month is a minus 4.7 – which would put the marker another 7 feet lower than it is in the picture.

It takes about six hours for that change of almost 25 feet.

Not all tides here are that extreme – a small high tide would be like a 12 or a 13 and a small low tide would be a 4 or a 5.  A much smaller difference between high and low.

High Tide

Low Tide

These two pictures were taken six hours apart. The high that day was around a 16 and the low was around a 2 – pretty average.

I’m sure you can see how this can cause transportation issues. A channel that is navigable at high tide might be impassable (or even walkable!) at low tide.

The tides also affect the flow of the water – the narrower or shallower the channel the faster the water flows.

In very narrow spots this ebb and flow can temporarily turn the ocean into a river and the ferry schedules have to account for his. There are some areas where the water can sometimes move too quickly for large boats to pass safely.  In those cases the larger ferries have to time their passage for peak high tide or peak low tide (aka “slack tide”) when the water is still.

M/V Fairweather (one of our fast ferries) moves 250 passengers and ~35 vehicles at 32 knots

The newer “fast” ferries were built with strong enough engines to muscle their way through the narrows at any stage of the tide. The larger ferries can’t do this so their routes have to be meticulously planned – which is just one of the reasons that ferry schedules are not available a year in advance…

So if you are taking the ferries through Southeast Alaska and you have an extremely inconvenient arrival or departure time (like 2:45 a.m.) I hope you can understand that we’re working around Mother Nature.

M/V Columbia (one of our “not fast” ferries) moves 500 passengers and 140 vehicles at 17 knots

Like I tell everyone that gets frustrated by the complexities of the ferry schedule, “it’s part of the charm…”

Tour Season And Waterfalls

Tourist Watching

I’ve been back in Juneau for just over two years now and as much as I like to think that I can see things with ‘fresh eyes’ I’m starting to find that I can’t. I forget how impressive the mountains can be because they’re all around us. I don’t know the name of the mountain in the picture… it’s just part of Admiralty Island to me. And if I had been facing any other direction then there would’ve been another very similar mountain in the background.

That’s what’s so great about tourist watching – seeing people experience these things for the first time is a good reminder that yeah, this really is a cool place.

And speaking of not knowing the names of things I see everyday… there are these waterfalls right above town that I see all the time but I don’t know what they’re called. I suspect that even if I did know their names it wouldn’t do me any good – does anybody else in town know them?  I doubt it.  There’s just so many of them that we pretty much ignore the common ones.

I was downtown the other day and saw some tourists taking pictures of them. Here’s one of the waterfalls behind town. (those are not fall colors – that’s what the cottonwood trees look like right now)

A Waterfall

And here’s a picture of Nugget Falls – a much more impressive waterfall that I see several times a week.

Nugget Falls

So what I’ve decided to do with this blog is to not worry so much about the quality of the pictures and just post whatever I come across.

Because after posting a picture of one of the most common things in Juneau I’ve learned that I just can’t predict what people will like.

Have a good weekend!

Water Droplets


The thing about living in a rain forest is everything is always wet.  Most of the time that honestly sucks – but every once in a while it can be magical.

I think these might be lupine but whatever they are the newest leaves are covered in little hairs that are perfect for holding water.  Some of the droplets were just plain huge.

When I took these pictures I was actually trying to sneak up on a pair of ducks in a pond just off the road.  I saw this cluster of green leaves covered in what looked like diamonds and I promptly laid down and spent 15 or 20 gloriously muddy minutes with them.  I couldn’t imagine what I must’ve looked like…

Totally worth it, right?

Misty Mountains

I was heading into town yesterday and the guy driving the car next to me was totally rubbernecking and I couldn’t figure out why.  As he passed me I noticed his out of state plates and I realized he was just looking at the hills.

We get so much rain here (triple what Seattle gets) that it’s easy to forget how cool the rain and clouds really are.  We don’t get the heavy-downpour-for-an-hour-and-it’s-done type of rain – we get the non-stop type.  And that makes for some really interesting clouds.

These are not fog pictures (although we get that, too) but cloud pictures.  Our ‘ceiling’ is so low that often the planes can’t fly – which wouldn’t be too big of a deal except that we can’t drive out of town…

Anyway, what I couldn’t capture with these pictures is the way that the clouds move through the trees continuously.  It’s almost like the trees are ‘breathing’ the clouds out into the air.  At least, that’s what it looks like to me.

Sea Anemones

Sea Anemone

Southeast Alaska has over 11,000 miles of coastline – and almost every inch is alive.

From a distance it just looks like a lot of rocks, but if you get closer you realize that those rocks are coated in life.  Most of it is mussels and barnacles (or barnacles on mussels…) and you really can’t walk on the beaches here without crunching something.  That’s okay, though, because broken mussels feed the birds at low tide and at high tide the starfish and sea urchins and little fish get a meal.  And there really isn’t a shortage of mussels up here…

If you bend down and take a closer look you can find some amazing little things – like sea anemones.  At low tide most of them pull their tentacles in and hide but sometimes you can find them in tide pools.

One Inch Of Life


I stopped by the glacier on my way home from work and found these icebergs.

All of the warm weather (in the 50s) we’ve been having lately has melted the last of the ice on Mendenhall Lake.  Looking at these pictures you might disagree with me…  What I mean is that the lake ice from last winter has finally thawed releasing all of the icebergs that were trapped closer to the glacier.  There is a slight current in the lake that will gradually push them away from the visitor’s center.

So even though you can come here any time of year and see icebergs this is the one time when you can get so close to so many on foot.

I sat on a rock and listened to the ice until it started to get dark.  I took this picture on my way back – at the time I thought there wasn’t enough light but I’m happy with how it turned out.

I hope you liked the pictures!

And if you’re curious why glacier ice is blue go here.

Starr Hill Stairways

We’ve been having some amazing weather lately (60 degrees is “amazing” here…) and I’m still rehabbing my leg (hockey…) so the other day I took a walk up Starr Hill.

Right now is the perfect time to see how extensive the stairway networks are because there are no leaves on the salmonberry bushes.  In another month or two these stairways will feel like green tunnels.

There isn’t much flat land here so when the miners started showing up they had to build their temporary homes just a little further up the hill from the last guy.

Today many of those old property divisions still exist even though it isn’t possible to build roads to the houses.

So the Starr Hill neighborhood is a quirky combination of narrow, steep roads and long stairways.

If you visit Juneau by cruise ship and you want to find Starr Hill just walk “up” – you’ll know when you get there.