Presston

Presston

The 100 year old ‘company town’ of Presston is located in an isolated corner of Stowe Township. There is only one way in and one way out. It is situated beyond an industrial area about two miles from the McKees Rocks Bridge. The community was filled with charming and well kept homes and people proud of their very tight knit historical community. When the row houses are situated 14 inches apart in some places it is difficult to not know your neighbors. Presston was the site of the 1909 McKees Rocks Strike in which 12 people died and several workers were evicted from their homes.

Laurel Caverns

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As a reprieve from unusual heat during a workshop I offered at Touchstone Center for Craft located in Farmington, Pa., I arranged a tour for my students inside the Laurel Caverns where it is 54 degrees all year round. The great folks at the caverns provided us with a guided tour of the cavern with plenty of opportunity to photograph the rough limestone walls slowly carved out by slightly acidic rain water leaching through cracks in the mountain. The caverns follows the terrain of the mountain sloping down 15 degrees over 46 stories and is the largest cave in Pennsylvania.

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Arctic Circle

Alaska

During the summer solstice in June 2010, I spent eight days and no nights in Fairbanks, Alaska. Here is a portion of the journey.

June 21, 2010

Seventy-two miles to the north of Fairbanks is the crossroads of Livengood. There are no structures and no amenities. But it is situated at the head of the Alaska Route 11, the Dalton Highway. The highway opened completely to the public in 1994. Since 1974 the road was restricted to commercial traffic supporting the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and oil fields at Prudhoe Bay. The haul road was designed to carry trucks, equipment and manpower.

Alaska

Our destination this solstice day is the Arctic Circle nearly 200 miles north of Fairbanks. It is suggested that vehicles traveling the highway carry two full spare tires, flares and other supplies to make you self sufficient. We had only the doughnut spare in the borrowed Subaru were traveling in. We had extra gasoline, which we did not need, and plenty of water. The pavement changes to dirt and mud at the junction. Stretches of pavement reappear as the road winds north across a desolate boreal forest.

Alaska

Along the Dalton, provisions are light. There is just one gas station along the way at Yukon Camp located at mile marker 56. The camp was a series of prefabricated buildings configured as a restaurant and rudimentary hotel. Here we had hamburgers for lunch. We were served by a young Californian who was working at the camp for the summer, a job he found on the internet. By coincidence, I was wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers t-shirt. Because of the shirt we attracted the attention of another traveler from Oil City, Pa. We chatted briefly about the route while we filled the tank. It was another 60 miles to the Arctic Circle.

Alaska

Juxtaposed into the surrounding landscape is the nearly omnipresent Trans Alaska pipeline. The pipeline is elevated above the permafrost silently carrying crude oil at a rate of six miles per hour from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. The pipeline is elevated to provide caribou a way to slip back and forth on the landscape. In fact it provides a place of shelter for the caribou in the winter time and has reportedly made the herd bigger and stronger because of the protection it provides. The pipeline goes underground at Fairbanks and points south due to the absence of permafrost.

Alaska

At mile 86 there is a rare left turn off of the highway to a wayside overlook situated at a gravel pit above the highway and pipeline. From here the pipeline and highway can be seen traversing from horizon to horizon across the still dormant forest.

Alaska

Finger Mountain Summit, at mile 98, provides a wind-blown preview of the tundra situated further north. Rocks covered with green lichens dot the surface. Little vegetation survives in the subarctic desert where, on average, only five inches of rain is recorded each year. An arctic squirrel scurries about the rocky outcropping curious about the human visitors. It playfully interacts with me, almost posing, while I photographed it.

Alaska

Another seventeen miles to the Arctic Circle, the northern most of five circle of latitude circling the earth. Located at 66° 33′ 44″ north of the equator, the line represents the southern most point of the midnight sun. The circle itself blends into the landscape, nothing differentiates it from the surroundings except for the wayside sign marking the line.

Alaska

Denali National Park and Preserve

Alaska

During the summer solstice in June 2010, I spent eight days and no nights in Fairbanks, Alaska. Here is a portion of the journey.

Alaska

The paved road stops at the Savage River Station. This is the last stop for the privately owned vehicle. Continuing further into Denali National Park and Preserve requires a scheduled shuttle or a permit. Here at the twisted river crossing is the Savage rock and trail. To reveal a vista of the braided savage river. The flat bottomed broad valley quickly funnels into a canyon, indicating the end of an area of glaciation. It is also the symbolic gate to the wilderness and wildlife that abound within the six million acre preserve in Inland Alaska.

Alaska

That night was spent at The Perch, a creek-side cabin complex conveniently perched next to a stream at the base of a beautiful yet severe mountain complete with a friendly bar and pizza shop. The menu was full of items made local and organic. Only micro-brews were on tap to get the evening started.

Denali

The next morning the mountains remained shrouded in fog and wispy low clouds. The tops of the mountains were not revealed until the fog lifted well into the afternoon. At Denali we caught the early shuttle to the Eielsman Visitors Center. The shuttle carried visitors 67 miles into the interior of the park, just under halfway, through expansive vistas and long broad valleys and twisted rivers. The drive took several hours giving the weary among our group an opportunity to catch periods of sleep making up for what was missed the night before.

Alaska

Bears, caribou, antelope, mountain goats, Dahl sheep, red fox, ravens, grouses, eagles, hares and squirrels were plentiful. Along the way the shuttle stopped to provide an opportunity to photograph from a safe distance. The bears were intimidatingly large even from within the relative safety of the bus. Most of the animals paid little attention to the stream of buses traversing the winding road. It seems they have become conditioned to it’s presence and activity.

Alaska

Around each corner the landscape opened to a new vista Polychrome basin full color reds greens, browns, coupled with the blue and white of the mostly cloudy sky. However the majesty of Denali would not be revealed to us today. Most park visitors often don’t see the fog shrouded mountain, its sheer scale creates it’s own weather patterns

Check out more Alaska Panoramas here.

Lee

Alaska

During the summer solstice in June 2010, I spent eight days and no nights in Fairbanks, Alaska. Here is a portion of the journey.

Lee is basically homeless. He is from Cantwell, AK. Currently, the Navy veteran, serving in Florida between 1979 and 1981, bounces between his mothers and sisters homes. He also stays with a friend in Fairbanks from time to time. His mother has cancer and according to Lee it is managed at the moment. He tries to help her out when he is there.

He is not free of his own personal struggles. Lee quit drinking 26 years ago unlike many of the other homeless in Fairbanks. When he quit drinking he began having seziures. He says that the seziures prevented him from having a wife, family, a job and a home. He doesn’t have much hope that his situation will improve in the future, “there is nothing anybody can do.” He is wary of politics and the system expressing resentment about Sarah Palin saying she wouldn’t get his vote if she were to run for President.

North Pole, Alaska

Alaska

During the summer solstice in June 2010, I spent eight days and no nights in Fairbanks, Alaska. Here is a portion of the journey.

Did this one for the Kids. A drive southeast out of Fairbanks to the candy cane lined streets of North Pole Alaska, home of Santa Claus located at 101 St. Nicholas Dr. The Santa Claus House is where it is Christmas all year long. I sat briefly with Santa on one of the longest and warmest days of the year and asked him for a Red Rider BB gun. He didn’t tell me I’d shoot my eye out. He didn’t say much at all except that he was from Massachusetts. However, a postcard from Santa was sent to Maxwell and Andrew detailing my visit along with a note that they should continue to be on their best behavior for the rest of the year!

Yellowsnow Road

Yellowsnow Road- WORK from StartPoint Media on Vimeo.


During the summer solstice in June 2010, I spent eight days and no nights in Fairbanks, Alaska. Here is a portion of the journey.

A wooded country dirt road ends at a homesteaded horse farm. Cars lined the crude road, parking was a mishmash. Anywhere that a spot could be had there was a car. Kids setup a disorganized camp around the property. Interesting characters drifted in and around as a pig was roasted, music played and beer was flowing. Energetic youth bopped around and danced to the very hip sounds. Local Fairbanks bands The Phineas Gauge, Work and Sweating Honey each played a short set for the mellow crowd. The music was perfect as it filled the Goldstream Valley with sound, the light was perfect at 3am.

The entire purpose of this trip to Alaska was to get to know my soon-to-be brother-in-law and his two brothers. This party provided the perfect opportunity for that to happen. It was a great way to start the week together.

Chena River Lake

Alaska


During the summer solstice in June 2010, I spent eight days and no nights in Fairbanks, Alaska. Here is a portion of the journey.

The Chena River Lakes are a series of dams and levees designed to control flooding in the Fairbanks area. Fairbanks from flood disaster as happened in 1967. The lakes are dammed only temporarily hold water back from flooding low lying areas. A permanent lake would interrupt spawning salmon heading upstream to their breeding grounds. When the lakes are dry a wide bike trail path runs the rim of the miles long levees a practical dual purpose.

Alaska

Birch trees filtering light to reveal a velvet carpet of green ferns. A Spruce Grouse mother and her two baby birds have their complacency disturbed as human visitors pass through the ox-bowed area of the twisting Chena River east of Fairbanks. The mother bird tree hopped from low to high clicking like a rooster until her clutch was safe with her.

The Party

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During the summer solstice in June 2010, I spent eight days and no nights in Fairbanks, Alaska. Here is a portion of the journey.

The extended summer sunlight in Fairbanks accentuates the extremes that life is in this city. Work runs late, activity carries through until the wee hours of the morning. Here on 23rd St. no one seems to mind, it is almost a relief. Children are out riding bicycles and playing until well after midnight. Similarly, townspeople congregate on their porches during the solstice. It is certainly payback for spending the rest of the year in near darkness as the sun barely breaks the horizon in the dead of winter.

Alaska

As told by those native to Fairbanks, the struggle the winter brings provides the excuse to take advantage of the bounty of summer, almost to an excess. Celebrating the sun is ritual in Fairbanks. Normal sun cycles at lower latitudes provide natural symbols to the passage of time making it easy to know when the party is over. Absent in Fairbanks are the normal natural light/dark cycle keeps the body’s clock in check. Two o’clock in the morning looks like a dusky 9 PM so the party continues. A conscientious effort to stop working or partying and get sleep is required. Often times dark blinds, blankets or other dark material are often used to block the constant sun from streaming into windows during times that would normally be dark.

Alaska

The extreme of the cycle leads to higher suicide rates in the spring, high instances of depression and alcohol and drug abuse. The suicide rate increase is attributed to the arrival of spring and the assumption that life will get better, but seemingly doesn’t. A despondent person may see no improvement or new beginning happening for them and simply give up. [1]

Murphy Dome


During the summer solstice in June 2010, I spent eight days and no nights in Fairbanks, Alaska. Here is a portion of the journey.

In Alaska hills are called domes. A mid morning drive leads to the very accessible Murphy Dome. Upon arrival at the summit the fog was so thick that a military Doppler radar site went unnoticed until well after the fog lifted. Following, on foot, an unimproved extension of Murphy Dome Road guides visitors to a series of ridge-top rock outcroppings. The fog slowly lifts upon arrival and reveals a great vantage point. The promenade provides a 360 panoramic vista unveiling layer upon layer of mountainous expanse extending into the wilderness as far as the eye can see. The distant layer to the south is the Alaskan Range and Denali National Park, home to the largest mountain in North America, Mt. Denali.

Alaska

Pine Creek Gorge

Pennsylvania Grand Canyon

Twenty miles of rough winding road warned the sign as the Jeep left the blacktop surface at Cedar Run for points north along the west rim of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. The Pine Creek Gorge cuts through the Allegheny Plateau beginning near Ansonia at the northern end to just a few miles north of Jersey Shore at the southern end.

Mile after mile of the Tiadaghton and Tioga forests unfold as the journey continues to the Bradley Wales Picnic Area. Here, there is access to the West Rim Trial. Hiking north, this section contains three remarkable vistas of the nearly 1000 foot deep and nearly one mile wide canyon. The third vista offers a nearly 180 degree view of the gorge, several miles to both the north and south can be seen. Vultures, hawks and eagles have been spotted here. This time only a pair of vultures were riding the thermals rising up from the valley floor. This out and back hike of about seven miles also winds along saddle contours of two mountain streams. The trail intersects with the larger stream at a small falls. The falls coupled with sunlight streaming through fresh glowing green leaves provides ambiance at a logical stopping point. Out of the woods and back in the car a bear is spotted grazing along the road side staying put only long enough for a portrait before darting out of sight into the dark forests lining the roads.

Pennsylvania Grand Canyon

Check out this photo set to see more images from this hike