May 30, 2009

Pine trees

In Denali National Park I am in the interpretive division. It's the interp rangers that lead all the visitor programs in the park, so they are basically the face of the park to the public. As video and photos also reach visitors, it's where I fall as well.

As part of our training we go on nature walks to learn some of the local flora and fauna. Visitors are usually pretty curious, so it's good stuff to know. Fair enough. I can tell a moose from a caribou. But one day Marisa pointed to a tree and asked what it was. The tree was covered in needles so I said "pine tree" with a smile, confident that my answer was vague enough to be correct. Turns out, there are no pine trees trees in Denali. Just spruce trees.

On the upside, I can now identify the few trees that can survive the winters here. The main ones are the aspen, birch and spruce trees (of the white and black variety).

May 28, 2009


A snapshot in motion from my solo hike up Mt. Healy the other night.

May 26, 2009


My last night at home I stayed up late on my computer trying to clear off some hard drive space and organize my files before Alaska. As I finished up and started to walk downstairs, I realized that I wasn't the only one working late. The light was on in my sister's room and I went in to investigate. I found her in her loft busily coloring surrounded by just a few of her legions of animals. I couldn't see what she was working on at first, but I took a few minutes to make some images. When I moved closer, I caught a glimpse of what I thought was a bear that she was coloring, and I wondered if she was making me something. But she didn't try hide it, and I didn't ask. We said our goodnights, and I left the next day.

Fast forward one week. After staff training one night, I hiked up to the Mt. Healy overlook with my coworkers Val and Bill. It was a great night, and we were able to see Denali towering above the landscape some 70 miles away. On the way down, I was digging around in my camera bag and saw something white... it was the card. I thought she may try to hide it in my bags, but when I unpacked everything upon arrival it didn't turn up and I assumed she was making something for someone else. So the surprise was complete and the timing was perfect, as I was surrounded by mountains in the beautiful Alaskan sunset. So thanks Lauren, it made my day. I took the photo below shortly after discovering the secret card.


This summer part of my job is to photograph the wildlife. Shooting photos this past week of moose, caribou, lynx, dall sheep and yes, grizzlies has made me really appreciate wildlife photographers. The problem for me hasn't been finding the animals, (I've seen about a dozen grizzly bears) but composing decent images. How do you compose a shot when you aren't allowed to approach any wildlife? The minimum viewing distance for a bear is a quarter mile. All of my shots so far have been out the car window... and it's been pretty much simply taking whatever angle the animal will give me rather than composing images. I'm looking forward to photographing people where there is no viewing distance at least for most of us. Maybe Obama has one.

And don't worry, I will get around to posting the rest of my animal images soon.


The scenery in Alaska is incredible. It's one of those, "you have to be there" type of things but here are a few scenic photos. From top, the Alaska range from Mt. Healy and Denali from Stoney Hill on the Park Road.

The Door

Before I left Big Rapids, my brother Travis and I biked down the road to explore the local haunted house. All the years I lived on 175th I hadn't noticed it due to the overgrowth until my siblings told me about it. The inside was pretty creepy, but my favorite part of the house was the vintage door.

May 16, 2009


Flying into Chicago I knew it was going to be tight. The flight from Grand Rapids was delayed over an hour giving me just 10 minutes to race across O'Hare to the gate to catch my flight to Anchorage. If I missed it, I would have to wait a full 24 hours before the next flight. Thankfully, I was A: near the front of the plane, and B: my carry-on was on top of the pile. I hit the ground running. I saw my plane still at the gate while dodging travelers, but arrived after the door closed. I was breathing hard and dripping sweat so I must have looked a little desperate.

"Anchorage?" -Them
"Anchorage." -Me
"Open the door! Last name?" -Them
"Blake, Neil Blake." -Me

And I was on my way. Nothing like a little drama to start the trip off.


May 12, 2009

Creek Expedition II

Here is the video to complement the photos below. Favorite quote? "Daddy I just realized something, we didn't hear a single plop of a frog."

May 11, 2009

Creek Expedition

Hunting in the Blake family takes on a different meaning than it does in most Michigan homes. While November 15th is practically a state holiday here, dad gets more excited when spring rolls around so we can go morel hunting. (Morels are mushrooms that also happen to be ridiculously hard to find.) In addition to being a mushroomer, dad is also an expert frog catcher.

Last night Dad, Lauren and I were hunting, not frogs, but larva in the creek for Lauren's painted turtle, Brotus. The crayfish pictured is a little too big for him to eat (as the turtle is about the size of a quarter), but he was a fun catch even though he was a little indignant about it. "Crayfish are easy to catch because they always go backwards," Lauren said. The strategy here is to simply place the net behind them and they'll back into it.

May 8, 2009

Home is where...

...the family is. It dawned on me recently that I'll only get a few days with them before heading north for the summer. They'll be a great few days... but too short.

P.S. Does anyone know to stop flickr from desaturating images? The greens were greener before I uploaded this one of my sister Lauren.