Nissan Xterra rear sleep platform

“I’m too long, can’t we just chop the lower few inches off my legs?” I said exacerbated as I lay cramped and contorted in the back of a fully packed Xterra. “Quit being a baby!” is Meagan’s quick response. This conversation is visited and re-visited during our long adventures into the backcountry, trying to stealth camp in illustrious locations such as: the Wrangell Mountains, the Dalton Highway, and dimly lit corners of Wal-Mart parking lots. I find myself too tired to keep driving and Meagan uses the wonderful excuse that driving at night “makes my eyes hurt”. In the end we are forced to push all our stuff to the front seats and side of the car, lay out our sleeping bags and pads, jump in and try and get situated before calling the dogs up to come lay on top of us. All this in the space that is usually reserved for ones yoga mat.

In an effort to avoid these uncomfortable situations on our future journey, we came up with a solution. Albeit stolen heavily from others’ internet posts and forum discussions. The idea is to provide an elevated sleeping platform which can be folded out once  parked to provide a full 6 ft 3 in bed. On top we would have our refrigerator, dog bed, and people bed. Underneath would be adequate storage for most of our belongings. Simple, cheap, and effective. Just our style. Below are some images of the sleep platform right after construction. And one on the trip down south from Fairbanks all the way to Florida! Notice the outboard on the roof. You never can be too prepared…


rear vehicle sleep platform

rear view with fridge and water jugs

homemade sliders

close up of homemade fridge slides


fridge slid out


tie down points


fully loaded with gear


all dirty with outboard on roof

Kennecott Mine, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska

The historic Kennecott mine, near the confluence of the Root and Kennecott Glaciers, is a marvel of engineering. Not only did the mine require the laying of 196 miles of railway, some 15% of that on trestles, but it looks like a carpenter’s version of Jenga. In operation from 1911 to 1938, the company mined copper, occasionally mining Chalcocite, a mineral comprising of nearly 70% copper and weighing significantly more than an average stone of equal size. Meagan and I took advantage of the park’s policy of allowing rock collection Winking smile.


kennecott mine alaska

Photo by Meagan DeRaps

A weekend in Talkeetna, Alaska

Small-town Alaska can be a strange place. Despite Talkeetna’s high rate of tourist turnover, they have still kept, if not increased, their strangeness. One thing they have in spades, though, is hospitality. Where else would more than one person offer an unclaimed mattress laying out in a back alley to a weary traveler? I wandered the (street)s of Talkeetna for a day after my field season ended and crew had left town. I was waiting for my sister and her husband with their band, St. Animal in tow, to come down and play at the local Mountain High Pizza Pie restaurant; a great way for me to unwind after a busy summer. I split most my time between staring at the wonderful view of Denali from the junction between the Susitna and Talkeetna rivers, and making a name for myself with the locals as the guy who sits on all the business porches for hours waiting for something(?) while watching all the tourists walk down the middle of the streets lost in either Disneyland flashbacks or doing an excellent job of recreating a Hollywood zombie movie. When not doing either of these things, I found myself trying to fill a void in my stomach at many of the excellent local eateries, (OK, mostly pubs) after too much hiking . I must say, not a bad weekend…


Denali peak with beaver swimming in the Susitna River

Talkeetna river bridge

AKRR Talkeetna river bridge


Conscious coffee house in Talkeetna

Spinach Bread

Best food in town- Spinach bread (get the daily special!)


Saint Animal in concert at Mountain High Pizza Pie

Lone guitarist

Late night guitarist serenading Denali

I crossed the River Styx, and lived…

For me, summer is a time of chaos, long hours, travel, and moments of serenity found in nature. These are a sampling of images that tell a story of the first half of my summer field season. As a geologist for the State of Alaska I was fortunate to explore the Western Alaska Range’s Styx River and Kuskokwim  River regions by foot and by helicopter. There really is no better way to see the state. We were based out of the historic Rainy Pass Lodge, one of the oldest lodges in the state and also one of the first checkpoints on the iconic Iditarod dog sled race.


surreal lake

glassy puntilla lake


long exposure puntilla lake

Long exposure of puntilla lake


4th of July Fireworks

4th of July fireworks at Rainy Pass Lodge


northern volleyball

Volleyball at Rainy Pass Lodge


Puntilla lake float plane

Float plane taking off out of Puntilla lake


radio repeater setup

Radio repeaters and solar setup


Rainy pass lodge

Rainy Pass Lodge looking South


glacial lake swimming

Glacial lake swimming


GoPro selfie

Solo morning traverse



glacial geology


Steep slopes

Any sheep?


never ending mountains

Never ending mountains


rock and ice

Brightly colored slope


scree slope

The beckoning slope


colorful ridge

Ridge worker


helicopter pilot and view


women looking over ledge

The ponderer


summer slowers

Alpine flowers


sunny slope

Sun spot


narrow landing

Tight landing


helicopter fieldwork

Helicopter fieldwork


glacial recession panorama

Glacier recession


Foggy Morning

Foggy morning


Viewing comet PanSTARRS in Polar and Northern Latitudes

For those of us living in the Northern Latitudes, specifically closer to the circumpolar region, spotting PanSTARRS will be difficult. Especially given the lack of usable information regarding when and where to look in the night sky for our region. While out the night of March 12th, I was trying to watch for PanSTARRS below the setting crescent moon during twilight as numerous sites have stated. Unfortunately, PanSTARRS was still too far below the horizon up here in Fairbanks, AK. Although there was no visible comet the setting moon was still a striking image with the clear skies  we have been having.

setting crescent moon at twilight


While doing some more research into where the comet will be at what time, I lucked across this useful diagram.


come PanSTARRS sky map


So now anyone with an iphone or android device can know exactly where to look in the sky to see PanSTARRS using one of the many freely available stargazing apps such as SkyView.

So when will I be out looking again? You can be sure I will be looking around the Andromeda galaxy region of the sky in early April. When will you go out? Have you seen PanSTARRS? Let me know in the comments below!

Print Giveaway!! see below to enter and view image

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Win this image in high quality 13 x 19 in glossy print! This image was composed of over 500 individual images. Satellites can be seen crossing the path of the stars in the upper left and middle of the shot. Watermark will not be present on printed image.

Remember to share on twitter once per day to receive additional entries.

stars spinning over trees


8 Things to Help Your Cold Weather Photography

For some of us living in northern (or extreme southern) latitudes, winter photography can be more challenging than simply adding an extra wind breaker, it can be downright life threatening. Sitting and watching the aurora dance overhead while sipping hot cocoa, while an alluring fantasy, is far from the reality. Many times we find ourselves up in the wee hours standing in a wind-blown field with temps reaching -20 F or colder for hours, without hot chocolate, frantically trying to adjust camera settings while at the same time trying to minimize how long our fingers are exposed to the toxic air. This is by no means a cold weather photo survival guide, but a list of things I have found that help keep your camera running and your fingers attached. Even seasoned cold-weather photographers may find something they hadn’t heard about, and be sure to share what you do in the cold in the comments below.


1) Keep spare batteries in your pocket (close to your body)

Most electronics don’t like cold, especially battery operated ones. Cameras will eat up a battery much faster as the mercury drops, which often means carrying multiple spares for your freezing camera. Don’t leave those batteries in your camera bag though, stick them in your pockets the closer to your body the better that way you always have warm fresh batteries. You can often eke out a few more shots on a battery by repeatedly warming them up with your body and sticking them back in the camera.


snow drift cornice

2) Stick a hand warmer under the camera battery door

I like to keep some of these guys around not only for myself, but also for the camera. They can be great when you need to keep a single battery going for as long as possible (long exposure or time-lapse). I stick the hand warmer underneath the battery door and then wrap a rubber band around to hold it in place, simple and effective. I have gotten an extra hour out of a battery by doing this.

3) Use moleskin

Contact frostbite by touching an item that is already cold is one of the fastest acting cold injuries. In order to protect your face while composing your shot against the camera viewfinder, try adding moleskin to the areas you touch, the kind backpackers use to keep away blisters.

4) Use mittens with a set of small liners

Mittens come in a variety of styles; the only ones I have found that have enough dexterity not to annoy me have leather palms. I use a pair of Black Diamond Mercury mitts and find them to be very warm (used in -60 F) and due to their internal design, very dexterous.  A good set of mittens will allow your hand to warm itself up much quicker with frequent hand removal than a glove. In order to help your hand while outside the mitten and to keep steam from rising off your hand and fogging your lens, I like to use a small wool or synthetic liner glove like these ones made by Mountain Hardware. This allows me to work the camera for short periods of time and then quickly put my mittens back on to warm up. The nice thing about mittens is you can have a hand warmer inside them warming up your fingers and not your palms.


5) Hold your breath

 Not the whole time but every time you put your head close to your camera. Any warm moisture that escapes your lips will freeze to the first cold thing it hits, which will be your lens or viewfinder. This can be real bummer, and possibly stop you whole photo session until you can clear it away.

6) Minimize Live View

Most modern DSLRs have live view now, this can be great for setting up composition and achieving critical focus while keeping your face and breath away from the camera, however, it eats up the battery. So no need to not use it, just don’t spend overly long in this mode, or spend too long reviewing your images on the LCD.

7) Wrap your tripod legs in pipe foam

Tripods are an essential tool for night and landscape photography; I use my trusted Manfrotto 055XPROB and have come to love one of its features. Two of the legs are covered in rubber/foam where you hold onto it. This keeps you from touching the ice-cold tripod metal. Don’t fret, this can easily be added to any tripod for a few bucks using standard pipe foam. And if looks are your thing, just remove the pieces when summer comes around so people won’t laugh at you.

8) Use a wrapper (for the camera)

Before you go back inside a warm area, take the time and put your camera inside a waterproof barrier. I like to use a pelican case, however a simple plastic bag can be all that you need. Place the camera inside and forget about it for a few hours. You need to let the camera reach room temperature (or close to) before opening the barrier. This is because as the cold camera enters a warm body of air, all the moisture in the air will freeze onto the camera later melting and getting on the sensor and other sensitive electronic parts inside possibly damaging them. If waiting a few hours is too long before seeing your photos, it is for me, take the memory card out before going inside and place it in a ziploc by itself. This allows the memory card to warm up in a matter of minutes not hours.



open north american 2012

GoPro sailing and snorkeling in Puerto Rico

On our trip to Puerto Rico this winter, besides my Canon 5D mark ii we also took along our new GoPro video camera hoping to test its ability in regards to time-lapses and video quality. We were pleasantly surprised to see that the quality of the image is very good and having such a wide angle is fun to work with. You may know that GoPro cameras do not have a LCD screen so viewing what you have filmed or captured is not possible until loading the files back onto the computer. I found that despite what sounded like a nuisance at first, this “feature” in fact turned out to be just the opposite. I was able to be less constrained by focusing on the perfect composition and was pulled in by the spontaneity and excitement of not knowing just how the image would turn out. While not a great option as your only camera, and no substitute for a professional SLR by any means, I think I may be doing more and more with my GoPro in the days to come.

This movie is a compilation of some of our adventures…

And as always, don’t forget to watch in 1080p 🙂

Puerto Rico- a tropical escape

sailing boats in Ensanado Honda, Dewey, Culebra

Over the Holidays Meagan and I were fortunate enough to travel down to Puerto Rico and sail around the tropical waters on my parents (retirement plan)  sailboat “Azaya”. We spent 9 days sailing around the eastern waters mainly near the island of Culebra. The water temps were a near constant 82 degrees and we were able to swim off the boat nearly every day. A luxury that does not go unappreciated by two frozen northerners!

Another post will follow this one with a video of our trip taken mainly from footage using our new gopro hero 3 black edition. So keep an eye out for that, and to save you some hassle don’t forget to sign up for our blog updates via whatever method you choose on the right of the screen.

bio luminescent bay

The image above of the blue swirls is actually a long exposure image of a bio luminescent bay on the island of Vieques. The yellow in the upper corner are city lights from the island. Bio luminescence is a natural wonder that rivals that of the northern lights in my mind. We spent nearly 3 hours mesmerized by the glowing of fish as they swam in the dark water bellow us startled into motion by unseen dangers.

amarillos or fried plantains

One of our new found delights were amarillos or “yellows” for us gringos. They consist of sliced plantains fried in coconut oil and served hot. After my first taste I found myself searching for them on every menu we passed.