American alligator, Alligator mississippiensis (2009)

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Alligator mississipiensis, May 2009, somewhere on a dirt road in Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida. Oh, the love!

And I’m not kidding. I love alligators. Just love ‘em.

I have to admit, I’m pretty excited to be moving back into alligator territory this summer. Granted, we probably won’t have nearly as many in south Georgia as we had in central and south Florida — but it should still be a healthy population. I have to imagine the Okefenokee Swamp, just east of Valdosta, will have more than a few? A boy can hope…

The young individual photographed here was camped out in the middle of a rain-swamped dirt road shortly after a spring thunderstorm. Rain sometimes does that. It’ll bring the gators out, bring them up to the roads — especially when there’s standing water after the storm and the land thirsts for the rains to come later in the year.

Gators. Never a disappointment. Well, unless you’re talking about football.

~ janson

Colorado, July 2007

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I’m on campus at UAA and taking a moment to think more about that drive from Florida to Alaska in July of 2007, when we first moved to Alaska. I’m thinking about some of the places I won’t see again this summer because I’ll be taking a different route back to Florida once I hit Montana. One of those places is Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

Our time at Rocky Mountain National Park was incredibly short back in 2007, but it certainly made quite an impact. I told myself I’d definitely revisit the park the next time I did the drive and allow myself more time to explore everything the park lands have to offer. But alas, my chosen route will not cross paths with The Spire, photographed above, at Rocky Mountain National Park this summer.

It’s a trade off, you know…? On the one hand you want to return to these places you’ve been, to learn more about the areas and regions that made such an impact on the first round… but on the other hand, you want to go to new places. Places you’ve never been before, but perhaps in the cinema of your imagination.

Ultimately, I will return to a number of places that mean a lot to me, places I have been before –the Icefields Parkway, Glacier National Park, Meteor Crater– but I’ll also get to soak up the ambiance of new experience at places like Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. And who knows what else.

That’s the great thing about the road-not-yet-travelled — you just don’t really know what you’re in for. There is no routine. You just don’t know what’s truly around the corner, despite maps, GPS, and crazed “phone” devices from the future.

I’ll miss The Spire, certainly. But not too much when I’m buried neck-deep in new experiences, awe, and wonder.

~ janson

Kansas, July 2007

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In July of 2007, my wife, my mother, and I drove from Florida to Alaska. It was The Big Move. The Big Exciting Move. This was, of course, several years before the birth of our daughter. Given the freedom of our summer between jobs, we took the entire month of June to make the drive. Granted, we stayed about a week in Oklahoma visiting friends and family — but still, that’s about three weeks on the road. Just a few days longer than I’ll have this summer on my return drive from Alaska to Florida.

When I drive out of Anchorage on June 1st (Mumpower and Kid A are flying), we’ll be two months shy of four full years in Alaska. Almost four years. It’s hard for me to believe it’s only been four years. So much has happened, so much has changed — our daughter being the primary catalyst of our quickening.

I’m sitting here tonight watching the sun set outside and listening to Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. I’m thinking about that awesome July of 2007 – of the entire month with Lori and my mother in our beloved Jeep. Mom, I should note, joined us that summer just for the hell of it. Who would pass up a road trip like that? It was awesome!

So I’m sitting here tonight and thinking about the symmetry, about how we’re moving to a new world and a new life in south Georgia, mostly unaware of what our future will bring, just as we did in the summer of 2007 when we drove cross-continent to Alaska. We can check our maps and make our plans, but we just can’t see very far down the road of time. Too many twists, turns, and bends. What will the next four years bring to us? And the four after that? I have no idea — and that’s kind of awesome.

The photo above, incidentally, was taken in the interior of Kansas during the July 2007 road trip. We’d left Oklahoma and were starting to cut west toward Colorado. It wasn’t too long after this photo was taken when we came to the Rocky Mountains and learned what mountains truly are… Mountains that have dominated my life for the past four years in one fashion or another.

- janson

June 2011: The Plan

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On 01 June 2011, I leave Anchorage and begin my two and a half week road trip to Florida, where I’ll meet up with Mumpower and Kid A at my folks’ house in Lake County. They’re flying separately to Florida, leaving me to do the drive solo –well, just me and my camera, at least– in the Jeep. Undoubtedly it’s going to be a remarkable trip.

In general, though I have an itinerary planned, this won’t be a trip regulated by rigid and firm deadlines. I fully expect for the “plan” to change and adjust in real-time, in response to what may come. Hell, the plan has changed already…

What follows in this post is the general plan so far for the June 2011 drive from Alaska to Florida.

Admittedly, this post also serves to allow me to pre-structure the new blog with categorical tags for each of these regions… as I do plan on live-blogging the trip as much as possible… You’ll also find a menu option below the banner image for “series”. This option will let you sort collected batches of posts by related by series-content. For example, all “Alaska-to-Florida” Summer 2011 posts will be collected together as one series. Organization is swell!

Alright, here’s the plan so far:

ALASKA. The trip begins, obviously, in southcentral Alaska. I’ll be shooting east for the border and plan on stopping at a few favorite haunts on the way out. Eagle River Valley, Hatcher Pass, and Matanuska Glacier are likely stops on my way to Tok. From Tok, I’ll then bolt east to the Yukon border, cruising the infamous Alaska (“Alcan”) Highway.

YUKON. There aren’t any formal parks I plan to spend much time at in the Yukon, though I do remember some areas from the 2007 drive I want to explore more of, namely the Kluane Lake area around Destruction Bay. I’ve got room to explore here.

BRITISH COLUMBIA. Highlight stops in British Columbia include Liard River Hot Springs, Stone Mountain Provincial Park, and Muncho Lake Provincial Park. Plenty of time is allotted for random wanderings, as this stretch of the Alaska Highway is packed with roaming bison, stone sheep, wild horses, and black bears.

ALBERTA. Alberta is home to the Icefields Parkway, a spectacular drive from Jasper south to Banff. Athabasca Glacier is located here, as are Banff and Yoho National Parks on the southern end (though Yoho is technically just over the B.C. border to the west). Also in this area, Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. Amazing region. I thank my Nikon in advance.

MONTANA. Glacier National Park, baby. I loved it in 2007 and I hope I love it again in 2011. After Glacier, this is where my route will break from the one in 2007. Instead of heading east toward the Lewis & Clark National Forest, I’ll be heading south toward Utah. I might stay the night near Lewis & Clark Caverns before skirting the edge of:

WYOMING. My time in Wyoming will be short. I plan on checking out Yellowstone National Park in the extreme northwest corner of Wyoming before continuing south. If it’s too crowded, however (which it is likely to be), I’ll probably save time and continue southward. As much as I’d love to see Yellowstone, I don’t like massive crowds… And I don’t have time on this trip to do much backcountry hiking/camping. So, Wyoming’s up in the air. I’ll play it by ear.

IDAHO. I’ll actually hit Idaho before and after Wyoming. I may check out Targhee National Forest after Yellowstone, but for the most part I’ll just be seeing Idaho from the pavement. Another blending of borders is Fossil Butte National Monument. Technically it’s in Wyoming, just over the border, south of Yellowstone — and it looks like a good place to stay the night on my way to Utah.

UTAH. This is the main goal of the trip, short of actually arriving in the southeast alive. Utah. I’ve never been and always wanted to… Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park beckon. I plan on spending several days in this area, soaking up the canyons and arid climate. I will also strive to not become pinned by a boulder in a narrow canyon.

ARIZONA. From Arches and Canyonlands I continue south to and through Arizona. The main objective is to get to the arid region east of Flagstaff, namely Meteor Crater — a mile-wide impact crater formed during the Pleistocene (about 50,000 years ago). I briefly visited Meteor Crater in January 1998 with a dear friend in college and can’t wait to return again. The region is immaculate. It’s a bit out of my way, but completely worth it. (Also note that I’m skipping the Grand Canyon northwest of Flagstaff — there just isn’t enough time!)

NEW MEXICO. Continuing east I hit New Mexico. The goal: the Very Large Array near Socorro. This is another spot I visited in 1998. The VLA is a part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. It’s comprised of three massive (y-shaped) tracks of 82 foot dishes (twenty seven in total). The dishes can be adjusted on these tracks depending on what’s being studied. The array can span about twenty-two miles when fully extended. The region around the VLA is quite beautiful and one I look forward to seeing again.

TEXAS. Texas is but a speed bump on the drive. No offense, Texans. I’ll pass through the panhandle between New Mexico and Oklahoma.

OKLAHOMA. Destination: Tulsa. Purpose: Party. I’m meeting up with a group of old and dear friends in Tulsa for a party. If there was more time, I’d do the Wichita Mountains (one of my favorite regions on earth) and visit Norman, home of the University of Oklahoma. But alas, from the angle I’m coming in from, that would add two days to the trip to do each place justice… So, straight to Tulsa it shall be.

ARKANSAS. This is the part of the drive where distance and making-time starts taking priority over exploring and photography. Having said that, I do hope to be able to spend a little bit of time in the Ozarks of northern Arkansas. Lost Valley is a particular highlight. A favorite place of mine from years past. I miss the Ozarks of Northern Arkansas dearly.

TENNESSEE. I’ll pass through Memphis in the extreme southwest corner of Tennessee, but that’s about it.

MISSISSIPPI. Passing through Mississippi mainly to make time, it might be nice to find a few hours in Holly Springs National Forest. Maybe?

ALABAMA. My time in Alabama is constrained because of my arrival-deadline. I’ll be coming down Interstate 22 and then hopping on 65 at Birmingham (and then highway 82 east from Montgomery). I’ve got some dear friends in north Alabama I hope to meet up with for lunch, but the rest of Alabama-Time will be spend burning tread.

GEORGIA. I’m meeting Mumpower and Kid A in Florida, so humorously I’ll only be blowing through south Georgia, driving right past Valdosta. We won’t actually move to Valdosta until July, after we spend some time with family in Florida and later in South Carolina.

FLORIDA. And then, BAM! FLORIDA!

And that’s the plan.

Again, the “plan” is malleable and I fully expect it to change quite a bit. I’ve mapped out driving distances and times, but absolutely don’t want to regiment myself to any clock (other than arriving in Tulsa in time for the party and arriving in Mt. Dora on the right day). There are a lot of unknown variables in a trip like this. Automobile Health. Weather. Sleep. And on and on. So, who knows how it will actually pan out?

It’s certainly a lot of driving — and, mercifully, I do have quite a bit of time reserved for hiking and photography. Much of the trip I’ll be camping at night, sometimes in a tent, other times in the back of the Jeep. I plan on doing a hotel once every three or four days, maybe, so I can recharge batteries, shower, shave, and do the other things normal human beings do to make themselves tolerable to others.

It’s also going to be the grand test of the iPad. How well will this thing connect to the internet while on the road? Where will my blackouts be? And so on.

Crazy. This trip is going to be crazy. And that’s the plan. So far. As of now. (I’m a little bit excited.)

~ janson

NOTE: The photograph was taken in late 2007 from the window of an airplane somewhere over North America, between Anchorage and Tulsa…

Chugach Roll

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Today, a simple photograph of a roll of Chugach slopes near Windy Corner on the Seward Highway of Turnagain Arm, Southcentral Alaska. This photograph was taken in March of 2008.

The last series I was writing on Floridana Alaskiana before switching to this new blog was a photo tour of the Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm. Running from Anchorage south and east along Turnagain Arm –one of the two “arms” of Cook Inlet– Seward Highway then cuts south through the Kenai Peninsula to the coastal town of Seward, Alaska. There’s not a square inch of the Seward Highway that isn’t photo worthy. It’s ridiculously gorgeous.

I’m particularly fond of the Chugach Mountains in this area. Amazing ridges and slopes cut up from the highway. The Arm itself was glacially carved through the mountains over a vast swath of time and the highway itself was, in some places at least, carved and blasted out by people, chiseling away at that ancient testimony of time, the Chugach Mountains.

Sometimes, when I step back, pause and just admire the mountains along Turnagain Arm, I feel like I’m a miniscule toy figure in a massive miniature train model landscape, the kind I used to see at the old Ormond Hotel arts festival back when I was kid (before it was demolished and turned into a condo).

There’s an unreality to landscapes this big. I am, after all, a Florida swamprat. Outside gazing over the Atlantic horizon, Floridians aren’t used to BIG landscapes — the Everglades being another potential exception. In Florida, the world is dense, tight, and squeezed. A person feels big, squeezing through the dense brush and foliage. But in Alaska a person can feel tiny, gazing upon an ocean of trees adorning the edges of a mountain slope from a great distance. Space simultaneously collapses and explodes as the eye tries to make sense of the vista, the scope, and the scale.

Alaska can humble you. It can make you feel quite small.

~ janson

Featured Site: Adam Nemec Photography

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From time to time I’d like to feature blogs and sites I follow — stuff that really gets my juices going on these here tubes of the interweb.

Of course, you’ll find a blogroll at the bottom of the Dust Tracks screen, but sometimes it’s good to step back and focus in more closely on a particular site.

So, the first site to be featured here is Adam Nemec’s photography site, adamnemec.com.

I met Nemec as an undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma around 1996 or 1997. We hit it off immediately and quickly became close friends. I have fond memories of drinking with Mr. Nemec and also having writing jams, the two of us jamming out creative freewrites and then workshopping each other’s offerings. Sometimes the drinking overlapped with the writing. And othertimes the mysterious MothMan would appear… (But that’s another story)

Anyhow, Nemec is now based in Tulsa, Oklahoma and has become a wicked photographer in his spare time. His site presents an impressive array of landscapes from Patagonia to Alaska and back again. In the past year he’s also gotten in nightsky photography — and will hopefully feature more of that work on his site soon…? (hint hint, wink wink, nudge nudge, Mr. Nemec.) Some of his work absolutely blows my mind.

So, if you get a spare moment, check his site out. I’m envious of the meticulous nature of his photographic eye (and his patience to actually do smooth composite editing)!

~ janson

Knight anole, Anolis equestris (2008)

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One of the potential problems of relaunching and restarting a blog –especially one so focused on images– is the inevitable recycling of images. Sure, new material will come down the pipeline of time as new experiences are gained, but much of my blogging is rooted in reflection, of remembering times past. So, while many images will undoubtedly be recycled and reposted yet again on this new blog, I’ll try to find new angles and perspectives from which to approach them.

So, let’s begin with this knight anole, Anolis equestris, from March 2008.

Since I was a kid thumbing through my battered, flexicovered copy of the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians, I’d wanted to see, catch and photograph a knight anole. They aren’t native to Florida, but there’s been an established series of populations in south Florida since I was a kid. If you head down Miami-way, you’re likely to see one of these large lizards at some point. Bigger than the indigenous anoles, smaller than the iguanas. And sometimes? Brighter than both.

Well, fantasy became reality in March of 2008 when I finally managed to track one down at Matheson-Hammock Park in the Miami/Coral Gables area. Most of my time spent in south Florida, you see, was focused on either the Glades or the Florida Keys — and neither of those areas have as many knight anoles as the Miami area. On this 2008 trip to Florida, I made it a point to get to Miami (sober) and to track one of these lovelies down.

It actually wasn’t hard to find. I looked to the trees lining a mangrove swamp on the edge of the park and within about fifteen minutes I’d found the lizard. What was more amazing was that I actually managed to catch the damn thing.

Knight anoles, like their relatives, are extremely fast, alert, and agile. Yet, somehow, I was able to slowly slink my arm up to the lizard, using the opposite side of the limb as “cover”… And then just swing around and grab the lizard.

It wasn’t a graceful catch. Certainly not my best. The lizard clamped on to my hand and gave me a bite to beat the band… Sharp teeth and extremely powerful jaws, I quickly learned from experience. Still, despite the bite it was a successful catch.

I spent about fifteen minutes studying the lizard up close, sitting at a nearby picnic table, watching its colors flair a bit in my hands. The greens held, but the yellows fluctuated a bit. Black bars and beads around the eyes –the telltale signs of stress– flared up and then back down. It was tremendous. It was like living that precious childhood fantasy for fifteen minutes.

Sometimes I wonder if I’d like to live in south Florida, but I’m fairly content to not live down there. I love to have access to the Miami, Everglades, and Keys regions — and I do love them — but I’m not sure if I’d want a lizard like this to become part of my everyday routine. I think I prefer the romantic excitement of a trip like this. Does that make any sense at all…? Heh.

Anyhow, I’ll soon be back within range of these magnificent animals and if I’m to be completely and totally honest, those childhood dreams of catching knight anoles were, indeed, in the plural. There will be many more knight anoles in my future, me thinks.

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~ janson

Sixty-Eight Days

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In 68 days, we head out and leave Alaska for the Lower 48.

Kid A and Mumpower will fly (first class) to central Florida on June 1st. I’ll begin my drive from Anchorage to Mt. Dora, Florida. It’s going to be a moderately epic drive, I do believe… I just hope our beloved Jeep hangs in there!

During the two and a half week drive, I’m going to hit a number of parks and refuges along the way. The Icefields Parkway and Banff/Jasper/Yoho National Park. Glacier National Park. Yellowstone National Park. Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The Lewis & Clark Caverns. Meteor Crater. The VLA near Socorro, New Mexico. The Ozarks in northern Arkansas… Indeed, I’m going to put a’hurtin on my Nikon during those busy two and a half weeks.

And then? When I arrive in Central Florida? We’ll head to Valdosta and wrap up the new-homestead plans and then bolt up to South Carolina to visit with Lori’s family. After that it’s back south to Florida for a week-long, welcome-home trip to Key West. Our family has booked a house in Key West, right next to Duval. I can think of no better way than to celebrate our return to the southeast than a week long stay in Key West. I tried convincing the University of Alaska Anchorage to open an extension campus in Key West, but they wouldn’t bite…

Finally, in mid-July we’ll actually settle in Valdosta and get back to normalcy. A new yet familiar normalcy. One that doesn’t involve ice, moose, and sliding cars.

Despite my excitement to return south, there’s much I’m going to miss about Alaska. I feel incredibly blessed for these past four years. I mean, I’ve lived in Alaska

Take for instance the springtime photograph of Portage Lake at the top of the post. Bard Peak looms just over the lake to the southeast. The icy surface of the lake is beginning to break up. A symphony of blues dance with one another. Portage Lake, tucked deep within Portage Valley between the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound, is only a little more than an hour from Anchorage. It is, by Alaskan standards, in the neighborhood.

Nothing in the Lower 48 can compete when it comes to landscapes like this.

Though I admit I’m more comfortable with the density of foliage in the southeast than I am with the grandeur of rock and ice in Alaska, I am so deeply grateful for having gotten a taste of this remarkable region. And it was only a taste. In four years (two of them without a child) I was only able to cover about .01% of what Alaska has to offer. This region is so vast, so epic, so massive, it’s beyond comprehension. Alaska can pack more punch in its tiny pinkie finger than most states could in their balled up fists. This place packs quite a punch.

So, I’ve got 68 days left in this state. 69 if you include the first day of my drive. It’s the final haul, the home stretch. And there’s still much to see and much to do. This chapter ain’t over yet. It’s a time not only of introspection and reflection, but also of more exploration and discovery. I remind myself, when’s the next time you’re gonna make it back to Alaska…?

~ janson

Southern Black Racer

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Okay, one last setting-the-blog-up for the day…

Here’s a photograph of a Southern black racer, Coluber constrictor priapus, from back in 2006. It’s a good looking snake, no doubt — and the photograph is one of my better ones. So why post it tonight? Right now? Well, I wanted to set up the “Florida” and “Snake” category tags for the blog…

Continue reading

Turnagain Arm, Alaska

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And here’s the third official launch/text post. And I do believe it may be the last. Everything seems to be lined up and working fine…

To celebrate the joy, here’s a shot from earlier in March 2011, down on Turnagain Arm. This was the evening of the “SuperMoon” — shortly after the sun faded out and about thirty minutes or so before the moon actually rose over the Chugach Mountains south/east of Anchorage.

I must admit, finally being able to photo blog from the iPad –with a bit of control– is a good feeling. Somewhat liberating, actually. It may also be handy this summer, not only because I’ll be on the road so much, but also because I won’t have regular computer access for quite some time. I’m going to be operating fully on the iPad/iPhone combo only. At least for some time.

So, we’ll consider this the Grand Experiment. Can a techno junkie survive online strictly through an iPad and an iPhone? Can these technologies do what they need to do to keep my stress levels low, balanced, and far from insane?

Publish Under: I Hope So.

- janson, concluding this here testing phase.

The New Mobility

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The New Mobility, baby

So, I’ve been playing around a bit with WordPress this morning, seeing what I can get away with on the iPad, learning what I can do to avoid having to be on an old-fashioned Mac Machine… and I must admit, it’s surprising what I can get away with.

Sure, there are a few things I can’t do just yet… I can’t quite figure out how to customize photographs, for example. As of now, I can’t get images to pop up in a new, customized and fitted window when clicked. And that bugs me. But all good things in time. I’m sure there’s a CSS code I can pipe into the blog that will set up my pop-up windows.

In terms of straight-out composing from a mobile device or tablet, however, WordPress looks like it’s what I’ve been missing with Typepad. It can handle direct image uploads from a mobile device — and that, dear friends, is liberating. Liberating beyond reason.

I’m getting fairly excited about this blog. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve started from scratch… but getting away from Typepad may end up being a really good thing.

- janson

Welcome to Dust Tracks on the Web!

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Welcome to Dust Tracks on the Web, the digital home of Janson Jones.

I’ve been blogging in one form or another since 1996 or 1997, I forget exactly when — though I do know it was before the world was graced with the gossip of Zippergate in 1998.

Most recently, I’ve been blogging at Floridana Alaskiana, floridana.typepad.com, over at TypePad. Unfortunately, however, TypePad’s been nothing but slow in adapting to new media technologies, especially mobile devices for both reading and for composing online content. WordPress, I have found, is extremely proactive in adapting to and for these new modes of online communication — and thus, a new blog is born!

For the most part, this entire blog will be written and composed from my iPad. I’m trying to mobilize my online habits as much as possible and strip down the face-to-face time with the standard, desktop model of composition. I’m a fan of typing on the go, of posting on location, of engaging the composition with the moment. This is not, after all, an exercise in journalism. It’s a blog. It’s just a place where I’ll post and share photographs and reflect upon past experiences. Mobility is central to my needs.

So, let’s give it a shot, shall we? Let’s try this WordPress gig and see what will become of the newly minted Dust Tracks on the Web.

Undoubtedly I’ll be playing with the design for a little while, testing the blog out, seeing what it (and I) can do… But hopefully by summer the dust will settle somewhat and I’ll be ready to launch full-on. The timing is good, actually. On June 1st, my family begins the move from south-central Alaska to southern Georgia… Aye, the summer promises to deliver an extraordinary adventure for us. And it’ll be nice being able to blog in transit.

So, for now, therein lies my first post. At least, the first post I don’t plan on immediately deleting as a test…

- janson