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

Walking on Campus

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This is a test post, I admit it. I’m walking on campus and wanted to see how difficult it would be to shoot a photo, crop it, and then post it all on the phone.

Looks like it’s so easy you can do it while walking on ice!

- 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