Thursday, April 7, 2011

Castner Glacier Cave

Peeking out from under a glacier
(Click any photo to go to my Flickr)

Sunday I visited a place I've been meaning to visit since Decemberish - Castner Glacier Cave, about 40 miles south of Delta Junction on the Richardson Highway. Join me!

The parking spot is just a wide dirt shoulder on the side of the highway. I left the car there, strapped on the snowshoes, and headed up what was ostensibly a creek bed, though all I could see was deep snow.

Alaska Rock

After a while I saw, via some cracks in the snow, that the creek was about 3 feet below me, and still flowing. I was walking on it! The trail ahead got steep, signaling the face of the glacier (hidden under the snow), and this thing was at the bottom of the hill:

Castner Glacier Cave

Castner Glacier Cave! Let's take a peek inside:

Castner Glacier Cave Entrance

Shall we continue? Let's:

Castner Glacier Cave

One last look at the outside, before we go deeper:

Looking Out

As I was looking for a good way to frame the entrance, I noticed that when the sun was blocked but the adjacent clouds were visible, you could see some luminescence in the clouds. Neat!

Cave Entrance HDR

A little deeper into the cave:

Castner Glacier Cave

The left hand side of the cave (looking outward) has lots of dirt and rock under a few inches of clear, glassy ice:

Dirt and rock frozen in the glacial ice.

While the right hand side is black ice with milky streaks in it:

Glacier Cave Wall

And looking back, the icy ceiling dips lower until you have to stoop, then crouch, then I-don't-know-what because I didn't go that far.

Castner Glacier Cave

But that ice on the ceiling rewards closer inspection, as it's composed of these fantastically fragile little geometric shapes. These photos were taken at about 0.5x magnification - for a sense of scale, the 'cup' at the tip in this first picture is about half an inch across:

Ice Crystal Formations

Ice Crystal Formations Ice Crystal Formations

Ice Crystal Formations Ice Crystal Formations

The cave was basically a photographers candyland. Between the panoramas of the entrance and the macros of the ice crystals, I shot an entire 4Gb memory card - more than 300 photos - without leaving a 30 foot radius.

But it was time to leave, so I walked back to the car and headed towards home. On the flats just south of Delta Junction there were small herds of caribou standing in the road, so I slipped the Prius into silent-but-deadly mode and crept up. I think they were licking the road. If I had to guess, they were treating the road as a mineral lick. I don't think they salt the roads in the winter anywhere around here, but I guess there's enough residual minerals to be worth licking. Besides, what else are you gonna lick? Everything else is under snow.

The light was good, so I got a few pictures:


Caribou Caribou

Caribou on the Highway

Then, another great Alaskan sunset:

Richardson Highway Sunset

And that's the day. The end.

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