Scale is an important concept to grasp in Alaska. Things are big, really big — actually bigger than big. However, scale in Alaska is also not what it appears to be.
My introduction to this phenomenona goes back over 15 years ago when my wife Carol and I made our first backpack trip in Denali National Park. In preparation for the trip I poured over topographic maps to plan our multi-day backcountry trip into a part of the park where there are no trails. I carefully formulated a route over rivers and through the mountains. That carefully crafted route went out the window when we arrived to the area. You see, topographic maps in Alaska are at a different scale. In the lower 48, topographic contour intervals on maps are 20 feet. On Alaska maps, the contour interval is 100 feet. The small river bank that I thought was only 20 feet was actually a steep 100 foot high wall. Hills turned out to be mountains. Scale in Alaska was painfully learned on that trip. Lesson learned.
Flash forward a dozen or more years where I’m now aware of what I call ‘Alaska scale’. I now know that in order to help viewers of my work appreciate just how big things are in Alaska, I need to give context and clues to the scale of the subject of the photograph.
My recent post about the publication of one of my Mendenhall Glacier photos reminded me of one of my favorite photos, taken at the glacier. On one of my trips to the Mendenhall Glacier I photographed the powerful Nugget Falls of Nugget Creek as it drops down into Mendenhall Lake near the face of the glacier. Including people in the image helps give a sense of scale. The falls look (and are) HUGE!
Wait I say, not so fast. Remember my first lesson about “Alaska scale”? That same general principle applies to this photo. Things are not what they seem in Alaska.
See the tiny waterfall in the image below. That’s Nugget Falls, the same falls in the image above. In the greater scheme of the landscape at Mendenhall Glacier the falls are quite small. This scale phenomenon is one of things I find so intriguing about Alaska.
ABOVE: An iceberg floats in Mendenhall Lake located at the terminus of the Mendenhall Glacier. Also reflected in the lake is Bullard Mountain and Nugget Falls. The glacier runs roughly 12 miles, originating in the Juneau Icefield, near Juneau, Alaska. The glacier is located 12 miles from downtown Juneau. Each year, 465,000 curise ship passengers visit the Mendenhall Glacier.
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