Mount Sutro: An Electronic Periodical

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The Coin That Will Not Get Tossed

Blockbuster Video retail store still open for business in North Pole, Alaska.

320 North Santa Claus Lane, North Pole, Alaska: 14 June 2017

part of the Alaska 2017: North Pole album


Did you know that Blockbuster Video still has retail locations in business? I did not until Wednesday, 14 June 2017, when I spotted one in Fairbanks and another in nearby North Pole, Alaska. I would pass a third location in Wasilla a few days later. Although there are many unique and wonderful aspects to the forty-ninth state, the sight of Blockbuster Video stores was unanticipated and rather surprising. Knowing that I would learn more after the trip, I hypothesized that high-speed internet must not be widely available or is still too expensive for Alaskans to switch to streaming services.

Even when they were ubiquitous, I never cared for Blockbuster Video. My first experience with them was in the early 1990s after they took over a local video store in Altamonte Springs, Florida where I used to rent movies on VHS cassette as well as the occasional Nintendo game. I recall Blockbuster trying to overcharge by adding late fees for items previously returned on time, that is when they actually had the titles I wanted in stock.

As it turns out, I saw half of the Blockbuster stores still open today in Alaska. In addition to the ones in Fairbanks, North Pole and Wasilla, there are also two stores in Anchorage plus one in Soldotna near Kenai. The six Alaska locations are not the only surviving ones, however; there are also three stores in Oregon and one in Texas for a total of ten nationwide. Despite their continued operation, Blockbuster and other independently-owned video stores in Alaska have not been completely immune to the shifts in how people consume film and television media.

When Dish Network, the satellite television provider that acquired Blockbuster in 2011, announced the closure of the final 300 remaining corporate stores on Wednesday, 06 November 2013, there were thirteen locations in Alaska staying open. As the Midtown Anchorage location prepared to close in September 2016, it was noted that Kenai's store closed earlier in 2016 and that "other locations in Juneau, Kodiak and Anchorage have also gone in recent years." Most recently, the store in Eagle River northeast of Anchorage closed in July 2017.

Returning to my hypothesis, articles published on Wednesday, 26 April 2017 and Sunday, 30 July 2017 support my original conclusion — "internet service is substantially more expensive than in most states, since most data packages are not unlimited." There are additional contributory factors, however.

First, Alaska has a strong but small retail market. Even as stores in the lower forty-eight close, locations in Alaska frequently remain open. Reasons cited include a lack of retail supersaturation, fewer competing businesses and the high cost (and long wait times) for shipping items purchased online to Alaska addresses. Second, many Alaskans have higher median household incomes than in other states. Third, Alaskans maintain a desire to use retail outings to socialize in a place where winter is very cold, dark and long.

Even as their website proclaims that "Blockbuster stores may be a thing of the past," there continues to be a market in Alaska for the traditional way of browsing the rows and rows of titles and renting videos for home entertainment. With the closures over the past two years alone, Blockbuster's future and that of local video retailers is far from certain in the last frontier. Even if broadband internet becomes more affordable, there is still the social aspect to help keep the businesses afloat. I may feel no nostalgia for Blockbuster, but the closure of the remaining video stores in Alaska will signal the unfortunate conclusion of an era.

The Sun Is Eclipsed By The Moon

The moon partially obscures the sun during a total solar eclipse on Monday, 21 August 2017.

1430 Ocala Road, Tallahassee, Florida: 21 August 2017

part of the Solar Eclipse 2017 album


Watching the live video feed from Oregon earlier today, I regretted not travelling to an area that would experience solar eclipse totality. A combination of factors ultimately led to my decision to stay in town rather than trek up to a national park in Tennessee or South Carolina; none of those reasons seemed particularly important after watching day turn to night in towns coast to coast.

You might think that I was otherwise prepared, yet sadly this was not so. The filters I have for my lenses are for basic ultraviolet filtration as well as physical protection of the lens glass. I should have purchased an appropriate solar filter for this occasion but that did not happen. Since I was not going to let my lack of preparation keep me from trying, I threw caution to the wind and did my best to shoot the eclipse without destroying my camera.

Following some experimentation, I decided to use upper and lower limit settings in an attempt to get anything more than a bright, frame-filling wash of light. Shooting at ISO 100 with a shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second and a stop of F/22, I had some success in producing images that revealed the moon's passage, albeit with interesting artifacts and flares. None of my sixty-eight frames captured the gorgeous detail of the eclipse, however these attempts did result in a few publishable photographs.

Although we did not experience the darkness of totality, it was fascinating to see the change in daylight as the maximum coverage occurred in Tallahassee. It was subtle to start and reminiscent of a large cloud momentarily blocking the sun on an otherwise hot and bright summer day. The difference this afternoon was that there were no accompanying shadows. The sun's light was still covering the ground equally, but the intensity was turned down several notches.

The next total solar eclipse in the lower forty-eight will occur on Monday, 08 April 2024. With totality occurring in a swath from Texas to Maine — and bisecting my original hometown of Buffalo, New York — there will be any number of potential destinations that I would enjoy visiting for a few days. I do not yet know where that will be, but rest assured my camera will be solar filter equipped before I get there.

The Cat And Moose Game

A moose (Alces alces) bull browsing and eating grassy vegetation next to the Dalton Highway (AK 11).

MP 193.9 James W. Dalton Highway, Yukon-Koyukuk, Alaska: 25 June 2017

part of the Alaska 2017: Prudhoe Bay to Coldfoot album


As numerous as they were across the region — see "The Moose On The Loose" and "The State Mammal Of Alaska" — most of the moose I encountered were either cows or cows with calves. Fortunately, I did see at least four moose bulls including two while driving southbound on the James W. Dalton Highway.

The first Dalton bull was browsing and eating grassy vegetation southeast of the highway when we drove up and then stopped to check him out. Although it looked our way a few times during the five minutes we watched, this moose was not interested in or concerned by our presence instead staying focused on his foraging. As we were seven hours into our drive with thirty minutes left to Coldfoot, I resumed our course south and left this moose to his herbivorous meal.

We encountered a second bull the following day after being on the road for three hours and fifteen minutes. Spotting the bull walking south through grassy flatlands east of the Dalton, I pulled over into a Trans-Alaska Pipeline access road not far from the site of Old Man Camp (1974–1977), one of thirty-one temporary construction facilities that housed the thousands of workers who built the pipeline.

The moose was walking at a rather rapid pace, focused on an unknown destination without browsing or eating any of the grasses he passed through. After a few minutes, the moose was at his closest point to us not only latitudinally but longitudinally as well. Almost as if the moose was preoccupied in thought and then suddenly noticed us sitting there, he stopped suddenly to look at us head-on. A minute passed before he turned around and walked east away from the road, apparently wanting no part of us.

Visit the Prudhoe Bay to Coldfoot and Coldfoot to Fairbanks albums to see all fifteen published photographs of these moose bulls.

The Moose On The Loose

A moose (Alces alces) cow wading in a small Middle Fork Koyukuk River tributary eating aquatic vegetation right next to the Dalton Highway (AK 11).

MP 205.4 James W. Dalton Highway, Yukon-Koyukuk, Alaska: 24 June 2017

part of the Alaska 2017: Wiseman to Prudhoe Bay album


Only twenty minutes after our lucky Canada lynx sighting on the James W. Dalton Highway, we came across a moose cow wading in a small and shallow tributary of the Middle Fork Koyukuk River. Even after seeing many moose throughout Alaska and having a very close encounter in Denali National Park, I was always very excited to come upon another of these large and lovely herbivores.

This moose cow was browsing the water for and eating the grasses growing very close to the road. After I pulled over next to the moose, she looked up at us but did not seem in the least bit concerned about our presence. We took a number of photographs while she ate the plants, watching her for about five minutes before continuing our journey north to Prudhoe Bay.

Visit the Wiseman to Prudhoe Bay album to see all nine published photographs of this moose.