Cairn photo

My second youngest study site at Glacier Bay is on a bench of outwash about 150 feet above Muir Inlet. Before alders covered the young surface in the mid 20th century, the bench offered a good view of the retreating face of Muir Glacier to the north. William O. Field established a photo station there maybe in the late 1940s and marked the spot with a cairn assembled of several large rocks. I found the cairn in 1988 when I set up my study plots in a dense thicket of alders.

A photo station cairn built by William O. Field near one of my study plots. This might be Field’s station “6A.” Kodachrome, May 1995

William O. Field’s cairn in 2007. 7/1/2007
The view up Muir Inlet from the edge of the bench. The retreating tidewater face of Muir Glacier dominated this scene when Field built his cairn a couple hundred meters south of here. Kodachrome, May 1995

I was impressed with the size of the boulders Field used to make his cairn. It seemed like a superhuman amount of work to move them and then lift them into a pile. But then I was schooled in how it was done. In 1990 when I was establishing the permanent plots at my youngest study site farther up Muir Inlet, I measured the compass bearing and distance from some of the plots to a big boulder. I was working with Dan Uliassi and I think it was his idea to turn that boulder into a cairn. Dan might have been inspired by the effort William O. Field’s cairn demanded–he was definitely highly motivated and did all of the work building his cairn. I learned my lesson and took photos.

Dan at Plot 2 at my Upper Muir Inlet study site. Near the center of the photo is a large boulder which Dan thought should be bigger. Kodachrome, 6/30/1990

Last month Galen and I found Dan’s cairn while we were relocating the study plots at that site. My maps and notes described it as a “boulder” and I didn’t immediately remember that Dan had made it more than that. So I was surprised to find a huge cairn and then slowly recalled that there was a photo of Dan and the cairn. When I got home I searched through some 28-year-old color slides and found the whole series of photos of Dan’s project.

Dan is building Dan’s cairn. Kodachrome, 6/30/1990
Dan is almost finished building Dan’s cairn. Kodachrome, 6/30/1990
Dan’s cairn is complete. Kodachrome, 6/30/1990
We didn’t have the original photos with us, but Galen knew exactly what to do. 8/25/2018

The vegetation has changed some since 1990, and it was really helpful to have the cairn to guide us to some of the plots. We might have never recognized a single boulder. During this expedition the plot locations were documented with GPS, so like William O. Field’s cairn, Dan’s has mostly historical value now.

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