‘Ghost Trees on the Turnagain’ is one of my favorite works. The meshing of the dead trees, green grass, water, fog, mountains, and last of the Alaskan summer mountain snow, combined with the story of their origin, all blend into a tribute to our remaining wilderness.
On past visits to Alaska I noted stands of dead trees along the southern end of the Turnagain Arm. While curious on their demise, I didn’t think too much about it, assuming it was the work of a borer or similar insect. On my last trip to Alaska it was finally explained to me, and the story is quite fascinating. Some of you have heard of the Alaskan Earthquake of 1964. Striking on Good Friday in late afternoon, it was the second largest earthquake in recorded history, measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale. In addition it was a megathrust earthquake, where it’s estimated that over 600 miles of fault displaced upward up to 60 feet. The results were, as you can imagine, devastating with 139 people dying as result of the earthquake, and earthquake related tsunamis and fires which destroyed seaside towns.
This photograph of ghost timber was taken on the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet. Near the location of the timber is the now abandoned town of Portage, which dropped eight feet in elevation as result of the earthquake, placing it below the water level of the Turnagain Arm, flooding the town and adjacent lands. So where do the Ghost Trees fit in? The salt water from the flooding killed the trees, not only along the Turnagain Arm, but across the southern coast of Alaska. Between the salt waters, and cold temperatures, the trees are slow to decay, allowing stands of the ghost trees to remain to this day, some 54 years later.