Photo exhibit zeros in on volcanic landscape

Posted: Friday, April 06, 2001

KENAI (AP) -- A volcanic landscape so barren and alien that Apollo astronauts once trained for moon walks is captured in Gary Freeburg's exhibit ''Beneath the Surface: Images of Katmai,'' now at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.

Freeburg, a professor of art at Kenai Peninsula College, and Jerry McDonnell, KPC Career Center coordinator, spent about one week last year in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.

They retraced the steps of a National Geographic science expedition led by Robert F. Griggs four years after a 1912 explosion at Novarupta on Mount Katmai, in what is now Katmai National Park and Preserve.

It was one of the largest volcanic explosions in the world during the 20th century. The ash that spewed forth filled the Lethe River valley and covered many Southcentral Alaska villages, creating an instant geological wonder called the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.

When Griggs' expedition arrived at the site, they found the landscape was still a hotbed of steam, thinly crusted lava beds and hissing vents.

Freeburg and McDonnell, each carrying packs weighing more than 80 pounds, traveled to the same valley to document what changes time had brought to the remote place. The exhibition is filled with black-and-white and color images of the desolate valley.

''To be alone in nature of this magnitude is remarkable,'' Freeburg said in a statement about the show.

Freeburg's black-and-white images include several shots of the plug that seals Novarupta and the many now-docile steam vents. The color photographs in the show reveal the multihued soil just beneath the surface.

''It wasn't until the last day of shooting in the valley that I noticed the bright colors revealed in the indentations of my footprints in the soil,'' Freeburg said. ''With my foot I simply dragged a line in the ground and it revealed the wonderful colors that lay just beneath the surface.''

Both Freeburg and McDonnell have plans for a second trip into the unfriendly wilderness.

''I definitely want to go back,'' McDonnell said.

The exhibit is on display through April 14.

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