Thursday, February 28, 2013

Salmon River Ice Circle Photo Story

The Salmon River Ice Circle photo is fast becoming famous.  The Ice Circle photo began circulating recently on Facebook, mostly via the account "Planet Earth Phenomena."  In just a few days, The Ice Circle photo has been shared over 4,450 times, liked  over 3500 times and received almost 300 comments.  
It also appears those who've shared the photo have likewise had many shares originating from their own Facebook accounts.  In other words, The Salmon River Ice Circle photo is "going viral." One glance at the photo brings to mind all the classic questions: "Who, What, Where When, Why and How?"

First things first--the "WHO." The Salmon River Ice Circle Photo was taken in December 2009 by Gary Lane and is Copyright 2010 by Gary Lane.  Gary and his wife, Barb, are the owners of Wapiti River Guides in Riggins, Idaho.  Unfortunately, many of the copies of the photo are now circulating without Gary's photo credit and copyright.  Barb has been working tirelessly to attempt to set the record straight and was successful in getting Planet Earth Phenomena to add the credit and copyright.

We became quite curious about The Salmon River Ice Circle photo on February 26th for two reasons:

  • A) We have always wanted to know the story behind the photo and 
  • B) We sensed there was a problem with unattributed use of the photo.  

Even though this ice circle was located far from our coverage area, the iconic picture struck a nerve with all those of us who know and love Ice Country Rivers, most especially The Salmon River.  As we suspected, the story behind this picture and the photographer turned out to be quite fascinating.

Gary Lane grew up in Oregon with a natural born curiosity about the natural world.  After he earned his professional wildlife habitat management credentials, Gary's ancestral urge for adventure led him to learn kayaking under the tutelage of Legendary Late Dr. Walt Blackadar and then become a River Guide with the famed Martin Litton's Grand Canyon Dories.  Being a lifelong independent adventurer, Gary struck out as his own outfitter over 30 years ago, long before the dawn of today's commercial river running industry.  

Barb and Gary
Gary long ago noticed and began seeking out circular ice patterns in Salmon River eddies.  

Here's his story: "Since I've been in Riggins since 1981, I've been paying attention to the river, and my first photos of ice circles were probably 35 mm and super 8 movie, now ancient. But, I will never forget the first time I discovered these natural phenomenon, as yet another mysterious trick of nature that lured my rapt attention.  And like true magic (there is an explanation for things, though we might not see it) wanting to know how the trick is performed is always an allure.  It also reaffirmed my appreciation for the wonderful mysteries that our natural world is so richly full of. I may have had to grab some duct tape to re-attach my lower jaw to my face, when my eyes discovered that very first ice circle... is how I remember my very first impression."

As far as the now famous Salmon River Ice Circle photo, Gary notes, "I believe I was heading upriver to go chukar hunting in early December 2009 when I first saw it. It was so beautiful, unusual, and temporary, with an easy place to stop (from the road I was driving) that it was too good not to take a photo of."

Although the now famous Salmon River Ice Circle is Gary's best know such photo, he has many more.  A slide show of some of them appears later in this article.

Gary keeps a close eye on the eddies that are perennial winter favorites to spawn ice circles both through regular river visits and also through his favorite off-season pastime--chukar hunting.  No matter how many times Gary visits The Salmon River he feels, "the same river really isn’t the same, as every corner and horizon-line is always a new story and epic event waiting to happen."

Gary can wax both poetic and scientific about how ice circles form.  In one explanation he says,  "Each winter is different, some seasons having more than one period of break-up, as the process of freezing and thawing may repeat itself. But it is during these time frames when the beautiful ice “rosettes” are formed. They usually occur in the sections of river where there are large re-circulating eddies. The circularity of the motion, during the melting process, cause various sized islands, roundish in shape, to calve off. They continue to spin in the eddy, until other chunks of ice coming down river bump into them. Then more ice is added and they get bigger, or they get cast into the main current, float downriver, and break up as they crash into various path-laden obstacles."

In yet another more philosophical explanation, Gary observes, "Everything in the world is round. Even photos of ice circles  (rosettes) go round and round. Here's my long version of how ice rosettes form:  It takes the round and round of an eddy to form an ice circle.  As water swirls around in a circle, gravity  eventually brings everything to the center.  As chunks of ice begin floating downriver and getting trapped in an eddy, they eventually collide, hook together, and spin around continuously adding size.  If the freeze continues long enough, the ice circle will be as large as the eddy itself, and will eventually attach with shore and/or create  ice bridges which in turn  capture more ice and soon the entire river may freeze up. 

The ice circles then form again, when warming begins to melt things, and the process is reversed.  Detaching from shore and area where the  main current melts faster, the circle is again formed. It either then melts, and/or gets pushed out far enough to engage with large bergs of ice free floating downstream that collides and begins to chunk away at the island of round ice.

In a nutshell – it is all about  physics. Bottomline. When 23 yr old Newton observed an apple falling from a tree, he wondered if the moon also fell. It led him to the most important discovery of the universe and the calculus of motion: gravity. Indeed, the moon is constantly falling towards earth due to the force of gravity. So the same force that is at work as the moon orbits earth and planets go around the sun, helps explain the basics of origin for ice circles."

After learning about Gary Lane, we've concluded he is the Perfect Guy to be out and about chasing Salmon River Ice Circles.  The story behind his now famous Salmon River Ice Circle photo reminds us of some lyrics from Creedence Clearwater revival's 1969 "Proud Mary" by John Fogerty:

Big wheel keep on turnin'
Proud Mary keep on burnin'
Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river
Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river

If you come down to the river
Bet you gonna find some people who live
You don't have to worry 'cause if you got no money
People on the river are happy to give

Below is a slide show we made of some of Gary's other circular ice photos with captions.  
Here are some links to learn more about Gary & Barb:

To read more about Gary Lane's personal fascination with "All Things Ice," please click "Read The Rest" at left.

Below in italics is a great narrative Gary sent to us explaining much more about his experiences with river ice.

"My fascination with ice-land began a long time ago, with lots of events contributing, though not knowing so at the time. Such events included watching ice dams build up at Waterfall Creek, a tributary on Middle Fork of the Salmon at my winter tent camp when studying bighorns; seeing the entire Middle Fork Salmon froze solid and hearing sounds like rifle shots when the ice creaked and groaned.

I've watched water ouzels dive into holes in the ice and miraculously making it back out the same hole, despite rivers fast current; camped close to glaciers in AK and watched them calve - causing tidal waves that rolled upriver of the Copper flowing over 9 mph, in corkscrew fashion until it almost reached our upstream of glacier camp; floated next to ice bergs and got out to walk on the bigger ones just to see if we could; and been lucky enough to see an old faithful like geyser coming out of a glacier we hiked (which is a very rare sighting).  

I've heard bergy seltzer - the sounds some ice makes; found devil stones (out of place rocks melting glaciers leave behind); floated on rivers and crossed ice bridges with rafts; rowed when slush ice filled the entire river, which was like floating down a giant slurpy drink, with oars caked with ice getting heavier and heavier.  Sadly, I've seen a deer get sucked under ice after trying to swim above a long ice bridge and much more. 

After seeing travertine like pools (such as the ones you see on a Havasu hike in Grand Canyon) formed by ice that builds at rapids on the Salmon River; along with anchor ice, the ice circles spawned a deeper fascination in me to learn more about how these things form. 

Thanks to the internet, ease of finding answers prevailed early on. I found that ice circles are referred to as pancake ice, and that other terms for various forms of ice and formation processes also had names like: frazile ice, candle ice, border ice, etc. 

One of the most amazing experiences with ice happened one day while I was steelhead fishing with a couple guests when the river had shore ice along the edges. We were anchored up in a good spot, when a slight breeze started up. It set into motion tiny ice crystals that were free floating along the edge of the ice - it created one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard the river make: it was like wind chimes being played by sensuous Sirens Homer himself must have heard in the days of ancient Greece. I will never forget those beautiful sounds.

Barb and I live close to nature in a simplified lifestyle, and enjoy sharing the beauty and bounty of the natural world with other people. It seems inappropriate to call ourselves guides. We feel more like facilitators and teachers. Our desire is to connect people to nature and do our part to promote more caring for all earth communities."

Below is a photo Gary sent of an "Ice Eagle."  He said there's a word for the human tendency to see such things in ice and other objects.  It's called "pareidolia" and you can click here to read more about it.

THANK YOU Gary and Barb for sharing such awesome stories with Salmon River Idaho readers.  Who knew such a great "back story" was behind your now-famous Salmon River Ice Circle photo?  We all look forward to more ice photos from you in the years to come.  Thanks for bringing them alive for all of us.
Happy Trails & Many Cheers, jp
Ice Eagle

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