Landscape: The Royal Societies

The Royal Societies breed desire.  Part of the world’s longest mountain chain, their jagged glacial peaks–Kempe, Huggins, Rucker, Salient, Hooker, and Lister–punctuate the skyline across the frozen McMurdo Sound.  The Royal Society Range fascinates me more than any other landscape feature in the area, probably because I know that I won’t ever get any closer to them than I am on Ross Island, a good thirty miles of sea ice away from the continent’s shore.

Royal Societies from McMurdo Sound 

The Royal Societies are a segment of Antarctica’s Transantarctic Mountains, which ripple thirty thousand miles across the continent, Transantarctics dividing its ice sheet into two parts. In some places, the mountain chain is buried, but on western shore of McMurdo Sound, it provides a dramatic backdrop to life at McMurdo Station.  Perpetually covered in ice and snow, the faces reflect purple shadows when the sun is low on the horizon, and when the sun sets behind them in February, splashes of pink, orange, and gold will frame the range’s silhouette on the sky.             

Tucked into other mountains nearby are Antarctica’s Dry Valleys, which are ice-free valleys that get nearly no snowfall or moisture of any kind.  Royal Societies from Cape EvansScientists studying the area’s unique ecosystem and geological features come to McMurdo on their way to research camps that they establish there each year for a few months during the austral summer. The Dry Valleys are a short helicopter ride away from McMurdo, and I’ve never seen them up close.  But I imagine them as I stand on the edge of Ross Island and snap photographs of the mountains, which from here always feel a little too far away. 

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