Bones scattered haphazardly about. Wind blasted corpses with fur still clinging to skin. Contorted skeletons with jaws locked in fierce grimaces.
Except for the occasional skua, which is a bird that looks much like a big gull, the main animals we've seen in the Dry Valleys are mummified seals and penguins. Their bodies have accumulated here over the centuries. Because the valleys are so cold and dry, the corpses don't rot. They erode slowly beneath the force of wind.
So during our hikes, we have grisly encounters that send shivers down our spines and make us wonder why the seals and penguins came.Some think they were misguided and lost, having strayed so far from their coastal homes. But when I imagine them hauling themselves or waddling over jumbles of rocks in some cases 15 miles inland, into territory incognito, with no food to replenish them on their journey, their strength and determination amazes me. And instead, I prefer to think of them as John does - explorers, who like so many of their human counterparts pushed the limits of their world and paid the ultimate price.
Photos by Karen Cozzetto