The hard drive on my new laptop is about 240 GB of memory. The last time I checked, I had filled about half of it so I’ve begun burning my images to DVD. It’s a good back up system in case something happens to my laptop as we travel, too. Now, you might think I should just back off from taking as many photos. That thought never crossed my mind. That’s why I brought 39 blank DVDs with me. Earlier today, I watched the RED SOX play the white sox. The game started at 10:00 here in Seward. That is so cool, I still get a kick out of it. It took us a while to find the Two Lakes Trail after we had lunch. The trail head was behind a technical school building with no signage to direct us. The first lake and a nice picnic area was within sight of where we parked the truck. The easily laid out pathway led us around the second little pond as well as a rather marshy depression. The forest on either side of the trail was thick with vegetation, mosses, bushy ferns, skunk cabbage and lots of other mid level browse. The canopy was made up of several types of spruces with some smaller deciduous trees mixed in. We not only heard but saw numerous red squirrels although we would have known they were in the area anyway because of the huge piles of cones collected at the bases of many of the trees. They’ve been gathered as a winter cache. The squirrels with gather thousands of cones, hauling them underground so they can be found when the snows come. We even saw evidence of where millions of seeds had been eaten as they worked. A ranger in Denali described it as “ if it looks as if a Spruce tree exploded” which is exactly what it looked like. Those ranger talks are starting to pay off. We actually knew what we were looking at. Those squirrels were the only wildlife we saw during the 2 mile round trip although we found quite a few clear impressions of moose hoof prints in the mud and lots of scat in and along side of the trail. I have to confess I am not an expert on scat but if I were asked, I’d have to say I saw lots of dog and even some horse manure. The trail was perfectly adapted to be ridden with horses with the possible exception of low limbs in one section. Even though the day was overcast, I mentioned the other path, the Tonsina Point trail and Carl said okay. Unfortunately, we still couldn’t find where it began. We found ourselves on the beach near Lowell Point watching about a dozen people salmon fishing in the low surf. We splurged and had some really great ice cream downtown across from the Major Marine office and then we fueled up for our trip to Soldotna tomorrow. Supper was fresh salmon caught on Carl’s trip yesterday. He didn’t catch it but when no one claimed it, he decided to give it a good home. I hope we’ll have plenty of our own caught on Tuesday.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
Saturday, July 30, 2011
Every trip everywhere has one of these days. You wake up tired, not much is planned and so you lie around with not much ambition. It happens every time and to day was it. We watched a couple of movies on television that we’d already seen. I did a web search for a movie theater in town and found one of Adams Street. They were playing “Cowboys And Aliens” so we hit the 6:30 show. Carl opted for hot dogs at the movie followed by popcorn. The movie had plenty of action, the acting seemed natural and at no time did I get the feeling “this has been done before” even though the basic plot of bad guys taking hostages and the good guys getting them back has been done to death. When James Bond and Indiana Jones team up, things have got to work out, don’t they? We’ve been in Alaska for about two weeks and it’s just now hitting me how we don’t have to roll up the sidewalks at 9:00PM because it’s about to get dark. Still, I have this mindset that we can’t go for a hike after the movie for that reason. It’s actually kind of cool but just as I know it won’t get dark any time soon, I also know these people pay for this extra in spades come October through May. And I can’t even begin to thin how being dark from 3:00 in the afternoon until 11:30 the next day will do to a person. No wonder Alaska has one of the highest incidences of alcoholism and suicide rates in the country. Would I recommend the movie? I think the movie was fast paced with few down moments and it was good lighthearted entertainment. It did have a fair amount of bang, bang, shoot ’em up gore but it wasn’t over the top. But whatever you do, please don’t call me Gene Siskall or Roger Ebert.
Friday, July 29, 2011
We have been in Seward Since Monday. I went fishing yesterday Friday the 29 th. Up at 530, over to the front desk to pay for the trip and get a boat assignment. Arrived at the boat around 730 and ten minutes later were off to the fishing area. Everybody is wearing sweatshirts and jackets over them, cause it's still chilly out. A 3 hour boat ride the Ocean is very calm and by the time we get to the fishing grounds, its tee shirt weather. No fish here so we moved after 30 minutes. Second spot no fish here. Third spot it's now 1 PM and we are on the halibut. The limit is 2 per person, plus what ever other fish you catch. Ended up with 2 halibut and a cod. All 15 of us on the boat got our limit on the halibut. Three hours back to the dock, then back to the resort. One of the deckhands came with us to the Fish House at the resort. She proceeded to fillet all the fish for those who wanted her to do it for them, for tips. Some guys chose to do there own, not me no clue how to fillet fish. So now everybody from 4 boats has claimed there fish and there is still a Silver Salmon maybe a 4 pounder, I ask around nobody claims it, into my tote it goes. Were having salmon for lunch tomorrow. What we are going to do with the rest of the fish that the girl filleted for me? No idea yet, so into the deep freezer at the resort it goes to get very cold after we portion it up and seal it in vacuum seal bags that they just happen to sell at the front desk. My arms are sore from reeling cause the Halibut swim at the bottom over 2 hundred feet below the boat. It's a lot of reeling with a 2 pound weight and the fish. Valerie went shopping while I was fishing, but she still spent less than I did for the fishing trip. The resort charges you based on your rank for the accommodation and for the fishing. The Colonel next to me paid 12 dollars more than me. On Monday we move to the Kenai area for three days. On Tuesday we are flying across the Cook inlet to bear and salmon country for the day. Valerie is hoping to get some good Grizzly Pics and I will fish for Salmon from the boat, not on shore with the bears.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Can’t believe we slept so late. Carl got up at 8:15 and I didn’t climb out of bed until almost 9:00. The sun was streaming through our night shades like they weren’t even there. Now, it’s so late, I’m not sure what we’re doing today but it will be a shame to waste it. A visit to the Chamber office in town gave us a couple of ideas. Just beyond town, on a dirt road, is Lowell Falls, a melt water creek and waterfall from the Lowell Glacier. It was such a beautiful day, my plan was to get photos of the falls. And when I got there, I was disappointed to see the heavy electric lines running across the face. Carl suggested we go under the bridge and get a different perspective so that’s just where we headed. It was the right idea but the spray coming off the water’s surface overwhelmed the lens very quickly. We continued our drive along the western shore of Resurrection Bay out to Lowell Point, home of a vast RV / tent / backpackers campground. It’s also the trailhead for a couple of walking trails the people at the chamber suggested. Sadly, it’s also a fee usage area connected with the Lowell Point State Park. It isn’t much of a fee, $5.00 per day or $40.00 for a yearly pass. I think it’s just the idea of it. We may go back there another day. Today, there were no parking spots. There was one other walking trail that was suggested, the Two Lakes trail, a 2 mile loop around two different lakes. I remember seeing the sign and so we headed out of town to where I thought it was. We drove 40 miles round trip and didn’t find it. We did have lunch in a pull out along the Kenai Lake which was a brilliant turquoise in the sunshine. Then, upon returning to the camper, I discover the trail is in the opposite direction. I hate it when I’m wrong. Carl has a fishing trip lined up, connected with the resort we’re staying at. I might have gone but there was only one space left on the boat and, well, I’m not much into fishing and I don’t figure these guys will be looking for much wildlife. I may do that Two Lakes trail or I may go to the Library where they have a movie on the 1964 Good Friday earthquake which measured 9.2 and just about wiped Seward and Homer off the map.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
By yesterday’s standards, today was a quiet one but don’t be fooled by my opening statement. We traveled about 100 miles over to Soldatna, through some more of Chugach National Forest. Our main reason for heading over there was to book Carl’s fishing trip and my bear watching trip. Lucky for us there are several companies that offer qualified guides to do both. Right after we turned off the Seward Highway, Alaska State Highway 9 and onto The Sterling Highway, Alaska State Highway 1 on our left was Tern Lake. On the lake was a single Tundra Swan feeding on the abundant aquatic life. Then things started getting busy. I’m not familiar with the area but apparently Carl was. He knew we were approaching the Kenai River, the Salmon fishing Mecca of Alaska. And sure enough, there were campers and boat trailers in every turnout, parking lane, rest area, picnic area and even at the Visitor’s Center. There were people in the river on both sides as far as the eye could see. There are 5 types of Salmon that leave the Pacific Ocean and head up the streams of this area. Right now, 3 of the Salmon species are working their way from salt water into the waters of their birth. It’s the responsibility of every good angler to stop as many of them as possible. And then, there are the bears who do their fair share to eat as many of them as they can possibly catch to put on the much needed fat layer that will see them through the winter. In very heavily used area of the river, the town of Soldatna has erected a boardwalk for people to use to access the river. They’ve provided picnic tables along the way for families to enjoy the out of doors while the parents fish. Behind the visitor’s center is also a table with running water where you can clean your catch and toss the bones and entrails back into the river. All of the unwanted parts of the salmon provide valuable nutrients for the river ecosystem which includes birds, bears and even other fish. I guess I came away a bit perplexed by the actions of these “anglers”. Each stream or river has certain rules and regulations. It’s the angler’s responsibility to know what they are on the section of water they are fishing. They have a rod and reel in their hands but may not be able to use bait, lures or weights so they thrash the water over and over hoping to hook a fish as it swims by. There is no skill in this, only luck and that luck extends to any fish that are snagged. You must hook them in the mouth or gills, not snag them on fins or in the body. The guy next to you could be Fish and Game. They’re out there “fishing” too. The decision to use Talon Air was made after visiting their operation and asking a few questions. Our pilot will fly us out to a gravel bar on the Cook Inlet. We’ll be met by our guide who will take just 4 of us out in an 18 foot boat. We’ll fish, take wildlife photos and with luck, while Carl is fishing, there will be both Brown and Black bears fishing in the same place. We’ll have lunch cooked right there on the beach and then do a bit more fishing and photography. On the flight back there will be photo opportunities for other wildlife and two of the most active volcanoes in Alaska, Mt Redoubt and Mt Spur, both more than 10,000 feet high. With any luck, I’ll have some awesome photos to post next week and we’ll be looking for a place to flash freeze and ship Carl’s fish back to NH. It will be my first trip in a float plane. The weather here is even more crazy than in New England. Out the window of the truck is a bright sunlit sky but it’s raining. Off in the distance, there are black clouds piling up against the mountains but to our right is blue sky. One minute the tops of the mountains are obscured and then I’m experiencing one of those jaw dropping moments when I’m struck by the sheer beauty of the area we’re driving through. Part way back to Seward is this little place called Moose Pass, population 90. Next to the coffee shop / gift shop / grocery store is this operating water wheel. When I get out to take a few photos, I notice what’s really going on here. Someone is making a political statement. I notice a long belt coming of the wheel turning a grind stone very slowly. The sign next to this set up says “Moose Pass is a peaceful little town. If you have an axe to grind, do it here.” I think that’s pretty cool. It’s still early when we get back into Seward so we head off to Exit Glacier. Along the approach to the Visitor’s Center are dated signs posted every so often. I didn’t think anything of the first couple but noticed the numbers going up, 1815, 1849, 1894, etc. It’s Carl who figures out the dates reflect where geologists estimate the glacier was during that year. It’s a visual reference to how far the glacier has receded in just under 200 years. The hike in was just about a mile and was well worth the effort and strain on my knee. Carl pointed out where the bedrock had been scoured quite deeply from trapped rocks caught up in the ice as it retreated and even though the glacier is one of the smaller in the area, it was still pretty cool, both literally and figuratively. We could feel the cold coming off the glistening surface. The path took us close enough to hear the melt water pouring off it in little rivulets. But it also brought us close enough so we could see the gravel and dirt imbedded in the ice. So many of us have this impression the ice from a glacier is crystal clear and it’s anything but. Bottom line, Exit Glacier has retreated more than 10 miles in the past 200 years and shrunk in width as well. There may come a time when there is nothing left of the glacier in the valley. The Harding Ice Sheet is still immense but all glaciers around the world are receding. As we were leaving, we spotted Mountain Goats above the glacier. The wind was pretty stiff but I managed to get one good photo. Before I left the camper this morning, I through a pot roast into our little crock pot. The camper smelled so good when we walked in and best of all, supper was ready and all I had to do was get out a couple of plates. Now, that’s called planning!
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Webster and his dictionary did not have enough superlatives to describe this day. The day began like so many on this trip, gray and dreary but every once in a while we were being teased with the smallest imaginable glimpse of blue. Our ship, the Kenai Star was only about half it’s usual occupancy and this too was a good thing. Right off the bat, just out of the harbor, our first animal encounter, a sea otter paddling on it’s back munching on a crab. The sound of it’s teeth tearing into that crab is hard to describe but what it reminded me of most was a dog chewing on a big beef knuckle bone. A little further out in the bay, the boat, accompanied by a Kenai Fjords Park ranger, came upon a lone humpback whale cruising along. Everyone watched for several minutes jostling for position at the rail to get the best pictures possible from a moving platform. This procedure would be repeated many times during the day. Of course, the photos were only of an occasional blow hole, the telltale hump with the tiny fin and the inevitable tail end of the large marine mammal, the fluke. And while I don’t usually subscribe to the use of puns, I got a pretty nice picture which Carl says is no fluke. The route the cruise took varied from the plan based on wildlife sightings but generally speaking, we left Resurrection Bay for the Gulf Of Alaska by motoring along the western shoreline passing by Bear Glacier which is actually a collision sight of three glaciers. The ranger spotted a bald eagle up in a tree and a little further down the shore line another was spotted, probably it’s mate. Ranger Mark kept up a running commentary about the geology of the region, the forces at work to make such a spectacular coastline and as he spoke, we could almost see the process at work. He was very passionate about all subjects and was a big hit with the kids. He ran a junior ranger program for the 8 or 9 kids on board, keeping them not only busy but involved with the whole process. At the end of the trip, he held a “ceremony” and gave them a junior ranger oath which basically pledges them to visit national parks often and care for the environment with one final caveat, to never be mean to Park Rangers. That cracked everyone up on board, even the kids. Among the other wildlife we saw were a small pod of orcas, a fleeting glance at a couple of Dall Porpoises, several more humpbacks, a black dot in the distance attributed to a black bear and a few white specks high up on the basalt cliffs that people insisted where mountain goats. I couldn’t tell even through the camera. I’ve never been able to focus through binoculars. I think it’s got something to do with the fact that I am near and far sighted. My trifocal glasses are tough to line up with the optics of the device. Sounds good, doesn’t it? The skies began to brighten just about the same time the seas began to develop a mild chop to it, signaling our departure from the protection of the bay. By the time we had traveled the few miles to Aialik Bay, several people were feeling the effects of motion sickness. The crew served a less than sumptuous buffet which did include the advertised salmon and a prime rib with the rib. The sides consisted of a green salad, some sort of rice that vegetables had been dragged through and a complimentary beverage that was already included in the $20.00 price of the meal. And just about the time I got to the buffet line, we passed a beautiful and naturally carved triple arch called the Three Gates. And then, we saw the Holgate glacier in the distance. We were miles away but could already feel the distinct change in the air. Somehow the already cool day had become much cooler and there was a heavy mist in the air. Some places call that rain. I call it a minor inconvenience and go get my lens cloth. Then it’s back on deck where I’ve spent most of my time. Call it the place where photographers should be or you could call it the best place to be if you’re feeling even slightly queasy. Diesel fumes have always bothered me even when I worked at the trucking company. Never mind about that. There was the glacier ahead. We approached slowly, spying small bits of ice in the water. The bits became chunks which turned into small floes. Captain Nicole announced she would come close to the glacier and then kill the engines so we could listen to it’s movement. I knew there would be sounds but I was still amazed by the groans and cracks coming from the 500 foot tall wall of blue fractured ice in front of us. Small bits were breaking off here and there. We listened intently to where the louder cracks might be coming from in hopes of getting some sort of heads up on where the next chunks might fall from. After more than a half hour, the boat regrettably had to leave with most of the passengers agreeing what they had just witness was incredible and saying how they could have stay for hours to listen and watch. Me, too! Once back into the gulf, the skies had turned bright blue and we were blessed with bright sunshine for a good part of the crossing to Cape resurrection. The way back to Seward brought us past tons of waterfowl, gulls, puffins, murres and cormorants as well as a brief sighting of another bald eagle pair and one rather erratic juvenile humpback. And there was one more haul out beach for Stellar Sea Lions. Ranger Mark told us how the Stellar population was dropping off markedly. Researchers at the Seal Life Center are involved in a multi year study to find out what is the cause. They have marked hundreds of Stellar Sea Lion pups and will follow them to adulthood, if they make it. As we approached the harbor, the clouds thickened once more and rain began falling by the time we got to the dock. All in all, it was a great day and the all you can eat desert buffet was better than the actual meal. Hope you like the pictures.
Monday, July 25, 2011
Welcome to Seward, Alaska. The weather is typical Pacific Northwest, low clouds with occasional light rain. The trouble is the temperature is only about 50 so if you get wet, you’re cold in minutes. Everywhere you go, they recommend you dress in layers with synthetic materials and bring a rain jacket. I guess we’ll use today to sort things out for the next few days. I’ve checked the weather from 3 different locations and they all vary. Some say Tuesday is gonna be okay while others have said Thursday will be the better day. So, I spent the morning doing laundry while Carl solves a couple of minor issues with our house on wheels. The cost of doing laundry during our trip has varied a great deal. In most places it’s been $2.00 to wash and $2.00 to dry but in British Columbia, they wanted $5.00 for each process. Needless to say the laundry remained dirty until our next stop. Here, the washer and dryer are $1.25 per load and I’m happy to pay that. By the time I return, he’s already eaten lunch. After lunch we head to the Alaska Sealife Center for the afternoon. It’s a great place that specializes in rescue and rehabilitation. Happily, there were very few animals in their facility in need of rehabilitation. The aquarium exhibits were nicely done with lots of interpretive signage for a positive self guided tour. There were lots of hands on stuff for children while maintaining a thought provoking atmosphere for us adults. And we can all use an opportunity to be challenged. And best of all, I managed to get out of the gift shop without spending any money. Carl and I then drove by the commercial pier, checked out the town operated camping area right on the shore ( wish we’d know about that before ). The only grocery store in town of any size is the Safeway and prices, as you might expect, are high. $3.00 for a small head of iceberg lettuce, $1.20 per pound for bananas and $4.50 for a bag of Doritos. Carl wandered over to the Liquor side of the store and found a 6 pack of Alaskan stout made in Juneau with his name on it. After supper, Carl went over to book or passage for tomorrow to the Kenai Fjords National Park. With any luck, I’ll get some nice photos of the glaciers calving. I may even get a chance to see some wildlife. There is a National Park ranger on board who will tell us what we are experiencing. The tour is 7 ½ hours long and we’ve opted for the all you can eat Salmon and Prime Rib buffet during the cruise. Weather permitting, we’ll travel to Aialik Glacier and Holgate Glacier. The course also takes us past several islands and up and down both shorelines of Resurrection Bay. Should be a great day on the water.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
This morning we woke to a steady rain. Carl snapped the TV on and we found the Sox- Mariners game on at 10:00 in the morning. That means at home, it’s a get away day or afternoon game. I love it. The only probable was we had to check out before the game was over. The guy at checkout told us we could listen on a local radio station. Trouble with that was it was an AM station and we could listen for about 25 miles. When we ran out of signal, the Sox were winning 10-3. When I lost the signal, I did a channel scan and found a local station playing Hawaiian music. That was strangest of all. Our route of travel today was to continue down the Seward Highway, along the Cook Inlet and head down the Kenai Peninsular to Seward where we will be staying for a few days. The ceiling is still heavy and low. On both sides of us are massive mountains, swiftly flowing rivers and streams and tidal waters. I have asked Carl to pull into several of the turn out spots to try to salvage some photographs and one of them is at Beluga Point. It’s my understanding there are several pods of seasonal residents in the area. I figured they were probably all further north in the nutrient rich waters. I make the decision, due to the miserable visibility and rainy conditions to pass up going up to Portage Glacier and the Alaska Conservation Park. We will be passing these place on our way back up the peninsular in a week or so. There’s also a waterfall I want to check out when the weather’s a bit nicer. About 35 miles outside of Seward, traffic, which has been pretty thick, ground to a stop. A few minutes later, the line began to move very slowly and we began to see why the stoppage. A tractor trailer hauling crushed cars was laying on it’s side in a very busy intersection. It was unclear just what happened, maybe a binder let go, maybe his load shifter as he rounded the corner, but no matter what happened, there he was laying on his side, spilling fuel all over the place. The driver appeared unhurt but I’ll bet he’ll have “some ‘splaining to do, Lucy”. The rest of the trip into Seward was uneventful and after a quick trip to town, alright we missed our turn, we arrived at the Seward Military Reservation Resort which will be our base of operations for the next 8 days. We’re in hearing distance of the Alaska Railroad and the Cruise ship harbor. There is a rather large mountain just behind us but right now it’s cloud obscured. There are 40 RV parking spots with water, electric and cable hookup but no sewer. We’re all military here so I guess it’s okay to be this close in case you need to air out the “family linen” . Carl and I will spend the next few hours planning out what we’ll be doing while we’re on the Kenai. Carl has fishing on his mind and I want to photograph fishing of another sort, brown bear fishing, that is.
Saturday, July 23, 2011
The decision was made to leave Denali a day early and so after breakfast, we packed up and headed off. We had one last look at the Porcupine caribou before we left the park. There were two bedded down in a dry river bed about the same place we saw them the night before. The way south was through some gorgeous scenery, snowy mountains and winding rivers on both sides of the highway. We stopped at several turn outs to get a few more photos of the beautiful Alaskan Mountain range but as we traveled, we couldn’t help but notice our bright sunshine filled day with billowy white clouds was evaporating. Instead, there were thick and ominous looking gray stuff building in the south right where we were headed. In one of the pullouts, I noticed some more fireweed. Now, in the park, the fireweed was about 2 feet tall, a product of the sub alpine environment it is subjected to. The fireweed at this stop was over five feet tall. It was amazingly thick and beautiful. I also noticed all of the Spruce trees in the area were loaded with cones. A ranger in the park mentioned the cones will start dropping in another week or two. Meanwhile, I’m reminded of an old wives’ tale about how high the wasps build their nests or the amount of cones a tree puts out has some bearing on the severity of the upcoming winter. And even though this part of the country is strikingly beautiful during the winter, I’m not cut out for -80 degree weather. I was amazed to find out they only get on average about 70 inches of snow a year. It’s the high winds that make it seem like more because it’s constantly relocating the snow drifts. Our trip towards Anchorage has taken us to Wasilla, home of Sarah Palin and her family. It’s also the home of the Iditarod Official Race Headquarters. They maintain a gift shop, museum and offer sled dog rides on a wheeled vehicle. So we stopped. The modern Iditarod was formed by Joe Richardson Sr. to pay homage to the Serum run of 1925 that saved the children of Nome from Diphtheria. The race pits man and dog against 1,048 miles of Alaskan Wilderness and begins the first Saturday in March. There is a ceremonial start in Anchorage with a restart in Willow the next day. When we pulled into the parking area, I immediately notice the team of 8 dogs all harnessed up to this rubber tired buggy. It looked sort of weird but it carried about 7-8 people. I haven’t a clue how much they were charging for the five minute ride. What I did find out is the guy with the concession is Joe Richardson Jr. The woman with him is a native born Alaskan and she told us there were puppies in the pen over near the log cabin. I’m a sucker for pups and these future Iditarod runners were only 5 weeks old. Man, were they cute. I climbed into the pen with them, thinking they would just go play together and I could get some nice puppy photos. That’s a joke. I got into the pen and all five of them ganged up on me, chewing on my shoes and pant legs. And did I mention they each have a mouthful of super sharp teeth? After wandering around the museum for about a half hour, I grabbed an official race newspaper with the 2011 results for our granddaughter whose favorite driver is Jessie Royer who cam in a very respectable 9th place. Back on the road, it began to ran again. The Chugach Mountain Range is in the distance when we arrive at the Anchorage Wal-Mart. I grabbed my list and the cloth bags ( I’m a big believer in reuse, repurpose or recycle ) and headed into the store to “pay our camper fee” for the night. Unfortunately, when we got back to the camper, we saw the sign that said “No Overnight RV Parking” in very bold print and they even had a security guard roaming the parking pot constantly. Carl had checked the website that lists all the off limit stores to campers and this one was not listed. It’s late, we’re hungry and tired and now we don’t have a place to stay for the night. The plan was refigured to head to a motel for the night, grab a hot bath and sleep in a real bed. The first place we checked had plenty of rooms and they still had plenty when we left because there was NO WAY we were paying $189.00 per night for a bath. I opened the handy Mileposts magazine and found a motel/ RV park in town called Creekwood Inn. We gladly paid the $100.00 for the night and had planned to stay with them the next night in the RV Park. We each grabbed a bag full of clean clothes, supper for the night and toiletry items and headed for the room. Carl had his TV and I had my Wireless. We were all set. And to make it even better, The Red Sox are playing the Seattle Mariners and one of the Anchorage stations is covering the game. The bath felt really good even though I’m a shower kind of gal. The pictures I took today show a progression of beautiful blue skies that change to deep brooding dark gray.
Friday, July 22, 2011
And that’s exactly what we did which was really neat but first I need to tell you about the frustrating part of the day. It started all fine and good. We both slept late and had Banana Pancakes for breakfast. Our plan was to pack a lunch, head to the Visitor Center to get reconnected” with the world, take a nice hike of a couple of miles and catch the 2:00 Sled Dog Demonstration. After arriving at the Visitor Center and not being able to find a wireless signal there, I turned my phone on and retrieved 4 messages. Three were messages for Carl from Fairpoint about a tech e-mail he had sent them. The other was from my Mom. I asked a ranger where I could get a wireless signal and he told me the Riley Creek Mercantile was the only place in the park. That was our next stop. We figured we had the right place when we found about 10 people with laptops open and another few with cell phones. Some were downloading pictures, others checking e-mail, a few were charging cell phones, lap tops and kindles. I needed to get on to check my e-mail and post a few days worth of blogs along with some really cool photos. No dice on the connection. It kept saying I was connected but had no internet service. I tried rebooting and mumbling to myself about “what was I doing wrong” when the lady next to me asked if I was an Mac or PC platform. I’ve never been an apple kind of gal so after checking with a couple of other frustrated looking souls, we discovered there were 4 of us who could not log on, all of us Windows users. Carl went in and asked the lady in the store if they were having trouble. She said it appeared someone was downloading a movie which requires an enormous amount of bandwidth. I don’t understand these sorts of things but we waited and waited. Then we had lunch and waited some more. Every few minutes someone would get tired of waiting or finish what they were doing. Others were killing time waiting for laundry to finish and they were just there. Me, I had things to do. Well, I won’t drag out every painful detail. All I can say is after 2 ½ hours, I still wasn’t able to download anything to my blog or face book. We did get to the Sled Dog Kennel and get some up close and personal time with a few of the full time ranger dogs. They give three demonstrations every day and once the snow falls, they are responsible for helping the humans patrol about 6 million acres of wilderness. A ranger and a team of dogs will head out for two weeks. Cabins are located about the distance a dog team can cover in a day. These cabins are stocked in the fall with a large supply of people and dog food as well as plenty of propane. I can imagine one of those cabins would look mighty good after a day of -40 and snow drifts of several feet or more. The dogs just love to work. I wish I could show in this blog how quiet the 30 or so dogs were while us humans were checking them out. Most were either sitting or laying on top of their houses while some were curled up inside. These 60 degree temperatures are great for us but the dogs work best at about 10-30 below. Anyway, as soon as Ranger Ellen gave a signal, all of the dogs were up, barking, running around the enclosures or at the end of their chains as if to say, “Did someone say let’s go for a run?” Tails were wagging and I’d swear the dogs were smiling with the thought they might get chosen. Five dogs were brought out and the leather harnesses, already attached to the gang line, were slipped over their heads. Then, all the dogs in the kennel knew they hadn’t been chosen and they all settled back down. Only the five on the gang line were all wiggly and excited. Ranger Ellen said something like “Are you ready?” She got a yip or two and they were off. They made a quick loop through the woods and ended up in front of where 3 busloads of people were sitting. She talked with us about how the sled dog service came into being, how important these dogs are, how they are bred and trained, how they are selected and even when they are retired from running which is really hard because they love to run so much. I wondered why they were using leather harness instead of the nylon like the competitive teams use. I wish there had been more demonstration and less lecture although it was interesting too. We headed back to the campground but had to stop for several minutes because a bull caribou was in a dry streambed munching on whatever it is one might find to browse on, maybe lichen, minerals, grasses or shrubs. Once we got back to the camper, Carl asked if my knee could take a walk down along the rocky river and off we went. Supper was cooked outside tonight and we ate by the picnic table. We watched a red squirrel which is twice the size of our NH variety grab up a mushroom, retire to a tree and nibble on it for some time. The ranger talk this evening was on “Seeing The Big Picture”. The majority of people who come to Denali come to see THE mountain or THE wildlife or maybe even THE wide open wilderness. The suggestion was that we use all of our senses to take in the entire experience, the sights, sounds, smells and feel of the whole out of doors. She even suggested there are some parts that can be tasted. I got to wear a blindfold while Carl led me to a specific tree in the area. After feeling, smelling and touching this tree, I was led back to the amphitheater and took off the blindfold. Then I had to find the tree. I wasn’t even close. I knew the tree was small and sticky. That described about 50% of the trees in the area. It was fun anyway. These talks have been entertaining, informative and it fills an hour or so after a long day. I highly recommend them.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
We have to be at the bus by 8:00AM and it’s twelve miles from here towards the park entrance. Carl doesn’t understand why we have to travel there when the bus is going right past our campground. I don’t have any answers for him and I don’t make the rules. I can’t believe our luck. For two days in a row, the skies are a brilliant blue with almost no clouds. McKinley is quite visible and this bodes well for our tour. If the mountain is visible, the bus will travel an extra 9 miles from Teklanika Rest Stop to Stony Hill for an up close and personal look at the mountain from only 30 miles away. And, it looks as if we may get that opportunity. When the bus arrives to pick up at the Wilderness Access Center, there are already about 30 people on board who were picked up at their hotel. I am growling inside and to myself. Our driver, Bob, tells us he subscribes to the 5% club, the number of visitors who get to see the mountain from top to bottom. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. While I’m at it, I have another set of fingers crossed for wildlife sightings. Bob is a character who guarantees we will see wildlife and no more than 5 miles up the road, he slams on the brakes for an Arctic Ground Squirrel. Some of us see the humor while others think it’s going to be one very long day. His animal finding skills are shown in a better light when he spots a bull caribou feeding in the willows on the left side of the bus. Did I mention that’s where I’m sitting? All we can see of him is the upper tines of his antlers and his back, the shrubs are so thick and tall. The caribou wears a tracking collar and promptly comes up out of the willows and crosses the road directly in front of the bus. We are all encouraged to yell “stop” whenever we see an animal or even if we think we see an animal. Bob tells us how 48 sets of eyes hunting are better than his one pair because he is driving the bus after all. Later in the day we’ll find out why this is so important. After we travel through the official gate at mile 15, I spot a bull moose browsing in a lush meadow down below us by some 100 yards or so. My voice croaks out a stop and sure enough, Bob gets the bus stopped pretty quickly. Now 47 cameras are all trying to get a photo of MY bull moose. The visibility window isn’t that large so Bob moves the bus. Now, the people in the back can get a shot but it also meant I didn’t get the shot I needed. What are you going to do? The bus climbs higher, leaving moose habitat, threads it’s way through a narrow band of thick Spruce called the Igloo Forest and entered what Bob calls prime grizzly country. Just before we get there though, we had to travel through a bottleneck between two mountains called Polychrome Pass. Off to the left of the bus are some pretty steep rocky outcroppings, high up from the valley floor, and there enjoying themselves in the pre-noon sunshine are a small bachelor herd of Dall Sheep. It just so happens the road brings us pretty much even with their high perch. The day continues with another caribou sighting as well as a couple of off road grizzly sightings. Bob brings the bus around the next bend and stops dead in the middle of the road. Coming at us, taking her half of the road out of the middle is a gorgeous blond grizzly sow with two tiny cubs, not more than 5 months old, in tow. We are all cautioned to be very quiet, keep all fingers and faces inside the bus as well as our camera lenses. Another tour bus arrived on the scene from the other way and I find myself holding my breath. I’m worried the arrival of the second bus will change Mama’s mind about traveling on the road. If the bear stays on her current path, it will bring her directly by my side of the bus. Mother Nature smiles on us all. The sow continues walking past the bus but the cubs are very skittish and dash into the fairly tall shrubs on the side of the road. I catch one of them peaking up over to find out if we’re still there or maybe it was to find out where mom was. It was a truly magical moment. Bob says he’s done 2400 of these tours over the years and it’s only the third or fourth time, a grizzly sow has brought her cubs that close to the bus. In the course of our travels we crossed 4 braided glacial rivers, the Savage, Sanctuary, Teklanika and the Toklat. We can easily see this from our high vantage point but it’s still amazing to see how the river changes it’s own course through the years, sometimes going this way and depositing more silt and rock so that the next year it finds an easier path to take. We have a marvelous view of jagged snow covered peaks, all above 7,500 feet. One of these impressive mountains, Pendleton, is home to the three Polychrome glaciers. Even from our distant vantage point miles away, we can see evidences of their receding path by the moraine left behind. Some day these ancient ice rivers will disappear leaving miles of shattered rock and scarred mountain sides in their wake. I can’t describe just how I felt when I finally got to Stony Hill to see the entire 20,000 plus feet of Mt McKinley but the country gal who finds herself in New York City, staring up at the super tall buildings with her mouth open in awe is a good start. A small bank of clouds had begun to move in which, in my opinion, gave the massif an air of mystery as well as some contrast. Welcome to the 5% club, Carl and Valerie! The ride back was more or less anticlimactic. Bob decides we have been much too quiet and wants to play a game called Gee and Haw. He’s going to close his eyes and we’re going to tell him by those two commands how to steer the bus. That woke us all up. We saw another bull moose, much larger than the first but also much farther from the road as well as another couple of grizzlies, also further away from us. There was a quick and distant sighting of a golden eagle and we got to experience Bob’s excellent driving skills on the very narrow and twisting park road. Most of the 47 miles the bus covered today wasn’t wide enough for two buses to pass. It takes nerves of steel to continue calmly answering questions, explaining what we are experiencing and keeping us on the road and not into the side of an oncoming bus or over the steep drop off to the right. Bob explains there are rules of the road. Actually Bob explains a great many things to us. He proved himself to be an extremely knowledgeable and capable individual. We found out he’s an avid hiker and photographer which explains some of the little things he said like the sky being blown out behind the sheep or the cloud layer making for an interesting contrast. These are things a photographer would think of. The bus, on schedule, was almost back to civilization when there in the road directly in front of us was the biggest Caribou buck I’ve ever seen. He has a massive rack which is totally covered in velvet and still soft. You can see the upper palms flexing as he trots down the road. A car approached from the other direction and the bull decided to turn around and head in our direction. When he saw our bus, you could see his frustration. He pawed at the ground and shook that massive rack from side to side. The next time I hear the comment, “What a rack on that one!” Big Boy is what I’ll be thinking off. Somewhere during the 8 ½ hour day, I tweaked my left knee which is now painful and swollen. Carl fixed supper for us and after a couple of hours, it’s time to head off to the nightly ranger talk. Tonight, the subject is squirrels and how all four of the species that live in the park have a very important link in the food chain as well as the ecosystem that is Denali. While we were sitting there, a Grey Jay tried to fly in and steal the Ranger’s stuffed Arctic Ground squirrel. That got everyone laughing and it had just proved the Ranger’s point. But no matter how important the squirrels are as a food source, it can’t be very much fun knowing everyone is out to get you, literally.
It seems no matter where we travel, how far we go or how long we are gone, we either run into someone we know or they live next door to us, figuratively. Case in point- We’re at the Cody Stampede on July 4th and being neighborly, we start talking with the people next to us. Come to find out, they come from Vermont. What are the odds? Then, we’re sitting in the parking lot waiting for traffic to thin out so we can leave and there is a knock on our window. It’s a couple who live in the area now but the lady grew up in Berlin, NH. They saw our plates and just had to say hi! And if this isn’t odd enough for you, we are in Glacier National Park, a day earlier than we’re supposed to be. The ranger says she has room in a different part of the campground for the one night so we find a site, set up and the next thing we know, Carl is chatting with some people in the next site from Vermont. I know, it’s kind of cool, but wait. We travel another 2,000 miles west and north to arrive in the Fairbanks area and who should be in the site next to us but a couple from Maine. I don’t think we’ve actually met anyone who is born in Alaska. That is until yesterday. And while I’m on the subject, since it truly is one global community. If you think you, one person, have no impact or can’t make a difference, on this big blue marble we call earth, you should think again. We hiked in a heavily traveled area this morning. The trail was well marked and kept really well. Still, there was some areas that were really muddy. Now, in this situation, you can do two things. Either you can walk through the mud, taking some of that wet soil with you and thereby adding to the deepening depression or you can step around the puddle and change the course of the path for better or worse. You may think your one set of footprints does little or no harm. Think again! There are signs all along the path “Please stay on the path” but you can plainly see where people have strayed, walked down to the river and traced their names, initials or perhaps their significant other’s name in the damp sand. They think it’s cute but I come along and my scenery is damaged because they chose to mark the area with a sort of graffiti. ~sighs~ So, please, don’t stray from the path! (Or the big bad wolf just might eat you ) Oh, no! Don’t get me started on the stereotypes of “bad” wolves.
We just had a bit of excitement in the Savage River Campground. There was a group of people down on the sand bars in and around the river. Two of them were small children, maybe ages 5 and 8. There was a mock charge at the children from a bear. We don’t know what kind of bear, how close it got or even how many bears there were. We do know the children are fine, parents shaky, and bear no longer in the immediate area because the ranger told us a bit about the charge before she started the geological program. And while the father was talking with another ranger, the mother and both children came to the amphitheater and listened to the program with the rest of us. I’m so glad the children are all right. I just wish I’d been there to get some photos of the bear(s) before the mock charge. The talk the ranger gave was a bit heavier and even more dense than the previous night ( pun intended ). There was a good note, She brought Double Stuff Oreos, handed one to each of us and used that as a visual aid for plate tectonics. After we were done slipping and subducting plates, we ate them.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
This morning, we woke up cold. The propane had run out in the night and since the temperature had dipped to about 40 degrees, well, I don’t have to draw a picture, do I? Carl threw his clothes on and changed the propane tanks about 4:00AM. Then he crawled back into bed. Later, he lit the gas stove and set a pan of water to heat for coffee and tea. It was about 6:00AM. The sun was out and there wasn’t a cloud in the bright blue sky overhead. We had our coffee, a piece of fruit and grabbed the camera. Once more we walked down to the river’s edge where I had been told there would be a view of “The Mountain”. The Alaska range was crisp in the early morning sky and I could see the top of the mountain quite clearly but that was all I could see of the 20, 320 foot massif, about the top 1,000 feet. Obviously this wasn’t going to be good enough for me. But where to go? We’re at the highest point in the park we are able to drive to. Our tundra tour is tomorrow and I can only hope for good weather two days in a row. We headed back to the camper for a proper breakfast and made plans to hike the Savage River Loop Trail, a two mile easy hike starting in a picnic area, down one side of the Savage River, across a foot bridge, and back up the other side to waiting restrooms. All that water, you know! We headed into the valley between rugged shale covered cliffs on one side and 4,000 foot mountains with grasses and shrubs on the lower slopes but giving way to barren tops further up. The walk was pleasant enough even though we were in the shadows all the way in and a good part of the way out. There was a cool breeze which aggravated an ear ache that Carl has been brewing for a couple of days. His equilibrium is off and I hope he feels better soon. The hike along the Savage River should have taken about 1 ½ hours. We did it in two because I kept stopping to take photos and look around for bear or Dall sheep we had been told might be grazing on the slopes. I’m sorry to report we didn’t see any of either animal. Once back to the truck, we broke out a bottle of water to share along with a couple of granola bars. Hey, if you’re gonna “walk healthy, you might as well eat healthy”. We decided not to go back to the camper. There is no generator time until 4 and although I can work on photos or blog entries, I only have a three hour battery. It was off to the Visitor Center where we watched an 18 minute movie on the seasonal cycle of Denali and how life has to adapt. We ate lunch at The Morino Grill with the plan to catch the 2:00 sled dog demonstration. However, Carl was looking as if he felt even worse so I made the recommendation to catch the sled dog demo on Friday. We got home, I set to editing two days worth of photos and Carl went to sleep for three hours. Now, it’s generator time and ours still isn’t running right even after spending $123.00 at the Outpost in Fairbanks. My former boss, Val Poulsen would have called them “nothing but parts changers”. They only fixed what was obvious to them, cleaned a spark arrestor, changed a spark plug and put fresh gas in it. They never put a load on it, just sent us on our way. There’s another ranger talk tonight on the geology of Denali. We’re headed there in a bit. Tomorrow, we’ll be gone most of the day on one of Denali’s famous bus tours to see some of the interior of this huge expanse. There is only one 92 mile long road into the park but as I mentioned, private vehicles can only travel the first 15. We have driven a total of 7,501 miles after 5 weeks on the road.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
It never fails. I can go to the Laundromat, check out the washer and dryer availability, go back to the camper, grab the basket and supplies and get back quickly only to find the place is now standing room only and there’s a wait for machines. That was almost the case this morning. I was the first person in today, grabbed the two washers I needed, got things going and went to take my shower. I was gone about 20 minutes and when I returned, much cleaner than before, the place was mobbed and there were people waiting for washers. While I was waiting for the laundry to finish, Carl used the time to install our new brake away line which theoretically trips the trailer brakes into the on position when or if the trailer should ever decide it’s had enough of our company and go it’s own direction. This would be bad all the way around so just like insurance, we buy one hoping we never have to use it. He also installed the new bumper plugs which keep our sewer hose in place as we travel down the road. I was gone so long, he thought, he closed up the camper, cranked up jack stands, brought in the slide out and stashed stuff for travel. When I came back all we had to do was back under, install the load distribution bars and return the shower key to reclaim our $5.00 deposit. As luck would have it, there was a boy sitting at a table full of baked goods, fresh baked bread, cookies and frosted cinnamon buns. And you know, two cinnamon buns were just exactly $5.00. Now how convenient is that? For the boy, I mean. we had a short drive today, only 130 miles but I managed to kill a couple extra hours with photo stops and of course we had to have lunch. Those buns weren’t getting any younger, you know. We arrived at Denali National Park And Wildlife Preserve about 2:00PM, checked in at the registration desk and proceeded the 13 ½ miles from the front “gate” to Savage River Campground. The gate is in quotations because there is no gate. Unlike other parks where they take your money or check out your pass credentials, this park pre-charges you $20.00 per car when you make your campground reservations. We also found out they charge you $20.00 per car when you book a tour. Neat, huh? Anyway, since we had purchased an all park annual pass when we ere at Yellowstone, the very nice young man who checked us in refunded $40.00 to us. That was a nice surprise. The campground is very quiet, only room for 34 units, a mixture of tents, trailers and driving units. There is only another 1 ½ miles of park roads which can be driven by private vehicle at this time of year. The sky had become overcast, almost mean looking and I expected a shower at any moment. Carl was already bored so we grabbed the camera and took a short walk down by the Savage River to scout out possible McKinley sightings or any animals who may be using the winding river bottom as a travel corridor. We didn’t see a single foot of the 20,320 foot mountain. The clouds were just too low. In fact we’ve found out that 70% of the visitors to the park never see the mountain. I don’t like those statistics. While at the river’s edge, we saw plenty of scat (poop) from moose, rabbit and bear. We saw and heard many song birds and even discovered a snowshoe hare hiding in the thick alders growing near the river. After supper, we walked a short distance to the amphitheater to listen to one of the Rangers talk about Grizzly Bears and how they “make a living” in the park year round. The program lasted about an hour, we sang a song, heard an Athabascan legend about unfaithful husbands and wives who find out about them and were instructed visually about the bear cub mortality rate. Then it was back to the camper for the night. Who am I kidding? It doesn’t get dark here this time of year.
Monday, July 18, 2011
oday was service day for the truck and it’s probably a good thing we scheduled it for today. I could hear the pitter patter of little droplets on the roof of the camper most of the night. Sure enough, it was still pitter pattering when we got up this morning. After a thorough service costing much less than I had figured, we wound up at, you guessed it, WalMart to get the groceries for the next five or six days while we are in Denali. We’ll leave in the late morning and only have to travel about 125 miles. I hate to break my record but will most likely have to wash the huge bathroom and kitchen floor this afternoon. Something sticky has found it’s way there and, well, there’s no getting around it any more. I’ve been getting lots of positive feedback about the photos I’ve been posting on face book. Thanks so much for all of the comments. It lets me know someone is looking. Later today we’ll pick up the generator from the repair shop and go visit Santa at his summer home here in North Pole, Alaska. And some of you thought he lived in Jefferson for the summer, didn’t you? In the morning, yes you guessed right again, it will be showers and laundry. I don’t think we’ll have much chance while we're at Denali. It seems once we check in and go to our site, that’s it. We can’t go any further into the park unless we’re on a tour. We have signed up for one of those which will be on Thursday. We’ve been here for three days and Carl has just figured out our site is equipped with a cable hook up. He’s spent the last hour trying to get the wiring just right. No luck! That’s kind of sad and so is my lack of inspiration to get out there, dodge a few rain drops and take some pictures. And just like Carl’s television signal that will disappear tomorrow, so will my internet connection for a few days. I will continue to create posts and as soon as I get connected once more, I promise to get them caught up. Pictures, too!!!
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Both Carl and I are having trouble falling asleep because it never gets dark. I’ve been covering the windows with heavy towels and putting a velour throw over the window in the door. It has helped some but there’s an opaque air vent right over our bed. Have to figure out some way to cover that over. Anyway, it was a pleasure to see the sky with large patches of blue mixed in with those clouds. We have the last of the Dempster multigrain bagels and a quick cup of coffee, I throw a lunch together and we hit the road. Several miles before we hit the Dalton, our forward progress is halted. We’re flying down a hill and around a corner to confront a cow moose standing on the yellow line. Carl notices she has more than four legs and by now I’ve got the camera focused on her and notice her calf standing very close. We’re held up about 10 minutes but we don’t mind. The Dalton Highway is 73 miles north of Fairbanks. We are prepared for the worst conditions imaginable and the Dalton doesn’t disappoint, for the first 20 or so miles. It’s a roughest, dustiest and most potholed stretch of road I’ve been on in quite some time. Then, out of no where and in the middle of no where for no particular reason, there is asphalt. It isn’t much smoother though because there are this massive dips, sometimes pitching you to the left, sometimes to the right and sometimes in both directions almost at the same time. Sometimes there is even a warning, other times, not so much. We planned to drive to the Arctic Circle which is 116 miles from the beginning of the road. Some people may already know the road was built to aid in the construction of the Alaska pipeline which brings crude oil from Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks. The Dalton Highway or Haul Road as most people around here call it is about 440 miles while the pipeline runs for 1399 miles. This is due to construction issues, weaving around natural obstacles, lifted high over caribou migratory routes and a good part of the time, the pipeline even goes underground. The oil travels at 3.7 miles per hour and takes approximately 11 days to make it’s trip. The oil goes in hot and comes out warm, never freezing due to the friction on the pipe. At 56 miles in, we cross the Yukon River and notice the Yukon River Camp on the left who boast they are the last gas for more than 200 miles plus they offer a motel and restaurant. We pass on all services because we are not towing our camper. I am in awe of the fireweed as we travel along. It seems to blanket very large areas in even off in the distance, we see a pink purple hue to the landscape. Carl starts chugging right along, feeling the rhythm of the road which quickly changes back and forth between gravel, mud and asphalt when out of the corner of my eye, I spy a grizzly munching on some sweet looking sedge grass. As soon as I get the camera focused on the bear, it stands up and looks in my direction. So cool!! Anyone who watched Ice Road Truckers last season may remember when Alex parked his truck at Finger Mountain and took a short hike up to the 40 foot tall finger shaped rock jutting out of the tundra. Well, we didn’t hike out to it but we did stop and walk a short self guided path with signs along the way describing different types of flora and fauna that inhabits this arctic habitat. Eventually, we arrive at the signpost announcing we have arrived at the Arctic Circle. It’s probably the furthest north I will ever get although I would love to visit Churchill, Manitoba for the Polar Bears. Obligatory photo in front of the sign is taken and we decide to have lunch in the truck instead of the picnic area because the mosquitoes are very hungry in spite of the steady stream of visitors arriving in the area. Our trip back takes less time since I’m not yelling “stop” much of the time. That is, until we round a corner and there is a very large cow moose munching on the side of the road. She was very cooperative while I took a few photos and then we were gone again. We’re gone 10 hours, traveled approximately 400 miles and we are spent. Strangely, the road was the absolute worse for that first 20 miles and did get better as we traveled due to some fresh grading. I would have loved to go all the way to Coldfoot and had lunch where the drivers all stop but I knew it would be too much. For those of you who come this way, you will be pounded, your vehicle will end up filthy and when you need to buy gas ( and you will ) it will be more than a dollar more than in the city. Okay, that’s the down side. On the plus side, you have the opportunity to see some amazing countryside, view up close and personal, one of the engineering marvels of the 20th century and boast the claim that you drove the Dalton…
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Well, not exactly. It’s been raining most of the night, the sky is very gray and the Dalton is no place to drive in lousy weather if you don’t have a job to do. So, we’re scrambling to find something to do until the weather lifts. We decide to get caught up on a few maintenance issues that have developed over the past 4 weeks. I did a web search and found Arctic RV Parts and Service. They were able to help us with spare keys, water filters, bumper plugs and new sink strainers. We ended up at Lowe’s for the aerators for the sink and bathroom faucets. Then it was on to lunch at Pizza Hut. I’d been really wanting pizza for some time. Carl took a nap, I transferred all my blog entries into face book because for some reason, they are not importing as they should. I framed and hung photos of our grandchildren on the same wall as the clock and the monitoring station. The sun finally burned it’s way through the thick high gray ceiling but by then, Carl wasn’t in the mood to head off. I’ve just check MSN for tomorrow’s weather and it looks dry with some sun. Since my XM radio isn’t able to access the satellite from this latitude, I burned all my laptop music onto a couple of Cds. That should help eliminate those long quiet spells we seem to have. After 41 years of marriage, there is only so much to talk about. While we were out, I spotted a Carlile Transportation truck delivering to the store next door. They are the main firm behind “Ice Road Truckers” on the Discovery Channel. We also observed something really interesting. Some parking lots have electric outlets on them. You see, 8 out of 10 vehicles up here are equipped with engine block heaters. The average winter temperature is way below -30. I remember when that was the big think in the North Country at home but I’d never seen store provide for their customers and employees like this. The way I figure it, either you have the block heater, a heated garage or you are calling a tow truck for a battery boost often.
This is a link to my face book page. There, I'm Valerie Mooers Hill and I would love to have you request a friend link. There are lots of photos from our trip from NH to Alaska plus more to look forward to on our return through Arches National Park and Gettysburg, PA.
Friday, July 15, 2011
Last night’s stop at the Rest Area over look was a great choice. When we went to sleep, the breeze was blowing pretty good but sometime in the night, the wind died and all was calm and peaceful. It was still dusk like at 2:30 this morning. Unfortunately, my plan to provide a beautiful photo of the Tetlin Nature Preserve that we looked out on was messed up by the low overcast dark clouds. Off in the distance we could see a small patch of blue sky which seemed to grow and shrink as the day wore on. Every once in a while, a brilliant orb would fight it’s way clear and things around us would cast a shadow. It didn’t last very long. We fueled up in Tok, AK at a place that was closed for renovation. It seems there are many fuel stops that will leave their pumps on 24 hours a day for credit card purchases. I don’t have a clue when the last time this place was open although by the looks of the windshield washing stations, it’s been a long while. The stop at Delta Jct., the official end of the Alaska Highway was to get information about getting the truck and generator serviced. They have both been working really hard. The young lady was very helpful with names, numbers and even a pretty good map of Fairbanks. There was a point where we crossed a huge river on a multi spanned bridge. The Robertson River had to a quarter mile wide here and when I looked to my left, I could see large slabs of ice still lying in the bed. The flow of water had an appearance of chocolate skim milk, not very appetizing. We’re staying in an RV Park called Riverview, in North Pole, AK. The river is the Chena. I called to arrange a service appointment for the Toyota and Carl called the Honda dealer for that service. Tomorrow, we drive the Haul Road or the Dalton Highway which was built to service the 800 + miles of the Alaska Pipeline. Now, it’s a lifeline for many outlying communities as well as the oil businesses of Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay. It should be fun!!!
Thursday, July 14, 2011
First off to all my friends of French decent, you know who you are, I want to wish them a Happy Bastille Day, July 14th is the day the peasants stormed the infamous prison, freed the political prisoners wrongfully incarcerated and began the overthrow of the aristocracy. Within months the cells were once more full but this time it was the people of means, of royal blood even who found themselves in jeopardy, Most, in time, lost their head to Madame la Guillotine. Our day was almost as brutal. We left Squanga airstrip and continued on our way to Whitehorse, Haines Jct, and Beaver Creek , all gas stops. The gray skies of early morning turned into lowering rain filled clouds and by afternoon, we were in a constant and miserably cold rain. The roads we traveled today must win some kind of prize. Carl fought almost two hundred km of heaved, sunken, graveled, rutted and just plain miserable roads. As we drove, my eyes were constantly looking for something to lift our photographic spirits and we did find a very cooperative Bald Eagle just coming in for a landing in the top of a fir tree. It was just windy and wet enough where he or she kept fluffing the feathers and using the wings to steady it’s position in the tree. I just love eagles. In fact, truth be told, I am in awe of the beautiful diversity that the Lord has bestowed on our world. I find just as much joy in watching a squirrel scamper about looking for places to stash some booty for another time as I do the majestic Bison on the prowl for his ladies’ attention and both can be quite comical in their own right. I observed two different types of bears yesterday and could have stayed for hours watching their personalities develop. They are amazing creatures, one and all. Later in the day, while the roads were still pure crap, the clouds did lift some and we were treated to some of the Kluane ( clu Wa ne ) Range. If they are half as spectacular as I think they are, a clear day will know the wind right out of me. We skirted the Kluane Lake, a huge body of water and I was fascinated by this one island poking up through the low lying mist. It reminded me of Brigadoon appearing from the mists of time every 100 years. Okay, call me a romantic. We pass through the US Border with no trouble and headed for Tok, Alaska but didn’t quite make it that far. You see, we left an hour earlier than usual, gained another hour when we entered Alaska and fought those awful roads. Carl pulled into this lovely rest area overlooking the Tetlin Nature Preserve. Oh, and the second bright spot in our day was our first Alaska Moose browsing in a bog. She’s quite a ways from the road, I pulled her in the best I could with my lens at 300mm, the highest it would go and I will keep my fingers crossed. I’m really hoping for some wonderful wildlife experiences these next few weeks. And before I forget, on our way to the beautiful rest area we spotted two pairs of swans, one with 5 signets and a very brief glimpse of a Lynx. The photographer missed the lynx because her camera was in the case on the seat next to her (I confess!)
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
To say that today was exciting is an understatement. First off, we were up very early because we lost another hour yesterday ( now in Pacific time for sure ) and haven’t adapted yet. I didn’t get to sleep till almost 11:30 last night and it was still dusk like outside. We had to wait until 8:00 AM to get gas and that was the first surprise. It was $1.84 per liter or $7.12 per gallon. That hurt the old wallet but what are you gonna do? You’re out in the middle of no where and you need fuel because you believe the next sure gas is 200 miles away. There may or may not be some closer but are you going to chance it? We filled up, paid the piper and hit the road. We were rolling along at a pretty good clip when we spot this dark brown spot up the road a ways. When we pulled up beside the bear, it was a Black bear in a brown phase. Yes, I’m positive. Round ears, straight nose and no hump. They had a “white” black bear, on display, in the common room ( stuffed ), at the lodge with an article telling about the high probability of white black bears being born on one of the BC islands. They estimated a 1 in 10 chance of a white black bear, not an albino. To further back up my brown Black bear, we found my very first wild grizzly sow with two older cubs in tow a ways down the road. We sat there and watched as Mom kept an eye on her wandering cubs and also held our breath as we noticed a very large Bison bull coming towards the family on the very same path. They were about 200 feet apart when Mom’s nose came up in the air, she huffed for her cubs to come close and after each of them standing high to scope out the situation, Mom chose the better part of valor and took the cubs about 50 feet into the wood line and then continued on her way. The bull got to the very spot when mom and cubs had been standing and got down in the dirt and wallowed like crazy. Then, he got up and scent rubbed a couple of trees. Clearly, he was sending a message to the sow the path was his. I would have paid really good money to have seen a face to face between that big boy and mom. Another few kilometers along the road found us looking at a young Black bear eating berries. This one was definitely black. We hadn’t gone very far when Carl spotted a small herd of horses grazing on the side of the road. I got out, crossed the street and started taking pictures. Horses, I know so I was sure it was safe to approach right up to the point where the herd stallion spotted me. But, his ears stayed forward and after a moment where we looked each other in the eye, he went back to grazing. It was then, I heard the bell ringing. It was hanging around the neck of one of the mares and knew these were not wild horses. On my way back to the truck, I spotted one of the other mares wearing a red halter and that clinched it for me. They were someone’s free ranging horses. I was a bit disappointed to say the least. All of our animal sightings were before lunch today which in itself was kind of weird. Yesterday, all the animal sightings were in the afternoon. We arrived in Watson Lake, YT and was finally able to get our laundry done. We wandered around the World Famous Signpost Forest, asked the very helpful ladies at the visitor center a few questions and ate our lunch. I didn’t take a photo of our lunch spot today because, quite honestly, I didn’t think anyone would care about a dusty old parking lot at a gas station/grocery store/deli/ Laundromat. Our crossing of the Continental Divide was anticlimactic. The pass was fairly flat so we didn’t even notice it until the sign pointed it out to us. To break the day up, we stopped at Rancherio Falls, walked in 10 minutes to witness a very small waterfall. It was way less impressive than Niagara, that’s for sure. Our stop for tonight is at the Squanga Airstrip, a gravel landing strip out in the middle of no where. There is no tower, no navigational aids and no one using it. We are parked just off the runway near a wooden tower with an osprey nest on it. I look out the window every once in a while to see if anyone is home. So far, the only birds in the area are us. I sure hope there are no small aircraft emergencies tonight. We have traveled 6,143 miles to date.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
I thought we were going to have company last night. Two tractor trailers pulled in beside us. One stayed for about 10 minutes and the other left after about ½ hour. I figure the first needed to “check his tires” or catch up with his log book. The other probably stopped for a bite to eat. We had a quick breakfast and headed down the road and into Pink Mountain for gas. We’ve noticed the price has jumped about 40 cents as we’ve traveled away from Dawson Creek. They figure they’ve got you and they’re right. If you don’t buy it from them, you won’t make it to Delta Junction, the official end of the Alaska Highway. We spotted another moose first thing this morning, another cow. This morning, we’ve seen lots of evidence of mud slides and road work being done because of flash flooding. We did establish we have moved into Pacific Time Zone, now three hours earlier than home. And Carl said it was still light well after 11:00PM last night. I’m having trouble getting used to that. This was a busy wildlife day in other ways. Early in the day we saw signs warning us to be careful of moose, Stone sheep, elk, deer, wild horses and buffalo. By the end of the day we had seen one male Stone Sheep, one white tailed doe, a fox, the moose earlier that day and then the surprise. We saw a young female porcupine caribou all by herself. A little further down the road, we saw another female caribou and then a third. Another quarter of a mile later, we say a male caribou. This was a great surprise as we hadn’t been warned to watch for them but not nearly as big a surprise as the black bear sow with a single very small cub in tow. Carl certainly got the camper and truck stopped quickly for this photo op. Unfortunately, the gravel skidding of the trailer brakes alerted Mom and before I could get focused on her, she crossed the road with the cub and went down into a swale. I thought that was the end of it but Carl took the camera, crossed the street and started shooting away. Then he remembered he could use the lens to get closer. His was the only decent shot of the bear today. Later in the afternoon, we came upon a large mixed herd of Bison grazing on the side of the road. I got out, used the camper as a shield and took several photos, some with calves. I was so close, I could hear them ripping the grass off as they moved along. It made quite a sound. Then without warning, one of the bulls decided to cross the road, about 50 feet from me. I froze. He was followed by a few of the cows and calves and gradually, the rest of the herd found it’s way across the pavement. One car coming up behind us, stopped in the middle of the road and took pictures while another vehicle headed southbound did pretty much the same thing. That was when I decided it was time for us to leave. I created the buffalo jam and then left. When the sun finally came out today, we were treated to some beautiful scenery of emerald green rivers like the MacDonald and the Trout as well as some breathtaking panoramas of the Canadian Rockies. Of course, the dark clouds didn’t leave altogether and we drove into showers off and on all day. Carl has made a reservation at the Liard River Lodge campground for this evening. They have a television in their lounge and we will watch the All Star game and have a bite to eat. Sadly, I’ll have to say goodbye to my XM radio. We lost the satellite signal at about the same time we found the campground. We’re too far over the horizon and can’t lock on. The campground is just another RV Park but we have electricity and water for the night. We’ll fill up with water and gas in the morning, empty the other tanks and head of for Watson Lake in the Yukon Territory. We had supper at the Lodge, watched seven innings of the All Star game, seeing the American League losing, and retired to the camper which I have come to think of as home.
Monday, July 11, 2011
Day 26- Additional
We spent about two hours in Dawson Creek, writing postcards, converting currency, buying stamps, getting a haircut and getting online to post blogs and photos on face book. After a lunch break with a view of the visitor’s center, art gallery and a Northern Alberta railways car, we hit the road once more. Just outside of town, we saw our first moose. It was a cow without a calf. I thought this was a good sign but we didn’t see another one all day. I’d planned on doing laundry here but Carl had heard people talking about more rain for this evening and how high the Peace River was. He wanted to get across this major river before there was an issue. Turns out, there wasn’t a problem. We traveled approximately 135 miles from Dawson Creek to almost Pink Mountain through some of the most boring countryside I can imagine. It was straight as an arrow through short but dense scraggly fir trees. This must be a truly hostile place during the winter. None of the trees are more than 30 feet high and no where do we see any branches longer than three feet. As we find a nice gravel turn out for the evening, it begins to rain again. Steak on the grill becomes steak on the griddle and since we’re in water conservation mode, I don’t have to do dishes tonight. It’s an early night for me. After listening to the Home Run Derby on my XM radio, I read about a dozen pages of Moby Dick on my kindle and then it’s lights out, in a manner of speaking. It’s 10:00 PM and not even close to being dark.
We woke up refreshed this morning. Turns out the rest area was a great place to stop for the night and no one bothered us. We heard a couple of trucks in the night come or go but not much else. Our trip through Alberta continued under gray and threatening skies but so far, we are dry. We continue to see those beautiful canola fields and mixed in are oil pumps. I never thought of Alberta as being an oil producer although after we drive a bit further, to Grande Prairie, we see several collection plants where the crude is put into tractor trailers and taken elsewhere to be refined. I’m bouncing back and forth between the AAA directions we received and the book, Mileposts which is very detailed about mileage, gas stations, turn outs, places of interest and even tells where there are internet signals you can grab. No one should attempt this trip without a current copy of this book. It’s considered the traveler’s bible for information about Alaska and the many routes to get there. We saw two very large owls today although I couldn’t say what kind they were. I suspect they were out hunting for the little ones because we didn’t see any more. Our gas stop in Grande Prairie was a “we serve” station, they have an attendant pump your gas and wash your windows. Another person filled our propane for us. It’s strange to be in a county where gas is sold by the liter but propane is sold by the pound. We crossed into British Columbia at Tomslake and were expecting to move into mountain time but we’re told there are a few communities that do not change to Daylight Savings Time so while I sit here in Dawson Creek, BC, it’s an hour earlier than I thought it would be. Oh, and the Mosquitoes are a force to be reckoned with here. They usually are very aggressive but with the amount of rain and flooding that has been going on in British Columbia and Alberta, they are thicker than usual. We have seen much evidence of flooding, bank erosion and construction jobs that have been put on hold. Pumps are working overtime and many local streets are washed out. North to Alaska ( without the gold rush ).
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Breakfast at Denny’s was too good. I wanted to stay. The wait staff was pleasant, the tea was hot and the Hawaiian Puppies, their take on white chocolate and pineapple pancakes which tasted more like doughnut holes, were wonderful. All things must end and so did our time there. We hit the road under the threat of rain at about 8:00AM which has been the target time, but not a hard and fast rule. The winds of yesterday hadn’t eased and we felt the camper, which is more like a huge sail pushing us all over the road but the condition of the road was pretty good. The gray skies kept my camera in it’s case for the most part except for these massive fields of brilliant yellow flowered crops. I thought this was soy beans but I’ve since found out it’s canola, Canada’s largest seed oil crop. They are particularly lovely when the sun is shining on them and I had this picture in my head of a gorgeous canola field, in full bloom, under breathtaking skies with an old red barn either amongst the canola or along the edge. I’ve been looking for this image for about a week. Today, I think we drove out of canola country and the skies, dark, low and ominous, today were less than ideal for such a shot. But there it was, an old red barn on the edge of and surrounded by a less than brilliant field of canola. I’ll post the photo and you can be the judge. Carl fought the rain and gusty wind for most of the day but when we got to Edmonton, we had another issue pop up. It’s called massive construction. We did manage to find a gas station just off the highway and then got back onto our intended road of travel. About 5 miles from the gas station another camper pulls up beside us and beeps to get our attention. They motion to the back of the camper and mouth the word “hoses”. We pull over at a red light and Carl jumps out to find the sewer hoses dangle out each side of the bumper where they are stored. Once cap had fallen completely off, lost for good, and the other had popped open. A minute or two later a lady in a car pulls up beside us to tell us that our gas cap is dangling and the door is wide open. With all this happening we still made good time and sailed right through Whitecourt. Actually, we missed the Dahl Street turn off for the Wal-Mart. It’s 4:00PM and we have stopped for the night at a road side rest area where there is a large parking area with no signage that says we can’t spend the night. We’ll see and I’ll let you know tomorrow.
Saturday, July 9, 2011
Last night neighbors, with kids, pulled in to the site next to ours. I’d almost forgotten the sound of children laughing, playing and worst of all, crying. Anyway, the new neighbor pulled into his site facing the opposite of everyone else in the loop and it appeared where he parked, it would make it very difficult for us to get out this morning. Also last night, we had more generator trouble. Carl removed the spark plug to find it was pretty thick with carbon. He cleaned it, put it back in and things ran smoothly after that. Maybe that was the trouble the other day as well. This morning, we had trouble getting out of our space but it wasn’t the neighbor’s fault. There was a tree in our way. We had to come at the hitch from a different angle, move the camper back about a foot and a half, unhook and then back in to the hitch straight on. After that, the camper followed the truck nice as could be. We’re learning how to put things just where we want them. Once we dumped our tanks and topped off the fresh water, we left the park, crossed into Canada at Roosville and headed towards Crows Nest Pass, across the Continental Divide once more. We traveled for a short time in British Columbia but soon found ourselves in Alberta. The roads were pretty good but the wind was terrible. We saw wonderful rolling hills, lots of grazing animals and hay being baled everywhere. Signs warned us of big horn sheep and elk crossings but hard as I might look, I didn’t see any of them standing at those signs. We had lunch at Crows Nest Lake and then continued on our way. We passed by historical places marked by signs reading “Frank Slide, the site of the deadliest landslide in North America” , Hillcrest Mine Disaster Cemetery and The Burmis Tree. Why these places are important to Canadian history, I’ll have to find out. After arriving in Calgary, we parked the camper and went into Wal-Mart to “pay our campground fee”. Now, I know they don’t charge but after spending $95.00 Canadian dollars worth or groceries and I can’t even tell how many pounds of bananas I got because they were sold in kilograms, I was too tired to make the slow cooker beef stew for tomorrow night’s supper. But, hey, they had great looking steaks on sale ( we think ) so we’ll have those. We’re in the same shopping center as Denny’s so guess where we’re going to have breakfast in the morning? Tonight is our last night in Wal-Mart for a while. From here on, it’s pulling off the road in turn outs for the next week until we get to Fairbanks.