Experiencing Alaska Month by Month
Updated: August 5, 2004

© 2003 Susan L. Stevenson - All photos are copyright protected

Saturday
August 2, 2003


It has been raining pretty constantly here in Alaska. Both the Chena and the Tanana Rivers have overflowed their banks in places. With the rain comes cooler temperatures. Anything below 80 is cool for this ex-Florida gal. When the temps dip into the low 40's, I'm looking for my scarf and mittens! This past week, the temperature has averaged 50 degrees.

The past week has been pretty laid back for me. Steve works such long days that we don't get a chance to really go anywhere or do anything during the week. With the rain being a daily happening, I seem to have lost my desire to leave the house and have instead spent hours working on web templates or my digital photo album.

Yesterday was opening day for the Tanana Valley State Fair. Steve was able to get home earlier than usual and we planned on going out to dinner and then off to the fair. The special event on opening day was a free comedy show and both of us were looking forward to having some laughs. Yesterday the sun was shining and that was another reason to go out and celebrate.

We ate at Geraldo's - a local Italian eatery that we had ordered take-out from, but had never dined in. Some of the girls in my online Alaska Military Spouse group said good things about the food, and I was looking forward to having a good Italian meal. I was very disappointed. Steve seemed to like his halibut dinner, but my manicotti was absolutely awful. The red sauce tasted sour - like sour milk, not lemons - and so did the garlic bread. I wondered if it was the brand of oil they used when cooking. I have no desire to eat there again...

After dinner, we continued on to the fair. Sprinkles of rain began to fall, but the sun remained bright in the sky. The rain started and stopped for very short periods throughout the evening, but not enough to ruin the fair. I later found out that it ALWAYS rains during the fair! (It seems that August is considered the rainy season here)

We had a good time wandering between the rows of food tents and merchandise tents. There were a lot of neat things for sale - from jewelry to woodcrafts to art pieces to clothes. There were also the typical carnival rides and games. In addition, there were livestock exhibits for people to enter their prize pigs, cows, goats, turkeys, rabbits and even guinea pigs! There were rows and rows of horse stalls and I took some time to visit the beautiful horses - dressed in colorful "sleazy sleepwear" (a lycra garment that keeps the horse clean and also prevents a coarse winter coat from developing - especially used with show horses).

The highlight of the evening was the comedy show. Unfortunately, Steve and I became the main topic of conversation when the comedian asked if there were any Cheechakos (newcomers) in the audience and we raised our hands. Not only did he enjoy telling us about winters in Alaska, but he also teased us a lot about living in Florida with its 3 inch flying cockroaches. (Floridians call them palmetto bugs, like it's going to make a difference...) Steve and I laughed throughout his performance and agreed that that show alone was more than worth the admittance fee to the fair.
Tuesday
August 5, 2003

"Rain, rain go away. Come again some other day"

OK.. so I'm starting to get a little tired of the rain and the overcast skies and the cool weather. I mean - it's August! Isn't August supposed to be a warm, sunny month?

TODAY

High: 55 - 60
Low: 42 - 47
TOMORROW

High: 60-70
Low: 44 - 51
THURSDAY

High: 65-75
Low: 45 - 51
FRIDAY

High: 65-70
Low: 42-50
SATURDAY

High: 55 - 65
Low: 45 - 52

Needless to say, I have found myself in a bit of a funk lately. What's the point of having long days if the skies are overcast? Who wants to look out on that for 20 hours? I am bored. I have to find a job - any job! Today I mailed out one response to an ad I saw in the online newspaper. I have two more ready to go. They are all for part-time bookkeeping positions. I am hoping to work web design freelance, but also know that if I don't get out of the house and actually GO somewhere, I will lose my mind. It's called survival. I guess I'm learning the rules of this Alaska game already. And winter hasn't even come yet.

Steve is working incredibly long hours. It is a much different situation than what we were accustomed to in Florida. More times than not, I prepare dinner at the "normal" hour and it has to be warmed up two hours later when he finally makes it through the door. So many adjustments...

I miss my family and I miss school. Maybe it's PMS. Maybe PMS comes for entire seasons up here. I feel like I need a vacation even after just completing the longest vacation ever. I know that if the sun will just come out, I'll be fine. Amazing how the weather can affect your mood. Boy oh boy... winter is going to be hell.

Wednesday
August 6, 2003

Happy Birthday, Becky!
Today is my daughter-in-law's birthday.


Fox
Far off red fox

THE SUN IS OUT! HOORAY!

Well, the weatherman was right afterall. He called for partly cloudy and I awoke to partly cloudy. But then - about noon - the sun came out! I was so thrilled that I dropped what I was doing (design work), grabbed the dog, grabbed my camera, and took a drive. We drove down to Glass Park (the campground we stayed at when we first arrived here) and I let Sedona off her leash to run loose in the park. It was only the two of us, which was nice. We played ball for awhile and then Sedona took off running towards a grove of trees. She began doing her "happy roll" in the grass and I thought for sure that she was feeling as thrilled about the change in weather as I was. Well, that could have been part of it...

She had found a pile of moose "nuggets" and was intent on putting her own scent down on it. Great! Now I had to put my dog back in the car smelling like moose poop. I chastised her and she slunk back into the car - knowing she was in trouble. (I swear she is part human)

We made our way home, and as we were passing by the airport approach strip, I saw two red foxes playing in the open field! I was so thrilled! I quickly made a U-turn and followed a gravel trail which wound through the wooded area and lead to the airstrip. When I finally reached the opening, I was still too far away from the duo to get good close up shots. DANG! I later found out that these two foxes hang around here all the time and have been sighted before. Maybe I'll get a chance for photos some other time.

I started the bath water for Sedona after getting home. When the bath was ready, I went looking for her and she couldn't be found. After 10 minutes of walking through the house calling her, I found her hiding in my closet. She reminds me of my boys when they were little. Now she is sweet-smelling and ready to find her next pile of wildlife pooh to roll in. But I don't care... The sun came out today!

Thursday
August 7, 2003



I had another great day. The sun is shining again and the temperatures feel like they are in the 70's. I hopped in my car with plans of going grocery shopping and then decided to drive to University of Alaska Fairbanks and see if the skies were clear enough to see Denali. I grabbed my camera and was off. The view from the overlook was nice, but the skies on the horizon were a bit overcast. The snow covered mountains in the distance were just barely visible and I knew my camera would never have been able to pick them up. So I kept going through campus. I saw the sign pointing to the University Botanical Garden and knew it would be a great stop. Information about the garden:

The Georgeson Botanical Garden (GBG) is a nationally recognized botanical garden and is a member of a national network of educational and research institutions dedicated to plant culture and conservation. It is designed to allow the public to learn about plant culture in the far north. In 1992 the GBG was selected as one of five botanical gardens in the nation to be a satellite test garden for the International Hardy Fern Foundation and conduct joint research on cold hardiness of fern species and cultivars.

It is peak blooming season at the garden. The flowers and vegetables are beautiful. Brilliant reds, yellows, oranges, blues, and purples. And of course the many shades of green. In the midst of these organized plots of color are sculptures and garden art. There are arbors and shaded areas for sitting and enjoying the beauty. And the view from the garden, looking out over the valley, is also impressive with tree-covered bluffs on the horizon.

Lone Sunflower
Lone Sunflower
Gardens
Towards the Visitor Center

Just a little way down the road is the reindeer research facility. UAF is the School of Natural Resources & Agricultural Sciences and the students there develop vaccines and are trying to promote production - among other things. You can pull to the side of the road and get a pretty good look at these beautiful animals, but they are fenced in so photos aren't the best. (And no, I didn't see any with red noses.)

When Steve got home from work tonight (much earlier than usual), we went for a drive to the top of Birch Hill, which is the ski area here on Post. What spectacular views! We drove up to the top of the lift and I took some photos looking down on Fort Wainwright. The skies were clear enough to see Eielson Air Force Base - which is about 22 miles east of us. There is also a tow bar on one of the smaller hills which is designated for tubing. I'm really excited about that and think I'd prefer the tubing to downhill skiing. While climbing to the top, I could just imagine how the scene will look when it is blanketed by snow. It will also be a great place to go to get great shots of the Aurora Borealis this winter.

After visiting Birch Hill, Steve and I drove along some of the off-road trails looking for those elusive red fox. No luck, but we did find a nice area where we could picnic and he could throw a line in.

Saturday
August 9, 2003

Sights along the Dalton Highway

Arctic Circle Sign
Steve and me - We made it!

Tors Rocks
Scenic overlook - Tors rocks


The sun is still shining, despite the earlier predictions that rain would return at the latter end of the week. Believe me, I'm not complaining! I want to soak up as much of this sunshine as I can. In a matter of weeks, the days will become noticeably shorter and much cooler.

Steve and I were up early this morning and after he made a quick run to McDonald's for some breakfast (thank goodness for Micky D's!), we hit the road for the Arctic Circle. The Arctic Circle is 125 miles north of Fairbanks - AS THE CROW FLIES. It is, in reality, about 200 miles from Fairbanks as we found out the hard way.

DEFINITION: The Arctic Circle is the invisible circle of latitude on the earth's surface at 66°33' north, marking the southern limit of the area where the sun does not rise on the winter solstice or set on the summer solstice - a geographic ring crowning the globe. It is approximately 1,650 miles from the North Pole.

The only way to the Arctic Circle (by vehicle) is via the Dalton Highway. The Dalton Highway is the only road in the United States to cross the Yukon River, Arctic Circle, and Brooks Range.

The Dalton Highway (formerly the "Haul Road") opened in 1974. It was built by Alyeska Pipeline Service Company as a supply route for the construction, operation, and maintenance of the northern portion of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System. The Dalton Highway officially begins at Livengood, just north of Fairbanks, and continues north approximately 400 miles to Prudhoe Bay.

It is a rough gravel road that has narrow, soft shoulders, and steep grades. Depending on weather, you may encounter blinding dust or slippery road surface and smooth driving too. Heavy rains may wash out bridges or the roadway. There are fast moving tractor-trailer rigs and large tour buses on the road. Luckily for us, the traffic isn't as bad on the weekends, but I'm sure semi trucks are a regular occurrence during the week. Having one approach you at 80 mph on a narrow road with no guardrails and steep drop-offs is pretty scary. It is suggested that you carry two full spare tires with you as flats are a common occurrence and tow costs (if you can even get the SOS out to a tow company) is very expensive. We only had one spare and didn't need it - thankfully.

Of the 200 approximate miles to the Arctic Circle, 100 miles of it is gravel. It was very slow going and we averaged about 45mph. We also stopped quite a bit so I could take photos and we could hike up to some overlooks. We saw a moose cow and her baby, but no other wildlife except for birds. The sweeping vistas when we reached the summits of the rolling hills made up for the lack of wildlife.

The road pretty much parallels the Pipeline - a very impressive structure which provides a much needed service. It is one of the largest pipeline systems in the world and the only way to get crude oil from Alaska's North Slope fields to tankers waiting in Valdez.

Construction of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System began April 29, 1974, was completed June 20, 1977, and cost approximately 8 billion dollars to build. The pipe has a diameter of 48 inches and runs from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, approximately 800 miles. There are a total of eleven pump stations located along the route which help move the average oil throughput of 47,000 gallons per month at a velocity of 6 miles per hour. The 48-inch pipeline is elevated above ground in some locations and buried eight to 16 feet in others.

Steve and I didn't get home until 7pm. Our trip to the circle and back took us 10 hours. Now we can cross that endeavor off our list! We would like to go to Prudhoe Bay and tour the oil refinery - as well as dip our toe into the Arctic Ocean - but will definitely take a flight tour when the time comes.

Friday
August 15, 2003

Our Home in Alaska
Our home for the next 3 years. There's plenty of room for us and guests in both the house and the camper. I am hoping to fly Brandon, Becky and Chris up here next Summer. It will be wonderful if they can all make it at the same time - My ENTIRE family together again! (Fingers are crossed)

Another week has flown by. Time can pass so quickly sometimes. I've been spending HOURS working on my digital photo album and an entire afternoon can pass without me even noticing. I suppose that's a good thing as opposed to complaining of boredom.

There's not too much to report. I'm still suffering from my bouts of insomnia and find myself awake at 3am. The night before last, I actually got to see a real night sky. I haven't seen true darkness since we left Washington State in early June. I watched the moon move in a horizontal motion across the sky. It soon disappeared behind the trees which border our neighborhood.

I have a job interview today. It's for a bookkeeping position. I think I misread the ad and it may be a full time position. I'm not interested in working full time, but I'm going to the interview regardless. I haven't interviewed for a position since 1997 - it will be good practice for me.

Steve and I have finalized our reservations for our long weekend next week. We'll be driving to Anchorage on Thursday (8/21) and spending a night there. The next day we'll be continuing on to Homer - 225 miles southwest of Anchorage. (You can see some photos on the Homer website HERE) I am particularly eager to view and photograph the bald eagles and glaciers. On Saturday, we'll return to Anchorage for another evening. We'll be back in Fairbanks on Sunday. I am extremely excited about this trip and hope to have lots of photos to post when we return. Next year, when we have more time, we'll return to the Kenai Peninsula and do a more thorough exploration.

I bought my winter "getup" yesterday! One of the local outfitters had a pretty good sale going on. I am now the owner of snow pants, a winter coat with a great fleece lining, and clunky boots rated for temps down to 65 below. I look like the Koolaid Man when I'm totally done up, but fashion statements get thrown out the window up here when you're dressing for cold-weather survival. Steve and I fully intend to get out and "play" in the snow - whether it be snowmachining, or cross-country skiing or sledding. And for those nights I'm perched on a hill photographing the Aurora Borealis, I'll be happy for my thick layers. Steve was issued some cold weather gear when he got here - military stuff - but he also needs a winter coat and some snowpants for winter play too. We'll outfit him next in a couple of weeks. This is the first time I have owned a true winter coat in 12 years.

Tuesday
August 19, 2003

 

 

It's a beautiful sunny day again here in Fairbanks. I'm surprised the temperatures are actually in the 60's. When we got up this morning and I took the dog out for her walk, I could see my breath!

This past weekend was a fairly lazy one for Steve and I. We did a few errands and then, on the way home, stopped at Creamer's Field.

Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge is an 1.800-acre bird observatory. It used to be Charles Creamer's dairy farm, till 1966, when he sold it to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Founded in 1904 Creamer's Dairy is the oldest in the state of Alaska and the northernmost in the Western hemisphere.

Today Creamer's Refuge plays a special role in the lives of migratory birds like sandhill cranes, Canada geese, pintails, golden plovers,shovelers, and mallards. Some birds, including chickadees, redpolls, ravens and owls, remain at Creamer's the entire year.


On Sunday, I went to a candle party at one of my online friend's house (LuAnn). I came away with two wonderful candles. One smells like birthday cake and one is called Mountain Rain and has a fresh smell to it. It was great meeting some of the girls from the online group and also a few others. I hope to get to know them better as the months pass.

We are looking forward to our trip to Anchorage and Homer. I probably won't be posting to my journal until after we get home from the trip late Sunday. I am hoping the weather cooperates for us. This will be our last trip of the year. The camper will be winterized and put into storage when we return. They say that we should see our first snowfall in September - but it won't stick. With the cool night temperatures, I don't doubt it!

Until next week...

Thursday
August 21, 2003


On the way to Anchorage


Downtown Anchorage

 

We had much to do to prepare for this long weekend trip. Our list began as a short note jotted on lined paper laying on the kitchen counter and both Steve and I added to it almost constantly. When we took possession of our house here in Fairbanks, we unloaded the camper totally - not thinking we'd be taking it out again. It's amazing how many little things you have to remember in order to have those necessities for maintaining a home away from home.

We set the alarm for 5am but both of us were exhausted when it went off. Nevertheless, we dragged ourselves out of bed and finished loading the camper. After dressing, I took Sedona out for her morning walk. It was freezing outside! I noticed that fresh moose tracks were again on the dirt path behind our house, and further along our route I saw the telltale moose "nuggets". These huge creatures are slowly but surely coming closer to the housing development as the weather gets cooler. Steve thinks they are coming into the neighborhood in search of some delicious "home grown" delicacies. Many of my neighbors have lush gardens and Steve thinks the moose appreciate the ease of dining on a colorful salad.

We began our journey along the Parks Highway at 7:00am. Immediately I was excited by the sight of fog lying low in the valley areas as we left Fairbanks behind. It looked surreal - almost like something you would see in a dream. The fog resembled snow the way it settled deep in the valleys, hugging the bluffs which surround the city.

The drive along the Parks Highway was scenic much of the time. At other times it reminded us of our travels along the Alaskan Highway with its periodic lengths of gravel and road work. Two or three times, we came across a beautiful stream or river, and we stopped so Steve could throw in a line. Sedona and I wandered the boggy banks and once in a while her hackles would rise when she sniffed the scent of some other animal who came before her.

We passed through several fairly large towns along the way. By fairly large, I mean a population of more than 1000. Unless you are familiar with Alaska, you wouldn't know that the majority of the towns and villages boast populations of less than a few hundred - with most even less than 100.

As we approached Anchorage, huge glacial mountains appeared on the horizon. It was wonderful seeing such monstrous formations again. Fairbanks is in a valley, and although we are surrounded by some fairly tall bluffs, the closest mountains are miles away. We also noticed that the closer we got to Anchorage, the heavier the traffic became. As we made our way along the Knik Arm on our final approach to Anchorage, the traffic was downright "rush-hour". I felt my patience growing thin and I turned to Steve and said, "I'm so glad the Army sent us to Fairbanks. I can't stand all this traffic!" What an awakening for me. Despite my initial dismay at living in a town with only three or four department stores, being in Anchorage (which is just like any fairly large city in the "lower 48") made me long for the laid-back Fairbanksan atmosphere. There WAS some good that came out of our arrival in Anchorage... I got to eat at Applebees! (Fairbanks has NO major chain restaurants - except for fast food and Denny's)

Later this afternoon, Steve and I drove to Earthquake Park out on the Knik Arm. (The Knik Arm is a tributary to the Cook Inlet) I took a few photos and we came back to the camper. We are really looking forward to spending the next day and night in Homer. If we can get reservations at this late date, we hope to take a float plane ride over the Kenai Peninsula to see if we can spot some brown bears, dall sheep, salmon, grizzlies, and whales.


Steve (Knik Arm)

Susan (Float plane above)

Friday
August 22, 2003

We're off to Homer!

Dead Trees Turnagain Arm
Dead trees near Portage

Mount Iliamna
Mt Iliamna across Cook Inlet

Homer Spit from the air
Homer Spit from the air

Video
FLYING OVER GLACIER
Click on Photo to view video. (WMF format)


After our flight trip, Steve and I found a great restaurant to have a late dinner and a few drinks. There was a guitarist and harmonica player performing songs from the 60's and 70's which encouraged all of us to sing along. The atmosphere of the restaurant, the great food, and the accompanying music was a perfect way to end the day. As we left the restaurant after 10pm, the skies were turning a brilliant orange as the sun set over the Inlet.

When we got back to the camper, we took the dog for a walk down on Bishops Beach. There was a group of people parked on the sandy shore with a huge bonfire going. The glaciers were black against the darkening sky.

We intended to get up early the next day and go looking for eagles. Steve also wanted to throw a line into the Inlet at the end of Homer Spit. The next time we come back, we'll definitely spend more than one day here.

Homer is 225 miles from Anchorage, so we were able to take our time this morning. We were on the road by 9am and the weather was absolutely gorgeous! The sun was shining and the temperatures were just cool enough to warrant a sweater.

Turnagain ArmAlmost immediately upon leaving Anchorage (on the Seward Highway), the magnificent views of Turnagain Arm appear. Turnagain Arm is an easterly extension of the Cook Inlet. You can see waterfowl, bore tides (a flood tide which surges into a constricted area), beluga whales and more. An informational panel at one of the scenic turnouts explains the surrounding terrain:

The terrain surrounding Turnagain Arm varies widely, from the flat-bottomed valleys to high, rocky peaks. Mountains around Turnagain Arm rise sharply from the shoreline to heights approaching 4000 feet. Treeline occurs at 1500 feet here - much lower than the mountains of the Lower 48 states. Lying between Turnagain Arm's mountains are lowland valleys. Rivers and streams flow through these valleys and into the Arm. In the summer, most streams host spawning fish, providing a major food source for eagles and bears.

All along the way, there were scenic turn-outs and streams and rivers to fish. We also saw several avalanche gun emplacements. These guns fire 105mm shells at Penguin Ridge above the highway to knock down potential slides and stabilize the slopes in winter.

Further along the highway, we saw deteriorating buildings and a rusting truck. This is all that remains of Portage, once a flag stop on the Alaska Railroad. An estimated 50 to 100 residents of Portage were forced to move after the 1964 earthquake caused the land to drop between 6 and 12 feet along the Turnagain Arm. High tides then flooded the area with salt water. There are lots of dead trees along the way - killed by the salt water. (See photo to left)

This portion of the drive took us through Chugach National Forest. There were many areas along the way where outfitters put in their rafts for whitewater trips down the various rivers. Sixmile Creek is known for its class III, IV, and V rapids. Soon after, we turned off of the Seward Highway and picked up the Sterling Highway for the 150 mile drive to Homer - located on the Kenai Peninsula.

Kenai RiverThe Kenai River is a magnificent shade of turquoise - unlike anything I have ever seen. My photos don't do it justice! We stopped at Cooper Landing both on the way to Homer and on the way back. Steve didn't throw a line in on the way down, but on the way back he did. Within a minute of casting his line, he reeled in a 20+ inch Dolly Varden (a type of trout). Unfortunately at Cooper Landing it was catch and release only, so he had to throw his prize back.

The next city we passed through was Soldotna (pop. 3759). From Soldotna you can view volcanic mountains across Cook Inlet. These mountains are always snow-covered. One of them (Mount Redoubt) erupted as recently as 1989 and is still considered an active volcano. (See photo of Mt. Iliamna at left)

Continuing along the Sterling Highway affords constant views of the mountains across Cooks Inlet. The drive was quite relaxing and if we wouldn't have been towing the camper, we would have stopped more often at scenic turnouts. Soon we reached Anchor Point. This is where the Sterling Highway turns back to the southeast towards Homer and Kachemak Bay. At the higher elevations, there were unobstructed views of the Kenai Mountains - snow covered glaciers which border this side of Kenai Fjords National Park.

Bishops Beach view from campgroundWe arrived in Homer by 3pm and immediately set up camp. Our campground wasn't anything to rave about, but it was located on Bishops Beach (which overlooks Cook Inlet). The views were awesome and the weather was perfect!

Our original plan was to take a scenic cruise to Halibut Cove - only accessible by ferry or plane. By the time the camper was set up, we only had about 30 minutes to get to the ferry and were afraid we wouldn't make it. So instead we opted to book an hour and half float plane flight over Cook Inlet and the glaciers. I am so glad we chose the flight over the cruise! It was incredible!

Glacier view from plane
Glacier view from plane

Saturday
August 23, 2003

Heading back to Anchorage

Homer Spit Marina
Homer Spit Marina

Historic Ninilchik Village
Historic Ninilchik Village

 

Kachemak BaySteve and I slept in until after 7am. We got dressed and drove down to Homer Spit to go looking for the "eagle lady". The eagle lady has been feeding eagles for years and they hang out at her house in great numbers. We saw ONE eagle, much to our disappointment. But we did enjoy watching the many fishing boats leave the marina as they made their way to deeper waters where the fisherman could reel in halibut.

Leaving Homer behind, we began our 225 mile trip back to Anchorage. I hoped to see the sights from a different view with the sun behind us and heading north instead of south this time.

Russian Orthodox ChurchOne stop we did plan on making was in historic Ninilchik Village. I hoped to get a good photo of the Russian Orthodox Church. Ninilchik (Ni-NILL-chick) has a population of 772. Ninilchik Village includes several old dovetailed log buildings. The green and white Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord Russian Orthodox Church sits on a hill overlooking the sea above the historic old village. Built in 1901, the church is still in use. The cemetery to the side of the church caught my eye. Surrounded entirely by a white picket fence, the cemetery was the resting place for many Russian Orthodox people from the area. Each gravesite had its own white picket fence surrounding it and colorful grave flowers were in abundance.

Steve and SedonaWe stopped several times so Steve could fish. Sedona enjoyed herself paddling in the various rivers and streams we stopped at. She seemed intrigued by the casting of the fishing line and would stand for minutes at a time staring out at the water. We wondered if she'd jump in if she spied a fish. I spent the time playing with my watercolors or snapping photos. It was quite relaxing.

When we finally got back to Anchorage, we were too exhausted to go anywhere. We set up the camper and decided to stay in and relax. Just before turning in for the night, we took Sedona out for a walk in the nearby treed area. The ground underfoot was covered in mushrooms. These weren't the ordinary mushrooms I remember seeing in the southeast. These were the types of mushrooms that you see portrayed in kids storybooks with their bright orange caps and white warts. A little research on my part revealed that these mushrooms are in fact poisonous in huge quantities - hallucinogenic in small doses. It seems that some locals still use the "magic mushrooms" to reach this euphoric high. The secret is in knowing how much to ingest. Dying is a heck of a price to pay for getting a "buzz" on. Here are a few photos of the mushrooms we discovered on our walk:

Fly Agaric Mushroom
Fly Agaric Mushroom
Mushroom
(not sure what this one is)

Sunday
August 24, 2003

Back to Fairbanks

We arrived back in Fairbanks a little after 3pm. The weather here is cool and damp. Steve is leaving for some field training tomorrow and wanted to get the lawn mowed before he goes out. While mowing the lawn, he discovered that our moose friend is indeed coming closer to the house. A fresh deposit of moose nuggets was dropped only about 6 feet from our back door. Although I find the possibility of seeing one of these animals up close exciting, it is still a bit intimidating to think that one could possible come up and look through my living room window!

The rain started after we fell asleep last night. It woke me several times, but it was a nice sound as it tapped on the roof of the camper and I easily fell back to sleep. When we got up this morning, it wasn't raining anymore but everything was wet. We packed up the camper and prepared for our long trip back to Fairbanks. I hoped that the weather was behind us. I was also hoping to catch a glimpse of Mt. McKinley on our return trip. About two-thirds of the mountain was visible on the way to Anchorage, but we couldn't pull over because all of the scenic turnouts were full. My only hope was to get some photos on the way home.

No such luck. The rain that had cleared Anchorage this morning was heading towards Fairbanks and we drove through it the entire time. There were short stretches of time when the sun seemed to break through the clouds and we'd stop and explore a side river or stream. But most of our drive was through rain. Mt. McKinley was nonexistent, totally obscured by the clouds and rainy fog hanging low over the surrounding mountains.

Alaska Veterans MemorialWe did take a few minutes to visit the Alaska Veterans Memorial / POW-MIA Rest Area. The memorial was erected in 1983 and dedicated in 1984. The Byers Lake site was selected because it was centrally located between Alaska's two largest cities, Anchorage and Fairbanks, and there is a wonderful view of Mt. McKinley (weather permitting) from the entrance to the memorial. At the rest area was an information booth with free coffee and hot chocolate - a welcome treat on this damp day.

We had a great trip, but as always - it's great to be home. Who knows where our next adventure will take us...

Friday
August 29, 2003

Moose Movie
We saw two moose! We approached Bolio Lake on Fort Greely and Steve saw two dark forms from the road. He at first thought they were fishermen until we got a bit closer. Then he thought they were bear. We drove to an opening in the grass where we could see to the water and there was a cow moose busy with her head in the water grazing on the plants in the lake. We heard movement to our left and spied a younger male with a small rack of antlers. We were careful not to encroach on the female's space and knew not to get between her and the male (just in case it was her calf). She didn't seem to mind our presence at first, but after about 10 minutes we could see she was starting to get agitated by us. When her ears went back flat against her head, we knew it was time to leave her alone. CLICK ON THE PHOTO ABOVE TO SEE VIDEO OF THIS ENCOUNTER.

Rika's Garden
Purple Flowers in Rika's Garden

Male moose
Mama Moose's offspring?

Another week has gone by with nothing much to report. I had a job interview at a local kennel/veterinarian office for a bookkeeping position. The position is part-time and flexible, which works perfectly for me. I am one of several who have applied for the job and expect to hear something in the next week or so. If I get it - great. If I don't - oh well. I would like to be considered for the position because I really liked the people who worked there. Being an animal lover, the four legged residents would be an added perk for me.

Steve and I decided to take a drive to Fort Greely so he could do some fishing. Fort Greely is about 100 miles southeast of Fairbanks - back along the Richardson Highway (which is the way we came into Fairbanks when we arrived). Fort Greely was established in 1941 by the Civil Aeronautics Administration as one of a chain of strategic defense airfields. In 1948, Fort Greely was activated as a staging area for the US Army's first post-WWII cold weather training maneuver - "Exercise Yukon" - which led to the establishment of the Northern Warfare Training Center here. The Fort Greely area has temperature extremes ranging from -69 degrees to 91 degrees Fahrenheit. Scheduled for closure in 2001, Fort Greely was reactivated as a national missile defense site in 2002.

Alaska RangeThe drive to Fort Greely on the Richardson Highway provided us with beautiful views of the Alaska Range. I snapped quite a few photos of these massive, ice-covered peaks. The photo to the left shows the Tanana River in the foreground.

Arriving at Fort Greely, we drove on a dirt and gravel road towards Lake Bolio so Steve could try his hand at fishing. Autumn is definitely upon us here in Alaska. Not only are the evenings getting cooler (40's) but the days are remaining pleasantly cool as well. The result of this cooling off can be seen in the fluorescent pockets of yellow foliage in the trees.

On the way down to Fort Greely, we stopped first at a roadside pond so Steve could cast a line. At most of the parks, or ponds/lakes that are stocked, there are LifeJacket Loaner Stations for the purpose of providing life vests for children. Despite their locations at out of the way lakes and streams, it is apparent that anyone who does borrow a lifejacket replaces it when they are through using it. Steve and I have sadly joked about the fact that these types of loaner stations wouldn't work real well in some of the places we've lived. It is refreshing to see that the honor system is alive and well in Alaska.

We then made another stop at Rika's Roadhouse in Big Delta. We grabbed a bite to eat, and I took photos of some of the log cabins and the flowers in the garden. The roadhouse was built in 1910 and sold in 1923 to Rika Wallen, a Swedish immigrant who had managed the roadhouse since 1917. Rika ran the roadhouse into the late 1940's and lived there until her death in 1969. On the grounds are gift shops, a restaurant, several museum-type displays, and a collection of farm fowl.

Lake BolioOn the way home, the sun was in a position to highlight the peaks of the Alaska Range. What a beautiful sight!

Steve didn't catch anything, but I sure "shot" lots of stuff. What a privilege it is for me to have the opportunity to live in this beautiful state.

Tomorrow.... we're heading up the Steese Highway again to see if Steve has better luck with his fishing.

Saturday
August 30, 2003

Steve Fishing
Reflections of a Fisherman

We were up and out of the house by 9:00am. Steve wanted to try his luck fishing out of one of the ponds here on Fort Wainwright. He was also trying to kill some time while waiting for the sporting goods store to open so he could pick up some more hooks, salmon eggs, and other fisherman stuff. We began our drive up the Steese Highway a little while later. The Steese is paved for 44 miles. After that, it goes to gravel all the way to the town of Circle. We had driven the Steese once before and went as far as milemarker 60. Today, we went about the same distance - stopping frequently along the way so Steve could fish.

The drive was beautiful. The trees in the higher elevations are already in the middle of their autumn metamorphosis. For as far as the eye could see, dense woodlines of various shades of green were punctuated with bright yellows. Along the roadways, some of the wildflowers and bushes are sporting leaves of glorious shades of red and deep crimson. The sky today was a deep blue and huge white cottony clouds floated above.

While Steve fished, I alternated between taking photos and drawing/painting with my watercolor pencils. I brought a book and magazine to read if I got "bored" but didn't have the desire to take my eyes off of my surroundings. Wandering off by myself at times, I found tiny mushrooms, lush green carpets of lichen, red berries... and moose tracks. Everything is a potential photo for me and I can easily fill several digital memory cards on one outing.

Reflections
Reflections
Steve and Susan
Me and my fisherman
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