©2004 Susan L. Stevenson
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|On the road in June...|
As most of you know, Steve and I will be on the road for the entire month of June. Our adventure will take us more than 1500 miles as we explore the highways and bi-ways - as well as some "off the beaten path" areas of this great state. Edited on October 17, 2004: I kept a Live Journal while we were on the road (so that friends and family could comment on our travel log). I have decided to transcribe those journal entries here in order to keep my Alaska Journal together in its entirety. I have not transcribed any of the comments - and some of the entries have been edited slightly. Because there are so many photos, I am posting all photos in thumbnail size. Clicking on them will open up a larger version. I'm also including the calendar - at left - to aid in navigation. By hovering your mouse over the date, you can see where we were on that particular day. Click on a date and you can go directly to the entry for that particular day. I hope you enjoy traveling with us and seeing beautiful Alaska through my eyes.
I was informed by Steve last night that the campground we will be in over the next few days (Paxson) does not offer modem service. Unless I can sweet-talk the owners into letting me use their phone line, I won't be able to post.
The camper refrigerator has been showing - via indicator light - that it is not getting propane. It runs on propane any time we are not hooked into an electrical source. We thought it was a clogged line or air in the line, but the stove, oven, heater, and A/C are all working fine (and they all run on propane). Anyway, Steve wants to stop at the RV dealership this morning on the way to Paxson (189 miles) and have them take a look at it. He also wants to report additional damage that their lummox mechanics caused to the trailer. (Broken vent grates, cracked trim moulding, etc.) In order to chill the refrigerator down, we plugged the camper into our exterior electrical outlet. It worked fine and is loaded with food (and two bottles of champagne - not sure when we'll indulge in those).
Yesterday, Steve ran out to McDonald's to grab us breakfast. As he was handing me my orange juice, he dropped the cup and half of it spilled on the keyboard of my laptop. I'm currently typing on my laptop so at least there was no lasting damage (you should have seen us scurrying to clean the mess up) - but the 'delete', 'end', 'return' and 'backspace' keys stick now. Wonderful... I swear that man can be dangerous.
Sunrise occurred 30 minutes ago.What glorious shades of orange; a marvelous way to start our trip! I hope that sunny days will follow us throughout. I especially hope to bring this sunshine with me to my friends, Billie and Nikki's neck of the woods when I visit with them mid-month. (I'm very excited about meeting both of them!)
On the Way
The day started off alright. We didn't get out of the house as early as I would have liked, but what I think is "on time" and what Steve considers on time are two different things.
When we plan these big adventures, we realize where our strengths lie. Steve is the best organizer of reservations, trip routes, activities, and getting the vehicles ready for a long drive. However, he tends to be a bit forgetful when it comes to the packing list. So that's where I come in. I remember the little things - or at least I try to... an umbrella, a can opener, the dog leash, trash bags. It's a good mesh.
We were rolling down the highway by 11:00am. The first 100 miles or so were miles we had driven several times before. Despite the fact that it wasn't new territory, I found my excitement build when the Alaska Range appeared on the horizon. The sun was blazing and the sky was bright blue and speckled with huge, fluffy clouds.
When we reached Birch Lake, we made our first stop. The last time we had stopped at Birch Lake, I photographed ice fisherman. Today, the lake was rippled, but clear. You could see small fish swimming just beneath the surface. The scenic pull-off was full of RVers. It was so reminiscent of last year's drive up to Alaska. Only now, we weren't newbies. How nice that realization was!
We walked down to the water and talked to an older couple with their little white poodle. They were visiting Alaska from Washington state. I watched another couple, with three kids in tow, spread a cloth on a picnic table and unpack a cooler full of sandwiches and drinks. They were driving one of those rental Winnebago-type campers. The kids were laughing and the parents were flirting with one another. I imagined their excitement at being on such an awesome family vacation.
A little further down the highway, we stopped at Rika's Roadhouse.
I wanted to see if they had planted their garden yet, and was pleasantly
surprised to find several teenage girls digging and planting tiny blooms
in the dark soil. I knew that in a matter of weeks (perhaps only two!),
the garden would be full of huge blooms and tall plants. I also had
to go visit the roosters, hens, ducks, and peacocks they keep on the
premises. Steve and I considered getting a slice of pie and some ice
cream, but decided instead to continue on our way.
Further down the highway, the Alaska Range loomed larger. But the clouds got darker too. Within minutes, rain began pelting the windshield. But shortly after the rain started, it stopped - leaving the world smelling fresh, cooling the air, and bringing amazing reflective qualities to the road surface.
The Range was so close, I felt like I could touch it at times. The mountains are still snow-covered and many parts of the river still have ice floating on it. Huge white clouds were hanging low in the sky, sometimes interspersed with the diagonally striped clouds made of rainfall. We passed two glaciers and stopped to take photos. We saw a herd of more than 100 bison - babies too! - grazing at the river's edge and out onto the sandbars. We saw caribou as they ran up the hills away from our vehicle. We saw moose grazing along shallow ponds. It was a drive full of awe and excitement.
And then we arrived in Paxson - our first stop.... Paxson Inn and Lodge, to be precise. The advertisement says "RV park with FULL hookups". This means electric, water, sewer in RV circles. We were told to drive behind the Lodge and choose a spot. When we got behind the building, we entered the twilight zone. There were electric poles, but the wires were pulled loose. There were faucets, but no water came out. There were broken down vehicles everywhere. There were junk piles of old furniture. Paxson is said to have a population of 43. I think the entire population worked or lived at the lodge. The lodge itself was what I would definitely consider an eyesore. Peeling paint, broken windows with plywood nailed over them, loose screens, and an unkempt yard made it look like the people who own it didn't care about the way they presented themselves to either the tourists or the locals.
We gassed up because we had to, but decided that we would not be staying in Paxson that night. If worse came to worse, we'd pull off the highway at a turn-out and spend the night there. The bad thing about this idea is that we hadn't filled our water tank with potable water because we fully expected to be camping in places that provided water. I know it might make sense to fill the tank before we hit the road 'just in case', but the added weight of the water can be a liability when it comes to gas mileage and weight distribution. Well, we've made the decision to NEVER leave home without at least 10 gallons of water in the tank. Lesson learned.
We continued south, keeping our eyes open for campgrounds. We also realized that the further south we got, the lesser our chances of driving the Denali Highway halfway. We had no choice. We needed a place to set camp for the night. We'll have to do that half of the Denali Highway some other time.
After driving another 15 miles, we came upon the Meier's Lake Roadhouse. The Milepost (travel bible for anyone exploring western Canada and Alaska) said that Meier's had a campground - but no hookups either. At this point, we were ready to rough it. Our camper battery would provide the basics (lights), and our propane would keep the refrigerator cold and allow us to cook on the stove. But we'd have no heat (or so Steve thought) nor water. Meier's at least had bathrooms and showers.
In passing, Steve asked the proprietor if he knew of any place we could get potable water for our tank. He had a hose out back (of good drinking water from a well), and we'd be more than welcome to fill our tank for $10.00. Oh... and our site? That would be $10.00 too - for nothing more than a gravel strip behind the lodge. But you know what? We were just happy to get water and probably would have paid a lot more than that.
The campground/lodge was right on Meier's Lake and the view was gorgeous
- making the 10.00/night a real bargain afterall. Steve and I took a
walk down to the lake's edge with Sedona and he tossed in a line. (Some
nibbles, but no luck catching anything). I busied myself with shooting
the gorgeous and colorful wildflowers which have begun blooming all
over Alaska. After fishing, we took a short drive in the immediate area
so that I could photograph some old cabins I had seen. We were also
hoping to see some bears, but had no luck there either.
We went to bed at 9:30pm. It was as we were making up the bed that Steve realized that he never packed a blanket. Plenty of sheets and pillow cases. Even our feather bed. But no blankets. So, he dug out his army issue poncho liner (which is very warm, but the size of a tablecloth) and we both squeezed together under it. And it got cold. So cold that we woke up at 2am and put on full sweatsuits and socks and crawled back under the sheet and poncho liner. So cold that I shivered uncontrollably most of the night. Steve was SURE that the heat didn't run without electricity and so we suffered all night long....
Last night, the rain started just as we were crawling into bed. And it came hard. The wind whipped the small trees back and forth outside our camper. Fog rolled in over the bluffs surrounding us.
We both slept fitfully. The temperature in the camper fell to close to 40 degrees. Everytime Steve rolled onto his side, he pulled my half of the poncho liner off of me, which would cause a frigid draft to roll up my back. I fully understood the concept of body heat and tried to merge myself with him in order to stay warm.
At ten minutes to seven, we woke. Neither of us wanted to get out of bed. The thought of taking off clothes to put on street clothes was not appealing at all. We had no electricity, so horror of all horrors - NO COFFEE!!!! That was more painful than the cold.
Steve was the first brave one out of bed and I quickly moved into the warm spot he left behind. He put Sedona on her leash to take her out for her morning walk. We couldn't see anything out the windows because they were all fogged over. When he opened the door, I heard him exclaim "Oh No!". At first I thought a bear had gotten into our truck. And then he swung the front door open a little wider and I could see outside. Snow. At least an inch. It coated everything.
I have to admit that my husband is definitely on the ball when it comes to some packing items. He thinks of every scenario. Just before leaving the house, he told me to make sure I packed my silk long underwear, a couple of fleece jackets, my hat and my gloves. I listened. Thank goodness! My suitcase is full of warm weather clothing: short sleeve and sleeveless shirts, a couple of pair of capri pants, sandals. But I also packed a sweatsuit and lots of jeans - and of course my waterproof hiking boots. Those jeans, my long underwear, and my fleece jacket are what saved the day. It felt downright heavenly to pull on warm clothes this morning.
Unfortunately, Meier's lodge didn't open until 9am, so coffee was still out of the question for a good two hours. Caffeine is my one true addiction. I can barely start my day without it. (By the way - we could have boiled water, but had no instant coffee. We bring our coffee pot on these camping adventures. Second lesson learned.) We decided to hook up the camper and go looking for coffee. We were heading south anyway, so why dilly-dally?
I read in the Milepost about Sourdough Roadhouse. It was just down the road about 22 miles. Sourdough Roadhouse was established in 1903, destroyed by fire in 1992, and reopened in 1994. The place was empty - except for the proprietors. By the time we got there, they had the coffee going and *Mom* was warming up the griddle in the kitchen. It was cold in the cafe. The owners plugged in two space heaters and put them next to our table to warm us up! While we savored our first cup of coffee of the day, we could smell our breakfast cooking. Steve got sourdough pancakes, ham and hashbrowns. I got scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, and crisp bacon. I also got some homemade sourdough toast.
*Dad* then came into the cafe along with a younger woman who may have been family - or could have been the help. After serving us our meal, mom continued cooking for dad and the young lady. As we ate breakfast, we talked to them about the good fishing rivers, nice places to camp, fishing excursions, things to see and do, and our personal stories of what brought us to Alaska. It was like sharing breakfast with friends. Good food, good conversation, and a real comfortable atmosphere. I would recommend this place to anyone driving the Richardson Hwy in Alaska.
We told them our story about stopping in Paxson to camp and they informed us that Paxson has gone seriously downhill over the last four years. Apparently the family who owns the place have come into hard times and have let the place go. It's really a shame... They also gave us the name of a cruise 'boat' out of Valdez that does wonderful narration on their scenic cruises. (The LuLuBelle) We haven't booked our cruise/kayak adventure and don't think we'll have a problem getting a spot on any boat this time of year.
We also told them about the snowfall at Meier's which totally shocked them. They told every local who wandered in after us about the snowfall as if it was front page news. Maybe it was... And then dad shared the saddest news of all. Our heater runs off the battery - not electricity as we thought (we knew it didn't run on propane). Which means WE COULD HAVE HAD HEAT LAST NIGHT! Steve felt pretty darn dumb, let me tell you. But hey... we had some serious (life or death) cuddling.
We left Sourdough Roadhouse full and warm. We decided to continue south and make a stop in Copper Center. (It would have been our second night in Paxson, if things would have gone well there.) As soon as we climbed the first ridge, we saw a band of bright sky on the horizon and the magnificent Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains. These mountains are glaciated - which means they are always snow and ice covered. And they are impressive. When they appear on the horizon, it is as if giants are standing in front of you. Both Steve and I were struck silent with the incredible beauty of these peaks.
We arrived at Copper Center about an hour later. We chose to set up camp on the grounds of a salmon charter business. The sites have electricity (which means we have use of the microwave, television, computer - no internet though - and the camper's CD player). We don't have water service though - but with our full water tank, we're fine. Our campsite is right on the Klutina River - known for its red (sockeye) and king salmon. Once we set up, we took off exploring Historic Copper Center. Taken from various sources:
Steve and I took a drive to explore the historic area. We visited the
Copper Center Lodge/Roadhouse - which had its beginning as a hotel and
was known as the Blix Roadhouse during the gold rush days of 1897-98.
It was the first lodging place in the Copper River Valley. There is also
a small museum on the premises which contains early Russian religious
articles, Athabascan baskets, telegraph and mineral displays, gold mining
memorabilia, and trapping articles from the early days. I was particularly
thrilled with the photography case, which had old cameras on display.
We then made our way to the Chapel on the Hill which was built in 1942
with the assistance of U.S. Army volunteers stationed in the area.
Mom news: I called my sister in law,
Diane, this afternoon. Mom was in recovery. The surgeon was not able to
do a chemo wash due to the nature of the surgery (he says this is normal
with tumors of the kidney). He will be keeping her overnight to do the
wash tomorrow. If all goes well, she will be released from the hospital
tomorrow as well. According to my brother, the surgeon believes he got
all of the tumor and the surgery/laser ablation was a success. Mom's not
out of the woods yet - all surgeries require much healing time. Heartfelt
thanks to all of you who have been keeping her in your prayers.
We woke to blue skies and sunshine - which thrilled us after yesterday morning's snowfall! The temperatures were still hovering in the high 50's, but with a light jacket we were fine. We ate a light breakfast (bagels and cream cheese), made a pot of coffee, and packed up the camper.
The views along the way were fantastic. There were lakes along the highway - some reflecting the snowcaps of the Wrangell's. Our drive was a short one and we were in no hurry, so we stopped quite a few times to stretch our legs, walk the dog, and take photos. We arrived in Kenny Lake only a little more than an hour later. Kenny Lake is 35 miles north of Chitina. Chitina is known for the Copper River and the abundance of salmon during the 'run'. It is also a good stopping point for people who want to explore McCarthy and Kennecott (both of which were on my "must see" list).
It is currently "dip net" season on the Copper River for red
salmon and king salmon. Dip netting is just that - using huge nets to
catch fish. No rods, no line, no bait. It is only allowed for Alaska residents.
Fishwheels are also allowed on the Copper River. Fishwheels are used primarily
for subsistence fishing (fishing to feed your family). Alaska residents
are allowed to catch 300 salmon for personal consumption if they are on
the subsistence program. Fishwheels have two baskets that rotate in and
out of the river, catching salmon as they swim by. Steve and I stopped
to watch some subsistence fishermen on the banks of the Copper River as
we were preparing for our drive to McCarthy/Kennecott - 60 miles away
on a washboard and rutted gravel road.
McCarthy and Kennecott have no "modern" water sources. Local sources of drinking water are nearby creeks which are properly marked. (Steve and I drank from one of these streams and it was cold, fresh, and pure). It wasn't hard to imagine local residents coming to these streams and filling containers with water. I can't even imagine drinking water from a stream in the populated areas in the Lower 48. There is also a lack of flush toilets in these two towns. Vault toilets (outhouses) are the norm. I must admit, these public restrooms were the cleanest outhouses I have ever been in, in my life. There are no public garbage dumps in the area. Local residents and businesses have to haul out whatever they can't burn or compost.
Our drive was awesome and the views were unbelievable. I took many photos. In fact, I took over 300 photos during the course of the day! (Many were the same shot at varied settings - I'm learning to use the manual controls on my camera - so quite a few were 'trashed' after I was able to preview them and choose the best ones - thank goodness for digital!).
The drive home was just as exciting. The sun was in a different place in the sky and I was able to grab a few more great photos of the mountain range reflected in the many lakes we passed. And then... just as we reached the Kuskulana Bridge (238 feet above the river below, and enough to give me serious vertigo), we realized we had a flat tire. I don't know how long we drove on it. With the serious washboard and ruts of the McCarthy Road, we wouldn't have realized it anyway.
So we pulled off the road and changed the tire (we still had 15 miles to go and we were praying we wouldn't get another flat, because we had no more spare tires). While Steve changed the tire, I acted as look-out for bears. Not a real pleasant thing to do, but a necessary one. I don't know which was worse... scanning the ridgeline and valleys for bears or swatting at the kamikaze mosquitoes.
It was a 12-hour day. The 60 mile trip up the McCarthy Rd. to Kennecott took us more than 3.5 hours each way. We spent 3 hours exploring McCarthy and Kennecott (stopping to have a cold beer and some chips at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge). And once we made it through Chitina, we stopped at three lakes so Steve could toss in a line. He caught a rainbow trout - big enough to keep and cook - but threw it back. Hard to believe that the sun was still high in the sky at 10pm and he was enjoying fishing, while I was trying to shoot wildflowers and ducks.
Speaking of wildflowers... they are a riot of color now! They line the highways and take over the shoulders. Pink wild roses, purple lupines, wildflowers of blue, and lavender, and orange. I have to do some research in order to figure out what they are. The dandelions are prolific and actually look awesome as they dot the countryside interspersed with the colors of the other flowers. I would love to have a wildflower garden. Maybe next year.
We got home from our all-day adventure after 10:30pm. We were starving and had a late night sandwich before falling into bed around midnight - with the sun shining outside and the temperatures still in the 50's. What a great day!
Again, we woke to a gorgeous sunny day. I certainly hope this keeps up our entire trip! The temperature here at Kenny Lake reached 71 today. I saw on the news (we get one channel and it comes out of Anchorage), that Fairbanks reached temperatures near 80. I know everyone must be loving that.
Steve had to take care of the tire issue this morning. We couldn't continue our trip without a spare. I had a feeling it was going to be more extensive than just plugging a hole, and I was right. The tire we blew on McCarthy Rd yesterday had four long, razor sharp cuts in it. The most damaging one was in a sidewall. We figured it was probably caused by an errant railroad spike.
The closest tire repair shop (which also carries tires) is in Glennallen - 40 miles back up the road. Steve left here at 9am and didn't return until noon. I had a hunch he'd have to buy a new tire and I was partially right. He actually had to buy two. The other rear tire was also in poor shape with several deep cuts. He didn't want to risk a blowout while towing the camper. All of the tires are original to the truck (2003 - less than two years old), but it already has 29,000 miles on it. I know tires should last longer than that - but I don't think the tire company intends on a driver going off-road a lot. And Steve sure likes to do that. I'm going to write to Firestone anyway...
When he got back, I was just finishing up on downloading yesterday's photos and catching up on the day's commentary. We decided to take a drive back toward Chitina and check out Liberty Falls along the way. Steve wanted to go back to the two lakes he fished last night.
Liberty Falls is a beautiful little state park with five primitive campsites. Because the ground is so rocky, and full of tree roots, there are platforms raised off the ground with tent tie-downs built in. The falls is thundering, but the mosquitoes are horrendous. I can't even imagine spending the night in the location - regardless of the beauty.
We found another dirt road that led to an access point to the falls. There was a hiking path that climbed a mile up a steep hill to the top of the falls and a hidden lake. There was a warning sign reminding hikers to make noise as bears frequent the area. Steve and I climbed about a quarter-mile and it was strenuous. The mosquitoes were relentless, despite our 'eau de DEET' fragrance. We turned back.
We continued on to the two lakes Steve wanted to go back to. Steve caught a grayling today - but it was too small to keep. While he was busy enticing the fish, an older couple fishing nearby told me that there was a moose cow and twins on the far shore - hidden in the dense foliage. It was difficult to see them with the naked eye. Even the zoom on my camera didn't get me close enough for my liking. (I'm going to look at a 2x teleconverter when we reach Anchorage). The binoculars worked well though and I spent a good fifteen minutes watching the cow grazing along the water's edge while her babies napped a little way up on a brush-covered hillside.
She finally moved into the open and I took a few shots. I also shot in
the direction of her babies. It's a blurry photo but you can see the two
calves. One is laying lower in the photo - curled up almost like a dog
would sleep, and the other is above him on the hill - almost totally obscured
by branches. You can see his ears.
A herd of bison
Three bald eagles
Six moose and twin calves
A baby caribou
We have been told that we will see a lot of eagles when we get to Valdez tomorrow. (We were supposed to stay here in Kenny Lake, but we're heading to Valdez a day early instead). I really wish I could upload all of these photos and my journal entries, but this is truly "the boonies". We visited some places where there aren't even phone lines. Radio phone is used. And a woman we talked to yesterday in McCarthy said that she's finally going to invest in Internet service - 4000.00 installation and 80.00/month fee, since all that is available is satellite service. The waitress at Kennecott yesterday told us that they used to have dial-up Internet at the hotel and it would take all day for email to download because of constant interruptions of service.
MOM NEWS: My mom is home. The doctor did a chemo wash on her yesterday and wants to do another one in two weeks (via a catheter in her urethra). Once she's through with that, she doesn't have to go back for three months. She's still in a lot of pain...
I am happy to report that the campground we are staying at here in Valdez actually has Internet capabilities. Not only that - but cable modem! HOORAY! For a measly $2.00, I can hook into the office modem line and take care of updating this journal.
Steve has tentative plans to go fishing with a fellow camper (ironically, he's retired Army and lives in North Pole - what a small world!). Bill has a 30' cruiser and he's planning to go out for some salmon tomorrow. I don't know how Steve did it, but he talked the guy into letting him tag along. Steve will be sharing in the gas - a very pricey commodity even at the southern terminus of the Alaska Pipeline. I declined an invitation to go along. I'm going to take the truck and drive to Historic Valdez a little ways up the road, and then wander into some gift shops. I saw a coffee shop on the small boat marina called "Latte Dah" (how witty!) and I'm going to get myself a nice cup of white chocolate mocha and watch the fishing boats go in and out of the harbor.
When we got up this morning, it was sunny but cool in Kenny Lake. They were calling for storms in Valdez, which didn't make me too happy, but I had heard that Valdez doesn't get too many good weather days anyway because it is located in a mountainous 'bowl' which seems to suck down the wet and foggy stuff. Steve and I hooked up the camper and headed to the little campground cafe for some breakfast. The cook was a young man who came to Kenny Lake from Anchorage to work. His contract will pay him a small amount of money as salary and give him free room and board. According to him, the summer job market here in Alaska (especially in the tourism sector) is booming. Lots of young people move up here or from other locations in the state for a chance at summer work and some great fun. He gets one day a week off and spends it rafting and fishing - with free use of the campground owner's boat.
The drive from Kenny Lake to Valdez was only 81 miles - a leisurely morning. We had originally scheduled to stay in Kenny Lake tonight as well, but were glad to find out that the campground here in Valdez could take us a day early - so here we are!
What an awesome drive! Our first stop was Worthington Glacier. You can literally walk right up to Worthington Glacier. Despite the gray and overcast morning, there was no mistaking the blue ice. It was absolutely amazing and the temperature by the glacier was a good 15 degrees colder than the temperature by the parking area. I spent some time talking to the park ranger about good places to photograph eagles and she told me that they are frequently seen in Valdez. She wasn't kidding...
The Thompson Pass area (along the way) has gorgeous snow-capped mountains, glaciers, and hundreds of waterfalls draining the melting snow to the many streams and rivers. But the most awe-inspiring falls was Bridal Veil Falls. Luckily there was a large area to pull over and view the falls, as well as a steep path which led up beside it. We weren't feeling very adventurous.
Once we arrived in Valdez and set up the camper, we took a drive through town. Valdez isn't a large city by any means. Population is about 4100. We stopped at the small vessel marina and walked along the floating docks admiring the yachts and commenting on the various vessel names. The backdrop is amazing - tall mountains streaked in snow on one side and lush green hills with several waterfalls on the other. There are restaurants and gift shops. Outfitters will take you sailing, or fishing, or kayaking, or cruising, or flight seeing... We stopped into several outfitters and inquired about cruise/kayak adventures. The original place we were going to book with informed us that because the cruise ship was full of cruise-only passengers, we would have to be water-taxied out to the area we'd be kayaking in. That wouldn't be a problem except for the fact that the cost of the cruise/kayak adventure includes narration and sight- seeing as well as whale-watching. The water taxi does none of that. And it's the same price.
So we ended up booking a 9 hour cruise only - with another company. We're going on Monday morning. The boat holds 100 people and goes out to all three glaciers, past sea lion colonies, past rookeries, and goes right up to Meares Glacier. It will go within 6 miles of Columbia Glacier, but no closer. Columbia Glacier has been calving a lot lately (big chunks of ice falling off) and it's too dangerous to get close to. According to the staff, we'll see eagles and puffins and several types of whales as well. A seafood luncheon is served (a vegetarian meal for us non-seafood eaters), and soup and snack sandwiches are served just before returning at the end of the day. We also talked to several kayak outfitters and may decide to just rent kayaks on our own and explore Prince William Sound. We'll play it by ear...
When we got back to the campground, we went up to the office to ask the proprietor where I could find eagles to photograph. He brought us into the office and showed me his telescope which was focused in on a huge eagle's nest in the far off trees. Two tiny heads were in the nest and mama was busy shoving food down their throats. It was amazing! I wanted to take photos. We had seen several soaring overhead on our way to Valdez, but I wanted to see one closer than that - and be able to take photos.
He went into the back room and came out with a hunk of raw chicken in his hand. "Watch this", he said. And with that he stood out in front of the office waving the chicken around in the air and turning in circles. Well of course the darn gulls showed up - and so did a few ravens. I thought he was nuts until he tossed the chicken onto the ground and told me to get up on the porch and be ready. After what seemed like forever, Steve turned to me and pointed into the distance. And there he was... soaring high in the sky... a beautiful bald eagle.
He got above the parking lot and began to circle. First large circles at about 300 feet. He gradually got lower until he was down to about 50 feet above us. Then he began practicing his swooping maneuver. He would dive down towards the meat and then abort at the last minute. Almost as if he was a pilot flying an airplane and he was gauging the speed and angle he'd have to come in at.
And then he was on it. In the blink of an eye, he'd come to just above the ground, pushing his talons in front of him as he seemed to slide into the meat. And just as fast, he was gone - high in the sky once again, with his prize held tightly in his talons.
And I caught it with my camera! I am so glad I have been experimenting with manual settings or I'm sure all of my photos would have been a blurry mess. All of them were shot with my zoom lens too, which is even more amazing since I have been known to shake when I use the zoom. I also have 'panning' almost perfected. I had to literally follow this majestic creature with my lens, twirling and raising and lowering my lens to keep up with him. The entire episode was over within 15 minutes. And I shot 71 photos.
I realized I had tears in my eyes when it was all over. I can't even begin to explain what an intensely emotional experience it was for me to witness this. When I began downloading my photos and saw what I had managed to capture, I again got emotional. Steve put his arms around me and said, "I am so happy for you. I know how much you wanted this." We were visited by four more eagles later on this evening - without any enticement! What a beautiful world we live in...
Another sunny day. So far, even though a few mornings have started off overcast, the days have turned out to be sunny and warm. We are thrilled at the fact that Mother Nature is cooperating with us (we'll forgive her the oversight on our snowy morning).
After a quick breakfast of cereal and coffee, Steve went off fishing with his new buddy. I tidied up the camper and took off myself about 9am. My first stop was to try and find Historic Valdez. It was marked on the Valdez map, but I couldn't find any additional information about it anywhere. I later discovered that the entire town (what was left of it after the 1964 earthquake) was relocated to its present location and there are no 'left-over' buildings or structures in the old location any longer. All that stands where Valdez once was located is a memorial plaque which tells a short history of Valdez and another plaque which lists the names of those who died in the earthquake.
I drove down some side roads looking for interesting things to shoot (I found a few) and then came back into town and drove through the neighborhood. Valdez is not large by any means. The neighborhood is compact. The closer you get to the harbor, the more businesses you find. In the other direction, it looks like any residential neighborhood. I did notice the number of churches here - one for just about every religious sector. Because it was Sunday, I watched the neighbors arrive at one of the local Christian churches by car, on bicycle, or on foot. Many were carrying covered dishes. I don't know if today was a special celebration, or if these Sunday potlucks are the norm.
I made my way to the Valdez Museum - hoping it was open on Sunday. I was in luck! The museum looks small from the outside, and I was prepared to be in and out in 30 minutes. In addition to the regular exhibits, the museum is currently holding a quilt raffle. Many hand-made quilts are on display, and some are up for sale. They were hanging on special swinging quilt racks and mounted to the walls where there was space. They were absolutely beautiful and reminded me of my home state of Pennsylvania and my many visits to Amish country - where quilts were a sought after, and pricey, souvenir. In PA, the specialty quilts included hex sign designs, and horse and buggies; here, they include fishing and hunting, mountains and cabins. Different places, different stories.
What I thought was only going to be a 30-minute visit, lasted more than an hour. For being a small museum, there was much to read, to look at, and to learn about. The museum exhibits depict lifestyles and workplaces from 1898 to present. Interpretive exhibits explain the impact of the Gold Rush, the 1964 earthquake, the construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline and the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill cleanup. There is a restored 1907 Ahrens steam fire engine, and models of antique aircraft.
But what intrigued me the most were the photographs and journal entries from Stephen Bourke (or maybe his name was Daniel? I'll have to do more research on this.) - a 'stampeder' from Manhattan, NY who came to Alaska to get rich during the gold rush. Not only are his photographs an accurate reminder of the conditions these people had to survive (avalanches, extreme cold, crossing glaciers on foot, and lots of hard work), but his journal was an excellent look into one man's adventure. He writes about those he is traveling with and those he meets along the way. He writes about pitching a canvas tent and setting up camp for a few days and having to brace the walls with logs because the snow is falling so heavily that their tents soon are barely visible and the walls are in danger of collapse. He writes about being wet almost constantly. And bathing once a month - if he was lucky. I felt like I knew this man personally, by the time I read these little bits and pieces about him. I signed a list for people interesting in purchasing his journal once it is fully transcribed and published. The museum is just one more gem here in Valdez.
I made my way back to the harbor to do some people watching. Alaska is a huge state, but it's a small world too. I watched a 20-something young man unloading ropes and buoys from the back of a pickup. His dog happily ran circles around him - obviously excited about going out on the boat. I was snapping a few photos of the harbor, when he asked me where I was from. I always respond to that question "Fairbanks - now". I don't know why. There are times I feel like I have always lived in Alaska. And other times I feel like I just arrived yesterday.
"Have you eaten at Sam's Sourdough Restaurant?" he asked.
I couldn't help but grin. "Yes, I've eaten there many times."
"They have good filling breakfasts there. When I'm home I eat there all the time." he continued.
And then we talked about the fact that he was here in Valdez working for the summer. Another temporarily transplanted 'Interior' person, taking advantage of the tourist and fishing action. I never realized how many people relocate during the summer months. I have found that in the Lower 48, if a young person can't find a job in the 'neighborhood', he just chalks it up to bad luck or a bad job market. The people up here (and quite a few adventurous souls from the Lower 48 - using www.coolworks.com as a reference) move hundreds of miles for a summer job. This young man was working hard dragging ropes and buoys back and forth to boats. But I'm sure when his day off rolls around, he's out doing something he loves and it's all worth it in the long run. The pay isn't the greatest, but with free room and board offered up in the mix, you can't go wrong.
I watched fisherman come in with their catch. Huge fish-cleaning stations are all over the marina area. The tables face each other and have spray hose attachments for washing fish guts and pieces down a long chute which goes out into the harbor and lands in a contained area. The chute was lined with mew gulls, just waiting for a good morsel of food. They picked the fish out of the chute before it even got a chance to fall into the water. It was obvious to me who the experienced fishermen were and who the tourists were. The experienced guys had a fish cleaned and de-boned in only a few minutes. The tourists got some helping hands and pointers from these experts. I enjoyed watching a few fathers teach their young sons how to clean a fish.
I wandered into a few gift shops check out their wares, but didn't buy anything. Several times I've found myself contemplating one of the many wildflower books they carry. I have been photographing so many wild growing things and would like to know what I'm taking pictures of. Yesterday, while Steve and I hiked a nature trail (Dock Point Loop), I saw some huge (and very stinky) plants with a large yellow stalk coming out of the center. I later found out it was skunk cabbage - a plant the bears really enjoy. Now when I see it in the wild, I find myself looking over my shoulder a lot more frequently. I may go pick up the pocket reference guide and carry it in my camera backpack.
A short time after I got back to the camper and ate lunch, Steve got home. He was 'fish-less'. Bill was having a problem with his boat again, so they didn't go out too far. Steve got some nibbles, but that's it. He was feeling pretty depressed about it... The salmon aren't due to run until next week sometime. I can only hope that his luck changes in Seward and on the Peninsula.
We took a drive to the old Valdez Cemetery. I knew it was located on a gravel road and didn't want to drive out there by myself this morning. The cemetery was in use from the late 1890's through 1916. It wasn't the only cemetery in use back then. Records indicate that there were 60 people buried in this cemetery, but after decades of neglect only the remains of 34 gravesites could be located. That is why the signs marking the graves are all uniform in style. They were made after the gravesites were found again.
What surprised me was coming upon the gravesite of Geneva Braxton - located outside the cemetery boundaries. Geneva was a mulatto woman. Were the old beliefs regarding 'non-whites' as second class citizens apparent even here in Alaska? Were the Native Alaskans looked at that way by the white man too? Just next to Geneva's grave, is the burial site for an 18-month old Native baby girl - also outside the cemetery boundaries.
Steve and I then headed off to take a short hike (3 miles) on the Shoup Bay Trail. This trail leads through a grove of alders and then across some marshland and to the beach. The wildflowers were abundant, but so were the nettles. You wouldn't want to have a run in with those plants, that's for sure! Once we reached the open area of the marsh, the views were fabulous. The glaciers surrounding the Port of Valdez seemed to encircle us - making us feel like we were in our own little world. Of course, there'd be no swimming here. Not unless you like 40 degree water...
It was a wonderful and tiring day. Tomorrow we're off for our cruise adventure.
Steve and I were up early this morning. We decided we'd go out for breakfast before the cruise. We needed to be at the dock by 9:30 to check in. There's a Best Western next to the Cruise Office that had a restaurant overlooking the marina. The view was fabulous as always. The breakfast left a lot to be desired - everything was extremely greasy.
Due to the low number of passengers booked for this trip, we went out in a smaller boat. This worried me a bit, as I wasn't sure if I'd have a problem with sea sickness. The cruise was 9 hours long. It wasn't cheap - with our military discount (10% off), it cost us $225.00. But it was so worth it!
We were assigned tables inside (we'd be served a hot lunch and a smaller snack later on in the day). We had table mates - a retired couple from upstate New York. I never did get their names, but we chatted almost the entire time we were out. They were on a two-month cross country and Alaska trip towing a pop-up camper. They left New York on May 8th. They were heading to Fairbanks the 18-21 of the month, and I gave them some input about the things they should see and do when they get there.
As we cruised toward "The Narrows" which connects the Port of Valdez to Prince William Sound, we saw eagles and mew gulls soaring overhead. The captain was a fantastic narrator and told us stories about Valdez and the Pipeline terminus, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and more. We soon left the Port of Valdez behind and entered Prince William Sound. Immediately we came upon a family of sea otters relaxing as they floated on their backs and watched us pass by. These creatures were seen throughout the day. Once in a while, we came across a mama carrying a baby on her belly.
As we continued cruising through the Valdez Arm out into open water, the captain spotted orcas (a.k.a. killer whales) swimming about 50 yards from the boat. Orcas are the largest member of the dolphin family, reaching 30 ft. and weighing 4-6 tons. They are toothed whales and feed on fish or other mammals. Orcas can reach speeds of 30 mph. They stay in family groups or pods, and show a highly evolved social structure. This group appeared to be a pod of about five - and one fin was significantly smaller than the rest. These beautiful creatures arched in and out of the water as if playing. All of us stood on the deck that wrapped the boat, cameras clicking away. I was thrilled to catch a tail fin as an orca took a dive.
Making our way around a buoy before heading toward Columbia Bay, we were rewarded with the sight of Steller sea lions resting on the buoy. We got to within 15 feet of them which only made them grunt and bark at us - warning us to stay away. It is amazing that such huge creatures can actually jump up on a buoy. They seemed to enjoy their perch.
The fog hung low all around us, giving the surroundings a surreal look. We turned into Columbia Bay to see if we could get a glimpse of the glacier, but the fog was too thick. Despite the fog, we knew when we began approaching the glacier, as the water became dotted with first small pieces of ice and then larger chunks. When we got even closer, we were surrounded by huge icebergs - pieces which had calved off of the glacier. I immediately thought of the movie Titanic. I couldn't even imagine hitting something so large. Nor could I imagine being tossed into such cold water. The color of the glacial ice was a gorgeous blue. The blueness is because the physical properties of the water molecule absorbs all of the colors in the spectrum except for blue, which is transmitted. The trip through the fog was breathtakingly beautiful and eerie at the same time. We weren't able to see Columbia Glacier, so we turned and headed back into the Sound to continue on our way to Meares Glacier. We were hopeful that the fog would be lifted at Meares. We would be able to cruise to within a 1/4 mile of it and I hoped we'd actually get to see some calving (breaking off of the ice).
The captain then announced that he was seeing activity in front of the boat and it appeared to be Dall's porpoise romping in the water. They seem to enjoy racing watercraft, and criss-crossed in front of the boat - their fins breaking the water as they jumped and dove. They swam with us for about a half mile and then headed back to where we met up with them. What an experience!
As we turned into Unakwik Inlet on our way to Meares Glacier, we were met with the most gorgeous colors of turquoise water and rich reddish orange rocks and green foliage. It was low tide - the only time that these colors are visible. The captain slowed the boat and we were served a hot lunch of seafood fettuccine alfredo (plain fettuccine for us non-seafood eaters), green and yellow beans, and a roll with butter. Throughout the cruise, we had unlimited tea, coffee and lemonade to drink.
In addition to viewing beautiful colors and impressive waterfalls created by snowmelt on the mountains, we watched many different species of birds flit around. We saw Pigeon Guillemot with their bright red webbed feet, Surf Scoters, Loons, Cormorants, Arctic Terns, Horned Puffins, and an abundance of Bald Eagles.
And then we reached Meares Glacier. We approached to within a quarter mile and the captain shut down the engines so we could hear the glacier talk. It was impressive. It was hard to get an idea of the grandness without seeing something close to it to compare it to. Estimates put the glacier wall at 200-250' tall. It constantly made sounds. Everything from small popping sounds to loud cannon - like explosions. As soon as we arrived there, there was three small calving episodes where chunks of the glacier broke off the front and fell into the sea. There was a delay in sound reaching our ears after the break-off, so that many times- by the time we heard the sound, the ice chunks were already in the water.
One of the deck hands told us a story of being out there with passengers and a huge chunk sliding off the face of the glacier. The swell caused by the force was large enough that when the boat was at the bottom of the swell, they couldn't even see the glacier anymore. Another story was told about a family who had taken their boat out to the glacier and camped on the shoreline nearby. During the middle of the night, a huge chunk fell from the glacier and caused a small tidal wave which flooded their tents. I personally don't know how anyone could sleep with all the noise the glacier makes. It was positively awesome, and made me feel small and insignificant.
On the way back out of Unakwik Inlet, we passed harbor seals lounging on the ice floes. They were a bit skittish so we couldn't get too close to them or they'd jump off the floe and dive beneath the water. I managed to grab a shot of a mother and her pup. She seemed to wave at us as we passed her.
Our last stop before heading back to Valdez was past Point Bull Head. Bull Head is mostly a bachelor colony of Steller sea lions. There seemed to be hundreds of sea lions sunning on the rocky outcroppings. And when you have that many sea lions in one place, you're bound to have some boisterous bellowing. And that there was.
We arrived back in port at 7pm - exhausted, but pleased. It was a wondrous day of wildlife sightings and beautiful scenery. What an awesome experience!
It was cloudy and cool most of the day. It's currently nearly 5pm and the sun has just now broken through the clouds. It's been a lazy day for us. Our only plan was to hike the Mineral Creek Trail to the old miner's cabin - about 5 miles on a gravel road and then an additional 3 miles roundtrip on foot. We got directions from one of the deckhands on the cruise yesterday, but she also told us that last week when she went walking up there, she found that an avalanche had blocked the road. If the snow was still there, we'd have to go on foot for an additional 5 miles. With the weatherman calling for rain, we decided against the long hike and hoped the snow had melted sufficiently from the avalanche to allow us to get the truck through.
We didn't have such luck. There it was - just as the girl had told us. A good 4 feet of snow piled deep in the center of the road and extending up and down the valley in both directions. The force of the avalanche had taken out numerous small trees and they were broken and twisted in the debris. Above the avalanche was a gorgeous waterfall high on the mountain side. It became a raging stream at the level we were at and also crossed the road. Even if the snow were melted, we'd have a hard time getting through the water with the truck.
So we doubled back and stopped instead at Mineral Creek so Steve could toss in a line. The water is moving quickly and he's convinced there are no fish in the creek. Poor guy... I wish he'd catch something. He spends the evening hours perusing the Sport Fishing Regulations booklet and planning his next adventure - but since arriving here in Valdez, not even a nibble.
We decided to go out for lunch and ate at "Mike's Palace Ristorante" near the harbor. I went for a typical burger, but Steve opted for the beer-battered halibut. He even managed to get me to try some and I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by the mild taste - not at all fishy like salmon and trout. Maybe he'll make a seafood eater out of me after all.
Tomorrow will be another lazy day for us. We've done so much running around the past week; we've decided to spend tomorrow doing laundry and preparing for the next leg of our trip. We're heading back toward Glennallen and then cutting across the state on the Glenn Highway to Anchorage. We'll be spending two nights on the Glenn Highway - only a fifteen minute walk from the Matanuska Glacier. There's supposed to be good trout and grayling fishing there. *Fingers crossed for Steve*
I'm not sure if there's Internet access there or not, so after I post
this you might not hear from me again until we reach Anchorage on Saturday.
I called my mom today and she sounds wonderful! She's feeling 100% better and her only setback has been an allergic reaction - resulting in a rash - to some medication. She'll be having an ultrasound to check on her kidney in about two weeks. She's already gotten out of the house with some friends. No dancing for her yet, but she's at least socializing. I'm glad. She was feeling so down before.
Today was a blustery, windy and chilly day. Steve and I only left the camper to do laundry up at the campground office and to watch the eagle feeding at 7pm. We decided today would be a lazy day. I'm glad we packed a lot of DVD's and video tapes; we spent the entire day watching movies.
I don't think the temperature has gotten above the mid 50's today. And it's overcast. I've got a chill I can't shake. Actually, I'm not feeling up to par. I think a good night's sleep will cure me of these blahs. I am exhausted.
I took some more photos at the feeding. The proprietor (Chuck) told us that after next week, the eagles probably won't be around much. As soon as the salmon start to run, there's just too much food to be found in the water.
The photo posted is a juvenile eagle. What a difference in coloring! The mottled colors of the head and wings are almost sloppy looking - as if the bird is just waiting to molt off the strange color configuration of its baby feathers. I'm sure the colors are meant to keep the babies camouflaged in the nest, but it is apparent - after watching the feedings - that the juveniles take a good harassing from their mature counterparts. They seem fearful too. Only one displayed the courage to actually swoop down and pick up a chicken leg from the parking lot the other day. The other times, he/she soared overhead, feinting a dive - but aborting at the last moment. And today - when he finally grabbed the leg, he was chased by three other birds and ended up dropping the chicken, which was picked up by a mature eagle. I can only imagine the taunting and teasing that went on in eagle-talk as he was chased!
We'll be leaving here tomorrow morning. Chuck asked me if I'd be back in July. He wanted to hire my services as a photographer to get some photos of the campground for their website. July is the busiest month of the year and of course he wants his photos to depict a full campground. I thanked him for considering me, but explained that I wouldn't be coming back this way next month. I may just keep in touch with him over the next few months... I'd love to come back next year. If Steve and the guys go "somewhere" next summer, perhaps I'll have the courage to tow the camper down here with my friends Marcella and Susan. I know they would love it here.
Well, I'm hitting the sack and it's not even 9pm. We plan on stopping a lot tomorrow to take advantage of some fishing. We've only got 195 miles ahead of us - a relatively easy day.
We left Valdez this morning and began our trip back up the Richardson Hwy toward Glennallen, where we picked up the Glenn Hwy and made our way toward Anchorage.
The marsh near the bay was fog-shrouded when we awoke. And it was another chilly day. Mid 50's, we estimate. We got the camper packed up and before hooking it to the truck, we decided to go out and eat breakfast. We chose The Totem Inn (a recommendation from Nikki) and quite enjoyed our meal, the service and the atmosphere.
A short time later, we were on our way - after first making a stop at the office to say our goodbyes to the staff. The rain drizzle started almost immediately and started and stopped throughout our 195 mile journey, until we arrived at our next stop midway along the Glenn Highway.
We set up in record time, and took Sedona for a walk along the path behind the RV park. A 15-minute walk through the woods took us to a scenic overlook where we could get a small glimpse of the Matanuska Glacier nearby. (Photo above)
It is now only 6:30pm and we're exhausted. The drive really seemed to take its toll on us. That and the miserable and cold weather. When we arrived, the thermostat was reading only 48 degrees.
Tomorrow, we're planning to drive back the way we came for a few miles. There are several hiking trails, and rivers and streams to cast a line in. I only hope the sun is shining tomorrow...
P.S. No Internet connection here, so you'll be reading several entries when we get to Anchorage and have Internet access again.
It began raining last night and was still raining this morning when we got up. And the temperature dropped to 40 at one point during the day. It's now hovering in the high 40's - not a warm day, that's for sure. It's still drizzling off and on outside, but the sky is finally showing some blue at least. I really hope the blue skies stay with us when we get to Anchorage tomorrow.
I'm still carrying around a chill I can't seem to shake. No matter how many layers I dress in, I feel cold. I'm sure most of it has to do with the grayness of the day.
After eating a quick breakfast in the camper, we took a drive to Matanuska Glacier. There is a lot of road construction on the Glenn Highway just west of our campground and continuing all the way to the glacier, so it was really slow going. The rain was still falling fairly hard, so after finding a few vantage points to take some photos, we turned around and headed back the other way. We drove about 27 miles east in search of fishing lakes and streams. We found several, but Steve didn't have any luck. The water is rushing entirely too fast. When we got back to the campground, we asked the owner if there were any good walking/hiking trails nearby and he directed us to a semi-dry stream bed near the Sheep Mountain Airfield. We put on our raingear and headed out. I didn't care that it was raining, I just wanted (needed) to get out of the camper. It was a beautiful walk/hike despite the rain. The stream bed is covered in the most colorful rocks. It's called Gypsum Creek and is near what used to be a gypsum mine in the mountains. There was running water - runoff from the mountain snow - but not enough to keep us from walking along the rocky stream bed.
We saw animal prints - moose and bear. It was a little frightening to be surrounded by bushes and foliage as we hiked in the rain, but we made a lot of noise to alert any wild animals who might be in the brush. I took a few photos, but had to keep my camera buried under my rain jacket to keep it dry. I wish we could have gone further, but the rain came down harder and I started to feel cold.
We came back to the camper, popped in a movie, and I cooked up a batch of spinach and cheese tortellini with alfredo sauce. Boy, did that hit the spot!
Tomorrow it's off to Anchorage. I'm looking forward to this portion of our trip. Not only our visit to Anchorage, but our visit to the Kenai. I am also looking forward to visiting Seward...
Steve is taking a shower (I hope he's shaving too, he's looking a bit
rough around the edges). As soon as he gets back to the camper, I'll be
calling Nikki. She mentioned a home-cooked spaghetti dinner and it's sounding
pretty darn good to me! (If you're reading this, I'd love to have dinner
in at your place instead of going out.)
When we awoke this morning, we had sunshine! You don't know how happy that made both of us. The dreary days were really starting to get to us - but mostly me. I'd rather have the dark days of winter over rainy days.
It was camper cleaning day. All of the rain resulted in mud. And mud resulted in tracked in dirt. So out came the Swiffer and the broom and we gave the camper a once-over before packing up for our trip to Anchorage.
We decided to have breakfast at the campground lodge (Grand View). An excellent choice; breakfast was delicious. Soon we were on our way to Anchorage. We had excellent scenery the entire way. (See photo above)
We got into Anchorage and lots of memories came back from visit last August. We admired the mountainous surroundings. There aren't merely bluffs here - like Fairbanks - there are mountains. Nice...
And there's traffic. Traffic we can do without. We've been pretty accustomed to having the roads to ourselves during the first 12 days of our trip. That won't be happening here. But Anchorage does have a lot to offer, that Fairbanks doesn't. And I'm not talking about shopping opportunities. I'm not a "Mall Rat". But having a bigger selection of restaurants is nice. Having some more culture is nice. The bike trails are great. The hiking opportunities are great. Being close to the Peninsula is great. But it doesn't really matter where Steve and I are - we find the hidden gems and are happy anywhere. And since we don't mind driving, trips to Anchorage don't have to be once a year excursions. We'll be back to see more, I'm sure.
We got set up at the campground by 2:30 and Steve took off to shower and shave some of the mess off of his face. (He'll grow a lot of it back over the next 18 days) I tried calling Nikki twice, but got her answering machine both times. I already knew (from reading her LJ) that she was planning a spaghetti dinner at her house rather than all of us going out to dinner. Steve and I were all for a home-cooked meal!
While Steve and I were watching some television, we heard a voice outside the camper ask "Steve?". It was Nikki. She drove here to get us and lead us back to her house. Once we got to her house (they have some nice Army housing on Richardson!), we met her husband John and her son and daughter. I could smell the spaghetti sauce simmering and it smelled yummy. We sat and chatted for awhile and then Billie (heartmart) and her husband came over to join us. We enjoyed a delicious salad, spaghetti dinner and garlic bread... and some wonderful conversation. It was terrific meeting Billie in person. She looks as wonderful in real life as she does in her photo. A big smile and a happy face! It was only natural to give her a hug hello. Her husband Jim entertained us with some funny stories (you'll have to ask her about the bear attack *grin*). It was a wonderful visit! It's amazing how many people can come into your life through the Internet. I am glad we got to meet and I hope we can get together again sometime when I'm in Anchorage, or if her travels ever bring her to Fairbanks.
Tomorrow, we're meeting Nikki and John and possibly another couple to
do some hiking/exploring on Flat Top Mountain. We're planning to meet
about 1pm. Before then, Steve and I are going to search down the Best
Buy and see if they have 2x teleconverters for my camera. If they do,
I'll be able to get closer photos of the wildlife on the mountains - like
the Dall sheep I photographed last night from our campground on the Glenn
Highway. They were pretty high up on the mountain, but I want to get CLOSER!
Is that asking too much? :-)
I'm sure to have photos tomorrow after our hike. Nikki said it will be cold up there. I'll be sure to dig out my gloves and hat... I hope we see some wildlife.
What an absolutely beautiful day in Anchorage today! The sun was shining for most of the day and temperatures reached nearly 70 degrees. Steve and I were looking forward to going hiking with the Trobaugh family on Flat Top Mountain. We agreed to meet around 1pm, after the Trobaugh family got home from church and grabbed a bite to eat.
Steve and I were up and out of the camper by 9am in search of some fishing along Ship Creek. The salmon are running and there are a lot of areas you aren't permitted to fish in. We didn't need to ask anyone where the accessible places were. All we had to do was follow the many anglers driving through town with fishing rods hanging out of their pickup trucks.
We parked the truck and took a short walk down to the creek, to watch a group of fishermen under one of the overpasses. Now I know why they call it 'combat fishing'. These guys couldn't have stood any closer to one another. How they managed to keep their lines untangled is beyond me. Steve decided against it. (If you at one of he guys on the right of the photo, you can see him pulling in a fish!)
When the Trobaughs arrived, we followed them to the hiking trails. What a gorgeous setting! What a breathtaking walk! The path was pretty steep in places and frequent stops were definitely needed. But those stops allowed Nikki and I to shoot some photos. The view of downtown Anchorage and the high-rises from that vantage point was absolutely amazing. Turnagain Arm and the mountains were visible, but dark clouds hovered off on the distance. We only hoped that the rain held off until we were through hiking. (It waited until we were in the final stretch back to the vehicles - perfect timing.)
Steve and I had such a great time. The entire family (to include Milo, their German Shepherd) is a joy to spend time with. The guys never ran out of anything to talk about, and neither did Nikki and I. As Steve and I were heading back to the truck, we both agreed that the day was a fantastic one. Thank you so much, Nikki and John! I look forward to showing you Fairbanks when you come to visit in July.
After getting most of the camper ready for departure, Steve and I went out to breakfast at a local diner (Pancake House on Muldoon Rd). The food was great, the prices were great, and the waitstaff was very friendly. It is so nice to find places like this when we travel!
We were soon on the way to Seward. The sun was shining, the temperatures were in the high 50's (which felt fantastic!), and there was no sign of rain. As soon as we left Anchorage behind, it was easy to remember the last time we traveled the Seward Hwy (last August). Turnagain Arm looked fantastic with the tall mountains rising out of the mud flats and the sea birds soaring everywhere. Traffic was relatively light which made things even better.
We stopped a few times to allow the faster traffic to pass us. We both
admired the many streams and lakes we passed along the way. We decided
we'd make a stop in Hope (Thanks, Nikki!) to take a breather and explore
a bit. This picturesque community was a frenzy of gold rush activity in
1896. Miners named their mining camp on Resurrection Creek Hope City,
after 17-year-old prospector Percy Hope. But the gold rush here was short-lived.
By 1899, many of the miners had joined the gold rush to the Klondike.
Hope City persisted, and it is now the best preserved gold rush community
in south-central Alaska. Today, Hope is a quiet oasis popular with hikers,
campers, bicyclists, fishermen, bird watchers, and recreational gold miners.
It sprinkled on and off as we made our way here. And soon the snow-capped peaks of the Kenai Mountains came into view, and that was enough to lift our spirits. So much so, that I actually began thinking about where we'd live when Steve retired from the military - and I knew that we had to live near mountains. If I can wake up every morning and see majestic peaks on the horizon, I will be happy forever...
We checked into the campground (Seward Military Resort) and let me tell you... this place is wonderful! There is a nightly BBQ, and a game room with a big screen TV. There's a small bar with dart boards. There are discounted tickets for just about any adventure you'd want to take with your family. There are tent sites and RV sites. There are hotel rooms and cabins. I can't tell you how impressed I am by this set-up... especially after staying in privately owned (don't get me wrong - most were nice!) campgrounds. It really made Steve and I feel great to see that the military has places like this for active duty and retired members to stay. Right next door is the Air Force Resort. Granted, the RV sites are close together... but the discounts offered on the fishing trips (Steve saved more than 50% booking through the resort) make it well worth it. And the fact that the campsites and hotel/cabin rates are based on rank is another plus. We're paying the top fee, but my many friends who are married to less senior soldiers can get away and enjoy themselves for a very reasonable price. What a fantastic opportunity! I hope they take advantage of it.
Steve and I decided to stay in tonight. It's a bit chilly outside and the rain has been intermittent. I cooked a nice hot meal and we're relaxing with a few drinks and watching movies. Steve had booked a fishing trip for Wednesday, but after talking to two of his soldiers (who are working down here until October), he changed his fishing trip to tomorrow due to weather concerns. Steve's on an all-day trip and will be leaving here at 6am and won't return until 7pm. So it looks like I'll be out exploring on my own tomorrow. There are a few walking trails that go to some historic buildings. I'm thinking of taking Sedona and going off exploring...
So far, I haven't found any place to get online. If I don't find something
in town, you'll be reading these entries at a later date.
Steve left at 5:30am this morning for his fishing trip. (For all my military friends - if you come to the Seward Resort, book your fishing trip through the Lodge. You'll save lots of money. It's less than half the price of the private fishing excursions in town. You can also get discounted tickets for sightseeing/wildlife excursions.)
I decided to go exploring while he was gone. Seward is only about half the size of Valdez and is a long and narrow city facing Resurrection Bay. The population of Seward is about 3000. Downtown Seward (which you can explore on foot), has a frontier-town atmosphere with some homes and buildings dating back to the early 1900's.
Historically, Seward was an important transportation hub for Alaska's mining, exploration, fishing and trapping industries. The Iditarod trail was surveyed in 1910 as a mail route between Seward and Nome. It was used until 1924, when it was replaced by the airplane. The 938-mile long trail is best known for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race that is run each March between Anchorage and Nome, but the trail starts in Seward. In 1923, the railway connecting Seward to Fairbanks was completed. Resurrection Bay, a year-round ice-free harbor, made Seward an important cargo and fishing port as well as a strategic military post during WWII.
The morning began cold and blustery, with temperatures in the upper 40's. I thought I was dressed warmly enough to do some walking through town, but soon decided I needed to come back to the camper and put on another layer. I did stop and walk a short distance along the beach (a rocky area on Resurrection Bay) before heading back, but the wind was strong and cut through my clothes easily.
After adding another layer under my fleece, I went driving through town, taking the side streets to check out the residential areas. Like Valdez, the homes here vary in size, type, and age. There are huge homes with large windows situated up on bluffs overlooking the Bay. And then there are small cabins tucked in between larger, more modern homes.
The Alaska SeaLife Center seems to be the main attraction here. We plan on visiting it tomorrow. The Small Boat Harbor is about the same size as the marina in Valdez, but doesn't have as many shops, outfitters, or eateries. I spent a good thirty minutes in the Kenai Fjords Visitor Center looking at photos and thumbing through books about Alaska wildlife and wildflowers. It was a welcome respite from the wind.
I drove by the Seward Museum (I plan to visit it the day before we leave here), in search of St. Peter's Episcopal Church. St. Peter's was built in 1906 and is considered the oldest Protestant church on the Kenai Peninsula. Further down the road, I came upon the Seward Pioneer Cemetery, and read the names of some of the deceased - many who were born in the mid-late 1800's. I can't help but wonder what their lives were like more than a hundred years ago....
I stopped into the Library to inquire about Internet connections here in town. Here at the Resort, you can check email on their computer, but I can't plug in my laptop to upload to my journal. It was the same at the library - and the line at the library to use the Internet was a long one. The librarian directed me to a local computer store which will allow me to hook my laptop up to their LAN line for a fee. I'm going to wait and upload just before leaving here - probably on Thursday evening. You'll have several days' worth of entries to read then.
I came back to the camper for a late lunch. By that time the sun was coming in and out of the clouds, but it was still a bit chilly. I didn't expect Steve back from his fishing trip until after 6pm, but he surprised me when he got back at 4:30. He was smiling - that's ALWAYS a good sign - and told me he had caught two halibut (the limit allowed per person/per day) and five rock bass. His halibut weighed in at twelve and nineteen pounds (about average for the entire boat). A little girl went with them and she got the biggest halibut on the boat - at 38 pounds. But the biggest catch of the day was taken on another army boat - a monster of a halibut weighing 99 pounds. That was one happy soldier!
It took about an hour and a half to have the fish cleaned and filleted. Then we loaded the pieces into vacuum bags and sealed them up. They're in a huge freezer here at the resort, just waiting for us to pick them up before we leave.
We decided to go out to dinner and then walk downtown. We ate at a restaurant - Christo's Palace - with great atmosphere (it reminded me of a high-class saloon with the dark wood of the bar and ceiling). I wasn't very hungry and got a Caesar's salad. Steve was famished after his day on the boat and got Garlic Halibut Portobello - a pricey dish, but one that he said was absolutely delicious. Christo's is known for its home-made pizza. We might try that tomorrow night.
We took a short walk past the shops (most were closed for the evening) and then drove down to the beach/bay area. Eagles soared overhead and sea otters played in the surf close to shore. It was a nice walk... quiet... and the scenery was so beautiful. After our walk, we headed out to Miller's Landing - a winding drive on a gravel road that skirted the bluffs on Resurrection Bay. Several waterfalls fell next to the roadway and I stopped to take a few photos. Seward is a quaint little town and we're enjoying our visit.
Tomorrow after the museum, we may go visit Exit Glacier. The weatherman
is calling for rain. What else is new?
It is a rainy, miserable day. The kind of day that the locals say is pretty 'typical' for this time of year. It's also chilly outside - a mere 50 degrees. It was a good day for exploring the Alaska SeaLife Center.
Yesterday, while wandering around town, I asked the clerk at the SeaLife Center if they offered military discounts. He said they didn't. Today, Steve went to the lodge to see if we could get discounted tickets. We saved $2.00 each buying them here at the resort. (It's always worth checking!)
The SeaLife Center is small, but interesting. We only spent an hour there, but there wasn't too much activity in the underwater viewing pools. If there would have been, we would have surely stayed longer. Also, the outdoor viewing glass at the top of the pools was rain streaked; this made photography nearly impossible. The same for actual viewing. What a shame. I'm sure the Center is a great place to visit when the sun is shining and the animals are more active.
There are two floors. The brochure directs you upstairs first. There are tanks there which house fish of the Bering Sea. There are also jellyfish, sea stars (starfish), and other anemones in open tanks that you can touch if you want. (I passed) My favorite section was the Seabird Habitat where the puffins are housed. Puffins are my absolute favorite bird (the eagle runs neck and neck). I love their colors, their behavior, and the way that they can "fly" underwater. I spent a good twenty minutes watching the puffins preen and swim and dive. But the rain-streaked glass made most of my photos a disappointment.
While I was busy watching the puffins, it was suddenly feeding time for a huge male Steller sea lion. On the menu today? A large octopus. And I mean HUGE! The sea lion was on him in less than a second. He took the octopus in his mouth and swung his head back and forth as he bit into the flesh. Chunks of the octopus would drop off and he'd go back and eat them. It was violent. It wasn't anything like what I would have imagined. I suppose I thought that the sea lions would be fairly 'graceful' eaters. This huge male ate like a shark would.
Locally, TV channel 98 is a camera feed from a sea lion rookery 35 miles south of Seward. I've found myself channel surfing and stopping there to watch the sea lions. The other day, I watched two mating. A few months ago, viewers got to see babies being born. I'd rather have video feeds like these over some of the garbage on TV today.
After our visit to the SeaLife Center, Steve and I took a drive to Exit Glacier (only a few miles northwest of Seward). But the rain and the fog pretty much obscured the glacier. We opted not to enter Chugach National Forest because of the weather. We're hoping tomorrow is a clearer day, so we can try to visit then. We're also planning to go to the Seward museum. We have laundry to take care of before we leave here on Friday morning and make our way to Cooper Landing.
Yesterday marked our one-year anniversary since arriving in Alaska. It
has been a year of discovery, exploration and appreciation for the beautiful
things around us. And there's no other person I'd rather be on this adventure
with than Steve.
No photo today... the rain hasn't let up since yesterday. We're pretty much 'camper-bound' and decided to take care of laundry and just hang out here.
I went to the lodge to check my email. I thought it was a cable modem hookup, but they must be on dial-up. It was sooooo slow. In a little while, I'm heading to the downtown computer store to upload the last few days of commentary and photos.
It's only 51 degrees here. The forecast is calling for rain until Saturday. I have no idea what the weather is like in Cooper Landing, but I hope it's better than this. We're leaving here tomorrow morning. The rain makes me feel blah. Steve just hopes for clear skies so he can BBQ the huge steaks we have in the freezer. That doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon...
Maybe we'll play the Alaska Edition Monopoly game we bought in Valdez. The tokens are so neat - Mukluks, Dog Sled, Float Plane, Bear, Dog, and a Moose. The traditional houses and hotels are log cabins and lodges. And the properties are all Alaska locations - with the two 'high priced' properties being Denali National Park and Glacier Bay National Park. Even the Chance and Community Chest cards are tailored to Alaska. ("You strike it rich in the Klondike - You inherit $100" and "Advance to Portage Glacier").
Yeah... I think it's a board game kind of day.
I'm not sure what the Internet situation will be like in Cooper Landing or in Homer. So, as usual... it could be days until you hear from me again.
Later in the day:
We thought the day was going to remain dismal. All we really wanted was for the rain to stop. The sun didn't even have to come out to make us happy. We got our laundry done and were watching a movie in the camper, when we realized we didn't hear the drip, drip, drip of the rain outside. A look outside confirmed it - the rain had stopped! Granted, it was still overcast and gray, but at least it wasn't pouring anymore.
So Steve and I decided to once again attempt a visit to Exit Glacier. We hoped it was visible so we could hike out to it. The drive to the glacier (a short one) didn't look very promising. The rain was still spitting and the clouds were really low on the horizon. We assumed it would be the same as yesterday, and not worth paying admission to the park to see fog.
But as soon as we climbed slightly out of the bowl that surrounds Seward, the mist cleared and the mountains were visible. And did our eyes deceive us?! Was that actually the sun trying to peek out between the clouds? What a thrill to see the entire glacier from the first turnout on the highway. When we got to the park, we found it filled with people like us who were happy to have a reprieve from the rain.
We hiked the mile and a half to the glacier. As we walked across the rocks and gravel bed of the glacier 'river' (which is really just glacier runoff), Exit Glacier came into full view. It was amazing to see the grandness of it - especially with the people standing in front of it for size reference.
We continued up to a higher viewing area and were able to look into the crevasses which lined the huge ice formation. The deep blueness of the ice is a sight to behold. The color is amazing and almost looks as if an artist painted the cracks.
We then took an alternate trail back to the parking lot - along a nature trail with interpretive signs explaining the movement of the glacier and the effect of this movement on the terrain. The sun was out full strength then and we had to strip out of our fleece jackets. You won't ever hear me complain about that!
As we drove back to the campground, we left the sunshine behind and once again entered an overcast and drizzly day. We only traveled ten miles and yet those ten miles were enough to take us from sunshine to rain again. I was tempted to go back and soak up the sun. Instead, we drove to the marina to check the menus at a few of the restaurants there. Nothing caught our fancy, but we did find a place that has a good reputation for breakfast. We'll be eating there tomorrow morning before packing up and leaving here.
Just as we were leaving the marina, we heard a lot of commotion from
the area where the fishermen bring in their catch. A crowd was gathered
around a man who reeled in a 120 pound halibut. His daughter (a young
adult) was standing next to the fish talking to another family member.
I took a photo with her in the frame so you could see just how big this
monster was. There'll be some good eating for that family!
When we got up this morning in Seward the sun was finally shining. The early morning fog was still hovering low on the mountains and down at the marina, but it really added a beautiful grayness to the morning. The fog seemed to glow in the places where the sun came to rest on the low lying clouds.
We went to the Breeze Inn for breakfast. Breakfast was so big I actually got a 'To Go' box rather than leave half of my omelet and hashbrowns. Steve (who can always be counted on to be a human garbage disposal) will certainly eat it tomorrow morning. Just before pulling out of the Seward Military Resort, we called Ron (from my Alaska Living group) and told him we'd be in Cooper Landing shortly. We set up a meeting for tomorrow morning at 9:30am here at the RV park. Steve told him he was interested in fishing, but I'd rather find a place where I can photograph bears. Or anything for that matter. I'm not a fisherman. I used to do it when I was little, but it doesn't interest me anymore.
The drive to Cooper Landing was as beautiful as I remembered from our trip to the Kenai Peninsula last August. And with the sun shining and the gorgeous cobalt blue skies, it made the drive even more incredible. Even though we were towing the camper, we managed to pull over and take in the sights (and some photos) a few times.
We set up camp here and immediately drove down to the Russian River where the salmon are running. There was no denying that. The road was lined with campers, cars, trucks, and people. All of the campgrounds (to include the one we're staying in) are full. There's a three fish limit per fisherman and by the looks of things, the limits were being met in record time.
We managed to find a parking spot and walked down to where the Russian River Ferry transports fishermen to the opposite shore. Not only was there a line on our side of the river, but the other side of the river had a long winding line of people wanting to come back over. It was true 'combat fishing' with people standing practically shoulder to shoulder. But the red salmon were being reeled in, in record numbers.
After about an hour of watching and talking to others, Steve knew he had to do it. I asked him to bring me back to the camper. I just wasn't in the mood to watch him fish. On top of that, I'm in a real funk today. Today is the 8th anniversary of my father's death. The day is a tough one for me - and being here in Alaska makes it even harder. My father would have loved it here. And he would have visited as much as he could have while we were stationed here. I miss him each and every day...
So instead, I downloaded the photos I took earlier today. And watched TV. And even cried a bit.
Steve got home about four hours later with his three fish limit in hand.
(He actually caught eight, but had to release five of them for various
reasons: improperly hooked, too small, etc.) He's a bit sunburned, but
happy. As I type this, he's sitting outside the camper with the vacuum
sealer we borrowed from Brian and Marcella and sealing up the salmon filets
he cut up. He's a happy guy, that's for sure. He caught two ten-pounders
and one six-pounder.
Another gorgeous and sunny day on the Kenai! Steve and I were awake early as sunshine came spilling into the camper. We enjoyed our morning coffee, straightened up a bit, and soon Ron arrived. We sat and chatted for almost an hour. He's a really nice guy and had a lot of Army stuff to chat about with Steve, and a lot of photography stuff to chat about with me. We then decided to take a drive up Snug Harbor Drive to Cooper Lake. The road is paved part of the way and then turns to gravel. Ron has driven all of the roads in the area and was able to tell us about the things we'd see along the way as well as the wildlife he has seen in these parts. Unfortunately, we didn't see any bears or moose.
We drove past a beautiful waterfall that was down in a valley. We couldn't get down to it without rappelling equipment, and I wasn't very fond of the precarious footing overlooking it. I took a few photos, but the shadows in the valley weren't conducive to a good outcome. Maybe I'll get a good shot when we come back this way in about a week.
We continued on to Cooper Lake at the end of the road. The views were magnificent! Ron told us that Cooper Lake is more of a 'local' hangout and one of those secret places they like to keep to themselves. When we arrived, there were two or three families tenting by the lake. One young couple went out fishing in their small boat. Another family was busy barbecuing as their young son skipped stones in the lake. What a great place to go for an impromptu campout!
Steve tossed in a line and fish were jumping all over the lake (char and rainbows). He got three strikes but didn't land anything. We came back to the camper a little while later and Ron left on his way to Homer, where he's meeting his family for an overnight camping trip. We'll be heading to Homer tomorrow. Ron told me of some places to stop at on the way. The weatherman is calling for sunny skies through Sunday. We'll be in Homer until Wednesday morning.
Steve and I are hoping to schedule a horseback ride while we're there.
I also want to visit the Pratt Museum (I missed it last time we were there).
I'd like to also go out to Halibut Cove - only reachable by boat - to
explore the galleries and shops. We'll see how things go. Tomorrow's drive
will be a scenic one and I look forward to experiencing it again. I love
the Peninsula... if we were to retire in AK, I think this is the area
We woke to sunshine once again. I hope that the good weather continues to stay with us. We were on the road by 10am, with no planned stops until Ninilchik. My only plan was to photograph the Russian Orthodox Church again (photo above). We parked the camper and walked down the winding trail to the village of Ninilchik. It's a small fishing village with old dovetailed log buildings. Steve and I wandered through the village before returning to the church and our truck.
The 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. We were fortunate to find that the priest/pastor/minister (?) was there and allowed us to enter the church for a short tour (and I mean SHORT - the church is basically one room and a rectory with folding chairs to accommodate 10 people at most). Photographs of the inside were not permitted. The inside of the church was lined with holy photographs/posters depicting scenes from the Bible. There were also gold plated and solid gold objects and trimmings.
When you approach Homer, one of the first things you see are the prominent peaks of Mt. Redoubt and Mt. Iliamna. There are several scenic turnouts with great photo ops. Mt. Iliamna and Mt. Redoubt are in the Chigmit Mountains of the Aleutian Range across Cook Inlet. The both rise more than 10,000 feet above sea level. They are the beginning of a chain of mountains and islands known as the Aleutian Chain, which extends west more than 1700 miles to Attu beyond the International Date Line to the Bering Sea, separating the Pacific and Arctic Oceans. Mt. Iliamna and Mt. Redoubt were recorded as active volcanoes in the mid 18th century. In 1989, Mt. Redoubt had a major eruption. The eruptions continued through April, 1990 and then subsided to steam plumes. It is still considered an active volcano.
We got into Homer about 1pm and were thrilled to discover that our campsite had one of the most impressive views of Kachemak Bay! There isn't anyone next to us, so we have unobstructed views of the snow-capped mountains and the water. The breeze which comes off of it is cool - especially in the afternoon when the tide comes in. There's no need for air-conditioning here (we had to use it in Cooper Landing); Mother Nature takes care of keeping Homer cool and pleasant.
Homer is a magnificent place. It is small enough to be really friendly, and cultured and 'artsy' enough to offer non-water based diversions. There are coffee shops and lots of restaurants to choose from. There are touristy souvenir shops and Mom and Pop stores where you can pick up some mementos to take home with you. Even so, water activities are the major interest here. There is fishing, kayaking, scenic boat cruises, floatplane tours, hiking, water taxis to hiking trails and small villages across the bay and more. Our return this year has made me realize just why I fell in love with Homer last year when we were here. I would recommend a visit to Homer to everyone who lives here in Alaska or plans a trip here.
After setting up, Steve and I took a scenic drive up Skyline Drive. This road (residential) travels along the top of the bluff and offers magnificent views of the bay and the mountains. It also offers a birds-eye view of Homer Spit. After our drive, we opted for some Mexican food before heading back to the camper. Later on this evening, we drove back down to Homer Spit to talk to some people who ran bear viewing tours. The prices are very high, but the idea of flying to a remote area and viewing bears (and cubs) in their natural habitat is very enticing. We're going to talk about it some more...
Steve spent about an hour fishing in the Homer fishing hole in an attempt
to land some King Salmon. They were jumping and people were reeling them
in, but he didn't have any luck. It was chilly out with the winds being
so strong, but the sun was strong and I ended up getting sunburn on my
face. When we got home, we took a nice walk on Bishops Beach with Sedona.
It was the perfect way to end a day.
Steve and I slept in today and didn't even climb out of bed until nearly 8am. Over breakfast, we discussed again the possibility of doing a bear viewing tour. The two places we talked to yesterday offered all day trips to Katmai National Park where the plane (small groups of people) lands near where the bears are feeding. Both cost $525/pp - not a frivolous trip, that's for sure.
This morning, we looked over a brochure we picked up from another bear-viewing tour that was $100 less than the two we talked to yesterday. We drove over to the cheaper place and talked to the girl at the desk. Basically, you are shuttled to some lodge across the inlet and then a guide takes you out looking for bears. I read the small print and wasn't very happy with what I read. I guess it just goes to show you get what you pay for. At this point, our thoughts were to take a bear-viewing tour when we return to Homer with Chris in mid-July.
We went back to the second place we visited yesterday. We got a good feeling about that place. The woman at the desk (who is also a guide) had a lot of information and appeared to know what she was talking about. We inquired as to a July 14th trip. It was booked solid. In fact, the entire month of July is booked solid. This outfitter only takes out nine people at a time. It also goes to a remote location - whereas the other outfitters fly to common areas where you may be forced to move from viewing areas to allow other tourists to get a chance to view the bears. If we're considering spending more than $1000.00 - we don't want a Disneyland experience. I want to be THERE with the bears. I want to be able to see them and photograph them and not be ordered to move away so others can view them.
As we were talking to her, another couple came into the office. The girl asked Steve and I if we had done a bear-viewing trip yet and we told her we hadn't. She told us that she had just done one two days prior and that it was the most spectacular experience she had ever had. The guy she was with had come in to book a trip himself, after she raved about it to him.
So we asked about the schedule this week. We are scheduled to leave here on Wednesday morning. Unfortunately, the earliest that there are two seats available are on Wednesday. I don't know what came over me, but I just knew that I had to do this. Yesterday, I was so preoccupied with the cost of this adventure. I'm such a conservative spender. I would never consider dropping $1000.00 on a one-day sight-seeing adventure. But today, something came over me. As I was standing there in the office, flipping through the photo albums and looking at the bear photos taken by previous adventurers, I heard my father's voice in my head. "You only live once." His voice was as clear as could be. I looked at Steve and asked him if there was any way that we could stay an extra day here in Homer. He wasn't sure what I was asking until I said, "We need to go on this trip".
We quickly drove back to the RV park and asked them if they could keep us an extra day. They were able to. We went back to Emerald Air Service and booked our flight. We leave on Wednesday morning at 8:30am for an all day adventure.
This isn't some easy 'land and walk to a viewing platform' adventure. We will be landing in a pond and will be issued hip waders. We will have to get out of the plane and wade through water for a few hundred yards. There is a beach where the bears have been feeding with their cubs. We'll stop on the beach and wait for the bears to approach us. The guide told us that the bears usually take about an hour to warm up to people on the beach. They are familiar with the plane now and don't shy away anymore. She said that initially, they'll watch us and keep their distance, but eventually will go back to 'being bears'. I can't even begin to tell you how exciting this is to me. As for the cost... we'll deal with that later - even if it means we have to dip into our retirement savings to cover it. You only live once.
After booking our trip, we visited the Alaska Islands & Ocean Visitor Center. This is a real gem here in Homer and is free. It is a state of the art interpretive and educational facility of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve. The Alaska Martime National Wildlife Refuge protects the habitats of seabirds and marine mammals on 3500 islands and rocks along the coastline of Alaska from Sitka to Barrow. There is a walking trail down to Bishops Beach that traverses wetlands and offers the opportunity to view seabirds and vegetation. (Photo above)
Tomorrow, we're taking a water taxi to Seldovia. Seldovia is located on the south-western Kenai Peninsula on Seldovia Bay. You can only get there by water or air. Because it is removed from Kenai Peninsula highways, Seldovia has retained much of its old Alaska charm and traditions. There are hiking trails - most notably the "Otterbaun" - which leads to Outside Beach, a spot with beachcombing, surf fishing and a view of the Bay and the volcanoes. Population of Seldovia is about 300. It was settled by the Russians in about 1800. Steve and I will have about 4 hours to explore the small town. The water taxi is quite reasonable - only $40.00 roundtrip for our visit. We'll be packing a lunch and plan to picnic on the beach.
I'm going to see if I can get online at the office now and upload these last two days worth of commentary. I am sure to have a lot to post in a few days (if not daily) once our trips to Seldovia and bear-viewing are complete. Our next stop after Homer is Kasilof, as we enter the final stretch of our trip.
We left for Seldovia at 11am. The boat trip over is longer than the return trip so that the ferry can take you by Gull Island (where hundreds of thousands of seabirds roost) and past other notable rocks and cliffs, as well as wildlife.
We saw otters and puffins (which thrilled me, because I finally got to see them in the wild!) as well as all other breeds of birds. The weather was sunny and cool, so standing on the outside of the boat was something we did in short spurts.
Seldovia is a tiny community (pop. 300) only reachable by plane and boat. Seldovia was settled by Russians and Natives engaged in fur trading by the 1870's. At the turn of the century, Seldovia was a stop for prospectors enroute to gold fields in the Interior. In 1931 a wooden boardwalk was built along the waterfront to facilitate travel through town. Businesses in buildings set on pilings flourished along the intimate wooden walkway and Seldovia became known throughout Southcentral Alaska as "the boardwalk town".
The 1964 earthquake changed this. The land mass subsided 4 feet, allowing high tides to wash over the boardwalk and its buildings. A portion of the original section was salvaged, but most of the waterfront community was 'filled' from the surrounding hills and the town was rebuilt on higher ground.
There are a few tourist shops, but the town is like any small community with a hardware store, a small grocery store, churches, and a marina. You can get around the entire town on foot (some walks longer than others), so most of the residents own four-wheelers instead of vehicles. Steve and I enjoyed walking through the streets and watching the kids fish in the Seldovia Slough for salmon. It was a nice sunny afternoon and a great little getaway. We had a picnic lunch sitting near the waterfront and took notice of the incredible silence.
Seldovia is a very peaceful community.
Words cannot convey the elation experienced during our bear-viewing trip. This trip was a once in a lifetime experience, but one that I would do again and again. For anyone reading this who wants a truly exciting and rewarding encounter with bears, coupled with a fantastic learning experience, book a trip with Emerald Air Service in Homer. Ken and his wife Chris know bears and they know them well. They are familiar with their habits, their lifestyle, what to do and what not to do, their behaviors, how to interact with them and so much more. Not only was today a fantastic experience of walking amongst the bears, but an incredible experience of truly communing with some of the most beautiful of God's creatures. I no longer have a fear of bears, however I respect them immensely.
The flight to Katmai National Park and Preserve was about an hour and 40 minutes. There was a good chance we weren't going to be able to go because the winds were so strong. But at the last minute, Ken decided we'd attempt the trip because the weather on Katmai was considerably calmer. Both Steve and I would have been extremely disappointed if the trip would have been called off. Last week, they had to cancel four out of seven trips because of the rain and low clouds.
The plane only holds 9 passengers (and a pilot and co-pilot), which is why they are booked solid all summer long. Going in a small group makes the experience much more intimate and you get to know the others in your group as well. We flew with a Seattle newspaper editor, a free-lance writer who has been published in travel journals and magazines throughout the country, a very sociable retired couple who lives near Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The husband is prior military service and a retired detective. There was another couple from Connecticut. The husband was also a photographer (hobbyist) - I'm not sure what he did for a living - and quite friendly. His wife was a quiet woman and hardly spoke the entire day. And Steve and I. There was one seat left on the flight and it wasn't booked (not many singles come through to make reservations, as most people travel in pairs).
Ken landed the plane about 100 yards from the beach. We were issued hip boots before we got on the plane, because we knew we'd be wading through water. We waded in thigh-high water to the beach - and towards two juveniles (bears who are about two or three years old) who were busy clamming in the sand. They ran and played in the surf and when they saw us approaching, they moved further away from us down the beach. We knew there was a large group of bears just over the small beach bluff (in the prairie), as we had seen them from the plane before landing.
We traversed the beach and climbed over the bluff and the huge drift logs and bleached trees that had washed up on shore. We also came across some boat paraphernalia (buoys, ropes, floats, etc.). Chris told me that much of the stuff washed up on the beach of Katmai could have come from Japan or anywhere out in the ocean for that matter, as the current runs from the Pacific Ocean up into the Bering Straight and can get caught here.
It was also at that time that the lapping water and sound of small waves breaking on the shore, caused just about the entire planeload of passengers to feel the call of nature. When you're in the wilderness, there aren't any facilities. And the beach we landed on wasn't a developed area; we were miles and miles from the closest National Park campground. (I'm just mentioning this in case any of my readers have a 'problem' with doing business not only in the great outdoors - but in a place with no tree cover or privacy). Basically, the men respectfully turned their heads as we dropped our drawers and went. The saying "Leave nothing but footprints" means everything.
You pack out your toilet tissue too. It's important to think about this, if you ever find yourself planning a wilderness adventure. I have a few friends who I am confident wouldn't consider such an adventure if it meant taking care of bathroom needs in the open and in the company of other women. (Of course, my male friends have a definite advantage!)
That taken care of, we proceeded into the open meadow and immediately came upon a sow and her two cubs. Chris instructed us to move in a tight group. She called it "getting small". This was so we wouldn't scare the bears. Bears see large groups of people as one huge animal and would move off if it was too big. This is why you read about how you should stand shoulder to shoulder with other hikers if you encounter a bear in the wild. The secret is to appear bigger than the bear. In our case, we didn't WANT to appear bigger.
We wanted to move together as tightly as possible and also as quietly
as possible, so she wasn't threatened. Also, by moving slowly, and watching
her reaction, we were able to ascertain when we were in her "personal
space" - the line you don't want to cross or you risk aggression
or attack. All bears have an invisible boundary around them that defines
their personal space. This boundary grows and shrinks with every situation.
Once you cross this boundary, the bear feels threatened and will react
accordingly. Chris explained that this is what usually happens when hikers
come across a bear on a hiking trail or while fishing, etc. The element
of surprise is also enough to provoke aggressive behavior, which is why
you SHOULD make noise if you are hiking. In this case, we didn't want
to scare her. We
It has been Chris's experience in the past fifteen years of guiding at Katmai National Park, that sows with cubs will stay a bit closer to the human group, because they have no reason to mistrust us (at least not yet) and they feel safe from the other bears (all bears will avoid humans by moving away - as the two juveniles on the beach did). Other bears - especially the males - will attack cubs if they are left unattended. The primary fact that she wanted to impress upon us was that bears will 'do the right thing' when given the option. They don't want to have an altercation with a human. If they see and hear hikers coming over a ridge and they can go in another direction, they will. She said she has mused about the thousands of bear encounters that humans have had with bears - without even knowing it!
Granted the sow didn't want us right next to her, but she was comfortable romping with her cubs a mere 100 - 125 feet from us. The cubs ran in and out of the stream while mama was busy grazing on the lush green plants that covered the meadow. In fact, Chris passed us three different plants to try ourselves. I don't remember the name of them, but one tasted a lot like cilantro, the other tasted a bit fishy (it was called an oyster 'something or other'), and the third tasted like celery. The bears eat more than 200 pounds of grass a day when the fish aren't running. The fish haven't started running at Katmai National Park yet.
We watched Mama interact with her cubs for about twenty minutes. It was simply beautiful. The two cubs began making low 'whiny' sounds and Mama sat back on her haunches. The two cubs went to each side of her and they latched onto a nipple and began to suckle. She watched us intently and when she knew we weren't going to threaten her, she lay back and allowed them to get comfortable as they nursed. It was so quiet, we could hear them purring as they ate. Truly... like a cat. It brought tears to my eyes...
A sow has six nipples. Four are on her chest area and two are in the groin area. Much like marsupials, when a sow gives birth during hibernation, the tiny cubs (which weigh less than a pound and are only a few inches long), find their way to the two nipples in her groin area and latch on. As she lay on her back cuddling her babies, they worked their way down each side. We were close enough to see her milk soaked chest. Chris told us that we were all privileged to witness such a scene. I know I certainly felt privileged. The cub closest to us made his/her way down to her groin nipple, which allowed us a full view of the other cub. I couldn't help but smile when he/she extended a paw and pulled a nipple into its mouth. Mama alternated between licking her cubs' heads, watching them nurse, watching us, and lying back with her eyes closed. It was simply amazing. After nursing, they all took a short nap and we made our way around them so we wouldn't disturb their sleep. (Chris assured us that mama heard every single sound we made and wasn't as oblivious as she appeared.)
We soon came upon another female juvenile who was being shunned by the rest of the bears. She must have just been cast off by her mother and had to learn to be on her own, but you could tell she felt lonely. She approached several grown bears in an attempt to make friends, but they rejected her by either turning their backs on her and moving away, or growling at her, warning her to keep her distance.
She followed us for awhile - but still maintaining a 100 foot distance - as if she wanted us to befriend her. We decided to sit in a meadow nearby and eat our lunch. We watched a few bears in the distance mate, while others slept or played. This young bear stayed close, laying in the sand. We sat close to one another and Ken and the writer set up their tripods for some photos. (I didn't feel like carrying mine, but wish I would have at times.) As we ate our packed lunches, we watched "Lonely Bear" - as Steve and I dubbed her - amuse herself by rolling onto her back and playing with her feet.
Mama and her cubs, up from their short nap, came over the small hill behind us. We continued to eat our lunch - aware, but calm. Chris and Ken told us to be prepared for the cubs or even Mama to get very close to us. The cubs are very curious and like to check things out. They are also learning how to intimidate and we were warned that they could rush us as if attacking, just to show their 'toughness'.
We waited and watched (and took photos). Soon, one of the cubs came within ten feet of us! (Steve got some awesome video footage.) Mama kept a good 25 foot buffer between us, but allowed her baby to explore. I'm sure she would have been on us in seconds if she thought we were a threat to her cub. It was a totally amazing experience!
She and the cubs moved into the grassy area where Lonely Bear was, and Lonely Bear took off running. In the distance, we saw a huge male pass behind Mama and the cubs. He swaggered toward the stream and up over the far bank into another meadow where another younger male was in pursuit of a female in estrus (it's mating season). The two males clashed over the female and came to fisticuffs. The deep sound of their growls traveled across the prairie. Their immense strength as they fought each other was truly frightening. Mama immediately lifted her head and looked in the direction of the altercation. Her cubs continued playing and rolling around in the sand, but she snorted at them and they immediately stopped and sat on their haunches like Mama and gazed in the direction of the fighting males. Chris whispered, "She just scolded them for not being aware of the situation around them." It is Mama's responsibility to teach these cubs everything they need to know, before she casts them off next spring or the spring after, when she gives birth to a new set of cubs.
The babies were adorable as they stood to full height (probably about 4 1/2 - 5 feet at this point) to get a better look. We learned that bears don't stand up to seem menacing, but truly just to get a better look or get a good smell. When Mama stood up, she towered to a good 7 or 8 feet in height. The cubs imitated her at some moments, and cowered next to her at others. We were only about 100 feet from them and snapping photos frantically. What absolutely beautiful animals. And such distinct personalities!
After lunch (and policing up the area - to include any crumb out of place, so that the bears won't become accustomed to human food), we made our way to another meadow, where we came across "Popeye" (Chris nicknamed him this because of his huge forearms). Popeye allowed us to get fairly close to him before he wandered off. We moved in another direction and saw a huge male go down to the stream. We decided to follow him. We discovered wolf prints in the mud leading to the stream's edge - and they were fairly fresh (less than a day old because the tide hadn't washed them away yet.) But then we saw droplets of blood in the sand as we got on his trail.We wondered if he were one of the males who was involved in the altercation earlier. When we got close enough to him, we could see that he was injured. He lay down in the grass to nap and we could easily see the bloody wounds on his neck - likely caused by a bite.
We saw many more bears and walked amongst them as if we belonged there. It was the most incredible experience I have ever had. Steve and I will definitely do this again if we can. I don't care that it was a $1000.00 adventure. It was worth every single penny. We headed back to the plane at 4pm. We had spent a good 5 hours with the bears. As we approached the plane, a mama and cub crossed in the sand in front of us. We allowed her to take her time and then continued on. We didn't have to wade as far, but the tide was coming in and it was swift enough to cause us to link arms for stability. A skinny fox walked the shoreline looking for food as more bears made their way off the beach as the tide moved in and prevented them from clamming.
The flight back was wonderful. Ken diverted over several glaciers and
glacial pools. So, in addition to our bear encounter, we got a good scenic
flight too. Some people slept. Others (like me) enjoyed the view and relived
the memories made. I shall never forget this day. It was humbling, spiritual,
exciting, insightful, and awe-inspiring.
No photos today. For me, it's a lazy day. I spent most of the morning trying to download photos from the bear viewing trip and writing commentary to go along with them. The wireless internet connection in Homer was on again/off again and I'd lose my connection halfway through trying to post an entry to LJ. LJ wasn't cooperating either (was everyone having this problem?) It was a very frustrating morning.
We pulled into Kasilof around 2pm. After getting settled in, I cooked up a pot of beef vegetable soup. Steve asked me if I wanted to go off with him as he checked out the local fishing holes, but I declined. My plan was to see if I could upload here at the campground (dial-up). Well, that was another fiasco (LJ still acting up) and very slow connection. I was about to throw in the towel when it worked. (Or at least I hope it worked)
Steve's main goal for stopping here is to fish. And that's where he is. He left around 3:30pm and it's now 8:30pm and he's not back. That means the fishing isn't as good as he hoped. Either that or he's moving from lake to lake and pond to pond looking for some action.
A 'chill-out' day for me. I really needed it.
We're only staying here one night (due to extending in Homer to go on the bear viewing trip), so we'll be out of here again tomorrow morning and off to Cooper Landing again for a couple of days. I don't know if we'll be doing anything in Cooper Landing. I'd love to take a scenic raft trip, but Steve's probably going to want to fight the Russian River for some salmon again.
After Cooper Landing, it's back to Anchorage for only one night (27th). I can't believe the trip is almost over! I could get used to this pick up and move lifestyle. Well, maybe not forever... but it's really nice for a month or so. After Anchorage it's off to Cantwell (Denali area) for two nights. We're planning to drive halfway on the Denali Highway - and then back. We missed the other half because of the fiasco in Paxwell the first night of our trip. And then back to Fairbanks on the 30th.
It has been a wonderful trip. Alaska is a magnificent state, with wonderfully friendly people, plenty to see and do, and awesome beauty around every corner. We have enjoyed exploring it. I'm sorry to see it coming to an end, but I'm also looking forward to sleeping in our bed, and cooking in my kitchen, and walking the dog on the path behind the house, and seeing my dear friends. (Not in any particular order) Steve and I love the life of a nomad, but we also like coming *home* - wherever that may be.
Another very laid back day. We're back in Cooper Landing. We took our time this morning and didn't arrive here until after noon. I cooked an early chicken and rice dinner and Steve left to try his hand at fishing around 3:30pm. He's not back yet, so that means he hasn't caught any fish yet (or at least hasn't caught his limit).
We have the air conditioner on in the camper. We ran it the last time we were here too. I'm not sure what the temperature is, but it's warm. I'm exhausted. I suppose my exhaustion is due to 25 days of being constantly on the run. It could also be a subconscious 'slow down' as we make our way back to Fairbanks over the next few days. It may also be because we're in a place we've already explored.
We talked about going rafting tomorrow - or horseback riding - but my face is sunburned from my bear viewing adventure and being out in the sunlight hurts, even with sunscreen on. I don't want to worsen it. So maybe we'll go hiking instead. The Resurrection Trail is nearby. We couldn't do the entire trail, but getting out in the forest would be good. Laundry needs to be tended to as well. Tomorrow will probably fly by. Until next time...
Since early in our trip, when we saw the moose and her twins in Chitina, Steve and I have been hoping to catch a glimpse of some more moose. But, ironically - despite all the wildlife we have been privileged to see - the moose have remained elusive. Until today that is. We ere coming home from Kenai and spotted this mama and her twins lying in the grass on the side of the highway. Steve made a U-turn and we went back to a pull-off and walked a good 50 feet to an area where I could get a clear shot, but where we would remain at a safe distance. I know better than to get too close to a mother and her babies. Another couple pulled up (from Washington State) and, while the husband looked at the moose family through binoculars, the wife made her way closer... and closer... and closer. I watched the moose's ears lay back and I saw one calf run into the nearby wooded area (perhaps mama warned him?). Steve and I were convinced we were going to be witness to a moose attack. We told the husband that his wife was at risk of being killed and he looked at us like we were nuts. I suppose he finally got some sense about him as he called his wife back from her position only 40 feet from the family. I'm sure she got great photos. I'm glad I didn't get photos of a Washington resident being killed.
We slept in and awoke to blazing sunshine. Despite the early hour (8am) it was already warm outside. We got ourselves dressed and decided to have breakfast up at the lodge. (We're camping at the Princess Lodge RV Park - the lodge/resort itself has cabins, a jacuzzi, activities, etc. that we are welcome to indulge in as RV guests). Breakfast was surprisingly good and not nearly as expensive as I thought it would be. The dining room is gorgeous with high vaulted wood ceilings and a tall stone fireplace, which must be magnificent in the winter with a fire roaring in it. We got a seat by the window and enjoyed the bright, sunny view.
After breakfast, we packed our backpacks for a day of hiking. Our plan was to hike on the Resurrection Trail part of the way. I read a little more about it and it was basically a hike through the woods with not too much to see until you reached the crest of one of the nearby hills - a good 10 miles from here. So, instead we decided we'd like to hike the Russian River Trail to the Falls (notorious for the jumping salmon and sometimes feeding bears). That was a total wash too, as access to the trail is via the Russian River Campground, which is still full because of the salmon running and all the fishermen in town. The 'day parking' lot only holds 15 cars and you can't get in until someone comes out. By the time we got there, we were in a long line of vehicles waiting for a chance to get in and park. I'm sure most were looking forward to some fishing, but others were most certainly there to hike this popular trail. We waited for about 15 minutes (not moving at all) and then decided we'd just take a drive.
We hadn't visited the town of Kenai yet. It is reachable via the Kenai
Spur Highway which comes off of the Sterling (the highway from Homer to
here). Kenai is where our friend Ron lives, and I was looking forward
to checking out his 'neck of the woods'. Just before reaching Kenai, we
decided on a whim to explore the Kenai National Preserve - following a
19-mile gravel road leading out of Sterling. We stopped along the way
to check out some small primitive campgrounds, located on gorgeous lakes.
They were almost full, despite the lack of amenities. People were swimming
in the lakes, and fishing, and barbecuing. It was a beautiful place and
made me remember all the tent camping Steve and I did over the last 12
years. Although I'm not an 'insect person', I was intrigued by the sight
of a red dragonfly/damselfly flitting over the water and coming to rest
on the tall blades of grass edging the lake:
Then we made our way to the Kenai Visitor Center. What an impressive place! Not only was there lots of information to pick up, but there was an art gallery and a museum on the premises (free) depicting life on the Cook Inlet and in historical Kenai. We picked up a map of a walking tour through historical Kenai, but instead followed the map by vehicle.
One of our first visits was the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church, which was constructed in 1894 and is one of the oldest standing Orthodox churches in Alaska. Church services are still regularly held here too. Like Ninilchik's Russian Orthodox Church, this one was open for viewing.
We then checked out the Oskolkof/Dolchok Cabin, built in 1918. This cabin remains in its original location and is a good representative of what the buildings in early Kenai looked like. This is one of three homes currently in Old Town that was either built or owned by a Kenaitze Indian. Behind the cabin you can see the Chapel of St. Nicholas. The Chapel of St. Nicholas was built as a tribute to the first missionary in the Kenai area. With the aid of his two assistants, Father Nikolai was responsible for bringing the smallpox vaccine to the Kenai Peninsula and vaccinating many people in the fight against this deadly disease. On December 19, St. Nicholas Day, a memorial dedication or "moleiben" is held to remember this beloved priest and his assistants.
More information about Old Town Kenai taken from a pamphlet found at the Visitor Center:
From the departure of the U.S. military in 1870 to Alaska statehood in 1959, the small village of Kenai grew slowly into a town. Salmon canneries, commercial interests, the Russian Orthodox Church, and the American schools all influenced its growth. An important by-product of the canneries was salvage materials: after fish traps were dismantled, residents collected the timber planking and built homes with it. Due to epidemics, the need for a large labor force in the fishing industry, and easy credit, the Dena'ina (a tribe of Athabascan Indians) slowly made their way from outlying villages to live in Kenai and still reside in the community. Kenai grew most dramatically with the advent of homesteading after World War II and boomed when oil was first discovered in Alaska not from from Kenai in 1957. Dena'ina elders say that Kenai is a place for your heart. It is now a community of roughly 7500 people and a confluence of cultures.
It's after 3pm and I'm doing absolutely nothing. That's not really accurate... I'm on line reading e-mails, checking out the messages (thousands!) in the few online groups I belong to that I haven't had a chance to monitor while we've been on the road. We have internet connection right at the camper here (dial-up). For $1.00 extra, we got a site with a phone connection. It's nice to be able to sit right here at the table and get online.
I finally got a chance to talk to my sister-in-law this morning. Mom is doing well, but will have to regularly go back to the laser surgeon to be 'scoped', as kidney/bladder cancers have a high recurrence rate (but are also slow growing, so they can be treated). She's not happy about this recommendation. She just wanted to put this mess behind her. I'll be talking to Mom more at length when we get home in a few days.
I took a few photos on our way here to Anchorage from Cooper Landing, but nothing I consider post-worthy. It was overcast during the drive and I was tired and really just wanted to rest.
Steve shaved off his facial 'mess' and went to get a haircut. He's hoping to track down some of his soldiers who are here training. I don't know how much luck he'll have with it being Sunday and the air show going on. So I'm alone and just relaxing.
Diane (my sis-in-law) asked me an amusing question this morning. "Are you and Steve getting on each other's nerves yet?" I had to laugh at her very valid question. And it made me think about this trip and sharing all of these experiences with my husband.
Steve is my very best friend. There is no other person who I would prefer to have as a travel mate. We have a mutual respect and understanding for each other's interests, likes, dislikes, and more. Does this mean we constantly have bluebirds of happiness flying in circles over our heads? Maybe... but sometimes they just fly a bit higher and are slightly out of sight.
Just like any close friendship, there are bound to be moments when one person just wants to be left alone, or is in a less than fabulous mood, or wants to do something that the other person has no interest in. And it's important to respect that about each other without taking it personally.
So, in response, yes. Steve and I have noticed over the last two or three days that we've spent much more time apart. His escape is fishing. Mine is working on my photos, or organizing my digital photo album and preparing it for print when we get home. Does this mean we don't want to be with one another? No. It only means we want to be with OURSELVES.
After today, I probably won't have Internet access. But I'm sure I'll have a lot of photos from our drive on the Denali Hwy. We're also hoping to make a stop in Talkeetna on the way. The final post will have to wait until we get home on the 30th. Or maybe the day after.
Thank you all for your wonderful comments and for following me on this adventure. I've truly enjoyed keeping you all up to date on our adventure. Until next time...
Later in the day:
The Air Show was partly visible from our campground site. (We're right
out one of the gates to Elmendorf). I shot this standing in front of the
camper. If I had a teleconverter, I might be able to tell you what color
flight suit the pilot was wearing.
I was pleasantly surprised by a visit from Nikki. We sat here in the camper and talked for hours. Her husband has been informed that he's deploying to Iraq in about two weeks. He is expected to be gone for 6 months or more. I feel so horrible for her... I know how I'm going to feel when it comes time for Steve to go.
She and John will be in Fairbanks later on this week. I'm looking forward to showing them around when they arrive. I know Nikki will like it there. We're planning to BBQ at our house on July 4th with a few other friends.
We're on the road early tomorrow. I want to stop and visit Talkeetna on our way to Cantwell (which is a 200 mile drive from here). I hope the weather stays nice for us.
I'll post again when we're home.
Probably the oldest existing structure in Talkeetna, this cabin was built by trapper and miner Ole Dahl in 1916 as his Talkeetna base. Ole Dahl also had another cabin here in Talkeetna. He was a miner and a barber and lived in it with his wife, Annie, and their five children. Old timers recalled sitting in the barber chair watching the comings and goings at the Fairview Inn for 50 cents a haircut.
As early as 1896 a gold rush in the Susitna River area brought prospectors here. Talkeetna was the site for the riverboat steamer station (1915) that brought supplies to prospectors heading northwest to mining claims.
The late 1960's began an influx of mountaineers from around the world who came here seeking to scale 20,320 foot Mt. McKinley (Denali). Taking the 45 minute flight into the Alaska Range from the Village Air Strip made climbing North America's highest peak easier to access than precious lengthy overland routes.
Steve plans to do some fishing. There are also some hiking trails along the route that we might walk a short distance on. It will all depend on what the weather is like. Talking to fellow campers, we discovered that Cantwell as been as hot as Fairbanks. So much so that the overload of RV air-conditioners blew fuses here at the campground and they lost electrical power. Today, thankfully, it's much cooler. We have all the windows open and we're quite comfortable.
There's a low lying mist hanging over the mountain tops. If all goes well, it will be gone by tomorrow. We found a local lodge that we're planning to have an early breakfast at. They open at 7am, which is the perfect time for us. It's one of only a few establishments here in Cantwell. I can't say this is a tourist destination - more of a comfortable midpoint layover for those traveling from Fairbanks to Anchorage. Its proximity to Denali National Park is a positive thing, but it's still 21 miles out. I hope Denali is out tomorrow and we can see it during our drive.
Well, it's off to 'la la land'. We're both tired. It was a long driving day (205 miles) for two spoiled travelers.
We hoped that today would be a clear day, but we were disappointed to see low-lying clouds on the mountains. Regardless, we still planned to drive halfway along the Denali Highway and back. The Denali Hwy connects the Parks Hwy - where Denali Park is - to the Richardson Highway - the beginning of our trip. It's supposed to be even more scenic and full of wildlife than the highway in the actual park is. From what we could see, we plan to do the entire drive someday (when it's sunny and clear).
We drove to mile 62 and then turned around and came back. Along the way we saw alpine flowers and lots of birds. And there were plenty of places to throw in a line, which Steve did. He caught six grayling, but threw them back because they were too small. But at least it satisfied the angler in him.
We had lunch in the truck at the halfway point, despite our beautiful surroundings (lush green fields, wildflowers, soaring birds). The mosquitoes were atrocious! We sprayed ourselves really good with DEET and that kept us from getting bit, but the irritating suckers still swarmed our heads and faces and annoyed the heck out of us. I did manage to shoot some photos - mostly of the many streams and creeks we passed.
It was a relaxing drive and on the way back to Cantwell, the clouds lifted
high enough to give us the faint silhouette of the higher Alaska Range
mountains. I really wish we could have seen more...
|Wednesday - June 30 - HOME AGAIN!|