Saturday, July 17, 2010

Home from Alaska


Thursday-Friday, July 15-16
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Right: Denali sunset

Rain, rain, go away! But it is helping to put out the fires burning and the smoke that is starting to accumulate in the valley.

We are off to the downtown Morrison Visitor Center after cleaning up in the basement where the washing machine shook the detergent off and it broke and spilled on the floor. Hmmmm…that section of concrete is certainly clean now.

The movie “The Aurora Explained” is showing at 10. An excellent movie on the aurora borealis, how it is formed, etc. We learned a lot and really enjoyed all the pictures! I think Jed should consider this as a field of study!

The displays are currently in the process of construction, but very well done. Separated into the four seasons – excellent dioramas with full panorama backgrounds, etc.

Off to Pioneer Park (ONE more time!) for lunch at the Greek shop and a stroll through the art displays (quilting this month!) on the top floor.

It continues to rain off and on during the day.

We pick up salmon for dinner and spend rest of afternoon packing and washing clothes, etc.

A downpour around 8pm is followed by an absolutely brilliant rainbow – double, with almost a double purple/red at the bottom. We all went outside to take pictures. A fitting end to a wonderful visit!

Out to the airport where Shelli and the girls give final hugs and we say goodbye. We find the ERA Alaska desk and get checked in. Discover we can’t take the larger carryon with us on the plane, as they are so small they don’t have overhead bins. They will check it to Anchorage OR check it all the way…..for free. We never do pay ANY extra fees for the luggage – flying ERA proves to be a good move!

And the ERA experience was worth it! Our little 19 seater prop plane arrives right on time, but we are about a half hour late in departing due to gas tank problems which prove to be ok. Everyone has a window seat, and I wonder at first when everyone but Rick sits on the right side of the plane…..the Denali side! But the seat behind me is empty and Rick moves over mid way through the flight.

We pull up above the clouds and soon see the Alaska range off to the east poking up. The sun seems much higher up in the sky once we get up above the clouds! After the Alaska range, I am eagerly peeking down to the southwest hoping to see Denali. Finally…..”There it is, Rick!” Wow. So big. The sun is far to the north, so it creates a huge shadow on the south side of the mountain. But the time we get clear past Denali, the sun is setting behind it. Another wow! A perfect ending to our Alaskan adventure!

Into Anchorage shortly after midnight, and by 1am we are boarding our Continental flight for Portland. Only about half full, so we don’t have a seat partner on the aisle side. The flight was only 3 hours long, but sleeping on a plane isn’t all it is cracked up to be. Maybe I slept more than I think, but it sure was hard to get comfortable and I think Rick felt the same! And we must have had a terrific tail wind, because we arrived in Portland a half hour EARLY! Gave Liz a quick call, and by 6:30 she and Mom were there to pick us up.

Liz had fixed a marvelous breakfast for us all, plus Gretchen and Tucker and Doug were there. Tucker was still a little grumpy in waking up so early.

On the road for Baker at 8:30am. Worked out perfectly to leave the car with Liz and to bring Mom home with us. Rick drives to The Dalles while I nap, I drive to Pendleton while Rick naps. We stop there for a bite to eat, and on in to Baker by 2:30.

What a marvelous trip we have had! But as always, it feels great to be home again and find Luke waiting for us!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wednesday: A Walk in the Woods & Music!

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Right: The Denali Mountain Boys!

Up to a beautiful sunshine morning! I even fell back asleep for abit, and then sat in the window couch in the sunlight. It felt good.

Dave got off for his 10 days in the field around 9:30 and at 10:15 or so Rick and I took off on a walk along the trails north of the campus. There is an immense network of trails through this area, including a couple of lakes. They are maintained during the winter for skiing, hiking, etc. (Different trails have different uses, so people won’t hike all over the classic ski trails.) Mostly a thick trail through the alder/birch forest. Opens out in a few places where tests gardens are in place. We ended up missing one turnoff, so our “walk in the woods” ended up at about 5 miles probably. We didn’t get back to Swansons until 12:20! Quickly call Mac and make arrangements to meet at 1 at the Chowder House Restaurant.

We had a great lunch with Mac at the Chowder House. I enjoyed some smoked salmon chowder and Rick a bowl of halibut corn chowder.

Quickly back to the house to pick up Sarah to take her and Rick down to UAF for a tour of the geophysics plant – the aurora people! Annika has a friend visiting for a few hours this afternoon.

Rick and Sarah walked home from UAF after the tour – it was mostly about the satellite work and volcanoes, but interesting. We fix an early dinner as we find some music playing down at Pioneer Park that sounds like it would be fun.

Started to rain as we head down to the park, but we find the “Gazebo Music” has moved indoors – we are virtually the ONLY audience, but the band called Denali Mountain Boys still entertains us for the hour. All very skilled musicians. The banjo/fiddle player, Earl Hughes, was also the musician for the El Dorado Gold Train on Monday!

Leaving we run into Thom just getting out of the river from a float trip. He might try to join up with us tomorrow for lunch or whatever! That would be fun!

Back to house to finish up the raspberry/rhubarb crisp and play a few rounds of Sequence. Sarah and I dominated! J

ALASKA: Downtown & Visits

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Right: Rick, Nephew Thom, Ginger

It rained during the night. The raspberry patch is wet! Dave delays going in to work for a few hours to work on the living room – maybe getting up a few more sheets of rock so Shelli can mud all the room while he is out in the field.

A morning spent doing laundry, baking cookies, picking raspberries, and arranging for a dinner date with Mac and Thom. (Dinner date ended up coffee with Mac and Diane at 5:15, and Thom over for dinner at Swansons).

At one we headed downtown for a little shopping excursion. Puttered around shops, made a few purchases. Visited the headquarters for the Yukon Quest dogsled race (Fairbanks to Whitehead or vice versa). Went over to Alaskaland and checked out the shops there in the oldtime village (a collection of cabins from all parts of Alaska). It is very pleasant temperature wise, but still had a few drops of rain occasionally.

Stopped to pick up some groceries at Fred Meyer and then home long enough to unpack before we take off to meet Mac and Diane for coffee. Good chance to see Diane again before she leaves for Anchorage in the morning. Rourke waited in the car to go to his obedience class.

I owe Shelli a big one for dinner tonight! She cooked everything, including a raspberry/rhubarb crisp, while we had coffee with Mac and Diane. Thom came by a few minutes before we made it home.

Super nice evening with Thom and considerable music talk. Around 10 we head outside to pogo stick with Annika. Everyone except myself takes a turn! Pretty funny to watch! Annika is amazing on the thing – she can bounce forever on it!

We clean up kitchen and Dave finishes preparing food for his trip out in the field.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

ALASKA: El Dorado Gold Mine Tour

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At right: Sarah & Annika pan for gold!

I am up early today as there was a discrepancy between my watch and Sarah’s clock and I wasn’t sure which one was accurate – an 1 ½ hours difference! But we all needed to get up and moving as today is our scheduled trip on the Gold Mine train!

We take the Saturn with Annika and Sarah up past Chena Hot Springs Road toward Fox and the Elliot Highway. The mine is located just past the viewing area for the TransAlaska Pipeline. Our reservations are all ready to go and we quickly board the little tour train – very similar to the Sumpter Railroad, except each car has a speaker system and a monitor showing the entertainer playing Alaskan folk songs from the front. Pretty good music in a takeoff from Johnny Cash as we wait for a final tour bus to arrive.

Train gives a good history of mining in the Interior, from the Permafrost tunnel mining to placer mining to rocker sluice boxes and the independent miner. We get a first hand view of an industrial size sluice box with paydirt loaded with a big crane. Then we eat get our own “poke” of paydirt and are directed to a large area of benches with troughs of warm water to pan our gold. It is pretty fun to do, but hard to trust the last part that you aren’t washing the good stuff out! Everyone finds gold and we put it into the little canisters we are given. You can keep what you find, but of course are then directed into a gift shop where they will weigh the gold and value it for you, along with an abundance of jewelry options to put your gold inside! The gold is measured in “grains”, a portion of a troy ounce. Each grain was worth about $4. I had 4 grains, Sarah 5 ½, and Annika and Rick combined 11 ½. All together nearly $84 worth by their measurements. If we take it to an actual gold exchange I would think it would be a little less.

Girls seemed to have a good time. We stopped at the Pipeline viewpoint and awed again at the size of the pipe. They have demos of the “pigs” that flow through the pipe to record pipeline activity (flow, flaws, etc.) I took a picture of Annika and called it a “Pyglet in front of a pig in a pipe!” Rick purchased a funny pipe pig shirt from a discount rack.

Annika gives us a tour of Pearl Creek School and Sarah shows off the Pearl Creek Garden where she worked for a month. Tucked away back in the thick forest of birch trees – all laced with country country ski trails!

Our afternoon is filled with different kind of tours! Rick takes off on Sarah’s bike and explores a major portion of Fairbanks by bike! Shelli, Sarah, Annika, and I go “arting”! Shelli has some tiles to return to a tile artist up on Moose Mountain. The gal, Nancy Johnson, has built as beautiful new home and studio up on a mountain about 10 miles from Fairbanks. What fun to see her work, be inspired to do some things with our leftover glaze, and gaze out at a spectacular view clear down to the Alaska Range (a view somewhat smoke hampered by the flare up from the winds of a fire southwest of Fairbanks). Nancy seemed quite excited to share her work and home and the visit lasted a little longer than we anticipated. We stopped at the Art Annex to view some work similar to Georgia O’Keefe’s flowers, but it was closed. Then to the Great Alaska BowlWorks, which makes wooden bowls and tools from birch burls and other woods. Nice stuff, but expensive and then wouldn’t take my credit card without picture ID! So we found some of it at Fred Meyer instead!

We meet Dave at Pad Thai for dinner. Good meal! Then over to Sarah’s school so she can throw her discus a little. Skies are clouding up – we are supposed to have some rain tomorrow. Maybe that will help the fire smoke plum that we can see rising up south of town. I tried to take more pictures tonight of the girls since Luke told me my blog is suffering from a lack of “People Pictures”!

Monday, July 12, 2010

ALASKA: Weekend Days

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At right: Brother Mac & Ginger

What a wonderfully lazy Saturday morning! I was up early and spent nearly two hours reading, writing, and in general relaxing. Morning activities included processing the greens Sarah brought home from the school garden last Wednesday, Dave and Shelli putting up a couple sheets of sheetrock, and a trip to the high school by bike for Dave and Sarah to try out her new discus.

Shelli, Annika, and I took a walk through the birch forest – a nice stroll past all their berry patches, moose droppings, etc. About ¾ mile I would guess. Nice to have such good high-bush and lingonberry sources so close by!

Shelli, Sarah, and I run down to the Farmer’s Market quickly to pick up some more tomatoes and cucumbers, then back up to pick up Rick who was helping Dave install a couple of windows. We are off to Pioneer Park (formerly Alaskaland) to play miniature golf!

Ham dinner and time for games tonight! The weather was muggy all day and tonight it looks like it could rain some.

…..and rain it did during the night! Sunday dawns without the sun, but plenty of clouds. We are going to go to church – to an outdoor service down at Chena River Park in the middle of town.

Much debate about whether to take a salad and stay for the picnic after church. We finally opted to NOT stay, hence NOT take a salad. Well, we ended up staying and didn’t bring anything! But as usual at all Presbyterian functions, there was plenty of food available for all! Sarah did a quick swap of clothes with Shelli and took off on a short canoe trip with some of the youth on the Chena.

Glance at Google maps to refresh how we were getting to Mac’s and Rick and I take off in the truck shortly before two. Have no trouble finding the house. Wow! Once again the flowers take your breathe away. The yard is so beautiful. Get a tour of all the work Mac and Diane have been doing on the addition, etc. and then enjoy sitting out on the new deck and visiting. Diane and Rourke get home around 3 from a “doggie event”, and the Swanson gang arrives shortly after 4. A superb dinner of BBQ salmon, pasta salad, bread, Shelli’s garden salad, corn on the cob, and a giant strawberry pie. Annika was fading, so Swansons took off around 8, but Rick and I stayed until 10:15 visiting and watching the high energy Rouke in action! Bonnie has been sick, but she seemed to be doing better. She is such a sweet old dog. It was so good to see Mac and Diane. We hope to grab lunch with Mac later in the week before we leave, and maybe Thom too (if we can catch him, according to Diane!)

Smoke or dust or something had blown in and the sun was a red ball behind a grey curtain enroute home. Made for stellar skies, but I hope no fires are been “fanned up” by the high winds that blew in during dinner.

A good weekend!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

ALASKA: Chena River Cabin Adventures Part 2

ANGEL ROCKS HIKE

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At right: Group picture on top of Angel Rocks

I hope I slept more than I think when I finally get up around 8. The cabin is quiet – quieter now that I am no longer rustling around on that air mattress! So peaceful in the sunshine on the front porch, but I can tell it is going to be warm today! Not a cloud in view.

Slowly people emerge into the sunshine and we get some water heating for coffee and oatmeal. We have to be out of the cabin by noon (more guests coming in) and Dan and Diana need to get back to town to work, etc. Boats have been deflated and rolled back up after drying in the warm sunshine. Rick and Dan brought the canoe up last night and retied it on the truck then.

We leave Chena River cabin around 11, heading further out Chena Road toward the hot springs. Our goal is the Angel Rocks trailhead, noted in the guide as the most popular hike in the Fairbanks area. Guess we’ll be good “tourists” today, but I am glad for a shorter, less strenuous hike because it is HOT!

We take the 3.5 mile Angel Rocks loop – 1.2 miles up to the rocks with a 900 foot climb, most of that in the final half mile! First part strolls along the river in the cool of the birch trees. The bugs aren’t too bad in here, but we all sprayed before leaving! We see an abundance of wildflowers: bunchberry, lingonberries, wild poppies, harebells, mountainbluebells, fireweed, wild sage, and many others Shelli probably told me the name of that I can’t remember! Up around the rocks the blueberries were ripe (or almost!) and the girls picked freely! They were a little tart, but good!

The rocks are the visible part of a huge volcanic plug of granite beneath the surface of the earth. Crumbling granite, so in places the trail was very slippery in tread. Interesting formations created by the forces of water, wind, and ice: pocket holes, promontories, fissures, etc. The view from the top of the Chena river system was great – rolling spruce covered hills, some fire damaged, but always plenty of green undergrowth. We snacked on GORP up at the top and drank water. I was pretty tired by the time I hit the top. This sunshine business is a stranger to us this year!

Coming down off the loop, we somehow got on the wrong trail which proved to be a shortcut STRAIGHT down the mountain! Another family was with us, but Shelli, Annika, and I were quite a ways behind Dave, Rick, and Sarah. It wasn’t a pretty descent – I did some of it on the seat of my pants, glad I had on a very old pair of sturdy jeans. No pictures on that stretch – my camera was safely in my pocket! The loop brought up down to another stretch along an old river channel, which meant thick with skeeters! Fast hiking on that section, as the spray is wearing off!

Back to the cars around 3 to snack on leftover birthday cake (we share with the family who came down just behind us) and a sleepy drive home. Everyone was tired! The clouds have really rolled in and we even had a couple drops of rain. I was still looking for a good moose picture, and we spied several coming home that Shelli stopped so we could take some pictures. I also looked hard for Mac’s street, but never found where he lived. Later realized I was looking for the sidestreet, not the main road that connected with Chena Road. Google maps straightened me out. I thought Mac was further out the highway as well – he is around Mile 6.

Dave gets right to work on the living room construction when we are unpacked, while the rest of the group crashes for showers, etc. Shelli pulls out her international cookbook and we make a Vegetable Curry dish from Nepal – perfect for the abundance of bok choy and cabbage that needed to be picked from the garden! After downloading a few pictures, Rick, Sarah, Annika, and I head upstairs to watch “The Russians Are Coming!” , one of their favorite movies! I could almost stay awake for all of it, but then worked on the first part of our blog until midnight!

ALASKA: Chena River Cabin Adventures Part 1

Chena River Canoeing

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At right: Group at the cabin

After our late night, we are up early to make Sarah’s birthday cake and get packed for our adventure on the Chena River. Leave around noon, drop all the gear off at the cabin, which is located at the 32 mile mark. Leave the Saturn at the cabin and take the two trucks on up the road to the 39 mile bridge.

It takes nearly an hour to inflate the three SOAR canoes (Somewhere On A River) – Dave and Shelli own one, and their friends Dan and Diana bring the other two along with their regular wood canoe. Dan is a physics professor at the University, and he and Diana are also friends in the church. Wonderful people.

The weather has to be the warmest day Rick and I have had since last summer! Clear skies and hot temps! Dave and Annika are in one boat, Shelli and Sarah in another, Rick and I in one, and Dan and Diana in their canoe. My vest has a handy little pocket in the front, so I keep my camera wrapped in a zip lock bag and am able to get it out whenever I want!

The Chena moves about 5 miles an hour at best in this area, so we paddle a little to keep things moving. I left my watch at the cabin, so I can only guess that we finally got on the river around 3. Of course, you don’t have to worry as much about getting done by dark, since dark happens after midnight, if ever. We pass spruce forests and birch trees, areas of permafrost where the spruce are stunted. Willows along the bank. We didn’t see as much wildlife as we thought, maybe because we were in the back most of the way. Did see 3 moose driving up the road and a family of mergansers. A bald eagle midway up in a tree. Shelli and Sarah saw a porcupine. Evidence of beaver activity. We crossed under the road several times at various bridges and at other times seemed to be out “in the wild”. The river channel has changed frequently due to log jams.

The feature I found most interesting was where the entire bank was curling down into the river, taking several spruce trees with it. They leaned way out over the river, and in a few cases so far as to touch the river and create an arch. In another area the left bank was about 20’ above us, and Swansons said many fossils and bones are sometimes found in the cut.

We stopped twice, once for a food break, and another to check out a particular ugly section of downed trees. The last section of logs was the hardest of the trip, and we had to paddle hard to enter the slough that led us back to the cabin. (The slough was the old river channel before it changed directions again!)

Rick and I managed ok, but we probably didn’t have the weight in our boat right because we over corrected on turns a lot – and ended up in more than one or two 360 spins.

We got to the cabin right around 8 pm. Long enough on the river – we were ready to be done. That’s the most sun this body has seen in a long time! Rick, Dave, and Dan left to go pick up the two trucks, while the “girls” got dinner ready and a fire going.

Hot dogs, some excellent beans that Diana brought, and salad comprised Sarah’s birthday dinner. Afterwards we brought out the cake and then opened presents. Sarah seemed pleased with all her birthday gifts, especially her new camera!

We are all tired and sun dehydrated. The cabin is nice, but primitive in terms of sleeping – platform bunks, but bring your own pad. So another night with the air mattresses for Rick and I! For some reason my mattress squeaked horribly all night – maybe in combo with the wood plank. Rick found a pad that had been left in the cabin that he put under his air mattress, so I don’t think he made as much noise as mine. All in bed by midnight.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

FAIRBANKS: Botanical Gardens


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At right: Livingstone Daisy from the Botanical Gardens at UAF

A leisurely morning while Shelli and Sarah are at the orthodontist! Annika and I make a birthday card for her Grandma, painting a pansy from a picture I took out in the yard. I use Annika’s oil pastels to draw the pansy also and leave the picture with the Swansons.

It is beautiful outside today. Clear skies and sunshine. I have been amazed that the mosquitos here above town are not bad at all. What luck!

Shelli and Sarah return, we grab a quick lunch, and then off to the Farmer’s Market – which is held twice a week down on College. Sarah drives! She is practicing for her license.

The Market is busy. A mix of crafts and produce. We pick up some cucumbers and tomatoes (certainly don’t need lettuce!) and I find a wonderful new denim work shirt with fireweed embroidery. I am able to purchase it without the t-shirt part of the set. We also run into a photographer friend that Shelli used to work with years ago He was selling some amazing pictures. We ended up buying two small pictures of moose up in the tundra. The colors are superb! We pick up some lemonades and raspberry ice teas to cool off – it is actually quite warm in the sun! Rick and Sarah pick out some wonderful bread to go with the potato soup for dinner. Luke calls.

We stop by the house to drop Sarah off for work and then head to the Large Animal Research Center just down the road from Dave and Shelli. A couple of musk ox are out where we can see them up close, but all the caribou are down below. We just missed a tour that went out. Maybe another day.

Then around to the botanical research gardens of the UAF. It is a gorgeous day to play in the flowers! Sure glad Luke showed me the digital zoom feature of the camera. I tried to show the same to Annika and Shelli, because Annika’s camera is nearly identical to mine. Seems like everything was in bloom except for a few fading day lilies and some of the peonies and columbine. I love the gardens because all the plants are labeled so you can see what you like and be specific about varieties! They have expanded the garden considerably, adding new shelters, a children’s area, tunnels through willows for the kids, ponds, and a soon to open viewing platform out over the valley where on a clear day you can see Denali. I only took about a 120 pictures!

Sarah requested potato soup for her birthday dinner, which we are eating tonight as tomorrow will be hot dogs over a fire. Tastes wonderful and the bread was excellent. Made a huge tossed salad to go with it, using our new cukes and ‘maters. Dave and Rick worked to install one of the new windows in the living room, and around 10 friends Muffy and Jim and son David came by for lingonberry crumble and ice cream to wish Sarah Happy Birthday. Same friends who were in Baker City 4 years ago and celebrated David’s 16th birthday there! So,,…another late night. Sun is still shining as we finally get to bed after midnight.

No posts for a couple of days now. We will be heading out to the Chena River cabin for the night to go hiking and rafting. No electricity out there!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

SWANSONS: Trails at The Creamery Refuge

At right - Swanson's house and garden in the birch grove. Note the moose electric fence!

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Goodness it does feel strange to go to bed at midnight and have the sun still streaming in through the windows! But we have the windows open so the fresh air feels great! (Good screens, although the mosquitoes have been a rare sight up here so far!)

A rather lazy morning, although Dave does have to get up and going on a field trip today with the university class. The rest of us work around the house: Rick and Annika do some weedwacking, Sarah mows the lawn, Shelli and I pick and process A LOT of chard and kale for the freezer. Around noon we load up the truck with a dump run.

For the afternoon, Sarah goes to work at the Pearl Creek School Garden and the four of us head down to The Creamery and the Wildlife Bird Refuge. Mac’s office is right in the middle of it, so we stop in to say hi! We are heading out to Mac’s on Sunday for a salmon BBQ! I find his office (with Shelli steering me in the right direction) with the sign “Mac’s Hole” above the door! We have a good short visit (he is working after all!) and then head out to walk a trail or two through the refuge.

The big sandhill crane festival is in August, but there are already a few cranes present. Our big surprise was seeing a bald eagle fly in and land on the same pond as the cranes, only on the other side. We couldn’t really see well what the eagle was eating, maybe a goose, but he sat on pond’s edge for awhile eating away. The cranes settled down again once they knew they weren’t in danger.

Shelli knows the sounds of so many birds, it is always fun taking a walk with her! We went out to the Bird Observatory and then back through the woods a short ways on Chickadee Trail. (Mac had warned us against the woods trails as they were more “buggy”). The Creamery is a former dairy farm that closed in 1969 and was given to the state for development as a refuge. Beautiful fields that are planted with bird loving grains!

A stop at Hot Licks, the local ice cream shoppe, for a treat and then back to the house. Annika and I work on a little artwork while Shelli prepares yak meatloaf for dinner! We drew one of the columbine pictures that I took from out in their garden.

After dinner Dave showed us some of the pictures from his work up in the Brooks Range, plotting permafrost melting sites and finding good locations for some new weather stations. It was interesting to see some of what he is doing and to see the countryside.

Our late-evening entertainment was watching Dave and Shelli try to kill some of the fruit flies that seem to have made the kitchen counter home – in the flower vase and peaches and nectarines.

Earlier to bed tonight!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

ALASKA DAY SIX: Into Fairbanks - Rendezvous with Swansons!


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At right: Columbine from Swanson's garden

Ah! What a blissful morning to sleep in a little later, enjoying the comforts of a good mattress! After writing last night, we went down to the “clubhouse” to listen to a native Alaskan folk singer and then took a long walk around the park, marveling at the variety of states represented in the RVs. There is a Good Sam Caravan here, which helps bring in more people. Made phone contact again with both Moms, Jed, Luke, and Swansons. Will call Mac from Fairbanks once we know what is happening!

We pull out of the RV park around 9:30, Rick grabs a coffee, and we are back on the road. Quickly see evidence of some recent fires in the Tok area (Candy’s Dan was here just a few weeks ago fighting a big one SE of town) – charred spruce trees and little mounds of black earth sprouting tufts of green grass.

This is not my favorite part of the drive to Alaska. Other than a few views of the Alaska Range and Mts. Hayes and Deborah to the south, we see more lakes, wide river deltas, and spruce trees – scraggly most of them.

Into Delta Junction and then a stop at the Knotty Shop. The boys always enjoyed these burl animals, including the huge mosquito. Then into North Pole to send some postcards to our local kids.

We arrive at the Swansons around 2:30p and spend the afternoon visiting and seeing all the work Dave and Shelli have been doing on the house. Sarah arrived home around 6:30 from her weekend with friends at Healy Lake. Rick and I will be sleeping up in Sarah’s room. Annika is excited to set up the new tent and sleep outside with Sarah.

Total mileage for today: 215 miles
Final mileage for our trip up is 2665 including the 125 side trip to Stewart.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

ALASKA DAY FIVE: Teslin, Yukon to Tok, AK


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Fact: On July 3 it does not get completely dark….EVER….in Teslin, Yukon.

It had started raining while Rick and I were in the restaurant last night. We came out around 7:30 and spent the next hour and a half reading in the cab of the truck. The tent is holding, but it isn’t really designed for heavy rain. We mopped up a puddle or two, climbed into bed at 9p and decided we’d sleep until we were too wet or uncomfortable.

So….we are up at 3:55! We were not wet, but ready to go. And it wasn’t raining at the time! Pack up the wet tent and some damp sleeping bags in corners, The showers felt good!

On our way at 5am. The clouds are breaking up and the sun is starting to light up the sky more than it already was. The highway borders Teslin Lake on our south clear to Johnson Crossing. It is calm and still in the morning, filled with inlets and islands. I would take a few pictures, but the windows in the truck are fogged up!

……Rick drives to Whitehorse, where we arrive at 7am. We drove past many a lake, and along Teslin Lake and Marsh Lake. Clouds on the mountains are pretty as the sun breaks through. Rising mists on the lake give an eerie appearance to the views.

We stop in Whitehorse to gas up and eat break at McDonalds! We had to drive 100 miles this morning without a cup of coffee!

I start driving in Whitehorse, with instructions to Rick that he has to take a few pictures along the way! As we pull nearer to Haines Junction the sun really breaks out and lights up the range of mountains behind HJ and down south toward the Inland Passage. Awesome! We passed the RV Park we stayed in with the boys in ’96 – we couldn’t remember the name, but we both recognized it immediately!

Once we pull out of Haines Junction toward Kluane, the weather deteriorates rapidly. We seem to climb up to join the lowering clouds. Shortly before approaching the end of Kluane Lake, the rain begins. The clouds wrap the mountains up. We make the big turn around a nearly empty Destruction Bay (it looks like a huge marsh – we are thinking it only filled during the spring run-off) and alongside the lake for about 12 miles until we reach the community of Destruction Bay. All along we can see the peaks of the nearby “hills”, but the snowy peaks behind them are eluding us. It is not the sunshine we hoped for, but a beauty in its own way! We have a nice talk with a lady traveling along from Eugene – probably about our age. She was staying in hostels throughout the Inland Passage.

Rick takes over the wheel again. The rain begins to taper off…a little…and the mountains tease us some more. A blanket of clouds on the shoulders with just the peaks on top showing. Pretty cool. At one point we think we can see some of the really high mountains of the St. Elias range peak through.

The road from Kluane to the border is the worst of the trip. I can hardly type and think I will quit for awhile. This is quite a ride!

….I had to go back and edit that last part a bit. The road was so bad my fingers were bouncing all over the keys! Hence, the 125 miles to the border from Kluane were miserable as far as Rick was concerned. He should have earned a medal for pothole avoidance – we missed 90% of them I think! But he was dodging from one side of the road to another, except when there was oncoming traffic of course. From Kluane to Tok is also my least favorite part of the Al-Can. Mostly lots of scraggly spruce trees, marshes, and lakes = lots of lakes!

Through the border easily and we are into Tok by 2:30 or so. Of course, we gained an hour in entering Alaska which helped. We get a brand new little cabin at the same RV park we stayed with the boys – basically a hotel room with character! A TV even, soft beds, clean sheets, and DRY! We should sleep well tonight having been up since 4 am.

A little gift purchasing, drying out the gear, and an anniversary celebration dinner! (Our fancy meal of fake crab, gouda cheese, sourdough bread, and wine!) Tomorrow: Fairbanks! Tonight: comfort! We will arrive in much better shape!

Miles today: 504

Wildlife sitings: 2 egrets (we think) on top of a beaver dam; hundreds of potential moose settings, but no moose!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

ALASKA DAY FOUR: Cassiar Highway to Teslin, Yukon


View sample of today’s pictures:

Ah…we are entering the bug zone of the North! Mosquitos were definitely present last night, but the windy location kept the worst at bay. I have a few bites on my neck where I think they came in around my sweatshirt hood. Cozy night in tent, although both of us had to get up during the night. The wind died down and this morning the skeeters were definitely worse. Keeps you moving to get the tent folded up quickly.

I drive first today. The mountain scenery is supposed to “pick up” in about 60 miles, and the camera battery needs some time to recharge. If I’m driving I won’t be tempted to take pictures.

We pull out at 6:50 and within the first 30 miles see 3 black bear and one grizzly! Early departures reap wildlife viewings! Thankfully, in MOST places, the road still has a pretty cleared berm so it isn’t too hard to see what’s out there – makes for much easier driving!

The sun is trying to break through the clouds, and we have some big patchges of blue. The road just continues to wind up and down and all around through green forest – both spruce and alder – with mountain ranges spotted with snow all around you. Since the highway goes up the broad valley, the trees block your mountain views much of the time, but you are rewarded often enough to keep the adrenalin pumping!

We stop at Bell 2 around 8 to get some coffee and switch drivers again. A new modern lodge is located here, as the area is blossoming with heliskiing opportunities. Two of the cabins even have sod roofs. Rick thought that was pretty cool.

It is now 9:30, Boston is playing on the computer and we are cruising alone. Back later!

We hit our first section of gravel road for about 4-5 miles as we cross the Stikine River. Steep grade down and then back up. Passed some bikers struggling up the hill, trying to ride on the gravel. It didn’t look like fun! The Stikine was a major route for the development of the Al-Can and the gold rushes that took place in the area.

Just prior to Dease Lake, we pass an information pull-out marking the Pacific-Arctic Divide. Basically, the Tanzilla River we crossed just a few minutes ago, flows into the Stikine and down to Wrangell, Alaska and the Pacific. Dease Lake itself empties to the north as the Dease River flowing into Laird River near Watson Lake.

Into the town of Dease Lake around 10:45. We decide to put $30 in the gas tank as this is the last source before the Al-Can at Watson Lake. Just to be safe. It runs about $4.57 a gallon. Should be the most expensive of the trip. We pick up a package of turkey and a box of crackers and sit in the car and eat the whole package of turkey! We are out of ice, so eat up! Rick has more carrots and I eat more cherries. We are certainly dining on the high hog!

Dease Lake itself extends for about 20 miles northward from the town. Long and narrow like most glacial carved lakes.

The road hasn’t been as high in quality since the gravel stretch. The surface is older, the potholes more abundant, and the frost heaves more frequent! It will be slower driving into Watson Lake if this quality continues.

We pass Boya Provincial Park around 1pm, beginning to make the decision to just head on the additional 5 hours into Whitehorse. We didn’t have stellar camping in Watson Lake, and I don’t really want to fight skeeters for 7 hours just to kill some time. Rick has driven most of the day, so I will take a turn once we join back up with the Al-Can. Road quality has improved somewhat, but the northern sections of Hwy 37 are definitely not the same quality as the lower sections – no center line, no berm lines, and the berm hasn’t been cleared as well of brush. And far more bumps!

I forgot the highlight of our drive since Dease Lake – we saw moose. Appeared to be mother and a calf at one lake, and then shortly afterwards, another mother and calf! A great day for wildlife: 4 bears and 4 moose! And it’s only 1:30!! Back later. Almost time for me to drive.

Later…..We hit the Al-Can around 2:15 and Rick drove for about 10 miles until we found a place to pull over and switch drivers. He had been driving since 8:30 this morning! But I was free then to take pictures along the way. We didn’t stop much, so the actual travel of the Cassiar didn’t take as long as we expected.

So, we head west toward Whitehorse and then Alaska. So nice to be on good highway again, and this section of the Al-Can is outstanding: elevated, with wide berms, and smooth surface. The raised roadbed seems to make it easy to see forever! Soon after I take over driving, we begin to see the snow speckled mountains of the Cassiar range. The highway will cross it at the Continental Divide – we cross it twice today!

I have a picture in my mind of the winding highway on the right, a brown rock ridge to the left and snowy mountains beyond. Rick was busy so we didn’t get any pictures of the 130 miles into Teslin. Ah well. I took enough yesterday. Suffice to say, I had forgotten how pretty the stretch past Swift River was….or maybe it was socked in clouds in 1996, which I think was the case.

We pulled into Teslin around 5:15 and decide to stay. There is a caravan of RVer’s here which makes things exciting, but the tenting area we share with a lone biker – who has a thick accent, but I don’t know from where! The wind is blowing hard which makes setting up the tent a challenge, but at least we haven’t seen any mosquitos! We are camped on grass (the rocky pad last night was less than ideal) next to Teslin Lake. We should be able to hear the trucks roll over the long metal bridge all night long! J

Into the restaurant for a full meal – our one for the day. We’ve even from the box otherwise! I am eating slowly so I can use the computer out of the wind – plus the internet connection is better inside! A good day. Glad we have now done the Stewart-Cassiar highway. Anyone who starts it from the north would doubt their decision, so glad we did it south to north! And very glad we took the day off yesterday to visit Stewart and Hyder!

G’night. Our thanks for safe travels to date.

PS. Note to Luke – I didn’t miss all the cottonwoods. It “snowed” in many places today along the highway! We camped beneath them last night as well.

Friday, July 2, 2010

ALASKA DAY THREE: Glaciers! Glaciers!


View a sample of today's 300+ pictures

Cool night, but up at 5:45 to a GLORIOUS view out my little tent window! That should help sell these tents! We pack up, shower, and are on the road by 6:50. The skies were clear on the glacier this morning, but cloud banks are rolling in.
Rick and I took a walk last night out in front of the campground. Checked out some of the flowers we’ve been trying to identify at 60 mph! Lots of clover and what looks like a bright red cinquefoil. Also learned that BC is in the middle of the worst bug kill in history.
Shortly after Rick sees the rear end of a moose go into the THICK undergrowth, we stop in Mauricetown, an First Nation town to view the Telwye (sp?) Falls, an Indian fishing spot and a quaint white bridge. Then up to a convenience store for a coffee, a picture of some NW Indian art, and we are off for Hazelton and the Stewart-Cassiar!
The views are getting great! Front and back, north and south – more mountains with snow, more green hills. We seem to be out of the bug kill area, so the forests are green now again.
Around 8:30a we make the turn north on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. Behind us is the full range of the coastal mountains – north a broad green valley between two ranges.
…..It is now 7pm and our tent is pitched at Mezelian Lake Provincial Park near the junction with 37A which runs down to Stewart-Hyder. What a day this has been! I haven’t taken time to do anything but snap pictures from the truck windows. We have driven down to Stewart and Hyder, eaten lunch at “The Bus” and climbed 3600’ back up from sea level to a point above the Salmon Glacier, returning to the junction to make camp at this provincial park when the park we were going to camp at in Stewart didn’t allow tents due to extreme bear problems.
Highway 37A down to Stewart is flat out gorgeous. I can’t even begin to count the number of glaciers we saw today, receding yes, but definitely in abundance! Some are just tucked into the highest of cirques, others stretching arms down creating highways of ice. Pretty spectacular. Our drive down this morning, the tops of the mountains were wrapped in fog and clouds, but we could see most of the glaciers. Steep walled canyon much of the way before opening up to the usual wide braided river, common in these parts, that meets the ocean in Stewart. I saw a beaver dam. In addition to snow and ice, we saw plenty of long, long cascading waterfalls. The hillsides, covered in thick shades of green, appeared to be sprouting water everywhere! Avalanche chutes in many places. I can imagine the road closes frequently in the winter, or all winter, as they also receive up to 35’ of snow in Stewart.
Stewart, BC sits on the alluvial plain of the Bear River. A fairly neat little village with a very nice visitor center,. BC does invest in its tourism trade! We pick up some information and then check out the local campground – not overly impressed. Then into Hyder, Alaska, which sits out on a point of rock (steep rock) about a mile and a half from Stewart. You do cross the border into Hyder, but they don’t check anything!
Hyder is a little dumpy compared to Stewart. We weren’t as impressed with the town or the campground there either. But…Rick had heard of the SeafoodExpress “Bus” so we visited it for lunch. The gal cooks in an old bus, painted all up, and serves outside or in a separate room if it is cool, and it was a little cool outside when the sun wasn’t shining. We moved inside and enjoyed a generous serving of fish and chips – halibut!
After lunch we drove 23 miles up the “Glacier Road” to view Salmon Glacier….and probably another 15 glacier in the process as well! Steep, steep canyons and high mountains! Again, waterfalls tumbling down every draw. We had a guided auto tour brochure to help us pick out the many mining and natural features along the way. We had no idea the road was going to climb as high as it did. Washboard in many places, so not the easiest driving for Rick. At the summit, we saw the huge expanse of Salmon Glacier and Summit Lake, formed from the glacier. The lake actually sits on the east side of the pass, but the lake drains to the west….under the glacier! Weird! It also means a mini flood everytime it happens! Because it is like pulling the plug in the bathtub! The ice dam finally melts through each summer and all the water in the lake comes out!
Back down the road. We see the tail end of a marmot dart into the bushes. Stop at Fish Creek Wildlife Viewing area. This site is crazy in late July and August when the salmon come in and the bears come visit. It probably brings more visitors to the Stewart-Hyder area than anything else. Right now it was an extremely peaceful quiet walk along a boardwalk listening to a multitude of birds. Rick saw an otter or a weasel or some small river animal hide in some bushes, but he’d never come out for me! L As we near Hyder, Rick thought he saw a moose in the river area, but the willows are so thick we can’t check right away.
We return to Hyder around 4:45 and stop at the little store for a couple “souvenirs”. I pick up a pin for Luke. Jed wouldn’t have thought the Hyder keychain unique, so….too bad!
Over to the Bear Creek Campground where we discover the “No tents or soft-top trailers”. We would have been out of luck with the tent-trailer too! So.,…quick decision made to head back up the Stewart Highway to the Provincial Park.
And glad we did! The sun was clearing over the glacier peaks by the time we had driven halfway back up. I snapped even more pictures! (Must have taken over 200 today!) Not just sunshine, but even some blue skies! Once we get to the lake, the sky is again overcast. Good chance of rain tonight. Let’s hope not, but we are prepared.
Total miles today: 294 (only 167 of which was Baker to Fairbanks mileage!)
Wildlife sitings: Marmot, beaver dam, river critter, possible moose