Saturday, August 25, 2007

Alaska In Review

When you see Alaska from a vehicle, as opposed to from a plane or boat, there is essentially only one place to enter and exit the state- the town of Tok: pronounced like it rhymes with joke; not like the second half of “Tic ___,” the sound your grandfather’s clock used to make in the parlor. No matter where you are in the state when it’s time to head out, it’s time to head back to Tok. All roads lead to Tok; no joke! And since we were about as far away from Tok as you can get by road when we wrapped up our nearly month long stay on the Kenai Peninsula, the ride back toward Tok felt a bit like a rewind and a review as we backtracked past so many places that we had explored in depth and had such great times and experiences. I already mentioned that we drove to Homer to pay our final respects to the spit, the place where I caught my first silver salmon and learned the technique to do just that. Then back through Anchor Point and Ninilchik where we fished and clammed and rode ATV’s on the beach for many miles. Next through Soldotna where I caught my first ever Red (Sockeye) salmon in the mighty Kenai River and then past the town by the same name where we’d explored the old canneries and fishing community. The weather was good to us and there was scenery and mountains that you could just swear were not there the last time you drove by those spots. Then onward north towards Anchorage, past the village of Hope where we spent eight glorious days on the gold claim, working hard, playing hard, and watching the moose and the beavers play in the old settling ponds from the gold mining operation of a generation or more ago. Past the wildlife conservation center at the tip of Turnagain Arm on Cook Inlet where I got some of my very best wildlife shots and past the road that leads to Whittier and the train tunnel through the mountain. Beluga Point, a favorite spot for seeing Beluga whales on the incoming tide was on our left and Dall sheep were still playing on the rock faces on our right as we headed past the marshes and into the city, where we hooked up just long enough for lunch with Gary and Judy and thanked them yet again and said our fare-thee-wells until we meet again. Then on to Palmer for the biggest of the Alaska State Fairs. We tried desperately to get tickets for the Charlie Daniels band on Saturday night, but the concert venue within the fair grounds is very limited and the tickets literally went “sold out” just as we got to the head of the line. Big bummer! So on to Glenallen, the ONLY place in all of Alaska that we visited this summer where the mosquitoes gave us a run for our money! Tomorrow we will pass the cutoff to Valdez, one of my personal favorites, and again the cruising review of our journey will conjure up fond memories of marvelous adventure.

From there back to Tok we will travel the Tok Cutoff road- our first time on that piece of highway, then north from Tok about 40 miles to the Towns of Chicken (and Eagle) where we hope to spend our final week in the state making one last try for that Alaskan gem of jewels- the gold nugget. WE both have the gold fever bad! No, we really don’t care all that much for jewelry at all and it isn’t the monetized value of anything that we find that matters a hoot either; it’s just the thrill of knowing that that next shovel or pan full of dirt might surprise you with something with a value greater than anything you can put into perspective with a $$ sign. I’m sure it’s like finding the perfect specimen to any collector. No matter what it’s worth, you know you will keep it for the collection rather than part with it to someone else for almost any reason. When I fill my gold pan with gravel and sand and dirt and start to wash it out in the river, I feel vaguely like a kid with a box of Cracker Jacks that he just opened. I don’t know for sure there is anything in the bottom of that pan, but I think there probably is. I don’t care what it is exactly, but I am just really happy working my way down to where the prize starts to reveal itself. I fully understand my chances for a prize of any value is slim, but I don’t care because the anticipation is bringing such great joy.

Anyway, Chicken puts us close to the border for when this chapter of the Great Alaskan Adventure will draw to a close. Regrettably it must. But when it does, our next destination will be Seattle where we get to finally visit #1 son Derek after many years of not being able to get together with him. And that’s like a whole ‘nuther box of Cracker Jacks!

Following is some pics and comments from our swan song travel back towards Tok:

Our TOAD, the affectionate term RV'ers give to the vehicles they tow (i.e. "towed") has been fitted with a sexy new "sports bra" for the trip back through Canada on the Cassiar Highway. Hopefully this will afford it some increased protection against mud, sand, gravel and small boulders thrown by the big rigs and logging trucks frequenting this gravel-in-many-places highway this time of year. Radiators and windshields frequently fall prey to these predatory drivers.
One of the single most things I had hoped to see in Alaska on this trip was the spawning of the Sockeye (Red) salmon. We came upon them doing just that in the head waters of the Kenai River just below Kenai Lake. The fish are bright red and green, jaws crooked, and nothing stops them from their appointed mission in life: to spawn, and then to die. It is a most amazing process to see. We stood silent for a long time and merely observed one of the most interesting processes nature has to offer. Pictures are best viewed by clicking on them to enlarge.

Remember Ted from the Mattress Ranch? I caught up with him at the state fair on Friday raising funds for Cystic Fibrosis. Neat guy! Hey! He's a blog reader!!!!He said Larry sent the link to everyone he could think of...Thanks, Larry and Ted.
The Lumberjack show/contest at the fair made for some great entertainment!
I can do that.... Not!
Log rolling. Somebody's gonna get wet here in a minute.
Dude, you're gonna need that oriental energy drink! What a backdrop for a fair!
The human sling shot...
I told Marilyn if she bought too many things at the fair she'd have to "totem" herself. Get it? Huh? Huh?
Hair today, gone tomorrow.
The next three shots are of Sheep Mountain on the Glenn Highway. We've seen bigger, meaner, snowier mountains than this is, but this gets my vote as the prettiest mountain I have ever seen- at least so far. The color comes from oxidized gypsum and is exactly the same mineral that draws the sheep to the mountain which acts as a huge mineral lick to supplement the sheep's' diet. If you don't ever get into clicking on the photos to enlarge them, PLEASE do it to these. Beautiful...and all natural.

The cranberries are almost ready to pick,
And the blueberries are ready now. Yum!
We stopped at Trader Jim's Trading Post in Mendeltna (pop. 67) for a private lesson on tomahawk throwing. Hey, it turns out we're both pretty good! I promise I will never tell Marilyn she throws like a girl again. Ever. At least not while she's holding a tomahawk!
It turns out that Jim's wife went to a high school near where I grew up in Reading, PA. (Boyertown High) My high school (Wilson) was the national marching band champions in those days and Boyertown was one of our arch rivals. Would you believe she was in the honor guard of her school's band and we probably competed against each other in that capacity all those years ago. There's another one for the small world theory.
The trading post is a wee small little outpost at the bridge on the Mendeltna River, just outside Glenallen, and I think it's a must stop if you wish to try a skill few will ever attempt to teach you. Cost? None, other than some get acquainted casual conversation. Nice folks!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Behind The Blog

I think the latter part of August in Alaska is a time of melancholy- for me anyhow. For the last better part of three months I have been writing and sharing images of a most amazing place. A world where adventure is around every corner. A world where every sight is more majestic and captivating than the one before. A world where the daily discovery of something new is the rule and not the exception. We have loved being in Alaska, so as the time we can spend here draws down, I am already feeling a personal sense of sadness in testimony to that fact. Has it been all good? For the most part, yes. Have there been days when life's little "man on your shoulder" offers up his little list of daily challenges? Sure. Has everything gone exactly as planned? Well, honestly, NO, but that is in large part what made the time spent here so magical.
By design I have tried not to get too far into anything in the form of the downfalls, the larger challenges, the problems that popped up from time to time. I've tried my level best to keep these musings more about Alaska and how we saw and felt about it and less about my own personal matters- things that maybe work their way into my head but shouldn't work their way into the blog on a daily basis. But now in this time of admitted melancholy, I'm feeling the two separate worlds coming much closer together than they did at the onset. There is more to life than fun and adventure.
I'd "mentally postponed", while we have been traveling, the fact that the real estate market in Florida, where we have our home base and a house for sale, has gone from bad to worse, but the tax bill seems to be getting delivered to the mail box anyhow. I keep thinking that wonderful commercial building I have in Maine with all three of the best attributes a piece of property can have (Location. Location. Location.) should have sold a long time ago, but for one reason or another that won't give up the ghost either. With those properties in tow, life on the road remains a great deal more complicated than we would like our life to be right now.
Add to that family health issues back in Pennsylvania: dad was hospitalized with a heart attack a couple weeks back, Aunt Dot, who has other more serious health concerns, fell and shattered her hip joint which required emergency replacement, forcing my mother who has some concerns of her own to be in the position of worrying and visiting both of them on a non stop basis. My sister, who lives close by, stopped by the hospital to check on everybody and tripped in the parking lot on a "speed bump"and had to go to emergency for x-rays of her own. What are the odds for that? Since things have seemingly stabilized all around there for the time being, we decided to try and stick out the rest of our time in Alaska. Flying back and forth this close to snow fall and icing conditions up here, risking stranding the coach, and maybe Marilyn and Abby as well, isn't a very attractive option, and since there is nothing of an immediate nature that we could do there, we're just plugging along day to day, trying to stay in close contact to home, and trying to look out far enough ahead to be able to make a move on short notice if we are needed there right away. Alaska is not the "state next door". By drive time through Canada and across the country we are weeks away at best. So with every move we make now, a new "emergency plan" must be formulated. That's just the way it is.
And to complicate even that, we have decided to pull up stakes on the Kenai Peninsula and head up to Chicken with the idea that maybe we can fill that one goal that has eluded us thus far- the revered gold nugget. Chicken is a VERY rural area of the state; communications from there are considerably more challenging than they are from here. That's the bad news. The good news is that from Chicken we will be several days closer to the lower 48 drive-time wise should we need to move up the date of departure from Alaska. When our state tour began some three months ago- we were "chicken." While it was a place we dearly wanted to visit, the unknowns and our own inexperience with the coach in "less than full hookup mode" made us skip that part of the adventure. More or less we put that on the "next trip" list of things to do- but with everything else falling in to place as it is, this may be our only chance to do this for a long time to come. Weighing the situation on a daily basis- this looks like the best option all around.
Yesterday I wrapped up the season's fishing with the best day I ever had here: 22 Coho (Silver) salmon all in the 10 pound class, a sea run cutthroat trout in the same size range, a Dolly Varden, my first ever, and a Sockeye (Red) salmon for good measure that went about 5 pounds or so. Released fish MUST be unhooked and released without lifting them out of the water, which is why there are photos of the "keepers" only. Oh, and if you think a 10 pound Coho is standing still in the water while you take its picture- think again! Those little rascals can go upstream a hundred feet or downstream the same distance within a matter of seconds after being hooked. If freight trains ran under water and at the speed of Amtrak- that's what they'd be like.

Gonna need a bigger grill!!!
Maybe it's hard to see the size of the fish whole and in the rain- but here's a look at one of the four fillets from the two limit keepers.
Leaves are turning before the end of August. The dandelions, the first weed to bloom most other places has just begun to bloom here, and already it's leaves are going red. Talk about a short growing season. And a sign of what is to follow...

Above and below, we drove down to Homer one last time. What a wonderful place. Abby made her August visit to the vet to get "her nails done" and to get her thyroid meds regulated yet one more time.
I don't think I would ever be able to live in Alaska year 'round. Too cold for this old body and too dark for too long in the winter for this old mind. BUT: I don't really want to leave Alaska either. Between the days growing short, the constant rains of August, and all the pressures behind the blog, this is an unsettled time; not one that I would have missed for the world though.

Friday, August 17, 2007

It's Always Something!

The photo below and the article that follows were imported from an internet news article coming out of Anchorage. We thought by coming to Alaska we might escape at least one active season of hurricanes in Florida, but didn't really expect to be swapping that for an active volcano ready to blow off some steam. To be clear- this is NOT one of the four volcanoes we have shown earlier- ones which we ARE close to at the present. This one is (hopefully) plenty far enough away so as not to bother us, but still - not that far away either. Like hurricanes, I find this exciting so long as it doesn't huff and puff and blow my house down.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - One of Alaska's most active volcanoes could be working toward a massive eruption that could affect air travel but was not expected to threaten any of the towns in the area.
Satellite images of Pavlof Volcano taken Thursday showed strong thermal readings, consistent with what the Alaska Volcano Observatory is calling a "vigorous eruption of lava" at the volcano about 590 miles southwest of Anchorage on the Alaska Peninsula.
The volcano is below the path of hundreds of daily international flight paths, and an explosive eruption could interrupt those operations, said a volcano seismologist with the observatory. Volcanic ash can enter an engine and make it seize up, he said.
The Federal Aviation Administration sent advisories to airlines that might be operating in the area and is monitoring the situation. If there is a severe eruption, flights would have to be diverted, possibly resulting in delays.
Seismic activity is high at the 8,262-foot volcano, with about one tremor recorded every minute. Lahars — mudslides caused when lava melts snow on the peak — have triggered some seismic activity, as well, he said.
The mudslides took place on the southeast side of the volcano, an area inhabited by few, if any, people. Pavlof is about nine miles from Pavlof Bay, a popular fishing ground, but at the moment it isn't posing an immediate threat.
Hazards the volcano could present included light ash fall on nearby communities, mud flows, lava flows and hot debris avalanching on the volcano's flanks.
Several small towns are in the area, including King Cove, which is about 35 miles to the southwest with a population of roughly 800, and Cold Bay, nearly 40 miles southwest with a population of about 90. But they're too far to be affected by lava, and an eruption probably would coat the towns with no more than a 2- or 3-millimeter-thick blanket of ash.
Pavlof, which has had about 40 eruptions since record keeping began in the area in the 1760s, is among the most closely monitored volcanoes in the state, with permanent monitoring equipment installed nearby.
Its last eruption was in 1996; that 11-year span is the longest Pavlof has gone without an event. A string of eruptions took place during the 1970s and 1980s.
A series of ash explosions and lava eruptions took place for several months after the last eruption. Ash clouds reached as high as 30,000 feet at the time. During a 1986 eruption, Pavlof spewed ash as high as 49,000 feet.

Barn To Be Wild

State Fairs everywhere are timed about the same. When the berries start to ripen, it's time to have the fair. No exception to the rule here in Alaska. These wild strawberries are turning ripe all over the lawn at the campground of The Alaskan Angler/ AFISHUNT in Ninilchik where one of the five state fairs is held. All of the fairs are held in either August or September. Back in the Spring when we came into the state and I started filming wild flowers, I took photos of strawberry blooms. I never really expected them to be a major part of the lawn by the Fall- but sure enough! Now you can find them just about everywhere. Time to fatten up the bears.Ninilchik State Fair Poster theme 2007: Barn To Be Wild

Would it be a fair without concerts on the stage?
Pig Races - my favorite. "Greased Lightening" nosed out "Pacer" in the 2:00 heat.
Alaskan pride- cabbage where only one fills the wash basket.
And you thought Wisconsin folks wore crazy head gear!
Demonstrating one of the high kicking sports from the All Alaskan Olympics...kick a ball suspended way over your head and then land on either one or both feet without a hop- depending on the particular rules of the match.
Why dip only one duck when the net is so big? This fair game prepares Alaskans for subsistence fishing- salmon netting.
Juggle this!
A sign for everyone...
Prettiest pig at the fair.
Feeding Flossy.
Who needs pony rides?
Mechanical bulls are fun.
Oh, maybe not.
Boy, 8 seconds is a long time!
At no other fair anywhere in the world are you as likely to get a chance to ride a mechanical salmon!
Horizontal bungee jumping?
It wouldn't be a fair without a sausage sandwich - but Reindeer sausage?, now that's Alaska.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Red At Night....

Red at night, sailor's delight; red in the morning, sailor take warning! This enhanced image of a bald eagle on the beach at Ninilchik took flight in the evening following a blustery cold, rainy day. Sure enough, the next morning proved to be the turn in the bad weather.