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!

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