Thursday, April 30, 2009

Crazy Horse And More

I feel a whole lot more like taking a nap than I do in trying to put a post up. Oh, sure, yesterday we ventured into the Black Hills and had a marvelous day. I got up early this morning (5:30 Mountain Time) to have some fun posting....only to find out that my newest version of Norton Security that I downloaded and had working yesterday, had ISSUES, as they say. Well, long story short, its issues rapidly became MY issues and I spent the next 8 full hours (nonstop) in on line chats and phone calls to get those issues resolved. Issues resolved for now...or so it seems.

About yesterday. Yesterday. All my troubles seemed so far away....oh wait, that was a Beatles song wasn't it? Anyway, we drove past Mt Rushmore (which we visited before). Took a few shots because it is impossible not to! It's pretty neat. But we were on the way to see the Crazy Horse Memorial- a "mountain"sculpture" in progress since 1948, my personal favorite year ever, and it's still a long way from being finished. BUT! It's close enough to finished so that you feel a bit awestruck just being near it. And to think the entire Mt. Rushmore sculpture would pretty much fit in a space the size of just the head of Crazy Horse, which gives you some real sense of how huge this monument will be.

Along the way, we stopped to watch a flock of wild turkeys pick over a grass field before deciding to step into the woods when I decided to step out of the car to take their picture. If only I had had my turkey call...(here, turkey, turkey). We made a stop at the Big Thunder Mine, where you can take a lode mine tour or do some panning, or just chat with some of the guides who are happy to answer questions about the area. We learned a lot about the area during our visit. Out by Horse Thief Lake, in the shadows of Mt. Rushmore, I pulled over to watch some beautiful Rainbow Trout being reeled in. The fishermen were a lot happier to be in my photos than the fish were! In the forest between the two monuments, Spring Cleaning was underway and there were nice, neat , uniform piles of brush all lined up and ready for disposal.

I'm gonna have to let the pictures speak for themselves today. I just can't be at this computer much more today:

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Mighty Wind

A mighty wind blew across the prairie on the last day of our first full week of nonstop travel as we head to Alaska. And a mighty cold wind it was. Had it been a tail wind, I probably would have had to run with the engine brake on. No such luck, as for most of the day, the wind hit us head on. I was happy to figure out eventually that it was the wind and not some mechanical problem that was retarding our forward momentum so much. Never had it quite this bad! But we pulled into Rapid City, South Dakota where we will slow down and absorb some R&R for a while. Rapid City is a great city. Some have asked why take R&R here. Because there is so much to do within shooting distance of the working ranch we are staying on for this holdover stop. Mt. Rushmore. Custer State Park. Crazy Horse Memorial. Boot Hill and Deadwood. Bear Country USA. Sturgis (where they have the huge motorcycle rally and a big museum). The Badlands. WALL Drug. Spearfish Canyon. Needles Scenic Highway. Lots of world famous caves. Gold mine tours. Black Hills Gold "factory" tours and jewelry outlets. Devil's Tower (Wyoming). Even a GPAA mining claim for members is nearby. And a whole lot more. Besides, the city is excellent for strolling and some of the shops are the "best in class" you will find anywhere, like Prairie Edge Trading Company, where you will find authentic Native American buffalo robes and hide dresses and tools, and ceremonial artifacts and jewelry. Clicking on this link you will receive a native American tongue greeting.

The last of the snow is melting in the hills, despite the cool temperatures that seem to be hanging on. Heavy, heavy rain last night will surely help to finish it off. The Prairie Puddles, as we call them, that look like lakes but are only melted ice and snow that hasn't yet been absorbed into the thin prairie soil will be getting bigger before they get any smaller. The ducks love them! The thunder storms that accompanied the rain that came through last night made the coach, which is sitting on a concrete slab with the jacks down feel like a cell phone on "vibrate" mode on a glass coffee table. Interesting, neat, and a bit unnerving all at once.

Lots of pronghorns (the "antelope" of the old western songs) and pheasants everywhere, but what we enjoy seeing most in this part of the country are the herds of buffalo. People ALWAYS ask me how I get so close to open range buffalo for my shots. I have, but don't use for this, a telephoto lens for my Nikon. That would be like shooting porcupines at close range with an assault rifle. If you want my secret for great buffalo pictures, CLICK HERE. You won't be sorry you did! But, please, this is a trade secret, so keep it to yourself for personal use only.

On the way here, we passed the Laura Ingalls Wilder homestead. When we passed here in 07 en route to Alaska, we did a piece on Little Coach on the Prairie. Linking back to some of theses posts will keep me from having to photograph all the same things again. "Newer is Gooder." As I write this, we are traveling this path approximately a week earlier than we did for for 07 trip. Shortly I hope to begin a post segment called "This Time Two Years Ago." Please watch for it, especially if you plan travel to Alaska any time soon(er) or later.

I mentioned the wind coming in fast and furious! Now I am just smart enough to know you don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger, you don't mess around with Jim, and you don't spit into the wind. But that song was playing heavy on my mind as I (tried) to walk around the coach for an inspection at one pit stop. I decided to spit WITH the wind. Just for fun. When last I saw "IT", it was already three miles away and going over the grass horizon line.... And speaking of FAST, we'd like to welcome aboard about a thousand new readers in just the last three days, who came to us through links from Mike and Lou Busby at and from an article Chris Guld placed on her personal blog (Blogging To Alaska), her Geeks On Tour site, and her widely followed writings on RV.NET (Blogging To Alaska). Hope you will all find something of interest here and ride along as we venture back to our most magical place on earth- Alaska! Our thanks to our dear friends for their support and encouragement!

The view from our RV pad at Hart Ranch, a 13,000 acre working cattle ranch just outside Rapid City, SD, where they rustle rv's as well as cattle.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Day 6 - Coffee For A Nickel

Already, we've reached South Dakota. In addition to having some of the best maintained and fun to drive roads in America, some of the cleanest and most wonderful cities to explore (LOVE Rapid City where we are headed tomorrow), they also have a tax structure that keeps them on our "list" of places to consider for future residence- not that we are anywhere close to making such a decision or that we need to any time soon. Our first stop in the state is, as it was last time, Al's Oasis on Rt 90 in Oacoma. Al's is a prairie oasis, not a desert oasis, but it fits the theme anyway. A campground that's laid back. Beautiful rolling hills and water views. A restaurant that serves up a fine buffalo burger and fries every bit as good as Mickey D's. Coffee for 5 cents! A fuel stop. A western wear shop. A grocery store that sells some items you won't find easily elsewhere. An antique mall. A strolling park. A place to pack and ship your fish if you catch any. All within a minute's walk of where you park your rig. Prices in the 20's. When we come through here this time of year, we call ahead, they tell us some sites to pick from, then we simply pull in on arrival and hook up. Sooner or later they come around to settle up. As easy as it gets. Meanwhile, we head on over for a buffalo burger!

Nicknames continue to roll on in. I told Jude I may need to have a runoff here pretty soon. Some good ones. Some flops. Hey, everyone's got an opinion!

Don't know if there is any humor in this or not, but since it struck me funny I'll pass it along. Previously I saw a billboard that said "Indian Ruins Navajo Rugs". In that same vein, today I saw one that said "Sioux Falls, 66". Sounded like a bad newspaper headline to me, about an unfortunate event for a native American rather than the road sign it actually was.....

Just a birdwatcher's note: The pheasant population is down in most states in the country in which they are found. But they must be on a major rebound here in South Dakota. We saw them in the fields and along the roads in large numbers. Seem really healthy! As they spend a lot of time on the ground and don't fly very high when they do fly, I guess the new, taller windmills are not able to reach them in flight! :)

I have a travel tip again today: Sip and enjoy your coffee before you take the dog out for that first morning walk in the deep grass in the Pet Walk area along the edge of the muddy corn field. That way, you will enjoy your coffee much more than if you should "step in it!!!" during the dog's outing! Oh, and this too: Before retiring for the night, check that all basement slide drawers are closed. Leaving one open when it pours all night is not really the brightest thing I have ever done.

More people (Hi Cindy!) contacted us today to say they are headed north to Alaska this summer. And the folks next to us last night in the campground are headed up to Alaska for July and August- would love to learn recreational gold mining, so I passed them a card and a Chicken Gold camp brochure and now we'll hope to see them this summer as well. Gollllllly, Gomer! Those free panning lessons are going like hot cakes!!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Day 5 Disco

Uh, uh, uh, uh, stayin' alive, stayin' alive Travolta? wasn't it? Anyway, we were thinking about staying alive today as we crossed Iowa and passed the fast moving face of a storm front that was, thanks to our friends at NOAA weather band, broadcasting that the dark sky was about to turn ugly with 60 mph wind gusts and quarter size hail. I haven't seen lightning like that in recent memory. Come to think of it I haven't seen lightning like that anywhere in my memory. There were times when there were so many lightning bolts firing off around us that we didn't know where to look for the next threat. I held my breath. Remember the old business about counting the seconds between the lightning and the thunder to see how far away the storm was? Pull a Tony Soprano and "Foget aboud it." Simultaneous is a good word that comes to mind. Abby tried to dig a whole in the tile floor of the coach to hide! I counted 8 cracks or more in a straight line across the horizon line over the road in front of us at one time. Only seconds between bolt "bunches", but no time between heat flashes and cloud to cloud lightning. I jokingly wrote about time travel a post or two back and this time I thought I was finding myself right smack dab in the middle of the real thing. The time machine of Back To The Future had nothing in the way of special effects over this little episode. One big bolt cracked off directly in front of us and I thought for a split section I was gonna wind up temporarily blind. Talk about bright light! You want Green energy? Harness this one Franklin!

Fortunately for us we passed through the frontal line quickly enough that we missed the heavy and huge hail they were calling for. NOAA radio updated the watch to a warning as we passed on through, so we were clearly on the edge. I'm thinking that there Doppler Radio must have picked up the coach streaking though that storm and figured it to be a counterclockwise rotation. For sure, it did leave us "spinning!"

Day 5 Travel Tip: parking under the overpass during a storm like this seems like a great idea, THE thing to do, especially when crossing a big open plain like most of Iowa is. Keeps the hail from wonking your windshield. Gets you off the road in a low visibility situation. Makes you feel safe(er) in the storm. But in truth, that is the worst place you could hide. For starters, the shoulder is narrower under the bridge- you are much more likely to get clipped by someone who didn't pull over in the low visibility conditions. But more importantly, the wind velocity under the bridge is magnified beyond that of the wind flowing over it or around it. And should a tornado touch down, it will be happy to suck you out from under there faster than you can sip a shucked oyster from its half shell whether or not you had time to squeeze the lemon on it first!

As our blog gets picked up more and more places, and I read more and more blogs to see what the competition (I use this word in friendly fashion only) is doing - one thing has become clear. My posts and my travel tips are not your normal fare. The name of that place is: I Like It Like That!

And now I'll be signing off for today. Another heavy storm is moving in and we are in a KOA campground, hunkered down under the nice, tall, trees and on the edge of a field. Brace for action. Seacrest, Over and out!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Day Four- Here's Some More

Funny what moves your mind when you're on the road and subject to a million new "stimuli" each day. Like last night in Illinois.....I wasn't gonna mention it, but some campgrounds give you a better feeling than others. I should have felt a bit unsettled when we pulled in and they handed us a "rule sheet" that specified there was to be "No urinating in public." I thought that might have gone without saying, but I guess not. That they thought they had to tell me (us) is a bit weird to begin with. That they have to tell ALL their guests is just downright scary. Who stays here? Besides me, I mean.

And because of that notice on bodily functions in public, I began to take things one step further:
"Do you have a dog?" said the man in the John Deere work truck that escorted us to our site.
Well, OK, just pick up after it."
I always do, pick up that is. Unless of course you are now referring to her "pee pee" which I have never tried to pick up. But since there is no urination allowed outside here, perhaps I should make a go of it, eh, hosier? Well, you know how it thing leads to another and now I am thinking about "#2" which leads me to today's travel tip! (If you can't follow this, it's OK, really, I am the one off on a tangent...

OK. So we are going to travel, and we are going to plan for all eventualities. Last post I talked about sun in your eyes and "time of day" travel. Time travel? Yes. Like "jet lag" only different. Bus Lag! If you travel with pets, especially a dog, there are some additional concerns to be taken under advisement. Your dog, perhaps like my dog (Abby, the Wonder Dog) has certain times of day when matters must be attended to.... If I am, for example, on the East coast of the US, and my dog needs to "step out" at 7 in the AM, and I am also used to getting up at 7 AM, then all is well in my universe. But if I start to travel west, with a mission to cross the country in short order, then as soon as I cross the first Time Zone demarcation, all of a sudden Abby needs to go out at 6AM, since I've had to set my clocks (a man made instrument of time analysis) back one hour---but she has no concept of that. She still thinks it is 7 when I know it is actually 6. Similarly, when a couple days later I cross into the next time zone, she has no concept of that either and now has to take care of business when, for me, it is only 5 on the morning. And if I am going hell bent for Alaska (4 hours ahead of Eastern Standard) the dog now needs to rise and shine at 3. Arrrghhhh!

3. Or even 4. Three! Four! Those are hours of the day that should be totally set aside for the rising out of bed of trout fisher persons! 3 or4. They are not indicated for the walking of the dog. Not even a Portuguese Water Dog goes out to do anything, even urination, in public, at that particular hour. Which brings me to the Tip of the Day for day what???? 3 or 4. Three. Four! Accustomize, if that's a word, your dog to going potty at 9 AM before you start your trip, and 10 if you can force him or her to sleep in and just "hold it." By doing that, your dog will rise and shine and answer the call of the wild at 9, 8, 7, and 6 respectively as you cross the country- which will not be quite so hard on you and your beauty sleep.

When we did take Abby out today for a mid morning drive break, the wind at the rest stop was blowing so hard that we couldn't pull the door closed behind us. It took three tries. The signs said to "pick up after your dog" but effectively IT blew into the next county, so, technically, I don't think we had to do it, but did anyway, out of respect for truckers who may not make it all the way to the outhouse as they dash across the lawn designated as the Pet Walk.

Also today, we crossed the mighty Mississippi for the Umpteenth time. Umpteenth, a number nearly as hard to explain (or spend) as a Trillion. Once we did that, we hit Rt 80 in Iowa, home of the single Largest Truck Stop in the World. Located at exit 284 it is more like a city than a truck stop, but that's how they bill themselves and they claim parking for 800 big rigs. I believe it. For you fuel price conscious followers, Iowa regular gasoline ranged from 1.87 to 1.98 a gallon, and diesel from about 2.07 to 2.16. I guess this is good info to know for preparation sake, but in truth it doesn't matter. Whatever the price to go to Alaska- it's worth it! But beware, prices on the ALCAN highway, are, significantly, still inflated compared to elsewhere and probably always will be. Once you travel it, you will understand. Depending on the time of year you travel it, you and the fuel delivery truck may be the only two vehicles on the road.

Bummer of the week: Tomorrow we will pass within 100 miles of our Geeky pals, Jim and Chris, who are at the Gravity Church that far south of us in Iowa. We didn't know of our near miss until a day or so ago and it was too late to change reservations without losing the deposits on them (the reservations that is) , in order to stop by to see them (The Geeks that is). I don't know what the Gravity Church is. At all! But they sent us a picture of it and had this to say, "We helped our friends (some way) in buying it and we love it and are gonna go help work on it" ( a paraphrase not a quote despite the quotation marks ). Jim and Chris are marvelously adventuresome. If they like this project, then it must be a good one. I don't know if this is an old church in the town of Gravity being converted to a house, a mission, a hostel for wayward campers, the town's only McDonald's or what! I don't know if it is some kind of "vortex" that keeps them connected to the earth. I don't know if you weigh more or less there because of, well, gravity. And I don't care. If they want to be there, and clearly they do, then I am sorry to be missing out. End of report. If you guys will look out your windows and about a hundred miles to the north tomorrow at about 10 clock, we'll wave as we drive on by you.

Also today, we got a blog comment from Mark and Chris, friends from Peace River, Wachula, Thousand Trails, informing us that they too will be making the journey To Alaska this summer. And, we get the extra added bonus news that Miss Jane and her husband will be meeting them in Edmonton to join forces for the rest of the trip. For those of you who read regularly, you may remember that "Miss Jane" runs the Old Fossils Club in Wachula and helps campers find and identify ancient fossils in the sands and waters of the Peace River, which flows through the campground there. This is a great activity and Jane helped us find lots of really good stuff. I'm thinking and hoping they will all make it up to Chicken and I can help them find some of that there yellow metal- GOLD. Sharks teeth and gold are both treasures in my book. Journey on, you guys! Keep in touch. Remember, Alaska "tastes like Chicken..."

If any of you should notice missing "U's" in my text, please excuse the fact that I missed a few corrections. The "U" key on my computer has gone on strike (actually it refuses to strike, I guess) unless I pound the daylights out of it. It's challenging to proof read a post when one letter is AWOL from the alphabet!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Day Three Progress Report

The Land of Lincoln, Illinois, is "home' for tonight. I know the new wave politicos claim it as the Obamaland, but I try to keep my focus where I think it should be. Some say "It Takes a Village." I say it takes "a track record"! And if we all wind up on the same page, all's well and good. Meanwhile, there's not a whole lot of turmoil swirling around Lincoln, so I think I'm good for now.

Signs all along every road here in Illinois ( I don't know exactly who placed them, but they are regular road signs, not cardboard afterthoughts) are promoting corn and soy ethanol for fuel, and guns for self defense. Seems to be an anti Middle East promotion of sorts- directed at foreign oil and thugs in general and NOT foreigners, thank goodness. Protectionism of all sorts seems to flourish in tough times and these have been some tough times, I think we can all admit.

We've received some requests to post fuel prices at various points along the route to Alaska for those who are bringing up the rear, so to speak. Pennsylvania was higher. Illinois is higher. Indiana was mid range and Ohio and West Virginia boasted the best fuel prices with regular gasoline around two bucks and two pennies a gallon and diesel about the same, maybe 3 cents higher or lower. Not enough of a difference anywhere to be a game changer although a few places on the PA Turnpike (my least favorite road in America) were charging 2.45, which really stinks up the joint as they also hit us up for 40 smackers in tolls to travel across the state. Most of the roads of America are free to travel. Only the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the Florida Turnpike and the Tappanzee Bridge to New York have the audacity to bilk their patrons with such lack of regard for reason. Each of the three entities is also among the lousiest sections of road systems in the country which begs the question "Where has all the money gone, Long time passing...." I know the answer to this rhetorical question, but my own politics think it best to guard my opinion. There is one equally crummy section of east-west highway around Chicago but maybe, hopefully, mercifully, magically, it is better now than when I did that stretch two years ago (not likely!) but I don't want to use old info to put anyone or anything down).

Change of topic: Travel TIP: This is totally common sense but if you're an RVer it just may not have "DAWNED" on you to make this adjustment. We've crossed the country East to West and West to East- several times already. We like doing it. But it (long day after day of hard driving) can be hard on the eyes unless you observe these simple rules, especially on highway legs of the trip that run due east and/or west. When you travel to the west, get an early start. The sun will be to your back in the morning and you can get a long run in if you wish before the sun catches up to you and starts to shine in your front windshield and therefore into your eyes. Similarly, if you are traveling to the east, get a later start in the morning. Give the sun a chance to jump up off the horizon and soften it's angle of attack on your retinas! An hour or two adjustment to your intended travel times can make all the difference in the world, leaving you much sharper and less "eye weary" at the end of a day of driving. In reality, the only thing that needs to change is the assignment of the hour or so you spend checking email on the old laptop. No laptop? How about another cup of coffee? Don't like a nice hot cup of coffee in the morning? You'll figure something out!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Alaska Trip Day 2 Apr 23

Day 2. A lovely day accompanied us all the way from Pittsburgh, PA to Grandpa's Farm (campground with a hot tub) in Indiana. Aha! A four bagger- Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana. Sounds impressive, yes? But it's really just another 250 - 270 mile leg of the trip. Honestly? It felt like the day that would never end. Pit stops. Dog stops. Fuel stops! Highway construction. A 5 hour run became more like 7 which is why we keep the plans conservative on a day to day basis. Still, the sun was out, the wind took a break for a change, and you could almost see the leaves and flowers coming out along the roadside. It was a nice day. Period. Especially since when we pulled the slides in before take off this morning, ice sheets crashed to the ground and shattered. It was clear. But it had been pretty cold over night- evidence the ice.

As we're headed to Alaska, and we know at least a few people are following us up there a few days back, I'd like to drop an outfitters report along the way: Cabelas has a store at exit 10 on Rt 70 in W Virginia, and Gander Mtn has a store at exit 12, Rt 70 in Ohio. This is much more important information than where the fast food joints are- especially for us!!! Ever try taking a 43 foot coach that's 12'9" tall towing a full size 4x4 van with kayaks on top through the drive up window at Mickie D's? I didn't think so!

Last time we stopped at Grandpa's Farm, the hot tub was being replaced, so forgive me if I leave you staring at your computer screen and head off the the spa zone. I won't get a chance to do this again until we hit Liard Hot Springs in British Columbia on the way to Alaska.

Lets tub in Indiana...........or this:

photos Greg Gundy, Liard Hot Springs, Bitish Colmbia, Canada, 2007

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Map Updated

The routing map for the the 2009 trip to Chicken, Alaska has now been tentatively finalized. Click on the link VIEW LARGER MAP CHICKEN, ALASKA 2009 under the JUST WHERE IS GUNDYVILLE feature to view the entire route. Map tacks for this trip are all in purple, except for the Chicken map tack which has, most creatively, been placed in Chicken Little Yellow.

On The Road Again...

Day One of the long trip to Alaska took us from Reading to Pittsburgh, PA. We started out under foreboding but dry skies which changed along the way to periods of heavy rain, snow squalls, occasional sleet and intermittent heavy cross winds. On top of the headache I started the day with, none of this added to my driving pleasure, but all's well that ends well and the sun was shining when we pulled into the Pittsburgh/Washington KOA. Last hurdle of the day: navigate the tight turns through the little village that allows you to access the only worthwhile and OPEN campground in this vicinity this time of year. We pulled into (and then right out of) one of the others....Noooooooo!

For this campground, the smaller you are the better, but with care any size rig CAN make it in and out...and the people are nice and accommodating and that makes the slow painstaking turn negotiations worthwhile in getting here.

It feels good to be heading "up and out" again. There isn't as much adventure packed into every mile that you have traveled before, but each trip and the conditions that accompany it are different and so there is always something new to be discovered and something new to learn along the way..

I bought a Magic Jack VOIP phone system. It's less than perfect but, far better than a payphone. Quality seems to be directly linked to the speed of the internet connection. I'm experimenting right now and I'll keep you posted from time to time if it seems to be working out good. $19.95 a YEAR for unlimited phone service to US and Canada seems pretty darn good- especially if it works! E. T. phoned home this afternoon and the connection was very good- at least as good as the cell phone. And I use a PC air card, not a cable or DSL, so that seems OK so far.

Exciting to say, we are on our way.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Departure Notice/ Mail Bag

Alllllllllll Aboard! This train plans on leaving the station bright and early on April 22, 2009, destination, Chicken, Alaska, with stops as needed along the way including but not limited to Rapid City, SD, White Horse, Yukon Territory, and Tok, AK to re-supply. All parties prepare to embark! We be jammin'. The last mail shipment from St. Brendan's Isle caught up with us today and we're good to go. Along with the Vessey's Seeds I ordered to grow in Chicken (flower and vegetable seed born and bred to do exceptionally well in extreme northern climates) came a bunch of last minute business "crappola" that simply must be dealt with. And the latest GOLD PROSPECTOR magazine once again had another picture of yours truly and Marilyn metal detecting in Athens, Michigan, on the calendar page. Also in the electronic mail bag from Yahoo! came some pictures from one of our "new best friends" Big Bill who sent us an up to the minute photo Of Volcanic Mount Redoubt doing its thing off the coast of the Alaska. We've pictured it a couple times previously on the blog (our own photos) including when it was making like the big bad wolf back in 2007 and just a huffing and a puffing. The eruption now on going is a bit more profound, but as long as we are ALL far enough's really quite beautiful against the cold, cold sea this time of year. Alaska is not without its share of danger- extreme temperatures, dangerous ice fields, steep mountains, wilder than elsewhere wildlife ( the grizzley bear comes to mind) and we must include volcanoes. But beautiful is beautiful regardless of any threat it imposes- and so we go there for the majesty and we are mindful of the perril so that it may be avoided. A mountain, a cliff, a landscape is ever so much more impressive from the precipice!

Thanks Big Bill, for sharing your imagery with us:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Unanticipated Responses

Wow! I almost hate to put up a new post for fear that it will "change the subject" and make you all stop sending in those nickname suggestions. (I know that last one was from you, Anonymous Cosmic Ken- I recognized your "handwriting"...) We got a ton of suggestions, some through the comment section, some via e mail , some by phone, and even some "in person." I thought a few of the regulars might have something to say when I posed the question, but the response I got was truly unanticipated. Please, guys, DON'T STOP! Keep 'em coming. I haven't laughed this hard since I was a kid at Radio City Music Hall with my parents watching the Fred MacMurry FLUBBER movie....and that was a while ago. In fact it was so long ago that spell check doesn't recognize the word "flubber." Despite the excellent response, we still don't have a winner, so work it, work it.....

And speaking of unanticipated responses, Mike from Chicken Gold Camp sent me a photo with the caption of "Spring Kayaking" in Chicken. That put me in the frame of mind that the ice out was coming earlier than I thought it might, having no experience with that far north this early in the Spring. So the photo he sent (below) came as an interesting "Stimulus Package" for changing one's point of view. The photo does two things. One, it demonstrates that Mike is not without substantive photographic skills; ice and snow pics are not always very easy to get right. And two, his already wonderful sense of humor has apparently been elevated by a combination of extreme cold and cabin fever, both of which are obviously stimulative if properly channeled. It helps to take note of the "antifreeze" in the hand of the paddler, uh, shoveler. I hope you can see it OK as the image was sent fairly small and may not enlarge well with a "click on." Have a magnifying glass? It's so worth the effort! (Photo size improved after posting; click to enlarge)

photo courtesy Mike Busby, Chicken Gold Camp and Outpost

A big welcome goes out to new reader, Jeff, who writes (in the comments section of the Nickname Post) that he will be departing Cape Coral, Florida (small world- that was our last city of residence before becoming full timers) in a few days in the general direction of Alaska and hopefully more specifically to Chicken- which makes Jeff officially the first on the New 49ers. Congrats on that, Jeff!

And finally, I put the weather widget (down a bit on the left side of the blog page) onto the blog page as much for myself as anyone, since I wanted that one click does all daily reality check about temperatures at my chosen destination for this next trip: Chicken, Alaska. Much to my pleasant surprise, it seems readers are every bit as much into looking at the Chicken weather as I am, and in fact are clicking through to the feed site for more and more details about the daily dose of highs and lows in Chicken. Does anyone else appreciate that when readers click through to the RSS "feed" for weather in Chicken, Alaska, they are, in fact, clicking on "Chicken Feed" ?

Presently we are expecting to "launch" this parade on April 22, just a few days from now. We have so much excitement for this trip to get underway, that now we are fighting the temptation to start up the big diesel and let it idle for a couple days so it's all warmed up and ready to roll at the drop of a hat. Guess I better get a grip on that thought!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Nickname for Greg

So now that I'm off to Alaska in a couple days to work in the "gold fields" of Chicken, Alaska, for the summer, I'm thinking I need a good nickname related to the mining industry. Over the last several years we have met lots of recreational miners and others who work semi professionally or professionally in the field. Some of them have some really cool nicknames. What made me start rethinking this was the comment from "Big Bill" in Anchorage, Alaska, although I thought a little bit about it before as well. Big Bill. It's a little like "Big John, Big John, Big John, Big Bad John." It just sounds cool! I guess I don't need to be cool, but the assignment of a good nickname is rather complimentary to the fact that one is working in a field that matters (to one, if not to more than one...)

So in addition to Big Bill, there was "Texas Bill" who helped the caretakers at Vein Mountain. He was a big Bill, but he was from Texas, sounded like he was from Texas, talked like he was from Texas, and so on. A good guy to be sure. Very likable. And while he was likable with or without the nickname, I more than likely would not remember his name day in and day out without the "tag".

We also met a "Gator Jim", a "Florida Bob," a "Nuggetman Will", who autographed his book for us, "Crystal Jim", who is really good at gold reclamation and at moonshine production, "Juneau Judy", and "Yukon Yonda", who once said "Boys, It's not a gold mine; it's more like Gold??? Mine!!!"

Even Marilyn got a nickname on our first trip to Alaska, though she's probably going to be slightly less than thrilled that I tell this story. First time we found a nugget in our sluice box, Marilyn was so thrilled and amazed that the gold really does settle out at the top of the sluice and not pass right on through and out the other end- that she decided to pick it out, look it over, then send it on through the sluice again, just to see if and where it would stop the second time through! To my thinking that put our find at risk, but sure enough it showed up again later in the day, right there at the top of the sluice on cleanup. When I relayed this story back in camp at the end of the day, the guys started to call her "DD."

"DD" I said.

"Yea, it's short for Double Drop" Apparently this phenomonon is not all that rare, evidenced by the term already in existence. Still, it stuck, and while she doesn't especially relish being called that, I think it's a cool nickname. Actually, I guess I just think it's cool that someone HAS a nickname. It's not a negative, high schoolish name, it's just a fitting assignment of a term of affection that came about in the process of doing what you do....

So I'm thinking about it. I thought about "Chicken Greg" but it's too much of a Chicken George thing from ROOTS. Everything else we came up with was forced and foolish. So what do you think. Suggestions? And "NO! Marilyn, "Dirt Bag" does not work for me!"

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

New 49ers ?

Who's next? Step right up. To Chicken, Alaska, that is. Last post I put out my all-in-good-fun "free panning lesson offer" to the first 50 people who accepted my invitation to come visit with us at Chicken Gold Camp and Outpost, where we'll be on staff for the summer. While I hoped someone would take me up on the offer, I wasn't really prepared for comments, calls, and e mails within 24 hours of making the post. And wouldn't ya know it? Someone actually took us up on the offer right away. Enter "Big Bill" from Anchorage, Alaska. According to his "letter of acceptance and introduction (and comment already posted posted)", Bill has been in Alaska for 22 years in the Anchorage area and even has a gold claim of his very own near Hope, Alaska, which just happens to be one of our most favorite places on earth. Bill plans on coming to Chicken to "meet and greet" and hang out with us for a couple days this summer. He already recommended a couple places for us to see while we're up there that we have previously not visited. And, he's bringing along a copy of an article that he had published in the Gold Prospector Magazine back a few years ago for us to read. Now I think it's a given that Bill won't be needing any free panning lessons from me! But technically, he did respond in the affirmative to the offer for the "first 50" , which obviously means there are still 49 offers left to be accepted. Now if we think about that for a minute, that would make all the remaining recipients of the offer for panning lessons (one of which could easily be YOU), the NEW 49ers, a term steeped in the history and lore of gold exploration and mining in this country, albeit more about California than Alaska. Just think about how special that would make you feel! Write me! Quick! Offers going FAST!!!

And Big Bill, who we learned has actually been following the blog weekly since our first trip to Alaska in 07, we are really looking forward to meeting you in Chicken this summer!

Monday, April 13, 2009

When The Chickens Come Home To Roost

When Marilyn and I officially ended our first visit to Alaska on Labor Day of 2007 (after spending 3 ½ months in that state) and started out across the Top of the World Highway toward Dawson in the Yukon Territory, we just knew we would be coming back if humanly possible. Our last stop in the Great State of Alaska had been the gold mining town ( I use the term “town” loosely) of Chicken, Alaska. The official Fairbanks Census Bureau puts the population of Chicken at 18. That must be the summer population figures. I am convinced more than a few of those folks hike it out of town for at least part of the winter season. Most of those 18 are mighty fine individuals, and I guess I just don’t know the rest yet.

What I will tell you, and this applies to all of Alaska, but especially to Chicken, is that since the day we pulled up the jacks and rolled out of the state, there hasn’t been a single day that we haven’t talked about, read about, written about, or thought about going back there- as circumstances would allow. Which is one of the reasons that our trip to the South West this winter was so much fun. In Brenda, AZ and then Yuma, AZ and then Cottonwood, AZ, we were able to hook up with friends that we had been fortunate enough to meet while on that first Alaska trip. And of the new friends we made in the desert, many of them are actually hard core Alaska fans as well.

So it really came as no surprise that spending time with these folks just naturally led to talk about Alaska …and mountains and glaciers and eagles and salmon and bears and wolves and moose and caribou and prospecting and gold and well, you get the idea! From the start, the conversations were exhilarating. But after a while it put our heads on a “mental mission” to figure out just how and when we could go back. It seemed no longer satisfactory only to think and talk about it. Alaska was calling us back, if not home.

We stopped by to visit and did some prospecting and ATV riding in Brenda, AZ with Lynn and Judy Yoder. For more than a few years now they have been members of the staff of the Chicken Gold Camp. In the short week that we had camped and prospected there, they had become good friends. It is easy to make fast friends with good people with whom you have many interests in common. People who love what they do and who are good at what they do are just naturally “magnetic,” and they are certainly that. We had asked about whether they would be going back. We had talked about some of the duties of the staff over and above what we may have seen from our “guest” perspective. And then there was maybe some discussion around the edges of whether or not there might be room this coming year for someone additional at the camp. Which of course was chat and nothing more, but the thought never really left me after that point and in later discussions I realized the same was true for Marilyn. The ball was now clearly in our court….and we wanted to play. So we dropped Mike and Lou Busby, the owners of Chicken Gold Camp a quick e mail and asked what options, if any, might exist in this regard. Now as luck would have it, Mike and Lou were also in Arizona, thawing out from winter exposure to Alaskan winter temperatures. Like Lynn and Judy, Mike and Lou are extraordinarily friendly, talented individuals and we had come to think of as them as good friends from our very first stay in Chicken. Hosts that make guests feel truly welcome are doing far more than their job, they are growing a business! A short correspondence back and forth to see if we might all wind up on the same page at the same time…, and soon an invitation to join the staff of Chicken Gold Camp and Outpost arrived in our “IN” box. Admittedly by the time the invitation arrived we were virtually down on our knees in prayer hoping that it would. To put the finishing touches on the arrangement, we met them in Cottonwood, AZ, and spent the day talking things over and the evening grilling, you guessed it, chicken (the bird, not the town) on an open fire out in the desert on the BLM land. It made for a perfect time.

So! What started to be put into place unknowingly a couple years ago is now about to come to fruition. The “chickens” that left the barn to scratch and peck, explore and see what there was to see on the outside are now about to come “home” to roost.

What this means: There is a wealth of information on Alaska and the Chicken Gold Camp and Outpost to be explored in the blog in the coming weeks and months. First, though, there is a long trip to get there- through some beautiful country. Once there, we hope to be telling the story of what we will be doing there and what others are doing and experiencing there. Maybe the blog will become the first official on-line newspaper of Chicken with features on the state, the people, the wildlife. At this point I really can’t say ‘cause I really don’t know. But this I am sure of: we are looking for a terrific summer, one that allows us to pursue the things we love to do, with people whose company we really enjoy, and having the opportunity to share our time, our experiences, our skills with folks who most likely will come to Chicken in much the same way we did those two years ago- high with enthusiasm for the place, eager to learn, and chock full of the anticipation that “gold“, both the metal and the bright and shining lessons of life and nature and history, are already there just waiting to be discovered.

I had a friend back in Rockland, Maine, by the name of Ray Gross. Ray was the editor of the local newspaper, the Courier Gazette in those days. Ray and I served together on just about every board of directors that existed in that town at one time or another. We were constantly engaged with the Chamber of Commerce, and especially so in the Rockland Rotary Club, for which we both served as president. Ray had 30 plus years of perfect attendance in Rotary (I only managed 15). In all those years, Ray shared his philosophy of life. It is an idea that stays with me always. “Come to learn. …. And stay to teach”

And that is what we will do in Chicken. Come to learn. And stay to teach.

For now, there remain a couple more weeks of preparation and provisioning. The vehicles must all be serviced and readied. Supplies must be gathered. Business and family matters must be attended to. Did I mention taxes must be paid ??? But soon, very soon, we will begin in earnest to tell of the marvelous adventure that is “going to Alaska.” Again! An adventure every bit as big as the state itself. WE ARE PSYCHED!

Consider this your first of many and repeated invitations to join us on this special journey. If you have the time and the inclination, come to Chicken Gold Camp any time this summer between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Free panning lessons to the first 50 that take me up on this offer!!!! Actually, panning lessons will be free regardless, but I like the promotional aspect of it, don’t you? But if you just can’t make it this summer, then please follow along via the blog as we venture back . When you can’t come to Gundyville, Gundyville can ALWAYS come to you.

Stay tuned….

Chicken Gold Camp and Outpost "in season", photo courtesy

Sunday, April 5, 2009

New Live RSS Feed Feature

For reasons that will be apparent sooner, rather than later, we have just loaded the left hand side of the blog layout with a new feature: a live RSS weather feed. You will find the feed just below our Google advertisers "ADSENSE" block. While the feed will be set to show instantly the weather report of our choosing, you too can type in the name of a city or state and check whatever weather you would like to check for yourself. Ain't technology grand??? - A question I ask ONLY when whatever it is I am referencing happens to be working properly. And speaking of working correctly- you should be able to click on either "current", "today", or "tomorrow" within the feed box to pull up detail corresponding to your selection. The very idea that there can be (and IS) a weather feed for even small, out of the way towns across America, is a concept that blows my mind- in a good way, of course!

Meals On Wheels Our Way

Still in the rest, recuperate, and re provision mode here in Pennsylvania, we do manage to keep busy. One of our semi-annual (at least) missions is to fix my parents up with a couple freezers full of ready to go, I-don't-feel-like-cooking-today meals with their special dietary requirements in mind. It can take the better part of a week to handle the process beginning to end: shopping, preferably at local farmers markets, prep work, cooking, packaging, delivering and organizing. It's a lot of fun to do and it helps them out at times when we can't otherwise be here to do so. I took some pics of stage one of the process this trip. Here's a quickie slide show of the process. Note: Abby is official "smeller" of all bags- just an extra safety step to ensure all ingredients are in good condition.