Thursday, August 27, 2015

Alaska: The Last Frontier, Part I

Those who say everything's bigger in Texas have never been to Alaska. Texas may have bigger towns and bigger population, but when you review photographs only to find people in them that had been invisible to the naked eye when you surveyed a glacier from the edge of a bluff, big takes on new meaning. Big beauty, big mountains, big lakes, big rivers, big waterfalls, big glaciers, big views, big wilderness, big animals, big vegetables, big fish. But, surprisingly, the trees are not so big (the Pacific Northwest and California have them beat in that department). Alaska is so big that the mileage scale becomes a close friend when consulting a map to decide where to take a day trip. And even then you underestimate it's vastness. Everything is much farther that it appears.

Our arrival into Alaska via the Alaska Highway was a relief. We've never driven on a road worse than the 115 miles between Destruction Bay and Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory. Between Beaver Creek and the border, the road was a bit rough but there was a marked difference once we crossed into Alaska. The road became downright smooth!

We rolled into Tok (pronounced Toke), on June 3rd, and pulled into the Sourdough Campground. The owners are from Arizona and come up every summer, work their butts off and then head south again for the winters and some rest. We stayed only for one night but we took advantage of the breakfast offered to their campers each morning. Just as the name implies, their specialty is sourdough pancakes. They offered a choice of regular breakfast sausage or reindeer sausage. I was conservative in my choice and Rob ordered the reindeer sausage. I should have had the reindeer sausage because it was far superior in juiciness, texture and flavor. The sourdough pancakes were pretty good, but I still prefer buttermilk.

Did you know that sourdough pancakes was a diet staple during the Klondike Gold Rush? Miners used to carry their sourdough starters under their clothing and next to their bodies to keep the yeasty mix from dying in the bitter cold.

Our campsite at Sourdough Campground:

The following morning we took the Tok Cutoff Highway toward Palmer, Alaska. We had a spectacular view of the Wrangell Mountains from the highway and it was just a small taste of all the views yet to come. 

The following photo is of Lion's Head Mountain found along the Glenn Highway. For me, the lion's head was recognizable only by driving east to west where the lion's snout was most visible.

We spent a month in Palmer, which is next door to Wasilla. Wasilla is a larger town than Palmer but both are typical American towns. They didn't feel any different than any other American town. There are certain preconceptions made by many who have lived nowhere but in the lower 48 that somehow Alaskans are backwards and uneducated. Not so. Those preconceptions are simply misconceptions. In fact, most Alaskans are far wiser because they'd be able to survive most any, shall we say, mishap that would test the wherewithal of the best educated New Yorker or San Franciscan or Chicagoan.

I arranged for us to spend such a lengthy time in Palmer in hopes that Rob would be able to do some paragliding. He never did fly. It turned out that all the launches in the Palmer/Wasilla area had to be hiked to and Rob can't do that anymore. We checked out the paragliding situation at Alyeska as well, which is a skiing resort with views of the Kenai Peninsula, but the paragliding club there required that he join their club and a year's membership be purchased. This kind of thing chaps Rob's hide. Why should a visiting paraglider have to pay a full year's dues? Just have a visiting pilot fee! And on top of that, to get to launch, one must pay for the tram ride up, which isn't cheap (although the view would be worth it). Besides, no one really showed any interest in neither welcoming a visiting pilot nor offering a site orientation.

Another factor that deterred flying was the rain. We had a lot of rain but it was similar to Hawaii. The forecast would call for 100% chance of rain, but that 100% chance of rain might have lasted all of 20 minutes at some point during the day. We learned not to make plans around weather forecasts. The forecasts changed hourly. Well, you'd have to wait at least until the morning of to know what to expect.

The weather in Alaska created some amazing clouds. On one particular day, sweeping wind lifted dirt and dust from the banks of the Matanuska River and created a spectral scene. By the time we fetched my camera and made our way to the riverbank, most of it was over but I did record a bit of it, and some of the clouds.

Something that was a surprise to us was how few wild animals we saw in Alaska. We saw more animals in Canada. Rob and I decided to take a day trip to the Alaska Wildlife Center where we were able to view some rescued critters.

This last photo is a wild eagle. Well, they're all wild but this one was not a member of those held in captivity. It was relentlessly harassed by a raven. And ravens were the one animal that were visibly abundant in Alaska.

Rob and I visited the Independence Mine State Historic Site located in the Talkeetna Mountains along Hatcher Pass from Palmer. Placer mining began in the area around 1897 and when veins of gold were discovered in the quartz, the mine was built in 1934. The mine was in operation, off and on, until 1950. They expected to open the mine again but never did. It was the largest hard-rock gold mining operation in the state second to Juneau. The weather took a toll on the buildings, machinery and other mining equipment left behind.

On our way to Independence Mine we stopped to look at the Little Susitna River and, of course, Rob makes friends wherever he goes.

This little pansy was growing nearby:

A westward view from Hatcher Pass:

An eastward view from Hatcher Pass:

A cooking pot in the fireplace at the supervisor's house at the Independence Mine:

One of the slowly disintegrating buildings:

Stacks of burlap were left behind when the mine was closed in 1950:

This building was closer to the mine entrance. I'm not sure for what it was once used, but it hasn't withstood weather and time very well.

You can still find people gold panning in Fishhook Creek, which runs through Independence Mine property.

We spotted paragliders flying while heading down from the mine. When one of them landed in bushes, Rob helped the fellow get his lines untangled.

Remember when I mentioned people being invisible to the naked eye? Well, here's the photo that gave the impression that the subject, the glacier, was closer that it really was:

Now, look closely toward the left side of the glacier. See those vertical, dark marks? Those are people on a glacier tour. Hopefully you know that you can click on any one of these photos to see a larger version. Compare the landmarks in the two photos to see where these folks are walking in the zoomed-out version. 

Yes, everything in Alaska is BIG. Big and beautiful. Stayed tuned for Alaska: The Last Frontier Part II.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Driving Through Canada: A Visual Treat

Sometimes I wish my camera was GPS enabled because it would remember the exact location where a photo was taken when I cannot. All I know now is that the following photographs were taken between Sikanni Chief, British Columbia and Kluane (Clue-ah-knee) Lake, Yukon Territory. After Kluane Lake, we reached the worst part of the Alaska Highway and I white-knuckled through it enough to not have picked up my camera. It was about 140 miles of slow going over pitted and gravel roadway—the stuff about which people warned us.

Before leaving Sandpoint, Idaho, I insisted that we imitate the idea our RV friends, Dean and Diane, used to protect the windshield of their car. Using an inexpensive, rubber-backed carpet runner, we cut-to-fit a cover for our windshield by adding grommets strategically placed and bungee cords to attach it to the car. Without this protection, I'm sure we would have had a banged up and pitted windshield at the least, or a broken one at most. The gutter between the windshield and the engine compartment was filled with gravel and we got one severe ding on the hood. The hit to the hood was so sharp that a quarter to three-eighths inch circular chip was made and the paint surrounding it is lifted from the primer. I'm sure the paint will start flaking eventually. I don't really look forward to traversing that area, again, but at least we know what to expect and, although it was bad, its not as bad as we were led to believe. Or maybe we were just lucky.

There are 62 photos and the captions will tell the story as I really need to get this blog posted while we still have true high-speed internet at our disposal rather than just a suggestion of it—and intermittently at that.

We stopped at this location for the view, but some of the tagging we found here was almost more entertaining. One spot along this K-wall said "#livingwithmybitches." All righty, then.

Yes. It was.

Although I don't feel it translated all that well in the photograph, you can tell the vista was sweeping and immense.

I can't believe someone else has the same spelling for their name as does my grandson. You certainly can't find it on souvenirs.

Rob decided he needed to show that we'd been there, too. Although it says R & L '15, it looks to me like it says R & L 1/5. A fifth of what? I told Rob he'd never make it as a tagger or a graffiti artist.

How rude!

When we came upon this bit of road work, the only thing I thought was Tonka Toys!

Big Tonka Truck.

I wish you could tell from the photo how much fun this young moose was having. She was jumping and prancing in a puddle—just the stuff viral videos are made of.

It was time for her to move on. What a treat to have seen her.

This is Muncho Lake. The color of the lake is between turquoise and jade—not really blue, not really green. And on this day there were few ripples in the water—about as close to glass as a large body of water could get. The reflections were stunning and I tried to take advantage of it.

The conifers in this area of northern British Columbia are spindly looking but they made an interesting reflection. Notice how the reflection starts some ways away from the bank? Cool.


This was probably the third or fourth Bison sign we saw. We kept looking for Bison but didn't see any. We wondered if we ever would.

Then we did and it was nap time.

And roll in the dirt time.

And then we arrived at Liard Hot Springs for the night. There were many things to get my attention… like dandelions.

And beautiful little bluebells.

And sweet little bunnies.

And peaceful walks to the hot springs.

And lovely wild roses.

And trees and bright green grasses and ferns.

And the prettiest hot springs I've ever seen decked out with a cairn.

And aqua water at about 140°.

And submerged benches to sit upon.

And views to take in.

And young families to enjoy.

And to feel welcomed.

On the walk back from the hot springs, coming from a pond just beyond some trees, I heard something that sounded like a large, heavy stone being plunked into the water. I remember saying to Rob that it didn't sound like a bird so I started peering through the trees and found this female moose feeding on the plants that grow in the water. I called out to her and when she turned to looked at us, I snapped this shot. 

I found this beautiful robin quite cooperative with my camera.

We pulled over to the side of the road to capture a shot of this black bear. Throughout British Columbia, and Alberta, they have signage to remind people not to mow down the dandelion flowers in the spring. Apparently it is one of the first foods that hibernating animals, and others, rely upon for good, healthful nutrition once the winter is over. Black bears are primarily plant eaters.

A handsome example of Bison also eating the dandelions.

This Bison was in ecstasy rubbing against these concrete blocks. You can see it was in the process of shedding its winter coat.

We arrived in the Yukon Territory. The Signpost Village in Watson Lake is quite extensive. We will leave our addition to the Signpost Village on our return drive.

Another cooperative robin! I got lucky.

I was surprised at how big the village is. It goes on and on.

I couldn't pass up this one. RIP Marine Rick Roethler. Semper Fi.

And, on and on.

More stunning views along the Alaska Highway.

This young Elk found something interesting in the road. We passed by very slowly.

The clouds were amazing, too.

And nobody else for miles.

We stopped in Teslin, YT, at the Tlingit Cultural Center but they were closed that particular day. We knocked on the door and two men of Tlingit heritage told us they were just finishing up cleaning the place for a special event and dinner for which the Yukon Territory's Governor General would be attending. They allowed us to step inside to take a look at the place when we told them that our son-in-law and grandson are part Tlingit. We didn't stay long but appreciated their hospitality.

Rob held up a photo of our grandson, Cayman, with the Raven totem. Cayman has been dubbed the Raven by his paternal family because he's a little jokester.

Rob rests against one of the Tlingit ceremonial canoes, which graphic's celebrate the Raven. Modern times have also reached the cultural center—the canoes were made of fiberglass.

More amazing clouds.

Looks like a fun honeymoon to me.

I love this shot. It would make a good postcard.


Our campsite near Destruction Bay at Kluane Lake. In less than 24 hours, we'd be in Alaska.

More bluebells.

And more.

I took a walk around the whole RV park. Down a way was one little cabin, which was not currently rented; however, it appeared to have at least one tenant.

Many would think this is a chipmunk but it is a squirrel. Damned adorable if you ask me.

And Crayola crayon's Spring Green shown in pine needles.

Our view of Kluane Lake.

Kluane Lake is huge.

We had neighbors from Anchorage who were on their way to Whitehorse for a dog show with their 14 Papillons. Also with them were their two English Bulldogs. I think their trailer was all of 28 feet long.

This one was Toby and the only one whose name I recall. He's the alpha of the group. He's getting older and has some cataracts.

These dogs were just adorable. They'd pretty much climb all over each other competing for your attention. If one got a pat on the head, they all wanted a pat on the head. 

All of them had the sweetest, little faces.

Stand by for the next blog post of our time in Alaska. I'll try to make it soon.