Sunday, May 8, 2016

Alaska: The Last Frontier Part VII - Haines

Haines was one of our favorite towns in Alaska. It has strong Tlingit influences. Enjoy the photos.

Chilkoot Inlet

Beautiful and wild Bald Eagle.

The marina in Haines.

One of many cruise ships that navigate the Chilkoot Inlet on their way to Skagway.

A murder of bathing Ravens.

Near Chilkoot Lake.

A beautiful, peaceful forest always calms the soul.

Bear food.

Rooted in beauty.

A family coming back from fishing in Chilkoot Lake.

A sizable example of Tlingit art.

Lovely old homes at Fort Seward in Haines.

Proud of this photo.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Alaska: The Last Frontier Part VI - Arctic Circle

On our way up to Alaska, we crossed paths with a woman who had decided that if she was going all the way to Alaska, then she was going to put her toe in the Arctic Ocean. She intended to drive the Dalton Highway all the way to Prudhoe Bay to do just that. I don't know whether or not she actually got there, but it inspired me. I knew I could only wish to get to the Arctic Ocean but, thanks to the woman in the office at our RV park who gave us several brochures on the many things to do and see in the Fairbanks area, the bus trip to the Arctic Circle jumped out at me. I looked at my sister, Pam, and asked "you wanna go to the Arctic Circle?" Of course the answer was yes.

The tour to the Arctic Circle started out at the tour company's office on the back side of the airport at about 6:30 in the morning. Everybody was given a sheet of paper to tick off our choices for lunch, then we boarded a commuter type shuttle bus and set off on our fifteen hour day. Our tour guide was a real estate agent making a little extra money on the side. He was full of interesting facts about the the Dalton Highway, the history the area and the Alaska Pipeline.

I've asked many people since that day what they think of when they think of the word tundra. Most people respond with exactly what I imagined when I thought of the tundra: A vast expanse of ice and snow as far as the eye can see and not much of anything else except a polar bear or two. Well, I was wrong. At least in the summer months. The tundra is an amazing place teeming with beautiful, colorful plants. We got to walk onto the tundra and it is like walking on a sponge. It is soggy with water and sits upon permafrost. The tundra is very delicate and can damage easily. Our guide described how if a truck drove across the tundra its tracks would fill with water, killing the plants, and leave behind black swaths that last for ages. The growing season is only 60 to 90 days long, which isn't enough for the plant life to grow over the damaged areas.

Getting to see and walk on the tundra was the highlight of the trip for me. The second highlight was standing under the Alaska Pipeline. The building of the pipeline was big news during my teenage and early adult years. It provided a lot of people good paying jobs.

Surprisingly, finally getting to the Arctic Circle felt a little anti-climactic but, just to know, just to say that my sister and I have been that far north on this earth, to have been beyond the mighty Yukon River, to have the memories of it, to point to it on a map, to have gone somewhere I never dreamed I would ever go, is, and may forever be, one of the greatest highlights of my life. I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. Not a damn thing.

A beautiful birch forest that was damaged by fire.

Just a little color to decorate the side of the outhouse at the Wildwood General Store.

Our tour driver, Aaron Lojenski, on the left. Such a cute place located along the Dalton Highway in Joy, Alaska, just about 95 miles north of Fairbanks. Joy is named after one of the original founders of this outpost, the Wildwood General Store. It is now being run by the second generation.

I loved this handwritten sign. I guess you just have to keep running.

The great engineering feat called the Alaska Pipeline.

Pamela standing under the pipeline.

The Dalton Highway. That beautiful pink patch is none other than Fireweed. Love, love, love Fireweed.

Pamela's feet sinking into the beautiful tundra.

The tundra is made up of so many colors and textures.

Looking out across the tundra to the Black Spruce in the distance. Those trees which look to be maybe 8 to ten feet tall may be well over 100 years old.

Our tour driver, Aaron, showing folks the permafrost under the tundra plants. 

Pamela's special ceremony marking her official crossing into the Arctic Circle. Aaron said we were actually about 20 miles inside the circle, which I thought was extra cool.

We walked a little way into a birch forest.

Tree roots growing along the surface.

Just so beautiful.

More arctic/tundra plants.

I love this photo of Pamela.

The mighty Yukon River next to the Yukon River Camp where we picked up our lunches on our way up and stopped to have dinner on our way down. This photo was taken about 7:00pm.

Some of the beautiful, windblown grasses by the Yukon River.

Chena Hot Springs, Fairbanks, AK. This was the hottest hot springs I've ever been in.

Alaska colors. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Alaska: The Last Frontier Part V - Denali

Well, here is part 5 of my Alaska blogs. If you didn't read my last blog you might not know that I had cancer. I'm fine now—or at least for now—but I really haven't felt like writing. For the most part, I haven't even picked up my camera for several months. Sights I might usually like to photograph I've been taking in through my own eyes, for my own gratification, instead of always seeing everything through a lens. I'm starting to get the urge to use my camera again, which is good, but what I choose to photograph must feel substantial to me.

I will caption the photos below because they will jog my memory. I hope you enjoy them.

My sister, Pam, and I caught this little baby toad at a campground in Houston, AK. We kept it just long enough to enjoy its cute face and photograph it.

Letting the little guy go.

This is the Little Susitna River that ran along the back of the campground. It was about 100 feet from our campsite. After arriving there, Pam and I took a walk along the riverbank. I heard a deep sounding splash and I looked toward where I'd heard it. An otter swam right by us. I didn't have my camera with me at that moment, darn it. But what a thrill.

Just a small fry in the shallows.

Rob flying his hexacopter at the campground in Houston.

Here we are in Denali National Park visiting the sled dogs. This is Finn. The Rangers put on demonstrations for tourists to explain how they use the dogs. You can drive your car only so far into Denali. To go any farther you must take one of the shuttle or bus tours. When out in Denali in one of the buses and when within hearing distance of any of the wildlife, the driver insists that everyone whispers. They do not want the wildlife to hear human voices if at all possible. It is already bad enough that they hear and see the buses. During the winter months, Rangers traverse Denali using only sled dogs. This helps keep the human impact on wildlife to a minimum.

Here is Rob giving Clove a little love.

During the demonstration, one of the Rangers asked which dog was people's favorite. Lots of folks said 'Annie.' Well, that's because Annie is a love. A true sweetie pie who loves people—as you will see in the next photo.

This is Annie giving Pam a big old kiss!

Poor Aliqsi. All she wanted to do was sleep and everyone kept trying to get her attention.

Here is beautiful Finn, again. Be sure to click on the photo to enlarge it. You have to see his amazing eyes.

These dogs work hard so they always appreciate a little snooze time. And Carpe is seizing his.

A few of the 2015 sled dog puppy litter. After the demonstration and after the folks who took the group bus to the kennels left, the rest of us were told to sit on the ground, indian style, with knees touching your neighbor's. This was called the puppy circle. They put four or five pups in the middle for us to hold and play with. They didn't want to be held and they only wanted to play with each other.

This pup's name is Disco. Disco was the most rambunctious of all the puppies and seemed to be the Alpha. He was also the most photogenic.

How can anyone resist such a sweet face.

Yes, we were of the lucky ones. We actually got to see Denali, albeit from a great distance and not while we were actually in the park. 

This Ptarmigan was along the side of the road as our shuttle tour bus drove by.

And baby Ptarmigans on the side of the road. If they hadn't been moving around, they may have been almost invisible.

One of the tourists asked the driver how many bear sightings she's had in a day The answer was six. We say 13 on our day out. Some of them may have been the same bears on our way back as we saw on our way up, but that wasn't the point. The point was they were still visible. All these grizzlies were very blond.

One of the beautiful views in Denali National Park. I had so many more photographs that may have been better, but I lost them. I lost them because I wasn't paying attention when I was transferring them from memory card to computer. I get upset if I think about it too much. C'est la vie.