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Posts from the ‘Alaska’ Category

Gustavus and Glacier Bay

We wrap up our two-month road trip throughout Alaska with a stay in Gustavus (pop 428), a tiny town that stands near where Muir Glacier once dumped into the sea.

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In 1680, this area was a grassy valley full of salmon streams, while the glacier loomed in the background. The Huna Tlingit tribes of Alaska harvested salmon and forest delights until the glacier’s rapid advance in the year 1750 chased them out. The glacier advanced “as fast as a dog could run.” But the resilient Tlingit people returned as the glacier retreated and ultimately carved out Glacier Bay.

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Marilynn and I hop off the ferry and walk on land that used to be glacier covered. Now the land is growing a wide array of flora and fauna attracting ecologists from around the world. The ground itself is growing, rising several inches yearly, rebounding from the weight of the rapidly retreating glacier (isostatic rebound). While ecologists study newly forming forests, the native population recently won a lawsuit to claim this “new” land.

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We hike and bicycle around grasslands and forest, where bears forage and wildflowers explode into color. Of course, we manage to find the two places in Gustavus that serve alcohol, one of our honed travel skills, and chat with friendly folks who love living remote. Like much of Alaska, they work hard during summer tourist season to sustain for the rest of the winter.

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Okay, it’s time to splurge on a 55-mile boat ride from the lodge up to the tidewater glaciers.

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It’s the only way to see them, or by kayak, but that would take days. Oh yes, a cruise ship is another way as well.

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The struggle between preserving the environment and providing a tourist attraction is nothing new.

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Here the current agreement allows only two cruise ships daily to travel through the bay.

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Of the 300,000 yearly visitors here, less than 10% of them ever step foot on land.

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The Glacier Bay Lodge serves as a hub for tours and offers packages that include lodging and the boat tour.

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Just be prepared for everything to be overpriced, even by Alaskan standards.

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Glacier Bay National Park holds 3.3 million acres and is designated by UNESCO. Most of the glaciers are retreating, with only a few still growing.

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The array of wildlife, from marine mammals to grizzlies and goats and birds almost overshadows the glaciers.

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And then there’s the scenery. We just enjoy it all, knowing that we’re experiencing something special.

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Sometimes it’s just that simple. Thank you, Abundant Universe.

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Riding in Remote Alaska

Winding down our two months of truck tripping through Alaska, we venture into Wrangell-St. Elias National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site), the largest national park in the United States. Six Yellowstone National Parks could fit inside of it.

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Just when you see a sight on the Alaskan road that blows your mind, and think that nothing could top it, you turn the corner and delve into a different ecosystem.

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Spotting roadside wildlife like bears and moose boils down to a matter of luck, but it happens.

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Running into Alaska’s unique characters along the way enhance the entire experience.

At the end of a 92-mile dead end gravel road, we park at a river and walk across a pedestrian bridge to the small town of McCarthy. Once the commerce center and a place to get a drink for the miners from the “dry” copper mining town of Kennecott eight miles away, the old buildings still stand. Quirky gift shops and other tourist support services now fill the old wooden buildings. Apparently, the saloon persists along with about 30 hearty, “unique” year-round residents, but we left before it opened.

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We walk the road to Kennecott, very aware of the large amount of bear scat along the way. (Probably should have brought the bear spray). After clearing the forest, we come across what we believe, at first glance, was the carnage and destruction left behind of huge mine tailings.

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Turns out it’s the Kennicott Glacier moraine. Moraines are accumulations of rocks and dirt that are on the surface of the glacier or have been pushed along by the glacier as it moves.

In this case, the ice is underneath, and it is one of the few glaciers that is growing rather than receding. Currently, it’s in a state of holding its own.

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Copper was discovered here in 1900. The copper in the hills in Kennecott was of such high quality that it was worth building infrastructure in these harsh and remote conditions to mine it.

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We set camp outside of McCarthy alongside a lake in the middle of nowhere. In Alaska, you can pull over and camp almost anywhere, free of charge.

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While we sit lakeside by the fire, a truck pulls in behind mine. An elderly man with a long grey beard gets out holding a .30-06 shotgun, wearing belts of ammo like suspenders. No doubt one of the areas “unique” residents. He walks towards me with confidence and I figure he’s going to kick me off his property or something. The only weapon we have with us is bear pepper spray.

“Do you mind if my kids swim here for a little while?”

“No, not at all,” I respond. “We don’t own this spot.”

“I’m Bud.” We shake hands. He apologizes for not shaking Marilynn’s hand. “I don’t touch women outside of my family.”

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About 12 children, dressed in traditional Amish clothing that covers most of their flesh, exit the truck and run for the water that was frozen not that long ago. Strange sight for us to witness young girls swimming in long skirts and hats, while boys swim in long sleeves and pants. One boy was dressed in shorts and I asked Bud why he wasn’t dressed like the others.

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“He’s not one of mine,” Bud responds. “We don’t care about anybody else’s religion as long as they don’t care about ours.” He looks into my eyes. “You have a shotgun out here don’t you?”

“I don’t go anywhere without a shotgun.” He says. Then he explains that they live in traditional Amish manner, except for the Iron Horse. “A horse and buggy just won’t work in the Alaskan bush.” A Vietnam Vet, he married at age 56 and made 12 children. We wonder if “Papa Pilgrim” is reincarnated. “I built my house with plywood from all the old mining shacks.”

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The children swim and laugh and play until their lips turn blue. They listen to Bud’s every command. Then his cell phone rings. It’s his wife. After they hang up, he yells to the kids, “Let’s go! Get in the truck and sit in the exact seat that you came out in.” The kids respond quietly, but I see that mama truly runs the show, just like most families. “Don’t you dare cough in front of your mother. I’ll be in trouble if you catch cold.”

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Meanwhile, we can’t bring ourselves to leave this beautiful spot. Guess we will chill-out lakeside next to the fire for one more night. What a privilege to travel without strict timelines. Thank you, Abundant Universe.

 

 

 

A Fish Tale (With a video)

After a late night of beers in the campsite, we wake at 4:30 AM to board Dusty’s jet boat. The four of us head out to fish for halibut. Jeff, “first mate” served in the coast guard with Dusty, and both guys are currently Alaskan firefighters. Marilynn and I are rookies out here in the saltwater, and figure that we are in good hands. Surrounded by fjords and glacier strewn mountains, the calm waters and eventually a rare sunny day indicate that luck be with us.

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Valdez Harbor

“There they are!” Jeff points to the floating buoys. I help him pull up 300 feet of nylon line with four shrimp pots attached. They’ve been soaking for about 12 hours. “We be having shrimp tonight, Baby!” Dusty laughs. “There must be about 50 of those monsters.” We re-bait the pots and drop them back in, to pick up about 10 hours later on our way back in.

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Shrimp for dinner!

We drop fishing lines about 40 miles out at sea. A sizable rock fish becomes first catch of the day. Then a small halibut (chicken). Marilynn pulls in a black sea bass, and then another. You never know what will be on the end of your line when fishing in the ocean!

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Black Sea Bass

“Wow! Look at that sea lion!” I yell as this huge animal circles our boat.

“Gun!” Jeff yells. “Get the gun!” Dusty pulls up the small halibut that was hanging alongside the boat. The sea lion disappears.

“My best friend died from a sea lion while fishing in Kodiak,” Jeff says. He explained that 2,000-pound stellar sea lion jumped onto his small fishing boat (like ours) and sunk it immediately. “You don’t have long to live in this glacial water.” Luckily, there was no need to shoot.

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Fishing not catching

Fishing isn’t always catching. As the day goes on, we move several times to try different spots and depths of water. The sun beats on us, rare for Valdez. We munch on black bear summer sticks, thanks to Jeff’s hunting and processing skills. Sometimes the best cure for drinking too many beers the night before is to, well, drink more beers.

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Rock Fish too small to keep

Jeff tells another story about a different friend, who was fishing alone in a small boat off Kodiak Island. He caught a huge halibut (tabletop) and gaffed it into his boat. Didn’t “boom-stick it” which is shooting it with a metal pole with a shotgun shell on the end of it. He gaffed it straight into the boat. The halibut flapped around and broke both of his friend’s legs, as well as tore up the entire dashboard of the small craft.

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Now everyone has caught something

“Damn it, I got a snag!” Dusty yells. We all reel in yet again. “Oh my God, it’s shaking its head!” Dusty gets animated. “Holy shit, I got a monster!”

At this point, I’ll refer the reader to the video below. Here’s a rare chance to watch a couple of regular folks catch a huge halibut, estimated weight between 80 to 100 pounds:

 

The end of our fish tale did not make it to video…, once halibut gets flipped over the side of our boat, double tied with thick nylon lines, Marilynn yells, “Sea lion!” She immediately grabs the .45 caliber hand gun.

Jeff pulls the gun from her, just in case, but the sea lion retreats on its own. He was heading for the halibut hanging off the boat (The Old Man and the Sea we are not), but Dusty pulled halibut onto the boat, where he and Jeff sit on its tail until the last of its nerves settle down for good. It takes a while longer for our nerves to settle too. Thank you Abundant Universe!

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Pretty good day of fishing and catching

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Shrimp and Halibut for dinner back at the camp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wheeling Feeling in North Pole, Alaska

Although clouds usually shroud the 20,000 foot high Mt. Denali, the highest mountain in North America, the month of May offers the best chances of sighting the peak. We know it’s back in there somewhere.

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We camp overnight in Denali National Park to increase our time for chances of a view. In the frigid morning, we drive the park road as far as they allow private vehicles, and get lucky. Viola!

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The vastness of this land makes a big grizzly bear look small.

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Porcupines like to come out in the morning also.

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Continuing north, we brave the cold rain and camp several days along the Chena River. It’s well worth it.

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Where else can you wake and watch a beaver swim across a calm pond? I’ve never seen that kind of beaver close-up before.

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Time to go to the town of North Pole, where Marilynn’s nephew, Dusty, a lieutenant firefighter, takes us four-wheeling. Somewhere outside of Fairbanks where the sun never sets this time of year, we meet friends and set up camp.

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“I’m taking you to places most people will never get to see,” he says.

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We rev up the Armageddon survival machines that take us over steep rocks, through mud, snow, and boreal forest, all the way to “Suicide Hill.”

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We stop only to crack a cold one, or cut firewood for the bonfire back at camp.

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After a long day of four-wheeling, we sit around the fire eating moose burgers, feeling rather wild.

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“We have to get out as soon as possible to enjoy the short two-month season of summer,” Dusty explains. “After being cooped-up in the dark all damn winter, you have to take advantage of the sunlight.” Well, they have 24 hours of sunlight this time of year. Mare and I have no idea what time it is, or even what day.

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He tells us that to keep sane during long, frigid, dark winters, folks have roving potlucks, game nights, and snowmobiling to keep active. It’s also necessary to have indoor hobbies. Like his welding hobby turned business, where he produces creative, designer artwork. Without such activities it’d be too easy to drink all the time.

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Check out NorthStar Fabworks on Facebook or Instagram

Time for Marilynn and me to get a room at the Bear Lodge in Fairbanks for a much-needed cleanup. We’re due for some civilization as well. Hmm, we’re the only guests in this massive complex full of empty corridors. It feels like we’re in the movie “The Shining.” Then it gets really weird when I get a call the next morning from the manager.

“I’m calling because one of my employees told me that you said something that made her uncomfortable.”

“Geez,” I said. “I only talked to two people. The receptionist when we checked in and a security guard while I was outside waiting for Thai food delivery. What in the world could I have said that was uncomfortable?”

“She said that you asked her if she wanted to go pee with you.”

I’m speechless. Trying to think of what I could have said that could remotely resemble such a phrase. “I can’t imagine ever saying anything like that to any person in my life,” I respond. “What can I do about this?”

“Nothing. I’m just calling as a courtesy.”

What? Welcome to The Bear Lodge, I guess.

Time to leave civilization and go back into the wild, for some civilization. Let’s camp along the Denali highway, a 135-mile gravel road touted by Men’s Journal as one of America’s most thrilling roads.

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National Geographic Traveler magazine lists it as number two in “roads that are pure fun to drive.”

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They cleared this road for the season, opening only a few days ago. Sunshine, a full moon, and sweeping views reward us during our first day’s drive.

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While scenic and remote, we wondered where the “thrill” was?

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What a difference a day makes. When we wake in the morning dense fog covers our views, followed by snow and freezing rain. The road narrows and the ruts and pot holes in the gravel are accentuated as conditions deteriorate. Who knew that driving 135 miles could take so long? We’re in the middle of nowhere, off the cell phone grid, and have not seen another vehicle all day. It looks like we’re driving into a blizzard. Okay, no doubt a pretty “thrilling” ride.

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Once back on paved roads, we follow the Alaskan Pipeline south, camping along the way.

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This Pipeline runs for 800 miles, from Prudhoe Bay to the charming town of Valdez. In my opinion, the drive to Valdez on the Richardson Highway rates as spectacular and perhaps not long enough.

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Waterfalls gush in full force from the tops of fjords.

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Leaves begin to stretch out from green buds in the forest, and once the fog lifts we see a picture book town that reminds us of Haines.

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Thank you, Abundant Universe!

 

 

 

Road Trippin’ in Alaska

After a four-day ferry ride from Bellingham, Washington to Haines, Alaska, we embark on the maiden camping voyage in my new Toyota Tacoma. The plan is to drive the Alaskan roadways with at least an equal amount of camping and motel stays. It’s early May, and it has been a late spring, so snow and road conditions may be a factor.

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Beating the Crowds – Camping in Beaver Creek

Brrr…, we wake up to snow in Beaver Creek, Canada off the Alcan Highway. It’s warm enough in sleeping bags under the truck cap, but those nighttime bathroom trips are brutal!

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Driving the Alcan

Gigantic mountain ranges in the distance resemble a winter wonderland Christmas card.

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Just one of many

Moose and herds of caribou crossing the road remind us that being in pristine wilderness has no substitute.

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Blurry, but you get the idea

Well, it often rains in pristine wilderness, so we decide to “motel it” in Anchorage for a few days. Ah, creature comforts abound. We make friends during Kentucky Derby day at Darwin’s, a local pub. We’re lucky to be here in the off season, before crowds of cruise shippers take over.

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Derby day at Darwin’s Bar

Burn off those guilty pleasures with a “snow hike” up Flattop Mountain, where icy wind will awaken all the senses.

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Hiking the Flattop Mountain Trail

This great walking town offers many mountain hiking trails, along with civilized walkways and bicycle paths at the water’s edge.

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Walking the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

Combine friendly folks and endless outdoor activities with an excellent craft beer scene and the best food options Alaska has to offer, well, what’s not to like?

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Enjoying the craft beer scene in Anchorage

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Oysters and Champagne at the Bubbly Mermaid

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Man does not live by seafood alone

On the way to a seafood market to buy fresh halibut cheeks, we mingle with the biker crowd at the annual “blessing of the bikes” that kicks-off riding season. We could live in this city.

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The Blessing of the Bikes

Time to hit the road for some more wilderness. We have the free, rustic campground in the historic town of Hope all to ourselves.

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Watching the tide – Turnagain Arm in Hope

On the edge of one of the lowest tides on the North American continent, we find plenty of logs for our first “hillbilly fire” of the season. Good thing that we have left-over halibut cheeks for dinner tonight.

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Camping in Hope

Rain pours again as we drive to the town of Homer, which has become quite the tourist carnival since we were there 20 years ago. However, the bars maintain a friendly feel and the fishing is still great.

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Halibut in Homer

We decide to get a room for off-season rates at the Land’s End Hotel on the end of the Homer spit. Heck, with a view like this let’s make it two nights instead of one. Hmm, the paper-thin walls allow us to hear all conversation and bodily function of the young couple next to us. When they have late night intimacy, repeatedly, we can’t get the Paul Simon song “Duncan” out of our head: “The couple in the next room are bound to win a prize…” Okay, we cancel reservations for the following night, so we can go camping in the cold rain and get a good night’s sleep!

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Homer Harbor

Onward to Seward, where a short hike brings us to the edge of Exit Glacier. This hike gets longer each year, as the glacier melts more quickly than ever.

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Exit Glacier near Seward

Scenically, Seward reminds us much of Haines, Alaska. However, it’s much bigger, and with more cruise ships, two of which just docked. Augh! Time to get out of this town.

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Seward

Although we’re getting used to camping in cold rain with 30-degree F nights, it does not mean that we like it. Weather forecasts up north show temps in the 60’s, so it’s off towards Denali we go!

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Time to get out of this rain!

Thank you Abundant Universe!

 

All Aboard to the Aleutian Islands

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We get bird’s eye views of the rugged, volcanic chain of the Aleutian Islands during the flight from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor, on Amaknak island in Unalaska, Alaska.

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In the northernmost part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, where the westernmost portion belongs to Russia, we expect harsh weather conditions.

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However, we didn’t expect to be held captive in our hotel room!

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Once on land, brutal wind blows rain sideways, pelting our hotel window and making eerie howling noises.

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Ah, saved by the complimentary shuttle, and we are off to the Harbor View Bar, which is attached to the only other hotel on the island.

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“What should we see here?” Mare asks the bartender. We often get better information at bars than visitor centers.

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“Nothing.” She frowns at us. “I mean it, there’s nothing to see. Though Summer Bay Road is a pretty drive and you can see wild horses. I like horses.” She looks down the bar. “Hey Bob, what’s there to see here for a couple of tourists?”

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“Some folks like the visitor center and museum,” Bob says. “But they’re closed. The Russian Church is the oldest Russian built church in Alaska, or so I’ve been told. I’m sure it’s closed too.”

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Another patron lifts his head and with a mouthful of fried halibut he says, “You could walk up Bunker Hill to see bunkers from the Second World War. That’s about it.”

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The rain turns to a sprinkle, so we take advantage and walk back to the hotel. Hoards of Bald Eagles spar around topless trash bins along the way. A fishery worker has to shoo them away in order to toss out trash.

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I hunt and gather at the hotel restaurant where a bottle of wine costs thirty-five dollars. Better make that two bottles, because we’re being held captive. For some strange reason, Marilynn and I love this. It goes back to what our friend Jack said, on a hike around Lake Baikal in Siberia, “Some folks just got to see it.” Click on these links to see those posts:   Lake Baikal   Siberia

Rained-in the next day, Eagles and Sea Otters put on a show in Margaret Bay outside our window. Small fishes, Hooligans I suppose, fill the bay where eagles steal catches from each other, and sea otters dunk underwater when the big birds try to steal theirs. More wine over here!

 

 

Viola! The sun sneaks out the next morning! We bite the financial bullet and rent a jeep for $125 to ride all 28 miles of Unalaska’s roadways. Feels so good to escape the confine of our room.

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It seems that the land population here do nothing but work most of the time. There’s no hunting to speak of, little wildlife, and no bears in this barren land. Wages are high and many include room and board due to the high cost of living.

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No trees either. Just mountainous rock covered in tundra up to the snow line. Rugged beauty. Fresh air.

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And on Summer Bay Road we’re lucky to spot a fox. No wild horses.

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We thought that there were lots of eagles at the trash bins, but the city dump marks the grand finale of the show. Eagles wait on the forklift for the next load.

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The hike up Bunker Hill gives great views, close contact with WWII memorabilia, and a long overdue heart-pumping. The Battle of Dutch Harbor was fought here in June 1942.

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We simply leave the rental jeep at the ferry dock, next to the abundant crab pots, the following morning. “Just leave the keys in the cup holder and please don’t lock it.”

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Fans of “The Deadliest Catch” will recognize this dock and the “Cornelia Marie.”

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Only 28 passengers ride on the Kennicott ferry, which could hold 499 max. Seas are relatively calm this first day’s ride, with spectacular views of countless tundra covered rock islands.

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We forgo renting a stateroom, and sleep on a cold, hard floor in the aft sun room the first night. The next night we head to the solarium, which is warmer, but the chairs were as hard as the floor.

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Other passengers remind us repeatedly why we travel the way we do, for as long as possible:

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An 80-year-old man from Oklahoma recently had his knee replaced. “I can’t walk so well or long anymore. So, we figured to take this ferry out as far as it goes. At least I can sit and see this fascinating area I have always dreamed of visiting.”

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A 70-year-old woman traveling with her 90-year-old mother walk around the deck every morning for 30 minutes. They are taking this same journey for the second time, and already planning a similar trip for next year.

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A 75-year-old, obese woman in a walker says with a smile, “I have always wanted to take this journey. My body doesn’t seem to have much time left, so I better do it while I can.”

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We swallow Meclizine the second day, on advice from the Captain over the loudspeaker: “We’re facing 25-foot seas for the next 24 hours or so. If you need medication, take it.”

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The man from Oklahoma advises us to put an earplug in one ear. “I don’t know why, but it seems to help.”

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With the exception of a brief stop at the town of Chignik, we bounced around all night inside of our sleeping bags on top in the enclosed, heated solarium.

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The next morning greets us with calm seas, and an early arrival to our destination, Kodiak Island, where we feast on “the deadliest catch.”

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Yes, there is a little more to our travels than just needing to see it. We’re in a race with time as well. Thank you, Abundant Universe!

Where Eagles Soar

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Chilkat River

Cold wind blows down from glaciers that separate jagged peaks surrounding the Chilkat River. We zip up and seal the gaps in our clothing during a brisk walk along the only river in Alaska that does not totally freeze solid, due to a glacial sediment alluvial fan.Eagles on the Chilkat RiverThis stretch of unfrozen water provides spawning ground for the final salmon run on the north American continent. That’s why an estimated 3,000 bald eagles converge here annually for a final feed every November, in Haines, Alaska.Eagles on the Chilkat RiverMarilynn and I have volunteered as caretakers at the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve in Haines for two separate summers (Eagle Caretakers), and have seen many of the 400 resident bald eagles, but we have never witnessed the November convergence.  C’mon, 3,000 eagles? We’re skeptical, and expect that this phenomenon is probably over-hyped.EaglesHigh-pitched screeches in the distance call for us to pick up the pace, and break free of the woods obstructing our view. Viola! There be eagles, hordes of them!EagleSome soar down to the river to snatch a swimming fish with their talons, while others line up along dead-end channels that trap Coho and Chum.EaglesMany eagles perch in the trees to rest, or wait for an opportunity to steal another’s catch. Perhaps they conduct business in a language we cannot understand.Eagles on the Chilkat RiverThe eagles have arrived at their annual convention/feed. I’m not sure exactly how many have come. How can you count them all?Chilkat River during eagle festivalOutside of a few serious photographers, this week we have the place to ourselves. A handful of hearty humans shall arrive next week to enjoy this amazing event, and participate in the Bald Eagle Festival activities in Haines Borough for a final economic boon before winter.eagle eating and refelction 3We experience the gathering of eagles in one of the most pristine settings on planet earth. If anything, this phenomenon is under-hyped.Eagles on the Chilkat RiverThe cold wind blows down from glacial separated jagged mountains, and we seal the gaps in our clothing, looking forward to stoking up the wood burner back at the cabin.Chilkat River

Thank you Abundant Universe!

 

Oh, Alaska!

Eagles mate for life. But even the most romantic lovers need a little space once in a while.

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Sometimes you need a little space

One of them decides to go fishing. A bald eagle can dive at speeds of up to 200 mph.

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Gone fishing

A juvenile bald eagle does not go bald (head and tail turn white) for about five years. They pay attention and learn how to fish.

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Juvenile eagle learning the ropes

An eagle’s scream means “Stay away from my kill!” The eagle will emphatically rip into the catch, its body language telling others to stay away or fight. Eventually though, they get full and give way.

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Hungry and willing to fight

Ah, bald eagles are pirates known for stealing booty. They can spot that kill from two miles away. The kill attracts lots of attention.

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Fighting and feasting

After a while, a few juveniles hang around for scraps of spoils.

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Juveniles waiting for the leftovers

Meanwhile, something attracts the attention of a black bear.

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I think I heard something!

Hopefully, it’s not this spike bull moose, whose antler configuration makes him legal for hunting season. (Not that that matters to any bear)

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A male moose hoping not to be dinner

Everybody gives way to the grizzly bear. This guy strolls through the horsetail grass in the wetlands of our backyard. He eats anything he wants along the way. Coastal brown bears grow larger than their grizzly cousins in the interior, due to plenty of seafood proteins.

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A big brown bear looking for dinner

Perhaps this young cow moose swam across the river because of the bear’s scent.

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A young female moose hoping not to be dinner either

The romantic lovers meet again. Nothing can harm the top of the food chain, except for humans.

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“So happy together…”

Oh, Alaska. You’re almost as beautiful as my romantic wife. Happy 22nd anniversary, Babe!

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Happy Anniversary!

Ron Mitchell

 

ALASKA SATISFIES THE SENSES

We love to travel the world and see different things. Rarely do we visit a place twice. So why have we come back to Alaska for the sixth time? Let me try and answer that…

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Hanging out in the solarium on the Alaska State Ferry

 

Traveling here presents an adventure in itself. I chill-out on a lounge chair with a sleeping bag for three nights under the solarium on the Alaska State Ferry, from Bellingham, WA to Haines, AK. Even make a few friends along the cruise up the marine highway, which cuts through mountains and occasionally stops at remote towns.

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Wrangell, Alaska

Marilynn had a more exciting adventure. She drove the entire Alcan Highway, through Canada to Alaska, slept in her car off the road during a snowstorm, and once even car camped in a Walmart parking lot while in the Yukon! Look at the amazing array of wildlife she gets to see along the way….

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A Black Bear feasting along the Alcan

Smell the fresh air. Winds blow over glaciers, rivers, sea-filled fjords, and pristine forests. The smell of fresh air has almost no smell at all.

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Grey Wolf near Muncho Lake

See the surrounding glaciers, mountains, rivers, canals and forests. The view never grows old. Fabulous scenery engulfs us the moment we arrive.

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Chilkoot Lake

Feel the cool days and nights. Love the feeling of being cool during summer. Beats the hell out of that excessive heat back in Phoenix, AZ!

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Davidson Glacier

Taste some of mother nature’s delights. I caught four Dolly Varden (trout) my first day here. Looking forward to the Sockeye Salmon run that should begin next month. Maybe I’ll catch one this year, who knows?

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Dinner!

We pluck wild oyster mushrooms from a decaying Cottonwood log in our “backyard” as an excellent side dish for the fresh fish. As I write this, we are still hoping that they were indeed oyster mushrooms!

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Oyster Mushroom – we hope!

The sound of a running river serenades us to sleep at night. (Doesn’t really get dark this time of year) Sometimes rain pouring on the cabin’s tin roof adds to the music. A symphony of bird songs wakes us each morning. Sure is a nice break from the noise of freeways, airplanes, sirens, helicopters, and politicians!

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“Home”

Our backyard is the Chilkat River in the Bald Eagle Preserve. Hundreds of bird species appear at different times of year, along with seasonal salmon runs. Each fall season, over 3,000 American Bald Eagles converge right here for the final salmon run on this continent, like an annual convention in Las Vegas.

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One of the 400 full-time residents of the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve

This summer marks our fourth year volunteering in Haines, Alaska as caretakers for Alaska State Parks. That basically means that we clean and stock outhouses, bring garbage into town, and keep the preserve clean. In return, we get to live in a small cabin in the woods. This one even has the luxury of electricity. There is no running water, but driving about 22 miles to fill containers with glacial fed spring water has a certain Zen feel to it. Our outhouses are only 100 steps away from the cabin.

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The watering hole

The small town of Haines (1900 pop) has no stoplights. Some folks don’t lock their doors. Others leave their keys in the car, parked “downtown” for friends that might need a lift. “Just let me know where you left it.” We have made some good friends here.

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Haines, Alaska

Alaska not only satisfies our senses, it overwhelms them. And we appreciate it!                       Ron Mitchell

 

Haines, Alaska: Eagles and More

We sit on the deck of the caretakers’ cabin in the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, and watch eagles catch fish in the Chilkat River.

Gotcha!

Gotcha!

Rafters on tours float past us and wave, unless gazing at glacial jagged mountains. Most come from the many cruise ships docked in the “nearby” town of Skagway. A raft guide tells us, “We call this the ‘float and bloat’ because they’re used to four meals a day.” Another guide says, “We called them the ‘newlywed or nearly dead’ when I worked in Juneau.”

"Bloat and Float" down the Chilkat River

“Bloat and Float” down the Chilkat River

The swift current in this braided river never freezes. Upstream, a large portion of water sits under accumulated glacial sediments. This underground reservoir is insulated and stays ten degrees above freezing all year. As a result, the river hosts the final salmon run on the North American Continent, where around 4,000 American Bald Eagles converge in the fall for a final feast. It’s like a convention of nature’s executives convening in Haines instead of Las Vegas.

Waiting for the convention in the Fall

Waiting for the convention in the Fall

Mare and I catch a rare sunny day for our favorite hike up Mt. Riley. We have the moderate six-mile round trip trail to ourselves, and make noise in the thick woods to keep the bears at bay. Up top, we’re treated with views of the Lynn Canal – North America’s longest and deepest fjord.

360 Views found on top of Mt. Riley

360 Views found on top of Mt. Riley

We gaze over the Chilkat River, Haines, and the Taiya Inlet. We can practically see all the way to Juneau. Massive glaciers melted years ago, allowing this vista which includes optimal views of Rainbow Glacier and its iconic waterfalls.

Rainbow Glacier from the top of Mt. Riley

Rainbow Glacier from the top of Mt. Riley

Battery Point Trail undergoes constant repair. The trail head is right in town and thus one of the most popular hikes in Haines. Ranked as easy, the four-mile round trip takes you through forest and onto rocky beach lined with flowers including Queen Anne’s lace, cow parsnips and fireweed. I go for my pepper spray when we hear something crashing through the thick spruce, relieved when two eagles, instead of a brown bear, busts through.

Views from the Battery Point Trail

Views from the Battery Point Trail

I haven’t caught a sockeye yet, but have learned how to fish for Dolly Varden. These arctic trout/char, depending upon who you talk to, can get huge. I caught a five-pounder. They taste sweet and would delight any staunch meat-eater. It took three summers for one local fisherman to give up his secret spot to me.

Ron with some Dollys

Ron with some Dollys

Mare made friends with a young eagle while I was out of town on a family emergency. She calls him “Screamer” because he screams when she walks past on her daily morning stroll. Sure, Mare…how long have you been here in this cabin? So, she takes me on the walk, and there he is, in the same spot, screaming and then soaring over top of us for several moments. It happens every morning when Mare calls to him. We’ll see if after he grows up and his head turns white he’ll remember us.

Mare's pet eagle, "Screamer"

Mare’s pet eagle, “Screamer”

Still missing our dog Jack, Mare calls and chases what she thinks is a stray black dog. She later claims it was actually a black bear. I think that she has cabin fever, as we have seen no sign of bear. Then, this guy shows up in our backyard.

Mare's new "puppy"

Mare’s new “puppy”

This year’s cabin comes with electricity. What a treat to have a refrigerator, propane range, oil heat, and the ability to store food and freeze fresh fish! We get one radio station out here, KHNS, a community station. Especially love the listener personals, eclectic array of music, NPR and local news.

Backyard views

Backyard views

Bathrooms are outside of course, which we clean and stock for the general public. Out-houses never break down. We’ll drive 19 miles into the town of Haines for a shower once in a while and catch up on internet (spotty and slow). Then fill our containers with glacial fed spring water and our growlers with beer from the Haines Brewery.

Mountain peaks along the Chilkat River

Mountain peaks along the Chilkat River

So, here we are, sitting around our fire pit, staring at a fire, a raging river, and the surrounding jagged, glacial-pocked mountains.

Ron has not caught a salmon yet, but this guy has!

Ron has not caught a salmon yet, but this guy has!

We marvel at the eagles fishing skills, and our good fortune to see it all. Life is good.                 Ron Mitchell