Saturday, June 12, 2010

June 11, 2010

South to the Kenai Peninsula



South of Anchorage the road travels along side the Turnagain Arm.  This is a large extension of the Cook Inlet that runs east for miles with steep mountains on both sides and at the end.  The tide fluctuations during one day can be as much as 33 feet.  When the tide is out the land is sticky muck.  Careless people venture out into the tide plane, get stuck, and drown when the tide comes in. 

11-21 mtns west of hwy 1, mudflats


11-23 mtns west hwy 1, so of anchorage

11-30 Spencer Glacier


Spencer Glacier





The day was gray, windy, and cold.  Not good for sightseeing.  We had planned on stopping at a particular campground and hiking to a nearby falls.  Campground is full and weather is not good so we are kicking back in overflow camping lot which is fine. 

The upper Kenai Peninsula is probably the most heavily fished area in Alaska.  It is close to Anchorage which has half of the states population.  In addition, some sort of fish is running all summer long.  Residents, tourists, bears, eagles, and whatever are all competing for the huge runs of very big fish.  In places they participate in ‘combat fishing’.  That is  standing literally shoulder to shoulder while fishing.  If you step back from the bank, someone else will move into your space.  Hope we can get a picture of that.

June 10, 2010

Talking with Long Time Alaskans

A friend of ours, when she heard we were going to Alaska and to Eagle River, told us we had to look up her mother’s cousin.  She had spent many years in Alaska starting with a number of years in Barrow living with the Native Alaskans.  She has lived in Alaska for forty years.  Her husband for thirty.  This morning we spent two hours visiting with them, most of that time listening to them tell wonderful stories about their years of experiences.  Thanks Barbie!  This was definitely a highlight of our trip.

 DSC04085 Sue and Pete in Betty's Parkees.  Wolf fur

They insisted we try on their parkas. Very comfortable. The pocket style on the right is the more traditional, Russian influence. Hoods are lined with wolf fur.  Note paws on man’s parka.


About noon we bid farewell  to our friends who had hosted us so graciously and resumed our journey south.

June 9, 2010

Touring Around Eagle River

Today Linda and Denny treated us to a day trip to a number of spots north and east of Eagle River.  This is part of the Matanuska (Mat-Su for short) Valley.  You’ve seen pictures of those huge cabbages?  They come from the Mat-Su Valley.  The area looks like farming areas in the California foothills.  Fields ringed by trees.  Saw our first horses since southern Canada.  All sorts of things are grown here.  Hay, row crops, even fruit trees.  There are a couple of farms you probably will not find elsewhere.  One is a Reindeer farm and the other is a Musk Ox farm. 


We plan to look closer at these on our way back through the area. 

Our tour took us from basically sea level to above tree line to see the remains of a very large mine with lots of outbuildings.   Another stop was in the small town of Eklutna to visit a Russian Orthodox church 20100609-38 Old St. Nicholas Church and cemetery.  20100609-34 Eklutna cemetery with spirit houses This culture covered graves with spirit houses.  These were places for the spirit of the deceased to dwell before moving on.  The colors and designs of the houses all have familial significance.






    We took  short hike to Thunderbird Falls.

20100609-64 Thunder Bird Falls


20100609-71 Chugach Mountain from Tbird trail






Chucach Mountain from along Thunderbird Falls trail








This evening we packed up the carbus in preparation for moving on.  Our travels will resume tomorrow.

June 8, 2010

Alaska Native Heritage Center

The Alaska Native Heritage Center is an interactive ‘museum’ who’s aim is to demonstrate, educate, and hopefully perpetuate the cultures of the tribes of the native peoples.  There is a large building that has some displays and a gift store filled with authentic native Alaskan crafts and art. 

DSC04016 Alaska Native Heritage Center

There are two other areas in the building.  The middle of the building is a large open area filled with seats and a small stage.  They call it The Meeting Place.  There are talks and demonstrations going on all day long on many aspects of the cultures of the native people.  There is no dead time.  When one subject ends another starts. 



Demonstration of dancing.  The dances all tell stories and are done entirely with hand and arm movements.  In a village the dances would be done in the homes or community building filled with people.  No room to move around.



The other area is dedicated to demonstrations of various native Alaskan skills.  There are several artists in residence who are teaching their various skills in clothing making (with pelts), beading, foot wear making (with skins), carving, jewelry making, etc. to the young people as a way of passing on the culture.  We spent probably an hour just in this area talking with the different artists and learning about techniques and about the cultures.  Everyone was very pleasant and very informative.

Outside the building is a medium sized pond.


Local residents.  Looked like the little ones had not been swimming very long.

Around the pond are placed areas devoted to showcasing the cultures of the six basic tribes of Alaska.  Each area has representative housing for that tribe and inside each is a docent that explains the construction and rational of the structure and gives insight as to the culture of that tribal area.  Very interesting.  Not just the buildings but the cultures and beliefs of the peoples. 

DSC03957 Athabascan cabin and cache DSC03963 Qasgiq,, the men's house, left, and the women's house, right,  Yupik DSC03974 the Winter House, Inupiaq, St. Lawrence Island Yupik, entrance, too small for bears DSC03988 totem pole DSC04004 whale bones in front of Yupik house DSC04010 fur dress


We spent over five hours in the heritage center and did not see all that was available.  There is a movie theater that has non-stop programs that we didn’t get to.

The rest of the afternoon was spent touring southern Anchorage.  Pretty much just a big sprawling city.  We plan to go back to the downtown/old town area to wander it in a day or two.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

June 7, 2010

Drive to Anchorage



We left about 8:30 in the morning.  Partly cloudy.  Pretty road (all roads are pretty here).


Couple of sights along the way.

DSC03861 first moose DSC03864 second moose


There is a state park about 100 miles south of Denali NP that has two areas that have excellent views of Mt. McKinley.  No luck at either spot.  Clouds covered the mountain in both places.


Denali is behind the clouds in the center of the picture.

DSC03901 Pete and Sue at Danalie View south









We sure lucked out yesterday. 

The Parks Highway that we traveled  on is mostly a two lane road with not much traffic. 

DSC03913 road n of wasilla


Road north of Wasilla





As it gets to about 45 miles from Anchorage things change.  More traffic and the road changes to four lane expressway.  About 30 miles out it is four lane and then six lane freeway.  Lots of traffic and lots of roadside buildings.  Far different from two weeks ago when we were the only vehicle on the road in a wilderness.  Eagle River is a bedroom community about 12 miles north of Anchorage.  It has lots of trees but also lots of development. 

We have friends here.  Have not seen them for over 40 years since Air Force days.  They graciously invited us to park the carbus in their driveway and turned their lives over to entertaining us.  Seeing them was as though there had been no separation.  Very comfortable.  They packed us into their car and whisked us off on a brief tour of Anchorage to get our bearings.

DSC03931 Captain cook Resolution Park, Anchorage



Captain Cook







DSC03934 Anchorage view from mtn top


Anchorage at 6:00 PM (looking into sun)




Dinner and lots of talking and suggestions of things to see. 

Sunday, June 6, 2010

June 6, 2010

Day in Denali National Park

Yesterday we made reservations for today’s  first shuttle bus which left at 7:00 am.  In a few days they will leave as early as 6:00 am.  At 6:45m we gathered with layered clothing, cameras, binoculars, and backpacks filled with snacks, lunches, water, and other assorted things.  There is nothing available inside the park.  With a few exceptions Denali NP is closed to private vehicle traffic.  All entry is done on a tour bus or a shuttle bus.  Tour bus drivers give a nature program while they are driving along with stops for viewing things and wildlife.  Although not required to do so, shuttle bus drivers do pretty much the same thing just not formalized.  We took the shuttle for half the price.  The Denali road is over seventy miles long.  The first 66 miles are currently open and the rest will be open in a few days.  The trip to the visitor center at the 66 mile point and back is eight and a half hours.  We were lucky.  Both drivers we had (out and back) were great.   Very informative and did everything they could to ensure we saw all the wildlife we could.

Some things about Denali NP:

It is huge.  Well over 2 million acres.

The mountain is big, and tall.  You probably knew that.

The wildlife is truly wild.  They do everything they can to avoid animals having any interaction with humans.  If you take food with you it has to be eaten on the bus or in a designated place inside the visitor center.

The mountain is so big it makes its’ own weather.  Most of the time it is covered or obscured by clouds or smoke from fires.  Over 70% of the people who visit the park never see the mountain.  Yesterday was rainy and cloudy and the mountain was totally obscured.  (see yesterday’s blog) This morning was very cool, windy, and CLEAR.  We had hopes but the forecast was increasing clouds and it is a long way from the edge of the park to the interior.  The first opportunity to see the mountain is nine miles in to the park.  This was our view today.


A zoomed shot


I told you it was big.  :)


About six miles later we entered the restricted road.  As we went over a bridge we passed this sitting on the bridge railing:


That is a Willow Ptarmigan, Alaska’s state bird.  In winter they are totally white. 




Brown Bear (Grizzly)







Grizzly sow and pair of two year old cubs walking across side of mountain.




Denali from farther into park.





Views along the road

DSC04153 DSC04155




Caribou.  We saw lots of these





All good things must come to an end. After three and a half hours of traveling this is the view of McKinley.  The road goes over the ridge in the lower right to a visitor center that has a stunning view, IF there is no weather.  The mountain is visible only 17% of the time.




View from visitor center when we got there.

The weather continued to worsen.

BUT, we saw it! (see above pictures) All of it! Cool!


On the way back we saw something that is seen by probably fewer people than see the mountain.



That is a wolf.  It is not dead.  It is taking a siesta under a bush.  There was another nearby doing the same thing.  Further on we saw another out for a stroll.



The last estimate was that there are 69 wolves currently in the park not counting pups.  That is for the whole park.  All two million plus acres.  We saw 5% of the wolf population of the entire park in a half hour.

The Grizzly population of the entire park is between 300 and 350 bears.  I think we saw ten different bears.  Nearly 3% of the population.

We also saw a moose, a Dall Sheep, a fox, several snowshoe rabbits, and a number of ground squirrels.

We saw the “Big Five” (moose, grizzly, caribou, Dall Sheep, and wolves).  Some many times.  We saw the mountain.  We had great weather even with the clouds.  We learned a lot from our drivers and several rangers.  Pretty good day.

We even saw the train.  The scenic tourist train that goes between Anchorage and Fairbanks with a stop in Denali.  The makeup of the train is interesting.  The front of the train (engine, baggage car, and several dome cars of various types) is Alaska railroad.  The next few cars are owned by Princess Cruise Lines.  The next few cars are owned by Holland America.  Each set of cars is a complete package (viewing, baggage, meals, bars, etc.  Passengers taking a cruise that includes an interior package get off their ship and onto their set of rail cars for the train ride.  There is no intermingling between sets of cars.  Sort of strange to watch the segmented train as it passes by.