Wednesday, August 3, 2005
1st - Meeting With Friends in Kenai
It's hard to believe that our first week of vacation is almost
at an end. Time has gone much too quickly. I hope the remainder
of our trip moves at a slower pace.
This morning I got up with Steve at 4:15am and drove him to Sterling
to meet up with his guide. It took about 40 minutes to get to
Sterling. I said goodbye, wished him luck, and headed all the
way back to the camper. My intent was to lay down for a few more
hours of shut-eye, but once I got back I was wide awake.
Sedona and I took an early morning walk, I made myself a bowl
of cereal for breakfast, got showered and waited until it was
a reasonable hour before calling Sybille. Because of the rain
in the area - and heavy cloud cover - I couldn't get through to
her cell phone nor her home phone. I had no choice but to wait
for her to call me. Finally, she called and we made plans to meet
at the Naptowne Cafe - back in Sterling - at noon.
When I pulled into the parking lot, I looked over to my right
and saw Sybille sitting in her car. There was no missing her,
as she looks just like the photos I have seen of her in the Alaska
Living group. She had a huge smile on her face, and it was totally
natural to give each other a huge hug. It's amazing how well you
get to know someone through cyber space, and how comfortable you
are with them when you finally meet face-to-face. Sybille has
always been one of my favorite 'posters' in the group. Her exuberance
and joy about living in Alaska matches mine. She moved up here
from VA not so long ago - selling everything to realize her longtime
dream of living in Alaska. She lives in a beautiful log cabin
with her husband, daughter Michelle, and son Nicco. Michelle was
with her today.
Ron showed up a minute later, and it was great seeing him again
after more than a year. Ron's also a photography nut, and takes
his camera everywhere. The birds and waterfowl on the Kenai Peninsula
are abundant, and he has gotten some amazing photographs of them.
Ron has lived in Alaska since the late 90s. He has children living
in Anchorage and he makes the three hour trip several times a
month to visit with them, and pick up lesser priced food, supplies,
clothing, etc. Goods on the Peninsula are much higher priced,
and selection can be limited.
We decided to have lunch at Naptowne. The conversation flowed
smoothly - we are all three very talkative (which I love!). After
lunch, we piled into Ron's vehicle and took off driving to some
of the local lakes - of which there are many. We saw plenty of
spruce grouse, some loons and swans, and even a moose ran across
the road in front of us. I would have loved to have seen a black
bear, but they must have been hiding. :) Regardless, conversation
was exciting and the scenery was beautiful. However, the mosquitoes
were horrendous and I'm now sporting quite a few bumps on my hands
and my face. Buggers!
After a few hours, Ron brought us back to our vehicles. Sybille
had to pick up her son, and I still hadn't heard from Steve. I
really didn't want to drive 40 minutes back to Cooper Landing,
just to have to turn around and come back to Sterling. Ron offered
to take me into Kenai, so I could pick up some DVDs to back up
my photos, and another box of 'seal-a-meal' bags for Steve to
store the fish he's been catching.
Ron gave me the guided tour of Kenai; driving me past some of
the newer (and beautiful!) homes that have gone up in the last
two years. Steve and I have discussed living in the Kenai area
if we decide to retire in Alaska. From what I saw while out and
about with Ron, Kenai is very reminiscent of Fairbanks in its
small-town community feel - which I love. It also has enough stores
and businesses to fulfill the basic needs of living. And if you
can't find it in Kenai, you can do what most people do and go
to Anchorage for it. Some people would think that driving three
hours a few times a month would be a hassle, but it's one of the
most gorgeous drives in the country. It wouldn't bother me a bit.
Ron brought me back to my car at about 6pm. I had no choice but
to head back to Cooper Landing. I was 15 miles into the drive,
when Steve called. I turned around and headed back for him. When
I saw his face, I knew it hadn't gone well. You're only allowed
to catch one King Salmon a day. He caught a 65 pounder within
15 minutes of being out on the boat. Unfortunately, it fell within
the range (in inches - somewhere in the 48-55inch range) where
it had to be released. I have no idea why fish that size have
to be released, but he did as he had to. And he never hooked another
one. He caught plenty of trout and grayling, but they are catch
and release as well. So he came home empty handed. However, he
did say he had a good time on the boat and enjoyed his day.
When I picked him up, I met his boat mates. There was a nice
couple from Arizona (and we talked about how much I love Arizona!),
two brothers from Michigan, and a photographer/angler who comes
to Alaska every year from Australia (it's winter there now, so
he comes to enjoy Alaskan summers). Now that doesn't seem
like a hard life at all!
Some photos: (Click thumbnails to enlarge)
One of the many Kenai Streams
Sybille and Me
Ron and Me
Russian River Ferry
Fly Fishing on the Russian
Combat Fishing on the Russian River
Tomorrow, we're off to Homer, where I hope to be able to upload
the last few days of journal entries.
July 2nd - In Homer
We took our time this morning, and didn't leave Cooper Landing
until nearly 11am. Detouring around Soldotna (and some road construction),
we instead took the Kenai Spur Road through Kenai and then followed
the Kalifornsky Beach Road to the Sterling Highway. As we drove
past the park that Ron pointed out to me yesterday, I glanced
to the right (where Ron had pointed out an eagle's nest) and I
think I saw Ron's vehicle parked there. If I'm not mistaken, I
saw an eagle perched on the nest. (Ron: If you were there, I hope
you got great photos!). We wanted to hurry on to Homer, so we
could set up and relax. After yesterday's long day, we were both
in the mood for some 'chilling out'.
Not long after leaving Kenai, Steve noticed that some of the
trim on the camper had broken loose and was flapping in the wind.
We pulled off at a rest stop, hoping to make a temporary repair,
and did the best we could to secure it. Not ten minutes later,
it was flapping again. Frustrated (and angry - as this loose piece
was due to damage made by the RV shop when they winterized the
vehicle last year), we again tried to secure it. We weren't successful
and another couple of miles down the road, it was flapping loose
again. So we did the only thing we could think of. We taped it
up, using what Steve refers to as "100 mile an hour tape"
- basically a 'duct tape' but green in color, that the Army uses
for all kinds of things. It definitely lived up to its name, although
the camper looks pretty 'cheap' with our temporary repair. As
soon as we get back to Fairbanks, we'll be having the RV repair
shop fix the mess they caused.
We got to Oceanview RV Park at about 3:30pm and set up quickly.
We were all itching to get out and take a walk on Bishop's Beach.
The campground gave us the front site in the park, so our view
is directly of the beach below and the glaciers on the horizon.
Absolutely stunning, as I remembered. I love the views in Homer!
We took a short walk on the beach with Sedona. It's windy here...
and a bit chilly. Tonight the temperature is predicted to drop
to 48F. Looks like we might need the heat, unless our quilt keeps
us warm enough. As I'm typing this, I'm looking out the window
over the kitchen sink and I can see Kachemak Bay and the mountains
across the bay. It's spectacular!
Tomorrow, we're going to drive around town, and head onto the
'spit' to check in at Emerald Air (our bear-viewing trip). We
plan to stop at the community fishing hole so Steve can try his
luck at catching a King Salmon. I'd like to check out a few galleries
- and perhaps visit the Pratt Museum.
We're meeting with another online friend - Jody (and her husband)
- here at the campground. Jody is another woman I met through
"Alaska Living". I've never met her in person, but I've
enjoyed reading her posts and comments. I'm looking forward to
our meeting tomorrow afternoon.
On Monday, we're scheduled to see the bears. The weather channel
is showing rain for tonight and early tomorrow, but it's supposed
to clear up on Monday (please!). Then the rain is scheduled to
return on Tuesday. By then, we'll be on our way to Sheep Mountain
on the Glenn Hwy.
There is DSL internet here, but I won't be updating until tomorrow
sometime. Here are some photos I took today:
Homer Spit and Glacier
Arriving in Homer
Steve outside Camper
Bishops Beach - Homer
View from Camper
Bishops Beach below Campsite
View of Kachemak Bay from Scenic
Bishops Beach Panorama
July 3rd - Sunsets and Sunrises
It's just past 8am, and Steve is still fast asleep. I was up
at 6:15am. I glanced out the window and saw that the sun was coming
up. So I grabbed my camera and Sedona and we headed down the hill
to the beach. I've missed sunrises and sunsets, and living in
Fairbanks in the summertime, means that one day melts into another,
with very late sunsets and early sunrises. Here in Homer, they
come at a more 'reasonable' hour.
Last night, at around 10:30pm, the sky turned pink and yellow
as the sun made its way below the horizon. Standing outside the
camper, I was mesmerized by the colors on the mountains and the
glaciers. The sun painted all of the snowcaps pink and orange.
Here are a few photos of sunset and sunrise in Homer:
Sunset over Kachemak Bay
Sunset - Homer, Alaska
Sunrise Kachemak Bay
Sunrise Panorama - Kachemak Bay
I'll try and post more later tonight, after we explore town.
If I don't, you may not hear from me until we get to Valdez.
Later this evening, we had a change of plans and Steve and I
drove out to meet Jody and Roger, rather than having them come
into town. They live about 10 miles out of 'downtown' Homer and
their home has an incredible view of Kachemak Bay. We enjoyed
some great conversation and nibbled on some fish (halibut) and
chips. It was such a pleasure meeting Jody and Roger in person
and I enjoyed our visit immensely. Steve and I headed back to
the campground at about 8:30pm to pack for our bear viewing trip.
July 4th - Fourth of July with the BEARS!
(All photos are in thumbnail size
- click to enlarge)
All I can say is WOW! What an incredible experience we had with
Chris and Ken Day from Emerald Air! I didn't think any experience
could rival the one we had with them last year, but this one might
have even been better! All I know is that I want to do it again
next year. Maybe I can talk some of my gal pals into doing one
with me, while the guys are gone. (Of course, I'd much rather
have Steve with me).
We met up at Beluga Lake, where Ken keeps his 1960 DeHavilland
Otter floatplane tethered. After being issued our hip waders,
we got a short briefing from Chris about bear behavior and what
to expect on the trip. We weren't the only repeat customers on
this flight. Another couple (both photographers) had done it before,
and a woman from Australia was also a veteran of Emerald Air's
bear viewing trip. (There aren't any bears in Australia, so this
was really a treat for her).
The flight takes a bit over an hour, but the scenery once you
approach Katmai is amazing. We saw whales below us in Cook Inlet,
spouting and jumping from the water. Once we reached Katmai, Ken
landed the plane in the surf of Hallo Bay and we waded ashore.
we came upon Peaches and her cubs clamming in the surf. If you
were reading my journal last year, this is the same family of
bears I got photos of last June. Peaches is still nursing the
cubs, even though they are two years old now. It's not unheard
of for a sow to nurse that long, but it's not typical. The cubs
are definitely bigger now (one male and one female), but Peaches
still looks the same, with her beautiful face.
We stood for a while, dodging the fast moving tide, and watched
the bears clam. Their sense of smell is so refined that they can
smell the clams beneath the sand. And their claws - as large and
menacing as they are - are used quite daintily when opening a
clam. Here are some more photos of the bears clamming:
||Female Sub-adult to right --}
female "sub-adult" (recently weaned) approached the
family and began clamming in the same area. Bears have an invisible
circle around them and if you cross it, you're asking for trouble.
This female intentionally moved into the male cub's space and
he was quite interested in her. He approached her and the two
of them touched their faces together. This did not make mama (Peaches)
happy one bit. She chased the other female away. I'm not sure
why she became aggressive with the other female. Perhaps the other
female was entirely too close.
Not only is it an incredible experience to walk amongst the coastal
brown bears, but the landscape at Katmai National Park is absolutely
gorgeous. Between keeping my gaze on the bears, and admiring my
surroundings, I was having sensory overload - of the best kind!
Here are some landscape shots I took while on Katmai:
The bears were pretty active considering the heat (it reached
the mid sixties/low seventies while we were there - nothing like
last year's chilly weather) and the aggravating horseflies. Biting
horseflies too. I hated them too.
We watched the bears clamming for quite a few minutes, not wanting
to leave Peaches and her cubs. But the tide forced us to higher
ground, and the call of nature beckoned to the women in the group.
Like last year, we disappeared into some tall sedge grass to tend
to the call of nature. And also like last year, we packed out
any indication that we had used the outdoors to relieve our bladders.
Prepared this year, I carried baggies to hold used toilet tissue.
We decided to head across the prairie toward another group of
bears we saw feeding from the air. Movement in the grass just
in front of us, revealed our young female - making her way inland.
Following a bear trail, Chris diverted us to a large drift log,
now shredded, scratched, and rotten. Dead grass surrounded the
log. This log was used for marking; the dead grass a result of
constant bear urination. The path leading to the log was clearly
marked, with deep footprints where the bears had not only stepped,
but twisted their feet - leaving their scent from the pads on
saw some movement a few hundred yards away. Two young males were
involved in some horseplay. It was obvious this wasn't a fight
to the death, by the way they backed off of one another when they
had the upper hand. It was almost as if the weaker bear had called
out "Uncle". In a few more years, this altercation would
be violent and the grunts and growls of these males would echo
across the prairie.
long after, a familiar face came into view. I would have recognized
this beautiful girl anywhere. Last year, Steve and I dubbed her
"Lonely Bear" because of the way she was shunned by
the other bears on the island. She followed us last year, and
stayed close to us as we ate lunch. A beautiful light blond in
color, she walks daintily on her huge paws and unfortunately is
still being chased away by other bears. Chris and Ken call her
"Scare Bear". Chris seemed surprised that she was still
around. Poor thing.... it's too bad that bears aren't adoptable.
I'd bring her home with me for sure.
The horseflies tormented the bears horribly. Aiming for their
sensitive noses, they caused great discomfort. The bears swatted
at the flies, trying to rid themselves of their stinging bite.
Sometimes, the only way to fight these annoying insects was to
submerge in one of the many streams that criss-cross the park.
At first, we had a buffer zone between us and the bears of about
100 yards. As they grew used to our presence, they allowed us
to come closer until we were finding ourselves within 50 feet
of these gorgeous creatures. I wasn't the only photographer on
this trip, and shutters were snapping constantly. (I'm so glad
I invested in a good zoom lens!)
As we were watching Peaches and her cubs interacting further
inland, bears surrounded us. By the time Ken came back to the
group (he was securing the plane after the tide came in), we stood
in the midst of several bears. The photo below left shows Ken
in the background as he comes to join our group. This huge male
is the same one who finally took to the stream to cool off and
fight off the killer horseflies.
Peaches and her cubs grazed on the abundance of tasty grass, we
watched a pair mating just off to the left. Did you know that
bears couple for about 45 minutes? (Just some more bear information
the Days shared with us)
When the mating was over, the male headed toward Peaches. She
alerted immediately, and her cubs moved to a position behind her.
Although it is normal bear behavior, for this photographer, it
was the epitome of 'cuteness'.
urge to cuddle these furry animals was overwhelming at times.
But their size is formidable, and the size of their teeth and
claws is enough to make anyone second guess any 'cuddly' feelings.
Despite their strength and their reputation as maulers and maimers,
these creatures are actually fairly sweet-natured and didn't go
out of their way to be aggressive toward us. As Chris and Ken
will tell you, it's all in knowing bear behavior. Bears - for
the most part - are not aggressors. At least not wild bears. Bears
who live on the outskirts of big cities, and who have become accustomed
to finding food among humans, are more aggressive, but the bears
on Katmai don't associate humans with food. To them, we are also
bears - bigger bears when we're hunched together in a tight group.
And we saw first hand just what kind of power we can wield
- even as humans - against a 350 pound bear.
The female brown bear approached
our group, grazing as she inched her way closer and closer
to us, finally stepping over the invisible line that Chris
had drawn around our group of nine. Looking up at us every
so often, watching to see just how far she could go with
us, we stood our ground. She stood less than 10 feet from
us. There was a degree of nervousness amongst those of us
who don't get to walk with bears every day.
Chris: "BEAR, NO!"
"Don't even THINK about it!"
And the bear did a little hop and
moved away from us, intimidated by the chastising. I could
hear everyone around me let out a little sigh of relief.
|Our first "close
As we made our way away from this inquisitive young female who
liked pushing limits, we noticed Peaches and her cubs grazing
in a field nearby. Again, a large male, seemed to be checking
her and her cubs out. She stood to full height, letting him know
that she not only saw him, but would teach him a lesson if he
got closer than he already was.
The male, rebuffed by Peaches, made his way toward us - allowing
us to get some nice photos of him as he posed and showed us how
large he was.
Ken alerted us that the tide was going back out and we needed
to get back to the plane before we got stranded on Katmai. We
all hated to leave the bears, but knew our afternoon was finally
coming to an end. It was sad in a way, but I felt such joy in
my heart over having the experience. If I could, I would go back
We made out way toward the beach (and the plane), walking slowly
so as not to disturb any of the bears. Suddenly, we saw Peaches
and her cubs crossing a shallow creek and climbing the embankment
toward us. We slowed our pace so as not to disturb her. She came
closer and closer... and her cubs followed. Grazing on the lush
grass, she continued to peer up at us where we stood still. Peaches
is a huge female - weighing between 500-600 pounds. Glancing over
our shoulder, we saw the same male who had been harassing her
and the cubs on the other side of the creek. She had placed our
group between them.
"She's using us as a shield", said Chris. Steve was
standing to the left of the group, busy videotaping. Peaches came
closer and closer, and when an animal that large is standing less
than 10 feet from you, it's not exactly a calm moment. I was worried
that she would all of a sudden lunge at him, and when Chris whispered
to Steve - telling him to get closer to the group - I was even
Slowly, he moved into our group. Peaches continued to approach
- still grazing, or at least 'acting' like she was grazing. When
she got to the point where she was making all of us a bit uncomfortable,
Chris said loudly "Go on mama, Go on mama, Go on!" and
then a few minutes later: "Close enough!" Peaches and
her cubs stayed put; one cub even plopping down in the grass to
take a rest. I think we all finally remembered to breathe again.
Talk about an adrenaline rush!
We made our way back to the beach and the plane. It was an amazing
day. I can not wait to do it again!
July 5th - Homer to Sheep Mountain, Glenn Highway
We had to get up early and get on the road, as our drive today
was 352 miles long. We drove the entire Kenai Peninsula, stopped
in Anchorage for about an hour so that Steve could get a haircut
and we could do a commissary run, and also stopped a few times
on the way to Sheep Mountain to take photos.
The drive along the Glenn Highway is wonderful and quite scenic.
Tall mountains are on the horizon, and deep valleys run parallel
to the road. There's really not much on the Glenn Highway, as
its purpose is merely to move traffic from the southwest side
of Alaska (Anchorage and the Peninsula) to the southeast (Valdez)
and east (Tok). The few small towns you pass through are basic
and populations can be as little as 20. However, the views are
amazing. Like many places in Alaska, if you want a breathtaking
view, you might just have to give up some of life's creature comforts.
Like plumbing. We saw quite a few outhouses along the way.
The Glenn Highway parallels the Matanuska River all the way until
Matanuska Glacier. Our stop for the night was just past the glacier
- a small campground (Grandview Campground) run by a friendly
family - and one we had stopped at last year on our travels. Steve
and I are all for providing repeat business to those we have had
great experiences with, and the folks at Grandview are the best.
In addition to their campground, with views of the sheep atop
Sheep Mountain, they have a small cafe in the lodge which serves
up a delicious apple pie a la mode. Steve and I indulged after
dinner. Tomorrow, we plan to have breakfast with them - a hearty
serving of bacon and eggs, hashbrowns and toast.
Here are photos I took along the way: (Click for enlargement)
July 6th - Sheep Mountain to Valdez
Our drive today wasn't a very long one, so we were able to savor
breakfast at the lodge. We had a bit of rain last night, which
made packing up the camper a bit damp, and we knew we'd be facing
rain on and off as we made our way to Valdez. After yesterday's
long drive, we were just happy to relax - and plan to spend our
first day in Valdez relaxing too.
After leaving the Glenn Highway and turning onto the Richardson
en route to Valdez, the landscape is nice, but not as spectacular
as it was early on while on our Glenn Highway drive. And then
you approach the Chugach Mountains, while the Wrangell Mountains
can be seen in the distance on your left. What an incredibly beautiful
state Alaska is!
You continue to go higher in elevation until you reach Thompson
Pass (elev. 2678). Thompson Pass holds the record for most snowfall
in the state - receiving 974.5 inches in the winter of 1952-53.
(That's more than 81 feet of snow!) There is still snow visible
in the higher elevations above the pass, and the views are stunning.
It's a favorite place for Steve and I to pull off the road and
just gaze out across the landscape.
Just before entering the town of Valdez, the road is flanked
by two gorgeous waterfalls. The first one you reach is Bridal
Veil Falls, and the second is Horse Tail Falls. Large turnouts
near the falls make it easy to stop and snap some photos.
We arrived in Valdez just after 3pm. After setting up camp, we
made dinner, got showered, and 'chilled out'. Tomorrow we plan
to drive the Mineral Creek Trail as far as we can. It's a gravel
road that goes about 5 miles into the wilderness. Last year, we
attempted to drive it, but an avalanche had blocked the road.
I'm sure I'll have lots of photos.
Here are some photos from our drive from Sheep Mountain to Valdez.
(Click for enlargements):
July 7th - Driving the Mineral Creek Trail in Valdez
This morning, I was up early, but Steve slept in again. He's
sure catching up on his sleep on this vacation. I don't know why
I can't sleep in; maybe it's the light.
We drove down to the Marina, parked the truck and took a walk.
We watched fisherman clean their early-morning catches, people
board the wildlife cruise ships, and the town prepare for another
day of tourists. The early morning clouds are normal here, and
they settle around the tops of the mountains until the sunshine
burns them off. Sometimes they move like ribbons around the mountains;
like long translucent fingers wrapping around each peak.
Valdez smells like a fishing town. Sometimes the odor is pungent
and strong and makes you wrinkle your nose. Other times, it's
a faint aroma that smells of salt and seafood. The marina is full
of boats - mostly all fishing boats - and the docks are a constant
flurry of activity.
We came back to our truck and drove it to the City Dock. The
pink salmon have been jumping over there - literally! - and Steve
wanted to lower a line in. Basically, that's what you do, as the
dock is a good 20 feet off the water. You drop a line in, hope
for a bite, and then fish the salmon out with a net on a rope.
We were the second ones there, but within 30 minutes the dock
was full of people, standing almost elbow to elbow. In fact, we
ran into a soldier from C Co. and his family. The Goldstines had
gotten into Valdez on Tuesday and, last night, caught 12 pinks
between them. They were back to get some more before heading home
Steve had a few nibbles, and one even broke his line, but he
didn't manage to catch any. It was fun to watch the others pull
their fish up out of the bay. I even managed to catch a photo
of a salmon jumping out of the water!
When Steve tired of fishing, we headed to the gravel road that
begins Mineral Creek Trail. The trail is passable by vehicle (a
jeep would have been ideal, and 4WD was absolutely necessary!),
for about 5 miles. Then it ends at a hiking trail which goes another
mile or so to an old gold rush campsite. We weren't prepared to
hike, but hoped the road would be passable to the end.
Several large avalanches covered the road, but they had been
carved out to allow vehicles to pass. The snow drifts on both
sides of the road were taller than the truck at these places.
Looking up on the mountainside, and down into the valley, you
could see the destruction caused by these huge ice and snow slides.
The snow on the peaks is still melting in the summer sun and
waterfalls are plentiful. We stopped several times to just stand
by them - mesmerized - as they cascaded hundreds of feet down
the side of the mountain and into Mineral Creek below us.
Fireweed was blooming and the brilliant magenta of the flowers
was absolutely stunning against the various shades of lush green.
We came across some other wildflowers not found in the Interior
(Columbine) and saw some salmonberries ripening on bushes along
the way. Salmonberries are edible. It's a member of the rose family.
The berries are sweet and juicy and are made into jelly, used
in pancakes... just about anything you'd use a berry in.
And now for some photos. (Click to enlarge)
My mother had surgery this morning to remove a large tumor from
her colon. My brother Mike called and told me she's in recovery.
Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers.
July 8th - We gotta find some ice...
I thought you would get a kick out of this...
the course of our vacation, Steve has caught more than 60 pounds
of fish. This consists of halibut, salmon, and bass. He has been
filleting it and sealing it in those 'seal a meal' bags (we have
a 'seal a meal' machine). Then it goes in the large cooler he
brought with us - especially for the purpose of storing fish.
To keep the fish fresh, he's had to buy ice to dump on top of
the fish. Generally, the expense has been about $10.00 every two
days. Here in Valdez, the ice prices are highly inflated to $2.49/bag.
When I say highly inflated, I mean HIGHLY inflated. In Anchorage,
a bag of ice cost us 99 cents.
Irate at the obscene cost of ice here, we remembered the avalanche
we had passed by yesterday early on in our drive up the Mineral
And so... relying on Mother Nature to provide us with the cold
we needed to keep our fish fresh - we set off on our mission.
A little 'sweat' and we had more than enough ice to keep our
catch cold until we get home on Sunday night. Phooey to the shop
owners who prey on tourists!
Tomorrow, we'll be leaving Valdez and heading to the Klutina
River (about 100 miles north of here). We'll be meeting up with
Brian and Marcella - and their entourage. On Sunday, we'll follow
each other home. Vacation has passed much too quickly. Both Steve
and I have been very melancholic the last day or so. I hate that
time is going by so quickly.
You probably won't hear from me for a few days...
Family News: Mom came through surgery
OK. I haven't talked to her yet - but plan to call her tomorrow.
(She was resting) Please continue to keep her in your prayers.
She has a lot of healing ahead of her.
July 9th - Valdez to Klutina, Fishing and Meeting up with Friends
Steve and I slept in this morning. Our drive from Valdez to Copper
Center was only about 100 miles, so we weren't in any rush to
get moving. We enjoyed a nice breakfast at The Totem Inn in Valdez,
before packing up the camper and heading up the Richardson Highway
The skies were blue and the views were just as gorgeous leaving
Valdez as they were when we drove in. We stopped frequently to
take photos and enjoy our surroundings.
When we pulled into the Klutina Salmon Charters Campground, Marcella
and Brian and their 'entourage' were already there. Brian's sister,
Michelle was visiting - who we hadn't seen since she and her husband
John, left Jacksonville Florida a year before we left there. Also,
Brian's father was visiting, Marcella's son James was visiting,
and their friend Amy was along for the trip too.
Everyone (except me) fished for a while and Steve caught himself
a red salmon. Wine and beer flowed as easily as the conversation.
It was a nice visit.
Tomorrow, we head for home. As much as I'm looking forward to
sleeping in our bed and being back in the house, I am sad to see
our vacation come to an end.
Rest stop N of Valdez
Steve and a Red Salmon
Sunset over Klutina River
Fishing on the Klutina
July 10th - Home Again...
We slept late again this morning. Staying up late last night,
and having a little too much wine exhausted us. The drive ahead
of us was long - 200+ miles, but we didn't rush. The Hoffman's
and their group left the campground a little before us, and we
ran into them twice in the beginning of our drive. After that,
we kept our own schedule, stopping at a Fish Hatchery rest stop
to eat lunch a few hours into our drive.
Just after lunch, as we approached Paxson, the skies grew dark
and we hit some heavy rain. We were glad we had stopped when we
did. In addition to the pouring rain, the wind was blowing hard
enough to force the camper all over the road. We slowed down to
a safe speed, popped in some great CDs, and took our time.
The few times the rain stopped, we'd take advantage of the closest
turnout to snap a few photos and take Sedona on a short walk.
The closer we got to Fairbanks, the more anxious I was to just
And then we saw the smoke. Our hearts dropped when we saw the
orange ball of a sun in the sky - barely visible with the thick
smoke. The air smelled horrible, and it bothered my asthma. Like
last year, it was obvious that there were wildfires burning somewhere,
and the wind was forcing the smoke into Fairbanks.
We downloaded the trailer as quickly as possible. I hate unpacking.
Who knows how long my suitcase will remain full with my clothes.
I don't know which is worse... packing or unpacking.
Squirrel Tail Grass
July 15 - Post-Vacation Resting
days since we returned home have been both busy and lazy. We had
a lot of unpacking to do, and still have to clean up the camper
and put it back in the storage yard. Steve had to go right back
to work on Monday, and his hours have been very late, which didn't
leave much time for settling back into being home. Any free time
we've had has been spent being lazy, and trying to recuperate
from two weeks of driving and activities.
The fact that I don't have a car has me feeling like a caged
cat. I hate that I can't leave the house (except on foot), and
that any errands I have, have to wait until Steve is home and
can let me use the truck. I'm going nuts. I'm glad it's finally
the weekend, and I'll be able to 'escape'. Steve and I hope to
take in a movie (War of the Worlds) and then go out to dinner
sometime this weekend.
It was good to get back into walking with Rachael. The early
morning sunshine feels wonderful and I love feeling like I've
accomplished something. It also tires out Sedona and she sleeps
away most of the morning and early afternoon.
This morning I took my camera out on my walk with Sedona. We
walked down to the river and then back along the path which runs
through the woods. The mosquitoes were annoying, but there were
many dragonflies and butterflies flitting around as well. The
wildflowers and bushes have really sprouted up while we were gone.
The open field near my house, was mostly dirt when we left on
vacation. Now it is thick with weeds and tall grass, wildflowers
We saw some signs of moose while out walking, but no living,
breathing animals. I know there is a cow moose and two calves
in the area, as she has been spotted by several people. (Rachael
saw her and her babies a week or so ago). I'd love to come upon
her - safely - and get some photos.
Family Matters: The tumor my mother
had removed from her colon was large and had grown into her abdomen.
The surgeon says he removed everything he could see. She was in
a regular room when we spoke on Wednesday morning and no longer
in ICU. They had finally removed the tube from her nose (she was
thankful for that!) and she was eating solid food. This is all
great news. She sounded good on the phone - almost back to her
old self. Of course, she's still in pain, and has much healing
ahead of her, but she should be released from the hospital this
The *Deployment Ceremony* has been moved
from the Carlson Center to the airfield here on Wainwright. It
is scheduled for July 28th. The clock is ticking quickly - too
quickly. I doubt there will be a dry eye in the house on that
day. I am proud of my soldier and my country. I am proud of the
job he does, and his strength and dedication to service. But I
am also human. My soulmate will be leaving me for a year. And
that breaks my heart.
July 17 - The Georgeson Botanical Gardens at UAF
The Georgeson Botanical Garden
(GBG) is a nationally recognized botanical garden and a
member of a national network of educational and research
institutions dedicated to plant culture and conservation.
It is designed to allow the public to learn about plant
culture in the far north. The GBG is one of five botanical
gardens in the nation to be a satellite test garden for
the International Hardy Fern Foundation.
preceeding was taken from the website).
The sculpture (at left) is called
Yesterday, Steve and I had a 'date'. We went to the movies and
saw War of the Worlds which we both really enjoyed.
I'm a big fan of Dakota Fanning, and she did a wonderful job.
The 'edge of your seat' action as well as some 'scream out loud
scenes' made it quite entertaining. We'll definitely be buying
this one for our collection when it comes out.
After the movie, we headed to Brewsters for a late lunch/early
dinner. The service was quick, and the food was good. We were
in and out in about an hour. We decided to stop at Blockbuster
on the way home and see what they had on the shelves. We brought
home Million Dollar Baby and Open Water. We enjoyed
both, however I must say that after seeing Open Water,
you won't see me doing any scuba diving anytime soon. I already
have a fear of water; I can't even imagine being stranded out
in the middle of the ocean.
Here are some photos from the Botanical Gardens (click for enlargement):
July 21 - Preparations & Motherhood
The last week has been filled with many emotional discussions
between Steve and I. How do you prepare for a yearlong separation?
What would you have to do in your household, to prepare
for the absence of your significant other? Everything has to be
thought about. Even the littlest things. You have to anticipate
what will occur over the next year, and take care of everything
you can when you think of it. On top of all of this, emotions
are riding a roller coaster. There is sadness, melancholy, anger
and stress. It's not easy. But we're doing OK. Better than many.
Sadly, a few of the young married couples in Steve's company are
having real problems in anticipation of the deployment. I hope
they can keep it together for a year.
One of the highlights of my week was going with my friend Shawna
to her OB appt. on Tuesday morning. I offered to go with her and
keep an eye on her beautiful daughter, Courtney (you've seen photos
of her in my journal in the past), while she was meeting with
the doctor. Shawna is due to have baby Collin on July 26th. And
lately she's been feeling like it's time.
I offered to take maternity photos of her. I did a maternity
shoot of another couple a few months ago and they turned out nicely.
Shawna wanted photos taken that included Courtney. I was happy
to oblige. Because they are of a personal nature, I'm only going
to share three with my readers. (Click for enlargement)
Women know the way to rear up children
(to be just). They know a simple, merry, tender knack of tying
sashes, fitting baby-shoes, and stringing pretty words that
make no sense. And kissing full sense into empty words.
~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning: ~
This weekend are the Golden Days festivities. On Saturday, they'll
be launching thousands of rubber duckies down the Chena River.
They are numbered and winners are determined by which ducks cross
the line first. On Sunday, we'll be attending the Red Green Regatta.
If you've been reading me for awhile, you can go back and look
at my July, 2004 entry about the regatta. In a nutshell, entrants
build rafts from whatever they want. The only requirement is that
duct tape must play an important part in holding the vessel together.
Some of these boats make it to the finish line, but many don't.
Watching them fall apart is as much fun as cheering on the winner.
Next weekend, Steve has a four-day weekend. We're planning to
go camping down at Delta Clear. Since the campground is primitive,
we'll have to rent a generator from the Outdoor Rec Center if
we want to be able to use any appliances. Steve wants to go fishing,
and I'd like to take a few scenic drives down to the Black Rapids
area. We're also hoping to go to Bolio Lake for some fishing.
Mainly, our goal is to relax. We've decided on Delta Clear because
it's only about 100 miles from here. That makes for a relatively
short drive, which gives us more time to camp.
July 24 - Driving the Steese & the Red Green Regatta
Yesterday (Saturday), Steve and I decided to take a drive up
the Steese Highway. Our goal was to find blueberries to pick.
We found several areas where the blueberry bushes were growing,
but unfortunately they were picked over pretty good. Obviously,
someone else beat us to them. Or maybe the bears beat us to them!
Regardless, we continued our drive up the Steese, stopping at
every fishing pond so that Steve could try his luck for some trout.
The photo above is a panoramic of one of the ponds we stopped
at. Although he didn't catch any fish, we enjoyed the drive -
as always. Steve and I both love long drives. Especially drives
which take us through such beautiful surroundings. These drives
are so relaxing for us and better 'de-stressors' than any medication.
Steve fished, I chased damselflies with my camera. My goal was
to capture the turquoise beauty of one of the many blue-tailed
damselflies that flitted around me. A few were large, but most
were small. Their movements were almost invisible. One minute
they were there; the next they were gone. And then, for one split
second, a damselfly alit next to me on a floating piece of tree
bark. (Click the thumbnail to enlarge)
We got back to Fairbanks in time to head downtown for the Golden
Days Festivities, but missed the duck race. After spending about
a half hour wandering around the different booths and food stands,
we explored a few galleries before heading back to the house.
We spent a lazy night at home, watching movies and eating leftover
Today was the annual Red Green Regatta. Launch was set at noon,
but we got down to the launch point a little after 11am, so I
could take some photos of the raft entrants. There seemed to be
a lot more participants this year, and I wandered along the shoreline
admiring the handiwork of some of the creations. I also silently
questioned the seaworthiness of a few of the raft!. NOT being
seaworthy is actually what makes this race so much fun. Witnessing
a sinking, or a boat flipping over - and watching the sailor and
his/her crew get soaked is what really excites the crowd!
Some people put a lot of thought and time into their creations.
Others throw a few boards across some barrels, wrap the creation
with rolls and rolls of duct tape, and call it a boat. Some participants
take their entire family down the river with them. Others take
their four-legged friends. And still others dress/decorate their
four-legged friends accordingly. All in all, it's a very festive
and fun occasion.
I ran into quite a few friends down at the launch site, as well
as on the bridge where I stood to get a better view of the race.
During events like this, you can expect a large percentage of
Fairbanksans to come out and show their support.
Before the Start
Do Cars Float?
Red and Green Pup
Red, White, and Blue
"Hope It Floats"
After the race got underway, Steve and I made our way to the
Governor's Picnic at Pioneer Park. Frank Murkowski and his wife,
Nancy, were there greeting the crowds. The BBQ was scheduled to
start at 1pm. Steve and I got there at about 20 minutes till.
We were standing near the long row of tables, watching the volunteer
servers set up the food, sandwich fixings, snacks, etc. Steve
turned to me and said, "Let's just wait here for food to
be served". The next thing we knew, there were hundreds of
people standing behind us in a line. They thought we were the
start of the chow line! Just before the food was served, Governor
Murkowski came up to us, introduced himself, and made a joke that
we were the 'guinea pigs' for the chow as we were the first ones
in line. The entire time he was talking to us, a cameraman was
filming. I can only hope it wasn't the local news channel. The
last thing I want to see, is Steve and me at the front of a food
line. :) Hopefully, the cameraman only had Steve in the viewfinder.
I don't mind being on this side of the camera, but not
out in front. We haven't seen any footage on the news, but if
anyone reading this is local - and you happen to see an 'Army
bald' guy with a long-haired redhead standing next to him - please
change the channel fast! *giggle*
We ate with Rachael and James, and then Susan, Stephen, and Butch
showed up. Too preoccupied with lunch, we didn't get to see anyone
cross the finish line. Oh well... there's always next year. We
headed home soon afterward. All in all, it was a great day, with
plenty of sunshine and fun.
Family News: My mom is back in the
hospital. She was admitted today. She is undergoing all kinds
of tests to figure out what is causing her fever. We're assuming
she has some sort of infection. Please keep her in your thoughts
July 27 - Butter and Eggs, Toadflax
Butter and Eggs, Toadflax - Linaria Vulgaris
The weather lately has been absolutely beautiful. We wake
to chilly weather - which is great for sleeping, and also
great for walking. And then, during the day, the sun warms
the air and the temperatures rise into the 70s. I savor
each day, as I know that in a matter of weeks, we could
get our first dusting of snow. Summer here is so fleeting,
and autumn even more so. I want each day to pass slowly;
I want to admire the colors around me, the aroma of flower
gardens, and the blueness of the sky.
I want to savor these days not only because summer passes
quickly, but because I am on the "eve" of saying
goodbye to my husband for a year. When he leaves here in
a few weeks, he will leave with images of summer in Alaska
in his memory. He will leave with memories of these final
I am so glad that Steve and I were able to spend so much
time alone; doing all that we enjoy, and seeing all that
we love. At the risk of sounding sappy, I have fallen even
more head over heels in love with my husband over the last
few months - despite the sadness we both feel about the
upcoming separation. I want to cherish each remaining second
with him. I want to imprint the feelings I get, when I'm
with him, on my heart and my soul. I want to remember how
his hand feels when it's wrapped around mine. I want to
remember the look of concern he gives me when I'm not feeling
well, or I'm dealing with family illness. I want to remember
the way he pulls the covers over me in the morning before
he goes off to work. *sigh*
This weekend, Steve has four days off. We're leaving Friday
morning for Delta Clearwater. Steve intends to do some fishing
and I intend to do some relaxing and reading. No clock watching,
no plans. We'll play it by ear. The campground we're staying
at is primitive (no water or electric). We're renting a
generator to run the microwave and other electrical parts
of the camper. We'll be filling our water tank so we'll
have running water. The advantage to camping in a primitive
or state run campground is that generally the sites aren't
one on top of the other and you've got a bit more privacy.
That's really what we're looking forward to. It would be
nice to be in the middle of the woods, totally alone, enjoying
the solitude and seclusion. Let's hope it works out that
Tomorrow is the deployment ceremony. It's open to the public
and begins at 2:00pm. Rachael, Susan, and I will be getting
there about 1pm. We're anticipating a lot of traffic and
people, and want to get a good seat in the bleachers. I
know where Steve will be standing and hope to get some photos
(if he's not too far away). After the ceremony, the soldiers
will be released to their families. I don't know what we'll
do in the meantime - perhaps grab a bite to eat. Later on
tomorrow evening, I will be photographing my friend LuAnn
and her husband, Ken as they renew their wedding vows. Quite
a few couples have chosen to renew their vows prior to deployment.
The chapel on post is running a 'Las Vegas Style' setup,
where couples can come in at any time and do their renewals.
LuAnn asked me to capture the moment with my camera. Their
two daughters will be in attendance. What a wonderful thing
for them to witness their parents reaffirming their love
and commitment to one another. It will be a privilege to
photograph the event.
If I have time tomorrow, I'll update this journal with
some photographs from the deployment ceremony. If you don't
hear from me, don't expect to get an update until we return
from our camping trip on Monday or Tuesday.
About the photo above: Butter
and eggs, otherwise called toadflax or Linaria vulgaris,
is a herb native to Europe that was brought to North America
by settlers for its medicinal and dye properties. It grows
wild all over North America and is usually found in big
patches as its spreads through underground stems. The flowers
resemble bright yellow snapdragons but are much hardier
and can grow in partial shade. Medicinal uses of toadflax
include use as a diuretic to purge the body of excess water.
The tea of toadflax can also be used to clean and disinfect
July 28 - Sunday, July 31: Deployment Ceremony and Weekend Getaway
The Love of
The Deployment Ceremony was nice.
Not too long, even though some of the guest speakers tended
to get a bit long-winded. The smoke that had settled over
the area dissipated mid ceremony and a nice breeze came
in. I took photos of the ceremony, and had some taken
of me and Steve. I didn't have any photos of the two of
us with him wearing his ACUs (Army Combat Uniform) and
wanted one for my desk at work. Here's a photo of the
Stryker vehicle that they are deploying with:
Our Weekend Getaway -
Clearwater State Park, Delta Junction:
Clearwater Campground is a state run park, on the banks of the
crystal clear waters of the Delta River. There are only 15 campsites,
and it's 'first come, first served' as most state parks are. Since
we got there at about noon on Friday, we had no problem finding
a site that was big enough for our camper (and the slide-out and
the awning). The site was situated up on a hill, overlooking the
river and trees. There were stairs cut into the hill leading down
from our site, so that we had our very own fishing bank. It was
beautiful, despite the fact that it was overcast. The mosquitos
were pesky the first day, but the temperatures dropped into the
40s and 50s at night, sending those critters looking for more
warmth and humidity.
After setting up, Steve got into his hip waders and got into
the river. It was nice to be able to watch him fish from a comfy
camp chair up above. I dove back into the book I was reading (Dean
Koontz - The Face...I was disappointed in the ending). I only
had a few chapters left before I moved on to the book I really
wanted to get into: The
Final Frontiersman : Heimo Korth and His Family, Alone in Alaska's
From the first page, I was whisked away to far Interior Alaska
- 350 miles north of Fairbanks - and taken into the story of a
true frontiersman. In fact, I was so taken by the storyline, that
I began reading it aloud to Steve at night, after we climbed under
the thick quilt on our bed. Even though my eyes were growing heavy
and nearly crossed with delirium, Steve would say, "Read
one more chapter"... I have to admit it was a marvelous way
for us to end our day.
It rained on us every night - but not until we were already warm
in our bed. There is nothing like the soothing sounds of rain
falling on the roof to lull a person to sleep. We slept hard and
late - not getting out of bed until nearly 9am each morning. (That's
late for us!)
On Saturday, we got dressed and headed into Delta Junction for
breakfast. We ate at the Buffalo Center Diner; a hearty meal of
omelets, hashbrowns, toast and juice. Delta Junction is mostly
known as the end of the AlCan (Alaska) Highway, and a photo of
the marker at the visitor center, makes it into just about everyone's
photo album (ours included). If you've driven the AlCan, you've
no doubt got a photo of the marker at the beginning (Mile 0) and
at the end (Mile 1422).
We then explored Fort Greely (going on base to try and get a
fishing permit for the military land surrounding Delta Junction).
It was our first trip onto Fort Greely, and we were surprised
to note that, although small, it seems very self-sufficient. There
is family housing, a school, a gym, a commissary, and small PX.
Fort Greely is 120 miles from Fairbanks - the closest 'big city'.
Living there is definitely remote and it is an accompanied tour
- which means that families live there too. Some military families
complain that Fairbanks is too small - I can't even imagine living
The rain rolled in - a light drizzle - so we came back to camp.
Steve again fished for awhile. Just because it's raining doesn't
mean the fish aren't swimming. I put on a heavy fleece jacket
and made myself comfy in my camp chair under the awning. I did
a few math logic problems and crossword puzzles while sipping
a drink; definitely the good life. We BBQ'd steaks for dinner.
They were yummy.
Sunday was a beautiful sunny day, but the skies in the distance
were overcast. We never saw the Alaska Range, because of the haze
and clouds. But we were thankful for the sunshine. I went off
exploring with Sedona and my camera, traipsing through the wooded
areas, discovering mushrooms and moss. And Steve fished... Then
we drove some back roads in search of some ponds in the area.
Because Steve could never get the permit he needed (they were
closed for the weekend), he couldn't fish - but we enjoyed the
solitude. We stopped to let Sedona swim in Bolio Lake, which she
We spent the rest of the day relaxing, fishing, and eating. On
our last night in the park, we stayed up until after 11pm, because
we were both so engrossed in the book, that we wanted to read/hear
'one more chapter'. We slept in until 9am, broke camp, and headed
What an incredibly marvelous weekend we had! No schedule, no
alarm clock, no phones, no people. Just us and the furkids. I
can't remember the last time we spent 3 days doing absolutely
nothing. It was positively rejuvenating. Unfortunately, it was
our last weekend camping. We're taking the camper over to the
RV shop to be winterized on Thursday. Still a month left to summer,
but not for us. She'll be readied for below zero temperatures,
and draped with a tarp until late next summer, when Steve comes
home. Even then, she might not be taken out of storage. It could
be a year and a half before we take her out again. What a shame....
I'm so glad we made the memories we did this summer. I hate to
see time slipping by so quickly, but we really had some fabulous
times. And there's no one I'd rather share these memories with
than my husband.
Here are some photos from our weekend. Click on the thumbnails
to enlarge them.