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Updated: Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Friday, July 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)

Spruce Grouse

One of the many Kenai Streams

Sybille and Me

Ron and Me

Russian River Ferry

Fly Fishing on the Russian

Kenai River

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.

Saturday, 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 Overlook

Bishops Beach Panorama
Sunday, 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.

Monday, 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.

Immediately 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 --}

A 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 their feet.

We 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.

Not 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.

As 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'.

The 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 encounter"

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.

Peaches and her cubs

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 everyday.

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 more worried.

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!

Tuesday, 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)

Wednesday, 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):

Thursday, 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 to Fairbanks.

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)

FAMILY NEWS: 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.

Friday, July 8th - We gotta find some ice...

I thought you would get a kick out of this...

Over 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 Creek Trail.

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.

Saturday, 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 toward Glenallen.

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.

Soaring overhead

Rest stop N of Valdez

Wrangell Mountains

Steve and a Red Salmon

Mew Gull

Sunset over Klutina River

Fishing on the Klutina
Sunday, 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 get home.

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.

Salmon Hatchery

Gulkana Glacier

Gulkana Glacier

Rainbow Mountains

Squirrel Tail Grass
Alaska Range
Friday, July 15 - Post-Vacation Resting

The 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 and bushes.

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 weekend.

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.

Sunday, 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. (The preceeding was taken from the website).

The sculpture (at left) is called "Inflorescence"

Click for Enlargement

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):

Blue Delphinium



Oversize Cabbage
Thursday, 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.

Sunday, 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.

As 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 pizza.

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?


Floating Bandstand

Red and Green Pup

Red, White, and Blue

"Hope It Floats"

Wipe Out!

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 and prayers.

Wednesday, July 27 - Butter and Eggs, Toadflax
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 few months.

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 way.

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 wounds.

Thursday, July 28 - Sunday, July 31: Deployment Ceremony and Weekend Getaway

The Love of my Life

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 Arctic Wilderness.

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 at Greely.

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 really enjoyed.

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 for home...

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.