June 27, 2015

Alaska is on Fire. Wishing for Rain!

Filed under: Everyday Life, Roadtrips — Susan Stevenson @ 3:17 pm

If you keep up with Alaska news, you know that we have hundreds of forest fires and wildfires burning all over the state. ( This link will take you to a map of AK, showing all the fires currently burning ) It’s rather sad, and air all over the state has been smokey, if not hazy. I feel bad for anyone traveling to Alaska at this time, as I’m sure their trip has been impacted in some way.

I am keeping all of those impacted by the fire in my thoughts and prayers, whether in loss of home, loss of pet(s), or loss of precious woodland (as well as loss of healthy air to breathe!). I am also sending encouragement, strength and good thoughts to our brave men and women working non-stop to fight these fires. Today, I am also thankful for a second day of rain. The rain over my neighborhood has mostly been a fine or light drizzle, but overnight it was a little heavier. We need many more days of this to knock back the bigger fires, and help squelch the smaller ones. I’d rather have gray skies from rain clouds, than smoke!

This is what the sun looked like before I went to bed a few nights ago. It is so smoggy, that the sun is an orange ball as the light from it filters through the mess above. Imagine breathing this stuff! Needless to say, I have only been leaving my home when absolutely necessary. A few friends said they found ash on their vehicles when they woke one morning. UGH!

The sun is an orange ball through the hazy smog of forest fires burning all over the state.

CATCHING UP

I haven’t been writing very often, as I’ve been quite busy with roadtrips and traveling. I’m working on photos from our recent trip up the Dempster Highway with friends. We stopped in Chicken for Chickenstock, and in Dawson City for a comfy hotel room and shower at either end of our tent camping adventure. We drove the entire highway to the town of Inuvik. It was an awesome trip and I have much to share about it - but it will need to wait until my next blog entry.

I will say that it was a beautiful drive and the road is in very good condition (when it’s dry). I’d even be comfortable towing a travel trailer (carefully) on the highway, although there are some very steep hills and some extremely windy areas too. We saw a handful on our travels. When the road is wet, however, different story. The mud can be rather deep in areas, and will grab your tires. And you’ll be covered in mud - everywhere!

SCENIC DRIVE - STEESE HIGHWAY

At the end of May, I took a scenic drive up the Steese Hwy with my friend Joyce. Joyce has never driven past mile 40 or 50, so we planned to go to Central - about 130 miles north of Fairbanks. The highway continues until it ends at the Yukon River (mp162) and the town of Circle. Even though we didn’t go all the way to Circle, it’s worth a drive if you want to check out the entire Steese Hwy. There’s not much there though, and at times I’ve felt that those who live there prefer their privacy.

About Circle:

(This info taken from the link above): The community of about 100 residents lies on the south bank of the Yukon River 14 miles downriver from Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. Circle provides one of only two road-based access options for the preserve.

There’s not much left of the town, although there are still remnants of old buildings standing. Sometimes you can view fish wheels turning in the river, scooping up salmon in late summer. On one visit, several years ago, we saw a smokehouse full of hanging ducks.

Historically, Circle became a bustling log-cabin city of 1200 with two theaters, a music hall, eight dance halls and 28 saloons. It was known as the “largest log-cabin city in the world” until the nearby Klondike gold rush reduced the town significantly.

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June 6, 2015

The Transition from Spring to Summer - Hello June!

Filed under: Everyday Life, Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 2:46 pm

When Alaska wakes up after a long winter, the transition from winter to spring occurs rather quickly. One day there is snow on the ground, bare trees, and a lack of color. And then, before you know it, there is grass and wildflowers are breaking through the ground. Small buds appear on the trees, and a day later, there are small glimpses of green where the leaves are busting from the buds. A day or two later, the trees are fully leafed. It’s always an amazing transition to witness.

The warmer weather, the longer hours of sunshine, and the new growth lures us out of our homes - hibernation has definitely come to an end. Walks around the neighborhood with Raven are a regular part of my routine. Spending time outdoors is more important than sitting inside doing nothing. I continue to have the urge to roadtrip with friends, craving the change of scenery and admiring the amazing beauty of Alaska. Living in the interior makes it easy to be totally alone, just by driving about 30 minutes in any direction.

When looking for a local place to walk and enjoy nature, I always choose either Creamers Field in Fairbanks, or Chena Lakes in North Pole. I enjoy walking beneath towering birch trees, with brilliant green leaves that glow in the sunlight. The only negative can be the mosquitoes if they are swarming. They haven’t been overly annoying, although I am sporting my share of bites.

CHENA LAKES

I took Raven to Chena Lakes a few weeks ago. The temperature that day was in the 70s and the sunshine and fresh air beckoned. I did apply my organic mosquito repellent which worked fairly well as long as I was moving. (The repellent smells like citronella and lavender, and is a light oil base spray. I bought it online several years ago.) The mosquitoes became more aggressive when I stopped to take photos though - buggers! Despite their presence, I thoroughly enjoyed being out in the woods.

I love the way the sunshine was backlighting the beautiful new birch leaves along the Nature Trail at Chena Lakes:

Birch Trees, Chena Lakes Nature Trail

Chena Lakes Walk Into the Trees - Chena Lakes Walk Horsetail - Chena Lakes Walk
Greenup - Chena Lakes Walk Sunburst along the Trail - Chena Lakes Walk Raven on our Chena Lakes Walk
Chena Lakes Walk Mother Walking with Baby at Chena Lakes Chena Lakes still has Ice on Water
Chena Lakes still has Ice on Water Chena Lakes Reflection

CREAMERS FIELD

I’ve visited Creamers Field several times this spring/summer. The Boreal Forest Trail is a favorite, although I walk the other trails on occasion too. In the spring, when the seasonal wetland pond is still deep with water, the Boreal Forest Trail crosses water too. Boardwalks weave and turn through the trees, keeping you elevated above the water below. When the water is really still, and there is a good reflection, it makes me have a touch of vertigo. It feels as if I’m at the top of the world looking down to the sky below. The parts over water are at both ends of the trail, with the rest of the trail traversing solid ground.

The cranes came in several weeks ago. There are still one or two hanging out at times, but the fields are mostly empty again (at least when I’ve gone by). I stopped to get a few photos while in town running errands.

Sandhill Crane at Creamers Field

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May 31, 2015

The End of Denali’s Spring Shoulder Season - Welcome Tourists!

Filed under: Interesting Things, Roadtrips, Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 4:56 pm

The Spring Shoulder Season in Denali Park came to an end on May 20th. That’s the day they started running the shuttle buses on the park road. Now, the park is on its summer schedule - which means that you can’t drive any further than mile 15 (Savage River) unless you have camping reservations in the Sanctuary or Teklanika Campgrounds.  But don’t let the restrictions keep you from making a visit - whether it’s a diversion when traveling the Parks Hwy, or a planned day trip.

The park is amazing throughout the year, and you can hike, picnic, or look for wildlife in the first 15 miles. There are also several walking/hiking trails accessible along that stretch of road. Wildlife, particularly moose, are regularly spotted in this part of the park - especially in September, during the rut (mating season). This spring, there was also quite a bit of activity from caribou and grizzly bears at mile 15. You just never know when you’ll spot one of Denali’s “Big Five”: Moose, Caribou, Wolf, Bear, and Sheep. In my opinion, a stop at Denali National Park should always be included when your travels bring you this way.

In my last blog entry about visiting Denali in the shoulder season, I shared commentary and photos to include my trip to the park on May 5th. Since then, I returned to the park a few more times: once with Amanda, once with Steve, and again with Joyce.

Each visit has been different, with the landscape changing quickly with the long hours of daylight. The snow melted quite quickly, and we were lucky with wildlife sightings of sheep, caribou, moose (to include newborn calves!), and bears (one solitary bear at Teklanika, a blonde sow with one blonde yearling, and another cinnamon colored sow with two cubs: one light and one dark).  And on one of these occasions, Mt McKinley (aka Denali) was visible on the horizon during our visit.

MAY 9th - DENALI with AMANDA

Amanda and I weren’t able to get on the road until nearly 11:30am, but it didn’t really matter. With all the daylight we have now, it’s easy to drive no matter what the time of day. The weather wasn’t too bad, considering it was quite misty and lightly rained on us throughout the day. But the rain, and the way the clouds blocked the light, made the landscape glow with those deep jewel tones that usually appear on a rainy afternoon. (It’s all about light refraction, and passing through water droplets, and being absorbed rather than reflected…. you can read more about the reason for these brighter colors here.)

Amanda and I drove into mile 30, and then parked the car to take a walk down to the Teklanika Bridge. There were so many people in the park that we had to park up on the road, as opposed to in the rest stop parking area. We saw many folks with bikes, and larger groups - to include groups with youngsters - walking the road down to the bridge. That’s where Joyce and I spotted the lone grizzly, and with all the people, I wasn’t so sure he’d still be hanging around out in the open. (We didn’t see him, but we did see bear paw prints)

The caribou were rather active, and were spotted in the same general area where I’ve seen them on past visits. But other than that, it was a rather slow day for wildlife viewing in the park. A little bit disappointing, I’ll admit.

We were on our way back to mile 15, where we planned to stop and keep watch for some bear activity. It was getting late though (7-ish) and we had a 2.5 hour drive back to Fairbanks ahead of us. We planned to only wait and watch for an hour at most. Fortunately, it only took about 15 minutes, before mama grizzly and her two cubs were spotted walking along the Savage River.

This family walked the river bank, turning up rocks and looking for grubs along the  river:

grizzly bear sow and cubs

Did you know that sows can - and will - mate with more than one boar, which can result in bears that are not from the same father? The family above was quite striking in their differences. Mama grizzly was a pretty cinnamon color, while the smaller cub was a very light blonde. The other cub, was much stockier and darker - almost a chocolate color. I suppose mating with multiple partners, and giving birth to cubs from different boars, raises the odds of having cubs (or one cub) that survives.

It was a great day in the park, and I was glad to spend the day with Amanda. With her schedule - both work and her son’s activities - we don’t get to hang out as often as we used to. It’s always a good day, when I spend it with Amanda.

Denali Park Landscape Denali Park Landscape Denali Park Landscape
Denali Park Landscape Bear Paw Print Denali Park Landscape
Caribou in Denali Park Caribou in Denali Park Caribou Photobomb
Bear Family - Denali Park Denali Park Bears Denali Park Bears

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