July 20, 2014

Summertime in Alaska

Filed under: Events, Everyday Life, Roadtrips, Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 10:23 pm

I feel so terrible for not writing. It has been quite a busy summer so far, and promises to remain quite busy. Steve and I just returned home from a week-long trip to Haines, and I have just started going through those photos. But rather than wait until I’m done with Haines photos, I decided I’d blog about all the other things I’ve been doing in between travels.

FLORA/FAUNA

While we were in California and Oregon, we missed the blooming of the Prickly Rose bushes. Our property has quite a few of these flowering bushes and I was a little disappointed that I missed the blooming season. Sometimes, at the end of summer, we’ll get a handful of blooms if a Chinook wind blows through. If warm air comes, I’ll get a chance to see some of these pretty pink blooms before snow falls.

These photos were taken both on our property and while out and about. The Bunchberry (aka Dwarf Dogwood) in the first photo is really pretty in the fall, when the flowers fall off and berries appear. They remind me of Christmas.

The fireweed, with its beautiful magenta flowers, is both gorgeous and a harbinger of bad news for some. It is said that once the fireweed blooms to the top and goes to seed we have six weeks until winter. It isn’t to the top yet, but it’s not far off either.

The wild iris is another favorite flower of mine, especially when it takes over an entire field with its purple blooms. Butterflies, particularly swallowtails, are attracted to the wild iris, and the colors of the two together are quite striking.

Right now, we don’t have many of the flowers pictured below blooming (except for the fireweed). Instead the woods are being taken over by mushrooms of every size, shape and color imaginable. My favorite are the Fly Agaric (Alice in Wonderland mushrooms), but I haven’t had a chance to search the woods around my house for them. I think all the rain we’ve had - and continue to have - has created a bumper crop of early mushrooms.

Berries are beginning to appear, but they won’t ripen for a few weeks yet. Blueberries and High Bush Cranberries are a favorite of many - both human and four-legged.

Bunchberry or Dwarf Dogwood Frigid Arnica Raindrops
Fireweed Fireweed Fireweed
Wild Iris and Swallowtail Butterfly Wild Iris and Swallowtail Butterfly Purple Flowers - Chives
Daisies Honey Bees Dandelion Fluff

NIGHT RETURNS

Length of visible light is now 23 hours. But that short hour when it’s considered dark is barely noticeable, as it occurs around 2am when most of us are asleep. But because the sun isn’t high in the sky for 24 hours/day, we are getting some pretty sunsets - when it’s not raining.

We spent July 4th with our friends Kathee and Garry. Their home is high in the hills, and they have a beautiful view of the Tanana River and the Alaska Range. The weather on July 4th was actually quite nice, allowing for a barbecue. As an added treat, the kestrels who come back to nest each year, were fairly active. With chicks in the kestrel box, both the male and the female were busy catching dragonflies to feed their young. They were at a distance, necessitating the use of my longest lens (400mm).

American Kestrels are North America’s littlest falcons. They are one of the most colorful of all raptors: the male’s slate-blue head and wings contrast elegantly with his rusty-red back and tail; the female has the same warm reddish on her wings, back, and tail. Hunting for insects and other small prey in open territory, kestrels perch on wires or poles, or hover facing into the wind, flapping and adjusting their long tails to stay in place. I believe this is their fourth or fifth year nesting at Kathee’s home. How lucky for her to watch them prepare the nest, have their chicks, and then watch the chicks fledge!

As the sun moved toward the horizon, the sky turned pink with the glow of Venus’ Belt/Girdle. We left their home just before midnight, not realizing it was so late. That’s what happens here in the Land of the Midnight Sun! We made a quick stop at a boat launch on the Tanana River, so I could take a few photos, and then on the way home, I watched the sky behind us turn brilliant orange and yellow in the rear view mirror of Steve’s truck. It was a neat contrast to see such beautiful bright primary colors in the mirror reflection, while the surrounding area was the muted blue of twilight.

Female Kestrel Male Kestrel feeding the chicks This is Kathee's kitty, Fiona. Fiona is an amazing huntress and brings Kathee voles as gifts
Pink band at sunset - Tanana River boat launch Belt of Venus - Tanana River boat launch Midnight Sun in the rear view mirror

The beautiful midnight sunset:
Midnight Sky

Midnight Sunset

WATER WATER

While we were traveling to CA and OR, Alaska was deluged with rain. Following my friends’ updates on Facebook, I read many status updates complaining about the incessant storms and high water. Our summers are so short, I know very well how depressing it can be when we see these few short months snatched away by inclement weather. Unfortunately, this is the way it is sometimes. You either put on your rain gear and go out and enjoy the non-snow months, or you sit indoors and complain about it. I have to admit, I’ve reacted both ways. Complaining doesn’t help a bit. Getting rained on isn’t much fun either.

A few weeks ago, my friend Amanda and I took a drive to Chena Hot Springs. It’s only 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks, so it’s a nice easy drive to make when you want a change of scenery, but don’t want to be gone all day. Chena Hot Springs Rd is popular for moose sightings and that’s what we were hoping for.  The sun was shining - a rare thing - which boosted our mood considerably. Amanda’s son Marc was with us. He’s a good roadtrip partner for a 5yo. As long as we stop to stretch our legs regularly, and fuel him with roadtrip snack foods, he’s a happy traveler.

There are several campgrounds along the way, and we pulled into all of them to have a look around. I was quite impressed with the improvements made to the Rosehip Campground. With its close proximity to Fairbanks and North Pole, it’s a beautiful place to take the camper or tent for a weekend getaway. Located adjacent to the Chena River, you can fish, boat, hike, or just relax and enjoy the wooded scenery. There’s a picnic area too, if you just decide to go for the day or overnight.

Twin Bears Camp, which is managed by the Fairbanks Rescue Mission, is a campground geared toward groups, with several bunkhouses, a dining hall, a recreation hall, and a shower and laundry facility. It’s located on a beautiful small lake, on which you can canoe, kayak, and fish. We’ve seen groups here for fly-fishing lessons as well as scouting groups. It’s really quite lovely, and when the lake is still, the reflection is gorgeous.

I was surprised at how high the water in the lake was. Several of the picnic tables were in water, and the lake shore was pushed out at least a dozen feet or more due to water. When we stopped, there was a family there staying in one of the cabins, and two girls were paddling around the lake in their canoe.

Our next stop was at Tors Trail Campground at mile 39 on Chena Hot Springs Rd. We were shocked to see that a large portion of the parking lot was under water. We did our best to avoid wet feet, but weren’t successful. Least of all Marc…  And when Amanda gave Marc permission to splash - that’s all he needed to hear to do some high jumps in the 3″ of water flowing across the parking lot.

We arrived at Chena Hot Springs a short time later. By this time, it was quite warm. The hot springs was quite crowded with tourists, as it usually is. We walked the grounds, checking out the beautiful flowers they had planted on the property. Behind the rock pond - which is quite popular with adult soakers (children are not permitted in the rock pond), we noticed a handful of people intent on something going on in the wooded area near a small pond.

As we neared the small group of people, we noticed two moose just inside the treed area. One, a teenage bull moose with a nice looking rack, was grazing on bushes and trees. Near him was a cow moose, who also appeared to be fairly young. Perhaps they were siblings? A little further away, was another cow moose. She looked to be a bit older. And then, out of the woods came another cow moose. She was very thin; almost sickly looking. She was followed by a calf! Babies are always a thrill, and Amanda and I were ready with our cameras for this sweet young moose. Neither of us had ever seen four adult moose and a calf in one location. I don’t think they were new to this pond.

The mama moose and her calf stepped into the pond to get a drink and cool off. The older cow moose came out of the woods and approached the pair. Mama moose became quite agitated and chased off the older cow. As she ran after the cow, her calf trotted off into the trees and safety. Mama joined her shortly after.

We watched this scene repeat itself several times - always with the older cow and the cow/calf pair. The older cow would approach the mama and her baby, she would be chased off by the mama, and the calf would go deeper into the trees to be joined by mama a few minutes later. The other two moose (the siblings?) weren’t a part of this altercation, seeming to mind their own business.

Amanda and I watched as tourists encroached upon the moose. Incredulous, we vocalized that it wasn’t a good idea to get so close to such huge and dangerous animals (when provoked). We were ignored. Stupidity is rampant with some visitors, it seems.

A little further away from the pond and the group of moose, was another moose - a cow moose. She was intent on nibbling on something that was growing beneath one of the cabins. From the looks of her coat, and her hanging udders, it appeared she had recently given birth. With no sign of a calf, I assumed that her baby(ies) didn’t make it  - for whatever reason. Or perhaps they were hidden away and out of sight.

The cabin that held her attention was empty at the time. But the folks who were staying there had a dog, and their dog was chained outside near a doghouse. At first the dog was quite *barky*, when the moose showed up. Then s/he became a little fearful and retreated into the doghouse, watching the moose from the assumed safety of this small 3′x2′ box. As time passed, and the moose was obviously only interested in whatever treat was growing out from under the cabin, the dog felt secure enough to leave the box and relax as if there wasn’t a huge animal a short distance away. The moose couldn’t care less about the dog.

Amanda and I walked back and forth on the path, watching for the cow moose and her calf. When she finally appeared again, we were a safe distance away, using our zoom lenses to photograph the pair. Other people weren’t so smart. We both hoped we weren’t going to be witness to a stomping.

The aggressive cow moose once again made her move toward the calf. Mama immediately alerted and chased her off at a high rate of speed. We were close enough to sense the anger, without being in her path. Again, tourists moved closer and closer, iPhones in hand. We had had enough and headed back to the car.

On our drive home, we kept our eyes open for more wildlife sightings. We did see a moose, but she was quite some distance. We also saw a Bald Eagle, which isn’t something we see very often here in the Interior. He was perched on a rocky slope near the river. The sun was so bright, that the photos I took weren’t the best. But it was still nice to see him.

Twin Bears Campground Tors Trail Campground Parking Lot Tors Trail Campground Flooded Parking Lot
Violet Green Swallows - Tors Trail Campground Tors Trail Campground Flooded Parking Lot Marc in Flooded Parking Lot
White Admiral Butterfly Four Moose - Chena Hot Springs Four Moose - Chena Hot Springs
Moose Altercation Running Calf - Moose Altercation Moose Calf
Moose Cow and Calf Crazy Tourist I love moose eyelashes!
Cow moose and calf Cow moose chasing other cow moose Moose drinking water
Crazy tourists Dog and Moose Bald eagle

GOLDEN DAYS

Golden Days was this weekend. For at least the last four-five years, we have been traveling during Golden Days and have missed it. While I always enjoy traveling, I have also been a bit sad to miss this celebration as it’s always a good time walking the downtown area and checking out the many vendor and food booths, while waiting for the ducks to launch. I’ve also loved attending the Red Green Regatta (Duct Tape Boat Race).

Since Steve and I cut our recent getaway short (canceling our stop in Tolsana to visit Lake Louise and instead coming straight home from Haines), we were able to attend the Golden Days festivities.

From the website: Golden Days began as a way of collectively honoring Fairbanks’ past, but progressed to include the Fairbanks gold rush. Felix Pedro struck gold on July 22, 1902, in a creek 12 miles north of E. T. Barnette’s Trading Post.

The first Golden Days celebration took place in 1952 and was hosted by the Pioneers of Alaska Igloo #4 and the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce. The first Golden Days Committee was cochaired by Wheaton (Doc) Blanchard & Don Pearson.

It was not uncommon, in fact it was expected, during the Golden Days celebrations that men, women and children donned their Golden Days period costumes.

The marshal and the gunfighters, the golden heart dancers and many other familiar figures come into the limelight and the week known to us now as Golden Days climaxes with the largest parade in Alaska and the Rubber Duckie Race (though the duck race didn’t begin however until 1988 as a way to fundraise for the weeklong celebration).

Yesterday, we headed downtown in time for the Rubber Duckie Race. We had time to peruse the many vendor and food booths, before making our way over to the pedestrian bridge for a good view of the rubber duckies coming downstream.  With the river still at a high point, we estimated that the ducks would make their way downstream in record time. It only took a few minutes.

The last time I was able to attend a Golden Days celebration, it seemed much more crowded. Sad to say that it wasn’t quite as *busy* as I remember. There weren’t as many booths, nor was there as much entertainment. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but it felt a little quiet as compared to years past.

As the time to launch the ducks approached, the crowd seemed to swell a bit. We found a place on the pedestrian bridge to wait for the ducks to make their way to the Cushman Street Bridge.

Prior to the duck launch, Steve and I visited the booths and watched the kids playing on the many inflatables near Golden Heart Plaza. There were even pony rides, which wasn’t something I remembered from years past. The kids seemed to be having a good time. And, from the looks of all the yummy food, folks were definitely enjoying the many offerings.

We crossed the Cushman Street Bridge to see what was going on over at the Immaculate Conception Church, as we could see tents set up on their property too. We discovered that they were celebrating the 110th Anniversary of the church and were offering tours.

I have photographed this church from the outside several times, but have never been inside. I was raised Roman Catholic, but left the church when I was in my 20s. Despite many years away from the Catholic Church, you don’t soon forget the teachings and prayers. Entering this historic building was not only interesting in the long history, but reminded me so much of my childhood and attending our own historic hundred-plus year “Old Church” in Philadelphia.

The priest at Immaculate Conception was quite likable, and didn’t in the least resemble some of the stern priests that taught me as a child. Easy going, and with a friendly smile, he told the story of how the church came to be, and how they moved it across the Chena River back in the early 1900s, using wooden runners. He also explained the beautiful stained glass windows - representing the Mysteries of the Rosary. The glass was beautiful, as were the many other details reminiscent of a bygone era. I’m glad we wandered in.

After the ducks reached the finish line, Steve and I headed home - with a stop at the local grocery store for a fresh salad and a few movies from the local Blockbuster. The overcast and chilly day turned out to be quite nice with sunshine and warmer temps. I’m glad we went out.

Climbing Wall Kiddie Line for Bounce House Oh, to be a kid again!
Gold Panning I've always loved this little Golden Heart flower bed The clouds were so pretty!
Golden Heart Plaza and the big duck Dichroic Glass Angels at a local vendor booth The many colored ribbons and headbands were so pretty
The bike path that runs next to the river is under water due to all the rain Immaculate Conception Church Steeple Inside the Immaculate Conception Church
Inside the Immaculate Conception Church The Immaculate Conception Church Pano of the Chena River Downtown Fairbanks, looking towards Birch Hill
Downtown Fairbanks - Golden Heart Plaza Looking toward Cushman St Bridge Pano This clown was a bit creepy, in my opinion, but I'm not a fan of clowns.
Adorable boy in a duck hat with a duck necklace. Here come the ducks! The ducks are numbered and you buy chances. If your duck wins, there are big prizes!

Ducks heading for the finish line:
Ducks heading for the finish line

RED GREEN REGATTA

Today was the last day of Golden Days. As is tradition, the Red Green Regatta is held on the last day. The Red Green Regatta - named after the character Red Green of television fame - is a fun flotilla of constructed floating vessels, each containing at least one roll of duct tape.

Steve and I made plans to meet up with friends Kathee and Garry for breakfast, and then head downtown to the Graehl Park Boat Launch at 11am for the start of the “race”. We noticed that the participants for the race were staged in a parking lot a couple of blocks from the put-in area, which wasn’t usual. When we got to the launch site, we were informed that the race had been canceled due to high and swift water on the Chena River. We were very disappointed, but probably not anywhere near as disappointed as the participants were. They had spent many hours crafting their vessels for this race!

We went back to the parking lot to view the vessels. There were so many fun and creative boats there - some using many rolls of duct tape to hold them together, and others just using the one roll you need to use to qualify.

Despite the race being called off, everyone was in good spirits, as onlookers made their way past - taking photos and admiring the handiwork of the contestants. We had a few favorites ourselves, but everyone did a great job! We didn’t stay long enough to hear the winner declared, but they’re all winners in my opinion!

Dr Who Mario Brothers These kids were shooting onlookers with super soakers!
Possum Lodge Fire boat This was one of my favorites, as the boat was well constructed by hand! Look at the construction of this boat!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles This one would float well There was a Hippie Car on the premises
Pretty Dog in a Red Green Tee This Hawaiian boat had a bit of *adult* humor This Duck reminded me of those drinking ducks our grandparents used to have on their windowsill

After leaving the downtown area, Steve and I (and Kathee and Garry) decided to drive out to the new Tanana Lakes Recreation Area to check it out. It’s still a work in progress, but from what we have seen, we are so very pleased with what they have done thusfar.

There is a swimming beach, with sand, and a sheltered area for swimmers of all ages. There is a lovely picnic area with tables and a volleyball net, and also a non-motorized launch area for kayaks, canoes and paddle boats. In another area there is a boat launch with access to the Tanana River for motorized vehicles. It’s really wonderful, and I look forward to seeing what else they plan for the area.

Here are a few photos I took at the Rec Area:

A pano of the kayak/canoe launch area:
Paddle boat and kayak launch area

A pano of the motorized boat launch area:
Motorized boat launch area

It’s so nice to have more options here for outdoor activities!

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I plan to work on the photos I took on our trip to Haines this week, and hopefully get another blog entry posted soon. Thank you for bearing with me!

Until next time…

July 9, 2014

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July 7, 2014

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