July 6, 2010

July gets off to a busy start!

Filed under: Interesting Things,Photography,Roadtrips — Susan Stevenson @ 1:31 pm

Sorry for my absence. The holiday weekend was a very busy one for me, and I finally had time to work on photos yesterday.


Santa Claus LaneNorth Pole held its Fourth of July Parade on Saturday the 3rd. My friend Lori and I made it downtown just in time to see the start. The roads were closed off, so we parked near the Safeway, and watched the parade from one of the roundabouts.

The parade didn’t seem to last as long this year. And I didn’t see some of my favorites from last year – like the couple riding the old fashioned bicycles.  I did notice more than the usual political floats and supporters, which was yawn-worthy at best. I’m not a fan of mixing politics with celebration, so my camera got a break for a good portion of the parade. Give me 4H kids and dog rescue groups. Or children dressed in red, white, and blue. But keep the cars with the political billboards out of the parade. And don’t try to hand me your candidate’s fliers either.  (OK, enough about that)

Santa & Mrs ClausSanta and Mrs Claus were in the parade as always. It’s North Pole – they are expected! I loved hearing the kids next to me yelling out “Santa! Santa!”. Ah, to be young and a believer.

Some of the other interesting parade participants included a cute pony wearing sunglasses, and a very energetic Elvis, who danced for the crowd when asked.

Elvis Pony Glasses Candy Cane Lightpoles


I have been following the blog of Sarah and her family since January. I believe I met her a little before then via the Alaska Living Group.  Sarah and family – father, husband, twin boys age 1, and daughter age 3 – moved from Arizona to Alaska to build a homestead on land they own just outside of Manley Hot Springs. Although Sarah and children didn’t make the move up here until about a month or so ago, her father and husband have been very busy for about 6 months (maybe more) driving back and forth to AK with trailers and supplies.

On Sunday, my friend Lori and I decided to take a drive out to Manley Hot Springs to meet Sarah and family. Manley Hot Springs is at the end of the Elliott, 152 miles from Fox (which is about 20 miles from North Pole). About 100 people live there, along with a handful of dog teams. The village has one hotel, laundromat with showers, a gas station, school, post office, well house, landfill, grocery store, and a health clinic. There is also a public campground near the bridge over Manley Slough and a maintained airstrip and hangar (it’s a 45 minute flight from Fairbanks).

The drive took us more than 3 hours, as we encountered very low clouds that left us with zero visibility in the higher elevations. Rain fell intermittently, which was a bummer, but by the time we got out to Manley, bits of blue sky were showing through the clouds.

In May, a huge wildfire burned many acres in the Manley area. At one point the flames moved very close to Sarah’s homestead, and they had fears that they would lose all their possessions. Fortunately, the firefighters were able to squelch the flames. Mother Nature did the rest with rainfall.

On the Elliott Highway, about 60 miles north of Fairbanks, there is a tiny settlement named Joy. You’ll find the Arctic Circle Trading Post there. It is here that folks can stop and get a certificate for driving to the Arctic Circle on the Dalton Hwy. You’ll find snack food and baked goods, souvenirs, arts and crafts, and quite a few photo-worthy items.

Joy, AK Joy, AK Joy, AK
Joy, AK Joy, AK Joy, AK
Joy, AK Joy, AK Joy, AK
Joy, AK Joy, AK

As we continued down the Elliott, we came upon acres and acres of charred landscape. In some places, we were surrounded by blackness. Grass and trees alike were completely burned. But in other places, it was easy to see where the fire had come to one side of the road, but hadn’t jumped it.  On that side, the trees nearest the road were a deep umber color, as the leaves had been killed by the heat, but hadn’t burned. The orange-brown of the dead leaves glowed under overcast skies. Several yards behind them, lush green foliage was visible.

From the higher elevations, you could really see the fire damage. It’s absolutely amazing how the flames moved down and across the hills, swallowing up trees and foliage and leaving behind nothing but blackness, while only a short distance away, the trees and foliage were a brilliant green. We also noticed new growth amid the darkness; neon green grasses and bright white Alaska cotton.

While the sweeping view of charred forest was sad to look at, I found myself imagining what the hills will look like when fireweed takes hold. It’s going to be spectacular in a couple of years.

Elliott Highway Elliott Highway Elliott Highway
Elliott Highway Elliott Highway

When we arrived at Sarah’s home, I was surprised to see how much progress had been made on the house they’re building. Sarah’s father (Trapper) and husband (Ken) were hard at work finishing up the first floor wall framing.  A few days earlier only the floor was down. They are building the house themselves, and it’s quite apparent that they are accomplished carpenters.

Sarah showed us around the homestead, pointing out the power house – a structure that houses many batteries, generators, and solar panels on the roof, the bathhouse – sporting two private outhouse stalls, as well as a bathtub with a camp shower (water bag and nozzle), and the laundry tent.  Check out Sarah’s blog entry about doing laundry (http://remotealaska.blogspot.com/2010/06/doing-laundry.html).  There won’t be any more grumbling from me on laundry day, after seeing what Sarah has to go through.

She then invited us into their camper. Until the house is built, she and her family are living in a fifth wheel camper. Her father lives in his own camper on the property. All three children were waking from their naps, and they were quite shy around the visitors from Fairbanks.

Oak and Wyatt are 1 year old twin boys. I couldn’t tell them apart, so Sarah pointed out that Oak was wearing the orange striped shirt and Wyatt was in the red striped shirt.  Lisa, age 3, was a bit standoffish initially, but it didn’t take long for her to transform into a sweet-natured little girl who loves having her photo taken! She can be quite the ham, and I thoroughly enjoyed photographing her.

After visiting for a bit, we followed them into town (about 16 miles from their homestead to downtown Manley Hot Springs).  We drove down to the Tanana River first, and then stopped at the Manley Roadhouse for sodas.  We met Connie, a friendly lady who not only runs the roadhouse, but also the library.

Manley Hot Springs Manley Hot Springs Manley Hot Springs
Manley Hot Springs Manley Hot Springs Manley Hot Springs
Manley Hot Springs Manley Hot Springs Manley Hot Springs
Manley Hot Springs Manley Hot Springs Manley Hot Springs

I took these photos of Sarah’s beautiful children. As you can see, Lisa was quite willing to be in front of the camera. The boys were a bit more shy.

Smith Family Smith Family Smith Family
Smith Family Smith Family Smith Family
Smith Family Smith Family Smith Family
Smith Family Smith Family Smith Family

Thank you Sarah and family for showing us around Manley. I really enjoyed the drive out to your beautiful piece of Alaska, and I do hope that we can get together again soon!

We left Manley about 4:30pm and made pretty good time getting back to Fairbanks. We hit some rain for a short distance, but the clouds weren’t hanging low over the road on the way back, so we were able to enjoy more expansive views of the landscape. Again, we saw a patchwork of colors: dead, dying, new.

Elliott Highway Elliott Highway Elliott Highway
Elliott Highway Elliott Highway Elliott Highway


I found a clump of daisy fleabane in my backyard. This is the first time I’ve seen them growing on our property. I like them, and hope they spread out and come back again next year.

Steve’s tomato plants have more blossoms on them too:


I’m planning to drive up the Steese Hwy past Eagle Summit next weekend – weather permitting. The fireweed should be blooming on the hills and I want to photograph it with the new camera.  Maybe I’ll drive to Central, since I’ll be out that way. I’m hoping that Lori will go with me again. She’s a good roadtrip partner.

I haven’t been to Georgeson Botanical Gardens yet this summer, nor have I driven up to Murphy Dome. Both are places I hope to visit over the next few weeks (or months). The blueberries can be plentiful up on Murphy Dome in late summer.  I hope this is a good blueberry year. I might just have to pick some for muffins and pancakes.

Steve and I will be heading out on our next summer adventure in a few weeks. Before then, the camper is going in to have new tires put on. This is our 8th season camping and the tire tread is wearing. We don’t want to risk a blowout.

On this upcoming trip, we’ll be visiting Valdez, Cordova, Cooper Landing, Palmer (we’re going to drive the Hatcher Pass Rd without the camper), and Denali Park. I’m excited about Cordova, as it’s a new destination. I’m also excited about Denali, and our shuttle bus ride to Eielson. I hope the mountain is out for us, and we see a lot of wildlife.

The weather lately has been absolutely beautiful here in the interior. While we’ve had rain showers, they seem to move in quickly, dump buckets of rain (sometimes with an added lightning and thunder display), and then move out leaving sunshine and blue skies behind.  And there’s been no wildfire smoke either. *knocks wood so as to not jinx us*

I love this time of year!

Until next time…


  1. I can see I really need to save my pennies and plan for at least a week in the interior! Maybe next year. 🙂 Thanks for sharing. Love the pictures of the little ones – so Little House on the Prairie. Love it.


    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Hi Barbara,

    If you’re a fan of scenic drives, than you absolutely have to spend more time in the interior. The roads that leave Fairbanks go through the most beautiful landscapes.

    The upcoming drive on the Steese is one of my favorites at this time of year. The hills that died in the 2004 fire are thick with fireweed now. You can see photos from last year’s drive here: http://susanstevenson.com/blog/2009/07/fireweed/ I’m very excited about seeing it again, and most of all showing it to Lori.

    Sarah and her family were so nice! I do hope that all goes well for them. They have unique challenges living so far from a ‘big’ city. But if anyone can survive, they can. They are quite resourceful and hard workers. Their children are so precious!



    Comment by barbara — July 6, 2010 @ 5:09 pm

  2. Really Enjoyed the drive to Manley Hot Springs!
    The children are adorable 🙂
    I also love seeing all the colors and depth in the rolling hills.
    Thank-you for sharing Sarah’s Blog…I have another to follow 🙂


    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Thanks Liz! It was a lovely drive. Someday, maybe I’ll be taking scenic drives with you. 🙂

    Sarah and family are so nice and it was such a pleasure to meet them in person. The kids are indeed adorable and I really enjoyed spending time with them.

    I hope we’ll be able to hang out again soon – perhaps the next time Sarah comes to town for supplies.

    I’ll be following her blog too. It’s interesting to read about life in a remote area.


    Comment by Liz McCollough — July 7, 2010 @ 3:45 am

  3. Susan, thanks for continuing to give us a taste of parts of Alaska that we’re not going to get to this time. All of your photos are great as usual, but I have to admit I’m partial to the ones from Joy … probably because they brought back memories of our brief stop there on our way up the Dalton to Coldfoot and Deadhorse. The “butt” shot is hilarious … I think hubby has that one on the video (I wasn’t toting a camera back then) … and I love the boot planter.

    Looking forward to reading all about your next trip and seeing the photos … hopefully you’ll be back before we take off for our AK adventure on Aug 12. We’re planning to drive Hatcher Pass too and hope to revisit the spirit houses of Eklutna and the musk oxen farm so I can get the photos I didn’t take the last time around.




    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Hi Erin,

    Joy is a nice place for a stop when driving the Elliott Hwy – or the Dalton. I always find interesting things in the shop. And around the outside of the shop. *grin*

    We’re excited about our upcoming trip, and seeing Cordova. Steve of course can’t wait to fish, but I can’t wait to photograph new things. We’re also taking the shuttle bus into Denali – something we try to do at least once during the summer season. (We prefer Denali in the off season, when we can drive our own vehicles in)

    I’ve never been to the Eklutna spirit houses and hope to this year. We’ve got a wedding to attend at Eklutna Rec Area (I think that’s what it’s called) and would love to be able to see the spirit houses too.



    Comment by Erin — July 8, 2010 @ 1:26 am

  4. alSusan Enjoyed your Journal of the 4th of July with the Parade and all. I’m with you 100% on leaving out
    the Political cars with their signs Let’s just have a good old 4th of July without the rest. As for our 4th.
    We didn’t do really much of anything. The rain was
    really bad here last week end.
    Happy to hear you had a wonderful time
    Love John and Shirley


    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Hi John and Shirley! Nice to see a comment from you. I hope your hands are feeling better. You take it easy!

    The political floats and cars are boring and I wish they weren’t in the parade. I want to see happy things and celebrate America’s birthday with cute children, sweet animals and good food!

    Love to you both,


    Comment by John and Shirley Strauser — July 8, 2010 @ 11:44 am

  5. Hey, Susan, with your permission, I would like to paint some of your photos. I would like to paint Sarah’s kids, Wyatt, Oak and Lisa. Wonderful photos.


    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    I don’t mind, but I think it’s best you get Sarah’s permission as they are her children. Her blog is at:




    Comment by Kimberlee — November 16, 2010 @ 12:08 pm

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