April 25, 2017

“Attitude is the difference…

Filed under: Aurora,Photography,Roadtrips,Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 12:22 pm

— between an ordeal and an adventure”

Spring is slowly arriving here in North Pole, Alaska. We are up to nearly 18 hours of visible light each day, the temperature has warmed into the 40s and 50s, with overnight temps in the 30s and 40s. The snow is quickly melting in the warm sunshine, and there are puddles and mud everywhere. Our yard is still snow covered, but it is very soft so walking in it requires waterproof boots. Break-up boots as some call them.

Here at home, life has been extremely busy and hectic at times, but other than that, things are going really well. With so much to do in the planning of our extended trip, we’ve had no time to sit around and be bored. The additional hours of light, and ability to get outside every day has done wonders for our spirits (as well as Raven’s). I can’t say we have any kind of routine, but as long as we keep busy we feel accomplished. We also allow for down days of nothing but Netflix watching, as well as scenic drives to Denali or walks at Creamers Field. We survived another winter!


Our travels will take us from Alaska to Wisconsin at the end of the month, where we will be spending time with my sons and their families. Steve will finally get to meet Juliet, and of course I can’t wait to see her! We’ll be staying with Chris & Kimmie in Madison, while waiting to take possession of our new travel trailer. Once we do a few practice runs with it in WI, and get it stocked to hit the road, we’ll be moving on to MO to spend time with Steve’s family. I am excited to finally meet Eric’s wife Lacy and Steve’s granddaughter Regan.

From MO, we’ll head west to CO, and then north – following the Rockies – all the way back to Alaska. It’s going to be a long drive – the longest we’ve made since we drove from FL to AK back in 2003. Estimates put us at about 10,000 miles for this trip! Talk about an extensive maiden voyage! We aren’t towing our old camper out of here. We plan to sell it up here to avoid any additional wear and tear on it. We’re prepared to truck camp in case of an emergency, but will be staying at hotels along the way. The goal is to get through Canada in 6-7 days, which makes for some very long driving days.

Raven is accompanying us on our adventure south. Health wise, she is doing better. She’s not as lethargic as she was, although she does get out of breath quickly. She loves to play though, so we have to slow her down or she’ll keep going. Her hips have been giving her occasional pain. I started her on a chondroiton/glucosamine supplement about 3 weeks ago. I don’t really know if it’s helping, as results aren’t usually seen for 4-6 weeks. I do hope it does help. I hate that she can hardly climb the stairs some days. We had to build a ramp for her to get in and out of the truck and camper. Thankfully, she still has a great willingness to play Frisbee, and to chase squirrels in the yard. I think Raven will enjoy hanging out with Percy while in WI too. And Steve’s son has a couple of dogs. Hopefully there will be plenty of opportunity for doggie play dates.

I don’t know how much I will be able to formally blog while traveling. I will do my best, but it will also depend on wifi and internet access along the way. I don’t plan to spend much time on my laptop while seeing our beautiful country. However, if you are on Facebook, I hope to update my photography page with photos and commentary on a regular basis. (Here is my Susan L Stevenson Photography page)

Lately the temperature has been warming into the 50s. I know it will be getting warmer the further south we go. I look forward to finally getting out of my fleece and into short sleeves again. Since this will be our maiden voyage in the new RV, we want to revisit the National Parks we’ve already seen (31) and see those we haven’t visited yet (28). This time we plan to have a National Park book stamped. On this trip, we will visit Rocky Mountain National Park (never been), Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP (never been), and Great Sand Dunes NP (never been) in Colorado.  We will also re-visit Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier. Passing back through Canada we plan to visit Banff and Jasper (Free entrance to all National Parks in Colorado in 2017 in celebration of their 150th anniversary).


Steve and I visited the ice park one day while it was open. I used to buy season passes, as I enjoyed visiting the park several times during the season to photograph the artists and the sculptures as they materialized out of ice. I liked collecting the Ice Park pins too. A few years ago, I was just too busy to justify a season pass, so I decided instead to buy a day pass and then visit the park during the day and again at night. I did the same again this year, with Steve. We had a lovely day visit, and when we returned to see the sculptures under colored lights, we were welcomed with a beautiful orange sunset.

One of our favorite sculptures was the multi-block tribute to David Bowie. Always a fan!

A beautiful sunset behind the train station

Sunset over the Ice Park Tram Station, Fairbanks AK

Held - Ice Alaska Changed Evolution - Night and Day - Ice Alaska Chained Evolution - USA - Ice Alaska
Tribute to David Bowie Tribute to David Bowie - FB Viewers Choice - Ice Alaska Ice slides


We haven’t had many moose come through our yard this winter. Only once did we find moose tracks crossing the rear of our property. In early March, this beautiful girl came through. You can see how deep the snow is here, as moose stand about 6′ from hoof to shoulders. She browsed on the low hanging birch branches – before continuing across the front of my yard and down my driveway. I ran upstairs to take the second photo from our guest room window. I like that I caught the flag in the photo. The first photo was taken through a front window.

Cow moose visitor to yard

Cow moose visitor to yard
You know I love Creamers Field.  No matter the season, Creamers is a wonderful place to walk and reflect. The first three photos in this group were taken on March 20th. The second row of photos were taken on April 13th.  There has been a quick thaw over the last few weeks and even less snow is in the fields now. I love to sit and just listen to the sounds of geese, ducks and swans. Even an eagle was spotted last week. Soon the sandhill cranes will arrive. Spring has nearly sprung!

March 20th - Barn at Creamers Field, Fairbanks March 20th - Steve and Me in front of the barn March 20th - Path through the woods, Creamers Field
April 13th - Spring thaw - Barn at Creamers Field, Fairbanks Swans and Ducks - April 13th - Creamers Field Swans and Ducks - April 13th - Creamers Field

The northern lights are active all the time, but not visible if the sky isn’t dark enough. This time of year, we only have about 5 hours of suitable darkness, a narrow sliver when compared to mid-winter night skies. I stopped actively going in search of them in March. Since then, I’ve seen them faintly from my upstairs window (not bright enough to take my camera out).

On March 22nd, we had a very nice display – brighter than the lights have been in a while. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long initially, so I went to bed. I heard it got much brighter and colorful later. (The first two rows of aurora photos are from that night)

On March 27-28, we had an AMAZING display. Purples and pinks and green and yellow. Coronas exploded overhead like neon fireworks in the night sky. It was so gorgeous, and best of all, I didn’t have to go anywhere further than my front yard.

Aurora over North Pole - March 22nd Aurora over North Pole - March 22nd Aurora over North Pole - March 22nd
Aurora over North Pole - March 22nd Aurora over North Pole - March 22nd Aurora over North Pole - March 22nd
Aurora over North Pole - March 27th, 1am Aurora Corona over North Pole - March 27th Aurora over North Pole - March 27th
Aurora Corona over North Pole - March 27th, 1am Aurora Corona over North Pole - March 27th Aurora over North Pole - March 27th
Aurora Corona over North Pole - March 27th, 1am Aurora over North Pole - March 27th Aurora over North Pole - March 27th

Aurora in April – April 20th

Generally, by mid April, aurora displays are fading fast. The deep darkness needed to make the lights visible is such a narrow window of time now. And then, on April 20th – just 5 days ago – THIS happened! You can see in these photos that the sky isn’t even totally dark yet. These were taken about 12:45am. The cobalt blue of the sky still shows a bit of illumination from the set sun. I didn’t stay outside long, but apparently I missed a wonderful – albeit short lived – aurora dance. The sky is already brightening at 3:30am now.

April 20th Aurora April 20th Aurora April 20th Aurora
April 20th Aurora April 20th Aurora April 20th Aurora and army aircraft flying over


There is no better way to celebrate the arrival of spring, than to spend the day in one of our beautiful National Parks. On April 5th, Steve and I celebrated 25 years of marriage. The night before, Steve suggested we take a drive to Denali, and I couldn’t have been happier. A stop at Monderosa in Nenana, for a burger on the way home, made the day even more perfect.

The park road was open to mile 12.5 (Mountain Vista). We parked at the gate, and walked another couple of miles further into the park. Raven spent the day with us too, and I know she loved getting out in the fresh (also a bit chilly!) air. We didn’t see any moose or caribou or any large animals. In fact, we only saw a ptarmigan and a few squirrels. But we did see a lot of lynx tracks! However, we did see Dall sheep on the mountainside outside the park.

This tall pano was taken a few miles along the park road.  The stream is run-off from all the snow in the mountains. A drainage pipe under the road channels the water beneath the asphalt. Before these pipes were installed, the melt would travel over the road, freezing, causing damage, and creating more work for the road crews.

Denali run-off creek tall pano

All in all, a gorgeous day in the park. I’m so glad Steve suggested it because I can’t think of a better way to celebrate 25 years. In the first photo, you can see the Tripod set up on the frozen Tanana River. The tripod has a trip wire attached between it and a clock. When the ice goes out and the tripod moves, the clock stops. Whoever guesses the date and time that the ice goes out wins a huge amount of money (the pot is in the 300K range).

Crossing bridge in Nenana - Tripod on Tanana River for Ice Classic guesses Dall Sheep in the mountains outside of Denali My little family - Denali Park Sign
Denali Park Road Scenery Lynx tracks! Denali Landscape
Steve and Raven Denali Park A beautiful road to walk! Denali Landscape

Denali with Joyce – April 15th – road open to mile 30

Joyce and I took a drive to Denali Park on April 15th. By then, the road was open to mile 30 (Teklanika) – which is the furthest you can drive into the park in your personal vehicle in the spring shoulder season. You can go past the gate on foot or on bicycle, and the park service has been hosting guided bike rides further into the park. Neither Joyce or I felt we were in any shape to pedal our bikes after taking a long winter off.

This is the view from the Parks Hwy bridge where it crosses the Nenana River south of Healy. Dall sheep are usually seen in this area (and were spotted that day as well).

Nenana River pano from Parks Hwy

Lucky for us, the mountain was out all day! We saw it just outside of Fairbanks at the Parks Monument and despite hazy skies, she stood tall above the range throughout the day.

The highlight of the day was coming upon a small pack of wolves and a grizzly bear – all interested in a pile of caribou carcass. I don’t know which animal was responsible for the kill, but when we saw the bear and the wolves the first time, the bear was closest to the pile, and the wolves were being cautious in their approach.  On the way out of the park, wolves were on the carcass and the bear wasn’t to be seen.  We saw this from a great distance, so even with my 100-400mm zoom lens, I had to crop the images just to get a little more detail.  What a treat!

The mountain was out in all her glory! Ptarmigan! State bird: Willow Ptarmigan
Grizzly bear Wolf crossing frozen Teklanika river, as bear browses on shore Overflow ice

Throughout the day, the sky was very bright. Blindingly so! The bright reflective snow made it even more difficult to see. It certainly wasn’t the best light for photography at times. On the way out of the park, there was a little bit of color in the sky as the sun moved lower. Denali was still visible in the hazy sky so we stopped at a pull out to enjoy the view. It was a wonderful day in a beautiful place with a good friend! I needed it.

Sun going down behind Denali

THIS and THAT: For those who offered prayers and healing thoughts for my brother who had a cancer diagnosis: He had surgery, and further tests showed that the surgeon got ALL the cancer, and it wasn’t in his lymph nodes – so no further treatment, except for regular follow-ups! What a huge relief for all of us! Thank you all for keeping him in your thoughts and prayers.

I don’t know if or when I will be able to update here – or how often – while we’re on the road and visiting family and friends. I plan to keep a travel journal on my tablet so I can at least remember important details. I may post short updates, rather than long detailed entries. I’ll have to see what works best once we’re underway.

May angels fly with us and guide us safely on our upcoming adventure.

Until next time…


  1. It sounds like you had a wonderful,relaxing winter. The pics are great! Happy anniversary to the two of you and many more! I’m sorry Raven is having a tough time of it. It’s always rough when they get older. I’m happy to hear your brother is doing well, I had no idea you were going through that. Wishing you safe travels and lots of exciting times!! God bless, Susan!


    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Hi Debbie, and thank you for reading and commenting. Steve and I are excited about seeing friends and family this summer, and taking our new camper out for a spin. 🙂 We will miss Alaska though – especially this time of year. We might be missing it even more if we see temps in the 80s and 90s while traveling. We’ve grown quite accustomed to temperate summer temps up here. Take care!


    Comment by Debbie Tomes — April 25, 2017 @ 2:01 pm

  2. HI Susan,
    A wonderful blog again and such a beautiful pictures. Thank you for sharing 🙂
    I wish you and your husband safe travells and a lot of great and happy times with your familis.
    Greetings from the Netherlands.


    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Thank you Marjo! We are excited about seeing our families again, and exploring some more of our country from the road. It’s a long drive, but thankfully we enjoy road trips.


    Comment by Marjo Slingerland-Boks — April 26, 2017 @ 1:25 am

  3. Hi there young lady glad to see you got your finger back on the cam buttom again. Ha Ha Loved the pics of the lights some almost look like butterflis flying around. Glad to hear Raven is doing better and a good report on your brother also. Will still keep them in prayer though. Also glad to hear that your winter is coming to an end and that the two of you are working together much better. Amazing what sun light and fresh air can do for attatudes.Ha Ha. I’m sure hitting the road well have it’s own little setbacks but remember it’s what you two have looked forward to for along time. SMILES Just remember to leave a little space from time to time and I am sure it will all work out. The misses and I are heading to the Smokies this Friday for about 9 to 10 days. Hope the brain dead in Washington can get together and keep the Gov. open or we will just be spending a short time outside the park at a campground for a few short days. Well take care and will try to keep up with you on the road and pray NO PROBLEMS with the new R.V. Happy travles.


    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Hi Bruce! Thanks for commenting, and have a wonderful time in the Smokies! Steve and I were just saying the same thing about government shut down and camping. I do hope things work out for both of us! 😀

    I will try to update when I can. Thanks again for your encouragement! Safe travels to you both.


    Comment by Bruce Rufer — April 26, 2017 @ 12:05 pm

  4. Another beautiful blog! Safe travels for you Steve and Raven. I hope it warms up before you get to MO. I had to bring plants in the house last night. BRRRRR!


    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Hi Kelly and thank you! Sorry I didn’t respond to your last email. We have been in FF mode, and I have not been on top of my game…. focus focus focus! But now we’re so close to heading out – all we can do is go forward with the excitement of the adventure! I will be posting more once we’re settled in WI. Take care!


    Comment by Kelly Kurtz — April 27, 2017 @ 5:15 am

  5. High,
    Parks Canada are also celebrating 150 years this year and are offering parks passes online.
    have a good trip.


    Comment by mike and lynne cardus — April 28, 2017 @ 8:13 am

  6. I just logged onto your website and saw you have been traveling all summer. I hope you know by now that your husband can get a senior lifetime pass for $10 to the National Parks. By August 28th, the lifetime pass for a senior goes up to $80!! Hope you are having a blast. We will be returning to Kasilof to live out our retirement days next August and have a lot to get rid of and an 82-yro mother to prepare for the shock. Would love to converse if you ever have the time. Take care, Cate < P.S. My husband has been retired a couple of years and I love having him home all day. When I need apart time, I go to our bedroom alone to read, craft or watch TV or go for a drive. I realize these are our downhill years and treasure every moment we have together…..even when I want to wring his neck – ha!


    Comment by Cate — August 6, 2017 @ 5:32 pm

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