Seward, Alaska

7/25 -26/2019

Homer, AK to Seward, AK

Barb and I used our free day to go back up to Soldotna to visit Dr. Ned and Charlissa Magen and their lovely home. After touring the house and looking at the Kenai River – right outside the front windows! We were treated to some tasty crackers and cheese dip, I wish I could get my hands on that recipe!

Our son, Morgan and their daughter, Maurissa live in Portland, Or. We got to see Maurissa’s two daughters, Julissa and Arianna for a few minutes when they finished their day at camp in Soldotna. They both seemed exhausted and probably didn’t even remember us as we’d only spent time with them last year. 

Charlissa and Ned also gave us some cookies and a loaf of Cinnamon Bread from a local bakery – The Moose is Loose.  It was a short visit and our hosts were most gracious about our need to get back to Homer. BTW – Barb shared two slices of the cinnamon bread with Tina & Claudia! Barb just loved that stuff and parsed it out for as long as she could.

The coastline of Alaska is interesting… Not like the Gulf Coast where we live in south-east Alabama, at all! Towns along the Gulf are stitched together by Hwy. 98 a two lane meanderer and soaring bridges over bays. 

No, the Alaska Coastline is so rugged that to get from one place to the next requires a drive from the sea, through mountains (they look like MMM and you drive through the middle of the M’s).  Roads snake between peaks that rise nearly vertically from the edge of roads, ponds, rivers and valley. Those guys aren’t super high (no Denali’s down here) but they’re rugged! Of course, most of the tops are ground off by the glaciers that once buried them and there are high U shaped drops between peaks where the glaciers slipped and slid downwards. 

We drove back up the same road and took a right at the Seward Junction. The ride is indescribable – or it would take reams paper and thousands of words to attempt. Again, we came through an incredible mountain pass to descend to the ocean. 

The Seward valley is well populated and we drove back in through a neighborhood to find our campground. 

Just minutes from town, we drove down to the Alaska Sealife Center and parked along the waterfront. Oh boy, did we have fun! The Sealife Center not only educates, protects and rescues sea life, but they house an aviary like none other! The aviary consists of a raised pool, about at eye level for a 5’6” or taller person. The walls have windows to look into the two story deep pool. Rocks surround the pool and viewing area, these climb about 30’ toward an open sided roof. Who lives in this place? Oh golly, how about Tufted Puffins? Murre? Murrelet? Black Legged Kittiwakes with their Red Legged cousins? How about Spectacled Eider? And what about the darling Rinocerous Auklet? Yes indeed, these rescued fowl are right there, no barriers. When Tufted Puffins swim deep, their tufts leave trails of tiny silver bubbles glistening behind.

The Sealife Center also hosted us for a “Puffin Experience” – speaking of interesting. We listened to our guide discuss the Center and the birds who make their homes there. She also produced, from several cat carriers, a Tufted Puffin and a Rhinoceros Auklet. Oh my gosh, the Auklet was hatched at the Center and somehow became imprinted to humans – he really likes to hand out doing these talks and showing off! And the PUFFIN! These birds are the toucan’s of the sea with those vivid beaks and sharp colors! Barb and I just loved being at the Center. (Octopus above is made of trash reclaimed from the sea)

Seward also was the jump-off spot for an incredible tour of Kenai Fjords and several glaciers. We watched for whales, had a yummy lunch and chilled out near the glacier. There was lots to do and see, the naturalist from the National Parks Service really was challenged by our group! 

Barb and I went to the National Park and climbed up to Exit Glacier. Even the drive up to the park was educational. Every so often from about 5 miles out a sign reported “1897”, “1910” etc so we saw years of recession of the glacier. As we walked the trails up to the lookout points, we met a couple of rangers. With one, we talked about the plants and edible berries along the trails and how quickly tall trees had filled the moraine as the glacier receded. With the other ranger, up at the second look out, we discussed the rapid melting and slippage of Exit and other glaciers in Alaska.

In the last ten years, there as been more melt and ice loss than in the entire previous 90 years. Read that again. In ten years there has been more frozen fresh water lost than in the previous 90 years. Fresh water. We must have fresh water to live. So… the glaciers melt and in Alaska and many other places, the fresh water goes to the sea and becomes salt water and concomitantly raises sea level.  Glaciers are banks. “Bank of Fresh Water.” Once it’s tapped out, there is no federal reserve.

Here’s a link to a National Geographic article. It paints the picture nicely. Though the article misses the drive up from Homer, another exceedingly scenic route – it says some lovely things about driving in this part of Alaska.

*If I goofed up the location from which the Bear Flights departed, please forgive me. Seward

HOMER, ALASKA #2

7/23/2019

Homer, Alaska

Being in Homer brought me so many memories of my dad and our last trip to Alaska. We visited my dad and stepmother Sylvia’s friends, Jo and Bob Reese. They had also lived in Merced, Ca before moving north to Alaska.

They had a little summer place right on the Kenai River, at a wide spot. There was a fish sink and wooden boardwalk along the front. I fished for hours and hours while my dad visited. It was hot and sunny along the water and merganser hens minding fifteen or so ducklings plied the opposite side of the river. Gosh, those kinds of days are the top of my ‘Moments that Feed my Soul’ list and there are many spent with my dad.

I created an important new memory this trip as well.

Nobody in the family had been able to decide on where to release my dad’s ashes for his final return to the earth. Just in case… I took the box with me to Alaska. 

When we were heading down to Homer, it felt like time. So, at a lovely spot along the Kenai River, I waded in and let him go. I felt peace as the water turned cloudy and moved off toward the sea.  I also felt a lift, a sense of having done the right thing and… he really left! I don’t feel the press of the memories we created, his expectations for me, the need to ask him how to do something or the responsibility of being his first living child anymore. I’m not sure I was even aware of carrying around that stuff! It was good to say goodbye.

So, an era ended there on the Kenai River on July 23, 2019. Here are some pictures of my dad… His curly hair, once blond but done dark. His giant smile, laughing blue eyes, seriousness, character, love and this earth he remarked about a couple days before he died, “I’m gonna miss this place.”

RIP Jack Seymour Wharton, you leave a strong legacy behind.

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Homer, Alaska #1

 

Anchorage to Homer, Alaska

Number one, this is one of the most beautiful drives in Alaska. Complete with towering mountains and bodies of water from pond to Turnagin Arm a huge bay. Two lanes most of the way, the road provides the usual Alaska experiences construction with gravel stretches (PING! there goes another headlight), frost heaves, winding roads, grades and wildlife.

Barb and I were fortunate! We were handed a challenge in Homer! Tina, our mentor and owner of AVC, threw us into the lake – she made us Wagon Masters of the remainder of the trip! Our tail gunner trainees became official Tail Gunners and Tina went offline. Barb and I had been prepared to take over so with Kris and Mary we planned out the rest of the trip (staff prepared meals, socials, potlucks and managing 28 people through several boat rides and travel days to come).

AVC chose a lovely campground outside of Homer, up on the hill above the harbor and huge bay. Many in our group were able to park nose in, facing the sea. Fab-u-lous!  Once settled, many hopped in their toads to go explore the town and piers. We had a social and threw a wonderful halibut dinner – foil wrapped packets of Halibut, lemons, capers, butter and spinach leaves was the main dish. YUM!

Nice place for a social – chilly but the fire in the center was cozy!

 

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Six of us went out on a 28 passenger halibut fishing boat. The boat went out to the mouth of the bay – almost an hour of steaming over gentle blue water. Captain found the fish and everyone dropped their three pound weights 220’ to the bottom.

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Sunrise – Homer, facing out the harbor.

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Leaving the harbor – the sun lights easy on the water.

Okay let me explain… three pounds. Haul up = fish + 3 solid pounds of dead lead weight. Using a 6’ pole with a 4” reel tucked into your belly (two of us ended up with it clamped between our legs – but I won’t get into the details of that)  and clamped with the left arm while the reel slapping back and forth with every grind for 220’.

Everyone on the boat caught their limit of two fish! From kids to us grannies that part was a blast! The crew, Patrick and Faith made it easier by hauling line hand over hand when folks seemed to need help. Alaska’s tricky Halibut law really tripped me up though. (can you hear me crying in my beer?)

Halibut law states that the first fish you catch and keep HAS TO BE OVER 28” and the next under 28”. Anglers have two marked tags delineating first and second fish. Way’ell. I caught a 31” and kept it. Then I caught a several smaller ones and tossed them. I got a good bump on my line, set the hook and began the arduous task of hauling up the fish (and the 3# weight!). I hauled and hauled and the fish ran away with my line over and over. I hauled and hauled and hauled (we’re looking at about a half hour here…). Patrick leaned out to hand over hand my line up but I shooed him off and said “I gotta bring this one up by myself.” I knew that was a big halibut. When we got it on the boar – it was big, 45” long and probably 35 pounds. Biggest fish of the day.

Remember the halibut law? Alaska’s halibut regulation (one of thousands)? Remember I kept that first 31” fish. Way’ell, long story not-drawn-out-further, I had to throw my big fish back and watch it swim away. (yup, still crying in my beer).

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Close to where we began fishing, the sun followed us out.

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Toward the end of the day…

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My lovely halibut.. I could not have lifted the one I released. (tears in beers)

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Kittywakes and Glaucous Winged Gulls

 

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All cleaned up and ready for the next batch of charter’ers.

 While some went halibut fishing, others took a helicopter out to an island to see grizzly and black bears. The first day they went out they were skunked by fog and rain. The company was so great, each person received a full refund and could choose to give the money back and fly out the next morning. The photos of their excursion were incredible – National Geographic kinds of photos! I’m sorry I don’t have any to share – I wasn’t there!

BUT WAIT, THAT’S NOT ALL. STAY TUNED FOR THE   REST   OF   THE    HOMER   STORY!

DENALI

7/16 to 7/22/2019

Denali National Park to Anchorage, AK

Denali National Park! We camped outside the park above the Nenana River and ride-shared to the Visitor’s Center for all activities – and there were activities!

We went to a corny gold rush show, ate out, some went rafting while others went on day and midnight ATV trips. The sun was up for 23 hours, after all, plenty of time to play! We rode the bus into Denali and stopped umpteen times for caribou, bears, birds, and moose watching. 

The vastness of this park full of wildlife and wild lands, is astounding. Thankfully, most of Denali has no roads that could overwhelm natural resources and turn the park into just another tourist stop. The park is dedicated to Alaska’s animals, birds and fish that they might live unwatched, unmolested, un-photographed on untouched lands. Gosh. What a gift to the future of our planet. Lands and creatures that will evolve as nature intended in an area that has been set aside, protected, for them. Glaciers, peaks and waters following time without exploitation… 

My whole being celebrated the wonder of Denali. Everything we read, saw, and heard in the park spoke to the fragility and preciousness of our parks and planet. We must protect our city, county, state and national parks they are literally holding the past and future in their embrace.

On to Anchorage. Another very metropolitan city – glittering away against a backdrop of incredible mountains and the huge Turnagin Arm. Again, we had a busy schedule – restocking our larders, visiting the wild berry place, the Ulu Factory, and Fish Creek (watching folks flogging their fly lines into the water to attract the attention of silver and pink salmon and hoping for that rare King salmon this late in the year). It’s a small stream, in town, with LOTS of anglers and plenty of salmon trying to make it upstream to spawn before they die. 

The University of Alaska Museum. The group spent hours in the history section and art galleries. Barb and I spent hours and hours – 2 day trips – exploring the place top to bottom. Honestly, it is the best museum – well aside from the Kam Wah Cheung, Inc. National Historic Site museum, that one tops every other.

UoA Museum houses Otto – a huge mounted Grizzly that wears an innocently puzzled expression on his massive face. He is over seven feet tall, I would not like to meet him on a salmon run! There are several galleries of contemporary art mixed with art created for the tourist trade (a tradition since the 1870’s).

Throughout the art section of the museum I read a running conversation about whether beautiful or amusing objects created for practical use could be called art; whether objects created to make money from tourists could be called art and whether or not people untrained by and for the creation of “art” could actually create art?  I had reached my own conclusion and was not surprised to find the conversation arrived at the same point as I: untrained people create art, art is created to be pleasing and most artists will agree that selling their art can be a laudable goal, if not the goal.

The museum also houses the most unique space ever (go to this site and hear/see what it’s all about): Check it out

“The Place Where You Go to Listen is a unique sound and light environment created by Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams. This ever-changing musical ecosystem gives voice to the rhythms of daylight and darkness, the phases of the moon, the seismic vibrations of the earth, and the dance of the aurora borealis.”

It is visual, the colors of a wall change with heat, light and vibration ; and it is auditory, it brings the sounds of seismic activity, borealis sound and star noise into being. I sat in the room, stood in different parts of the room, with and without others. Being in the room induced a profoundly meditative state. I fell into the sound of Alaska.

Barb and I also did laundry, ate lunch out, shopped for food and stuff. Anchorage is a good city to play in!

We’ve had so much fun with this group of RVing women – most are RVing women from the eponymous group we enjoyed joining back in the 90’s. We’ve made so many good friends on this trip.  

Next – one of my heart places, Homer, Alaska.

Alaska, at lasta!

From Anchorage, AK

(will I ever write fast enough to keep you with me in the moment?)

7-22-2019

Whitehorse, YT

Whitehorse is a major stop in the Yukon Territories. We ‘camped’ nose to tail again (a method that pretty much forces folks to explore the area because the campground is utilitarian and not resort-like at all). Whitehorse is named for the whitecaps that in winter freeze hard in the Yukon River. They are said to look like the manes and tails of white horses rearing and prancing. I’m grateful to have, so far in my life, avoided Whitehorse in the winter. 

Whitehorse is an up and coming area filled with oil and gas workers and service folk providing shopping, restaurants and arts to sourdoughs and visitors alike. The town is small and sports a Canadian Superstore (Super Walmart-ish), Walmart, a wonderful museum and several historic buildings to visit. 

The Yukon River was flowing at a clip that didn’t seem fishable but since we were told that there were fish to be caught, several of us licensed up and hit the river. It was nice wading out in to cast and play in the river. The water wasn’t super cold, chilly but not numbing. We caught no fish, but the time spent was lovely. No photos, sorry, we were all fishing.

Our group visited the SS Klondike Historic Site and learned about the flat bottomed paddle wheelers that plied the Yukon ferrying supplies and resources north and south. It was certainly a perilous trip threading through giant fingers of rock dividing the river with the danger of snags, gravel bars and fire ever present. Photos are better teachers than I, The huge carts of wood would fuel the Klondike for about an hour. Since only so much wood could be carried, the boat had to pull to shore to reload frequently with one man carting the wood down to the boat! This was gold rush time so gold and other minerals were brought downriver for smelting. Each bag of over 110# was handled by individual men eleven times from the mine to the smelter, moving from place to place. Folks worked hard for little pay in those days – most hoping to strike it rich on their own claims. 

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We also visited the MacBride Museum – this new facility is filled with explanations of life for regular folks. There are quite a few dead animals beautifully mounted in one room. Examples of a house, telegraph and radio office, a mining claim, and in the basement is a very nicely displayed history of building the Alcan Hwy. By this time, we’d seen many of the photos and read much of the story at other museums – still I have to share a couple pics with you…

Barb is wearing a buffalo overcoat – it took both of us to lift it off the rack! Those things were HEAVY! Folks were stonier back then as well as being incredibly hard workers.

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There are many places we couldn’t fit in – the Old Log Church Museum, Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center (mammoth fossils) and the Yukon Visitors Center. The old saying that “So much to do – so little time” is certainly true!

Destruction Bay, YT

Next drive was up the road into increasing smoke and haze. Destruction Bay, YT – so named for a storm on the lake that blew in and destroyed an Army Camp building the Alcan Hwy. The owner of our overnight stop is a sourdough who has lived there for years. He moves a bit south in the winter these days but had a great history presentation of the area. Loren is quite a character! Some of us went on a walk past the local curling barn to the lake and enjoyed the beautiful rocks, flowers and birds.

The next leg of our trip earned a red pen notation in my log book: HORRENDOUSLY BAD ROAD! Frost heaves up here resemble canyons and rolling hills! Most of the road has been gravel (we put yoga mats over our car windows to prevent them being smashed by oncoming cars and our own thrown rocks). We’ve slowed down and pulled to the far right side when trucks came barreling toward us and still… Barb and I got a starburst chip in the RV windshield.

Aside

Let me explain something about Adventure Caravan’s travel days. Our guests leave the park within a time frame, we say Wagon Master out at 7 am, Tail Gunner out at 9 am, for instance. Guests leave within that frame of time. Some travel within sight of each other, others alone. Being Tail Gunners, Barb and I are last to leave and putter along taking in sights along the way and often meeting up with the gals on this trail or that milepost. Fireweed is pervasive. I love it’s neighbors and friends.

Some of our puttering along pics… We drove through burning trees (for the second time in our lives together…).

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Something else I’d like to share – we prepare meals for our guests frequently. Nothing earth shattering, well… kind of fabulous because we make really good food. I’ve been responsible for making meals for our Vegetarian/Vegan guests and have been delighted to please folks with good tasting food (quite a number of meat eaters have gone in for the non-meat options). You know how I love that!

We passed through US Customs and Immigration to finally land in ALASKA at TOK (pronounced tōke), along the Tanana River. It would take a better person than I to share the amazing landscape and incredible rivers accurately with you! I don’t know enough words even. With the smoke, vistas have been obscured and still the things we can see are incredible.

Breathe friends and don’t forget to ask someone for a “Minute” and have a 60 sec. long hug (no expectations, just relax into it).

Smokey, said the bear.

July 9, 2019

The rivers here are all Missouri River and Mississippi River sized and often run thick with white or tan glacier flour. It’s hard to convey how large and powerful they are and how spread over valley floors braiding out and running hard in a wide channel.

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As you can see, we’re fascinated by the wildlife. We’ve seen: Black Bears, Moose, Elk (herds), Fox, Grizzly Bear, Wolf, Caribou, Wood Bison, Mountain Goats, Ground Squirrels – aka gophers, Thin Horned Sheep, The Common Cinnamon Roll in it’s habitat, Mountain Goats, and Dall Sheep and birds: Bald and Golden Eagles, Osprey, Red Tailed Hawk, Red Shouldered Hawk, Kestrel, Broad Winged Hawk. Cooper’s Hawk, Mew Gull, White Winged Crossbill, Chipping Sparrow, Three-Toed Woodpecker, Common Yellowthroat, countless other avian friends.

Fires are burning away up at Dawson City, Swan Lake and around Anchorage and Fairbanks. The smell of smoke is so strong at times it reminds Barb and me of the fires around Portland, OR a couple years ago. Sometimes it sits right on the road – obscuring our path, sometimes it lets us see the mountains towering around us. A fellow traveler, Diane, said the mountains look like a Georgia O’Keefe painting, their forms soft grey, lavender, and silver as they stack against the horizon.

The forest up here – lots of Blue and Black Spruce – has been attacked by the Spruce Beetle – same results as Pine Bark Beetle elsewhere. Some of the trees are ancient, 75 – 150 years old, but they still look like young trees compared to places that have long growing seasons. They don’t grow to massive sizes having only a three month growing season.

We stopped in Teslin, named by the Tlingit (Klink-it) peoples it means “long narrow waters”. Teslin is on the shore of Teslin Lake in Nisutlin Bay – yes, the lakes are so gigantic they have bays! Barb and I visited the George Johnson Museum. Mr. Johnson was a “revered Tlingit elder” according to the Milepost. He was also a progressive thinker. A collector of his people’s history and photographer who preserved the people and their lives and artifacts. Mr. Johnson was also a fur trapper and helped set the routes for the Alcan Highway. 

As if the above weren’t enough, George Johnson bought and had barged up the Rivers, the first car in the Yukon Territory! He didn’t let the fact that there were no roads deter him – he hired folks to clear the trails so he could drive around the community. There was no gasoline in Teslin so Mr. Johnson used Naptha (it was less expensive anyway). In the winter, the car was painted white and used to hunt wolf on the frozen lake. 

We talked with a Tlingit woman who was there showing off her amazing beading skills. The photo shows the two sides of a little purse she’s beading for her granddaughter who is about two years old. Esme had never beaded a hand before but she traced her granddaughter’s hand and went for it anyway. The Tlingit have an extensive tradition of fine beading through moose and other hides.

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And… did I mention we went to Laird Hot Springs? No photos, hot spring. Laird is back in the woods down lovely boardwalks over the warm bog that never freezes. A bathing site since before the Athabascan people discovered and sought warmth and the rich plants that grow year round in the runoff of the stream.

Lots of folks were enjoying the two level heat pools. Both of them were in the natural stream bed with a slight dam between the two. All of us enjoyed the sulphur water, the heat and the chance to r e l a x z z z z.

Breathe…

Watson Lake!

Got to the park and settled in Nose to Tail style – overnight, that’s a fine system to park a bunch of RVs. Two rigs share a pedestal (power & water) and on one side we’re back to back and on the door side – door to door. Works great!

And now we give you…

The Famous… The Infamous… The Incredible… SIGNPOST FOREST!

See if you can find your community in these photos. They show only a fraction of the 86,796 signs that were counted up to April this year. We added one when we hung up our Caravan sign:

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