Homer Part 2 – Eagles & Halibuts & Whales, Oh My!

Homer was action-packed, so here’s part 2.  Lots of wildlife to report, and happy to say we got our moose photo.  More on that later.  I’ll start with the eagles and our Anchor Point outing.

Anchor Point

Back up the road just a bit is a nice little town with some great views.  We had a rainy day and decided to spend it on a car ride to see a few things.  Anchor Point boasts the Westernmost point in the North American highway system.  There are roads further West, but they don’t connect to anything else.

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I got my sign picture, but the rain is managing to get through the trees and drip down the back of my head and neck.

From this spot we walked over to the park signs and covered benches to get out of the rain.  That’s when a young couple came up with their binoculars and asked if we saw the eagles on the beach.  Really?  Where?  And this gets me back out in the rain to snap some pictures.  I read a quote that bald eagles are like pigeons up here.  Very true, but they are still pretty awesome to see.

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This is the fellow that first attracted all the attention.

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Then more start swooping in, and next thing you know, there are at least five on the beach.  And they are squabbling over the dead fish.  The seagulls are staying out of it, but hoping for scraps.  Definitely worth a little rain down the back of my neck.

And on the way back down the Westernmost road……..

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….the elusive Moose!  A cow and she wasn’t too sure about us.  I saw her, slammed on the brakes, and backed up to get the picture.  Actually Pat made me get off the road a bit and turned on the flashers for me.  I see how tourists get so excited and do dumb things on the roadways to see the wildlife.  I give him credit for keeping us as safe as my driving would allow and for taking the picture for me out the car window.

Our campground host told us about an art gallery in Anchor Point and that seemed like the perfect rainy day activity.  Norman Lowell is an Alaskan resident artist and has been since 1958.  He paints all the surrounding scenery in oil and has some magnificent pieces on display in his gallery.

My shots do not do them justice.  He’s able to capture the many moods of the mountains, glaciers and on the water.  Mr. Lowell also has some of his journal notes framed and on the walls with his paintings.  I particularly like this one.

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This trip and this state have certainly been a mixed bag of weather.  I always say I like a good grumpy day and especially enjoy the cloud shrouded mountains.  And just when IS the sea wetter or more full of mystery than with the mist upon her face?

Some of Norman Lowell’s works were gigantic and took up whole walls.  His system is to sketch and paint smaller versions of the sights he chooses, before creating the bigger than life version.  He uses traditional brushes of course, but also palette knives and for a few even admitted to using his wife’s spatula.  We had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Lowell and I mentioned the spatula I’d read about.  He noted that it had just the right amount of flexibility and he’s not sure his wife ever got it back.  Not sure she wanted it back, I suggested.  He’s now legally blind, but continues to paint with a complex rigging of over-sized lights around his canvases.  This stop was a very unexpected delight in a place I’d never even heard of before this trip.

Seldovia

Before arriving in Homer, we were able to make a date with our friends Cheryl & David to take the ferry to Seldovia.  So, on a cloudy Sunday, we boarded the boat for the 45 minute ride over to the city only accessible by boat or air.  It is a very sleepy waterfront town, but full of colorful flowers and wood carvings.

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You know why Pat is looking so cheerful, right?  Yep, he’s got those bunny ears behind my head.  Naughty.

 

Seldovia is home to lots of fishing boats, another Russian Orthodox church, Ravens – real and carved, plus this carving of a deep sea angler fish.  The town was once bigger and busier than Homer.  That is until the Good Friday earthquake of 1964 dropped the coastline by four feet, flooding most everything.  In the end, it had to be rebuilt and by that time, Homer had a road connecting it to the rest of the mainland.  So now Homer is the hot ticket and Seldovia is the quiet, less frequented spot.

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Couldn’t resist riding the giant salmon carving.  Photo credit goes to our friend David from Texas.  Pat and Cheryl are in the background checking out some other carvings.

Seldovia coastline views.  Pat and I climbed up the hillside with a rope assist to capture these.  Actually you needed the rope more to get down.

Flowers, flowers and more flowers.  I’m enjoying the blooms so much and all the bright colors.  They had flowers planted in old boots all along the boardwalk.  So creative.

Halibut Charter

We booked a full day halibut charter with Captain Mike on his boat, Wild Thing, after hearing how much fun some random travelers had.  We met them at the Ninilchik church overlook, and since the man and his 13 year old grandson had such a good time, we were hooked.  No pun intended.

Our day was sunny and clear and gave us a great view of all four active volcanoes across Cook Inlet.  We’d not seem them so clearly before that.  Of course Captain Mike booked it for about an hour and a half – 50 miles total – to get to a fishing spot.  While we motored on, the radio traffic was funny.  Fishermen all saying good morning and “where are you headed”.  My favorite response was “somewhere”.  No divulging the secret halibut hole!

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Iliamna is the prettiest of the four volcanoes in my opinion.  Looks a little like Denali on the water.

Rules for this day – you can keep two halibut each.  The first one can be as big as you can catch, but the second one has to be under 28 inches.  We are rocking and rolling on the open water, not too far from a rocky island and the fishing begins.

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Pat is working it!

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Here’s my big daddy – 40 pounds or so.  I could hardly hold it up after reeling it in.  They do some fighting on the way in!  Also sporting my four layer fashion and trying to avoid the blood.

Here’s my little one and my surprise of the day.  I caught a China Rock Fish.  It was so bright orange and beautiful when I first reeled it in.  The spines along the back made it look like a little dragon.  Pat caught a black one.  We got to keep them, too.  In the end we caught nine halibut between us and the two rock fish.  I was working another nibble, but we all got our limit and they made me reel it in so we could head back.

There were six people on our charter and one of the couples was from Canada.  Really nice, and they ended up giving most of their halibut to the rest of us since they couldn’t ship it home.  They took the cheeks – the “gold” as the locals say – and had a local restaurant scheduled to prepare them for their dinner.  The rest of us got the benefit of even more fish!  We kept the rock fish and three pounds of halibut for our little RV freezer and shipped 46 pounds of halibut to Pat’s mom and my sister.  Let the fish fries begin!  We actually had two of the rock fish fillets for dinner and they were delicious, and oh so fresh.

But our excitement is not over.  We are rocking and rolling and motoring back when the captain spots a pod of killer whales.  He maneuvers to get in their path.

There are at least six of them and they are surfacing and slapping their tales on the water.

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They ended up right off the end of the boat and scared our poor deck hand who was filleting our fish.  I joked to Pat before this trip that I needed to see a whale breach.  Yeah right.  Well, one of those whales did a breach right in front of the boat, rolled and gave us a great belly shot.  No picture of that, but a super memory and I got my whale breach.

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We noticed our deck hand, Trevor, checking the stomach contents of the bigger fish.  Why, we asked.  He says you never know what you’ll find since these bottom feeders eat interesting things.  Turns out that my big daddy halibut ate three crabs whole.  Amazing!

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The sea gulls became very attentive and followed us to get the scraps that Trevor tossed into our wake.

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A few more gull pics because I like them.

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A few views as we entered the harbor.  Such a great day!  My arms are tired, but I understand why people love to fish like this.  Such a thrill to feel those big fish yank on the line and realize you got ’em!

A big thank you to our new friends Steve & Julie from Oklahoma City.  They were camped next to us and offered to take Jackson out a few times so it wouldn’t be such a long day alone for him.  As usual, just what we needed, just when we needed it.

I’ve now washed all the fishy clothes and jackets and we’ve moved on.  Stay tuned for more stops on the Kenai Peninsula and the final few weeks in Alaska.  See you on the way!

Homer Part 1 – Food, Views & The Dentist

Next stop – Homer!  Another beautiful coastal Alaskan town and one we think we might actually be able to live in.  It has enough amenities like the lower 48, with the Alaskan beauty and charm we’ve gotten used to.  This town appeals to most everyone and we understand why after our week-long stay.

Food

I’m going to cover food first since it comes up three times a day no matter where you are.  The campground recommended a few spots, including a steakhouse, and we’ve got a hankering for steak.  They noted that it was Alaska and not as swanky as the lower 48 places.  Maybe not in the decor department, but AJ’s Oldtown Steakhouse & Tavern had fantastic food and the ambiance to go with it.

We’re counting this meal as our celebratory ‘going full-time RVing’ dinner.  It has only taken us six months to find the perfect meal!  Anyway, food was good, but so was Johnny B on the piano.  Loved, loved the music.  And the wait staff – so good.  One waiter walked around the restaurant introducing 5-week-old baby Scarlett to the other diners so Mom and family could actually eat their dinner hot out of the kitchen.

And the place we went for lunch and dinner (on different days of course).  Alice’s Champagne Palace.  Kind of a dive bar look on the inside, with champagne actually on the menu, and delicious food.  Best hamburgers we’ve eaten besides the ones that Pat makes, plus skinny fries close to the ones we loved at the Greek place back in good ‘ole DeLand.  The burger was so good that Pat had it again for dinner and I sampled the Rock Fish.  Good on all fronts.

Finally on the food scene, we had Finn’s Pizza on the Homer Spit.  Closest we’ve ever come to our favorite margherita pizza also in DeLand (Angelina’s for those who know the place).  It was a bit different, but just as good and served on the back porch overlooking Kachemak Bay and glaciers.  Doesn’t get any better than that.

Can you tell we love to eat out?  Well we do, and this trip has tested us.  You can eat out alright, but a lot of places are extremely expensive and not so good.  Homer was still expensive, but oh so good.

Views

Our camp host recommended we head up to Skyline Drive for some grand views of the area.  Definitely worth the drive.

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The town of Homer is on the mainland, but the Spit is the place for the marina, touristy shops and restaurants.  We learned that a spit, as far as land masses go, is a “narrow coastal land formation that is tied to the coast at one end”.  This according to Britannica.com.  And you thought Britannica died with the mound of encyclopedias from your childhood.  Anyhoo, it is also a deposition sandbar in most cases and usually where there are strong in and out currents.  This place has quite the tide and the water rises and falls as much as 28 feet.  Definitely enough action to build up a land mass.

This shot was taken on our drive and with what I thought were Queen Anne’s Lace in the foreground.  Turns out those big white flowers are Cow Parsnip and they have a photosensitive chemical that can cause a rash and blisters if you are sensitive to it.  Our camp host had a nasty set of scabs to show for his contact.  Glad we know and are now steering clear on our hikes.

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The town of Homer with Cook Inlet going on forever in the background.

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Glaciers in view from Homer across Kachemak Bay.

 

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One more new word for us – Fen.  This picture doesn’t look terribly exciting, but showcases a local fen, or wetland made from a buildup of peat.  Water continually flows through a fen and moose particularly love them.  We were hopeful, but alas, no moose today.  Just the mushy fen.

Our outing without Jackson was a drive further East of town to the Eveline State Recreation Site and home of a lovely Alpine trail.  We’ve noted that the treeline seems to be at a much lower elevation the further North we go.  Thus, we don’t have to go too high to get stunning views and feel as those we are in an Alpine meadow.

I’m hearing that Sound of Music song again….

We also strolled around at sea level on the spit and enjoyed the harbor sights.

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Ships of all shapes & sizes, and smooth stones washed up on the beach.

And the view out the front window of the motorhome.  Caught sight of this one evening as we were cooking dinner and I flew outside with my camera.

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Zoomed in of course, but perfect cinder cone of Mt. Augustine across Cook Inlet.  Another active volcano.

Bishop’s Beach

This is also Jackson’s trip of a lifetime, so we try to find good places for him to visit.  Since dog-friendly beaches are rare, we were happy to learn of Bishop’s Beach.  Dogs are welcome and run free!

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Lots of good smells here and my goodness, the view.

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Our campground is at the top of those rocky cliffs in the distance.

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Tracks – dog, man and the tide

Normally we don’t let Jackson off leash since he is a lulu brain and we’re pretty sure he’d take off for parts unknown.  Since we were off to ourselves at this point and it was a loooong way anywhere, we decided to give him a moment of freedom.

That is one happy dog!  He came back to us twice and then was done in for the day.

The Dentist

This was also my dental cleaning stop with a good story behind it.  I went for my checkup in January and asked my DeLand dentist if he would share x-rays with other dentists as we traveled so I could keep up with cleanings.  Of course.  He knows I’m going to Alaska and says if I’m going to be in Homer in July when I’m due for cleaning again, I can go see Dr. Richardson’s son.  That would be Dr. Richardson, my childhood dentist, who used to own the DeLand practice.  Not only did Dr. Richardson take care of my teeth, he took care of my parents, Cecil & Eloise, as well.  So believe it or not, I go to see his son, also Dr. Richardson, in Homer, in July.  Small world indeed.

Coming soon….Homer Part 2 – Eagles, Halibuts & Whales, Oh My!  See you on the way!

Soldotna for the 4th of July

We left Seward on July 3rd and made our way to Soldotna, right on the Kenai River.  Figured this would be a lower key place to spend the holiday and it was exactly that.  Mostly very enthusiastic salmon fishermen and a few other travelers like us to round out the campground.

Social Time

Klondike RV Park hosted a cook-out for the 4th and everyone was invited.  We just had to bring a dish to share.  I need to come up with a go-to potluck dish.  This time I threw together a pasta salad with what we had on hand.  Not my best work, but ok to share with people I’ll likely never see again.

The campground, like all the others, was nicely decorated with beautiful flowers.  The hanging pot by the office had a red, white & blue theme that sent me back to the RV for the camera.

No idea what kind they are, but very patriotic.

We enjoyed pulled pork sandwiches, all the fixings and tons of side dishes from fellow campers.  Next to me sat a gal from New Zealand and across from us an avid fishing couple from Chicago.  They shared some funny travel stories and gave us some advice on places to see and stay.  The lady from Chicago was in the same spot last year and said it was like a family gathering and I’d have to agree.

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This place also had an herb garden and invited guests to help themselves.  Best part here – NO fireworks, so no need to drug poor Jackson.  Honestly it doesn’t get dark anyway, so I can see why they don’t shoot them off.

Soldotna Civilization

This stop provided us with a few things we needed including a haircut for me and Mexican food.  Oh how we’ve missed good Mexican food – any Mexican food for that matter.  Since leaving the lower 48, that is the one food option we’ve not seen very much of.  In fact, our last great Mexican meal was in Salt Lake City.  Seems you can get Asian cuisine and curry about anywhere, but no Mexican.

There was also a market day during the week and we enjoyed kettle corn, Girl Scout cookies and some shopping from local vendor booths.  All right by the Kenai River so Jackson could come along and we could watch the fishing from the river bank.

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Kenai River – supposedly lots of salmon, but we still have yet to see any.

Skilak Lake Drive

Back up the road we read about an 18 mile gravel road with spectacular views along Skilak Lake.  Also supposed to have good opportunities to see wildlife.  We’re still on the hunt for the elusive moose photo, so off we go.  Good long car ride for Jackson, too.

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Skilak Lake was pretty as were the overlook views…

In the distance is the Skilak glacier flood plain and the snow-capped mountains providing the promised stunning views.

We didn’t see that elusive moose, but we did see a beaver close to the road cutting down a tree.  He had a very sleek, shiny brown coat.  Good sized fellow, too, but headed into the woods when we stopped for a better look.

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Dogs are not allowed on the wildlife refuge trails, so we took Jackson walking along part of the miles of ski trails on the edge of town.  This spot would be awesome in the winter for snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing.

With Jackson worn out from his hike, we set off on the trails at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge visitor’s center.  This is a huge nesting ground for quite a few birds.  In fact, over a hundred species use the wetlands and tundra during spring and fall migrations according to the visitor’s center.

My picture shows a bunch swooping around and out on the water.  Noisy bunch.  Also, the trail through the wooded area is lined with a fern-like plants that we’ve just learned are called “horse tail”.  They were everywhere and do live up to their name.  On this part of the trail we saw an unidentified large bird that took flight as we approached.  The ranger thinks it was likely an immature eagle.  Finally a picture of the snow-capped mountains framed by the trees.  Never get tired of this view!

Ninilchik

I was narrating our drive from Soldotna to Homer and read about the Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord Russian Orthodox Church.  According to the Milepost, it is one of the most popular tourist sites on the Kenai Peninsula.  Well, with a rousing endorsement like that I decided we had to see it.  Unfortunately the Milepost also said that bigger vehicles couldn’t turn around on the road.  But fortunately there is a Ninilchik River Scenic overlook just up the road, so we stopped, unhooked Bitsy and headed back for a look-see.

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You can’t go inside, but the outside is very interesting with the characteristic onion-domes on top and the three-barred crosses.  I read up on these crosses and the top bar is the title bar – “King of the Jews” or similar phrase, the second bar is where Jesus’ hands were nailed and the angled 3rd bar is for His feet.

Ninilchik was actually founded by a variety of cultures.  Many were Russian immigrants who married local native Aleuts.  The town was to be a retirement community since the Russian settlers could return to Russian, but their native Alaskan family members could not.  Fishing and trapping was important as was the building of the Sterling Highway through the town.

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The church yard

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Looking across Cook Inlet to the Aleutian Mountain Range

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Wildflowers in focus with Mt. Redoubt in view.  This active volcano erupted as recently as 2009 and still steams today.

Musings

So I’ve been most recently sporting what I’m calling 4-layer fashion.  By 4-layer, I mean 4 layers of clothing on most days & outings.  This consists of a favorite long-sleeved t-shirt, (The B-Ham one is popping up most of all) covered by a favorite sweatshirt (the one from the Strataca Salt Mine in Kansas), then my Gator fleece jacket, and finally my very fine rain jacket.  Paid handsomely for this jacket and waterproof pants in Denver and have not regretted the purchase a bit.  I cannot believe that it’s mid-July and that is still the best combo.  The outer two layers are visible in a few upcoming photo shoots.

Pat says that he would have sprung for something a little more interesting in the jacket department if he’d knows that ALL the pictures of him would be in said jacket.  It’s a grey hoodie from Walmart.  Yep, stylin’.

Next stop is Homer and boy is that packed with good stuff.  I may have to split that into more than one post.  See you on the way!

 

Seward & The Grizzly Encounter

Next destination is Seward and we have one of the few advanced reservations due to the 4th of July holiday weekend.  Seward has the biggest blowout celebration in the state and we wanted to be prepared.  Fortunately we stayed a ways outside the city to avoid the crowds, and had the most beautiful commute into town.

Getting There

We last left you in Talkeetna where we were dazzled by Denali.  Well, driving to the Kenai Peninsula is equally stunning.  At least on a clear day.  We had rain and clouds, but the mountains in the mist were pretty nice, too.  For our driving day, we did see one moose off the road, or perhaps moose backside is a better description.

Also had a chance to note the prospering businesses along the way.  Drive-through coffee/espresso shops seem to be hugely popular, followed by gas/convenience stores and then hardware stores.  Campground, B&Bs, lodges, and restaurants seem to make it with varying success.  Lots of big closed signs and places that just never opened for the season.  We’ve pulled into several places to find the place not only closed, but seemingly abandoned.

The drive took us through Anchorage and the most populated place we’ll see in Alaska.  No one seems to like camping there, though, so we keep on going.  Our overnight was at Williwaw National Forest Campground.  It’s first come, first served, so we made an online reservation to be safe.  No need, but we ended up with the prime view.  Misty mountains with a glacier just out of sight.

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This place was so pretty and is in the perfect spot for us to explore a few other places on our return.  We’ll stay here again and enjoy the solitude.  This is my Christmas tree spot.  I see them everywhere!

Renfro’s Lakeside Retreat

Our Seward home base is at Renfro’s and about 19 miles outside of Seward.  Gorgeous drive, so we don’t mind a bit.  First order of business is to drive to town to pick up our month’s worth of mail.  I joke that maybe there will be a check in it.  Pat poo-poo’s that notion.  And guess what?  There’s a check in it!  Usually is it totally junk, even after a month of accumulation.  We don’t miss mail everyday at all and once a month seems to be just enough.

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The lake is just a short walk from our campsite and we do it everyday.  Jackson, the creature of habit, makes a routine wherever he can.  We must go to the lake, take a drink, then wander back through the woods.

The surrounding state parks are great for more hiking with Jax and seeing the lovely woods.  The surrounding glacier-fed rivers all have the emerald green water rushing by.  Other pictures are of Kenai Lake, interesting growth on the tree and Alaska’s state flower – the Forget-Me-Not.  These flowers are so delicate and about the size of your pinky fingernail.  I was delighted to find them in a shady spot near Ptarmigan Creek.

Exit Glacier

Seward is surrounded by glaciers in the Kenai Fjords National Park, and the easy one to see up close and personal is Exit Glacier.  After wearing Jackson out on the trails, we set off to get our National Park stamp and view the glacier.

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The park entrance sign with a glimpse of the top of Exit Glacier.  It only gets better from here.

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The roadside distance shot from outside the park to give you some perspective.

Hiking the trail, a few blue ice shots and us posing.

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And the turnaround shot to see how far we’ve come.  The size of the ice is intimidating.

So we were bad tourists and walked right on by the “trail closed” sign promising fines and potential death from falls.  But Mom, everyone was doing it!  We got a tongue lashing from one of the rangers on our descent and we decided no response was the best one.  At least we didn’t get under the tons of ice hanging there like the guy who took our picture.  See him under there?

Saddle Up

Daddy took me for horseback riding lessons as a kid and ever since, I’ve enjoyed a good horseback outing now and then.  Pat and I even went on a trail ride on our honeymoon.  Pat’s horse was most uncooperative and he’s sworn off horses ever since.  That’s why I go solo.  This jaunt was with Bardy’s Trail Rides in Seward and they were picked as one of the top 10 rides in the country.  An aspen, birch and poplar forest, multiple stream crossings, and then the clearing at Resurrection Bay.  I gasped when we came out into the clearing on the Bay.  Mountains meet wildflower covered clearing.  And every stump and piece of driftwood was occupied by an eagle, or so it seemed.  Spectacular.

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Me and my naughty horse Sequoia, who I think purposely tried to rub me off on all the bushes along the way.  Wanted to be lead horse and didn’t like taking direction.

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The mountains, the mist, the cruise ship, the bay, the driftwood.  Just so picturesque.

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Sequoia eating all he can of the blooming pea plants at the bay.

My trail guide and her spunky little dog who herded us the whole way….

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And a few shots credited to Breanna, our guide, since I was hanging onto Sequoia for dear life….

Crossing one of the many streams, wild irises, and the majestic bald eagle.

And I’m looking fondly at Mr. Big, right up until he swooped down into the stream and snatched up a baby duck.

Kenai Fjords Cruise

We thought we’d go on a Friday, but when we arrived, were told that the seas were rough and the captain could opt to shorten the trip.  I was bound and determined to see the Chiswell Islands out in open water, so we postponed until the next day.  Sounds like a good thing, since all the kids camping next to us could talk about was how many times they threw up.  That’s probably the thing they’ll be talking about for years to come.

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Holgate glacier from a distance and up close.  Notice the boat for scale.

Toothy chunks of ice at the top of the glacier.  And that big crack in the ice?  That whole piece calved off as we watched.  Sounded like a crack of thunder.  Impressive.

We saw quite a bit of wildlife – sea lions, sea otters, whales, porpoises and my favorite – puffins!  Pat remarked that they seem to really work at that flying thing.  The gulls are gliding around effortlessly and the poor puffins are flapping like mad.

I swear that fatty sea lion scaled a sheer wall right before our eyes.  Look close at the sea lion pile and I think one is cheesing for me.  And puffins!  They look like penguins wearing fake beaks.

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Some Chiswell Island views.  Love the chunky rock islands in the water.

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My sailboat montage.

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A few more cruise favorites.  Loved this ride.  It was rough in the open ocean, but I stood outside holding on to a rail loving the waves.  Misty, rainy, and beautiful.

Grizzly!

So our campground owner comes around one afternoon to show us pictures of a grizzly turning over trash cans and walking right beside our motorhome.  One of the hosts took the shots and apparently was yelling at the bear to scare him away.  Turns out we’re inside the motorhome the whole time oblivious to the unfolding drama.  We’re disappointed, because we would have loved to see a grizzly from the safety of Lucy.

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 The pic from the campground host’s cell phone.  We’re right inside!

Time for Jackson’s evening walk and we go down to the lake as is his custom.  He doesn’t want a drink and in fact, wants to go right back – no meandering.  As we get about halfway back in the woods, Pat says “there he is”.  He also puts a firm hand on my shoulder since he must have known my “oh my God, let’s run” instinct would kick in.  The juvenile grizzly, about 300 pounds-ish, is watching us and likely has been well before we saw him.  We try to act natural and keep strolling and he finally bounds away in the opposite direction.  So NOW we’ve seen the bear and don’t care to see one that close again.  Scary.  Jackson never made a sound so either he didn’t see the bear or he knew the score.

Moose Pass

I know this is getting long, but just one more thing.   We have discovered that Pat looooooves fudge.  A very close second to ice cream it seems.  We made two different stops at the Moose Drop-In, located in Moose Pass, for fudge purchases.  Also saw Morris the talking moose.  They even have “bear scat” fudge here.  Has a few chunks in it as you might imagine.

I’ll leave you with two more pics – favorites I couldn’t leave out.

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The lupines are in full bloom and this patch was in front of the Bear Pass fire station.

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Through the looking glass…..

Next stop – Soldotna.  See you on the way!

Talkeetna

This is the spot where the climbers go to catch a ride to Denali base camp.  Lots of people from all over the world converging here.  We’re not climbers, but the town is fun with shops, decent places to eat and lots of tour options.  As you can see from the banner photo, we chose a river rafting adventure.

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The view of Denali from Talkeetna.  Yet another day with a view of the peak.  We are grateful for one more!

Getting Settled

We’re finding the pace much more fun now that the “getting to” Alaska is done and the puttering about “in” Alaska is underway.  The drive to our Talkeetna campground was only about an hour.  Good thing since I slept until some ridiculous hour of 10:30 or so.  We took our time setting up and remarked at the tight spacing in the campground.  While I’m putting out our shower things we hear a whack.  Yep, a fifth wheel made the turn into a space, and the big back end swung out and smacked Bitsy on the backside.  Fortunately it was the plastic bumper portion which we think must have flexed.  In the end, only cosmetic damage it appears, and another story to tell.  Always something!

Walkabout and Dining Out

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Another sign you don’t see in Florida.  Spotted on our walk around the campground area.

In town, we took Jackson with us to do a little shopping and browsing.  I found a few souvenirs and gifts and marveled at the aurora borealis photos that one of the locals, Aurora Dora, took in the area.  That is the one thing we’ll need to come back for one day.  If not to Alaska, at least somewhere this far North to see the Northern Lights up close and personal.

Also had some good meals here.  The first night I discovered Chuli Stout brewed by the Denali Brewing Company and Pat sampled reindeer meatloaf.  Interesting, but we’re not trading in our normal recipe.  We also met a new RVillage friend at this campground, and invited Ramona to dine with us one evening.  She’s a dark beer gal, too, and I shared my stout find with her.

River Rafting

We weren’t interested in the wetsuit/helmet rafting, but found out we could take a kinder, gentler rubber boot trip down the Talkeetna River.  This is a unique place where 3 rivers converge – Talkeetna, Chulitna, and Susitna.  They call these “braided” rivers with several channels separated by sometimes temporary islands.

Getting our safety instructions from our raft guide, Katelyn.  And here we are doing our best impression of an Alaskan animal.  I’m a caribou and Pat is a bear.

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And away we go!

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A gorgeous departure with an eagle watching us from across the river.

Views of the braided Talkeetna River, the Alaska Range in the distance and the sun breaking through the clouds.  Denali is shrouded in clouds this day.

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Floated by an eagle’s nest and caught one of the eagle pair in flight.

Turns out we only needed boots for this trip and no rain gear necessary.  We did, however, have to remain seated at all times so we didn’t end up in the river.  Many places are pretty shallow, but at 36 degrees, you could only stand it for a very short time.  In fact, our guide noted that the biggest risk for those older and not in the best shape (that would be ALL their tourist customers) is the initial shock hitting the water.  Followed by cardiac arrest!  Our butts never left the side of the boat.  A very relaxing float and we were serenaded midway by a guy that lives in a tent all summer and then in his cabin in the winter with access only by ATV/snowmobile.

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Steve serenades us with “North to Alaska”

Views In And Around

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Love the float planes parked on the lake.  Sounds so exotic to have a place you just fly in and out of.  Floats in summer, skis in winter.

Train trestle with some major driftwood – try drift tree.  Jackson and Pat on the River Trail, Alaska Railroad coming through, Jackson checking out the large tree that the beaver cut down, delicate little bluebells, and Jackson forging ahead on the train trestle walkway.  We waited until the train passed for this part of the walk.

X Marks the Spot

Some great hiking trails just a few miles up the road and we got as far as X Lake.  There is a Y and a Z, but Jackson didn’t quite have the fortitude for those trails.

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These lakes are completely unspoiled.  Nothing on the shore and no sign of people at all.

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X Lake

All along the way we’re surrounded by wings.  Clouds of little black and white “Herald” moths fly up as we walk by.  I feel like Cinderella with the birds flitting around.

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“Heralds” of Spring – hundreds of them!

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Wild Burl

Textures – rough bark, feathery ferns and smooth river rocks

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And what I found to be the most fun.  This time of year in Talkeetna was like being in a giant snow globe.  The Black Cottonwood trees were spreading their seeds everywhere.  They even formed drifts at the edges of the roads.  Everyone was joking that it was snowing.

Odds and Ends

For those of you curious about the wedding ring, yes, Pat still has it.  Although I had to crawl to get it out from behind the car tire at this stop.

I’m still reading “Alaska, NOT for a Woman”, and also “Mind of the Raven” which was recommended by the tour bus driver in Denali.  Did you know that Ravens are big meat eaters?  I did not.  More about both books later.

I promised you a bit about what to do when you encounter a moose or a bear.  If it is a moose, run away and if possible get behind something big.  They’re not predators, and likely just mad and will give up the chase.  Do run a zig zag pattern if being chased.  Sounds the same as the advice for outrunning an alligator.  Glad that learning won’t go to waste.  As for bears, it depends on the KIND of bear.  Black bear?  Stand your ground, make noise and look as big as possible.  If attacked, fight back – bop it in the nose!  Grizzly?  Move away slowwwwwly. Don’t turn your back and no matter what, don’t run.  If attacked, play dead.  Best advice is to make noise while you hike so you never see any of the above.  So I do a lot of talking and Pat provides one word responses.

Next up –  Seward with tales of horses, boats, and a Grizzly encounter.  See you on the way!

The High One

This part of the trip is all about Denali and crossing our fingers that we get to see THE mountain in all its glory.

Nenana

We have a very short driving day to get to our Denali campground, so we take our sweet time.  Right about lunchtime we’re at the little town of Nenana (pronounced Knee + short name for Grandma).  Right before we stop, I’m reading all about their claim to fame – the Nenana Ice Classic.  You buy a ticket and guess the exact day and time, to the minute, that the Tanana River ice will break up at Nenana.  They put a tripod on the ice connected to a clock that stops as the ice goes out.  I know it sounds hokey, but the 2017 jackpot was $267,444 and they had guesses from all over the world.  Thousands and thousands of guesses!

So we pays our money and takes our chances as they say.  I’m putting in a ticket for my good friend Barbara and Pat is entering ours.  The date range from past years is April 20th through May 22nd, so I picked Ethan’s birth date and time – 4/25 at 12:36pm.  We’ll be watching that river cam in 2018!  And Yes, Pat’s head is chopped off.  I’ve been trying to figure out the issue with some of my pictures.  Well, the ones on my cell phone seem to creatively crop themselves when I transfer them in a smaller size.  Dang new phone.

A really cute town and RV friendly.  We could park on the road anywhere.  Took a walk around and saw the Nenana bridge over the Tanana River with the ice tripod.  Also had a nice lunch at Rough Woods Cafe and shared the dining room with Earl the Burl.  I tried some reindeer sausage and Pat had sourdough pancakes.  Sourdough is big up here.  In case you didn’t know, a burl is a deformed tree growth.  They are prized up here and used to make mailbox posts and such.

Denali RV Park & Motel

Our campground was a crowded spot right off the road which is being repaved.  The road crew is working 8pm to 8am with huge trucks full of asphalt driving by.  And they are striping the finished sections which means they grind out a strip of new pavement, then follow with a truck spraying in reflective paint filler that looks a lot like marshmallow creme.  We figure we have to listen to it all night, so may as well learn a thing or two.  The road crew guys and gals are very friendly and one gave us a restaurant recommendation while we waited for the pilot car.

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Our friend the pilot car & the asphalt trucks

It is a pretty spot though.  The whole area is gorgeous and we spend a morning hiking behind the campground.

This is Antler Creek and the other shot showcases the fireweed against the mountains.

The tundra makes for interesting hiking.  It’s spongy and Jackson has to get used to how it feels.  Like you are walking on lumpy carpeting with lichen, moss and rocks all mixed in.  Some of the rocks look like marble.

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And the prickly roses are everywhere.  They are bigger shrubs, prefer the riverbanks, and have a very sweet, strong smell.  You smell them on the trail even if you can’t see them.

Denali National Park

We opted for camping outside the park since the campgrounds inside don’t have services.  They do have a great visitor’s center, Wilderness Access Center, and dog kennels for the sled dog team.  The dog kennels were highly recommended, so we took the free tour.

The dogs are Alaskan huskies and aren’t recognized as an official breed since they come in all colors and sizes.  Beautiful dogs.  S’more struck a post for us.  Happy and Cupcake, 2 year olds, enjoyed a little playtime and the ranger loves on their best lead dog who is retiring at nine years of age.

The summer training cart.  I was a little disappointed that they only made one lap for us.  I wanted to see more mushing!  The dogs really want to run, too.  They were described by the ranger as the most enthusiastic government employees you’ll ever meet.

Of course if you want to see anything much in the park, you have to take a bus tour.  The road into the park is only open for the public to drive for the first 15 miles.  We did that, but also took a 6 hour shuttle to mile 56.  You can only go 92 miles in by road, but that is a 12 hour bus ride.  Six hours was plenty in my opinion.

We picked a gorgeous day to ride in the park, but it was the middle of the day and got warm out.  We hoped for a lot of animal sightings, but not so many we think because of the heat.  The views were stunning, so we weren’t disappointed.  But, you really can’t see Denali from many spots on the drive which surprised us.

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Gorgeous Alaska Range

As for the animals, we saw a raven,  two caribou – one faaaar away and one closer.  Pat spotted that closer one and I hollered stop for the bus driver.  Also saw a few ground squirrels, Dall Sheep from even farther away, and mew gulls on the river.  They look just like sea gulls.

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I was happy to see the Dall Sheep, even from so far, since they are one of the reasons that the park exists.  Naturalist Charles Sheldon lobbied for lands to protect the sheep who have hooves almost like suction cups to traverse the steep rocky cliffs.  Today they are up high to escape the heat and predators who are not quite as sure-footed.

A fabulous day for views in the park, but bust as far as large animal spotting goes.  No bear – black or grizzly, and particularly no moose.  But, we have a surprise on Saturday night.  I read that the local Catholic priest holds Mass at the Wildlife Access Center on Saturday evenings and we figure that’s a cool place to worship.  Right before Mass was to begin, the former Park Ranger turned Catholic priest waves us over to the back porch.

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It’s mama moose munching on a tree!  To the left you can see the stilts under the building.  We’re up that high and almost eye level with this big gal.  They weigh almost 1800 pounds!  This time of year they have calves and are all around this area.   Finally get the close view and we’re probably only 30 feet away.  I told the priest it was the best Mass ever.  He says this place is heaven on earth.

Denali State Park.

We’d read that people thought the state park was even better than the national park.  After visiting both, we totally agree.  Of course the national park has Denali, but what good is that if you can’t really SEE it!  The statistic you always hear is that only 30% of visitors ever see the entire mountain.  We were afraid we’d be in that sad 70%, but our weather luck came through and we basked in the mountain views from K’esugi Ken Campground in the state park.  A brand new park, opened less than a month before our arrival, with truly spectacular views of the Alaska Range and Denali.

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Jackson was tired when we arrived, so Pat sat at the campsite while I took a quick walk to an overlook.  Oh my gosh!  I couldn’t believe how beautiful Denali is.  At first a cloud blocked the peak, so I sat on a rock and waited.  In less than 30 minutes I was rewarded with this shot, and these….

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A spiritual experience.  I had a hard time sitting in the presence of the mountain and kept standing back up.  Just majestic, spectacular, stunning and any other grandiose adjective you can think of.  I just read a quote from Robert Service poetry that describes it perfectly.  “It’s the beauty that fills me with wonder, It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.”

We had lunch two days in a row at McKinley View Lodge just down the road.  Fantastic fresh grilled halibut sandwiches and baked goods.  We learned from the first day that you need to purchase your brownies, cookies, cinnamon rolls, 7-layer bars, etc. right away.  If not, a tour bus or two will pull in and wipe them out.  I missed out on a giant cinnamon roll the first day, but we scored on day two.

This spot was the homestead of Mary Carey.  She came to Alaska to teach and write after her husband died.  She said that the National Park was in the wrong place, and the best views to be had were here.  No doubt!  The view off her side deck is spectacular as is the one from the campground and formerly part of her homestead property.  Her daughter regaled us with tales from her mom and convinced me I needed to read Mary’s book – “Alaska – NOT for a Woman”.  I’m working on it now.

K’esugi Ridge Trail

One of the best hiking trails in Alaska and should be on everyone’s “life list” says a website review we read.  We only completed 6.2 miles of this trail, but it was a fabulous 6.2.

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This shot was taken by a kind hiker passing by.  We’re not even to the top yet, but have a grand panorama of the Chulitna River, Ruth Glacier and of course, Denali, which is the Tanaina Indian word for ‘the high one’.

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Denali is the 20,320 ft peak to the right.  Mt. Hunter at 14,573 to the left, and Ruth Glacier flowing in a curve between the two.  The Chulitna River “braids” its way through the valley.

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We hiked down the other side of the ridge to Lake 1787, named for its elevation.  There was a huge beaver dam to the left.  A completely unspoiled, undeveloped lake.DSC00456

The Tokosha Mountains in front of Denali caught our eye.  Like giant teeth rising out of the bowl of snow.

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Another favorite of mine.  Looks like a floating mountain in the sky.  One of the reasons people have a hard time seeing the peak is because Denali is tall enough to generate its own weather.  The park information boards describe it as playing hide and seek with the clouds.

The Day With No View

Of the 3 days in the state park, two of them were stunning.  The other was socked in completely and it drizzled all day.  Days like that don’t bother us, and it gives us a good excuse to get some chores done.  I made a bunch of cards since I have a few special friends with birthdays in July.  Pat read one of his favorite Jim Butcher novels.

We also managed to get some things done on the days with views.  I used gorilla tape to completely seal out the light from the bedroom windows.  Since then I’ve had some marvelous sleep!  Pat on the other hand picked 40-50 bees out of the radiator and installed protective mesh.  He also lubed the slideouts, added water to the batteries and fixed a broken tab on the sewer cap.

If you made it this far I applaud your fortitude.  Long post, but I just couldn’t leave anything out.  Next up is Talkeetna and what to do about bears and moose.  See you on the way!

 

 

 

Arctic Expedition

This was my splurge side-trip.  I had to do some fast talking since Pat was ok with just crossing the Arctic Circle.  Me?  I HAD to get all the way to the Arctic Ocean.  Just had to.

The Options

There are a few ways to do this, and we investigated them all.  You can drive the Dalton Highway, better known as the Haul Road.  Also famous for the show Ice Road Truckers.  It’s a 414 mile gravel road, that was built for the oil industry.  About 160 trucks travel this road daily and anyone driving it in a car is encouraged to carry survival gear.  Given the cracked windshields and flat tires on top of all that, we nixed that route for both Lucy and Bitsy.

You can rent a car, but it is still a significant time commitment and still all that bad road risk.  You can also book a tour to get to Prudhoe Bay, but there are only oil fields there and no Arctic Ocean access.  So, fly we must.  Plus we can get to Barrow, see the Arctic Ocean, and visit the Northern-most city in the United States.

Coldfoot

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The flight leaves Fairbanks around 8am and takes us to Coldfoot, AK and the city closest to the Arctic Circle.  The pilot dipped the wings to let us know when we officially left the Tropics and entered the Arctic.  Here we are at the Coldfoot airfield.  This city was named for the gold rush folks who got cold feet and headed back south.

Fashionable in our headsets to drown out the engine noise and to hear the pilot’s commentary.  I know I look maniacal and you can see up my nose, but that’s the best shot I have.

This trip came with a risk.  We had to have good weather in Barrow to make it all the way.  The pilot took us to Coldfoot to add enough fuel to ensure we could turn around and make it back if the coast took a bad turn.  Todd, our pilot, was constantly checking on weather reports right up until landing.  Fortunately the weather was bad in Fairbanks coming and going, but fabulous in Coldfoot and good enough in Barrow.

Brooks Range

The Arctic Ocean was the goal, but I was completely taken with the stunning Brooks Range.  This mountain range spans 700 miles and was incredible from the air.  These are a few of my favorite shots:

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The last one is a great view of the Yukon River with the Alaska Pipeline and Haul Road running side-by-side and criss-crossing the river.

As we neared the coast, the mountain range gave way to the frozen tundra.  Completely different look.

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Utqiaġvik

Barrow is now back to a variation of its original name.  Inupiats, the native residents, call it Utqiagvik and it involves rolling the ‘g’ when you say it.  We had an Inupiat guide in Barrow and I tried, but couldn’t duplicate her pronunciation.

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The original name means “the place where we hunt snowy owls”.  Phoebe told us they no longer hunt the snowy owl, but it is part of their heritage.

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The native residents still hunt the bowhead whale in Spring and Fall to provide their main food source all year long.  Pat’s telling his big fish tale next to a whale skull.  The community whaling teams go out on the ocean and kill up to three whales at a time.  After that, they call a cease fire so the whales can be butchered and the meat put up properly.  They eat everything except the brains and share it all equally among all the residents.  We’re amazed at how collaborative and tight-knit the community is, but then their lives depend upon that way of life.

We discovered from the town sign-post that we were closer to France than to Florida at this spot!  Pat was amused by the Arctic Pizza place and we made it to the Top of the World Bridge.  No longer in service, but a historic spot nonetheless.

 

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Scenes from Barrow.  They have leftover quonset huts from the military that have been re-purposed for housing.  Also, the houses and the town buildings are on stilts.  We thought it was for flooding, but no.  It is to prevent thawing of the permafrost.  That permafrost is what provides the firm foundation, so no buildings touch the ground.

Arctic Ocean

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And here we are!  I’m grinning like a fool and so happy to have made it to the frozen Arctic Ocean.  I wanted to dip toes in, but it was not to be.  This water doesn’t thaw until around the 4th of July.

The lagoon across from the ocean is home to the “summer cabins” used to hang out on the weekends, and they have their own palm trees made from driftwood and whale parts.

All total, we were in Barrow for about 2 and a half hours.  A short stop, but it’s roughly a three hour flight each way.  Alaska is so vast, and this trip helped us to really understand that firsthand.  We landed and it was cloudy, 31 degrees with light snow flurries.  When we left, the sun was shining and it was gorgeous.  Still a biting wind, but a lovely day in this part of the world.  The pilot said we picked a great day.  Indeed!

The Return

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The return flight was back towards stormy Fairbanks.  Made for grand cloud formations and different lighting to showcase the Brooks Range once again.  Just couldn’t get enough of these mountains.

Jackson’s Big Adventure

This trip involved some risk of weather delays.  The kind that could keep us in the Arctic overnight.  So, we found a great kennel for Jackson for two nights.  Holy Dog Kennels took great care of him.  He hung out with the other “seniors”, got playtime outside, treats, and a manicure.

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They call this the Holy Dog hangover.  I’d say a good time was had by all!

Next up – Denali!  See you on the way!