Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ice skating at Nancy Lake State Park

Its almost the end of November and we still don't have snow.  While many are complaining about the lack of snow for skiing there is an upside...the ice skating is great right now.  Today I joined a group of friends and new acquaintances for ice skating at Nancy Lake State Park.  Despite driving past this park many time I have never visited.  I knew the park was good for canoeing with short portages between many lakes.  It turns out the park is great to touring on ice skates as well.  The sun was low on the horizon all day but we were all just happy to be out enjoying the blue skies.  We skated for about 4 hours making a loop that took us to about a dozen lakes.  It was probably the most time I have ever spent on ice skates.  We also saw a handful of people touring on fat tire bikes.  Regardless of the mode of transportation everyone was having a great day.

Monday, October 20, 2014

World Class Mountains

The view south from Mount Baldy
Earlier this fall I heard a radio show here in Anchorage about Chugach State Park. They described the peaks around Eagle River as "world class." First I thought "Really, these peaks?" But as I listened to more of the discussion, I realized that the extraordinary natural beauty and rugged mountains of the Chugach were ordinary to me. They were so close to home and so accessible that I had not really thought about how rare it is to live near such high peaks. Sure, these are only 5000-7000 foot mountains, but they rise from near sea level - they don't sit on a high-altitude plateau like most of the tall mountain ranges of the world. And unlike the towering peaks of the Alaska Range, they are right here on the road system.

The mountains have been particularly spectacular the last couple of days with fresh snow, strange cloud formations, and deep blue skies. I haven't taken any photos because [insert lame excuse] so you'll have to enjoy these photos from earlier in the month.

Looking into Eagle River Valley from Mike High Pass

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cross Family Cabin in October

October is a transitional season in Talkeetna.  Winter felt like it was looming and a thin sheet of ice covered half of the lake yet squirrels chattered noisily in the trees and ducks were feeding in the shallow water on the lake.  We were lucky to ride the four wheeler in Friday evening without getting rained on but heavy rain fell Friday night and most of Saturday.  With temperatures just a few degrees above freezing we kept the wood stove going strong and enjoyed the cozy atmosphere.  I'm looking forward to returning in November on snow machines.

Whipping up some halibut stir fry and dessert too!
I spent some time learning the basics of the Dulcimer.
A thin sheet of ice covers half of the lake
Fresh bear tracks on the trail!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Last hike of fall

I know fall technically just started, but it could be over at any moment in Anchorage. There's only a little termination dust right now, but it won't be long before the snow is on the mountains to stay. We took perhaps our last chance to hike up high on snow-free terrain today after work. It was a little muddy but the late evening light was beautiful. We've had a streak of spectacular weather so I won't complain too much when it does finally snow.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Bears in Denali

 We were more than lucky with bear viewing when we drove the Denali Park Road last weekend. When we started heading into the park, we first saw a sow and two cubs way up on a hill which was cool enough. Then we saw this very dark grizzly close to the road and thought we were pretty special. Once it started to realize how many cars had stopped to watch it eat blueberries, it decided to head the other direction.

A few miles later we passed some people stopped at a pull-out with tables and a big picnic lunch set up. A few minutes later we stopped to see this nice round medium brown grizzly. It only lingered on the tundra for a few minutes and then lumbered down onto the road right in front of our car and walked by us.

The bear continued walking down the road like nobody was watching (or like it enjoyed performing) toward the people having a picnic. Once we drove away we could see that they had packed up and were pulling away, I'm sure in a hurry.

After a few more distant bear sightings, just as it was getting dark we saw this bear at the same place we had seen the dark grizzly earlier in the day (this is definitely a different bear). It foraged around near the road for quite some time, then crossed the road and continued foraging along the other side. A great end to our day!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Denali Road Lottery Round Two

Denali from just before the Eielson Visitor Center
Ryan won a road lottery ticket for Denali National Park this weekend (usually the road is only open to buses but for four days in September they open it up to private vehicles via a lottery system). This is the second year in a row I've gotten to go (my cousin had a ticket last year). We rented a minivan and headed up there with my cousin and two friends from Anchorage. We got pretty lucky with the weather. Even though the fall colors were a little past their prime (unlike last year) it was warm - in the high 50's and it didn't rain on us. It was very windy in places, especially the second night at our campground, but our tents withheld the wind fine.

We saw bits of the mountain which is pretty lucky because one only has a 30% chance of seeing it on any given day in the park. We were also very lucky with wildlife viewing but I will save that for the next post. For now, here are some scenery shots.

Polychrome area

Late evening sun

Denali from the Eielson Visitor Center

A peek at Denali entering the park

That's Denali in the background, I swear

Monday, September 8, 2014

More Serpentine Hot Springs Photos

I'm still reeling from the thrill of our flight seeing trip. I haven't done much flight seeing per se, but I've been across a lot of the state in small planes and helicopters for various jobs. The landscape around Serpentine Hot Springs is right up there with some of my favorite parts of Alaska. I try not to make lists of places I have to see in my lifetime, I prefer to enjoy what I do get to see rather than focus on what I might or might not ever visit, but this is a place I most definitely will add to my very short list of places I need to spend some time.

The bunk house

The hot pool which was just barely boiling when we were there

The new bath house built by the park service last year

The tub!

A herd of musk ox near Deering

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Quick trip to Sitka

I took a quick work trip to Sitka this week.  The survey went smoothly so I ended up with a half a day to be a tourist.  Sightseeing in Sitka is fun; there is lots of history because Sitka was an important and early city for the Russians in Alaska.  Of course the Tlingit people had been in the Sitka area for thousands of years prior to Russian contact.

The weather cooperated and I was lucky to have chartered a good boat with a great captain for the project.  The survey site was actually about an hour boat ride west of Sitka at Biorka Island. We got to see a bit of Sitka Sound on the transit there and back.  The captain also showed us his house which is on a small private island only minutes from Sitka.  Surprisingly this is actually a common around Sitka as there are dozens of small beautiful islands.

On final approach for Sitka

Bridge to the airport (i.e. an Alaska bridge to Somewhere!)

Historic building that served as the living quarters for the staff of the first permanent geomagnetic observatory in Alaska

Our chartered survey boat

The island and house owned by our boat captain

Berry Picking Summary

We have had an amazing season for berry picking.  Recently I was thinking about how many different type of berries we have picked and came up with this list:

Salmonberries (From Kodiak)
Blueberries (From Eagle River, Kotzebue, and Sitka)
Highbush Cranberries (Eagle River)
Currants (Eagle River)
Crowberries (Eagle River)
Watermelon Berries (Eagle River)

It's no wonder our freezer is overflowing.  Soon we will start preserving the fruit into jams and jellies that will be enjoyed all year.  Not only do we get to enjoy the fruits of our labor (pun intended), but we have great memories from the experience.  Another perk is that we usually end up with enough for gifts to share with family and friends.  Here are a few more photos from picking this season.

Blueberries near home

Sitka blueberries

Watermelon Berries

Serpentine Hot Springs

On my last day in Kotzebue three of us decided to splurge on an end-of-a-very-long-field-season gift to ourselves - a flight seeing trip to Serpentine Hot Springs in Bering Land Bridge National Preserve on the Seward Peninsula. Nothing about this flight seeing trip disappointed - the weather was absolutely perfect, the scenery was stunning, wildlife cooperated, and the destination was a hundred times more beautiful than I had imagined (even though I'd seen pictures).

Serpentine Hot Springs is remote, but it has a gravel landing strip, bunk house, and a new bathhouse with pipes bringing hot and cold water into a pool inside. We only stayed for an hour, but we got a long-enough taste to be very very happy (and to know we have to come back and spend a few days another time).

I read an article recently on NPR about how money can buy happiness when it is used to buy experiences, rather than things. That sounded like a good excuse to go flight seeing. I don't think our memories (and photos) will let us down.

The view from a hill near the hot springs

three very blonde  grizzlies