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

Monday, September 1, 2014

Red Currant Mother Lode

While on a hunt for high bush cranberries today we discovered the mother lode of wild red currants just down the hill from our condo. At first I only saw a few small plants and thought we'd maybe get a cup or two for a very small but special batch of jelly. Not so! After a few minutes it became apparent that one of us needed to run back to the condo for more containers or bags. We ended up with a gallon of red currants.

I've seen red currants growing wild on mainland Alaska before, but I've never seen them in much abundance. And I've never noticed them before down by the river. There are also tons of high bush cranberries and a few raspberries and trailing raspberries. Living right on a state park, even in a condo, certainly has its perks. And while the lawn maintenance people were mowing the grass around the condos today, I was very happy to be picking berries rather than doing that. The trade off of not having a yard for our lovely view and front-door access to the state park is paying off right now.