Alaska's Winter Horizon

Alaska's Winter Horizon

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Thursday, May 27th

Anchorage has officially become the "City of Flowers". All this week I noticed workers putting fresh new flowers in the beds and hanging baskets along the sidewalks. The seemingly never-ending sunlight will make those flowers quickly fill any barren spots in the soil. It is 11:15 p.m. as I write this and it is still daylight outside. Cars are able to roll down the streets without their headlights on. It won't get dark until about 1.

Check out the pic of me near the grizzly. I may see another live griz this weekend on our trip to Denali. I'm not sure if I'll have internet access but stay tuned because Greg promises some outstanding pictures. This is another adventure on our life-list we can check off. It should be an awesome trip. We are both really looking forward to it, practically chomping at the bits for Friday afternoon.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Weekend Pics

Saturday morning Greg went into work for awhile. When he got off work, we walked in search of a different farmer's market. We must have been a few weeks early because no one was there. I'm really looking forward to those fresh veggies! We then decided to walk the Coastal Trail because we hadn't walked it in a few days. It sure looks different with all the snow gone. As we walked along, Greg spotted 2 Sand Hill cranes. We watched them for a bit and then made our way to the lagoon. Just a few weeks ago we posted pics of people playing ice hockey here. Now, it's all water! We saw many gulls, ducks, and a few geese. It was beautiful there but starting to get a bit crowded for us. Since we were getting hungry by this point, and I was craving a burger, we walked another mile and half to the Carl's Jr. This is like Hardee's in Tennessee. I got my jalapeno burger fix and Greg stuffed himself on 3 double cheeseburgers! We then waddled the two miles back to the room.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Overlook near Eagle River

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After leaving the Nature Center we stopped by Eagle River Wal-Mart. It was a very nice, although smaller, store. For a Saturday afternoon it was a welcome relief to see that it wasn't even crowded. SBF Mindy and I browsed around while Greg took the opportunity to get a haircut. A fine haircut it was, after being several months overdue.

We left the store and headed to a gorgeous overlook Mindy knew of near Eagle River. It was located up a very steep road that would be no fun at all during the winter.

We took several pictures as we could see the Inlet and some mountains from this view. The views were incredible. If you look closely in the picture of Greg with his back turned toward the camera, you can see Mt. Susitna over his left shoulder.

We headed back toward Anchorage and stopped in for some fried chicken at the Lucky Wishbone. This restaurant has been a local favorite since the 1950s. They pride themselves on fresh, never frozen, chicken. The cooking method is called "pan-fried" and it is similar to chicken Moms all over the South cook on Sundays. It is very good but not nearly as good as dear ole Mom's. An admirable Alaskan effort nonetheless. Something Greg and I both found odd was that the fried chicken was served with french fries. Where are my mashed potatoes and gravy?!! All in all, a delightful dinner to end a a delightful day.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Saturday, May 15th, Part 2

Here's a little more info about the Eagle River Nature Center. It is part of the Chugach State Park and is a boreal forest. A boreal forest, also called a taiga, is basically the most northerly forest. It consists mainly of coniferous trees and has dramatic temperature changes throughout the seasons. The winters are harsh and long. The summers are short and dramatic. Boreal forests are often recently glaciated areas. These regions are usually the last areas of forest in subarctic regions before the tundra and the ice caps overtake the landscape. These forests are found in Alaska, Canada, Russia, Sweden, and other northerly countries.

As we took the Rodak Loop, we made our way down into the glacially carved Eagle River Valley. The Eagle River was beautiful against the mountains as it flowed along the valley floor. The river is fed with the melting runoff of Raven and Eagle Glaciers. This makes the water very cold! We meandered back to the Information Center for a final stop.

Check out my hand size as compared to a grizzly's paw!

SBF Mindy was a little under the weather today and had stayed at the center for a quick nap in the sun. I interrupted her snooze on the picnic table so we could head to the Eagle River Wal-Mart to get Greg a much needed haircut.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Saturday, May 15th

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Greg went into work to get caught up and earn a little comp time. After work, we joined SBF Mindy at the weekly Alaska outdoor farmers' and crafts market. Luckily, it is located right across the street from our hotel. Yeah, now that I'm addicted to corn fritters I won't have far to walk and get my fix every weekend!

One vendor played an Alaskan Native flute for shoppers. It was a wooden instrument with a very melodic sound. Had to eat so we got homemade tamales and then this wonderful food called corn fritters. They're deep fried so of course they're delicious. They are made of a sweet batter and served with honey butter. Yum.

I made a few purchases and then we were on our way. Our destination today would be the city of Eagle River. Even though this city is 40 minutes north of Anchorage, it is still part of the municipality of Anchorage. In fact, if it weren't included as part of Anchorage, it would be 1 of the 5 largest cities in Alaska with about 23,000 people. That is what has amazed me about Alaska. The cities are small and, for the most part, far from one another. In fact, there are more people in Davidson county (metro Nashville) than in the WHOLE state of Alaska. We drove 120 miles last weekend and only went through 2 towns!

Our first stop was the Eagle River Nature Center located in the Chugach State Park. Now run by a nonprofit group, the center was once an old lodge/tavern/grill. It was purchased by the Alaska State Parks in 1980. There are 3 yurts and a cabin that you can reserve for overnight stays. They are very popular and need to be reserved well in advance. Didn't hike to them but got some great pics from the Rodak Loop.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sunday, Birthday Trip, Part 2

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We left Exit Glacier turnoff and headed back north on the Seward Highway. We drove on down the road enjoying the splendor on both sides. Today the colors of the many lakes of the Kenai peninsula were more spectacular than even yesterday.

We had to stop occasionally and enjoy the tranquil vistas of the land. As we drove on we noticed crowds of people standing in a river with nets. Knowing it was hooligan time, we pulled over to get a closer look. We walked down the bank of the river and watched for awhile as they netted in the dark water for the small oily fish. Eventually, the high winds of the Turnagain Arm got the better of us and we decided to make our way to Portage Glacier. Unfortunately, the glacier road was still full of snow and closed. We had to settle for a view of the ice-covered lake from the parking area. From the looks of it they have an outstanding visitor's center. Alas, it was also closed but we will come back later this summer when it opens. We took a few photos of the lake and decided to head toward Anchorage. While driving down the highway, we managed to spot a bald eagle perched atop a dead tree in a marshy area. This time we weren't able to get a picture because there were no pull offs in the wet area.

Farther up the road we decided to stop and walk around an area that promised a chance to view wildlife. We hadn't been there over 15 or 20 minutes, when we spotted something moving in the scrub. Knowing immediately it wasn't a moose it ambled near the edge of the brush and we knew it was a grizzly! It skirted the edge of the scrub and open field. We tried to get a couple of pictures from a safe distance. As you can tell by the pictures, they were hurried shots! The bear was beautiful but intimidating even from that distance. We made a hasty retreat to the car but when we looked back the bear had already retreated into the cover of the bushes. Since it was getting late in the day, we headed home. It would have been hard to top the bear sighting anyway and we were tired from 2 action-packed days. Hopefully in a couple of weeks we will be able to do something similar.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sunday, Birthday Trip, Part 1

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We visited the Kenai Fjords Visitors Center this morning. Then we left Seward and drove the 3 or so miles back to the Exit Glacier Road. Left the car in the trail head parking lot and began the 2 mile walk to the Exit Glacier Visitor Center. Greg just had to snap this photo of me leaving the outhouse. Yep, that's right- not a restroom- an outhouse! It did at least have a plastic toilet seat!

We walked around the center and decided which trail to take up to the glacier. We opted for the 2 mile round trip hike. There was a trail that went even higher up another mountain, but it was 8 miles round trip. That trail provided an overlook and access to Harding Icefield. This icefield is 700 square miles! It is one of only 4 ice caps in the world. Since we had other things to do today and we weren't prepared for such a long hike, we took off on the 2 mile round trip hike up the side of the mountain to the side of the glacier.

The trail begins fairly level but was still covered with about 3 feet of snow. About 1/2 mile on the trail, it begins to ascend the mountain. As the snow had started to soften, you had to follow in the packed down tracks of other hikers or risk a deep plunge into the snow. It was a little tricky and I fell down several times. Thank goodness the snow was soft! As we carried on, the trail became steeper and the snow even softer. The only way to possibly know which way you were to go was to follow the footprints in the snow.

The woods gradually became more dense and we tried to become very bear aware. We were on high alert after seeing all the bear warning signs and especially the sign that said to play dead unless the bear began to eat you. Yikes! As we came to the many switchbacks, we tried to talk very loud because surprising a grizzly bear can be a dangerous if not fatal mistake.

We finally made it to the top of the trail and were rewarded with a great view of Exit Glacier. The scenery was breathtaking so we spent quite a while soaking it in and snapping photos. None of the pictures really do justice to what we saw. As the day was starting to get away from us we began to make our way back down the mountain. This was possibly even trickier on the steep parts, at least, than it was coming up due to the slick snowy conditions.

As we watched each step carefully and moved along, we heard a large rumbling noise and looked towards our left at a neighboring mountain. We saw boulders, dirt, and snow crashing down the side of the mountain. We tried to capture the avalanche on film but you really just had to be there to take it all in. We kept going and wound our way back down the mountain and finished the 3 mile walk back to the car. That gave us a grand total of 6 miles hiking today. Bet my legs will be sore tomorrow. We then headed back onto the Seward Highway to finish our trip's itinerary.