Friday, July 22, 2016

Grand Circle Tour - Alaska Style

June 21, S.D. and I arrived in Tok with two and one half  weeks to spare before we started our volunteer gig at Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. After spending two days checking out Deadman Lake, the campground where we're now hosting, Dave took a two day chainsaw certifcation coures and I went rafting down the Tanana River. That left two weeks, and all of Alaska to explore.

Alaska is big, really big.  It was only after pondering a loop drive of over 861 miles along most of the major state roads and then realizing that those roads only provided access to the relavitely small southeast corner, that we got an idea of just how big.  No matter how much time you have, a car isn't going to get you everywhere.  On the other hand, where it will get you is still pretty awesome.  People ask how would you describe Alaska and I'd say, it's the kind of place where you can point out a nesting pair of bald eagles to a local and they'll show you four more.  A place where massive mountains,  glaciers, meadows, rivers, moose, eagles, bears, salmon, and frost heaves are common, everyday occurances.  A place where wilderness and weather still run the show and people are just a very small part of the whole.

The Circle Tour itself progressed as follows:

 Drove south to the Wrangall St Elias National Park and Preserve. --Huge mountains, glaciers, snow fields, moose

 Continued south to Valdez. --Took a tour boat, the Lu Lu Belle, out into Prince William Sound. Spent 9 hours looking at Humpback whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, eagles, and a hugh glacier - that calved less that 1/4 mile from the boat.  We also saw a black bear climbing out of a dumpster and began to get the idea of just how casual Alaskians are about bears, and bears are about Alaskans.  The bear was in a dumpster at the shooting range!

 Then west to Palmer/Anchorage -- Spent a night feeding mosquitos outside the small town of Glennallen before heading Anchorage.  Aside from an abundance of stores selling furs and ulu's (curved, native american knives) the big city was unsettling similar to other U.S.cities.  We stocked up on groceries, beer and wine and headed back out as soon as we could.

 North to Denali National Park - The road between Anchorage and Denali is probably the best road in Alaska. Still mostly two lanes, it's relatively frost heave and pot hole free!  We spent three rainy days in Denali and never did get to see the mountain.  Still it was very beautiful and we got up close and personal with a moose.  Also took a Ranger-led discovery hike off into the tundra. 7 hours of wading through bogs and streams out into the wilderness.

 Further North to Nenana - Spent the 4th of July in a very small town and joined in the local celebration.  They closed down mainstreet, a whole blocklong, and everyone watched as the kids, then adults participated in three-legged, potato and tricycle races,  along with a 'shoe scramble' and other competitions.  "One dollar for the winner, fifty cents for second place, everyone gets a quarter."  And everyone else enjoys the day immensely.

 Still further North to Fairbanks - Fairbanks is pretty cool.  There is LARS, the large animal research center where they raise and study caribou and musk ox. The two month, and two year old musk ox are adorable, and weighing only 200 and 500 pounds respectively, the largest cute mammals in North America. (That's on the official Kelly Cuteness Hyperbole Scale)

 East again, through North Pole, Delta Junction and back to Tok - Stopped at Santa's Workshop and 1960's-style tourist trap. Took a photo, left. At Delta Junction we toured the Alaskan grain belt. The area raises barley and most of Alaska's feed.  It also is home to two Buffalo herds and a Yak ranch.  Naturally the dinner there serves Buffalo burgers...and they were awesome. 

 Back through Tok and onto to Deadman Lake - Tonight we'll be cooking up the Yak steak we purchased in Delta Juction. 

The Circle Tour complete,  it's good to be 'home' for a few months.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Kelly's First Fish

Me and my fish
Perhaps I've been reading too many books about life in the Alaskan tundra. 

Dave took me fishing Sunday and the first ever fish I caught and gutted turned out to be a female with eggs.  The eggs looked just like sushi roe, so I ate it. Straight from the fish.  And it was good!

 Primitive response aside....Yay! I caught a fish,  three in fact.  One we let go because it was too small,  but the other two,  along with Dave's three are on the dinner menu tonight. 

Dave's been showing me the ropes, or should I say lines (ha, ha) for the past week. First was casting where he risked and did get hooked a few times.  Then there was the 'bail incident' where for some reason the line got wrapped up inside the spindle thing. And then there was just a day of not catching anything. But today made up for all that.

Dave at the Hidden Lake Trailhead
For fishing folk, the fish are rainbow trout and we used a "meps 5 spinner."  For non-fishing people this whole thing is like learning about a previously unknown piece of the world. There a special rods, and reels, and lots and lots of different thingees you put on the end of the line to attract different fishes. Then you have to know what lakes they tend to hang out in, or were stocked in. For instance it was Hidden Lake where we went fishing and where the state of Alaska stocks rainbow trout. 

Winning form
Even if we didn't catch any fish it would have been a lovely morning as Hidden Lake is a 1 mile hike into the taiga forest.  We hiked through huge patches of ripe blueberries and mats of ripening red cranberries. The wildlife refuge leaves a small john boat on the shore and it's perfect for getting out...and catching fish... just like an Alaskan, just like real fishermen.

Camp Hosts in Residence - Deadman Lake

Clouds on the Lake
We're here and all settled in as Volunteer Camp Hosts at Deadman Lake.  After we get into our routine I'll write up a few posts about the last three weeks and the Great Circle Tour of Alaska.

But for now, a few thoughts on Deadman Lake. First of all, the name.  As far as anyone around here can recall they do not know why it is called Deadman Lake.  During our time in Alaska however, we've noticed that places are either named after things, or represent some super-literal, super-obvious description of the place.  Beaver Creek has a giant beaver lodge,  Eagle City has lots of eagles, Copper Creek has copper.  I wouldn't be surprised if someday there was a deadman here, and that happened to be the day they named the lake.

 Name aside,  Deadman Lake is lovely,  typical tiaga-area lake.  There's a beaver lodge (two in fact), one nesting pair of trumpeter swans (they mate for life and establish territory of one lake per couple), eagles, lots of ducks,  and fish.  The shoreline is marsh/bog, perfect moose habitat.  Haven't seen one yet, but there is enough scat to assure us they are around.

Our neighbor - Mr. Beaver
 As far as the campground goes, it's pretty sweet too. Our site is level and high enough from the lake that there aren't hordes of mosquitoes, but close enough that we can easily walk down to the dock/boat ramp....oh, and we have a canoe!  The sites here have no hookups, no water, and no fee.  They do have lovely views, privacy and a chance to be in the Alaska wilderness.  So far this combination has already attracted a very distinct type of camper. After only 4 nights on site we've met a bicyclist from the Netherlands,  two couples, traveling together in old VW vans from Argentina,  an Australian family from Hollywood that filmed themselves swimming in an actually Alaskan lake (it's really kinda warm right now),  an old-school Alberta rancher.  The rest of campers have all been friendly, self-sufficient and very happy to be here in Alaska.

As are we!