Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Alaska Adventure - Week 4 - Glaciers!

Friday, Sept 8

We start the day driving further down the Nabesna Road just to see Wrangell Park more fully. Back on the Glenn Highway 1, we gas and grocery up in Tok, then take the Alaska Highway south towards Haines Junction. We've had two nights of close to freezing and the foliage is brilliant in its yellow, oranges and the fireweed reds. We take a side route out to the large Mentasta Lake only to find it is all Indian land and they offer no access to even a view of the lake against the lovely bowl-like backdrop of mountains. I do get a photo of their very colorful cemetery. 

A highlight of today's travel is a visit to the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, classified as an Important Bird Area, a habitat for migrating sandhill cranes and trumpeter swans as well as nesting area for 126 nesting species, some 42 mammals, including grizzlies, caribou, lynx wolves and red fox. 

Leaving Tok, we are 76 miles from leaving Alaska. The US border is again just a series of questions and we are onward. Our entire day is one of spectacular scenery as we have snow capped mountains in the distance with miles and miles of fall foliage, beautiful lakes and occasional moose sightings long the road.  

We are in Yukon Territory once again. Their byline, among many, is 'Yukon - Larger Than Life'.  We camp at Lake Creek Campground just as a new storm front comes in. I start a plein air painting of the creek but have to finish it inside as the rain begins and lasts most of the night.

Saturday, Sept 9

Eight kilometers from our campground is an authentic Bretagne (Brittany, France) Crêperie. Run by a couple from Lavandrie (sp?), France, The full crepe is filled with ham, eggs, two cheeses and sun dried tomatoes. It is too large for me to finish! They have made a delightful little bakery/Crêperie/eatery. 

It's another day of full-on fall foliage. We're blessed with most of it in the sun. We stop at an Interpretive Trail on the spruce beetle infestation. It is well-done and I find myself additionally attracted to the mushrooms and polypores along the way. Pictures here are (I think) a hawk-wing mushroom, a polypore (shelflike tree fungus), a coral fungus and the inside of a squirrel midden hole filled with spruce pine cones for the winter.

We camp along the shore of Teslin Lake. I paint a small 4x9 of the awesome clouds that are moving thru and a patch finally of blue sky that grows as the day ends.

Sunday, Sept 10

Today is a banner day for wildlife spotting! We stop first at Whitehorse to buy supplies and gas, then head towards Watson Lake and the turn off before it for the Cassiar Hwy. This is the coastal route down British Columbia that will take us to Vancouver. BCs byline is British Columbia - the Best Place in Earth! I'd definitely agree it is one of them.

The Cassiar Highway is 450 miles in length. It is surprising to us for being a more narrow road than the Alaska Hwy and the almost complete lack of trucks on it. It is loaded with RVs however, as it is a main passage north. We take both its only turn offs- first to Telegraph Creek and later to Stewart BC/Hyder AK. 

The road to Telegraph Creek is where we have our most wildlife sightings of the trip! It is a pretty deserted road that goes out to a First Nation Village. Along the way we spot a red fox, a lynx, two caribou, and several mountain goats. It's dirt road all the 69 miles out, much of it paralleling the Stikine (stick-keen’)River. One section is called the Grand Canyon of the Stikine.  That is Collin - the speck in the middle of the photo!

On our return trip out, we camp at the Rest Area that overlooks it. I follow a male goat with the binoculars as he eats his fill on the nearly vertical canyon wall, lays down for a nap or cud chewing (?), then ambles down the wall when it's no longer in sun. 

Monday, Sept 11 - Cassiar Hwy to Glacier Hwy (to Stewart on BC/Alaska border)

Just when I'm thinking the prettiest sights have been seen and we're on our way back to flatter areas, I learn that BC again surprises, delivering us a True Highlight of our trip! We turn off the Cassiar Hwy to head 40 miles west to Stewart BC and its sister hamlet of Hyder, Alaska. Hyder is the most southern Alaskan town reachable by road. Stewart has 700 some souls while Hyder only 100. There is a Canadian Border stop when returning from the further west Hyder. Driving down Bear Creek Canyon to get there, a sign informs us we are on The Glacier Highway. No kidding!! There's a glacier coming right towards us every few miles! Waterfalls cascade even more frequently! 

Stewart is a tidy little town and major port as the 90 mile fjord called Portland Canal reaches it. It boasts of being Canada's most northerly ice-free port. Hyder Alaska is a blink of the eye and a stop at Carolines for some homemade fudge. Nearby is the Misty Fiords National Monument Wilderness. 

Caroline tells us about the Fish Viewing Platform a few miles up, the the Salmon Glacier 20 miles further on dirt road. The road leads to several mining sites - the Premier Gold Mine, onward to the Salmon Glacier, and on to the Granduc Copper Mine. The glacier is breathtaking in its size and beauty. The road continues to a summit viewpoint where you are looking down at it! 

Yes, that is a guy standing at the summit…flying a drone over the glacier! He's shooting for potential sales to movie companies. Three movies have been filmed in this area- no small wonder as its landscape is a bit otherworldly. I love the alpine nature of it!

Tuesday, Sept 12

We awaken to a clear morning in a magical center surrounded on all sides by mountains and glaciers. The wind was fierce last night but served to sweep all the fog away. We are 50 miles from Hyder Ak, well onto BC. The site is the Granduc Copper Mine tho we are not certain if it is still active. The camp below us consists of four barrack-like buildings and all sorts of concrete structures built into the hillside. Our limited maps show the road ending there but we find it continues on as far as our eyes can see. It's purpose? Very possibly it was constructed to install and service the huge electrical towers that is running electricity down to Hyder and Stewart.  

Both towns were first built on pilings across the marsh. We find a photo of what it looked like all those years ago. Hyder/Stewart area is definitely a new ‘bolt-hole’ for me - a place I'd gladly run away to for a week or a month to live and paint to my hearts content {probably not in winter!}  

We head south again along the Cassiar Hwy, then turn west towards Prince Rupert. At sunset tonight, I went out the campground to the boat launch at Prudhomme Lake Provincial Park. There a truck had pulled onto the small island just by the boat ramp a day or two ago. Yesterday it poured and the lake rose 4-5 feet leaving the truck stranded on the island. It was quite a scene to watch four men and a winch trying to pull the sunken truck out of the mire. I do not know that they will be successful without a tow truck to life it up but they certainly have small chance of it tonight. Brings to mind the Darwin awards.

Wednesday, Sept 13

We head for Prince Rupert which has a lovely harbor in Cow Bay. The black and white Holstein pattern is played up but not to a ridiculous point. 

The Visitor Center and Port Interpretive Center is my savior as I've had no phone service since entering Canada. A call to Sprint on Collin’s AT&T has the technician resetting something from her end and giving me some helpful pointers. And voilà, I am again connected. Having rental properties, it is always scary to be too long away from being connected as any landlord well knows! Lucky me, all is copacetic and I find out I have gotten in a great show in Yosemite beginning September 30 with California Plein Air Painters, a great organization with which I've just gotten Signature Status!  I'm delighted and also concerned as to when we will get home and I will have to hand deliver the paintings to Yosemite, some three hours away! Like Scarlet, ‘I'll just have to think about that another day!’

From Prince Rupert we are headed east along the Yellowhead Hwy once again. First we visit Port Edward just a few miles away where they have an Historical Cannery that they have preserved. We spend an enjoyable hour walking thru the cannery, the boardwalk with the staff houses and bunkhouses, general store, and machine shops. It was quite the international venture. At one end lived the Japanese who are the primary fishermen along with some of the First Nation people at the other end. They have net lofts where the yards of nets are stored. It only operated in the spring/ summer/ fall. In spring a boat load of Chinese would arrive with their rice and piglets. These families worked the cannery, unloading the fish off the boats, gutting the fish and sending the salmon through the ‘reduction’ machines. The end product is the canned salmon we know today. Europeans were the supervisors. In winter, the whole thing would close down and everyone disperse except for the watchman who was entitled to one of the few houses there. All is on piers and has painstakingly been restored. Worth the visit!

Thursday, Sept 14

We cover a lot of miles today traveling from Prince Rupert thru Prince George (448 miles) then turn south for 74 miles and east to Bowron Lake Provincial Park. This unique park is a canoe/kayak circuit of 72 miles which normally takes 5-10 days. There are campsites all along the route and a few portages. The parking lot is packed; it is interestingly we are the only overnight campers at the CG start-everyone else is out making the circuit.

Thursday, September 7, 2017


     Liberty Falls | Pastel  | 12x 9 (unfinished)

I was sound asleep when he pulled onto the road that said Liberty Falls. A short downhill and we could see a bridge, then the falls cascading down the rocky crags. On the other side of the bridge was a picnic table, a fire pit and the number 5 on a tree.  Even tho it was only 2:30 pm and we'd been planning a long drive to Chitina and McCarthy, AK, we know a great campsite when we see it. Collin went off to climb the falls and bushwhack across a ridge returning hours later while I was still rapt in painting on the bridge. I didn't finish the painting as time disappeared in the pursuit but I knew I would...because I love the scene and the moments there. This is why I paint en plein air.

Painting Notes:  It was perfect conditions for plein air until 2 hrs into the painting when 'see-ums' enveloped me and nipped at every bit of skin showing. No idea what they are but they sting like 'no-see-ums' only they are 1/8" and see-able...and feel-able!  Sometimes nature tells the plein air painter when to put it away.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Alaska Adventure - Week 3 - To Anchorage & the Kenai Peninsula

Alaska Adventure - Week 3 - To Anchorage & the Kenai Peninsula

Friday, September 1 - Labor Day Weekend

Great call to Norrie & Barbara this morning who live in summer in Soldotna on the Kenai Peninsula where he is a fishing guide. The rest of the year they live in Sequim WA along with Bernie & Janet, our dearest friends who gave us their number. I wrote down every recommendation and we immediately determined our route today would not be the 237 direct paved miles to Anchorage but rather 354 mile eastward loop that starts at Cantwell, 27 miles south of Denali Park. The first leg is called the Denali Highway (Rpute 8) and is 136 miles of which only the first 3 from Cantwell and the last 21 into Paxton are paved. It is gorgeous scenery the whole way. We have astonishing views of the Alaska Range is on our north left and the Talkeetna Range to our south right. It is officially fall in my book as the aspen are golden, the willows orange and the fireweed flaming red! The road will closed a month from now for the winter.

Even more astonishing is the vast number of hunters/ATVers who are camped everywhere along this road! We stop for tomato soup and cheesey bread lunch overlooking Clearwater Lake.

At Paxton we head south for 70 miles on the Richardson Highway. The Wrangell Mointains are in front of us. Mt Drum rises 12,000 feet and dominates our landscape. Two other peaks are higher - Mt Wrangell at 14k and Mt Sanford at 16k but Drum is off to the side and closer so it pulls your eye to it.

We overnight at Dry Creek BLM CG. Almost deserted. Guessing that part of the hunting culture is to boondock- Alaskan word for free camping. A trail in the campground takes us thru the woods by what was an old extension of the camp sites. We encounter several large squirrel middens - mounds at the spruce bases that are deep with pine cone bracts. Numerous holes lead down under to their caches that will get them thru the winter. It looks like there are seven or more squirrel nest up the surrounding trees. 

Tonight I paint a sunset painting from a photo I took several days ago while in the Yukon. The bright colors at 8:12 pm are all natural - not due to fires or smog. I'm intent on doing a daily painting for the September Challenge at #stradaeasel. I love my Strada which I've adapted to hold my pastels. 

Saturday, 9/2 - Total miles so far - 4262, avg mpg 20.5

Quick walk around Campground starts my day, trying to stretch the kinks out of my hips. Five ptarmigan are hanging out there.  

We immediately turn west at Glenallen heading for Palmer and Anchorage. Palmer is the site of the Alaska State Fair which opened yesterday (it’s Labor Day Weekend). We skip it especially after seeing the line of cars waiting to get near it. We have the Chugach Mtns to our south (L) with which we instantly fall in love. Days later a movie at a Visitors Center tells us they were named by the Natives as the glacier that is now Prince William Sound receeded. Out in their kayaks, they spotted the dark rocks of the mountains now exposed and said ‘Chu-ga! Chu-ga!’of - Hurry! hurry! (as opposed to the more recent chant at local saloons and frat parties of Chuga! Chuga!).

In Anchorage, we visit a HUGE Fred Meyer Superstore for groceries and liquor which they contained inside a separate store within a store. Gas and a drive thru town and were on our way into the countryside again. Neither of us is a city-person; in fact last year we drove from mid Canada all the way to Nova Scotia and only stopped in Quebec Old City! Sometimes if there is a great gallery/museum, we will venture in town; for the most part, I'd call us nature lovers, always preferring the natural landscape to the man-made ones. Alaska is ideally suited for us as the towns are either small hamlets (Whittier), long spaced out businesses each with a separate driveways (Anchor Point), or large sprawling modern towns with every store and corporation one will see in the lower 48. 

Inspired by the Ptarmigan sighting and a book I bought in Chicken ‘Tisha’, the true story of a 19 year old Coloradan , Anne Hobbs, who took a teaching (‘T-sha’) position in Chicken back in the 1920s. She fell in love with a ‘half-breed, adopted two native children and eventually married her love despite the racist bias she faced for doing so. Her story enrapts me every night! Tonight I paint a Ptarmigan from a photo I took in Denali of one roadside where they are half way thru their molt to all white from their summer brown/black feathers.

Leaving Anchorage still on Route 1 which is now called the Seward Highway, we turn east to Portage Glacier. This too is a magical place.- another side of Chugach National Park . From what I can deduce from the disjointed maps I'm looking at, most of Chugach is composed of Glacier fingers extending down from a great frozen glacial top. We camp up the Portage Glacier road with Columbia Glacier above us and visible from our campsite! Further exploration reveals so many Finger glaciers extending down - Portage being the largest- that we quickly know we won't be able to keep up with all their names unless we were to spend several days here.Collin rides his bike several miles to the Begich,Boggs Visitor Center. Hale Boggs was the Speaker of the House back in 1972 and flew up into this area with new Representative Nick Begich of Alaska. Their plane disappeared, most likely from wing ice, and has never been found. We decide to spend more time there tomorrow.

Sunday 9/3

Outside the center is architecturally interesting. Inside, it is a wonder. Our Golden Age Pass gets us into the inner core for free (It's Good to Have a Golden Pass!) where we watch an excellent movie followed by a really well thought out presentation that melds the people, the place, its flora and fauna and its history into a compact story. I left satisfied and still curious- a perfect amalgam! 

Wish it wasn't rainy and gusting as our plan was to hike either to the base of the Byron Glacier or on the Portage Pass Trail up 750’ in elevation. Instead we paid $13 to take the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel thru the Mountains to Whittier, a ‘hamlet’ at the end of Prince William Sound. It is the longest tunnel in North America!- 13,200 feet long! And it shares the one skinny lane with a railroad track. The queue is like a ferry queue with vehicles lined up by size. Collin gets a bit claustrophobic going thru it but at last we see the daylight at the end of the tunnel. 

Whittier is confusing as the road and the huge parking lots road stripes make one think they're in line for the ferry across the Sound rather than heading to the end. 293 people are considered permanent residents of Whittier and one half of them live in a big ole ugly high rise there - a ‘Bauhaus’ design to which bad paint choices have been added to spice up it's blocky nature. A visit into one of then log shack businesses results in meeting a woman who lived for many years in our Tahoe area and now has been a permanent resident of Whittier for many years. She tells us the winters get down to only 25-35 degrees- Heck! We have a few days at a time at that every few years in Sacramento! Once again, the ocean proximity mitigates the severe temperatures of the adjacent inland where winters run MINUS 25 - 35 degrees. Next stop is at the Stillwater Cafe where I have Peel & Eat shrimp appetizer. I compliment the owner on them and she tells me they are from the Sound in front of me and that she never steams them until they are ordered. Small, they come in a cup with about 50 in it, covered with Old Bay Seasoning! My best meal of the trip yet! The cafe interior is in photo above.

A trip back thru the tunnel and we are on our way again to Homer. In Homer we choose a campground up above the town with a lovely view of the Kachemak Bay. It's raining and we spend the rest of the evening in our cozy van Sadie. 

Monday, 9/4

In Homer, the Spit is the most happening place. This man-made spit extends a couple of miles/ halfway across the bay until it reaches deep enough water for Homer’s Harbor. Lots of restaurants and tacky shops where I find the prices for ‘gift’ items to be double to triple what I've seen on the way here.

 As a Ranger put it yesterday at the Portage Glacier Nature Center, the costs are super high here because most businesses have to make their full years wages in just four months of summer. Housing prices in Homer are relatively affordable - 2200 sq ft nice home on large +1/2 acre lot for low $300s; everything else is expensive!

We drive out to Lands End which is up to the end of Kachemak Bay. Beautiful homes all along the way until the pavement ends the last few miles. There, all street signs are complex Russian names. Apparently Voznesenka is a Russian settlement and one has to be Russian to own or live there. The road heads down down down to another small settlement (sounds like Sea Low?) but it is strictly a four wheel drive/ATV road as it is a scary descent! On a switchback that faces the Bay we execute a turn around. Our van slips for a ways and we backup. Another time when I am so relieved to be with Collin above all others! He's glad he didn't have to get out and put chains on in the thick mud we are in (it rained all night).

Back along the Spit, Oyster signs beckon me everywhere. Not so for Collin, so I head into a great seafood market/ oyster bar. The guy shucks them right in front of me! The platter, the bar, the guy, the taste- it's a permanent photo in my mind as indelible as a scene I paint! 

Leaving Homer to head for Seward (173 miles), we keep a lookout for the Gallery of a famous artist Norman Lowell, that Norrie told us about. Up a road we turn in. Once again , I'm astonished! Norman is 89 and has been painting his whole life. After teaching art in Anchorage for many years, he and his wife Libby bought property on the Kenai where he built a rustic log cabin for them. Over the years, the cabin got bigger as did the family now of four. Norman created everything from the sale of his art. The HUGE state of the art gallery goes on and on. Some of his paintings get as large as 7’x14’!- and go for upwards of $40,000! All mediums are represented - his earlier 1960-1990s works include luscious pastels, soft yet dramatic! We talk to his son for a while. He gives me a DVD of interviews with his Dad. I look forward to watching it.

We drive the 183 miles to Seward where we stay in the huge campground on the water right in the front of downtown. We are in Resurrection Bay along with a Norwegian Cruise boat. They leave the harbor after dinner around 8:30pm while it is still light.

Tuesday, September 5

Seward is filled with very well done murals and wood sculptures!

It is pouring rain all this day which matches my mood! I awoke during the night with the beginning of a diverticulitis attack. I'm immobile all day which suits our driving almost all the way to Valdez - 9 hours and way over 400 miles. Fortunately we have already seen the spectacular scenery of the drive except for a few turn offs (Hope and Alyeska Ski area/Girdwood). We turn south at Glennallen and find a lovely streamside campsite at Squirrel Creek State Park. We're asleep by 9 for 11 hours. We both seem to have a natural rhythm of sleeping far longer hours than back at home. Must be the clear mountain air!

Wednesday, Sept 6

South to Valdez, scene of the disastrous Exxon Valdez oil spill. Collin remarks that our rainbow 🌈 this morning ends at the bay of oil! 

We stop at the Worthington Glacier. It has the best information boards on All Things Glacial. Waterfalls plummet off the sides of it.

Waterfalls are everywhere. Yesterday and today's rains have added even more water to them.

Valdez is the terminus of the 800 Trans-Alaska Pipeline that begins in Prudhoe Bay due North on the Arctic Ocean. All the pipeline related activities take place across the bay from Valdez. In town we see mostly commercial fishing related activities.

The drive back up the Valdez is as beautiful as the drive down was. At milepost 82, we turn ESE to drive down to Chitina (chit’ na) and onward on bumpy dirt road towards McCarthy. 

Along the way, we turn into Liberty Falls and come upon a campsite right at the base of the falls. It is so lovely that at only 2:30 pm we decide we must stay the night here. Collin goes off bushwhacking, waving to me at the top of the falls while I paint the falls from the bridge.

Thursday, Sept 7

We are driving my alongside the famed for its salmon Copper River. The braided river extends across a wide valley and is full of water. this is moose country and the moose hunting season is in full swing. Still we run across moose along the road and in a lake just before Chitina.

In McCarthy, we park and walk the 6/10 of a mile to the hamlet. 

The McCarthy Bistro is known for its fine dining and is mentioned in the Michelin Guide! Their dinner menu is highly inventive! wish we could stay for dinner!

We pay $5 for the shuttle to Kennicott and it's once famous copper mine right at the end of the Kennicott and Root Glaciers. We eat a hearty beef stew at the Kennicott Lodge, sitting on the porch looking down at the gravel moraine in front of us.

We drive the 59 miles back to the Richardson Highway 4, then turn NE onto the Glenn Highway 1 to head for Tok once again. Half way there, the Nabesna road is the only other entrance besides Chitina into the Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve. An RV Park is in line for tonight and we are the only ones there for the four sites. A writer and his bronze sculptress waive Don and Mary Francis DeHart have created a lovely place. A hot shower and high speed wifi allow me to catch up with my blog and the posts… finally after over 2 weeks with almost no phone service! It's been blissful to not hear any news about our abysmal president!