Thursday, August 31, 2017

Alaska Adventure - Week 2 - Denali!

Friday 8/25 πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦ 

Grande Prairie (pop 68k) is a thriving modern city with every convenience. Milepost Guide directs us to the Centre 2000- their Visitors Center where we are treated to good advice, hot coffee and free wifi while we sit in the tower overlooking a beautiful reservoir right in the City Center. Gas and grocery stop and we're on our way again. Collin clocks in 465 miles of driving today - 8 hours. The scenery is all 2500’ high rolling hills with 6-9% grades. The diminished end of the Rockies comes up on our left (west) toward the end of the day. We turnoff before Fort Nelson at Andy Bailey Regional Park Lake 7 miles in on a newly graded lovely road theu Aspen/Black spruce forest. We are rewarded with a deserted camp, lakeside site, still waters and a sense of joy! It's just warm enough (65 deg) for a possibly last float of this trip . Tonight's float is the Best Ever. Eyes open, a dragonfly flits to and fro as I watch wispy clouds slowly pass by. These daily floats have become my camp showers thus far. I paint a sunset painting, we dine on meatloaf and potato salad from the grocery and end the night with a fire πŸ”₯ -the ban was lifted here yesterday per our CG instructions.  

CG-Andy Bailey Regional Lake between Fort St John & Fort Nelson $17

Saturday 8/26 - Total mileage 2386, 50 hours avg speed 46mph, gas 21 mpg.

Fort Nelson is our first stop where we gas up. Not much to remember this town by. 128 miles later beautiful Muncho Lake where a Swiss family built the Northern Rockies Lodge and operates float plane business. Their son went to culinary school in Adelboden Switzerland and makes a truly fine bowl of broccoli cheese soup with homemade brown bread. 

In the afternoon we arrive at Watson Lake, known for its Sign Post Forest. A photo from 1959 shows five tall sign posts. Today there are hundreds, each covered from top to bottom with town signs (obviously stolen!), license plates, cabin signs, ad signs and signs made just to be hung here. With enough time one can probably find one from wherever one lives. 

 This sunny day continues until we find a pull out before Teslin at Morley Lake. We camp right on the Banks. Collin plays his guitar while I paint a small scene at lakeside. Sunset at 9:15 is colorful. 480 miles today 

Sunday 8/27

We pass thru Teslin and stop later at Swan Haven. No swans now but in springtime this is a major stop over for Tundra and Trumpeter swans as the lake bottom is shallow enough that swans can easily pluck the vegetation from the bottom with their long necks. It is quite the hugely attended spectacle. I spy a lone mallard duck πŸ¦†. Whitehorse (pop 26k), so named for a rapids who foam reminded the namer of a white horses mane, is the capital of Yukon Territory since 1953 when it was moved from the less accessible Dawson City. It is a thriving and enchanting city. A visit to the newly opened Sav On grocery is filled with all the locals. Many are First Nation Indians. The city and its Schwatka Lake were formed by the hydroelectric dam at the south end. Copper, zinc, lead and silver were all mined here. Further on we stop at Five Finger Rapids where conglomerate rock formations create the fingers.

 Onward to Dawson City. Preserved from its gold rush days, the town is a Little Gem. Large two story vintage structures, countless cute shops and eateries, a lot of effort has been put into conveying the spirit of the former gold and mining town. The only way onward is via a 24 hour free ferry across the Yukon. A swift crossing and we immediately pull into the Yukon River CG where we get a lovely riverside site. The ferry is visible from the rocky shore. The panorama photo above shows the ferry on the left and the white spot of our van at the campgrounds on the right.

CG Yukon River CG over the ferry at Dawson City

Monday 8/28

We awake to pouring rain. Not a car wash rain but a mud bath as our road to the Canadian/US border is mostly gravel. We are on the Top of the World Highway - a ridge route in Upper Yukon. It's raining and foggy but still spectacular!

The border crossing is a highlight because of the great customs inspector. He tells us to pull into the inspection zone but really just wants to talk shop with Collin on how he designed and built the van. We enter Alaska with broad smiles on our faces. He shows us photos of the abundant blueberries and cranberries that grow wild everywhere over the tundra. 

Once inside the US, we see hunters everywhere! 13 miles of good pavement abruptly ends and it's gravel, hairpin curves, no shoulders, and potholes all the way to Chicken, AK. Back in the day, one story goes, the people wanted to name the town Ptarmigan but as no one knew how to spell so they settled on Chicken! Three businesses only here - all a combo of cafe, gas, one with RV Park. All have Chicken statues but the winner for creativity is the one pictured here made in Homer AK from the high school lockers!

We are now on the Taylor Highway from here to Tok 96 miles away. We spy a Car Wash sign in Tok while at the grocery. Collin heads there to rinse the mud that is splattered half way up our van while I unsuccessfully try for wifi at the local Alaska Gift Store. We will make it to Fairbanks today and it is now brilliant sunshine and 65 degrees! The Alaska Range is in view and they are grand peaks stretching all along our left (west) vista. Our CG for the night is Fairbanks River’s Edge RV Park US$64. We dine at the Pump House Restaurant on the Chena River. My bacon wrapped scallops are excellent but the Ouster from Seattle I have in a shooter wins the night!

Tuesday 8/29

Creamers Field is a wildlife refuge managed by the Dept of Fish & Game. A former Dairy farm, the barn and its distinctive roof vents make me want to grab my easel. Instead we walk to the wetland ponds, passing fields where Sandhill Cranes are abundant. At the ponds they are joined by ducks and Canada Geese. A mile long boreal forest interpretive trail reveals tree species - white & black spruce, aspen and paperbark popular, willows- mushrooms, and callas, all along the quoking of the cranes accompanies us. It's a chilly morning and lovely experience. All along the way are sign posts with short poems encased in plastic- very good poetry that makes one anxious to read the next.

We arrive a Denali National Park- our end point destination northward. Campgrounds are full but we book the next two nights and a bus ride tour all the way into to Wonder Lake -11 hours!- for tomorrow. We camp right in town at Denali Rainbow RV. The hosts crack me up and I make four trips into the office just to talk with Carl and Charlie! Then it's off to do the 15 mile drive into the Savage River, as far as private cars are allowed. We have a great short hike on the Savage River Loop. Dinner is at The Salmon Bake where the Parmesan asiago crusted Halibut in a lemon cream sauce is a winner!

Wednesday 8/30

Our bus trip starts at 9:15 giving us time to stake a claim on a campsite before leaving for the day. Our guide Glen is knowledgeable, informative and funny. His focus is on driving the eventual single lane dirt road with sheer drop offs. Our job is to spot wildlife. We pick up a raspy voiced Alaskan who ends up getting the whole trip for free but is great at spotting the wildlife! Dall sheep are small white dots up at the very top of the rockiest peaks. We see several lone moose and one with a cub, numerous grizzlies - one mother and two cubs - and ptarmigan who have taken on their winter white just on the lower half of their bodies. We don't see Denali Mountain, however; not a uncommon occurrence. In fact, being able to see the 20,000’ high former Mt. McKinley only occurs an rare occasions. The day before yesterday was one such per an Aussie couple whose guide told them it was only the fifth time all season! 

Denali, the park and the town, is a summer season kind of place. The Park’s season runs May 15 to Sept 15. It appears just about everyone lives elsewhere and heads home two weeks from now. Fall is advancing so rapidly that we can see the foliage colors go from brown to yellow, oranges and reds just during our three days here. our long busride goes all the way 96 miles to Wonder Lake. Even in the clouds the sheer size of the park is astonishing! Permits are available to Summit Denali - in the summer temperatures reach -35 degrees up there! Nooooo thank you! 

Thirsday, August 30

We start the day with a short 2.4 mile hike around Horseshoe Lake just below the town of Denali. Next up we drive out to Savage River again where I paint a pastel 9x12 from the front seat while Collin hikes back further up the river canyon. His timing is perfect, arriving back just as I finish! Tomorrow we will head south where we will have an additional chance to see Denali if weather permits. Then it's onto Anchorage, Homer and the Kenai Peninsula. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Alaska Adventure - Week 1

Friday 8/18

Finding our schedules were free from mid August til November prompted us to take our Bucket List drive through Alaska. The Solar Eclipse is coming in three days so we head for the eastern Oregon Zone of Totality around John Day OR and the Malheur National Forest. At Red Bluff we turn east towards Hwy 395 North. Our first night is by a meadow with Battle Creek running through it just before the town of Mineral. Filled with wildflowers, a fat happy herd of cows is partaking of the feast it offers.  

Saturday 8/19

Lots of smoke in the air today. We're told its from Oregon fires. Lots of cars and campers on the roads but no difficulty in going north.

South of Althuras, CA, we head east on County Rd 64 out of Likely. A short drive takes us to Mill Creek Falls CG. It's a short .4 hike to the lovely Mill Creek Falls. Later we make the 2-3 mile loop around Clear Lake. We are the only ones there which makes it extra special. I take a brief float in the clear waters, snap a few pics and use one later to make a painting of Clear Lake. R1

Clear Lake/Pastel|/8x6

Sunday 8/20

Destination: Malheur National Forest. Southeast of John Day Oregon, the 70 mile Zone of Totality gives us lots of camping choices as free camping is allowed in all National Forests. Good thing because all the campgrounds are full. We find a lovely meadow with a small creek (a crick?)and drive down an obvious cow path. I'm soaking in the crick in no time. During our '0-Beer:30' (thank you Suzi Long for this great expression!), our peace is disturbed by a loud braying. Closer it comes and before is a black bull...and he's pissed! Stomping the ground and bellowing and coming closer and closer. We hold our ground, making soothing sounds and he goes around us. All becomes clear when 20 Minutes later he's back with a cow and calf that straggled behind when the rest of the heard had moved back downstream. 

Monday 8/21 - Solar Eclipse Day

At 10:00 am, we're at the ready with our welding mask lenses in hand. 30 minutes or so into it, the light dims, then darkens to night and the temperature drops +10 degrees in a minute! The total eclipse lasts but two minutes. It is a short period but we were able to see the sun flares around the moon. 

From Malheur National Forest we head north to Ukiah, Pendleton and the Columbia River where it turns from south to west and becomes the Columbia Gorge. At this point traffic is bumper to bumper for miles ahead. Along the River we pull into a small Rec area with a tent sign. We snag the best of the five sites overlooking the beach and swimming area. As dusk arrives the place is filled like a parking lot with other campers pulling out of the backup traffic all the way five miles up to the Washington border and the turn east for Walla Walla. 

Tuesday 8/22 πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ 

We awaken to a red sun rising (great title for a painting!). 

If it's Tuesday, it must be Washington because we traverse the whole state south to north in less than 200 miles. No traffic this morning. Transversing the state of Washington today is only 250 some odd miles. We take time to visit the well done Visitors Center at Dry Falls just south of the Grand Coulee Dam. Thousands of years ago, an ice Dam at the northern end of Missoula Lake in Montana broke. The catastrophic flood waters racing over 60 mph, spread down through Washington carving out the Columbia Gorge, creating the Grand Coulee River and the Wenatchee Valley. Over 40 subsequent floods happened over the next milleniums. All this was not figured out until the 1920 when geologist J Hahn Bretz proved how this was the only explanation for the resulting landscapes! The Dry Falls, during the floods, was over 33 miles wide and the largest waterfall known in our world! Here we posed for a pic together with part of the Falls spread out behind us.

After wandering thru the countryside west of Oroville (Loomis) we stop for the night at a lovely campground on the southern tip of a large lake - Osoyoos Lake- that extends with 2/3 of it up into BC Canada. πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦ I floated at 8:30 pm with a water level view that could have been Lake Como Italy. Gorgeous lake, large waterside homes, and a motorboat that goes regularly from here to Canada- a mere 2miles. 

Wednesday 8/23 πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦ 

Crossing the border into British Columbia is a breeze - a few questions and we’re on our way. We are in BCs spectacular Okanagon Valley. Vineyards and wineries everywhere but more of the land is in apples, cherries, peaches and berries. The Okanagon River/Lake and other lakes run along our east side. I could easily live here or at the least come to stay and paint for several months. At the end of the Okanagon valley is Kelowna, ia major town with high rise apartment and office buildings, lots of parks and every store we know of in US plus all the Canadian ones. With a population of 115,000, the town is just the right size and way livrable.

We continue North on Route 97, then bear west to Kamloops, pop 90,000, much more timber and industrial. It lies on the junction of 97 from the east, the Coquihalla Highway from Hope to the south,, the start of the Yellowhead Highway (our route) headed NE towards Jasper. Eighty miles along our route we run into Wells Gray Provincial Park, known for its many waterfalls. The geology is well explained at Helmcken Falls. Pyramid Mountain was a great volcano encased in an ice cap, whose explosions resulted in the conical - pyramid- mountain we see today. The lava flow took a route which today is the lakes and rivers of the Upper Thompson river valley. Extensive erosion of the lava has resulted in small and large drop offs; thus, waterfalls. 

The park abounds with bird wildlife including osprey, black bears, coyotes, and more. We watch salmon trying to leap up Baileys Chute only to exhaust themselves as it is too long and high to go upward. Worn out they return to a horseshoe in the river where they gather to mate and die. 

Thursday 8/24 πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦ 

We awake to a brief but intense thunderstorm. We dub it our car wash. Heading east now then north on Rt 5 to Valemont. The MILEPOST Alaska book we bought has proven invaluable already as we stop in Valemont at the Swiss Bakery. Authentic Swiss pastries for our lunch and we off to TΓͺte Jaune CachΓ©- pronounced hereabouts as T John Cash. It translates as Yellowhead Storage Cache for furs, Yellowhead referring to a blond trapper who stored his furs here. 

We deviate from the Central Route that turns west to Prince George then north to Dawson Creek . Instead the magnificent Rocky Mountains on our right pull the steering wheel eastward to Jasper, then up and around north and west to Dawson Creek. Excellent call as the mountains make our hearts sing! 🎢 

This route takes us thru Alberta (Mountain Time Zone). We camp at a ‘User Maintained Camp- a sign says it is campers responsibility to keep the camps clean and pack it out. If this doesn't happen they will simply close down the camp. The concept of placing the responsibility personally on the individual is refreshing, tho I fear it would fail fast with our Americans. Tant pis pour nous!

Sunday, August 27, 2017


       Morley Lake in BC | Pastel | 7x5

We are driving big mile days trying to get as North in Alaska as we can before the weather turns cold. We drive 480 miles of beautiful BC and Yukon Territory along the Northern Rockies, 'boondockong' (free camping) along a roadside lake. It's 56 degrees and going down but a warm night attends in our van. Sharing a beer and chips along the Banks, I couldn't resist painting this quick 7x5 of the view. Big skies up here!

Painting Notes: Channeling Karen Margulis' most recent email about being an efficient rather than a fast painter- picking your palette ahead in particular. Pulled out my Analagous Collor Board and picked 8 pastels. Sure enough, the painting practically painted itself once I'd sketched in my big shapes and knew their values.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


            Clear Lake | Pastel | 8x6

Heading up Route 395 thru Northern California, we are on Day 2 of our Alaska Adventure- 5 weeks driving to and from Alaska. At Likely, we head west to Mill Creek Falls Campground. Clear Lake is a short 2 mile hike. We are the only ones at the lake and the light is perfect. There is a loop around the lake, no waterfowl at all!, but we see an osprey fly from one side to the other. The water is clear and warm and I go for a float in it. Then a painting of it!

Painting Notes: My 'Go To' box (to borrow Karen Margulis' term for a small portable pochade) is made up of a plastic contractors proposal box that I've added a hinge to. Inside the 9x12 space is a tray of soft pastel bits and pieces and a small box of NuPastel fragments. This is where my small pices of pastel go for 'retirement' until they are too small to use. They then go into a jar  by color to be ground up and remade into neutrals.

On a personal note, I'm thrilled to have just received notice that I've been chosen to be a Signature Member of California Plein Air Painters! This wonderful organization is dedicated to celebrating  the Plein Air painting experience in our beautiful state. You can check out CPAP at CPAP will be hosting their premiere art event in Yosemite in late September which is sponsored by the Art Renewal Center.