Thursday, September 13, 2007
We don't want to end without looking back on one favorite experience: THE ALASKA MARINE CENTER. So, please return in time, before Denali and the Hyder bears, before the the generous fisher people of Haines. During our travels in the Kenai Peninsula we visited Seward and pulled out the big bucks for a visit to the wonders of the Marine Center. Our favorite exhibit was the seabird condo, a multifloor environment with one story of air and 2 stories of water. We wondered, Shouldn't it be the other way around? Nope. The sea birds flew with more power and grace under the water than in the air. In fact, the allotment of water seems thin since some of the birds are able to soar 600 feet below the surface. These pictures feature two of the exhibit's stars: the rascal with yellow side burns is a Tufted Puffin and the dapper gents perched on the rock are Commen Murres.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 10:42 AM
Finally, on Vinnie's birthday August 30 we decided to stop exploring and start making miles toward Atlanta. He began driving 12 to 14 hours a day and in 3 and a half days we traveled 2,980 miles to find ourselves lost and disoriented in Atlanta. It all looked strangely familiar.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 10:41 AM
On the fast track home our last adventure was a stop at Mount Saint Helens. We had planned to visit the information center, watch the movie, and quickly head south. However, the mountain enticed us to stay and so we traveled 47 miles further to pay her our respects. She is grand and still smoking.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 10:36 AM
Monday, September 3, 2007
After Hyder we turned back to the Yukon and our road home. After several days of travel it was clear, we weren't in Alaska anymore. The mountains and glaciers were replaced by flat, green pastures and our big wildlife sightings were called cows. We no longer saw the signs that said "NO SHOOTING FROM ROAD" or "SPEED LIMIT 55 WHEN CHILDREN ON HIGHWAY". Unfortunately we were arriving back to a world that fit our own sense of normal.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 12:35 PM
Our second visit to bear country was early in the morning of the next day. We were lucky to find a large grizzly sow and her three cubs in the stream. We've heard that black bears are more predatory than grizzlies who prefer to scavenge. This mom and cubs did not waste any energy on fishing and munched on dead and dying salmon in the stream. It was such easy pickings that two of the cubs devoted themselves to wrestling. The ranger told us that this area was grizzly gang turf and that black bears kept a low profile. Episodes of bear on bear violence do occur; near the stream was the carcase of a black bear which was now just grizzly snacks .
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 12:21 PM
Although we had seen the distant bears at Denali and some of us had gotten closer than we liked to grizzlies in Haines, we still had not had our fill of bears. So off we went to Hyder Alaska, a small tip of the US perched on a peninsula of the Yukon. Hyder is known as a place where bears go to fish for salmon and where people go to observe them. The National Park Service even provides a platform for this spectator sport. On our first visit we watched this black bear successfully fishing.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 12:18 PM
The fisher people had warned us to watch out for the many grizzly bears that were also fishing along the river. Walking back we saw an excited group of people standing on the bank. Since Vinnie was carrying the grizzly bear snacks, he stepped to the other side of the road and watched for bears coming out of the woods. Maria walked next to the river and the bear and took this picture. It demonstrates what a picture of a grizzly bear at dusk looks like when the photographer is only 15 feet away (noncompliance with the Denali 300 yard guidelines) and rather anxious. We managed to bring the dripping fish back to the camper. We do not have a picture fish in the sink and the blood all over the kitchen counter. Fortunately, Grandpa quickly took charge and we had enough salmon fillets for several tasty meals. Thanks Fisher people.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 12:13 PM
After dinner, Vinnie and I wandered out to the river and noticed bright white spots in the trees across the river. In every third or fourth tree was a bald eagle, and several were swooping down to grab fish from the water. We wandered on and found hordes of fisher people. One man and woman told us that they were each catching about 20 fish and hour. They had gotten enough for themselves and were now throwing their catch back. When they heard that we liked fish they caught us one, did some brutal things to bleed it, and gave Vinnie a 4 - 5 pound pink salmon which continued to struggle as we walked back to the campsite.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 12:10 PM
After bouncing east down the rutted gravel of the Denali highway, we turned south for Haines, a salmon fishing mecca. After several tasty dinners, our supply of reds and silvers was running low and we expected to find a hearty supply of fresh fish waiting for us in town. Unfortunately, the salmon had just been bought out by a disreputable bunch of tourists. We retired to our campground fishless and settled for beef.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 12:08 PM
Along the roads in Alaska are signs indicating that an area is open to "Subsistence Hunting". On the isolated and beautiful Denali highway, we found people engaged in traditional food gathering. Camping off the road, entire families had come to pick wild cranberries and blue berries. Looking back we had our last distant view of Denali.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 12:07 PM
In Denali we were awestruck at statuesque caribou standing in the far distance. This reverence left at a surprisingly brisk pace when one of these glorious creatures became the tiresomely stupid beast that was hogging the road in front of us. We learned that caribou have no comprehension of the simple concept "passing lane" and we plodded down the road behind the ambling beast. We were cured of the Denali cult of animal worship and Grandpa was heard to mutter "idiot" as the road block finally wandered into the brush.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 12:06 PM
Just before leaving the park, we stopped by to visit with the Denali sled dogs. These dogs haul freight and carry rangers on their rounds during the winter. They are bred to travel through deep snow, carry heavy loads, and keep warm in an extremely cold environment. The dog's temperament is also important since it is in frequent contact with us, the unpredictable and motley public. There is no specific breed that provides these qualities; various types of dogs are bred to produce animals with long legs, compact feet, long bushy tails, and the personality of a saint with a sense of humor. They typically weigh between 75 -85 pounds. Here is a handsome example.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 12:01 PM
After spending 3 days at Teklaneka our reservations expired. The weather had been socked in for the entire stay and we had not seen Denali. We were again working our positive thinking routine until the camp hosts told us that the next day would be clearer and warmer. They helped us extend our reservations and Dad took this great picture of Denali on our last day.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 12:00 PM
Rangers have established recommended distances to be maintained between the park's human tourists and its animal hosts. 25 yards (or 75 feet) is a sufficient distance for Moose, Wolves, Caribou, and the predatory Arctic Squirrel. The Grizzly Bear however, requires 300 yards of separation (about 3 football fields). While in the park we saw many Grizzly Bears from the safety of the bus: bears wandering with cubs, bears grazing on berries, and bears spread eagle and asleep on a Caribou carcase. Many were closer than 300 yards, but our pictures were still very poor, even when Vinnie tried to photograph through our binoculars. (Drat, wish we had one of those fancy dancy cameras that we just made fun of). This is actually our best bear picture. If you look at the sides of the sign you can see that bears have nibbled the thick wood and that the rangers have hammered nails so that they stick out of the edges. It doesn't seem to be an effective deterrent, but it does give the sign an authentic wilderness look.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 11:58 AM
All the park tourists strain for a sight of "THE BIG FOUR": Grizzly bears, Caribou, Moose, and Mountain Sheep. One of our bus drivers, was kind enough introduce us to a really exciting animal, The Amazing Arctic Squirrel. In vitro, the Arctic Squirrel's blood will freeze at the freezing point, 0 degrees C. Scientists have been surprised to find that in vivo, the squirrel's blood will remain liquid at a temperature of -2 degrees C. This is important since the squirrels live in an area of permafrost and are unable to burrow deeply in the ground, hibernating in temperatures sometimes below freezing. The nutritional value of the squirrel is also impressive. One petite squirrel provides a tasty 3.000 calories. Finally, it is surprising to learn that this squirrel is a predator as well as a prey. Like the wolves it enjoys munching on ... snowshoe rabbits, but in the baby size.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 11:57 AM
Many people imagine that Denali is like a scenic petting zoo, but it is not. Since private vehicles are not allowed to drive in the park, you travel to view the wildlife by hiking or taking the bus. Once loaded on the bus, you are surrounded by other wildlife watchers and their mountains of gear: lunches snacks, binoculars, hats, rain gear, walking sticks, and cameras so large that each require its own seat. The bus lurches down a one lane, gravel road with nada a guard rail and opportunities to gaze down an 800 foot drop. Once an animal or a rock pretending to be an animal is spotted, the entire busload squeezes to the windows on that side, frantically snapping their cameras. Usually the creature is far far away and with a high power lens you can identify that has legs. Can you find the mountain sheep in this picture?
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 11:55 AM
We were able to get reservations for the popular Teklaneka campground inside Denali park. Closed to tent camping for 9 years due to a pack of badly behaved wolves, this was the first season that tenters were allowed in. Our camp hosts reported that in May they saw many wolves and proof of wolf activity: piles of showshoe rabbit feet with the rabbits chewed off. By the time we arrived in August, the troublesome wolves had been run off by a posse of grizzly bears and the campers and bunnies were safe.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 11:53 AM
Having found the Tidal Bore, we were ready to head north to the wonders of Denali. For weeks we had been meeting the disappointed and dissatisfied, people who had visited Denali and had never seen the mountain. This not surprising since the mountain is obscured by its clouds 8 of every 10 days. Recognizing the probability that we would camp for 4 days in impenetrable fog, we began preparing our positive attitude. We spent our first day and part of the second traveling toward the park in thick clouds and steady rain. By the late morning, however, the sky cleared and the mountain was shining before us.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 11:46 AM
The tidal bore is an anomaly of nature which can be observed in Turnagain Bay on the Kenai peninsula. The incoming tide is slowed by the friction of the bay's shallow mud flats. The mass of water increases until it develops enough volume to overcome this resistance. The sudden rush of incoming water can produce a tidal wave of 6 feet. Based on Vinnie's careful research, we found the right place, the right time, and planted ourselves in a front row seat. Unfortunately, the Tidal Bore lived up to its name. Several hours late, a 6 inch wave approached and disappeared. This picture captures the dramatic moment.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 11:44 AM
As our time in the Kenai was ending, the spawning salmon were returning, some swimming up to 600 miles upstream. They were in the fish markets and on our grill. As we turned north, they were changing into their red coats and invading the rivers around us.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 11:43 AM
Several people have asked if we've had good conditions for observing the stars, planets, and constellations. The answer is no. Although we escaped the problems of city light pollution, air pollution, and moral dissolution; the stars have been difficult to find. During the summer nights in Alaska we usually had only 4 hours of darkness. We went to bed in daylight and awoke during the night confused; we mistook midnight for the morning of the next day.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 11:33 AM
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
While walking near an old cannery, we found these mysterious symbols on the sidewalk. Were they ancient Athabascan, pictographs from the Dena'ina, or Russian shorthand? Thoughtful examination showed that the markings were left by seagulls with muddy feet.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 6:34 PM
Father Makery was the parish priest at Holy Assumption until 1991. He remembers accompanying the relics of St. Herman, the first American saint in the Russian Orthodox Church, when they were moved from Kodiak Island to Kenai. Father Makary says that some relics have traveled by land and others by sea, but the relics of St. Herman were the first to be transported by air; he flew in a helicopter.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 6:28 PM
In the town of Kenai we found the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church, which was established in 1849. Archpriest Makary Targonsky gave us a tour and a brief introduction to the history of the Russian Orthodox church in Alaska.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 6:27 PM
A short hike brought us up to the foot of another glacier. Landslides had left a layer of gravel and stone on the surface and as the glacier moved, these projectiles advanced to the edge and fell on the heads of unsuspecting hikers who came too close.
Posted by Vinnie and Maria at 6:23 PM