Saturday, December 31, 2016

HOMER, ALASKA: GULL ISLAND

We had scheduled a trip with Alaska Bear Adventures in Homer to fly to Katmai National Park or Lake Clark National Park to experience what is supposed to be the best grizzly bear viewing in Alaska.  However, much to our dismay, the trip was canceled due to a forecast of heavy rain.

We had a day to kill in Homer, and, still looking for adventure, we discovered that we could book a private harbor cruise of Kachemak Bay. In spite of the weather, or maybe even because of it, the scenery was beautiful:


Our goal was Gull Island, a rocky crag about three miles out that offers prime nesting spots for seabirds:

Thursday, December 29, 2016

HOMER, ALASKA

After breaking up a long drive from Talkeetna to Homer by spending time at a musk ox farm and a reindeer farm near Palmer and then staying overnight in Anchorage, we continued our long drive down the Kenai Peninsula. The distance from Talkeetna to Anchorage is about 115 miles, and the distance from Anchorage to Homer is about 220 miles. In a place like Alaska, where there are an infinite number of side trips and sights, that could be a week-long trip, but we managed it in two days.

One of Homer's nicknames is "The End of the Road." You can see why:
The white line is Day One, and the blue line is Day Two.

The Kenai Peninsula is located on the southern coast of Alaska and is famous for its beautiful scenery. Homer, our next destination, is marked by the red dot on the map below:

Bob had read that the salmon might be running in some of the rivers and that there were some good places for animal sightings, so we made several stops along the way. Try as we might, we didn't see any moose, or any other large animals for that matter:

Here and there we saw a salmon swimming upstream, but not the hordes we had hoped for. I think it was just a bit too early in the season:

Monday, December 26, 2016

ALASKA! A MUSK OX FARM AND A REINDEER RANCH

My husband is a wildlife lover extraordinaire, and Alaska is certainly the place to see wildlife, but he wasn't content with seeing animals in the wild. No, he had to scout out every specialty farm and preserve. I was a little bit worried about OD-ing on animals on this trip, but for the most part, what we saw was unique and entertaining, starting with a musk ox farm and a reindeer ranch.

The Musk Ox Farm is in the Palmer/Wasilla area, about 45 minutes from Anchorage.

The farm is a non-profit organization that is funded partly by tourist dollars and partly by selling muskox wool, called qiviut. Qiviut is eight times warmer than sheep's wool by weight and softer than cashmere, but boy-oh-boy is it expensive.  A single skein (1 oz./200 yards) sells for $95.00. 

A male musk ox sheds 4-7 pounds of qiviut per season. I suppose if I had to brush one of these beasts, I'd charge $95.00/skein too.

For a more reasonable price of $11.00 each, we took a 45 minute tour of the farm, which has about 80 musk oxen, the largest captive herd in the world.

The musk ox is one of the oldest living species and was once a contemporary of the woolly mammoth and the saber-toothed tiger. The goal of the farm is to domesticate these animals. It takes multiple generations to build a domesticated herd, and they've been at it since the 1950s.

Friday, December 23, 2016

ALASKA! TAKING A TAXI TO THE TOP OF DENALI AND STROLLING ON A GLACIER




READING

When I first started teaching Freshman Composition over twenty years ago, I ran across the audiobook version of Charles Kuralt's A Life on the Road. I thought his wonderful storytelling style would provide a great example for my students of how to write a personal memoir (which was their first essay assignment), and so every semester for several years I checked out the worn box of cassette tapes from our local library and played a couple of chapters in class.

One of my favorite chapters, entitled "Flight," was about Kuralt's madcap journey with his photographer and a soundman around Denali in a small Cessna piloted by the legendary Don Sheldon. After circling the mountaintop for a while, Sheldon put the plane down on Ruth Glacier, and Kuralt and his photographer ended up spending the night in a cabin on the mountain built by Sheldon for exhausted climbers but, at the time of Kuralt's visit, inhabited by a Catholic priest. (Those kinds of anomalies tend to occur in Kuralt's essays.)

Kuralt's very visual description of his fantastic celestial voyage and glacial bed and breakfast stuck with me for twenty years, and when we booked a flight around Denali with a landing on Ruth Glacier, I couldn't have been more excited (and yes, nervous that we might end up spending the night up there).

The flight was everything I had hoped for and is probably my favorite experience from our trip to Alaska. Naturally, when we got home I decided I had to find a print copy of Kuralt's story. It was harder than I thought because I couldn't remember which one of Kuralt's books it was in. First I ordered a used copy of On the Road with Charles Kuralt, but that wasn't it. Finally I found the similarly titled A Life on the Road, and voila!, there was the essay. Having shared his experience, I found Kuralt's telling even more appealing than I had twenty years before.

We began our adventure by checking in at Talkeetna Air Taxi at 11:00 AM, where we were each issued a pair of snow boots that fit over our shoes:



We waited around for fifteen minutes or so while our single-engine propeller ski plane was checked over and fueled. Our transport was a de Havilland Otter plane, a plane developed in the 1950s. Impressive durability, but not exactly a confidence builder. I thought we'd be flying in something of more recent vintage.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

ALASKA! DENALI NATIONAL PARK

What is the first color that pops into your head when you see the word "Alaska"? Be honest now.

It's "white," isn't it? Yeah, me too.
We did see plenty of white, but even the white was a more colorful white---but more on that in another post. I think what really surprised me the most about Alaska was the crazy, brilliant, ostentatious COLOR. This was especially true in Denali National Park.

But first, some background information. The entrance to Denali National Park and Preserve lies about 265 miles north of Anchorage, or a 4-5 hour drive. From Talkeetna, where we had spent the day ziplining, it is only 60 miles. It is a HUMONGOUS park--more than six million acres. There is only one road that is available to tourists, and in most cases that road is accessible only by park bus, but it does go to the heart of the park.

We spent the night in one of the Denali Backcountry Cabins, which were quaint and wonderfully located, but not luxury accommodations, which I wouldn't have guessed based on the price. I suppose when there is little competition, you can charge what you want.


Important facts about Alaska:

Friday, December 2, 2016

ALASKA! TALKEETNA AND ZIPLINING

I'm pretty surprised that it took us so long to get to Alaska.  We had been to every state in the US except for Alaska and North Dakota. Between the two, it was no contest which one we wanted to visit more.

Sorry, North Dakota, but you're next on the list.

If I had to say which state I think Alaska is most like, I'd have to say Texas. WHAT?!! Except for size, they don't seem to have much in common, and even regarding size--although they are the two largest states in the Union--Alaska is 2.5 times larger than Texas.

What I found to be similar is that both feel almost like an independent country rather than a state. Things are just different in Texas and Alaska.


Here is Goldilocks (Whiteylocks?) and the Three Bears:

I'm not sure what this ceiling design in the Anchorage Airport  is all about--maybe the aurora borealis?

We arrived in Anchorage in the WEE hours of the morning (4:15 AM constitutes "wee," doncha think?), picked up our rental car, and headed north towards the metropolis of Talkeetna. There was plenty of "purple mountain majesty" to appreciate:


http://www.bloggersentral.com/2012/11/pinterest-pin-it-button-on-image-hover.html