Denali from Talkeetna, Alaska 2017

Monday, August 21, 2017

More Fairbanks

It seems like a broken record.  The rain continues. But we have tried to get out and about between the showers. 

On Friday we went over to the Georgeson Arboretum on the campus of the University of Alaska. It was more of a research facility than a well-tended garden, but it was a good place to go to see what survives well at this latitude. The biggest problem is that the ground is cold.

From Craig: I was thinking "I'm posing with a cabbage!"
I asked Craig to crouch down next to this cabbage to show just how big it is. With all the rain they have been having, some of the cabbage heads had burst open.

Most of the flowers had been beaten down by the rain, or were not in bloom, but these two were nigh-to-perfect.

I nominate this flower as the symbol of Fairbanks August weather. I call it "Shy Sunflower."

Well, it seems that all you have to do is wait, and the sun will shine eventually.

Although Sunday started a bit wet, by the time I had done the wash and we had gone over to Walmart for a grocery run, the clouds cleared enough that we decided to take a chance on an afternoon trip on the Discovery Riverboat.

It was a well done, touristy, production on a boat that can hold up to 900 passengers. Many of the people I had talked to here in Alaska recommended it as a good thing to do in Fairbanks. I give it a high ranking for tourist attractions of its kind.

The narrator had a wonderful smooth voice, and was not too hokey.

Shortly after we left the dock, we slowed to watch a prearranged take off and landing of a small plane on the river. The pilot spoke to us through a radio headset.

Then the boat stopped at the riverside, at Susan Butcher's Kennels. She won the Iditarod sled dog race four times.

Susan's husband also spoke to us, and we were able to watch as he hooked up the dog team and took them for a run. They sure were fast and looked like they enjoyed themselves. This was a good supplement to our visit to the Iditarod Headquarters in Wassail.  

They were so much faster, running in a straight line!

The next stop was at a reconstructed Athabascan Indian village.

I thought the village was a bit Disneylandish, except the interpretive  guides were teenage Indian girls instead of animated robots. 

From what I have learned by reading about the real history of the Native Alaskan peoples, it was just a bit too nice and pretty. 

I guess I've learned too much about the horrible things the white men did to them.

This parka for example, is a museum quality garment that has never been worn by anyone, much less an average Athabascan. 

But then, how many tourists would like to hear about the fact that 80% of the native people died from abuse or the diseases brought to them by the white men. Or how pretty young women like these were kept and traded like animals or slaves.

No, it is best to just keep thinking of them as healthy young people pretending to live in delightful rustic log homes, to wear beautiful furs, and to eat salmon they caught in their back yard.

Enough about what I think.  

It was a nice afternoon trip and the reflections on the river were fantastic!

The river was a bit muddy from all the rain run off.

If you look carefully you might be able to see the first hints of autumn coming. A few of the leaves are turning yellow or brown.

There were many very large homes with huge impeccable grass lawns along the shore. There were also a few smaller cabins.

The images above and below were taken with Craig's cell-phone camera. It gives a much wider view, with a different color balance. 

I really liked this shot. The funny thing is that it evokes the first photograph we have purchased in years, entitled "Tenas Lake Reflection" which now hangs in our dining corner.  It too is full of diagonals.

I wrote this post while sitting in the Alfa, in the back lot of the body shop that is repairing the Jeep fender. They say it will take several days ☹️. The eclipse has just come and gone, just a 1/3 bite this far north. We are planning on going over to boondock at Walmart later today.  We noticed that there were several rigs there yesterday.

After this, our Denali National Park experience will begin. On Wednesday we will be camping at Riley Creek, which is at the entrance, for one night, then drive the Alfa in to Teklanika campground, which is 30 miles from the entrance, for four nights, then back to Riley for a night before we start our long haul back to the lower 48. All of our time in Denali will be dry camping, and we cannot take our Jeep beyond the entrance. But once we are at Teklanika we will be able to use the bus to go further into the park.

There will be little or no internet access.  I'm sure we will be working on words and pictures every evening, and will post again when we are back online.

Friday, August 18, 2017

In Hot Water Again

A large steel dragon sculpture on the grounds of Chena Hot Springs

I love hot springs, and as we have traveled in our RV we have enjoyed a few. So, when checking out the map, and seeing that Chena Hot Springs resort was only 60 miles away from Fairbanks, and they had RV camping, we just had to go there for a few days. 

Monday morning, after Craig took the Jeep in to get an estimate and make an appointment to get the Jeep fender replaced, we were on our way for a few relaxing days. 

The first 30 miles of our drive to Chena Hot Springs was a bit rough with frost heaves and bumpy spots. There was just enough rain to kept the wipers going on low, and much of the time visibility on the sides of the road was poor because the grasses and shrubs were overgrown. We kept a sharp lookout for moose. It just felt like the kind of road a moose or bear might appear on unexpectedly and we didn’t want a collision. None were spotted.

We were both hungry when we arrived, and as soon as the Alfa was parked, we enjoyed a late lunch of grilled roast beef sandwiches in the very rustic restaurant at the Resort.  Very nice!

The weather Monday night and Tuesday was very strange.  Overnight, there was some of the heaviest, sustained rain that I can remember experiencing in the Alfa.  It just poured and poured.

When we woke in the morning it was still pouring.

Then around 10:30, it just stopped. It didn’t taper off or slow down. It just stopped, and the sun came out. So we decided to go over to the Hot Spring Pools.

I was delighted to see there were only a few people there. On Monday when we took a quick look, the place was packed!

Like most Hot Springs, there were a series of swimming and soaking tubs. A large very warm swimming pool with lots of minerals in the water and two hot tubs were inside. A larger, and much hotter tub was outside. As we cycled through them, I was a bit disappointed because I expected a more natural spring.

It was there, we just had to go through an enclosed passage to get to it.

Look at that blue sky! Can you believe it was pouring rain just an hour or so before this picture was taken? The weather was variable to say the least. It would pour for a while, then stop for a while and the sun would come blazing through.

You can't see the more natural pool from the front of the building. I think the enclosed passage is to protect the soakers from the extreme cold and wind in winter.

Over a two day period we went in the morning and evening, between downpours. The last three we went directly to the Stone Lake, skipping the indoor hot tubs. 

The water is waist deep, with a coarse sandy bottom that feels good on the feet. I saw a staff member measuring the temperature at an average place and she said it was 103°. There were numerous pockets of much hotter water around the edges where it was being pumped in and had not yet mixed. We were later told the actual spring measures 165°.

On Wednesday we went on a short, free tour of their geothermal power plant and hydroponic greenhouse.

The energy from the spring powers the buildings, and the hot water piped through the floors heats them.

In winter they use grow lights in the greenhouse.

We also went on a tour of their Ice Museum. 

It is kept at a constant 25°. Needless to say, we were all given heavy parkas to wear inside.

I heard there are several places like this in Scandinavia. There is also an Ice Museum in Fairbanks, that sounds quite similar. 

Craig chose to pass on wearing their parka, saying he was warm enough in his own clothes. Here he is standing next to one of the ice sculptures, holding the ice glass from his Appletini.  He said she was cold to him.

This is the raised ice bar area. The floors were all carpeted as were the bar stool seats. I think it looks better on this picture  than it did in person. Maybe that is because I took it when the twenty or so other people who were there were not in view.

The ice fire did not give off any warmth.

There were four chambers made up as bedrooms. Craig tried out one of the beds. Not as soft as in the Alfa!

All in all, it was interesting, and it did add to the Chena Hot Springs experience. The whole place feels just right for the mountain foothills near Fairbanks, Alaska.  It has a strong local customer base, and is open in winter to see the Aurora. You can soak in the hot springs and see the Northern Lights. 

I have collected their room rate and airport shuttle information for future reference. Maybe we will fly up for a few days in winter.

We have  noticed more and more trees starting to turn yellow-brown in the last week. As a lady at the springs said:"Summer is almost over".

Just a note. I think I have found a theme for our summer of 2018. Discovering "Hot Springs" in the Northwestern part of the USA. Maybe we can find some cool weather and hot water. Do you have any to recommend?

[From Craig]  This is one of the best places to get rained on, in all of North America.  Precipitation fans should not miss Chena Hot Springs!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Another accident!

As I start writing this post, it is 9:30 in the morning. It is raining like crazy. We are still in bed reading the news and other stuff on our laptops and sipping our coffee and juice.  Life is good! 

We had planned on taking the Discovery Paddle Boat trip today, but have postponed it.  We have done at Glacier boat trip, a raft float, and a jet boat ride. I heard the Discovery was a good tour, but I really don't mind missing it.

One of my "must see" things in Fairbanks was the Museum of the North on the University of Alaska Campus. We went there Saturday, and enjoyed it very much. 

There were many good educational dioramas and an excellent Native Arts and artifacts gallery. 

To give it scale, Craig stood next to this huge jade boulder which has been split and polished.

Raven (the creator of the world) is the subject of this petroglyph rock.   

Native Alaskans make many masks.  It struck us how facial masks were shared with ancient greeks, Africans, and so many other cultures around the world.

If this image looks a little funny, it's because these masks were in a transparent cabinet that let other artworks intrude on our image.  So we resorted to Photoshop to blur the background artworks away.

Hot water heater update: we called an RV service here in Fairbanks, but the soonest they can check it out is almost two weeks from now. We made an appointment for when we will be coming back through on our way home. 

But it may not need to be fixed. Craig turned it off, let everything cool down, and turned it back on. It hasn't leaked, and we have hot water. The water dump may have been a pressure release from the check valve. Per a suggestion on the Alfa Yahoo group, he has drained the tank, rinsed it, and refilled it this afternoon. Hopefully it might last another ten years.  🙂

Another accident: unfortunately, an incoming RV hit our parked Jeep and crunched the right rear fender. Ouch! 

You see, River's View RV park has several different types of spaces for several different prices. When reserving space, the size and type of rig is always discussed. Since we were only going to be here for three days, we didn't need a sewer hook up, we can use the in-park dump station on the way out to drain our tanks, so "water and electric" is fine.  Our site was a little tight, but because it has trees on both sides it feels very private. But the parking for the Jeep was also tight and we put it at the road's edge in front of the Alfa.

We were just getting ready to cook out when Craig commented on a large rig slowly making its way down our park road. As it made its turn into the pull-thru on the other side of the road, we heard a crunching noise. We both went out to see what had happened. His rear end had swung out and hit our Jeep. The driver's wife was in a car behind him so she saw the impact as well. 

We were understanding, he was apologetic, and his insurance company was contacted by phone. We have a claim number from State Farm and are comfortable that it will be covered. Getting the Jeep fixed is just another bothersome task ahead. 

Monday morning we will be heading out to Chena Hot Springs for a few days. It is located about sixty miles northeast of Fairbanks on a spur road. They have designated RV spots, but none have hook ups of any kind, so we will be dry camping. I am looking forward to the hot springs and the ice palace located there.

Check back for news of the hot springs!

Friday, August 11, 2017

A few days in Talkeetna

I almost hate to put a new post up to replace the High Point one, but time does move on.

I scheduled a week in Talkeetna because we wanted to take a flight and ride the jet boat. We did both on our first day. The rest of our time has just been taking it easy and relaxing.

One of the afternoons we found a nice path through the woods to walk.

I think it was called the Ridge Trail. There were a couple of unmarked trails starting from the same parking lot.

The temperature was pleasant, but the humidity was a bit high in the woods.

I think this picture looks like a paperback book cover!

In spite of the many small planes buzzing overhead, and the frequent train horn honking, it was very peaceful compared to the streets of Talkeetna that were very busy with tourists. We saw many large busses that had Cruise Line names. Talkeetna is a stop on their inland bus tours. 

We choose not to take the train ride since we see so much as we drive, and we had just taken that great boat ride. It would have been easy since the train station was adjacent to our RV park. 

On one of our wanderings we stopped out at the Kahiltna Birchworks  to taste and buy some birch syrup. I thought the 8.4 ounce bottle of first run syrup that we bought was a bit pricey at $35. But it is very good and everything seems to cost a lot in Alaska. 

Another place along the Talkeetna Spur, that has a fun name,  is the Flying Squirrel Bakery and Cafe.

We bought a very nice loaf of olive bread, and were properly amazed by the display of giant Talkeetna-grown zucchini.

Another curious site in Talkeetna is the Susitna Salmon Center.  Out front is this remarkable tower of glittery tile salmon sculptures.  No we don't know what kind of fruit is on the tree.

The best feature of the Salmon Center is a video story of a salmon that got tagged with a radio frequency transmitter, on its way into the Susitna River.  By monitoring the transmitter, salmon trackers followed this "Super" fish as he ignored all the side tributaries that other fish were going into to spawn, until he reached the glacier at the start of the Susitna.  He then turned around and swam back down the river until he reached the tributary in which he was born, which he had missed while swimming up the river.  He entered and presumably happily spawned.  Full disclosure: the real purpose of the film is to rouse opposition to a proposed dam on the Susitna.

To emphasize how lucky we felt to have had that beautiful clear view of Denali last Saturday, the above pictures were taken on Monday and Tuesday. The skies have remained mostly blue during the day, with overnight rain showers, but there have been clouds around Denali every time we got a glimpse of her. I think the flights would have been pretty good in spite of the clouds. Maybe even more interesting. Wednesday and Thursday were quite cloudy, and Friday the sky was totally socked in and the day started with light rain.

One warning I do have for anyone who wants to camp in Talkeetna. Do your grocery shopping before you come. 

I had Googled "grocery stores" in advance, and came up with what looked like a bigger store, Cubbys. But it turns out that  it is 14 mile away, at the junction of the Spur Road and the Parks Highway. 

The only little store in Talkeetna, Nagley's, is tiny and although it has a few  emergency supplies, and foods like pasta sauce and frozen bread, it is not much of a grocery store. It does have wonderful ice cream cones however.

We left Talkeetna Friday morning and drove to Fairbanks, 280 miles away. The morning rain let up by mid-day, but we were not able to see any of the mountains because they were obscured by clouds. 

Shortly after arriving at the River View RV Park in Fairbanks, we discovered our hot water heater had a leaking incident. We have a call in to a mobile RV Service Company, so we hope someone can take a look at it, and fix it quickly if necessary.

Oh well, a hot water heater might spring a leak in a house as well, and of all places in Alaska to have this happen, Fairbanks is a lot better than most of the small places we have been.

Fingers crossed... 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The High Point of our Alaskan Adventure

Warning: this post is overloaded with pictures. Between us we took 400+, culled them down to 200+, then Craig and I had to choose which to share.

Our big adventure was to be a 2 1/2 hour flight around Denali summit, with a glacier landing on Wednesday. 

I placed this image first in the post because Facebook picks up the first picture to feature. It was taken well into our flight, it reminded us of Kool Whip.

When I saw the rain forecast for our reserved day, I tried calling to see if we could move it up, but was told there were no open seats.

After our boat ride, we went for a walk downtown, and passed the K2 office. Good thing, because we got seats on one of the flights  for that afternoon. When I talked to our pilot later, I learned they had put on extra planes for the day.

Long rambling paragraphs cannot do justice to what we saw, so here are some of the pictures we took.

It was fascinating to see the river-like routes the glaciers take. They looked like multicolored ribbons.

This shot was from much higher up, and we could see a glacier going down either side. Craig says they looked like freeways.

From the direction of the shadows, this is the southwest face of Mount Denali. There are 5 or 6 separate snow-fields in this picture in August, which means they will probably persist through the summer, which is the main attribute of glaciers.  But are they big enough to be considered separate glaciers?

What keeps this snow on the side of this peak?  It looks like it should have slid long ago!

On the other hand, these peaks have lost almost all their snow.  Aren't they amazingly sharp? 

A fluffy layer of clouds was gathering on the west side of the range as we flew around. 

I think this one was trying to be a mountain peak.

After a while you start to see things up there. Like the tail of a giant sleeping lizard.

We got as close to the face of Denali as we could without being climbers! Good thing we had an excellent pilot. I felt safe most of the time. 

But as we descended for our glacier landing, I felt uneasy as I noticed how rough and small the glacial patches seemed. 

But we turned and before us was a long, relatively smooth glacier. Our pilot measured the snow with an avalanche pole and told us there was about twelve feet of 2016-17 snow on top of the glacier ice.

The glacier was in a valley so we were in shadow, but the low sun on the surrounding minor peaks was amazing.

And finally these pictures of us with the oxygen masks we wore while over 12,000 feet. Craig looks like he is in photographer heaven!

So, if you find yourself in Talkeetna, Alaska on a nice day, go fly  to the peak of Denali with K2. 

For us it was a trip of a lifetime!