Monday, July 26, 2010

Had a friend send us an email this morning to say we should give Maggie Benadryl for her hornet stings. Jim thought Maggie needed comfort food instead so he fed her a jelly filled doughnut! Maggie liked the jelly part but not the doughnut part. Here is Maggie "recovering" from her injuries.

We're off to Seward, tomorrow to take a small boat cruise to see more bird rookeries and glaciers calving.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

We drove up the coast today hoping for a good look at Mt Redoubt. Too cloudy and foggy to see anything.  We stopped at a couple of places to look for birds. Eagle Eye Jim spotted moose on a side road so we whipped a U turn and went back take photos. It was a really gorgeous young bull moose. He obliged us by grazing the road's shoulder for several minutes before trotting into the woods.

At Storm Lake we were looking at Loons when Maggie started playing in a pile of leaves by the trail. WRONG! She had stirred up a nest of European Hornets and they were chewing her up! She was hollering, snapping and jumping around trying to get the hornets off her. Then I began to worry they would go after Jim who was at the end of Maggie's leash so I yelled "RUN JIM RUN." Fortunately Jim didn't get bit. Maggie was covered in hornets, it was awful. All the way home she kept tossing and turning, she couldn't get comfortable because of all the stings and bites. So now she is in a state of total collapse on the sofa, moaning softly from all the stings.  Wish there was something we could do for her.
A final thought on Homer - Saw a bumper sticker in town that describes Homer during the summer tourist season “Homer Alaska, a quaint drinking village with a fishing problem."

We are now in Soldotna, a small town inland on the Kenai Peninsula. Soldotna is famous for salmon fishing. The record salmon was caught right here, it weighed 97 pounds! So the reds are running right now and Alaskans are wading the Kenai to fish with huge nets. They just stick the HUGE net in the water and wait for fish to stumble into it. They limit out in one day and then go home to process their fish. This form of “fishing” is covered under Alaska’s subsistence laws. If you are an Alaskan you get a subsistence permit to hunt and fish for your family. Only permanent Alaskans residents can do this.

We went to the Soldotna Progress Day Parade yesterday. It was so much fun, a real hometown America parade. The American Legion and the VFW had patriotic floats, several churches had floats, the Boy Scouts marched, there were several ladies driving pink golf carts tricked out for Breast Cancer Awareness, there was a baton twirling club, a large Dachshund Club (wienie dogs in Alaska?) Kenai’s rodeo Queen rode in the parade, a man carried an American flag with 49 stars walked in the parade and talked about protecting our freedom, there were loads of patriotic signs, support the troops sign, religious signs, several politicians running for the senate and governor were in the parade tossing candy and passing out brochures. Loved the conservative values represented in this parade.

Maggie was a big hit at the parade, tons of kids wanted to pet her, adults wanted to know all about the really pretty and well behaved dog. After the parade we walked to the craft fair. It had started sprinkling so we put Maggie’s coat on her. At the craft fair kids were calling out Maggie’s name and running up to see her coat! When we left the fair kids were yelling “Bye Maggie.” Who knew she would be a kid magnet.

Speaking of Maggie, it’s 10:00 am and the princess is still in bed. She has her servants trained to not disturb her in the morning so she can get beauty sleep (I think that’s why she is so pretty.) She won’t be happy when she finally gets up, it’s sprinkling and Maggie hates the rain (even with her rain coat on.) Poor Maggie treated like a commoner. Just heard the jingle of dog tags, the princess is awake. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that Maggie is big on yoga after a nap. She’ll do several repetitions of downward facing dog and upward facing dog before she’s ready for a walk.

Today we will drive the coastal route past Kenai and Nikiski. Even with the rain we should have some great views of the volcano Mt Redoubt across the inlet.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Took a day trip to historic Seldovia today. Our ship was the 75 foot M/V Discovery. Our run time to Seldovia was 2 hours.

The cruise included a lap around Gull Island Bird Rookery for some bird watching. Gull Island is more like a big rock plunked down in Cook Inlet. It is COVERED in pelagic (ocean going) birds and bird POOP. There were Tufted Puffins, Common Mores, Pelagic and Red Faced Cormorants and Glucose Gulls. Loved the Puffins with their comic bright orange bills and white pig tails; the Cormorants stood there with their necks stretched out, wings spread, soaking up the sun; Murres paddled around in their black and white tuxedos, looking like tiny penguins; overhead, the large and noisy Gulls soared and dived, catching fish to feed their fuzzy chicks. It was an amazing site, 10,000 birds clinging to every nook and cranny, the noise was deafening. I wondered how parents found their chicks in such chaos.

We were lucky enough to get seats in the wheelhouse with Captain Tim Cashman (owner/ operator.) Originally a cop in San Diego, he now owns Alaska Coastal Marine and runs five boats out of Soldotna AK (on the Kenai half way between Anchorage and Homer.) For those of you who love hunting and fishing check out Alaska Coastal Marine and Captain Tim’s fabulous boats. Here’s a picture of Captain Tim doing his Captain Jack Sparrow ARRRRR face.
We cruised through Eldred Passage passing a raft of Sea Otters munching shellfish for lunch. Two of Alaska’s active volcanoes were visible on the cruise. Mt Redoubt and Mt Iliamna were chugging out clouds of steam in the distance. 
An interesting feature of Cook Inlet is the fresh water that comes in from the melting ice fields. The fresh water is only a couple of inches deep and sits on top of the saltwater and is clearly visible. Fresh water is on the left.

The town of Seldovia was severely damaged during the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake which registered 9.2 on the Richter Scale. Most of the town was built directly on the waterfront, with a boardwalk that connected homes and businesses together creating a main street. Cook Inlet's waters prior to the earthquake would rise or fall 26 feet every six hours during the peak tides. After the earthquake the entire land mass dropped six feet causing higher tides peaking at 32 feet which completely submerged the boardwalk and flooded homes and businesses along the waterfront. Eventually much of the town was rebuilt on higher ground, only a small section of the original boardwalk remains. Fortunately the town has retained much of its original charm. We had lunch at the Mad Fish and then walked the town. We visited the 1800’s Russian Orthodox Church on the hill, poked our heads in all the tourist shops, ate homemade ice cream, and admired all the charming homes and gardens.

We shopped the Spit in Homer today. For those of you familiar with the TV show the Deadliest Catch, the Time Bandit sails out of Homer and has a little retail shop here. It was pretty cool checking out all the Time Bandit goodies. We watched one of the chartered fishing boats come in with a lot of Halibut. We went to the weigh in, the fish on the left weighed exactly 100 pounds, the one next to it was 80 pounds.

After all that shopping we wound up at the Salty Dog Bar. OMG, my daughter would LOVE THIS PLACE. There are thousands of $1 dollar bills tacked on the walls and ceiling. Each bill has someone’s name and the date on it. Bras, panties, buoys, and other strange items intersperse the green backs. We grabbed a table and wound up sharing it with folks from New Zealand and Germany. We all agreed this was the best bar we’d ever been in! Tomorrow we leave for Seward.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

We took a flight on K Bay Air/Alaska Bear Adventures today to see brown bears up close. The trip included two K Bay Cessna's, pilots Michael (owner operator) and Jack and nine eager tourists. Our destination was Lake Clark National Park and Preserve (the park encompasses approximately 4,050,000 acres) on the west side of Cook Inlet. The flight took about an hour; we flew past emerald colored islands with waterfalls snaking down to the sea. Below us white Gulls and Kittiwakes skimmed the water. We flew over small homesteads and an old cannery. Finally we arrive, Jack makes one pass over the beach, then sets the plane down gently. We have landed on the beach of Chinita Bay. The beach is scattered with clam shells dug up by the bears.

It’s drizzling so we pull on our rain gear, grab our packs and hike around a point to watch bears Michael saw before we landed. Michael gives us his bear safety pep talk. Walk single file when approaching bears to reduce our threat appearance; stay together, never further than an arm’s length apart; when we see bears we must group together and kneel; if a bear charges we MUST STAND OUR GROUND! Michael says he will step between us and the bear if it charges. He’s armed with a magnesium flare. He says the locals use the flares instead of guns or bear spray. We round the point and three bears are scattered in a meadow grazing on salt marsh grass. Our pilot, Jack calls them scary cows. Michael talks about what bears eat, grass, berries, clams, and fish. We all kneel in the high grass and watch the bears. Michael says the bears eat a little, play a little, nap a little and sure enough two of the bears lay down side by side for a nap. But they are not sleeping; every now and then the two napping bears sit up and scan the area. A bear slowly walks our way, grazing and working her way towards us. She is shedding her winter coat so she looks shaggy; the rain makes her look disheveled. It’s funny watching her eat, munching like a cow and chewing, chewing, chewing. She is amazing, unless you get close, you can’t appreciate her size, really long legs, front paws the size of catcher’s mitts, a huge wide head, she is massive. As she walked towards us I had to wonder if she was doing Eeny, meeny, miny, moe which tourist should I eat? Then she lays down for a nap. Time for us to move on.

One of the women in the group asks about a pee break. Jack leads four of us to a spot where we can drop our drawers in private. Seems like a nice spot, at least that’s what the sow with two cubs thought, all nestled snug and dry under the trees we were headed for! Jack spots the bears, stops us in our tracks, reminds us to stand our ground and we wait for mom to move on. The youngest member of our little group is Stephanie who says she doesn’t need to pee anymore, she’s thinks she peed her pants!

Once the coast is clear we start peeling clothes. We have on thigh high rubber wadding boots, wet rain pants, jeans, etc. so preparing to pee is a slow process. Stephanie tells us she has never peed in the woods before and doesn’t know how to. We explain it to her, but she has trouble with the peeling off wet clothes, squatting & balancing, avoiding her pants and boots while peeing. Stephanie finally opts for the outhouse we will pass later in the trip.

Back to the beach, past our planes, up a path that is scattered with fresh bear poop. Because their diet right now is grass, the poop looks like huge horse road apples. Did I mention there is A LOT of fresh bear poop?

We reach the outhouse, it is a very basic wooden structure, no door, no lid and a coffee can sits on top of the toilet paper roll to protect it from the elements. Stephanie and several others avail themselves of the facilities.

We pass several trees that have bear fur embedded in the bark and huge scratch marks that reach high up on the trunks. Michael says there is a viewing area at the end of the path, but sometimes the bears use it. They roll the logs around, messing with the place. Sure enough, there is a bear there, we kneel down and wait for Jack and Michael to give us the all clear. The bear wanders into the woods so we head for the viewing area. In front of us is a huge meadow with a stream bisecting it. The meadow is called the nursery, sows come here with their cubs to graze. We see cubs and bears scattered across the meadow. The viewing area bear is back, he’s emerged from the woods close to us (notice the rain in the photo.) He is big and his fur is much darker than any bear we’ve seen. He is aware of us, but not concerned. His presence disturbs the other bears, they’re all standing, trying to get a better look. A young bear across the creek quickly retreats to a safe distance. Our bear wades the creek causing all the other bears to stand and then shift away from him. Finally, we head back to the beach for lunch, a little shell collecting and then we load up for home.

The weather has closed in on us, it’s a cloudy ride back to Homer. The clouds break as we pass the largest ice field in Alaska. The Harding Ice field covers almost 700 square miles on the tops of the Southern Kenai Mountains between Homer and Seward. There are more than 40 glaciers descending from it in all directions. Ahead of us is the Spit, a thin line stretching into Cook Inlet. Minutes later we are safely on the ground. (Hooray for our pilot Jack!)

Loved this trip, what an incredible day with Alaska Bear Adventures.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

This blog is brought to you by Hamilton’s laundry, gas station and cafĂ©. Our campsite does not have electricity, so while I do the laundry, I am writing the blog! When we left Anchorage we drove the Glen Highway south as it skirts the Cook Inlet. Home to Beluga whales, we kept watching the water in the hopes of seeing one of these rare animals. When the tide goes out, the gigantic inlet becomes a narrow channel making it easier to see the whales. Cook Inlet has 23 foot tides which turn most of the inlet into massive tidal flats. Because the mud flats are not sand, but glacial flour, they are too dangerous to walk on, locals say it’s like quick sand!

We are now on the Kenai Peninsula in southern Alaska. The Kenai is rainforest country, lots of fern, lush forest and overcast. The town we are staying in is Cooper Landing which is located right on the Kenai River. Talk about beautiful, the waters here are glacial melt so the creeks, rivers and lakes are the color of turquoise. If you come to Cooper Landing, it’s probably for FISHING! Everywhere you look people are wading, canoeing, kayaking, rafting, and boating while fishing. I even saw a guy today on one of those surf board looking things people stand on and paddle with a long oar. I thought the guy was crazy, since the Kenai has class I, II and III rapids.

We drove to Seward the other day to check out the glacier tours and make a reservation. Good thing we did, the tour we want to take had two openings in the 4 days we would be there. We are taking the small charter; it holds 16 people, gets in closer to see birds, wildlife and the glaciers. Seemed better than fighting with 135 people at the rail on one of the bigger ships. We did some of that in China and it’s not fun. Had a wonderful lunch, walked around the harbor checking out all the boats, birds and sea otters. Seward is a typical sea town, really lovely.

I’ve learned a valuable lesson here, NEVER EVER believe anything a blonde waitress in one of those drive through coffee kiosks tells you about how easy a hiking trail is. First off, Jim says it’s only 2.3 miles round trip, then she says it’s so easy it’s almost a handicap disabled trail, then he says that’s what I heard - it’s an easy walk, so she says oh yes, even my dad who has twins (his belly size) does it. So off we go to see the Russian Falls on what turns out to be 2.3 miles ONE WAY. Did I mention the first mile is at least a 6% uphill grade? Or the voracious mosquitoes? Someone says they saw a sow and two cubs walking on the path up ahead, better make lots of noise. We are prepared, we had already put a bear bell on Maggie’s harness so she jingles with every step she takes. I don’t know if it works on bears, but I sure found it irritating! So I am trudging along breathlessly singing Yo Ho Yo Ho a grizzly life for me and 29 bottles of bear on the wall and Jim keeps telling me to be quiet so he can get a picture of the Momma bear and her precious little cubs (just before we run like hell.) He even says, “You grab Maggie and run and I’ll fend off the bear” with his 42” long stick. Yah right. All Jim can talk about is getting pictures of bears fishing the falls for salmon (you see where this is going don’t you.) Finally we reach the falls, nice but not spectacular, and there are no bears and no salmon. Some guide says the “reds are about done and it’s too soon for the sockeye.” Since I am feeling faint from blood loss (the torture of a million skeeter bites), I tell Jim that Maggie and I are heading back. Since the mosquitoes don’t find Jim tasty he stays behind to take some more photos. We begin passing fishermen on their way to the stream, all tricked out in their flannel shirts and waders carrying enough gear to stock a tackle shop. Boy do they look hot. Hot, but cute, with their pretty little colorful flies pinned in their hats and fancy fishing vests. Jim finally catches up (accuses Maggie and I of jogging) and off we go on the long and not so easy trail back to the truck. On the hike back I am running through the list of things I will do to the blonde coffee chick when we get back to town. Almost to the truck and Jim and I have hit a wall, hunched over, hobbling and moaning, Jim says something incredibly stupid – hey this is good for us! Now I am thinking of doing Jim and the coffee chick. Maggie has had enough, she sits in the road with a resolute expression on her face that says carry me or kill me right here. We finally arrive at the truck (praise God) and share a bottle of warm water (no floaties.) I tell Jim you owe me lunch and at least six beers. Maggie collapses in the backseat and immediately becomes comatose; four paws in the air, imitating an Alaskan road kill. After lunch we take a nice drive and get home in time for Tylenol and bed.

In our travels around Alaska we keep seeing signs and bumper stickers that say “ There is not one single mosquito in Alaska. They’re all married and have huge families!” Jim bought me a mosquito trap, it looks like a really really tiny bear trap. Alaskans joke the state bird is the mosquito. In addition to mosquito spray I also carry “After Bite.” After Bite works really good after it quits stinging.

We’ve eaten a couple of times at a place called “Chief’s Kick Ass Cookhouse.” The owner/chef looks like a Samoan who has gone Grizzly Adams. He says he used to be a chef in the bay area. Came up here on vacation and never went back. He makes the best cole slaw I have ever had. For dessert I ordered one of his cherry turnovers and when he brings it to me he apologizes because it’s not as flaky as it should be, he had a problem with the oven. Well, it was amazing, so flaky, so perfect and delicious. He recommended a drive to Cooper Lake, said it was a really pretty drive. On the drive I saw my first Crossbill bird (thanks to Jim’s eagle eye.) On the way back we almost ran over a clutch of baby Spruce Grouse and their momma. I think I’ve mentioned before that these birds are dumb as stumps, just standing there, waiting to be shot or run over. As promised, the drive was really beautiful with several alpine lakes dotted with yellow water lily and loons paddling in the still waters.

Now we’re off to Homer. We have a reservation for an RV park right on the spit in Cook Inlet.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

When does a city of over 300,000 people not feel like a big city? When you're in Anchorage. I have never visited a city with so much open space. The city's motto is "Friends at the front door, Wilderness at the back!" In Anchorage more then more than 1600 moose and a couple hundred black and brown bears roam the city's immense expanses of greenbelts. Surrounded by mountains, dotted with numerous lakes and streams Anchorage is really beautiful. Anchorage has been a great break from the immense wilderness of Alaska, a little bit of civilization in a huge land.

On our first night in town we visited The Sourdough Mining Company Restaurant. On our way to Alaska  we stopped at Seven Feathers Casino for the night and met Amanda, the casinos restaurant hostess. She told us, she was from Anchorage and was moving back to help the family run the Sourdough Mining Company Restaurant. She said "be sure to stop by and say hello when you get to Anchorage." Of course, it was her day off.

We visited the Alaska Zoo, where I took a not so graceful nose dive onto the gravel path, injuring my pride and scraping my arm. Jim was disappointed he didn't get a photo of my swan dive. Nice zoo, reminded us a lot of Northwest Trek in Tacoma Washington.
In Alaska many people own their own airplane and fly to get around. Anchorage has lakes dedicated to aircraft use. One of them is Lake Hood. No swimming, no fishing, no boating; only planes, moored, taking off or landing. To get a slip on Lake Hood you have to wait 12 years, once you have the slip the rental is only $100 a month.
We took in a dinner show called the WildRide Sled Dog Rodeo with Dallas Seavy (the youngest musher in Iditarod history.) His Dad has run in 17 Iditarod races, Dallas has run in 4. We got to meet Dallas, ask tons of questions and see non-stop dog action, demonstrating all aspects of dog mushing. After the show we got to meet the dogs and a pile of Alaskan Husky puppies. These dogs are insane; all they want to do is pull the sled, with or without a musher. In harness, they cannot stand still, jumping up and down, barking and straining at the harness. Mushing is not cheap hobby, a kennel of 60 dogs costs about $150,000 a year to maintain. Dallas finances his “hobby” by doing the show.

We spent most of one day at the huge Farmers Market. There were Alaskan handmade crafts (including fir hats,) street performers, and delicious food. We covered all the basic food groups – hot dogs, corn on the cob and funnel cake. By the time we left, every little kid knew Maggie’s name. Maggie has become a kid magnet.

We visited a park called Potter Marsh so I could do some birding. Beautiful location with the Chugach Mountains in the background. The elevated boardwalk was so cool, a moose walked right under the boardwalk 3 feet from me.

We also visited the Alaska Botanical Park. There were some wonderful artfully done vegetable beds, rare poppies in bloom from the Himalayas, and tons of peonies. All the paths were edged with wattle fencing, so pretty.
Tomorrow we leave for the Kenai Peninsula.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

One last look at McKinley on a crystal clear, not a cloud in the sky, day.

We stayed overnight in Wasilla, home of Sarah Palin. We got a chance to drive by her house, which sits on a beautiful lake. There are many beautiful homes around the lake but the Palin home is unassuming.

One of the things we've noticed in Alaska is ATV paths beside every road. In Chico they have bicycle and jogging paths, but here they not only have ATV paths everywhere, they even have speed limits for driving ATVs in town. In Alaska, folks still have individual rights,you can ride a motorcycle without a helmet, drive a car using a cell phone, drive your ATV in downtown. But get convicted of a DUI and it goes on the FRONT of your driver license. Want to buy alcohol at a store? Want to buy a drink in a restaurant? Not if your driver license says you've been convicted of DUI. And they're talking about lowering the blood alcohol to .06. People here are gun toting, fur wearing (look out PETA), God fearing, fiercely patriotic, family oriented folks.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

We took a flight over Mt McKinley today. The flight exceeded our expectations. Before takeoff the pilot gave us a little safety talk. Where the transponder switch is so help can find us if we make a "hard landing." He showed us where the first aid kit, survival gear and rations are. And then he demonstrated how to use the combination parachute - super duper deluxe barf bag. If you get sick it allows you to hang the bag from your ears and continue taking photos while you barf. He looks pretty cool. Jim was lucky enough to get the right seat for the trip so he had great views! The DeHavilland Beaver we we flew in seats 7 with specially fitted windows for photography so everyone had a great view.

We flew through the Great Gorge of the Ruth Glacier, with mile high granite walls, filled with a 4,000 foot thick river of ice , it's the deepest canyon in North America.

After making several passes at Mt McKinley we headed back down the Great Gorge and landed on Ruth Glacier. The landing area is really uphill, since there are no brakes when landing on ice! Until you land, you really can't appreciate the enormity of the mountains that surround you.

After throwing a few snowballs, watching other planes land and taking a million more photos we hopped back in our trusty plane and headed back to Talkeetna.
Had an email from Paradise today asking how Maggie is doing. After a few accidents on my side of the bed during our first week on the road (Jim thought it was pretty funny) Maggie has settled in beautifully.

When we drove to Prudhoe Bay we boarded Maggie at a kennel for 5 days. To be sure she had a reasonably good time, we signed her up for Muttasorri. It's a play day with other dogs in a huge yard filled with doggie jungle Jim equipment and staff to meet her every need. But oh no, according to her jailers she was not happy. She went on a hunger strike and punished her jailers by sitting with her back to the gate so they could not enjoy her countenance. To make matters worse, when we got her home we found she had scraped her paws raw digging at the chain link gate (poor baby.)

Maggie and the Travel Nome that Dan and Dani gave us for the trip.
Thank goodness Kim, Jeff and the kids gave us this dog bed for Maggie. She spends all her time on the road curled up in bed.

Maggie soaking up the sun amongst the
dandelions in Canada. Happy is the Basenji
who can bask in the sun like a lizard!
Maggie getting a whole body massage
after a long day on the road.


Maggie worshiping the space heater.
This came in handy since Alaska was
colder than Maggie expected.


Maggie takes a trolley car ride in
Whitehorse. She was so good and
a real hit with the kids. Maggie also
took a mine train ride. Good girl!

Maggie freezing her little
Basenji ass off in Alaska.

Maggie enjoys checking out all the strange really big animals we've seen in Canada and Alaska. You have to wonder what she thought of the buffalo.

When we took the 12 hour bus ride into Denali Park we had to board Maggie for the day. This is Sarah, she owns Denali Doggie Day Care. Maggie got to play in the wading pool with the other dogs, she went for long walks and apparently had a really good time with Sarah.