Thursday, July 31, 2008

On my own, sort of


A few days ago, I dropped Carl at the Seattle airport and Daisy and I began our solo journey. Not that it is very solo, as you can see by the photo taken visiting my friends at their Stanwood area lake house. Julia and I have been friends since she attended ouija board seances in my room freshman year.

For the first 24 hours after Carl left, I felt like an arm or leg was gone. It has been two and 1/2 months since Carl was more than an armlength away. Part of me was missing. I told Julia I was having to de-program myself. Despite the fact that Julia had a bedroom for me at the lake, I felt hesitant to leave the RV. Walking into a house with sofas and showers and beds....strange. Daisy too was confused. So she and I continued to sleep in the RV while at the lake, our little bedroom, parked on a beautiful flat spot up Julia's driveway.

Daisy reprogramed first. Anywhere her long line is, there is home. She had a lovely deck overlooking Lake Ketchum, with a door open to come and go at will. By day two she started eating again, a sure sign of perking up, and adapting to anyone who wanted to walk her, pet her, or talk back to her.

Julia and I had a wonderful visit. She cooked and took care of me.....flank steak a la Jack one night, Salmon on the grill another. One day we took a run into Bellingham for a home tour with a wonderful realtor I have been corresponding with for some time. It is definitely hard to find things to dislike about the community. So many parks and greenspaces, trails to last a lifetime, and in the summer, show stopping 70 degree weather. Mountains in the east, water and the San Juan Islands in the west, Canada just to the north, Seattle 90 miles south. All good things. That night we ate at the Cliff House that Bernd, the realtor, recommended for its whisky crab soup.

Another day we felt compelled to check out the day spa, a new addition to the Stanwood community. Rough duty. Or smooth, as it were, since I got a facial. Two months of washing with the bacterial soap or whatever was near, along with a slug of bug bites, took a toll on my beauty. I was fine till I looked in a mirror. AHHHHH!!!

Now, Daisy and I are south of Seattle, at the entrance to Mt. St. Helens, camped solo, our first real night on our own. The pause is shortlived. Tomorrow I pick up friends in Portland for an Oregon coast trip down to our rafting adventure. Julia and son Jack will join up at camp tomorrow night, and then more friends will group up for the rafting out of Grants Pass. We are getting excited!

I spend several hours converting the RV from just us to making room for guests. Carl took all his clothing and personal items home, and the RV is still full. If only I had not thought so many things were necessary at the outset of the trip~! We will be cozy but comfy. Good thing we like each other!

Daisy is out enjoying the first of many gigantic cowbones that Aunt Julia bought her at the beef store this morning. I may not see her the rest of the trip.
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Monday, July 21, 2008

Leaving the bears behind

I am reduced to photographing sleeping chickens; I have resigned myself to not seeing a bear catch fish. The fish are the problem. Either they are late or we are early. I went to Hyder twice to see the bears, and the second day was worse than the first. We got to the bear viewing area at 11:30 and the fishing grizzly left at 11. Oh so close.

There was a bear reported down the road; he had faced down some people on a motorcycle, and they turned tail and came back to the ranger station. We drove to see it, but it had moved into the creek by then. I have given up on fishing bears. I did have a great conversation with the ranger about salmon spawning. And the other ranger was amusing because he would get very excited at bear sighting reports and try to find the bear. What a life. Watching fish spawn, counting fish, waiting for bears. I think it is a bully good time, your forest service at work.

On the way back to the Cassiar Highway, we passed 20 glaciers. I didn't count them, but I am taking the word of the guidebooks on the area. Once on the Cassiar, we spotted bears again. It's all timing. Are you on the road at the particular time that a bear decides it is time to cross? If so, you see bears. If not, they are hiding in those bushes somewhere.

We turned east toward Prince George and found a lovely camp site at Seeley Lake Provincial Park. I took Daisy walking on her new long line and she drove me crazy treeing squirrels. Every time she took off after one, she wrapped herself around a tree or too. Finally, the new long line had no more braking power. We need a new one.

Next day, just east of the park, we visited the lovely historic village of Hazleton. We think it should be marketed better, because there was not much mention of it in our guidebooks. We almost skipped it. All the houses and buildings are in prime condition, there's a river walk, an old paddlewheel, and lovely flowers everywhere.

The land south of Prince George is ranch land, rolling, pretty. The major metropolis is Quesnel, which had gorgeous bike paths, classic cars rolling the streets, and a side trip to the Pinnacles Provincial Park. Daisy and I hiked in with a family from India. The man said he lived there, and he was just taking the family for a hike. He goes there all the time, and he pointed out the best views of Quesnel and the hoodoos.

We had picked out a lovely RV park on Dragon Lake in Quesnel. When we arrived the sign said FULL. There were also dogs everywhere. An obedience/agility course was set up on the lawn. Too bad. What fun that would have been to stay there.

We went on to Williams Lake, where the RV manager said everything in Quesnel was full because of Billy Barker days. It's rodeo time, party time, parade time and carnival time, not to mention agility. She just got back herself.

Next day, we turned on to the Sea to Sky Highway, and the scenery was dramatic. So was the road. Lots of 13% grades and hairpin turns. We went through vertical canyons, then the landscape turned to high desert. When we reached Lilleoot, we were greeted by an RV manager who said it had been 102. Lilleoot is a historical town high on a bluff above the Fraser River. Our campsite was right above the river, below the town. Very desert, but with a roaring river.

After Lilleoot, the terrain became mountain green again. We climbed and hairpinned and twisted. I took over driving at a summit. By the time I reached sea level again, the brakes were smelling, even in 2nd gear.

Daisy has related in her Journal our fun day in Pemberton. Pemberton is a bedroom community to Whistler, home of the 2010 Olympics. Such construction! The highway to Whistler is being rebuilt and widened, and signs pointing out Athletes village, Nordic Events etc are everywhere.

Lakes, streams, waterfalls, mountains, glaciers....we saw it all today. What a lovely corner of the planet. Tonight we have settled in at Squamish, just south of Whistler. It is cool again here under the firs.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Moonrocks and Miners

This morning we drove to the old townsite of Dyea, a native village near Skagway that is the Chilkoot Trail access. In 1898 thousands of gold seekers came to this spot to begin their long journey to Dawson City. The men marched up Chilkoot pass at 45 degrees, long lines, never stopping, with a box of goods on their back. If they faltered, they waited hours to get back in line. It was each man for himself. When they reached the summit 20 miles away, they stashed their goods and came back for more. They made over 20 trips to get to 1000 lbs of goods to the top of the pass. The Yukon required every miner to have those supplies because they did not want all those Americans starving to death in their country.

I was psyched. Daisy and I were up for a little stroll on the Chilkoot trail. Man oh man. Right away with the vertical stuff. I went about 100 yards up. Daisy was ready to rumble all the way to the top of the pass, but not me. When I die, I still want to have knees to donate to science.

We left Skagway after that, following the Klondike highway on the same route as the train the day before, except the other side of the valley. Same great scenery. After we passed the summit and entered BC, we drove through an area called Tormented Valley. It is a moonscape of rock, lakes and conifers dwarfed by the snow and icy winds that are called Mops. It felt like a foreign planet. This lasted for miles till we crossed into the Yukon, which looked more familiar.

We stopped for the night outside of Teslin at Dawson Peaks, an RV/Cabin outpost with a good restaurant. To celebrate the beginning of our 3rd month on the road, we ate in the restaurant with a good bottle of wine. The owner has two canoes down on Teslin Lake that we can take out on the honor system. $5 an hour, tell him how much we owe him when we are done. Maybe good weather in the morrow?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Trains and more real Alaskans

After last night's midnight arrival, I was still in my bunk at 10 o'clock. We decided to take the 3 hour narrow guage train up White Pass at 12:30, so it was up and at it. Packing lunch, walking the dog, shaking down the RV...all can be time consuming.

We met our favorite people again, the folks from Dawson Creek, and met two people from Baytown who grew up in our neighborhood and attended Madison High. They have taken the ferries from Bellingham and loved it all. They have a 5th wheel trailer, but with limited vacation, decided to do the ferry route this time. Daisy hung out at the platform as we waited our call and made quite a few new friends. She has taken to greeting everyone with her whooooooo and then gets petted in all her favorite spots. Dog lovers know where the itch me spots are.

The train climbed up White Pass about 20 miles over the BC border. White Pass was one of the gold rush routes of 1898. We saw the miners' trail below as we climbed a 3 1/2% average grade. The Skagway River seemed a mile below us and the valley walls were narrow. The scenery could not have been more spectacular. There is something special about a train ride with its wide picture windows that let you look straight down and straight up without fear of losing concentration on your driving. And you can step out on the platforms for an even scarier view. We were the first car on the way up and the last car on the way down. I prefer last car. The diesel engine smoke is much farther away, and when the train goes around a curve, you can see the whole train making the curve ahead of you. Pretty nice view.

35,000 men worked on the railway, 2,000 at a time, and they completed the rail to Whitehorse in 2 years. Most of them were men who had failed to make it rich in the gold rush and needed to make some money to get home.

Two of them never made it home. A 5 ton chunk of granite tumbled down the mountain and squashed them. There is still a cross marking the spot of their last repose.

After the train ride, Daisy and I walked the town back to the RV park. It is the best restored gold rush town I have seen. A saloon girl passed by, leading a group of tourists, swishing her hips as she walked. Another lady of the 1890's drove by in a bright yellow touring car. The storefronts are brightly painted, the shops seem to be making a living, and, unlike in Dawson City, the streets are paved. Quaint is quaint, but spare me the mud, please.

Daisy was not yet played out, so we continued our walk next to the rail tracks past the RV park to the end of the town. This route led me past some residential areas that were more than quaint. They were campy. One house specialized in found art, like blue bottles made into a fence and a bowling ball tree on rebar tree limbs. My kind of art. There were also some really rustic living arrangements, like old VW campers, antique Winnebago's, a platform tent city, tarps stretched between trees. All the guys rustling around their make-do abodes had healthy growths of facial hair and a bicycle. Our RV park was run by a group of guys in dreadlocks. Must be a good summer gig for those who love to hike, kayak and live outdoors. It's a place for an adventuresome spirit, this land. I like to see that we still have a place for that. Altogether, it was a great walk, marred only by a husky looking dog that decided Daisy was on her sidewalk and took a hunk of fur out of her rump. No bleeding, just fur. We crossed to the other side of the street in a big hurry.

I have noticed, though, an unfortunate propensity to hang on to junk or just leave it where it dies. It is as if the land is so vast, no one gets rid of things when they wear out. There's always room for more, and soon the trees grow up around the junk. I guess the land fill business is not very prosperous here. I saw a sign in Glenallen that listed the number of cars, washing machines, etc that a cleanup group had pulled from the area roadsides over the last year. It was mind-boggling.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Real Alaskans

What a funky little place, this Haines. Today we had little to do, having decided that the clabber sky did not bode well for poking holes with an airplane. The pilot said no guarantees of Glacier Bay today, so we decided to save the bucks for another adventure.

We visited both Chilkat and Chilkoot Parks. I found out later that both are named for tribes of the Tlingat, and that normally anything named Chilkat is south and west, and Chilkoot is north and east. That applies unless the item is a river....

No bears today, even though this is bear country. The salmon are a little slow. But the scenery is spectacular. You can see two glaciers from Chilkat State Park. We took a little "beach" walk there, which means walking over stones, some really big and rough, others smaller. Some of the stone beaches here look very forbidding. And they are impossible to hike on.

We went to a couple of funky museums. The Sheldon Museum is a history of the town and the native people. That's where I learned about the Chilkat vs Chilkoot. They have a great compilation of photos from the town over the years, some of the Fort as it grew and changed. There in the museum and later at Fort Seward, walking Daisy on the old parade ground, I began to wonder if my father had walked this land during WWII. Would this have been a port of entry for the army entering Alaska? I will look more closely through his old war scrapbook when I return home.

The funkiest museum was the Hammer museum. 1,600 hammers on display and 4-5,000 in storage. That is one bunch of hammers! What would such a collecter be called? Hammelatilist? They were at first all hammers that one man collected to live independently here in Haines. Then he caught the fever and started collecting. They are hoping to get more room soon to display more of them.

The most Alaskan conversation of the day was with the brewmeister at Haines Brewery. Whilst sipping my sampler of four of his 6 beers, we had a philosophical discussion, mostly about his life. Before owning a brewery, which puts him on the list of poverty level citizens, he was a forester. That means he measured trees and estimated the amount of forest for lumber companies and the government. He was a carpenter on the side.

He met his wife, who was willing to live in a remote area and love it. Remote means that his house, which he built, requires him to walk in 20 minutes one way. Sometimes in low tide he can walk around the beach (I know that means he hikes on rocks) or he can canoe things in. No refrigerator, just a root cellar. He has some solar power, supplemented by a diesel generator. He's working on a wind generator. He has water collection barrels. As to plumbing, he quoted a friend who said, "Why do people insist on finding nice clean water to run into their house, and then the first thing they do is shit in it? We Alaskans don't shit in our houses."

He said the next best thing about his wife, other than wanting to live in the wilderness, is that she was willing to become a teacher and let him have a brewery. I guess she loves his facial hair too. Men have an advantage in Alaska. They can grow facial hair against the elements. And most of them do.

I recommend his Spruce Ale, as it pleased me and the locals too. Several rolled by on Friday afternoon getting their half gallon refills of "the Spruce" to make the weekend odd jobs go smoother.

Tonight we joined the party waiting for the ferry to Skagway. There was a festive air among the waiters. We met several people we have seen along the way. Most of the time they recognize Daisy, not us. The family from Belgium with the two young girls that love Daisy came over. A couple who met us in Dawson Creek because they liked our seat covers was there. Daisy did her usual talking and greeting and smoozing. We were there at least two hours early, fixing dinner, hanging out.

To take the RV on the ferry, you have to register by the foot and pay accordingly. The length police came by and generally paced off the lengths of the vehicles in line to keep people honest. Carl said they busted somebody who paid for 21 feet and looked to be about 38. Sent them back to buy another ticket. How embarrassing. They also came by to be sure our propane was turned off. I know they gave it an extra turn, because I had a hard time turning it back on when we landed in Skagway.

The Malaspina ferry makes the triangle route from Juneau to Haines to Skagway every day. It was smooth as glass, quiet, big and comfortable. We went deep into a fiord headed to Skagway at dusk, with mountains on both sides of the ship. Despite the fact we were surrounded by cold water and glacial mountains, the night air was surprisingly mild. There was no wind except that created by the boat. It was quite magical. We could see Skagway's lights sparkling as we approached, a short hour later.

We disembarked from a ferry in the dark and tried to find a place to spend the night. Just when you need a Walmart parking lot, you are in a quaint touristy gold rush town with no apparent shopping centers, and the days are getting short enough that it is dark at midnight. It was disorienting, but we managed. Goodnight Skagway!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Coming to the Valley of the Eagles


Haines AK is known as the valley of the eagles because of an eagle preserve along the Chilkat River. 3000 eagles come here in the fall to feed on a late run of chum salmon. Meanwhile, many breeding pairs make the river valley their home year round. We saw one with wings spread the full seven feet wide as we came down the Haines Highway.

The Haines Highway defies superlatives. The mountains. The rivers. The lakes. The mounded glacial hills. A waterfall or two. A hike up the rock moraine of a glacier. The Chilkat Pass, highly guarded for centuries by natives who did not want to give up control of their trading route. It was a glorious day, sunny and PERFECT. As we drove, the mountains acquired hula hoop cloud rings around their middles. We saw the Kluanes and then the magnificent St. Elias range.

Haines is a small waterfront town served by the Alaska ferry system. It is a small fishing village and home to fishermen and artists. Like Valdez, it is surrounded by mountains on all sides and has a protected harbour.
One of its picturesque highlights is historic Fort Seward, where the white wood two story officer homes are now businesses like B & B's, restaurants, and the like.

Daisy had a walk through a picturesque city park by the water and an adjoining old cemetery. (about her fourth walk of the day: a meadow, the rock glacier, the water falls preceding this one). The park was filled with wildflowers. I once again tried to photograph. You be the judge. Today I saw more shasta daisies than at any other time during the trip. White floating roadsides. They look so happy.

We drove to the Chikoot River (no, I didn't mispell, there's chilkat and chilkoot) where bears fish during salmon runs. No bears. We saw a fish weir, a fence all the way across the river with one small opening in the middle. A man was standing out in the middle. What was he doing? Counting salmon. 2400 Sockeye have passed through so far this season. I could not believe he counts manually. Said you have to, to separately count the kinds of salmon that are crossing. Fish and Game uses this information to judge the rate of breeding and returns. They allow fishing based on the escapement numbers so that the population is maintained. He said the bears won't come to the river till the pinks run, because they spawn in the river. We are just too early for the fish, who have all decided to be late this year.

Just over the St. Elias Range is Glacier Bay, where I hope to visit tomorrow on a flightseeing tour. Maybe land on the glacier. That would be a big splurge, but I have been waiting during the trip for the right time to splurge on something other than diesel. (We paid 6.29 a gallon in Chicken, AK.) Drake the pilot says we will see about the weather in the morning. Hope so!
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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Flower Power

Yukon Wildflowers

To visit the photo album with names of flowers, click on Yukon Wildflowers above.

I have been enjoying eternal spring this year, with wildflowers everywhere. I have tried to take some photos, and even when I use the little flower setting on my camera, I usually get a blur that I delete. Need to learn to use a plus grande aperture, non?

I don't want you to think there are no flowers, so today I made a list of what I saw from Carmacks to Haines Junction, so I found a website from a GOOD wildflower photographer for you to enjoy, above.

Here's my list of the day.

. Fireweed, a hot pink/magenta that is the first to come back after a fire; since we drove through the 1998 burn area, it was everywhere
. shasta daisies
. yarrow
. sage like flowers in purple and pink
. grasses, with pink feather tops and white feather tops
. dogwood
. red ground covers
. creamy yellow clover
. lupines, and boy are they magnificent
. wild roses, everywhere
. dandelions...they were yellow blankets on the way up, and now they are fields of puffballs
. forget me nots, the state flower
. a lavendar heathery looking flower on grey foilage
. Lots of what Lady Bird used to call those durn yellow flowers


PS We had our first flat today, a nail, right after stopping at Mom's Bakery, where we bought two loaves of bread and soups. ( Mine was buffalo chili, and it was so good I ate all of it tonight. My tummy hurts.) We got the flat fixed in Whitehorse and were on our way in less than an hour. We were lucky that the nail went into one of the back tires, because we have four of those. We got to keep driving instead of fixing a flat in the rain. I like lucky!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

All things Valdez

Yesterday while we were in rapture on the boat, Genevieve the 17 year old native made us fall in love with her town. She told how the fireworks would be down at the pond near the convention center (which by the way has a world famous playwright convention every year), and how there were three wonderful museums, biking trails, hiking trails that she loves, and a fish hatchery where you might see bears.

At 11 pm last night I stepped out to see the twilight fireworks. Competing locals were setting off their own rockets in several locations, and it was as American as you can get. So, with one of her predictions come true, we had to see a museum or two today, especially since we woke to a light rain.

We are now Valdez experts. Population, 4,454. No natives. There was never a native village here. Valdez was established in 1897 as a port of entry for goldseekers, who were told by promoters there was a port here to outfit them for the journey to the Klondike over the Valdez glacier. They arrived to nothing. Eventually a tent city was erected at the foot of the Valdez glacier for the sole purpose of making money outfitting gold seekers. It became a permanent town, and outfitters got rich while miners never did. A proposed railroad from Valdez to the copper discoveries in the Wrangells never materialized due to feuds between rival villages. The railroad eventually went to Cordova. Valez was maintained as a military outpost until the first road in the 1920's.

Then came Good Friday 1964, when the epicenter of the famous earthquake was near here in Prince William Sound. The town's dock was destroyed, a tsunami followed and 32 lives were lost. The townsite sank so low that high tides continued to flood the town, which was built on the terminus of a glacier and would never be stable in future earthquakes. In 1967, the town was relocated to the bedrock location it currently occupies and the remaining site was razed. The town became the southern terminus of the Alaskan pipeline, completed in 1977.

We love their town. After two museums and a halibut basket lunch, the sun came out, and I'll be darned if we didn't have to ride our bikes out their bike trail. We were thinking of going to the salmon hatchery to see the bears, but when I found out that was 25 miles round trip, I decided just a nice bike ride was fine. The sun was shining on the peaks again, Switzerland in Alaska, the breeze warm, the path smooth. I followed the path toward the now much retreated Valdez glacier, took a picture, and thought about all the men shuffling their supplies over the glacier chasing a dream that would never be.

Tonight Carl just took a photo of the scenery out the RV window. Looks pretty good to me.
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Friday, July 4, 2008

God's place of Wonder

What a glorious day. We expected rain, and we got the most unusual of Valdez days, sun, all day long! I apologize for the length of today's photo album. I could not stop snapping, and then later I could not hit the delete button. Get ready for a ton of ice.

Here's the animal list from Prince William Sound. It was a glorious day for the wildlife too. Naturally, our photos will not do them justice, but we try.

Pigeon Guillemot
Tufted puffin
Stellar Sea lions, beaches full of them
Humpback whales, and I even saw lots of tails
Sea otters, floating in rafts
Dalls Porpoise, running along next to us a 35 mph
harbor seals, pulled out on the glacier ice
Eagles, lots of them, including one in its two ton nest
And as always, more birds than I could count

In addition to wildlife,the cruise highlighted glaciers. There were two major glaciers on our 9 1/2 hour Stan Stephens cruise. (If you are ever in Valdez, this is a must.) First, Columbia Glacier. It began retreating in 1984 leaving behind a moraine on which its calved ice gets caught. The result is a giant field of icebergs, large and small, which float out for miles into the bay. You can barely see the glacier from the boat, but its debris is awesome. The boat hangs by the glacier for at least 30 minutes, quiet and still, so you can listen to the silence and the sounds of the ice popping and cracking in the water.

We made way for Meares Glacier, up the Unakwick Inlet. We passed a 2000 pound eagle's nest as we wended our way up the inlet, and a raven chose that moment to harass the nest. The giant winged eagle leaped and swooped to defend its young and gave us a gasp of surprise. Next, we encountered rafts of sea otters, hanging out, sleeping on their backs, rolling over, hooking up with buddies, very social animals. Sometimes we would pass a mom with her baby on her belly. Too precious for words. Carl caught quite a few photos of the cuties. The otter has the thickest fur of any sea mammal; it was almost hunted to extinction by early Russian trappers.

Then we rounded a corner and saw Meares. Overwhelming. Its face is about 200 feet tall; it is one mile wide and extends about 13 miles into the valley. The glacier is advancing, taking trees with it as it scours the sides of the inlet. It has advanced about 200 yards the last year. With the advancement comes the groans and cracks and booms as the ice heaves against itself and calves. We watched several calves create big waves. It felt like we watched the glacier in quiet for about an hour. Time stood still in this place of wonder. As we left, I felt myself crying. A fellow traveler was teary too. We looked at each other with complete understanding that we had been somewhere holy.

The glacier is so awesome that the seals that make their homes on its ice calves were hardly noticeable. But as we pulled away, an eagle soared across the width of the glacier, taking his time, spiraling and diving. It was indeed a glorious salute to the 4th of July.

We made our way out of the Inlet to the open sea, where humpback whales treated us to views of their tails as they dove. I have such admiration for wildlife photographers since starting on this trip. Try as we might, we can never seem to catch a whale doing much of anything. But the time you see him, it is over! I have given up trying and just watch and enjoy. I gave the camera to Carl, and he caught a few humps.

The whales continued to tease us all the way to Glacier Island, where I lost interest in whales and was captured by my second love, Stellar Sea lions. I love the noise they make as they hang out on the beach. One beach was filled with juveniles jockeying for positions of importance. Another was filled with mamas and babies and their bull, guarding his harem. Beach after beach of sea lions. Stellar! (groan)

Birds competed for our attention as we passed Glacier Island. The puffins do a running takeoff on the water which is fun to watch and impossible to photograph. Blurred wings. I didn't think to switch to Sports mode till they were airborn. Not being a birder, my attention is focused on the mammals, but this is a sea bird paradise.

We made our way into the Valdez Arm, pausing to reflect on the Exxon Valdez tragedy as we passed Bligh Island. Our cruise captains said we did not visit any areas of the Sound which had been affected by the spill. The spill had gone more south and east, and we had taken a westerly route in our trip. In the protected coves, there is still evidence of the spill, where the wave action of the sea has not removed the oil. This will take years to solve.

Our captains allowed all passengers access to the bridge all day long. We were able to ask questions in addition to the continuing narration they provided. Their description of the event made it seem like we were there, right on the bridge, the night it happened. Human error. A tanker put on auto pilot by its captain as it left the shipping lanes with coast guard permission to avoid sea ice. A captain who then went below deck, leaving the watch with the third mate who had been 16 hours on duty. A third mate who did not know the ship was on auto pilot, so that his lane change back to the outbound lanes never happened. By the time the error was realized as the watch reported signal lights that made no sense, it was too late to stop. The ship ran aground and ruptured 8 of its 11 tanks.

The Pipeline now has in place cleanup equipment and crews, requires two tugs to be tethered to the tankers all the way into the gulf of Alaska, and a pilot on board much farther than at the time of the spill. Our captains said they felt with certainty that another spill would be contained much quicker. A further regulation requiring double hulls on all tankers is now in full effect.

As we entered the narrows, we encountered the commercial fishermen in full swing, two hours remaining in their 12 hour open fishing that fish and game had declared for the day. It was interesting watching the captains navigate through all the seines stretched across the narrows. Pink salmon, also called humpy was the catch of the day. The fishermen were using purse nets, an efficient method that results in jellyfish being the only unwanted catch in their nets. After they bring in their catch, they can either put it in their holds or call over a ship which vacuums the catch directly from the net. The ship weighs the fish as they pass into its hold and gives the ship a credit slip. At the end of the day, the fish end up at Peter Pan seafood back in the harbor, where they are once again vacuumed into the plant. Most of them are still alive. Bad day for the fish, great day for the consumers like us.

There was a tug in the narrows awaiting the arrival of an empty tanker. Later in the day, we saw the tanker docked and loading at the terminal.

We loved the workers on our boat. Genevieve was a 17 year old that we fell in love with. She's a senior, she swims, she plans to go to college to be a music teacher. Her instruments are piano and clarinet. She talked to all the guests as the day went on, but we felt like she specially adopted us, and we wanted to adopt her. She is a native of Valdez. Her grandmother's house was in Old Valdez before the 1964 earthquake destroyed the town. New Valez is built on bedrock so that hopefully lives will not be lost as they were then. We also loved Debbie, a native of Cordova, who sparkled all day long. She says on Good Friday 1964 she was pregnant with her 19 year old son. When her three sons come home, they all return to Cordova to take some amazing hikes. All the workers seemed to be taking in the scene for the first time, in love with a place that can never leave your heart, and would not slow in their quest to make sure we saw what they loved.

Scenery. Drop dead scenery. I am going to my thesaurus after I finish this for more words for amazing. Mountains reaching the sound. More layers of mountains behind them. Visible snow covered peaks on this sunny day. I think this day will stand out as one of the most memorable of our trip.

I had a cup of tea in the afternoon as we cruised in the stillness of Prince William Sound. The tea bag had this quote: "In wildness is the preservation of the world." Henry David Thoreau.

Nuff said.
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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Walking on Ice

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Today we went south on the Richardson Highway, skirting the edge of Wrangell St. Elias National Park. These folks were walking on the Worthington Glacier, the most visited spot on the highway. This glacier is not fenced off. You are free to hike to its toe and jump on, with warnings that no one but you is responsible if you fall in a crevasse. Maybe on the way back we will just do that.

This part of the Richardson Highway is like Switzerland. The mountains, the snow, the glaciers. Just breathtaking. Wrangell St Elias is the largest US Wilderness and the least visited. 50,000 people a year visit its 13 million acres. Why? Only 100 miles of gravel roads into the park. Its icefields are so huge that flying in is the most practical way to see the park. 25% is covered by glacial ice. It has six peaks over 15,000 feet and the highest active volcano in Alaska, Mt. Wrangell, 14,163 feet.

We have two days to decide if we are going to trek into the park to McCarthy, or save the RV for another dirt road trip. Meanwhile, here in Valdez, we are ringed full circle by mountains. I could sing The Hills are Alive if I could forget that I am in a typical North American RV park. Tomorrow they are having a fish fry in the RV park, which I will miss because of our boat trip. They said they will save me a piece of fish.

The Valdez officials relocated a young blond grizzly last week. It was homesteading its territory on a frequently walked/driven trail, and they were afraid someone would shoot it. It was also causing rubber necking traffic jams. They trapped it without sedating it, using volunteers and a boat to transport it. They don't know if it was male or female...No one was bold enough to take a look. It's off in the wild somewhere now, hopefully very happy in a bear friendly environment.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Finding Religion on the Glenn Highway

Today we stopped in the village of Eklutna, near Anchorage on the Glenn Highway. There the Russian Orthodox village has an Aleut customary cemetery with Spirit Houses on the graves. They were all repainted last summer and are very bright although old. Some have new houses over old ones that sunk. The tradition comes from an Aleut belief that in the afterlife, a person needs comfort and shelter. The priest explained this was not in conflict with the Christian belief in an afterlife.

For a voluntary suggested contribution (I didn't ask for my change), I got a personalized tour and a lesson in Orthodox christianity. The split between east (Constantinople) and west (Rome) occurred in 1046. At issue was the papacy. The east felt in matters of importance all bishops should vote, and the bishop of Rome should be just one vote. There are a few other theological differences, involving the immaculate conception (which confused this 12 year parochial school graduate but I looked it up online and the priest was right!) and the Holy spirit. One main difference is that an orthodox priest, if married when he is ordained, may be married. Father Daniel is married. He is from Russia, ordained in 2001, and in Alaska since 2003. He has a wife and two children, has a parish in Anchorage, and is the tour guide at this cemetery on Wednesdays. We discussed oil prices, (since I was from Houston, he thought I knew the answer), and then global warming. I explained my sabbatical which is allowing me to find my true purpose in life. (I think it might be to be a bum). He found today to be quite warm, while I thought it was glorious! It might get to 80 in the interiors. I suggested that his black robe and purple velvet hat might be on the warm side.

Daisy's walk was a 2 mile round trip famly hike to Thunderbird Falls. On the way up, I could hear children's voices playing on the creek below. On the way back, we walked with them. Ah, the energy and delightfulness of youth. Daisy was pooped out.

We saw a cub black bear on the old Glenn Highway, and reveled in the glorious scenery of this national scenic byway, the Glenn Highway. The mountains are like Switzerland. Four mountain ranges converge here: the Alaskan, the Chugash, the Wrangell and St. Elias. The second highest peak in North American is in this range. The road winds up valleys and overlooks a braided river below, passing two glaciers while dipping and rolling along.

Tomorrow we go to Valdez and probably rain, so we are thankful for today's glorious weather. We will be cruising Prince William Sound on the 4th of July. There's still some oil on the shores, I hear, from 18 years ago.

Speaking of green, Fred Meyer, aka Krogers, is my favorite store up here. I got more plastic grocery bags than Daisy could use up on her daily walk, so I decided to take them in and reuse them. They paid me 5 cents for every bag I reused. Now there's a green idea I love. Even Carl was impressed. The nickel got his attention. It took twice as long to bag our groceries, but the checker was cheery and spirited. I am not sure how the people in line behind us felt, but who cares? Not me, I'm retired. Fred Meyer will do the same if you bring cloth bags. Made me nostalgic for the days of returned bottles, which made so much more sense than our disposable society today. Go Kroger!

One last thought: in Fairbanks last week, the international conference on permafrost met. Alaska is 80% permafrost. If it melts, roads and buildings will go sloshing down.