Thursday, June 28, 2007

Thirteen Things For Fathers With Daughters

My oldest daughter, Gwenna, had her sixth birthday last week. As my daughters have grown it has made me think about their future and my responsibilities to them. The problem for me is I understand my sons’ situations but my daughters can sometimes be a mystery. Having never been one, little girls’ lives are new to me.

Fathers generally know their part in raising their boys so they are prepared for life. You wrestle with them. You take them camping and fishing. You have them help you with the car. It is easy because you just show the things you were shown as a boy, but raising girls requires more of a learning curve for fathers. So here are thirteen things I have learned, or advice I have been given, that fathers should do with their daughters.
Gwenna and Xianli at Eklutna Lake
1. Be a Gentleman. Treat your daughters, and your wife, the way you want others to treat them and they won’t settle for less.

2. Take Them With The Boys. Play catch with them. Take them to the game. They shouldn’t feel like there are separate activities they can’t do. The world will try to give them boundaries; don’t give them any to start with.

3. Camp With Them. Camping teaches them to survive on their own. Teach them how to light a fire with one match while it is raining and they will have the confidence to weather the other storms in their lives.

4. Play Dolls With Them. Show them that your love for them is big enough to do what they like. Real men let their daughters practice putting curlers in their hair.

5. Tell Them They Are Beautiful. They are entitled to a healthy body image from their fathers even if the world is full of bad ones. Every father knows their daughters are beautiful; just make sure they know that you do.
Xianli Eating Hand
6. Tell Them They Are Smart And Talented. Show them there is more to them then just their looks. Help them to develop their talents and skills.

7. Teach Them How to Fix Things. Teach them not to be afraid of technology or life. Show them how to solve their own problems whether it’s a flat tire, crazy computer, or broken relationship.

8. Go on Daddy-Daughter Dates. Take them dancing, go to dinner, or just go shopping. Make sure to spend one-on-one time with them. I usually hate shopping, but the most fun I ever had was when my daughter dragged me all over a mall looking for her Mom’s birthday gift. Gwenna’s excitement was contagious even for me. It’s a special memory just between us.

9. Listen, Talk, and Listen Some More. Take the time to really communicate with your daughters. When you talk you learn about them, their needs, and their dreams. Listening shows them you care about them. It will also help them build strong communication skills. Gwenna

10. Don’t Ogle Other Women. Actions speak louder than words. You can’t teach them to respect themselves when you are objectifying others. When they see you drooling over the college cheerleaders on ESPN or reading a “Lad Mag” you will lose credibility.

11. Help Out Around The House. Show them there is no women’s work, only house work. Show them what an equal partner looks like.

12. Kiss Your Wife In Front Of Them. When there are so many unhealthy representations of physical relationships in the media, show them what a healthy one looks like.

13. Love Their Mother. My grandmother use to say the most important thing a father can teach his children is that he loves their mother more than anything, even them.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Caswell Creek, Alaska

Caswell Creek Reflecting CloudsTwo Fridays ago I was at my parents' cabin and William, Ben, and I jumped on a four wheeler and drove up the highway to Caswell Creek. Caswell Creek is a sleepy little clear water creek located near mile 85 on the Parks Highway. I say sleepy because 99% of the time I head down there I never see anyone else, but one-percent of the time when the salmon are in thick, its banks are covered with people. I have to confess. I headed down there to see if the king salmon had come in early. There wasn't a fish to be seen, but I got lucky. It was a perfect day for taking pictures and I certainly took home my limit in photos.

I chose this photo because you can see where the clear water of Caswell Creek meets the silty Susitna River. The dividing line between the two waters is amazing. And for a bonus the clouds reflected off the water nicely. We calls those clouds "Simpsons Clouds" because they look like the clouds in the opening credits of the TV show.
P.S. I finally updated my Flickr site with the recent pictures. I added around 30 new photos.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Anchorage Web Cam

Kids at JobsiteOne thing I like about being an engineer is I occasionally get to hang out at construction sites. There is just something about the heavy equipment and watching things being built. I guess I never outgrew playing in the sandbox.
Gwen & Will in Bucket
In March, I got a chance to take William and Gwenna with me to visit a construction site. It was a Saturday; the site was shut down except for three guys waiting to finish up a test. Once I was done with my work, the foreman for the site let William and Gwenna a quick look at the equipment. They thought that was pretty cool.

Well, my part of the project is pretty much completed but the building is just getting started. It is going to be a fourteen story building with four floors of parking. It is a pretty big project and it is located right in the mid-town area of Anchorage at the corner of the C Street and Northern Lights Boulevard. Since the project is high profile the building owner started a website for the project. Interestingly enough they have also installed a real-time web camera of the construction site. The camera is located across the street and has a bird’s eye view of the site.

So, the link of the week is the 188 W. Northern Lights project site with its web camera. Besides getting a chance to watch one of my projects, it is also a great way for anyone planning a trip to see what the weather is really like in Anchorage. This would have come in handy last Firday. Enjoy!

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Day in Teller, Alaska

Last Tuesday, I had a chance to travel to Teller, an Inupiat Village with a population of 290, along the west coast of the Seward Peninsula. Teller is a unique place in that it is accessible by a regional road. I drove the 72-miles from Nome along a narrow dirt road. It was a perfect day; sunny with hardly a cloud in the sky. Along the way I saw a bear, musk oxen, moose, ptarmigans, abandoned gold dredges, and lots of beautiful country. The drive went quickly even with the frequent stops to take pictures.

When I got to Teller, I had a chance to spend some time talking to the mayor, Joe Garnie. After our business was completed we hung around and started talking about dog sledding. It was obvious that Joe was knowledgeable in only the way a life time musher can be. When he told me he raced, I asked if he had ever done the Iditarod. He gave me a wry smile and said he had. Then I asked him how well he had done. He smiled again and said second place and third place. It then dawned on me; this was JOE GARNIE the legendary Iditarod musher. Libby Riddle raced his dogs to win the Iditarod back in 1985 when they were partners. The next year he placed second behind Susan Butcher with the same dogs. In fact he has placed in the top 25 all 15 times that he has raced. That is an amazing feat considering it is an honor to be able to even finish the race.

Joe is unique among Iditarod mushers in that he is a traditional Inupiat musher. Most of his training is just using his dogs to stay alive in the arctic. He wears traditional clothes. His kennel only has as many dogs has he can support from his subsistence hunting and fishing.

Joe claims dog sleds are the best transport in the arctic. He doesn’t use snow machines, preferring the traditional way. He says he starts traveling earlier in winter and continues longer through spring with his dog sled than anyone else can with a snow machine. He also claims to have never been stuck, broken down, or stopped by a hill he couldn’t climb with his teams. And I believe him.

Later that day, I watched as Joe finished clearing out his fishing net. He had hauled in a load of white fish, cod, herring, and a few dollies. Joe then explained that most of the fish would be dried and used as dog food, but the dollies would be saved for his personal use.

The dollies were going to be dried for a couple of hours until the pellicle forms then tossed into the freezer. The pellicle protects the meat and prevents freezer burn. I asked Joe how he eats them. His response was, “frozen.” I wasn’t sure if he was pulling my leg, but I later asked several other Inupiat friends and they all said it was true. In fact they all said it was their favorite way to eat fish. You just take it out of the freezer, sprinkle a little salt on it, and dip it into seal oil. After those rave reviews, I think I will have to add frozen fish in seal oil to my list of foods I have to try.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Anchorage, Fires, and Taiwan

This morning when I got up to ride to work it was dark, darker than when I went to bed. At first I thought it was going to rain. Then I got a whiff. It wasn't dark from rain clouds but haze from the forest fires north of Anchorage.

With the haze, smoky smell, warm air, humidity, and the bike ride it was like I was back in Taiwan. It was mainly the smell that brought on the flood of memories. Some of my strongest memories in Tiawan are associated with smells. So the ride in this morning was quite the trip down memory lane.
The smoke was also blending the morning light in funny ways. Greens were much more vibrant, like I was looking through a polarized filter. It must have been the smoke in the air because I remember the same thing happening with the fallout from the last Mt. Spurr erruption.

On the brightside, the forest fires usually mean more moose and fireweed. It could also open up some new trails around Trapper Lake.

P.S. The Anchorage photo was taken by seanexmachina and the Taipei photo was taken by Paogao.

Side Note: I have been in the Norton Sound region for most of the week. So I have not had time to update. I should be back on schedule next week with lots of new stories. I will also be updating my Flickr with the trip photos soon.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Thirteen Reasons I Love Being a Father

I love being a father. One of the best things that ever happened to me was becoming a father. Next to my wife, my five children are the best things in my life. So in honor of Father’s Day this Sunday I have put down thirteen reasons I love having children:

1. They are Great Tax Deductions. Sure they are a net loss, but come tax time five more dependents looks pretty good.

2. They Keep Me Smart. My kids are always asking me questions and testing my knowledge. Why is the sky blue? What are the colors of the rainbow? What would happen if a black hole formed around the car? I am very grateful for Wikipedia and Google.

3. They Give Me Excuses to Buy Gear. It is easier to convince my wife to let me buy new gear such as fishing rods, stoves, camping equipment, etc. when I am going to use it with the kids.

4. They Keep Me in Shape. Whether it is wrestling with the kids or chasing them around trying to dress them, my kids always give me a workout. I get more exercise at bedtime then most people get all day. They especially keep me in shape when they make me carry them.

5. They Are The Best Pick-Me-Ups. Kids are the best distractions. No matter how bad or stressful work was, when I get home and get tackled with kisses and hugs it all melts away. You can’t help but have a smile on your face when someone is that happy to see you.

6. They Give Me Excuses to be a Kid Again. I can still watch TMNT, discuss Star Wars, read Harry Potter, and build things out of trash. With the kids, I am a good father. Without the kids I am just another aging geek.

7. They Keep Me Laughing. Whether it is the jokes they tell or things they do or say, they are always making me laugh.

8. They Inspire Me. Everything is exciting and new to my kids. They are always learning and discovering. It is impossible for that not to rub off on me.

9. They Give Me Excuses to Take Off Work. It is always easier to justify cutting work when it is for family time.

10. They Never Let Me Get Bored. There is never ever a dull, or quite, moment in our house. My wife and I wonder what people without kids do. We don’t remember, but they must have a lot of free time.

11. They are Cheap Labor. It is always nice to have several small helping hands. It always makes the work more fun, though not always easier. You get what you pay for.

12. They are a Captivated Audience. Like Ulysses Everett McGill, I too have “been endowed with the gift of gab.” Rebecca often has to gently remind me that I have already told her that story . . . today . . . twice. The kids are always begging to hear stories from when we were children. And their attention spans being what they are, they don’t mind hearing the same ones over and over again.

13. They Introduced Me to a Whole New Life. My life has been enriched by having kids. I have enjoyed greater sorrows and joys then ever before. I have experienced things I never would have imagined without kids and for that I am grateful.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Humpy at Hope

This picture cracks me up. Several years ago, I took William on a Father & Son campout with our church. We all camped in the hay flats around Hope, Alaska. We did some fishing that night for pink salmon or humpies. It is pretty easy to see how they got that name. In most cases they turn ugly as soon as they reach freshwater. We were still in the tidal area of Resurrection Creek when this one was caught. It was William’s first close encounter with a humpy and he was none too interested. The next day we decided to go hiking instead.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Honey, Where is My Shovel?

Scribbit recently posted about her son, Spencer, reconstructing a mouse skeleton from an owl pellet at school. The story reminded me of similar things that I did when I was young. My best friend, who lived two doors up, had a cat that was always bringing home dead birds. One day we got the idea to bury the birds and wait until nature reduced them to bones. Then we would dig up the bones and put them back together. Why would we want to, you might ask? Because we would then have a really cool skeleton bird sitting on the bedroom shelf. To us, it was the only logical thing to do with the dead birds. Just giving them a proper burial would be such a wasted opportunity. Now we could combine the fun of treasure hunters, archeologist, builders, and mad scientists into one seemingly simple task.

So with much anticipation we buried our first bird in the woods behind my friend’s house. We even made sure to mark the spot, not with any kind of gravestone, but with an ‘X’ in the dirt. Then we waited, but boys’ attention span being what they are, we could never remember where or when to unbury the birds. That didn’t stop us though. With youthful optimism, we continued to bury the dead birds each time, completely convinced it would work out this time. We buried so many birds that it is a wonder that we never discovered a previously-burried bird while digging the hole for the next.

Eventually we did succeed in digging up one bird. We collected every bone we could find. There weren’t many. We dutifully placed them in a shoe box and then realized we had no idea what to do with the bones now that we had them. That didn’t dampen our spirits. We kept that box of bird bones as a prized treasure that some day we would get around to putting together. I don’t know whatever happened to that box with its bones. It quietly faded from memory. I suspect a mother helped it along its way.

The reason I am telling this story is to better explain my fascination with this story.

While listening to Alaska Public Radio recently, I heard a program entitled Do It Yourself from March 10, 2007. With my love of DIY, my interest was piqued and as I reached to turn up the volume the lead-in announced that one segment would be about rebuilding a 36-foot whale skeleton. Having read the story above, it should come as no surprise to anyone I was instantly awed and riveted to my radio as the desires of a lost project from my youth came alive again.

As the program unfolded I learned that Stacy Studebaker, a retired high school biology teacher, had discovered a 39-foot gray whale washed ashore near her Kodiak cabin. I totally related to her when she said her first thought was to rebuild the skeleton. "Who the heck was going to clean up the mess?" didn’t even cross our minds.

I listened with fascination at how over seven years and lots of help she essentially rediscovered the art of rearticulating whale skeletons. I won’t go into any more detail here, because Stacy Studebaker has a done a better job than I ever could chronicling the process step-by-step on her webpage. The project is now near completion and the skeleton will be housed in the new Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, which is being built to specifically display the skeleton.

As the program ended, the DIY and biologist in me were stoked and I was left enviously wishing I could find a 39-foot whale washed up at my doorstep. Though this would probably leave my neighbors extremely perplexed, especially when I gleefully started digging a pit in my backyard.

P.S. I add "Link of the Week" over on the right, which will feature webpages that I want to share.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Tips: Ziploc Omelets

This past March, I went winter camping with my kids. It was one of those campouts when, in the rush to leave, things were left behind. While trying to fix breakfast the next morning I realized I had forgotten to bring a frying pan or spatula. Without either, I was unable to scramble the eggs for breakfast. While pondering what to do, I remembered I had once seen a friend cook scrambled eggs by boiling them in a plastic bag. I had often cooked oatmeal in Ziploc bags by pouring boiling water into it, but I had never tried it with eggs. I had always been curious. So, I pulled out a Ziploc and cracked a couple of eggs into the bag. I zipped up the bag and squished it in my hands to scramble the eggs. Then it went into the boiling water. The results were pretty fair. It would have been better if I had remembered salt and pepper. The only thing was it didn’t really taste like scrambled eggs but an omelet.

That got me thinking. All I would have to do is to chop up normal omelet ingredients (orange peppers, onions, etc.) and toss them into a Ziploc bag. And make sure to pack a couple of eggs. Then all I would have to do is crack in the eggs, squish it up, and boil them. Since that campout in March I have wanted to try it out. Who wouldn’t like a delicious hot omelet (without the mess) on a cold morning while camping? But alas, I have not had the opportunity to do that. So this last Saturday morning after I fixed the kids breakfast I tried it. I chopped up onion, green pepper, mushrooms, cheese, and sausages which I tossed in a Ziplock bag with a couple of eggs. I also put in some salt and pepper. After squishing it up in my hands I dropped the whole bag into some boiling water.

Almost immediately one of the kids came screaming to me about some disaster and I had to help them out. Since the omelet was boiling instead of frying, I didn’t have to worry about burning it. After a few minutes I came back and it seemed cooked. So I pulled it out, dropped it on a plate, and ate it. Let’s just say it was perfect. It tasted just like a regular omelet. It was also shaped nicely because I didn’t scramble it while trying to flip it. My wife tried a bite and loved it too. Best of all, the only clean up was throwing away the Ziploc bag. So now we have a new recipe in our camping cookbook.

Ziploc Omelets would also work well for a multiple day trip. You just have to make sure the ingredients will stay fresh without refrigeration. All the ones I listed above will last several days, but you would have to use vegetarian sausage. Eggs are fine as long as you leave them in the shell.

While I was “cleaning up”, Rebecca reminded me of another tip. Since the boiling water is still clean, you can reuse it for your morning cup of hot chocolate, reducing your fuel needs for the meal. That is true for us since we always boil water in the morning for hot chocolate anyways. With this meal we cooked everything in one pot at the same time.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

My Favorite Camping Gear

On my twelfth birthday, along with joining the Boy Scouts, I received my first sleeping bag and backpack. The sleeping bag was a grey synthetic mummy bag. The backpack was blue with an aluminum frame. I still have them and even occasionally use them. That humble beginning marked the start of my ever growing collection of camping gear. Since then almost every present or gift I have received for Christmas or my birthday has been camping gear. Now I mostly get gift certificates to REI and I love it. It is about the only store that I enjoy shopping at. Whenever I get a gift card I do not spend it right away. Spending REI credit is a solemn event and must be done right. I make several scouting trips to collect information and prices. Then I develop a spreadsheet with my wish list and prices. It is only after I have determined the optimal potential of the gift card do I make my purchases. Sometimes I will wait several months so I can combine my REI membership refund with the latest sale. The only thing that has stopped my collection from getting out of hand is my frugal streak that I inherited from my parents. I am grateful to them because I would probably be inundated with gear if I didn’t have that check. Here are some of my favorite products that I have collected over the years:

1. Princeton Tec Aurora LED Headlamp. This is an ultra light weight but highly effective headlamp. It is the best headlamp on the market and it is under $30. I carry it everywhere and even use it in bed to read when my wife is sleeping. I even use it when I work on the plumbing or the car.

2. Leatherman New Wave Multi-tool. After a northern pike wrestled my first Leatherman away from me, I was multi-tool-less for about a year. It was a dark time. Then for my birthday my parents gave this to me. It is the only Leatherman on the market to really have improved the original design. The best thing is it has two locking blades on the outside. You don’t have to open up the pliers each time you want to use the knives.

3. Coleman Peak 1 Single Burner Backpack Stove. It works on butane/propane fuel cartridges, which is more efficient than straight propane. I also have never had it freeze in cold weather. It is also very small and indestructible. The best part is I bought it at Wal-Mart for $10. The only way I would need anything more expensive is if I took up mountaineering.

4. North Face Arrowhead Tent. This is an expedition quality tent I inherited from my dad. It is probably 15 years old but it looks brand new. It has stood up to 65 mile per hour winds and my kids jumping on the poles. Now that is tough.

5. REI Andora Down Mummy Bag. It is warm and lightweight. I bought this great bag in Taiwan from “Eddie the Coat Man”. I kid you not, that is what his card said. When I bought the bag from him for $30 I couldn’t believe the price, but he insisted. It wasn’t until his wife came by that we found out he had been drinking heavily just before we had arrived. It is my daughter’s favorite sleeping bag too. She likes its purple color.

6. Sierra Designs Microlight Jacket and Pants. Everyone should have a rain coat and pants that stuff into a little bag. They are perfect in Alaska where the weather changes so quickly especially when you don’t want to carry your Gortex shell around. I carry my set everywhere.

7. Keen Newport H2. This is the latest buy that made it on my list. I have wanted a pair since last summer when I heard all the rave reviews. I finally got a pair on clearance at REI with some birthday money. I have not been disappointed. They are very comfortable and my feet don’t get hot when hiking in them. I can’t wait to try them out while rafting next weekend.

8. REI Insulated Mug. It is just a lightweight and durable insulating mug. When I really want to pack light, I will eat all my meals out of it. I know there is nothing particularly special about this mug, it’s just I have grown attached to it.

9. Flatworld Orikaso Fold Flat Bowl. I hate packing plates and bowls. Maybe that is why I eat out of zip-lock bags and mugs when I can, but that can limit your diet. The first time I used this was when I traveled out to Nikolski and had to bring all my own food. Both weight and space was a huge issue. This came in so handy that I fell in love with it. It is one of those great products that you just say, “It is so simple, why didn’t I think of it?” It is just brilliant and it doesn’t even take up any space in my garage.

10. Nalgene Wide Mouth Bottles. These bottles are the best. Gone are the days of having rusty or plastic flavored water. These bottles are as inert and strong as they come. The wide mouth is a must for when you get ice build up. In Alaska, they are even considered the must-have fashion accessory.

11. Seattle Sports Dry Compression Bags. This is one of those things I use every trip. They work great shrinking your sleeping bag or extra clothes. Plus they keep them dry.

12. Rhino Trekking Backpack. Rhino is a top name brand in Taiwan. This one is an internal frame top-loading backpack. It sold for about $80, but the thing I liked best about it is its versatility. About a third of its storage capacity can be removed or reconfigured to meet the trip needs. At full capacity it can work as a week long trek pack. When all the extra stuff is removed it makes a great two day bag for traveling, especially when you have to go through an airport.

13. REI Day Pack. This bag is a top loading single compartment with a flip over pocket that cinches it down. It has nice padded shoulder straps and a minimal lap belt. It is made out of heavy weight canvas with leather reinforced bottom. I have had it for over 15 years and taken it on almost every trip I have ever gone on. It is great for an overnighter, day hike, or book bag. In a word, it is perfect. Day packs nowadays have too many pockets, straps, bells and whistles that you don’t need or get in the way. Plus they would never last very long. Something breaks or tears. I am not looking forward to when I will have to replace this bag. I don’t think I will be able to.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Chinese Landscape in Alaska

Last March, I found myself with in Valdez with a van full of architects and engineers and six hours to kill. It was also one of those rare sunny days in Valdez. So we drove around site seeing and taking pictures.

We headed up Keystone Canyon and I took this picture of a frozen waterfall at Bridal Veil Falls. I liked the shot but it wasn't until afterwards that I noticed the ice climbers. Can you spot them? Then I really liked the shot because it reminded me of Chinese landscape paintings, especially those of the Song Dynasty.

In the Song Dynasty (960-1279) Chinese landscape paintings often represented people in ant-like fashion against wild, exotic landscapes. This suited both the Taoist and the Buddhist philosophies of the time. Toaist with their focus on the natural instead of the man-made or Wu Wei. Buddhists with their focus on the realization of emptiness or Shunyata. I think Song painters would have liked this photo too.

P.S. I have added about 25 photos to my Flickr site (see right)

Monday, June 04, 2007

An Afternoon at Spenard Beach Park

On Saturday, Rebecca wanted to do something as a family, so we spent the morning running errands. After lunchtime and naptime we packed the kids up on bikes, and into the bike trailers and headed off for a ride. We rode a half mile to Spenard Beach Park at Lake Hood. It is one of our favorite places for a quick family trip. For those who don’t know, Lake Hood is the world’s busiest seaplane base and is part of the Anchorage International Airport. Actually, there was a seaplane base before there was an airstrip.

The Spenard Beach Park borders the northeast shore of the lake. It is rather small and only has a swing set and some picnic tables. After a few minutes of swinging the kids had found the water. They promptly began building dams. Every minute, at least one float plane taxied past sending wakes over their walls. They were kept busy rebuilding and fortifying their dams. We had a lot of fun and I was able to give the kids some pointers on building brake waters.

When we weren’t securing the shoreline we were watching planes take off or land. Then it was back to building walls. The kids discovered that water weeds and pebbles work better than the beach sand. It was a wonderful hour at the park and after a snack, and Tim deciding to break the “No Wading” rule, we herded the kids back onto the bikes and headed home.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Eklutna Lake Review: Memorial Weekend Adventure

When we were planning our family activities for May we had decided that Memorial Day would be perfect for our first real camping trip of the year. It wasn’t until Friday night that I remembered why we usually go earlier in the month, but I am getting ahead of myself.

We were getting all excited to go camping. Earlier in the week, Rebecca and I had bought a cargo carrier that attached to our towl hitch. You wouldn’t think a Ford Expedition would need more cargo space but it fills easily with five kids and all their gear. The blankets and stuffed animals alone take up a huge amount of space.

The car was mostly packed so when I got off work early on Friday we were on the road before 5 PM. I think that was a personal best for us. The traffic was surprisingly light.
We drove north to Eklutna Lake. The turn off is about 26 miles north of Anchorage, but then it is another 10 miles up to the lake. The road is paved but narrow and very curvy. The max speed on the road is 25 miles per hour so it will seem like a crawl after the Glenn Highway, but the scenery is really spectacular. I would have taken a picture but I had to keep both hands on the wheel.

Eklutna Lake is nestled in the mountains of Chugach State Park. Eklutna Glacier carved out the valley and when it receded long ago it left a 7 mile lake with steep mountains surrounding it. It is a really pristine place and you can see why Anchorage gets 75% or so of their water from it.

Eklutna Lake has something for everyone. There is fishing and boating on the lake, though no motorized crafts are allowed. There is even a kayak rental place. Eklutna also offers miles of trails. The main trail is a 13 mile (one way) packed gravel trail along the north rim of the lake. For the first 8-miles it is wide enough to drive down and easy enough for a stroller. For the more adventurous there are several trails which offer steep hikes to the summits of the surrounding peaks, some only 5 miles long. There are also park cabins at the other end of the lake for extended trips.

The Eklutna Lake campground has 50 regular sites with 15 overflow sites. I have never seen the campground full . . . until Friday night. When we finally got to the campsite every site was filled. It looked like we had missed it by 20 minutes. Well, we had to make a quick decision after that. We decided instead of driving for another two hours trying to find an open campground on Memorial Weekend, we would head over to the day-use or picnic area. We were the only people there. Since the day-use area is separated from the campsites, it made for a lot more room and privacy. We were able to let the kids run around and yell more than if we had been over at the other place.

We roasted our hotdogs and made our s’mores. The kids got to get filthy and play with fire. After we cleaned up we all headed down to the lake. Instead of hiking the north trail like we usually do we headed east along the shore to the spillway. The water level in the lake changes a lot over the summer. We hiked along the high water mark where all the driftwood had been pushed up on the beach. The kids were having a great time exploring and picking up neat sticks. William started talking about giants in the mountain. I then mentioned that all the driftwood looked like ogre clubs. That set the kids’ imagination off. Ben and William were clamoring to tell me about the ogre battle that must have gone on. They imagined that the old wooden piles sticking out of the ground were the tombstones of the fallen heroes. They had great fun with it, even Gwenna got in to it.

Once we got to the spillway, we saw a nesting pair of golden eyes and a small beaver. There was a small ice chunk still floating near the edge of the lake, which provided an excellent target for the kids. After the kids were tired of throwing rocks they moved on to building a fort out of the spillway stones. That went along pretty smoothly until Tim walked out onto some stepping stones and dunked himself in the lake.

Luckily, since we had been planning to camp we had brought extra clothes. It still ended up being a good stopping point for the night. Once Tim was dry we packed the kids into the car and passed out the chips. The drive back was uneventful and later that night while Rebecca was soaking in a bubble bath she commented, with a relaxed smile, that it wasn’t the worst camping trip she had been on. It actually was pretty good, all of the fun stuff and not having to sleep with five kids in one tent.

(P.S. I uploaded additional photos on my Flickr site, see side bar,)