Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Nome Gold Dredge

Nome Gold Dredge
I took this picture in June when I traveled to Teller from Nome. This gold dredge was abandoned in one of the many streams along the road to Teller. It was a perfect day for taking pictures.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Fifth of July: Denali and Savage River

Continuation of Tuesday’s post

On July 4th we had camped at Riley Creek Campground located at the entrance of Denali National Park. The next day after breaking camp we piled all fourteen of us into two vehicles and headed off to explore the park.

Our first stop was the Denali National Park Visitor Center. Now Denali actually has at least four visitor centers, but this one is the main one. It is located two miles into the park just after the roundabout. You can’t miss it.

The Denali campus is quite large. Since the National Park Service considers Denali one of its jewels almost everything at the park is state of the art and new. Since I have occasionally worked for the National Park Service I have had a chance to visit many of their facilities around the state. And Denali’s main visitor center really is one of their jewels. We were amazed at its size and displays.

The first thing we did was watch their movie Heartbeats of Denali. This was perfect for us since we weren’t going to take any of the park bus tours. We couldn’t image sitting on a bus for several hours with three infants in our group. Heartbeats of Denali has a concise overview of the park’s history, environment, wildlife, and geography. It also had amazing photography. This was especially nice since we never did see the mountain on our trip because of the weather. Several of our visiting family members felt that was a perfectly acceptable backup to see the mountain in person. Heartbeats of Denali was a worth the 30 minutes.

After the movie we started to explore all the displays at the visitor center. Once again it didn’t disappoint. They had full-size mockup of a trapper’s cabin which you could go into. They also had a huge display which included a life-sized wolf with a caribou carcass. There were even had ravens picking the bones. They also had displays for a bear, moose, beaver, pica, and other animals. There were lots of hands on stuff for the kids to touch and play. It also had some really interesting facts and trivia about the animals and the park. We probably spent an hour running around and looking at the displays.

Gwenna's Favorite, PicaAfter a tailgate picnic, we all piled back into the cars and head into the park. We drove about 20 mph and took lots of stops and photos. It was a really pleasant drive. The scenery was beautiful even though it was cloudy. Just before the Savage River Bridge we saw three caribou cooling themselves along the river. Rebecca was excited because she had never seen a wild caribou. She promptly exclaimed that the whole drive was worth it just to see them.

In order to preserve its wilderness, Denali only has one road. And only the first 12 miles are open to private vehicles. Only park buses are allowed further into the park. So at mile 12 we had to stop at the Savage River day area.

The kids went straight to the river and began throwing rocks. Fortunately they never got near the nesting gulls. After exploring and taking pictures of the beautiful river valley we went for a hike. There are several trails. One heads along the river and one up to a large rock outcrop above the parking area. The kids chose the steep one and we had to catch up with them. The trail was one of the neatest I have seen. The park service had made steps out of the scree boulders which made the steps look almost nature made.

As I neared the top, I thought I heard a baby cooing. I stopped and looked around a boulder. There was a family of ptarmigan pecking its way along a trail. The mother and eight babies were in their brown summer molt. The father, with his red crest, still had about half of his white winter feather. I watched and took pictures until William came running down the trail shouting.
Ben Climbing, Savage River
Benjamin, our four year old, had run off ahead and they couldn’t find him. So I headed up the trail at a trot. I wasn’t too worried because he couldn’t have gone that far. Well, I was wrong. Ben had decided to do some rock climbing. I found him 90-percent up the back side of the rock outcrop. I had to scramble hand over hand to get up to him. When I reached him there was a group of teenagers who had stopped him from going further. They were thoroughly impressed with Ben. He had made it up in a fraction of the time it had taken them. I guess being so small and having a lower center of gravity really helps. Under protest, I picked up Ben and carried him down, which was no easy task.

It was then when everyone was up at the top we noticed the outcrop was only a false peak. The trail went upward to a higher point. We decided we were done hiking and headed back to the parking lot. After more wet shoes, rocks, and pictures we all piled into the cars and headed back.

On the way back we saw more caribou running along the river plain. The drive to Savage Creek was well worth the effort. There were plenty enough to do and see to keep anyone busy for a day.

Once we were out of the park we headed north. About a mile north of the park entrance is where all the non-park hotels and gift shops are. We spent a while going through the shops and picking out t-shirts and stuff. Then we were off driving back towards Anchorage.

We spent the night at my parents’ cabin in Willow. We did the usual things like running around, throwing rocks, riding the four wheelers, and in honor of the Fourth belated fireworks.

The next day I played river guide as I took two groups down the Kashwitna River. The river conditions were perfect for floating. Even though we didn’t get a chance to fish, because the fishery was opened yet, we had a great time. That afternoon we headed back to Anchorage. On the way back we stopped out Miller’s in Houston and got ice cream cones. It is a tradition that the kids won’t let us forget. And I am ok with that.

It irony of the trip came on the next day. We drove all the way up to Denali National Park, but never saw the mountain. It was always covered in clouds. On Saturday morning, my in-laws look out there hotel window and there was Denali as clear as a bell. I guess the only thing you can count on in Alaska is that the weather will be unpredictable, but you can still have fun.
(I will post more pictures later)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Summer Vs. Winter in Alaska

Winter vs. SummerThese last few weeks we have really been soaking up our Alaskan summer. This has led me to contemplate the differences between our winters and our summers. So here are thirteen differences between our two extreme seasons.

1. Everything is Green Instead of White. This is first thing people notice when they visit. In Alaska these two colors dominate their seasons unlike anywhere else I have been.
Rebecca & Gwen Hiking, Devils Club
2. Mosquitoes. This is probably the first sign of summer. Gratefully you only have to worry about the Alaskan State Bird in the summer.

3. Moose Eat Your Garden Instead of Your Bushes/Trees. You stop worrying about your lilacs and start putting up fences around your broccoli and cabbages. Either way they are everywhere.

4. The People Wearing Parkas are Tourist. You can see people wearing big coats year round in Alaska. The only difference is in the summer they are tourists.

5. People Walking Everywhere with Suitcases. It is the tourists again. Everyday I see someone walking down a sidewalk towing a rolling suitcase or lugging a huge backpack.

6. Constant Buzz of Small Airplanes. Of course we do live next to the world’s largest float plane base. But you know when the ice goes out on the lake, because the next Saturday starting at dawn there will be a constant roar of planes. And believe me those float planes can get loud.
Family Picking Blueberries
7. Fishing, Hunting, Berry Picking. Summer is the time to store up for winter. We are heading out dip netting this weekend. We are eagerly waiting for berries to ripen. And I have a tentative moose hunting trip planned for the fall. All to stock the pantry while you can. The only difference between us and bears it takes us several more months before we involuntarily put on our layer of winter fat.

8. Bears. We never have to worry about bears in the winter. Come summer time I always keep an eye out and a can of bear mace ready in case I meet one.

9. Doesn’t Take 30 Minutes to Send the Kids Out to Play. This is one of Rebecca’s favorite things about summer. There is no bundling to go run around in the yard for five minutes before something falls off and they come crying back inside.

10. Visitors. Alas no one visits much in the winter. But it seems like there are always a string of visitors throughout the summer. We love it and only wish it would happen all year round.
Summer Visitors
11. The Time Flies By. In the summer we never complain that it’s too long or start counting the weeks until it is over. Every minute is enjoyed and appreciated.

12. No Sleep. It is a combination of everything mentioned above. We just don’t sleep in or go to bed early ever during the summer. We sleep in the winter.

13. The Daylight. This is the most noticeable difference between winter and summer. Every visitor notices it. Every Alaskan basks in it. The extra daylight is also the reason for everything else on the list.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Nugget Inn Mile Post

Nugget Inn Mile Post SignI took this picture last month when I was up in Nome. This was the first time I had a chance to walk around Nome and do the tourist thing. The Nugget Inn is one of the few truly historic buildings still left in town. I believe it is famous mainly for its owner bringing his daughter, the first girl, to Nome. I liked it because of the mile post sign. When I saw Taipei 4312 miles written in Chinese I knew I would have to take a picture. It wasn’t until after I took the shot that I noticed is also had Taiwan written in English.

You can learn a couple of interesting things from this sign. Dallas and Miami are farther away from Nome than Taipei, Taiwan. Moscow is closer than all three. New York is closer than Miami or Dallas which can seem counterintuitive until you remember the world is a sphere.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Fourth of July Fun: Riley Creek Campground

Summer is a time for visitors in Alaska. This year has not been an exception. What started out as a simple visit from grandma and grandpa snowballed into a mini-family reunion. So on the Fourth of July this year we woke up with fourteen people in our three bedroom house. There were grandparents, aunts, cousin, and mayhem everywhere. It was awesome and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

For the Fourth of July we had decided to go up to Denali. I was excited for several reasons. First, it has been a long times since I have had five days off with my family. Second, Rebecca had never been north of Talkeetna. Third, this was our first real camping trip this year. Plus we had lots of family with us, most of who had never been to Alaska.

Rebecca and I planned for months to get this trip ready. So by 9 AM, with relatively little effort, everyone and all our gear were piled into two large cars and we were on the road headed for Denali National Park.

It took us seven hours to get to Denali National Park. 240 miles in seven hours isn’t bad considering there three infants. The trip wasn’t bad because we factored in stopping every hour for food, stretching, photographs, and just general boredom. We actually arrive at Denali on schedule because we planned to take all those breaks.

We had a walkie-talkie in each car, so I got to play tour guide on the way up. Rebecca had to revoke my privileges a couple of times when I became too inane. We like to use walkie-talkies when we travel. It makes everything go so much smoother.

Riley Creek Campsite
Eight of us camped at the Riley Creek Campground, while the rest stayed at the Denali Princes Wilderness Lodge, though “lodge” was deceiving. Most communities in Alaska are smaller than that complex. Riley Creek is located just inside the park, just past the park sign. This was convenience because we were only a mile apart from each other.

Riley Creek has 150 campsites divided into three camping areas. We drove around each area and decided on Caribou Loop because the sites were more wooded and private. We picked a site right next to the bathrooms because we had so many kids. The facilities at this campground were the nicest I have ever seen.

We set up our two tents and got everything unpacked. We than broke out the food for dinner. Within seconds we had a squirrel running around us and stealing food. The kids thought the squirrel was the coolest and he had to earn everything he stole that night.
Heading to Amphitheater
Half way through dinner, a park ranger came around and announced they were doing a presentation about the park later. So when it came time we rounded up the kids and hiked off to the campground’s amphitheater.

It had rained on and off all the drive up, but while we were setting up camp it had cleared up. Well, it decided to start raining as soon as we headed over to the amphitheater. It wasn’t so bad while we were on the trail under the trees, but when we got to the amphitheater we started getting wet. Throughout the presentation the park ranger kept asking if we wanted to move to the bus stop, but most people just wanted to stick it out.

The presentation was really cool and we learned a lot about the park and what makes it so special. My boys were really quick with answers during the presentation. Of course, judging by people’s gear, we looked like the only Alaskans there so they had the advantage.

My three boys and I were pretty wet by the time we got back to the tent. I think Tim and Ben jump through every puddle on the way back. We all went straight for the tent and climbed into our sleeping bags even though we didn’t go to sleep for several hours.
Will in Spleepingbag
It rained all night. Our mega-family tent held up better than I expected. We stayed mostly dry. I love having a mega-tent when we camp as a family, because we need all the room we can get with five kids.

By the morning the rain had stopped. Ben and I were the first out of the tent. Since I was trying to let everyone else sleep in a little, we walked down to Riley Creek. It was a beautiful glacier stream with huge boulders and fast water. Ben and I explored the banks and found a section of rails for a ore cart. Ben also threw lot of rocks.

When we got back we had a cold breakfast of muffins, pop tarts, fruits, and juice. We broke camp by 10 AM and headed into the park. I was really surprised by Riley Creek Campground. It was perfect for our group. We will have to go back again, maybe even this fall if we get one of the fall driving permits.

Check back on Friday for our trip into the park.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Me Money!

Tim at 10th & M Seafood
I have been away playing this week, so I have not posted lately. We had several relatives in town this last week. I got to play tour guide and show off the state. Since they didn't go fishing this trip we took them down to 10th & M Seafood to get some fish. The kids were thrilled by the gaint lobster mounted on the wall. They also went straight for the novelty oven mitts. Tim walked around with the store pretending to be Mr. Crabby from Sponge Bob. The kids also got to watch one of the butchers fillet out a big king salmon. They thought that was pretty cool. In the end we walked out with a box of frozen fish all packed up and ready for the airplane.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Chinese Propaganda Posters

Monkey King with Child TaikonautToday I bring you a SWEET Chinese propaganda poster from Stefan Landsberger’s aptly named Chinese Propaganda Poster Pages. I find the Chinese propaganda art very fascinating. They are highly stylized and completely lacking in subtleties. These posters are as much art as a window into the political and cultural undercurrents of their times. You have to appreciate their power or boldness even if you don’t agree with the messages or powers behind the posters.

This poster, entitled "Space Flower Garden", was commissioned to celebrate the glorious Chinese space program. It is so fascinating. There is a child taikonaut (Chinese astronaut or taikongren) skipping hand in hand with the Monkey King on an idyllic alien planet. The Monkey King is probably the most beloved character in Chinese literature from China’s golden age. The poster invokes the glorious past to promote the glorious picture of the future. All to promote, or justify, the Chinese space program. On top of it, it is aimed at children.

So enjoy this link of the week. Posts may be spotty for the next while because I will be playing away from internets and phones.