Tuesday, September 24, 2013

This Cheechako is heading back to the lower 48.

Well, I am headed home this Thursday. I have had a wonderful time here and as usual I am sad to leave, but happy to be on my way home just as the snow begins to fall. Every morning I am having to wake up earlier to defrost my windshield.

 

Last weekend before it really started snowing I went out to see the fall leaves for the one weekend they are out. The fall season here is very short and before all the leaves have even changed the snow is already falling. It was a good thing I got out there when I did.



I have been very grateful that the Lord provided me great friends out here to be able to travel this huge state with, and to share some wonderful memories with. We all got together a few nights ago to have dinner at my place and then we went out to a local favorite for dessert. I am gonna miss these guys.

For my final Alaskan adventure Lissie and Milton and I drove to the Arctic Circle. This was the first time I have been north of Fairbanks by car. Everywhere else we drove was south. Really, there is nothing to do up North except look at the scenery, but that was enough. It was beautiful. Now that it has been snowing everything is prettier in my opinion. Take a look for yourselves...

 
 

However, the piece de resistance was on the way back from the Arctic Circle. We saw a real live, out in the wild, Lynx!! These are very stealthy, shy animals, but this one was literally walking along the side of the road as we drove up.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Northern Most Point, Barrow, AK.

Well, Alaska has helped me accomplish another goal. Not only did I get to check off my 50th state, but I can also check off the last of my "Extreme points". Barrow, AK is the Northern Most city in the US and this weekend I got to experience all that Barrow had to offer... and it wasn't much.
There are actually a lot of things that Barrow could have offered I just didn't get to experience them.
The week before we got there the hotel that we had reservations at called and told us that they shut down due to fire damage. Turns out the most popular restaurant in town (and the one I wanted to try), which was right next door to the hotel, literally burned to the ground and the smoke damage from the fire caused the hotel to have shut down for repairs. As it also turns out that hotel was the only place in town that handed out the certificate you can get for going above the arctic circle. Bad luck!
Then, there was the man who turned his house into a make shift museum with all kinds of amazing stuff in it. He had a stroke a few weeks ago, so that was a no-go as well. Two down.
I was also hoping, since we were a lot further north and there are no trees to block the view that I would be able to see the northern lights better from Barrow, but wouldn't you know it the fog was so complete and so dense we almost couldn't even land the plane. Which is a whole other story...
So we leave Fairbanks on a normal Saturday morning and start flying to Prudoe Bay where we were going to drop off some passengers and then continue to head to Barrow. After flying over the Brooks Range we can no longer see any land all we could see were clouds for as far as the eye could see.


When we began to descend through the clouds I knew the plane was getting lower and slower with each second, but the fog was only getting thicker. I am looking out the window and there is no land, only fog... going slower... no land...grayness... going slower...
And all of a sudden the engines rev back up and we are ascending again as fast as we can until... pop... we come out the top of the clouds again. The pilot had aborted the landing and at this point everyone is thoroughly unnerved. The pilot comes on and says that the fog is too thick and we cannot land in Prudoe Bay and due to our limited gas we are going to have to continue straight on to Barrow. Thankfully, it was only a half hour trip because the whole time all I could think of was what if the fog is too thick in Barrow too?
Well, we get there and the clouds are just as thick as we begin to descend. As we begin go slower and slower my heart is pounding and my eyes are glued to the window straining to try to see something, anything below us besides the unending gray. Finally, at the last second a shadow of water... oh, its a lake... oh, there is some ground... and there is the runway. The visibility was only slightly better here then in Prudoe Bay, but it was enough for them to land.
(I found out later that the ILS (instrument landing system) was broken in Prudoe Bay. What a way to start the trip.)
Thankful to be on the ground, Shuling and I began our little trek to the place we were going to stay. I know this post started out with all the things that went wrong, but our accommodations did work out well. Before we found out about the fire damage at the hotel we had found an apartment online that was available for nightly rentals. It was going to be a lot cheaper so we had planned to cancel our reservations anyway. I just felt bad for everyone else who planned to stay there because the other hotels (all 2 of them) were completely booked. Apparently, there are so many people that go up to Barrow to work on construction projects and various government work that the hotels are always full. It is easy to make a lot of money in that town because nobody wants to go out there. You wouldn't know it by the look of things, though. I assume the outsiders send there money somewhere else and the people that live there have other things to spend the money on besides cleaning up and fixing up their houses. It is extremely expensive to live in Barrow. One of our first stops in Barrow was the grocery store where we gawked at the high prices. I especially liked the fact that they have Florida's Natural Orange Juice stocked on their shelves.
 
 
The cost of food, housing, and literally EVERYTHING else is at least double if not more than in Fairbanks. We learned that just to get a car shipped up there is $5,000! Its no wonder they just leave cars sitting around in their yards; its not worth it to pay to have it removed, and they can be useful to get parts out of if the next car starts acting up. 
Considering the cost of cars it was surprising that the guy who we rented the apartment from was willing to lend us his car for the day. It was not the nicest car and it didn't always start the first time, but I was so happy I didn't have to walk around all day in 34 degree weather with 20 mph wind. We drove all around town and took a little walk out to the Arctic Ocean. I got to feel the 28 degree water that covers the north part of the world. Oddly, it looked just like the water from the Pacific. ;)

We got to drive out to the "northern most point" sign and check out the whale bone monument.

We were hoping to try some muktuk or ugruk, which means whale and seal meat respectively, but the few people we had to opportunity to ask did not have any for us to try. :(
The flight out was just as eventful as on the way in since the fog had not lifted, but we made it safely back to Fairbanks and now I have a whole new perspective of "out of the way."

 
 

Friday, September 6, 2013

My last two weekends



This past weekend Lissie, Milton and I went back to Valdez. We went there, this time, with no major plans, just relaxation. They fished for salmon while I read. I finished two books! This is coming toward the end of the salmon run and it is very noticeable in Valdez. The whole town smells like fish. Not so much because of all the fish being caught and processed, but more because after the salmon lay their eggs they die and at low tide there are thousands of salmon bodies left rotting in the sun. It was kinda gross. All that fish also attracted the bears. We saw four black bears over the course of the weekend; most were very close! As always it was very foggy the whole weekend.
 
 

The weekend before last I had a nice trip with Shuling. We went down to Cooper Landing where I saw one of the prettiest rivers in the world, the Kenai River. I got to sit and take pictures and enjoy myself on the banks of this pristine blue-green water while Shuling practiced her fly fishing cast. That evening we went on a float trip down this river with a guide who told us a little about the area. There were so many fly fishermen out there, and as the sun was setting I could not get enough of the view. 

 

 

 

The next day was spent at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, AK. This huge festival has contests for the best pig, chicken, cow, sheep, goat, rabbit, and all kinds of vegetables, herbs, flowers, and honey. We saw a 63lb cabbage and a 67lb rutabaga. The weather that day was perfect for fair walking and we walked the WHOLE thing. 
 
 
 
After a full day at the fair I was glad to see the hostel we were going to stay in was really nice. This hostel was in a small town called Talkeetna. You may remember me mentioning this town before. It was where we took off for our plane ride over Mt McKinley. This town has quickly become my favorite place in AK.
Case in point, Sunday night we saw the Northern lights for the first time! It was not as spectacular as some of the pictures you see with all the pretty colors, but they were there and moving. I can check that off my bucket list.
Monday morning we went on another river float down the Talkeetna River. This river was not as pretty. The water was all brown and silty. However, it had its own special qualities. The Talkeetna is a braided river which runs wild right past the Alaska range and as we turned a corner we could see all the mountains of the range perfectly on that crisp clear day. It stands alone as the clearest day I have had since I got here. Not a cloud or mist or fog to cover anything up. You could see for miles! In fact when we arrived back in Fairbanks I was shocked that I could still see Mt McKinley! I had only heard fables that there were days like this one. On the ride home we kept stopping to take pictures of The Mountain.

 
 

As you read this I will be in Barrow, AK. The Northern point in the US! More to come on that adventure...