Category Archives: Alaska

Dog Mushing in Alaska

On Martin Luther King day I got to take a new ride out for a spin.This ‘ride’ was not like many you find in the lower 48! It had 16 legs and accelerated like a drag racer; when the dogs at Black Spruce Dog Sledding take off they do so with gusto! Check out the video below for an excerpt of an afternoon of mushing!

This actually wasn’t my first dog-sledding rodeo, but it was 11 years ago that I was on a on a dog sled. Some things I remembered well. For instance, I remembered the excitement! As you stand on the rear of the sled and the dogs are baying and pulling against the gangline the feeling of thrill builds! When the quick release (a rope and pin tied to a non-moving object) is pulled the team takes off like a race car. Rule #1 is to hold on!  From the kennels we headed out with our tag-sled team for a 13 mile loop. The dogs settled into a rhythm of about 7 mph on the uphills and ~10 mph on the flats. That is the pace that Jeff tries for when racing his dogs for mid-distance (300 mile) and longer races (1000 mile Yukon Quest or 2000 mile Iditarod). The constant pace of the run is essential for the dogs, they perform the best by establishing that pace.

On this particular trail it’s not long before the beginner’s baptism-by-fire comes into a view. A 90 degree turn after a road crossing was looming and my senses were keen as I considered how to navigate the obstacle. Jeff coached me by telling me to lean into the turn and try to stand on one ski while peddling one foot on the outside of the turn. He deftly performed the lesson he gave to me and I deftly tipped the sled into the snow bank! “I’m Down!” was all I had to call before Jeff had put on the break and I righted myself. Rule #2 – hold on during a fall! Fortunately, it was the only time I dumped the sled on our tag-sled tour. However, that doesn’t mean other section did not feel harrowing! On steeper down hills it was critical to keep plenty of weight on the drag to slow the sled and the team down. Zipping between black spruce trees we hurtled over snow drifts, wound through tight corridors, and leaned around turns. It’s amazing to me how mentally active you have to be when riding with a dog team in those conditions! Anticipating the turn or terrain ahead was essential to placing my weight correctly in the sled. Being centered, on the left ski, or the right ski changed how well I coped with the turns and the terrain.

I think it took me about five miles to start to feel comfortable in the sled. I no longer felt that I was going to tip at each turn and I began to feel my body relax. The smile which had not left my face since take off was still glued on. The joy of running with the dogs is infectious and the beauty of the scenery was unforgettable.  During the night and morning a heavy ice fog had built up scales of hoar frost on the trees. The encapsulated trees glinted in the sun that burned through the fog bank. We concluded our 13 mile tag sled run (2 sleds pulled by a larger team), and then I took my own 4 dog team out for a short, local loop. It was great to test my skills with my own (albeit smaller, but more manageable) team! By the time I left that day the sun, now low in the sky, ricocheted through the gem-encrusted limbs in an orange light ending a truly great day!

For more information on the kennels you can always check out : http://blacksprucedogsledding.com/

Gray Jay Black Spruce Dog Sledding
At the kennels the Gray Jay is a food thief. All food containers have to stay closed to keep these marauders out!
Laughing Sled Dog
We stopped to tell some jokes along the trail – I guess Inferno thought they were pretty doggone funny! 🙂 In reality though, each time we stopped the dogs LOVE to dive through the powder that their ganglines allow. Here, the dog “Inferno” is enjoying a roll in the snow.
Sled Dog Profile
Take a break – but ready to run!
My team of 4 is taking a quick breather - but they're ready to keep running!
My team of 4 is taking a quick breather – but they’re ready to keep running!
The sun breaks on the hillside behind black spruce encrusted in hoar frost.
The sun breaks on the hillside behind black spruce encrusted in hoar frost.
The hoar frost built an intricate lattice of ice on each needle of this black spruce. Quite pretty!
The hoar frost built an intricate lattice of ice on each needle of this black spruce. Quite pretty!
Hoar Frost builds up up on a black spruce limb. Look at the size of those crystals!
Hoar Frost builds up up on a black spruce limb. Look at the size of those crystals!
A shrub with a heavy layer of hoar frost was illuminated by the setting sun.
A shrub with a heavy layer of hoar frost was illuminated by the setting sun.
A frosty beard after the 13mile tag-sled run!
A frosty beard after the 13mile tag-sled run!

January 17th : Alaskan Snapshot

When I was home for Christmas break one of the questions I got asked fairly regularly was “what’s it like to live in Alaska in the winter?”. I always grin, which seems to be what people expect because they grin back, but I think I disappoint them by explaining that a lot of times the winter conditions are not as desperate as you think. Yes, 40 below is cold, but in Fairbanks the wind rarely blows making the cold very tolerable. 20-25% humidity ensures that it is a ‘dry cold’ (think of someone from Arizona explaining the dry heat). In the eyes of many, the hardest thing to adapt to is the short days in the winter. Although we are gaining length now, the dark days at bottom of winter make getting out of bed hard and sleeping easy. In Alaskan winters I celebrate and cherish the sun because I miss it! The darkness lately has been compounded by cloudy skies, so when the sun was out this morning I knew I wanted to be outside for it as much as possible! I gathered together my gear for setting burbot lines (more on that soon!!) and headed to the Tanana river. But, my trip to the river certainly was not linear, all along the way I found things to swing my camera lens at in that beautiful sunshine. So, today I give you a snap shot of January 17th in Alaska, a beautiful day! Photos are time-stamped and in order of occurrence. Hopefully you’ll see that not all winter days are so bad in Alaska!

11:37 AM : A boreal chickadee poses for a cute picture just outside of my house
11:37 AM : A boreal chickadee poses for a cute picture just outside of my house
11:37 AM : A boreal chickadee plans its next move at my feeders outside of the house
11:37 AM : A boreal chickadee looks before it leaps and is eyeing up some suet.
11:39 AM : Red-backed voles are a common Alaskan rodent. I have counted up to eight at a time under my feeders scavenging what they can find.
11:39 AM : Red-backed voles are a common Alaskan rodent. I have counted up to eight at a time under my feeders scavenging what they can find. Red-backed voles have actually been demonstrated to spend a large portion of their days in black spruces which is a recently documented behavior!
11:43 AM : A sharp tailed grouse sits under the spruces.
11:43 AM : A sharp tailed grouse sits under the spruces. This seems to be a pretty normal winter behavior – move as little as possible to conserve energy.
12:06 PM : The sharp-tailed grouse is actually a pretty small bird. Tucked up high in the spruces it is safe from almost any predator present in the Alaskan winter. Most raptors have migrated for the season, although a lingering great-horned owl could get bold and try for this big meal!
12:06 PM : The sharp-tailed grouse is actually a pretty small bird. Tucked up high in the spruces it is safe from almost any predator present in the Alaskan winter. Most raptors have migrated for the season, although a lingering great-horned owl could get bold and try for this big meal!
12:06 PM : Sharp-tailed grouse moved to the birches to pick at the catkins
12:06 PM : Sharp-tailed grouse moved to the birches to pick at the catkins
2:18 PM : I spent the afternoon drilling through the Tanana River to set burbot lines. The ice was thick! About 36 inches. However, early in the season the river broke up and formed "jumbled ice". The shadows of small snow-dunes are beautiful!
2:18 PM : I spent the afternoon drilling through the Tanana River to set burbot lines. The ice was thick! About 36 inches. However, early in the season the river broke up and formed “jumbled ice”. The shadows of small snow-dunes indicate a rough texture underneath!
4:29 PM : As I got back into town the Alaska Range (South of Fairbanks) was lit up by the low sun. The mountain range is always beautiful, but on nights like this you cannot stop watching! The pinks and purples of this sunset were amazing!
4:29 PM : As I got back into town the Alaska Range (South of Fairbanks) was lit up by the low sun. The mountain range is always beautiful, but on nights like this you cannot stop watching! The pinks and purples of this sunset were amazing! This is easily my favorite panorama to date because it is a view I get to enjoy everyday, and this picture captures it well!
4:32 PM : The sun is almost ready to disappear. We've gained an amazing amount of time back since December 21st when the day length was 3.5 hours. Todays day length is just over 5 hours!
4:32 PM : The sun is almost ready to disappear. We’ve gained an amazing amount of time back since December 21st when the day length was 3.5 hours. Today’s day length is just over 5 hours!

2014 in Review : A Good Year!

It’s incredible that one 36th of the year is already gone as I type this. Weren’t we just clinking champagne glasses as the ball dropped in New York just last night? As 2015 begins, I wanted to take the time to thank all who support this blog and my writing. I would not just write to myself; your comments and input are much appreciated!

I am incredibly thankful for my time here in Alaska. My travels have taken me to hundreds of miles south to enjoy the coastal ranges in Anchorage and Seward. In the opposite direction, I have beaten the punishing gravel of the haul road to cross the Brooks Range onto the Northslope three times. Within the Alaskan wilderness I have hunted big game, fished its rivers, and enjoyed bears, fox, and wolves, along with a plethora of bird species. During the dark skies of winter I have been graced by the dancing Northern Lights and cloaked in inky darkness. I have found there is always something to do in Alaska, and I feel that in the last 365 days I have had the adventures worthy of two year. It has indeed been a good year!

Below is a small gallery of the hundreds of photos that have been taken in Alaska during 2014 and featured in the blog. I have opted out of any captions, but if you would like to know more about an image, leave a comment. Thanks again everyone, and here’s to 2015!

January


Burbot Fishing

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February


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March


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April


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May


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June


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July


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August


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September


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Igloo Campground Fall Color Pan 2

October


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November


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December


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At the Bottom of Winter : Alaskan Tradition

This composite of the sun was compiled from 6 shots throughout the day. Quite beautiful! The composite was compiled in the "Star Trails 2.3" software.
This composite of the sun was compiled from 6 shots throughout the day. Quite beautiful!

For months we have been losing daylight. June 21st marks a daylight decline which has defined cultures and natural systems in Alaska for millenia.  The short days of winter psychologically effects the mind and  physically alter the body. As it we roll out of our beds the morning after solstice we know that today is just a little bit longer the last! It is uplifting. Until that moment when the days lengthen, the waning light indoctrinates residents into the darkness. You simply get used to doing things in the dark! The changes of daylight we experience now have been celebrated by the traditions of the Inuit and Athabascan people of Alaska; their traditions are symbolic of change and new times. The Athabascan name for the solstice is “dzaanh ledo” which means “the day is sitting”. This description of the actual phenomena that defines solstice is fitting, the day is not gaining or losing time; it is stationary (ttp://goo.gl/cFN613). The Inuit of far north Alaska experience times of no sun at all, and during solstice communities held feasts where shamans prayed for the communities. Meat was eaten by each individual at the same time, and each person eating the meat focused on Sedna. Sedna is a diety of the Inuit underworld and a god of marine animals. After the meat was consumed, water was drank one person at a time in succession, and each person stated the time and place of their birth. To the Inuit this distinguished the summer and winter people. After a trading of gifts, the festivities ended by extinguishing lights in all of the homes which were kindled by a common, newly-lit fire garnering a new relationship with the new sun (http://goo.gl/aRyByZ). Inuit people were able to indentify the solstice when the star Aagjunk (literllaly “sunbeam”) lay directly below the sun which, although unseen, was just below the horizon (http://goo.gl/Rzzttg).

The solstice occurs at 8:30 PM in Alaska, but occurs at different times throughout the world (http://goo.gl/G6QEvw), and rekindles hope that winter is ending and that the new day will be longer.

I shot this timelapse of the Solstice sun on December 19th to give you a feel of the solstice sun (fear not, we only lost 2 more daylight minutes by the 21st). In Fairbanks Alaska, it barely crests the Alaskan mountains (Mount McKinley/Denali visible) before dropping below the horizon again. You can always check out the timelapse of summer solstice when it it never sets in the land of the Midnight Sun. Happy Solstice!

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Them Into Photos!

Ice fog and hoar frost greeted me as I stepped into the inky-darkness on December 1st at 7AM. I was snowshoeing up the Pinnell Mountain Trail in search of caribou. Specifically I was hoping to harvest an individual from the “Forty Mile Herd“, because the hunt opened on December 1st, and would be closed by December 2nd due to a high amount of animals near the road. The goal of the hunt was to harvest 283 animals, and it was projected that hunters would achieve that in one day. In short, it was expected to be a zoo of hunters steaming around on their snow machines. I wanted to skip the crowds and headed north over the snowfields where most people head south. Robert Frost would declare I took the one less traveled.

The sun finally broke over the horizon in 10:15, and I glassed over the shrubs again in the drainage that I sat high above. The sled that I drug made an excellent seat; I was anticipating filling it with caribou! However, 60 minutes of glassing used up 20% of my available daylight, and I decided to move to the next basin. After looking into the nooks and crannies of the next valley, it seemed the drain had been pulled in this basin, if there had ever been caribou there they had emptied out!  By the end of the day I had traveled over 7 miles over mountains, and through the snow, but no caribou to be found.

However, on a beautiful day like this one, there is always a silver lining. Each mountain side was filled with hoar frost encrusted spruces and the day finished with a great moonrise/sunset combination. So, rather than pictures of a trophy, I bring the pictures I shot of the Alaska Winter Wonderland!

By the way, let me know which shot of the moon with trees you like the best, I would love to hear!

As the sun rose the clouds went pink and orange overhead. I was in the shadow of the moutain, and wouldn't see the sun for a few more hours until I reached the otherside!
As the sun rose the clouds went pink and orange overhead. I was in the shadow of the mountain, and wouldn’t see the sun for a few more hours until I reached the other side!
This lone spruce is toughing out an existence on along the ridgetop. Sure is beautiful!
This lone spruce is toughing out an existence on along the ridgetop. Sure is beautiful!
The sun sets along the Pinnell Mountain trail. A great way to end a beautiful day!
The sun sets along the Pinnell Mountain trail. A great way to end a beautiful day!
One more look at the hoar frost as a rounds a large clump of spruces encased in hoar frost.
One more look at the hoar frost as a rounds a large clump of spruces encased in hoar frost.
A beautiful moon splits some spruce trees in the alpine tundra of Twelvemile Summit
A beautiful moon splits some spruce trees in the alpine tundra of Twelvemile Summit
Unfortunately computer screens are too small to do a panorama justice. However, here the moon rises and the sunsets. Pretty cool to capture it all in one image!
Unfortunately computer screens are too small to do a panorama justice. However, here the moon rises and the sunsets. Pretty cool to capture it all in one image!
Up in the alpine tundra of the Pinnell Mountain trail, the moon sits high over all.
Up in the alpine tundra of the Pinnell Mountain trail, the moon sits high over all.
Christmas came early to the Pinnell Mountain Trail - star on top of the tree!
Christmas came early to the Pinnell Mountain Trail – star on top of the tree!

Experiencing the Aurora Borealis in Denali National Park

This last week has been really amazing in regards to the weather in Fairbanks, Alaska. While my Minnesota family and friends hunted whitetails in 20 degree weather, we enjoyed temperatures nearing 30 degrees all week. To boot, it was sunny, you betcha! The Geophysical Institute forecasted high aurora activity starting on Friday night the 14th and extending all the way through Monday! With the warm weather, and aurora forecast it was just a matter of deciding where to go!

Panav, Logan and I arrived at the gates of Denali National Park at 9:30 PM. The winter regulations only allowed us to drive in 3 miles, and from there we packed our gear another 1.5. We located a place where the black spruces were shorter, and the mountains stood tall around us. The heart of Denali Park was absolutely dark, and as far as I know we were the only ones in the park that night! Meteors from the Leonid meteor shower flashed overhead leaving their long trails and thrilling the watchers on earth. This shower peaks on 11/17/2014 – so be sure to check it out if you have some clear skies tonight! Over the mountains, the aurora was already building as our three shutters started popping, and we did not have to wait long for the lights to explode around us. Energy of the northern lights always seems to originate from on horizon, and on this night the jagged horizon in front of us swelled with an intense green light that erupted overhead throwing pinks and greens in racing lines overhead.

The building aurora over Denali had a real treat in store for us! It was almost a year ago that I posted about my first “incredible” (I use quotations because they’re all pretty amazing) aurora, and I tried to explain the corona of the aurora. Officially, it is defined as “a circle of light made by the apparent convergence of the streamers of the aurora borealis” (MW Dictionary). My analogy was to think of single beam of the corona as a pencil, which you balance on your nose and then concentrate on the eraser; the corona is made of hundreds of green, red, and pink ‘pencils’! It is fast moving and pulses with energy. I am happy to say that I’ve captured a corona on timelapse for the first time!

Before leaving you with the the timelapse and images from the night I would like you to know I now have a page on Facebook, come check it out and follow along : www.facebook.com/ianlww. Thanks all!

The Milky Way and Aurora Borealis collided in Denali National Park! What an incredible thing to see!
The Milky Way and Aurora Borealis collided in Denali National Park! What an incredible thing to see!
A huge flare of northern lights dance across the sky in Denali National Park
A huge flare of northern lights dance across the sky in Denali National Park
A small ribbon of pink pulses behind the black spruces and over the mountains
A small ribbon of pink pulses behind the black spruces and over the mountains
An image of the corona 'pencils' flashing overhead!
An image of the corona ‘pencils’ flashing overhead!
The corona often has a focal point where the beams of light originate from. You can see that focal point here.
The corona often has a focal point where the beams of light originate from. You can see that focal point here.

 

 

Red Sky at Night : Aurora Delight!

The incessant baying of sled dogs, a starlit night, and a beautiful red aurora. When I went out to Black Spruce Dog Kennels to capture the aurora I was waiting for the effects an X-flare to hit the earth. Two days before the sun had let loose one of it most powerful class of flares. Even though the flare was not directly headed to earth, the ejected plasma was expected to react with our earth’s magnetic field and cause some auroras! My goal for the night was to tie together two cultural pieces of Alaska – dog mushing and the aurora. Incredibly, the aurora started showing up on my camera at 6:00 PM on my camera along with the moonrise. On an ‘ordinary’ night the aurora will begin at 10PM – the early aurora was a good omen for what was to come!

From a technical standpoint this is one of my favorite auroras I’ve captured. The stars were pin-point sharp and as you’ll see the pan over a dog-sled adds a ton! Shooting over the activity of the dogs was a lot of fun – but I had to leave so they would kennel up. If you have ever been around a group of sled dogs they bark, bay, and howl when strangers are around!

Artistically, the reds are some of the nicest colors I’ve captured. They only appeared for about 25 minutes during the night, but it was stunning! Sitting under the aurora, I thought of the old adage “Red Sky At Night, Sailor’s Delight”, and thus the title of this post was born!

I arrived home at 5:00am and the aurora was still dancing over the Sustainable Village. I snapped a couple of captures for finally calling it a night, which you’ll see below. Overall the aurora was visible for 12 hours due to the x-flare activity!

The timelapse video here captures the reds of a beautiful aurora and a little slice of life at the Black Spruce Dog Kennels.

I guess these dogs were already tired of great aurora displays ;). Shot at Black Spruce Dogsledding
I guess these dogs were already tired of great aurora displays ;). Shot at Black Spruce Dogsledding
The aurora hangs over a staked sled at Black Spruce Dogsledding.
The aurora hangs over a staked sled at Black Spruce Dogsledding.
This image of the was taken at 5:00 when I arrived home at the Sustainable Village.
This image of the was taken at 5:00 when I arrived home at the Sustainable Village.
A curious sled dog checks me out... I wonder what color a dog sees the aurora in??
A curious sled dog checks me out… I wonder what color a dog sees the aurora in??

Come Fly With Me! : Fort Yukon, Alaska

I have spent my last couple of days in Fort Yukon, Alaska. I was gathering data for my thesis as well as some data to fulfill some granting deliverables. As proof of that I offer you this key piece of evidence:

Examining a map of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) at the CATG, NR office in Fort Yukon, AK
Examining a map of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) at the CATG, NR office in Fort Yukon, AK

This was my first time into truly remote Alaska. In fact, Fort Yukon has no roads into it. It is far from the system of pavement which means your options are dogsled, snowmachine or airplane. I chose the latter. An interesting tidbit – villagers do drive cars, and the cars get there by barge when the Yukon is open and flowing. The flight up to Fort Yukon was very special because I got to experience the sunrise coming over the mountains. I attempted to capture the sunrise in my flight to Fort Yukon video. I will just warn  you that the technique I used was a bit ‘experimental’. I wanted to shoot the video as a timelapse so I could get the sun rising as well as the plane in flight. That part worked; the sun definitely rises and the plane certainly moves. However, I didn’t account for the jerkiness of the plane when using a timelapse. I’ve done my best to edit to a smoother product, but you’ll still get tossed around a bit! It isn’t for the weak stomach :p.  For a ‘smoother’ version of the flight, have a look at the flight from Fort Yukon to Fairbanks at the bottom which I think is  a very cool video.

DOH!

Small Antedote. For those who know my woes with laptops. I got off the plane in Fort Yukon and jumped into a vehicle with a stranger. Her name was Hannah. She thought I was someone else and I thought she was just picking me up for the office. So, off we went, but neither of us knew where we had to go :S . It didn’t take me long to figure out that I should head back to the airport and meet up with my actual pick-up. I had extra incentive though, I had left my laptop ON THE PLANE wedged between the plane and the seat. I talked to the Fort Yukon office and they weren’t able to contact the plane, but did put in a contact to the next village. That was lucky enough. On top of that I was fortunate that my plane was to return in 1.5 hours to pick up some freight before heading back to Fairbanks. When they arrived at 11:25 (and yes, minutes count when you are watching the time so closely) I was OVERJOYED to see the pilot step out of the plane with my laptop. Crisis averted!

THE FLIGHT TO FYU (Smoother flight at bottom 🙂 )

The Yukon River just outside of Fort Yukon, AK
The Yukon River just outside of Fort Yukon, AK
You can see many hundreds of years of stream morphology here. See the "oxbow" lakes (remants of stream bed) scattered throughout the area? The Yukon Flats is marked by old stream channels and small lakes.
You can see many hundreds of years of stream morphology here. See the “oxbow” lakes (remants of stream bed) scattered throughout the area? The Yukon Flats is marked by old stream channels and small lakes.
You really can't stop looking, it's all SO beautiful!
You really can’t stop looking, it’s all SO beautiful!
When flying small charter planes there is just you, the luggage, the pilots and a few passengers. It's cozy, but comfortable!
When flying small charter planes there is just you, the luggage, the pilots and a few passengers. It’s cozy, but comfortable!

MY GRADUATE WORK

The purpose of this trip was to gather data for my graduate work. I’ll put down my current proposed thesis, so someday I can look back and read this. I’m sure I will have a good laugh. Currently I’m looking at competition between humans and wolves for the common resource of moose, in the Yukon Flats of interior Alaska. In this area moose populations are as low as anywhere in the U.S. or even the world. These low moose densities are unexpected, with exceptional habitat existing throughout the Yukon Flats. Moose in this system are thought to be controlled by wolves, which keep them at densities well below the carrying capacity of the land. This has been dubbed the ‘predator pit’. To get at competition I’m utilizing a collared wolf dataset through collaboration with the Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) from the Council of Athabascan Government. Those data – which comprise the purpose of my trip to Fort Yukon- were collected during interviews in the mid-2000s and serve as a useful tool to understand landscape usage by the villagers. My intent is to understand where they harvest moose. By comparing the two datasets using resource selection functions in GIS I am hoping to gain insights into competition based on how humans and wolves use the landscape when pursuing moose. I can’t thank enough CATG and FWS the opportunity to work with their data.

FORT YUKON AT NIGHT

Fort Yukon is a really cool place. Due to its location (the middle of nowhere) the night-scapes that occur there are second to none (but probably tied with many). I went out into the night and wandered around Fort Yukon passing through snow covered trees and by quiet houses. The full moon lit the landscape up so that in these pictures it appears to be daytime. You certainly could have read a book by it!

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Full moon night at Fort Yukon,AK
CATG Natural Resources Office Lit up by a full moon
CATG Natural Resources Office Lit up by a full moon
Back-lit trees during the big full moon.
Back-lit trees during the big full moon.
Full moon night at Fort Yukon,AK
Full moon night at Fort Yukon,AK
There was some wind out this night. Notice the tops of the trees? That blurring is a ruffling of the branches.
There was some wind out this night. Notice the tops of the trees? That blurring is a ruffling of the branches.
Out for a hike! AK survival gear : canvas boots, facemask, down jacket, fleece lined pants
Out for a hike! AK survival gear : canvas boots, facemask, down jacket, fleece lined pants

VILLAGE HIGHLIGHTS

Unfortunately I did not get to partake or see much of life at the Fort Yukon. I spent most of my time indoors going through data and maps. However, before leaving I got a small tour of town. Here’s just some of the things to catch my eye.

The wind out on the Yukon River looked COLD!
The wind out on the Yukon River looked COLD!
This place has not always been called Fort Yukon, and some still refer to it as the place that it was. Gwitchyaa Zhee

By the way, I had this pronounced to me many times. If there is someone reading this who could phonically write it out for me that would be a huge help. I’m having a hard time getting it.

The yukon is wide at the Fort Yukon landing (pictured here). It is amazing it is a river at all, could be a long lake just by the size of it.
The yukon is wide at the Fort Yukon landing (pictured here). It is amazing it is a river at all, could be a long lake just by the size of it.
This old school was one of the first (maybe the first?) in Fort Yukon. It lies along the river and is boarded up now. The square logwork still looks tight though and it is a very, very cool old building.
This old school was one of the first (maybe the first?) in Fort Yukon. It lies along the river and is boarded up now. The square logwork still looks tight though and it is a very, very cool old building.
I am not sure of the owner of this house. It was along the river and had so much character you had to love it!
I am not sure of the owner of this house. It was along the river and had so much character you had to love it!

THE FLIGHT TO FAI (smoother video! :D)

The flight home was a much different flight. It started out clear, but then below us a cloud bank formed. However, just after we got past the Yukon Flats (as denoted by a rising mountain range) the skies cleared again and created a beautiful juxtaposition of clouds, light, and shade. 

Here's some of the mountain scenery coming from Fort Yukon to Fairbanks.
Here’s some of the mountain scenery coming from Fort Yukon to Fairbanks.
A juxtaposition of clouds and valleys. Shadows and light. It is quite stunning when you are up there looking down on it.
A juxtaposition of clouds and valleys. Shadows and light. It is quite stunning when you are up there looking down on it. Here’s the edge of the Yukon Flats. The mountain range that rises up is controlling the cloud cover pretty effectively.
We flew into Birch Creek for a pickup and some cargo. Here's a few as we were flying back out. Not many people living in Birch Creek!
We flew into Birch Creek for a pickup and some cargo. Here’s a few as we were flying back out. Not many people living in Birch Creek!
Going over the Yukon heading south this time. What a huge, daunting river!
Going over the Yukon heading south this time. What a huge, daunting river!
Fort Yukon Aerial
Fort Yukon from the air.

BRAIN TANNING

On the way home I met a really unique and talented individual. His name is Donovan Felix and he is currently on a mission to revive native tanning practices (brain tanning) in the interior. He was pulling on a chunk of moose hide while the flight was happing to make it supple part of his cargo for the trip was a caribou hide he had just been given. He specializes in caribou, but in recent years has started tanning moose asl well. Donovan is obviously very passionate about what he does and his mission. He was constantly giving me tips on how to tan hides, and what he was doing with the hide. In fact, what he is is doing is so novel that he was covered by www.culturesurval.org . Click the link to read the story. Also, if you are interested in learning about brain tanning UAF holds a workshop! http://www.uaf.edu/iac/traditional-learning/animal-hide-tanning/. This is certainly something that I will be looking out for this spring. I ended up giving Donovan a ride to town after we got off the plane.

Here, Donovan is twisting and pulling the moose hide to break down the fibers and make it supple.
Here, Donovan is twisting and pulling the moose hide to break down the fibers and make it supple.

The planes that bring people back and forth are not that big. They are carry as much freight and cargo as they do people. At each stop cargo is loaded and unloaded quickly and planes do not stay around long. I must say though their service is excellent and is needed by the villages. During my ride to Fort Yukon I sat next to Dr. Pepper and milk. Here’s a picture of the plane that got me back to Fairbanks.

Wright Air standard issue plane
Wright Air standard issue plane

Here’s the last bit. I’m really happy how this video turned out of the flight to Fairbanks. Have a look and let me know what you think!

 

Some Natural History and Tips : Denali National Park

Ahoy Readers!

So, this is actually a post that has been a long time in the making. I’ve been back-logged a bit on posting this one.  Did you know that’s why the call a blog a blog? Blog just stands for Back-logged. Anway, bad joke. So here’s the background on this post. A majority of the pictures and tales come from Kass’ and my journey up here in August. We visited the park then as part of a trip to the Anchorage region and is the part that I’ve meant to write about for some time. The other part of the descriptions and pictures come from a field trip I took to Denali the last weekend in September to observe moose rutting behavior. And then, to top it all there’s some events observed outside of the park that were cool and noteworthy, so there’s some pictures of that too. So, here we go!

When Kass and I got to Denali we were in for a big surprise: you cannot pass mile 15 of the park road with a personal vehicle. I had no idea a national park would restrict access like that! So, the only resaonable way to get in is on the tour buses and those trips had varying different lengths along the road. We decided to take the Wonder Lake bus tour which was 10 HOURS on the bus, but did bring us into the park almost as far as you can go. I will just say now that, although a 10 hour bus ride is long, and we didn’t get to stop at destinations long enough to truly appreciate them, we both agreed that we were happy we made it all the way into the park even as just ‘tourists’. I certainly have plans to return there with a bike and trek  the entire park road. Hopefully whenever ‘summer’ comes here again, not likely until July.

So, without further ado, here’s a short natural history, based on my learning, of Denali National Park. I will be grouping the different aspects of the park visit in the blog rather detailing each mile. 

MOUNTAINS

Of course there is one really big reason to go to Denali national park, and that’s to see Mt. McKinley – also known as Denali. Denali is  Koyukon Athabaskan for “The High One”. It is the largest peak in North America and rises up over 18,000 feet from the base to its summit. The rise of Denali is what makes it so extraordinary. However, not a large percentage of the visitors in the park each year actually see the peak as it hides behind clouds often. We actually found a day when the sun broke through the clouds and we could see it! For us it was a fortunate break, as the weather had been cloudy the days preceding our trip, was cloudy most of the day we were on the trip (except for the 1 break) and was cloudy after that. I guess we were meant to see it!

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Denali. We were fortunately to see it!! Here you can still tell that there is a fair amount of haze around the summit. We are still well over 50 miles from the mountain at the time of this picture.

Of course there are other mountains within Denali National Park as well. One of the other noteable ranges were the polychrome mountains. The Polychrome mountains are a part of  The Cantwell Volcanics and  include basalt and rhyolite flows (Wikipedia),There were quite colorful. Although, I must say that the panorama could do them more justice. There are many, many good pictures of the colors of these mountains online. If you are interested be sure to check those out! Think rainbows + mountains.  I guess you’ll have to see them for yourself!

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The polychrome mountains of Denali National Park. They are aptly named!

Of course the look and feel mountains can change rapidly! Here are pictures from September 29th in the Savage river valley area while I was there for a field trip. Snow covered mountains were layered in fog and clouds. The reds in the front of the mountains was stunning. While we stood there snow started to fly and it continued throughout the night into Sunday morning. They closed the park for the season due to the snow on Sunday, so we were fortunate to get in when we did!

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A closeup of just one of the peaks in the Savage River Valley area. This peak was shot at 300 mm.
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A changed landscape! The mountains were shrouded in fog and covered in snow. A big change from just a month prior!

MEGA FAUNA

Denali national park is renowned for its wildlife. Part of that renown derives directly from the restrictions placed on tourist traffic- I should quit my griping about long bus rides, as it still beats the throngs of buffalo watchers at Yellowstone National Park. Wildlife in the region thrive due to intact ecosystems and no hunting pressure within the park. Many individuals leave the park boundaries, and can be pursued and harvested at that time. The park has ‘the big four’ of mega-fauna and at any time they may stick their head above a ridge, so observation is essential. Actually it was one of the entertaining parts of the bus ride because we were instructed to yell “STOP!” if we saw anything big. Imagine yelling out bingo because it some ways it was competitive like bingo (who could see it first) and was just as enjoyable. The caveat of the ‘stop’ theory is our bus driver was an older gentleman, named John, and he couldn’t hear well, especially over the diesel bus. So people in the back really had to let him know. Once we were stopped it was an inching game and John did his best to take directions from multiple, camera wielding bus riders looking to line up that ‘perfect’ shot. The rules of the game were to call out anything interesting, but most of the riders there wanted to see moose, dall sheep, caribou or bears. We were fortunate to get all of them. The first of the big four that we came upon was the mighty bull moose. Moose in the park are big due to their protection, and these guys pictured here are no exception! At this time of year the moose were gathering in the valleys for the rutting season.

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A big bull moose at Denali National Park. Look at those paddles!
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Just because they are big doesn’t mean that cannot hide! If you were walking on the ground in the Park I’m not sure that you’d be able to see this one!

Like I mentioned these moose were here with a purpose and that purpose was to meet other males and then either scare them off, or if that doesn’t work fight with them. I was fortunate enough to be back in the park during the rutting season and observing bull moose from a distance up and down the Savage River Valley. I got to observe several key and cool behaviors of moose including:

  1. Territorial displays – male moose will stand face to face in an old west shoot-out style and sway their heads back and forth. If one backs down at this point there is no harm done. It’s the least aggressive way to win the cows for a harem
  2. Rut pits – male moose dig pits with their front feet and then pee in them and rub other hormones into them. Did you ever wonder why male moose have the long beard in front under their chin? When they get into the rut pit they make sure to splash plenty of ‘unpleasants’ onto the beard and then will rub those acquired smells on the cows for their approval, effectively basting them. Cows will also sniff the rut pits and it is suspected that they can tell the maturity of a bull based on  the hormones that it puts out
  3. Harems- we saw two different bulls with harems. A harem is a group of cows that will breed with the bull that has won them. The bull may lose the harem to another bull at any time up until the cows are bred. Once a bull starts into the rut it will barely sleep or eat and may loose up to 600 pounds in some of the larger bulls. For instance, my professor talked about an instance where a bull was known to start at 1500 pounds and shrink to 900. WOW! 1-800-94-JENNY anyone?

For better or for worse we saw many of these moose from far away – so much for wildlife photographer of the year awards on this trip! However, I did take this one set of a video of a distant, large, bull moose chasing after 2 cows in his harem. I think it gives pretty good perspective on how far away we were and also of some of the scenery. Of note in this video: NEVER TRY TO OUTRUN A MOOSE. I couldn’t believe how fast they were able to travel!!

The next in the list of the big four were caribou. We got some really great looks at these animals. I have actually learned some pretty interesting things about caribou. Did you know the females are one of the few (or only??) ungulates to grow antlers? Females actually use them to fend off other females from feeding grounds when calves are present. Lichen, their main source of food, can be a commodity. So it’s important to protect what you have! The caribou herds were just starting to travel for the wintering grounds when we were on our trip.

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Here is one of the big caribou that crossed our path on the voyage to wonder lake.
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Here is yet another one of the big caribou that crosse dour path. Admire those shovels, but also admire that vast landscape behind him!

Another one of the big four in the park were the dall sheep. These sheep were actually hunted to near extinction in history past, so it’s great to see them back in large numbers! It’s important to look waaay up for these guys, as they are mountain extraordinaires and are renowned for their ability to cling to small ledges and make dareing dashes up near impossible slopes. They are always shock white and are known for their impressive horn curls.  We didn’t get too close to these sheep, so use your imagination a bit on those white dots you see! At least one of them is the ram. Can you tell?

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To round off the big four I would be reminisce if I didn’t talk about the bears! We got to observe bears two times while on the trip. The first time was very close, and you’ll see that below. It was a lone bear, probably a male, that was foraging on berries and anything else in the shrubs. He meandered up the draw before walking mere yards behind the bus. It’s really interesting being in the bus beause the wildlife has less tendency to ‘see’ you. They certainly see the bus, but that doesn’t really spook them. Bears are a little different though, I don’t think they give a d*** either way.  You know what I mean? :p.  The second bear sighting was at a distance, but a mother and two cubs were running around and playing with each other on a hillside.

In regards to bears a brown bear is the same as a grizzly bear and both of those are actually the same as a Kodiak Brown Bear. Kodiak’s are renowned for their large size (males in the range of 1500 pounds) but their size is entirely driven by the rich fish diet they get in the Kodiak Island region. If those same bears were transplanted to Denali they would shrink to Denali size- about 700 pounds in big males.

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Here’s Mr Bruin. This brown bear was feeding on berries and shrubs behind our bus. He was described as a ‘fairly small male’. Looks biggish to me!
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More more look with a little different angle at the grizzly bear.

Not all of the mammals in Denali are huge. We did come across this fox who was actively hunting along the road. I think he was using the bus to scare up birds, crafty fox! I didn’t see him snag any, but he came awfully close a couple of times. His behavior was to pad along in front of the bus and as birds came out of the bushes to pursue him. He then jumped into a draw which is where he was photographed here, ears perked and still fully on the hunt.

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This crafty red fox was using our bus as a diversion when hunting birds.

BIRDS

One of the predominant birds in Alaska are the grouse and the ptarmigan. They all can be a bit hard to tell apart. Once you get the grouse vs the ptarmigan you still need to figure out which of the ptarmigan you are looking at, which can be nearly impossible. I’ve found this resource from the AK fish and game. Use it to help me compare the pictures below, and we’ll see if you think I got them right. (http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/hunting/smallgamehunting/pdfs/alaska_grouse_ptarmigan.pdf) I won’t put any captions on the photos other than numbers and you can look up the answers below.

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# 1 : What is it? “answer” below
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# 2 : answers below
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# 3 : answers below

So here’s the answers as far as I can tell. # 1 is a willow ptarmigan. It’s characterized by red breat and those big ptarmigan feet (which you can’t see). She’s all ruffled up here. I know she’s a she because she was surrounded by her chicks, who were about half grown. Willow ptarmigan are VERY hard to discern from rock ptarmigan. In this case I’m going sheerly on the habitat that she was found in, and I’m not sure if that’s valid or not.  #2 is a spruce grouse, not a ptarmigan at all! . Did you guess correctly on #3? If  you got # 2 then you should get # 3! Spruce grouse! I threw you a little double there 🙂

Another one of the birds in the park is the magpie. They are one of my favorite birds for their curious nature and natural intelligence. When I jumped out of the car this one and several others came pretty close looking for handouts. I wasn’t too impressed by that! But was it was nice to have him close for the pictures. They really are a colorful bird, in the right light that tail lights up green as a ‘go light’!

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This magpie came looking for handouts, none to found from this non-wildlife-feeing-photographer though! 🙂

The last bird I wanted to highlight was the white fronted goose. This bird was actually a ‘lifer’ ( I hadn’t seen one before) so it was pretty special! These geese had managed to raise a family on this lake for the summer. I bet they didn’t hang around too much longer after we left the park. Those lakes would have been frozen soon!

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White-fronted goose in Denali National Park

PLANTS

Denali was one of my first exposures tundra plants. I actually don’t have to much to say about these plants because I really don’t know too much about their ecology. Maybe the pictures will tell enough! The best I can give is the name, if you are ready and know some ecology fill me in!

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Gentian.
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Mountain Avens.
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Bearberry

IT’S NO WONDER IT’S CALLED WONDER!

We finally reached wonder lake at mile 84 (I think, or was it 87?) Anway, it was incredible! The lake stretched out before us and was very calm. Kass set about picking berries and I spent my time hunting for birds and pictures to take. I’m looking forward to getting back to Wonder Lake on my own accord and spending some time there. Hopefully the days can all be be like this one was! This will conclude the Denali section. But a few extra pictures are below from different destinations and species. Thanks for reading everyone!!

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BLOG EXTRAS

So the rest of this blog is just dedicated to some nice Alaskan scenery that is found between Denali and Anchorage but that don’t really fit into a blog entry. I will include a little commentary here and there:

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Hi-bush cranberries are a common plant in the woods of Alaska. These tart berries are editlble, and the taste improves as the weather cools off and they freeze at night. They have a pretty big pit, so be ready to spit!
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Beyer’s Lake State Park. Can’t go wrong with these views!
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I am always fascinated by mushrooms exploding out of the undergrowth This one apparently had to push pretty hard to make it through this thick moss.
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I feel I captured this red squirrel at just the right time at Beyer’s Lake State Park. He was chomping on this pinecone and had a see strung across his write. He looks like he’s saying SHOO! Get out of here!
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I was struck by the royal, deep purple of this unknown flower along Beyer’s Lake. Also, thanks to Reader Justin Olnes for identifying this flower monkshood (Aconitum)!!
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Beyer’s Lake State park and a view from the end of the lake. I loved the purples and the red of the rose-hips!
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While in the Anchorage area Kass and I were lucky to observe a strong fallout of warbler. There were feeding in amongst the rocks of shoreline of the ocean (which had a rapidly ascending tide) and also in the fireweed which was common. The combination of fireweed with the birds is hard to forget! I believe (but cannot say with absolute certainty) that this is an orange-crowned warbler. Can anyone confirm??
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A moody day at Ektulna lake along the way to Anchorage.
Lets not beat around the bush here. Do bears shit in the woods? Yes. yes they do.
Lets not beat around the bush here. Do bears shit in the woods? Yes. yes they do. More interesting was to see the strong dietary influence of berries in this scat! It was found directly in the middle of the board walk around Beyer’s Lake

3500 miles of Wow. Our Journey from Perham, MN to Fairbanks, AK

Well Readers, it’s been a long time since I’ve put up a post here. And it’s not from lack of desire, rather lack of time. I’ve been Very, Very, Very busy. Capitalized “V”s are supposed to emphasize. Here’s the first part of our journey to Fairbanks. I have been involved heavily in RA training. I’m working at the “sustainability village” for the year and am very excited about! I’ll be the head of 16 residents that are dispersed amongst 4 apartment buildings. The buildings are hyper efficient, and residents that live here pledge to live sustainably (which manifests itself in many ways). My interests and past experiences in Northland College will fit me very well. Residents grow some of their own food (I ran the campus greenhouses for 2 years at Nortland) and are asked to bike, walk or carpool when necessary.

On top of my RA duties, I’ll be diving into my graduate work very soon, and classes start just after Labor day!  I’ve actually been so busy that I didn’t have time to write it, fortunately, Kass could help out again! Without futher ado, here she is, with small interjections from me:

HERE’S TO ALASKA!!!!

Our planned trip to Fairbanks, Alaska was a total of 61 hours not including stops for fuel, food, or road construction! Then we added another 12 hours or so to head down to Denali National Park and to see Anchorage then head back to Fairbanks. It was a little daunting to think of all those hours in Ian’s pickup but we were up for the challenge!

Out west again…

We left Perham on the 8th of August and headed to the first destination on the way to Alaska, 16 hours to Sandpoint, ID.

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As you can see we were pretty heavily loaded. Ian planned to have his entire load of luggage on the trailer then we would “boondock” (park in random spots for the night, mostly rest stops or pullouts) in the back of the truck were we rigged up a bed instead of having to pull out a tent every night. Nice thinking Ian! He created the trailer from an old popup camper his parents let him use. He tore the whole camper off of it, leaving the strong frame and built it all up for this journey in the last few remaining days we had before leaving. (CRAZY!)

We drove about 12 hours that first day before hitting a rest stop, and then we finished the rest of the way the next morning to Sean and Jada’s house. We got to see the little man again and spend some quality time with the loved ones we miss rather dearly! We dropped off a few things for them, Ian’s kayak for them to use while he is up in Alaska, and a huge china hutch for Jada that was her grandmother’s, and some clothes for Dane from Darla. We spend all of Friday and a good piece of Saturday morning with them. It was a very nice spot to stop and rest up for the remaining chunk our journey.

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As a side note, those of you who know Ian well enough, know that there is a part of his brain that just so happens to be a human jukebox. (If you didn’t know that, now you do ; ] ). This jukebox is always on random (well typically) and it rarely ever can finish a song before its attention has skipped into another piece of a different song. One of the many songs Ian often had on repeat during this trip was of course John Denver’s, Alaska and Me. He often sang, “When I was a child and I lived in the city I dreamed of Alaska so far away… somehow I knew that I’d live there someday.”  It popped up more and more in the jukebox’s playlist the closer we came to Alaska. He typically ended almost shouting every time, “Here’s to Alaska!!!” Good thing I’m a John Denver fan! : ]

Canada

Our destination for Saturday night was Banff National Park. I have had the pleasure of visiting Banff before but this was Ian’s first journey there. Banff was only about five and a half hours from Sandpoint so we made it their easily. It started to pour as we got to the park and managed to find an overlook to pull off on and we boondocked for the night. Ian captured the rainy mood of the mountains the night before and then the subequent sunrise of the same mountain range. What a difference!

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The next morning we rose and greeted the beautiful view once more before continuing up Highway 93 (Icefields Pkwy) that drives through Banff National Park in British Columbia/Alberta, and up to Jasper National Parks in Alberta, Canada. The highway was amazing! It led through the mountains, next to glacial rivers and lakes, all the way up to the glacial ice fields themselves! If you are ever in the area we highly recommend this drive! So awe-inspiring! The mountains continue to change a head of you showing new types of geological structures and chemistries. We stopped at the Athabasca Glacier, that had a trail up to it and even showed signs of where the terminal moraine used to be in decades of the past all the way back into the late 1800’s. We weren’t able to touch the glacier as I was hoping; the river at the end of the moraine was just too fast and wide (and probably freezing!) for us unprepared visitors in our sandals.

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NOTE FROM IAN: This glacier was full of “Nerdy” glacial stuff. Here’s a little bit about what I learned while looking at this glacier!!

ATHABASCA GLACIER

The glacier has receded greatly in recent years. Here is a panoramic of the glacier:

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Glacial recession has been going on for centuries, however has sped up in recent years. This glacier has retreated about 1.5 km (.93 miles) in the last 125 years!! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athabasca_Glacier). The location here had each 20-or-so year mark posted to you could see the progress of the glacier. What an eye opener! In fact, at the location (picture below) shown you can see the vegetation growth that has occurred since the glacier left that spot 105 years earlier. It isn’t much growth!

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Glaciers play a key role in the landscape and the evidence of their movement can be seen everwhere. Here, the glacier has grown over the solid surface of the rock cutting into it as it recedes. This is a classic show of the power of a glacier. You can also see the typical glacial rocks in the area. Each of these shows the glacier in the background with some of its left over rocks in the front. COOL!!

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Another piece of a glacier is the glacial moraine. This area is covered in silt and rock that has been ground by the glacier. In many instances it may look like land, however, we were lucky enough to see where the terminal moraine has shattered away exposing some of the ice beneath.

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So there you have it, a little bit about the Athabasca glacier!

As we headed up the road and got closer and closer to the town of Jasper it was my turn to sing John Denver, “Up in the meadows of Jasper, Alberta, two men and four ponies on a long lonesome ride…” However we didn’t see any meadows, just lots of mountains, trees, and streams. It is so beautiful I can see why in inspired John Denver to sing about it. However the town of Jasper was completely PACKED! I’m sure it was a nice little town but it looked like rush hour in New York City! We couldn’t even get into a gas station, so we just drove right through.

I wanted to see Maligne Lake and Canyon so we took the little side road that led there and when we got to the canyon we couldn’t believe how packed it was! We got out and started on the trail and even made it to a bridge overlooking the canyon before we just couldn’t handle the amount of people. It was gorgeous but just too packed to truly enjoy. So we left the park and continued our drive northwards. That night we ended up boondocking in a the Walmart parking lot in Dawson Creek, the start of the Alaskan Highway, along with about a dozen or two other dockers.

Note from Ian: Boondocking is awesome! Here we are boondocking the Dawson Creek Walmart.

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Monday arrived early; we noticed that the sun kept waking us up earlier and earlier if the truckers and other early morning drivers didn’t beat the sun to it. Another day on the road, we had an actual goal of where we were going to stop for the night though which made us anxious to get going. One of Ian’s coworkers in Maine suggested to we visit Laird River Hot Spring Provincial Park. With such a pleasant name to it and rave reviews we were excited to get there, which made time go rather slowly. To make time speed up and keep our minds occupied through the drive I got Ian to play “My cows” with me. This was a game my parents got my sisters and I to play when we were young and bored on the long car trips to my grandparents’ houses. Ian and never heard of it and maybe you haven’t either so I’ll break down the rules (or at least what I could remember) in the way I was taught by my parents. Every time you see a cattle or a cow you say “my cow” or if you are bored with the small amount of cows around, whatever the animal happens to be so “my deer” if I saw a deer etc. Scoring is rather up to whoever is in on the game or that’s how we used to play. So Ian and I decided (or mostly I decided, him being new to the game) the following.

Points Justification
Ravens 1 They were everywhere!
Cows 1 Common for a while in the bit of farm country that exisited
Horses/Deer 2 Rare-ish (horses should have only been 1 there were common)
Elk/Caribou 3 Hadn’t seen any yet but figured they would be more common than the following
Mountain Goats/ Big Horned Sheep 4
Buffalo 5
Black Bear 7
Grizzly Bear 10

Now typically when playing my cows anytime someone sees a graveyard they can shout out, “Bury Your Cows!” then all of the members playing the game start back at zero except for the observant player that spotted the graveyard. We figured we wouldn’t be seeing many graveyards in our drive through the mountains and boreal forests so we decided to cancel the burring of cows. 😉 All that is left before you start to play is deciding on a number that wins say first to 10 or even 21 animals. We played a few rounds over the next few days. Ian was very quick at catching on; I think he won most of our games.

Eventually we made our way to northern BC, the mountains came and went and the roads and construction got worse. We pulled over by a campground on Mucho Lake, which was a beautiful lake surrounded by stony mountains. I’m banking on Ian adding a picture HERE: 😉 If you drive this way make sure to slow down and you go farther north because the mountain rock comes all the way to the water and so do the Bighorn Sheep! Other notable species in this area were Caribou, and a little farther north were Bison and a Black Bear right by the side of the road!!!

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NOTE FROM IAN : This goat has a satellite tag! I thought that was pretty cool. I’m assuming he’s being used to look at the movement of goats around the roads. He was right on it! He’s at MUNCHO LAKE, which can be seen here:

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Finally after the last hour of excitement we made it to Liard River Hot Springs! It is a nice little campground which fills up fast during the peak season so get there early. The main spring was beautiful and super-hot! Over 110 degrees F, this is above my comfort level but Ian loved it right from the mouth of the spring. I had to go down to the next tier where the water was a little cooler. The water was a clear dark blue to green and lovely. The only problem was the smell of the sulfur, but well worth the relaxing temperature! Even more so after driving long distances every day, cramped muscles are able to loosen in that hot water.

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That night at the campground Ian got up at 1am to take pictures of the slowing Perseid Meteor shower. I eventually got up to look at the stars as well, some of the brightest I’ve ever seen. Ian set his camera up to take more photos during the night with his intervalometer and we went back to bed. In the morning when viewing the photos we realized we had missed the Northern Lights by mere minutes, if it wasn’t already out faintly when we headed back to sleep. Shucks!

NOTE FROM IAN: The great thing about having the intervalometer set up was that I could timlapse it! Although it wasn’t set up ideally for capture, here’s my first timelapse of the northern lights (very short video <<<<CLICK HERE>>>) . Many, many more to come! Also, I didn’t manage to capture any meteors, however, I was able to capture a stunning movement around the north star, which I thought was very cool! It hasn’t been enhanced in any way beyond the original shot.

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From here we decided to make it up to Fairbanks as soon as possible so we could still have time to spend in Denali and Anchorage before Ian had to move in next Monday. We managed to make it up to the Yukon and we stopped in Watson Lake at an information center.

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At the center we were informed that you could win a 5 ounce or 10 ounce gold nugget if you participated in a Yukon passport challenge. If you visited 10 or 20 of the cultural sites while driving through Yukon and get your passport stamped at each site as proof you would be entered into a drawing when you hand the passport into your last stop. Most of these were on the way so we were gung-ho about winning some gold. However, our chances of winning when out the door a little while later in Teslin our second spot to pick up a stamp we were waylaid. We had stopped to find a museum and a gentleman came over to our car and asked us if we had enough room on our trailer to fit a BMW motorcycle. I was a little taken aback not understand at first, how would this be possible? He explained that his clutch had gone out and he had been waiting for hours hoping someone would come a long that would have enough room to bring his motorcycle to Whitehorse. He explained that he would give some compensation but the $700 to get a tow truck was too expensive for him to be able to afford. I was leery, as horrible as it is sometimes it’s hard to take people at face value these days. I figured Ian is a big guy we would have no qualms were I normally would balk at picking up a man I didn’t know, following the rules my dad had set down for me as a female driver in the past. The only thing left that worried me was that I wanted to know if the bike was really his. I asked if he had his title with him, he didn’t but he had his insurance and an ID. So no stealing a BMW bike here! We rearranged the trailer and with the help of Randy and his friend, Ian got the bike on the trailer. Randy had to sit in the jump seat of the truck but he didn’t seem to mind. The next two and a half hours to Whitehorse flew by with a new conversationalist joining in our little two person foray.

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We got our first and only meal in a sit-down restaurant that night with the $50 Randy gave us for bringing him to Whitehorse. After eating we headed out of town a few miles and stayed at little a rest stop for the night. By this point I was getting rather tired of using latrines… Rest stops never seem to have good bathrooms once you leave the states. So hold your breath, put a good layer of toilet paper down, and make sure to bring lots of hand sanitizer!

Wednesday was all about getting to Alaska. We jetted down the road, stopping only briefly at gas stations. Ian picked up a book by Velma Wallis, an Athabascan native of Alaska, called Bird Girl and the Man who Followed the Sun (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bird_Girl_and_the_Man_Who_Followed_the_Sun). So I set about reading the book out loud for the rest of our journey to Fairbanks. I made the mistake of reading the back of the book incorrectly. It stated, “This story speaks straight to the heart with clarity, sweetness, and wisdom. When you’ve read this book, you will feel that you are a slightly better person that you knew you were.” –Ursula K. Le Guin. I got all excited for the book and then was disappointed. Don’t get me wrong the book was good, but it was very sad I thought it was going to be a pick me up. I looked at the back of the book again and it turns out it was a review for her last book, Two Old Women, not this one.

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Thursday, we pulled into Fairbanks, we made it!! We dropped my gear off on campus and then headed south for the second leg of the journey. Blog to come!

NOTE FROM IAN:

So, how much does it cost to do a trip like this? Lucky for you, I kept almost all of the receipts and put them into a convenient table! If gas was purchased in Canada I put it into Gallon equivalent and if it was purchased in the US I put it into liter equivalents. All told we drove 3,500 miles between MN and Fairbanks, and this is the breakdown from those miles.

Alaska Gas Table

Still reading? Not too much else to read for now, however, here’s a few more images from the trip that didn’t make the blog. Thanks for reading!

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