Category Archives: Nature

Out Camping in Denali

Last week Hubby and I celebrated a whole nine years of marriage.

To celebrate, we did something that we’ve only done once before during our marriage: went camping.

That’s right. My hubby, who used to be a Denali trail guide before I met him, and I have only camped once before last weekend. And you want to know the real insult? It wasn’t even Alaskan camping–it was in Washington state!

I’m hiding my head here, because it’s really so pathetic. I think we just got so caught up in life and everything that we didn’t make time to get away.

Last weekend though, we dropped the kid at Grandma and Grandpa’s, and drove a few hours into Denali National Park. In recent years, they’ve opened up the park road to 29 mile, Teklanika camp ground. So instead of taking a bus in, we were able to drive our car out to the campground.

Now, let me preface this by saying that this is light-weight camping. There were outhouses–nice ones–and potable water at this campground. But it was still “camping.” We didn’t have cell reception, so we were unplugged all weekend. And it really felt nice.

I was able to finish a short story while I was out there, and read some of Geraldine Brook’s The People of the Book, which I am starting to enjoy more, although it’s different from her other books and I don’t like it as much.

But I also managed to take a few pictures, and just had to share.

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The entrance to our campsite.

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We took an evening walk the day we got there, and the area surrounding the campsite was classic Alaska. The light was so great and created such a peaceful picture. I was tempted–if I didn’t realize how much wildlife as out there–to sit under a tree and read my book!

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This little creek meandered through the area, eventually disappearing under the tundra.

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We half expected to see a moose around the corner, or a bear, as we found many moose droppings in the area. But, no luck. No moose.

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The next morning we woke and went on a morning hike along the Teklanika River. This is the view from the riverbank. It was a gorgeous day, with few clouds and nice hiking weather. Not too hot, nor too cold.

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Some of the mountains still have snow on their tips, and probably won’t lose that snow all year round. Even so close to June, we found shaded spots and creeks with hardpacked snow still there.

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Another classic Alaskan picture. The skinny trees, the mountains in the back, this could be anyone’s backyard. Only it’s in Denali National Park.

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On our three hour hike along the river, we found thhese bear tracks on the way back to campsite. Later we heard from a camper we ran into ok our walk that a bus saw a Grizzly watching him pass by along the river.

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With claws like this, who wouldn’t want to run into this guy?

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Caribou tracks. Saw a lot of these along the river–tracks, not caribou.

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These pretty little flowers grew along the riverbank in patches.

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Wolf tracks. Saw plenty of these, as well as some fox tracks. But no live ones, unfortunately.

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One of the few animals that posed for me, this graverobber visited our campsite a few times looking for food.

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We didn’t want to get any closer to this Grizzly Bear we found right off the river from our campground. He looked a little too big to mess with!

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If you look closely, you can find the Griz right in the center of this pic. My lens wasn’t good enough to get a better picture, something I’m still upset about…

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As we drove out of the park Sunday morning, we were given a beautiful farewell by Denali herself.

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Denali, or The Great One

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Views like this is why people move here.

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I couldn’t decide which picture was better… This was one of the best views I’d ever gotten of The Mountain.

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The best wildlife shot I could get was of this ptarmigan! Silly bird didn’t move from the side of the road as we drove by.

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But attention turns back to Denali… Who can tear their eyes from her?

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She really dominates the scenery…she’s big!

Summer in the Interior

It’s finally here. After months of waiting, staring longingly out the windows, summer has arrived. 

Long summer nights, bonfires, swimming, hiking, running, playing…these are a few of the summertime activities I look forward to.

  

My chokecherry is budding…

 Ferns unwinding… 

And rhubarb bursting out of the ground with force and life. 

Summertime in Alaska is truly a short blip in the calendar year, one which everyone looks forward to at some point and enjoys as long as possible. 

Too Much Fun, Too Little Time



I don’t ever get tired of the sunsets during the winter.



It’s been beautiful and warm here in Fairbanks lately. We’ve had both fresh snow and melting snow, evidence of cloven hooves visitors (moose), and icy roads that have canceled school and closed businesses (a rare occurrence here in Fairbanks, I assure you). 

We didn’t see these moose, but it must have been a mama and baby judging by the size of the prints.



The roads around our house were pure ice for a day or two this past week.



So finding time to blog should have been easy right? Well, not so much. 

The kid, who is quickly approaching his first birthday, decided that ear infections are all the rage, as well as never, ever sleeping through the night. It’s been great fun, both literally and sarcastically. The son enjoys playtime in the snow and all new experiences, but sleepless nights and fussy days are challenging. 



The son has decided that crawling arpund in and eating snow is great fun. I just have to keep him away from the parts the dog has visited!



Still, we’ve been having great fun in the warmer and longer days!

Here to Stay

Well, I think this snow is here to stay.

On Saturday, Fairbanks was dumped on, and again on Sunday, we had another five inches or so, to total about a foot now.

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How much snow can pile up on the porch railing? I guess we’ll see…

The roads are icy and the high temperatures are around freezing. Good thing they aren’t lower, or roads would be even worse.

I took my almost seven month old son on our first snow walk yesterday. I wore my Columbia boots (not great for walking, but with a foot of snow, I couldn’t very well wear tennis shoes), and he rode in the Ergo carrier in his little Seahawks snow fleece. There were a few dicey moments where I slipped on the loop around our house. But we needed to get out. The house gets awfully small when you can’t go somewhere, when roads are bad and the baby is young.

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My chokecherry tree still has leaves! (And some berries.) I hope it weathers through the winter all right, as it’s never a good sign when snow piles on a tree that hasn’t lost its leaves yet.

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Poor chokecherry tree… I can sympathize with its not being ready for winter; I’m not ready for winter either.

While on our walk we saw one car broken down/abandoned on the road, but otherwise no real evidence of accidents. The first real snow always brings several accidents along with it. Every year people have to remember how to drive on the snow and ice. And every year we have new military people here who have never driven on roads like this before. You can always tell those ones–they are the ones driving like roads are dry, and you can often find them in the ditch a short distance later.

Everyone has ended up in the ditch at some point here, or slid through a red light or stop sign because the roads are too slick and your tires too bald to stop on time. The trick is to plan for it. Have an escape route and know it for those moments when you begin to skid. And turn into the skid. Most importantly, just drive a bit more cautiously, especially turning. Do a brake check to test the iciness (make sure no one is behind you first). And if you aren’t comfortable on the roads, get off them. Don’t drive far below the speed limit, because no one else is expecting that, and you’ll be a danger to both yourself and others on the road.

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Although I find the snow-laden trees pretty, this is a temporary beauty that lasts only until the wind brushes the snow off. And it lasts around seven or eight months here…so the beauty of snow quickly wears off for me.

So while I sit indoors, occasionally glancing out the window and pretending I don’t see white everywhere, I steal a nap time to write this blog and upload my photos. Eventually I suppose I’ll have to face the winter and decide I need to pick up some winter sport or something. What could it be? Snowshoeing? It’ll have to be something to be done with an infant… Probably just playing in the snow this year and getting out of doors for ten minutes at a time. Maybe next year will be the time for winter sport exploration. Any suggestions? I still need to figure out the best way to bundle up my son for extended time out of doors. He weathered the walk fine yesterday, but I always worry that he’s not warm enough (even though I was sweating in my hoodie!).

The snow is beautiful...at first.

The snow is beautiful…at first.

It’s really only in Alaska (and perhaps other cold weather states/locations) where the temperatures dip below freezing and you still see people walking outside in T-shirts and jeans, no gloves, but perhaps boots on. While I attended UAF (University of Alaska Fairbanks), there was a student there who never wore a jacket. He’d wear short sleeves, shorts, boots, a hat, and gloves–even in -40F. Now that is a bit extreme, as if something happened and he was trapped out of doors, he’d lose a lot of body heat with his exposed skin and could easily come away with frostbite or hypothermia. It’s one thing to run out of doors for a minute dressed like that, but quite another to willingly foray into the cold up here in such a foolish manner. (I think he did it to stand out and be the talk of campus, really.)

I must remind myself to look for the beauty in snow...at least for the first six months or so...

I must remind myself to look for the beauty in snow…at least for the first six months or so…

Well, the baby will soon wake, and I’ve accomplished very little this nap time. I suppose it was a mental health break nap time for me, one I dearly needed after the past couple of night’s lack of sleep.

 

Last night the sky was on fire! As the sun sank under the nearby hills, it colored the sky magnificently. I'll never get tired of sunsets like this. <3

Last night the sky was on fire! As the sun sank under the nearby hills, it colored the sky magnificently. I’ll never get tired of sunsets like this. ❤

The Great One (Denali) was hiding all day...until the sun set. And then she came out to display her splendor.

The Great One (Denali) was hiding all day…until the sun set. And then she came out to display her splendor.

And on the other side of the sky, a beautiful half moon... I couldn't decide which side to stare at: the sunset or the moon? Decisions, decision...

And on the other side of the sky, a beautiful half moon… I couldn’t decide which side to stare at: the sunset or the moon? Decisions, decisions…

The Visitors That Wouldn’t Leave

Well, yesterday was the first real snow. As in, snow that stuck. I was hoping it would disappear like the other little flurries we had, including snow the day before, but, alas, it was not to be.

It’s not much, but just enough to make my deck white. Granted, about half the snow that accumulated yesterday did melt. Now we are left with an icy, crunchy bit of snow that looks kind of pretty but is certainly not worthy of any type of snow activity. Usually in Fairbanks the first snow is the only snow that is good for snowballs and snowmen. The rest of the year, the snow is dry and won’t stick together to save your life. People Outside always seem surprised by that…but much of Alaska is technically desert. It’s dry here in the winter, despite the snow we get. It’s so dry that the manliest men are not embarrassed to have bottles of lotion sitting on their desks at work or to lather on the lotion after getting out of the shower. If they don’t, they run the risk of dry, itchy, cracked skin. Nosebleeds are common for some during these winter months, and I’ve already gotten bloody, cracked knuckles from picking berries outdoors.

But this morning I woke up to leftover snow from yesterday, and a different kind of visitor! We finally, after a month in our house, got our first moose in our backyard.

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A pretty, little cow moose dropped by this morning, startling me when I looked out the window after getting out of bed this morning!

When we were living in Washington I enjoyed our location, a rural area where we saw all sorts of wildlife: bobcats, deer, rabbits, eagles, hawks, raccoons, cougars… But I have to admit, I did miss the moose. Even five years after leaving Alaska, I would find myself looking down power line easements for moose, only finding the occasional deer instead. I suppose some habits are so ingrained that you never really lose them. How long, I wonder, would it have taken me to lose that habit of looking for moose?

Since we’ve moved back, I’ve seen only a handful of moose. This perhaps marks my fifth, and most lengthy encounter with one. Only one of those five have I been endangered by, as a young bull losing his antlers decided to bolt across the highway as I drove past.

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She posed for awhile, and almost bolted when the dog barked.

Those highway moose encounters are the scariest. Most people don’t realize just how large moose are. They are larger than horses, and weigh over half a ton. In a car accident between a moose and vehicle, I’d wager that most vehicles get totaled, and fatal injuries to both moose and human passengers are common. Despite their size, they can bolt out of the brush quickly, and their natural camouflage conceal them until their hooves hit the pavement. From fall to this time of winter (pre-snow), moose are most difficult to see on the sides of the road. In winter, the nights can actually be rather bright thanks to the clear skies, moon, and the reflective nature of snow. Because of this, the dark, large shape of the moose stands out.

Although I am not much of a hunter at all, I am a biologist. Moose here are big. Very big. One moose will feed a family for a long time. Moose meat is good meat, and I grew up on it. Moose lasagna, moose spaghetti sauce, etc. Anything you can do with beef, you can do with moose meat. I’ve missed that about Alaska as well.

Finally, she took a nap in the woods and hung out for several hours before finally heading onto the neighbor's lot.

She took a nap in the woods and hung out for most of the day munching on clover and saplings before finally heading out. Apparently we have a safe backyard for moose… I’d better watch myself!

Too bad we aren’t residents this year and can’t go moose hunting. But, the thing about living in Alaska is that you usually have friends who go hunting and fishing every year. Often, they have so many fish and so much meat in their freezer that they physically cannot eat it all. They are more than happy to share the wealth, or exchange fish for moose or vice versa. Perhaps I’ll be able to exchange berries for meat? My parents keep us well supplied with fish thanks to my dad’s penchant for yearly dip-netting trips and salmon runs, so now just to find someone who’s bagged a moose this year…

Regardless, I realized this morning with our visitor that it’s a good thing I already spent so many nap times berry picking, because today would have been an entirely lost day with that moose out there, and the snow that continues to flurry.

So, I suppose this post marks an apt farewell to September, and a hello to both October and winter.