Entries For: July 2010
We had come to Barrow on a one-day tour from Anchorage, an expensive and long trip. We are treating Alaska like a foreign country – who knows if we’ll ever come back again. Barrow, on the Arctic Ocean, 330 miles north of the Arctic Circle, is in the North Slope Borough and home to about 6,000 people. The Inupiat, the native people of Barrow, make up about 75% of the population; the word means real, genuine.
Our tour bus consists of a group of seven tourists from Turkey, a couple from Sydney, a couple from Oklahoma and us.
Ryan, our tour guide, is a very enthusiastic young man who doesn’t pretend to be an expert on his people. He seems to be constantly learning and is as thrilled as us to see a snow owl and as disappointed to not find a polar bear. But like I tell folks in the Smokies, “I can’t promise you that you’ll see an elk – this ain’t Disneyworld.”
In Barrow, houses are on stilts because permafrost lies on the ground from about 2.5 feet to 350 feet. If you built your house directly on the ground, you’d melt some of the permafrost and the house would shift. Permafrost determines so much of the infrastructure in Barrow – the utilities, sewer lines, telephone system, even how people are buried. Bodies are sent down to Anchorage for embalming then brought back to Barrow where they’re buried 15 feet below in the permafrost. The cemeteries just have wooden crosses, not monuments.
The Inupiat culture depends on whaling. The community is allowed to catch 21 whales in the spring and another 21 in the fall. The heritage center explains every stage of the whaling ritual. A huge whale suspended from the ceiling greets the visitor. There are whaling tools, ivory sculpture, dolls dressed in traditional parkas and old photographs of the celebrations after a successful whale hunt. A temporary photography exhibit show the modern whaling process from getting ready for the hunt, women cooking for the hunters, getting boats in the water to butchering the whale and celebrating with the whole community. Ryan emphasized that the whale meat are shared with the whole community – Eskimos and non Eskimos. Yes, it is fine to use the word Eskimo.
But it seems much more casual and homelike than most national park sites. Girls hang around waiting to perform drumming and dancing only to learn that the drummers have gone to a drumming competition and will not be able to join them.
Several artists lay out their wares of carvings, jewelry and dolls. They belong to Echospace, a native artist group. Lenny bought a pendant for his mother and just gave the artist cash. Gilford, one of the artists, explained that his grandfather owned a loon headdress which he wore for the Kalukaq ceremony, a special dance performed for the messenger feast. He showed me a picture of his grandfather and the headdress, which he donated to the museum.
The tourists from Turkey were surprised and then annoyed to learn that the Inupiat people did not live in igloos but in frame houses. They obviously didn’t do any reading or preparation for this trip.
Ryan kept after us to jump in the Arctic Ocean and join the polar bear club. None of us took the bait but he finally found several census workers in Barrow for a couple of weeks who jumped in with him. See the top picture. He was happy and I took pictures.
Hiking in Denali is very different from most of the hiking in the southeast in the lower 48. There are very few trails in the park; most are around the visitor center. We hiked a couple of those trails in the boreal forest or tiaga.
You could walk across Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia and Siberia and still be in the same boreal forest, from the Denali Visitor Center. The boreal forest has black spruce, horsehair ferns, mushrooms and wonderful flowers.
But it's in the tundra, the open spaces, grasses, and low vegetation that you really feels like you're in the wilderness.
Until 1980, Denali National Park was just two million acres. But just as Pres. Jimmy Carter was leaving office, he created 10 national park units in Alaska via the ANILCA (Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act). For Denali, that act increased the park to its present six millions. The original park became a wilderness area. Another section allows subsistence hunting and fishing for anyone living in a rural community. The Preserve park also allows sports hunting. ANILCA protected these lands but didn't lock them up.
We hiked mostly in the wilderness area on tundra or river beds - see the top picture. But walking on a ridge, you might think there's nothing up here. Yet, the tundra is full of life - lichen, alders, flowers including tiny dogwood. Dogwood? In North Carolina, dogwood is a tree but in the tundra, dogwood are small, four-petaled white flowers.
On one spot, we had parked our bus on the side of the road and climbed up a hill. I looked down and couldn't see the road. The scene was straight out of Into the Wild, about the guy who moved into a school bus in the interior Alaska and died from hunger.
The area around Camp Denali was in the middle of a mining camp, Kantishna. We went to the end of the Denali Park Road to see Quigley's cabin, one of the women who cooked for miners.
After she retired, she moved into her "retirement home", which is now being preserved by the Park Service.
But mostly, Denali is a large, intact ecosystem which attracts and retains those large animals that visitors come to see.
We're in Fairbanks, Alaska after four marvelous days in Denali National Park and Preserve. You may recognize the photo above as Mt. McKinley. They say that you can seeMcKinley only about 20 percent of the time. We were in Denali long enough to see it peek coyly through the clouds and then get covered again.
Denali is big, wild and empty. It's over 6 million acres, compared with 500,000 acres in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With only one road, most of the land is wilderness. There are only 50 miles of trails - the Smokies has over 800 miles.
Most people see the park on a bus on the 92 mile road. When the road was completed in 1972, the park made the decision to not allow private cars beyond the 15-mile mark. It's a good thing, too, since the road is narrow and unpaved after that 15 mile mark.
Lenny and I stayed at Camp Denali, at the end of the road. It's one of only three private accommodations in an inholding in the middle of the park. No phones, wifi, radio or newspaper - which is why I'm getting to Denali now.
We were picked up at the train depot at noon on Monday and started an eight-hour bus journey. Brian, our driver and one of the guides at Camp Denali, helped us spot animals on the way. The bus trip is one of the best places to see wildlife, since you are high up. Many sets of eyes with binoculars also help.
Dall sheep were perched on craggy rocks, in the tundra far above us. The park was created in 1917 in part to protect these sheep. They made for good eating for the miners during the gold rush. If you're expecting great pictures of all the animals, you may be disappointed. With a small camera and no zoom lens, I didn't even attempt to photograph the wildlife; I just admired them through binoculars.
Grizzlies were digging through the tundra. It looks like poor pickings in the low bushes and grasses but there's plenty to eat: berries, mushrooms, and the occasional ground squirrels. I did take a few pictures of the grizzlies.
This bus ride was like a safari; could we see the big five? That's grizzly, moose, caribou, doll sheep and wolf. Between the ride there and back, we saw them all and a coyote as well.
But Denali wilderness was more than big mammals; the wildflowers were at their peak. Here's an elegant paintbrush. How's that for a name?
Up and out to get the trail to Denali.
The Alaska railroad runs from Seward at the southern tip of Alaska to Fairbanks and beyond. Today, I rode the train for almost eight hours from Anchorage to Delani National Park. I love trains - I can look at the scenery, walk the aisles, spread out, read and even close my eyes. What mode of transportation allows all those options?
The Alaska railroad services both passengers and freight. It has several cars, economy and first class. The first class sits up high with glassed-in dome, for better visibility. But with the economy class, we can go up to our own glassed domed car. In addition, tour operators, like Holland-America cruise lines, hitch their train cars to the Alaska railroad. They wouldn't want to mingle with the likes of us, would they?
A train hostess, Lisa, kept a running commentary of what we were seeing along with a little Alaska history. She told a little of her young life. She was 19 and spent most of it in Alaska. She loved this job and was so enthusiastic about it. I asked her what she does in the winter.
"Whatever comes up. I'm like a bird. I go with the wind."
To the left is Hurricane Gulch, one of the many trail sights. Finally at about 4 P.M., we reach the train depot at Denali but we are not technically in the Park.
We got back to the Visitor Center as soon as we could after checking in. All the lodges and other services are "downtown", a strip that they call Glitter Gulch. It's more tacky than Gatlinbug, TN because they have to make their money in four months.
We had time to take a short walk to Horseshoe Lake (above) and check out the bookstore. Tomorrow, we go to Camp Denali.
I'm in Anchorage Alaska very jetlagged. We got in last night after a long, long set of flights. It took us much longer to get to Anchorage from Asheville, North Carolina than to go to Europe.
Greenville-Spartanburg, SC to Dallas
Dallas to Anchorage. Seven hour flight.
This morning, I woke up before 4 A.M. We walked through neighborhoods in Anchorage that seemed so new, so fresh, so bright that I felt I was in Christchurch, New Zealand. I better remember that I am in the U.S. especially when I'm supposed to be tipping. (There's no tipping in New Zealand.)
We went to the Saturday market, full of food stalls, stuffed toys, jewelry and art. I bought a bottle of birch syrup, similar to maple syrup, but not as sweet.
The Polynesian theme continued with a man using a "eskimo yoyo". It consisted of two pieces of stuffed toy, each attached to a string. You have to keep each toy twirling. This is similar to a Maori poi.
In another booth, a woman was playing a ukelele, the Hawaiin musical instrument.
This is Captain Cook country. Captain James Cook, (1728-1779). the famous sailor who sailed to Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and Alaska. He sailed right into what is now Cook Inlet.
A National Park Service ranger did a history walk of Cook places in downtown Anchorage. She took us to see sculptures of the three ships he captained, pictures above.
The end was at the Cook Memorial, where she described how he met a sad end in Hawaii.
After dinner, we walked on the coastal path. The long days, the sun lowering into the inlet, the filtered light defines Alaska.
Come to America's Great Outdoors Listening Session in Asheville - tomorrow
Thursday, July 15, 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm High level folks from Washington, D.C. want to hear our ideas on how to protect our public lands and encourage more people to enjoy the outdoors. It is amazing to me that they're having this in Asheville, which is so much smaller than the other large cities they visited. This shows what a powerhouse of outdoor activities and concern this area has.
The detailsAsheville-Buncombe County Technical Institute; Asheville Campus 340 Victoria Road, Asheville, NC 28801
That's Ferguson AuditoriumWho:
Representatives from DOI, USDA, EPA, and CEQ will be present to hear your thoughts and to participate in a conversation with you about land conservation, recreation, and reconnecting Americans to the great outdoors. Those include:
Jon Jarvis, Director, National Park Service
Tom Strickland, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife Service
For more details and to enter your comments, go to www.doi.gov/americasgreatoutdoors.
Hannah and I are now back from Family Summits, her in Ohio and me in Asheville, North Carolina. We had a chance to process the trip, though I don't know if "process" is the right word with a seven-year old.
She had lots of fun and made friends. I asked her what she thinks she learned this week. She comes from a family that is very aware of ecology and the environment so I wouldn't expect her to say that "she shouldn't throw trash on the ground." She summed it up as "we should leave nature alone". I didn't want to push it by having her reconcile that with making a mouse house. Shouldn't mice be able to make their own house?
For me, the purpose of the trip was fulfilled. Hannah had a good outdoor experience - hikes, swimming, friends, seeing the workings of a bear trap and the magic of the baby stellar jay close up. She also met a real live park ranger in uniform and for me, that might have been the most important. It might just expand her experience as to what adults do beyond teachers, librarians, doctors and shop keepers.
But just attending Family Summits one week a year is not going to keep the love of the outdoors going. Of course, she goes out on short hikes with her family and grows plants in a window box in school. Maybe she should join the Girl Scouts but will they actually get outdoors and camping? And she has so much else to do after school, like soccer, swimming, music ...
Oh well, looking forward to Family Summits 2011 in the Ozarks.
The last day of Family Summits.
I had signed up for Dick’s Lake, another hike in the Desolation Wilderness. It was supposed to be the third hardest hike on the schedule but much, much easier than the first two on the difficulty list. But several people that I hiked with the first two days had second thoughts. So the nine hikers who remained were the few who were not dissuaded by the ruggedness of the hike.
It was steep, made more difficult by the fact that these were strong hikers; I was no longer in the first half of the group. The trail climbed on rocks for 2,000 feet; this was not a horse trail, that I usually associate with western hiking. We passed a view of Eagle Lake and several sign posts. It may be a wilderness area but it was less marked, though not blazed. We were on the Pacific Crest Trail for part of the hike.
We reached Dick’s Lake at 11:30 A.M., earlier than we figured – the joke was that it wasn’t very big but it was cold. Even John, our leader, who had jumped into Susie Lake, just put his feet in the water. If you want to continue the sexual innuendos, he jumped Susie but not Dick.
On the way out, we met a seasonal forest ranger with full pack on. In park terminology, he roved the trails and looked for hikers in trouble and also for permits. As we climbed down, we saw hikers coming up. The closer we got to the trailhead, the more unprepared the hikers were. The last mile, hikers were carrying a pint of water in hand, sometimes for the whole group.
We had a hiking boot incident. Chris Blank, the president of Family Summit, was the sweep. The soles of his twenty year old boots came apart, first one, then the second. I lent him my emergency shoe laces which he tied around boots but that didn’t last long. Then I remembered my small roll of duct tape. Wrapping the tape around his boots worked the problem, at least until we reached the van.
We arrived back at the resort at 3:30, exactly the same time as the Chickarees. Hannah and her group had gone down to Lake Tahoe beach, for a second swim after spending the morning at the river. So the only obvious way to spend the next hour was to swim in the pool. The sun here, is fierce. It is hard to find a piece of shade at the pool.
The last evening in any camp is the same. Campers talk about the great times and the funny moments. And there are skits, of course. The Chickarees performed a jumping song about “Chickarees jumping on a bed".
The slide show group had put on an amazing slide show, with music. Hannah was featured several times, with her group, with her beaver teeth and even with me.
Then there are goodbyes and more goodbyes. Here, Hannah is with Amanda, one of her Chickaree counselor. Terry, the childcare person, below, was also an important part of Hannah's stay.
What is different about this camp is that it moves location. No one seemed to wait with baited breath to learn about the next location. Even I knew, though unlike most in the know, I only found out on the hike today – the Ozarks in Missouri. I am thrilled because it is an area I was interested in but would not vacation in with Lenny.
No one seemed to know exactly what public land was there – the national park, forest, state park? In fact, I couldn’t even find out what national parks the Summits had been in. It’s like for all the educational aspect of the program, Summitters don’t really care where they are. Maybe I should offer a trip, next year that takes them to a national park, forest and state park. I wonder if these three things are close to one another.
We're on the backside of Family Summits. As Hannah said, "Only two more days. I'm sad." It's a bit of a fantasy land here, with more activities than I could do in a month, great meals and fantastic weather. I was supposed to go on a tough hike but it was so tough that the leaders decided to leave here at 7 A.M. I couldn't push Hannah out the door that early - though there is childcare. Ask the birders; there's childcare 24/7. So I switched to a history walk.
Hannah and I had "breakfast with a ranger." Brian Burton, a high-level California state park ranger, talked to us about the challenges of being a ranger today. He's a law enforcement and interpretive ranger; he does it all. He talked about too many problems of the city are brought into the park. Not enough money for staff and ranger program. But he was still very enthusiastic about his job.
Hannah asked him what all the gadgets around his belt were. Brian described all his stuff but somehow overlooked the gun. Brian (and the rest of the California state park rangers) has a "baseball card" with his picture, his qualifications and interests.
I went on the Sugar Pine Point State Park field trip. The park has a summer mansion built by isaah Hellman, a banker from San Francisco. Hellman was the quintessential German Jewish immigrant. He emigrated from Bavaria at 16 and became the first president of Wells Fargo bank. Dave, a park aide, was a wonderful park guide.
Every successful rich family of the times needed a summer home, so Hellman bought land on Lake Tahoe and built a house in 1903. The Hellmans entertained a lot and had an army of servants. This story is almost exactly like that of Moses Cone on the Blue Ridge Parkway. By the third generation, the family no longer wanted the estate, so they sold it to the state park system in 1965.
Hannah had a hiking trip to a view. Now she's watching a live animal program - beaver, owl and turkey vulture by Wild Things.
I don't approve of all these animals kept in captivity and being shown like in a circus but the kids love the program
The counselors at Family Summits are angels and have the patience of saints. The children were going to King's Beach Park to play in the water. So Hannah put on her one piece bathing suit. I was sure that she was going to have to get undressed and dressed several times when she had to go to the bathroom, but the counselors were OK with that.
I went to Ellis Peak, a simple hike (6 miles) made difficult by snow that obliterated the trail. From the start, we had to search out the trail. Like Hansel and Gretel, we left cairns and sticks on the trail so we could find it again.
Everyone had an opinion of where the trail was but I was uncomfortable with that. Leading a hike is not a democratic process - that's why we have leaders. That's Tina, one of our leaders, on the left, surrounded by snow.
We reached an amazing view in the morning (see the top photo). We had lunch on Ellis Peak, where we could see Lake Tahoe on one side and Ellis Lake on the other. This is western hiking at its best.
Moles had created tunnels 0n the few stretches of trail not covered with snow. They were large dirt tunnels that looked like big turds. Going back was not as difficult though we still had problems finding the route. I was very cautious going downhill on snow and slid on my bottom much of the time. We reached the van at 3 P.M.
Hannah spend some of the afternoon building a mouse house on the trail built by Family Summits on Granlibakken property. After dinner, we went to see it and she wanted to put the finishing touches on it. It was a bunch of sticks, leaves and fungus decorating a large tree stump. This way, mice could be protected from snakes.
Today was going to be a nonhiking day for me. I was seduced by the Donner Pass field trip. I read it as a moderate hike but looking around at the 50 people in the group, I surmised that it was going to be just a walk.
The Donner party, from Iowa, tried to cross the Sierras. They were unprepared for the snow conditions in 1846-47, and resorted to cannibalism to survive. Everything around now has the name "Donner" - Donner Lake, Donner Pass and lots of Donner roads.
What is not so well known is that they were not the first group to attempt to cross the pass with wagons. The Stephens party had crossed it successfully a couple of years before. But with the drama of the Donners, everything got named that way.
An amateur historian,Mark McLaughlin, gave an introductory slide show and took us to Donner Pass. We then walked up to the railroad that finally connected the east with the western part of the U.S. in 1869. He said that it was the first time nitroglycerine was used in railroad construction.
While I was learning history, Hannah went to the Truckee River with her Chickoree group. When we came back at lunchtime, I found her wearing a hot long-sleeve shirt. She had either fallen into the water or jumped in but the upshot was that she got wet from head to toe. I brought her dry clothes and followed them for a short while.
The Chickoree group went to work with beekeepers while I volunteered at the Summit store for a couple of hours. But nothing could beat the drama happening right at our back door.
A baby stellar jay had fallen out of its nest too early and was hopping on the ground on our porch. The mother kept screeching up in the tree but was too scared to come down. The baby felt trapped by the benches and maze of the porch.
I walked away while it finally figured out how to get out and onto the pavement. A resort employee came by to ask us not to touch the baby bird because then the parents would abandon it. Hannah and I watched in amazement while the mother came down and hid under the porch; the baby was still clueless. Drama, loss, parental responsibility right in the parking lot.