Since I've returned to Anchorage I had some time to sit down and write about the events of the summer. I realized after my writings got too long that, though the experiences are amazing to me, they may not be for you to read. So, I wrote about just a few of them.
Summer is officially over, and so is fall, in Alaska. I have already moved back to Anchorage and figuring out the next step. The leaves are already falling covering up roads and biking trails and I wake up to frost every morning which lasts till noon or later.
The whole month of July was rainy and therefore I didn’t do much of anything and our company didn’t do much flying. I attempted a few bike rides on good days between the rains and found myself sinking like Artax in mud and having to haul my bike across small streams that washed out roads on the paths I would take. Lost the bike to a creek
I did do some hiking to pass time even though not every day was a nice one, I saw awesome stuff like Dall Sheep and got more intimate with the wonders in the park and outside the park
On top of Mt. Margaret where I saw all those Dall Sheep
On top of Sugarloaf mountain
Doing hiking around Polychrome in the park.
Then something happened. Fall. Summer is short here, fall comes early and ends fast. Suddenly the rains became less frequent and the sun showed itself a little more near the end of the summer. Colors were changing and I found myself wanting to go camping. So like awaking to spring, I awoke to fall and had a second wind of frolicking in nature. I recruited some people to come with me to the Denali Highway, a 135 mile potholed, gravel road starting (or ending) in Cantwell which is about 30 miles south of the Denali National Park Entrance. It was used once upon a time before the George Parks Hwy existed for motorists to get to Denali National Park. Denali Hwy ceased to be a main access road when George Parks Hwy was constructed in the 70s, which is now the main road that connects Anchorage to Fairbanks. Now, the Denali Hwy is used for people going out for some huntin’ and us tourist/nature lovin’ folks to camp along. It is literally a road of Alaska wilderness for 135 miles. We drove 80 miles down the Hwy and back in two days. I am very happy to have bought my car because it really got me around and gave me the opportunity to see some of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life. I cannot begin to describe the awe I felt while looking out into the distance at the mountains and the turning colors of the tundra that lay out in all directions. They were mostly a deep red, but of course greens, yellows, and oranges blazed on the hillsides as well. Imagine that up against the grey and white mountains and blue sky.
Red landscape of the Denali Hwy
Both nights we were blessed with clear skies and no light pollution to take away from our star gazing. We built fires each night, and JJ and Molly entertained us all night long with a guitar and songs. The blueberries were so plentiful out here that on our little hike we gathered two baggies full which we ate all night and mixed with our oatmeal in the morning. Had we driven 20 more miles down we would have met up with the Alaskan pipeline. This particular trip was sort of a key moment of my summer here in Alaska where I started realizing that I may to return to this place. I had good company, I was learning a lot, and the eye and ear candy was amazing. It’s been a long time since I have been around people who were happy to be outdoors and identify plants and animals. One of the nights we had a bird continually swoop in front of my car, probably confused by the headlights, and I heard everyone trying to identify it. We were trying to find a specific spot to camp and found ourselves a little later being lead down the dark dirt road by an owl (possibly a hawk owl) who kept landing in front of my car until I got close enough to make him fly a little further down where he would again, land in the road causing me to have to stop for him. We decided that owl would lead us to our camping site.
One happy group of people
A few days later a filming crew was at work making videos for a promotional company called Channel 2 Alaska (which was the first interview I had here, the reason I came here, and the job I turned down to work for this flight seeing company in Healy). We had no summit flights booked at 3pm to make a video so we called around and filled a plane full of employees, or comps as we call them, from around the area. I got to go on this flight and our job was to be very happy and giddy while the camera man in back filmed us. Another plane went up with another camera to film the plane we were in. This was my second summit flight of the season, my first I didn’t see too much and McKinley’s summits were clouded over. This particular day was clear as Time Square the day after New Years. I hadn’t expected to be on a flight this day but I had my camera, which of course I never leave behind anywhere. We flew over the park and my jaw dropped in amazement at the reds that powdered the tundra. Not being one who goes in the park all the time I hadn’t known how drastically the colors had changed in the park. Given the Denali Hwy was changed. The two areas are not the same in climate, they are on different sides of the Alaskan range, they are at different elevations, and receive different precipitation because of the mountains. Everywhere you go in Alaska you see something different happening with the vegetation because of all the above. It was a pleasant surprise to see how beautiful the park had become with arrival of fall. And the icing on the cake was coming into site of the majestic “High One” known as Denali.
A view from the air
Our pilot, Dave Wiewel, is one of the kindest people I know and instead of dismissing us as just a bunch of park bums he still educated us on the flight by pointing out the glaciers we passed, explaining the phenomenon of moraines in glaciers (where two glaciers meet together and push up sediment forming a ridge in the middle of the glacier). We flew so close to the mountain you felt like you could reach out of the plane and touch it. Out one window were the snowy peaks that some people only dream about seeing and the other window the other plane filming us with Denali as our backdrop. We were pretty much playing in the air, the two pilots communicating and flying to get the best shots, and also looking for the different climbing camps and landmarks of the mountain like Wickersham Wall. We circled the mountain seven times or more, more than the average flight seeing tour would, before the camera men were satisfied with their footage and we returned home. Having had time to chit chat before the flight took off, some of the employees and friends of mine were talking about recent camping trips in the park, so good ol’ Dave decided to fly over them on the way back so we could see the areas from the air. It was absolutely amazing! I have never seen such a plethora of color so beautifully proportioned you could only find it in nature.
The rest of the summer included a bunch of festivals, mostly bluegrass festivals and all of them required camping out, an amazing backcountry trip full of adventure, naming glaciers, falling down rock faces, seeing McKinley in full glory from the ground where it seemed to dominate the landscape (all other sightings were from the air or from much much further away), beautiful outings, and one last backpacking hurrah in Kachemak State Park at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula, across the bay from Homer. There I not only saw an amazing glacier, I played on it, ate its century old ice, skinny dipped in a glacier filled lake, listened to the thawing crackle of ice one morning, used a tram to cross a raging "creek", and crossed the crotch high creek again by getting in it (it was the second coldest I've ever been... first was when I did the overnight bike ride in the park close to solstice). I'm not going to lie, I wasn't too excited about crossing this river/creek, but we went in twos and swallowed the pain of cold flowing water and crossed that bad boy, congratulating ourselves when we got to the other side because we were close to writing the river/creek off as too swift and deep to cross. Sadly, all my euphoric and heroic pictures were lost along with my camera which did not return with me on the ferry back to Homer. Luckily Molly had hers so I can cherish these memories. :D
I saw many many rainbows this summer
Molly meandering her way up to our camp site.
The awesome campsite with a glacier as our backdrop.
So red and pretty
Alaska tundra in fall
Molly looking at Denali on our last leg of our two day hike
That'd be me a little closer to the glacier
That'd be me on the glacier
So this wasn’t short, but I sure tried. I didn't mention the missing girls in the park cause they aren't worth writing about. I didn't talk about Palin but I can admit she scares me and that's all the media talks about here. My title refers to the advertisments in paper to get me some authentic Palin specs. They're also looking for look alikes and asking if anyone has photos of her from whenever they've run into her. What now you ask? I have no idea. I'm spending my time in Anchorage doing as much biking as I can to avoid driving. In case you were wondering Alaskans (again media tells me this) are pretty ticked that we have oil here yet our gas prices are much grander than you lower 48 folks. Though I did a little jig yesterday cause they finally dipped below $4/gallon for ONCE. The highest I saw it this summer was something like $5.63 something/gallon at the more pricey gas station in Healy. Lucky for me, Anchorage has a trail system that nagivates through the city so I don't have to be sharing the road with traffic and I can hear my ipod as I bike through tree domed passages, my tires crunching on the fallen golden leaves as I meander to whatever the destination. I probably have a week of this before it snows. It already snowed in Healy since I left.
Forgive me to everyone, especially my family, for not being in touch. I owe a lot of you emails. However, this is typical of me. Hopefully this catches everyone up on things. You know how to get ahold of me. Until next time. And sorry if any of you are offended by the cartoons.