Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Whitehorse, Yukon

Whitehorse, Yukon


Mrs. Phred and I go into Bombay Lil’s Casino here in Whitehorse to get a drink and watch the can-can girls. We sit at the bar and order doubles of Famous Grouse whiskey and watch the show. A grizzled old man turns to stare at us. His cheeks are scarred and black from frostbite. His right hand is missing three fingers.




We talk awhile and finally he asks if we have money to partner with him so he can get back to his gold. I offer to buy him drinks and ask for more details. After several drinks, he loosens up and tells his story.

“I found this here map and journal on a dead man”, he says. “He’d fallen though an air-hole on the iced- up Klondike River, crawled half-out and froze there. The journal told about a cabin full of gold down on the Tintina Trench.”

“I spent my last money outfitting a dogsled. I followed the map and left caches of fish about every 100 miles so I could feed myself and dogs on the way back.”

“When I got to the cabin, right where the map said, I found hundreds of pounds of gold in flour sacks, coffee cans and any container that would hold gold dust and nuggets When they run out of containers, it looked like they’d just started dumping it on the floor. That stuff on the floor of the cabin was about a foot thick.”

“Outside there was three graves. Notes scrawled in charcoal on birch bark told the story. One died of scurvy, one was mauled by a grizzly and the other went mad and wandered out into a snow bank to freeze. The last one hiked out, it seems like, and froze in the Klondike, like I told you.”

“They were working a vein almost 12 inches thick. I seen it myself. Looks like no end to it. It just keeps getting thicker as you dig down. Seems like they couldn’t bring themselves to stop digging and piling up the gold. I decided not to make the same mistake, so I loaded up about 100 pounds on the sled and started back to Whitehorse.”

“The wolverines and bears got into all my fish caches, so I had to kill off the dogs one-by-one for food to keep the other dogs and myself going. Finally the dogs were all gone, so I left the sled and gold. The last 200 miles I walked out and almost starved. I lost these three fingers to frostbite.”

He pulls out the map and journal and his hand held GPS and showed me the cabin coordinates and where he left the sled. He accepts my offer to go fifty-fifty. I contact my broker for a wire transfer to charter a heavy lift helicopter. I know how to fly a Chinook.

Whether he’s telling the truth or not, I figure that the old prospector and I can fly out there together, but I really don’t think that both of us need to come back.



Monday, 30 July 2007

the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in People

Dawson, Yukon

Dawson was inhabited for at least 12,000 years by the Hän-speaking people of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. Dawson was the center of their homeland, a salmon fishing camp at the confluence of the Klondike River and Yukon River. One evidential artifact is an awl, shaped from a mammoth tusk, carbon-dated at 12,000 BC. This site was also an important summer gathering spot and a base for moose-hunting on the Klondike valley.

The Klondike river flows clear and mixes with the glacial silt of the broad Yukon river. It’s a natural place for salmon to turn left and spawn. The Tr’ondëk constructed racks to dry and smoke the salmon for the long winter. There are little cranberries everywhere that are red, ripe and tart. They would be a good garnish for moosemeat.

Jack London came to the area in 1896, prior to the gold rush and found an uninhabited cabin 120 miles south on Henderson Creek. Robert Service’s cabin is still here, maintained almost as a shrine since he abandoned it in 1912. London’s cabin was discovered in 1967 and floated here to be reconstructed.

The Tr’ondëk were completely overwhelmed by a sudden influx of 40,000 gold seekers in 1897. Hand mining was soon overtaken by dredges which worked over the area several times leaving huge piles of tailings. A dozen Mounties maintained order in Dawson and there were no murders or robberies in Dawson during the first frantic years of the gold rush.

The attentions of the Mounties did not extend to Ladies of the Night, who were permitted to operate from small cabins in Dawson. The string of cabins all had signs advertising the sale of cigars and the name of the proprietress. The last bawdy house, operated by a lady known as Ruby, was finally closed by the authorities in 1961.

The leader of the Tr’ondëk asked the government for help in relocating his people. They were moved down the Yukon about three miles to a new settlement called Moosehide.

The Tr’ondëk have a visitor center. The center features a small display of photos and letters from “survivors” who lament pervasive alcoholism and the policies of the government schools. I watch a twenty minute movie about an annual event in Moosehide where the Tr’ondëk gather to try to recover and maintain their traditions of native dances and songs. The participants have native dress, but their features and hair colors are northern European. There are redheads, blondes and auburn haired people. Only a few show any sign of any native appearance.

In 1957 the population of Dawson had dropped to about 800 and we watch a period movie, "City of Gold", where the children play among the many abandoned buildings and relics. The 2007 population has grown to 2,000 and Dawson receives about 60,000 visitors a year.

The small crossroads community of Tok is 200 miles behind in Alaska. The next place big enough for a grocery store is Whitehorse, 330 miles ahead. Roads to both Tok and Whitehorse were constructed in the 1950s. Parts of both roads are now paved.

We mine the museums, watch the can-can show at Diamond-tooth Gertie's place, drink some whiskey and head on down the road.


Sunday, 29 July 2007

Tuscan Halibut Recipe

Dawson City, Yukon

We drive 100 miles over gravel road from Chicken on the “Top of the World” highway to arrive in Dawson. The road runs mostly on top of mountain ridges, looking out over valleys and endless low mountains.

Here are pictures of the Highway and Dawson.

You can see the geology that produced all the gold. There are hundreds of miles of mountains that have been ground down and rounded by glaciation. The rivers are full of glacial silt. The lighter rock is ground to fine powder and carried out to sea. The heavier gold works it way down into gravel stream beds until it hits bedrock.

We stop to read about the caribou migration and three caribou trot past us, down a mountain path. Domesticated caribou are called reindeer.

We spend the afternoon in Dawson. The city suddenly sprang into being here on the Yukon River when gold was discovered. The news that a prospector had arrived on a steamer in Seattle with, “A ton of gold” was electrifying.

We go into town in the afternoon. There are little historical signs where the bawdy houses operated openly until 1961. We find a tennis court. Mrs. Phred wants to stay another day for the museums and the can-can show at Gravel Gerties place.

I make Tuscan Halibut again for Mrs. Phred. This time I follow the directions and put the beans and tomatoes UNDER the halibut.

4 sheets (12 x 18" each) Reynolds Wrap® heavy-duty aluminum foil
2 cans (15 oz. each) Great Northern or cannellini beans, rinsed & drained
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
4 tbsp. prepared pesto, divided
4 (4 to 6 oz. each) Alaska Halibut steaks
4 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. lemon pepper
4 lemon slices
Preheat oven to 450°F and combine beans, tomatoes, and 2 tablespoons pesto; mix well. Center ¼ of bean mixture on each foil sheet. Top with one Alaska Halibut steak; drizzle with lemon juice. Sprinkle halibut with lemon pepper. Top with lemon slices. Bring up sides of foil and double fold. Double fold ends to form four packets, leaving room for heat circulation inside packets. Bake 16 to 20 minutes on a cookie sheet in oven. Serve with remaining pesto. Makes 4 servings

Saturday, 28 July 2007

The Place You Go to Listen

Chicken, Alaska

We are at 65 degrees North latitude. It’s a month after the summer solstice. The area has been losing 7 minutes a day of daylight since then, but there are still nineteen hours left.

It won’t be dark enough to see the Aurora Borealis until the 2nd week of August. The magnetic fields from the Aurora cause corrosion in pipes, including the Alaska Pipeline, which passes nearby.


The main tourist attractions in Fairbanks were the riverboat ride and the El Dorado gold mine. We do both and find ourselves surrounded on each tour by at least 30 cruise ship tour buses. It’s like déjà vu all over again, but we pan $16 in gold flakes anyway, visit a mock Athabasca native village, see some Caribou in a pen and see some sled dogs pull an ATV around a backyard lake.

We like the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska- Fairbanks campus. My favorite exhibit was “The Place You Go to Listen”. It is a small room that monitors the Sun, Moon, earth tremors and the Aurora Borealis. The Borealis sounds like little bells on the ceiling. The constant tremors come in like a bass drum. The sun has a constant high energy, new age sound.



We drive 300 miles east to Chicken, Alaska. Chicken has a year-round population of 17, but that swells to about 100 during the summer gold mining season. Robin runs the Post Office and Sue makes cinnamon rolls. I don’t expect much internet or phone coverage the next few weeks. Chicken boasts that it doesn’t have indoor plumbing. Legend has it that the locals wanted to name the place Ptarmigan, but couldn’t agree how to spell it. I buy a souvenir T-shirt for my son (not the one that says “I got laid in Chicken, Alaska”).

We gas up at Chicken at $3.50 a gallon before the 100 mile drive gravel road drive to Dawson in Canada, where prices are around $6.00. Before crossing the border we find a campground on a river, provided by the Bureau of Land Management. The fee for camping is negligible and I’m half price because of my Golden Age parks card.

In the 11PM sunlight, I sit in my lawnchair and finish the Michener book about the incredible two-year overland trek from Edmonton to Dawson of Lord Evelyn Luton, son of the Marques of Deal. .These old English explorers had attitude. I begin planning our next trip, a float north to the Arctic Ocean on the Athabasca River.

Here are some shots of Fairbanks and some Denali drive-by pix.




Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Salmon Dreams (No Fish Were Harmed in Making This Blog)

Montana Creek, Alaska

We are about 100 miles north of Anchorage, on the way to Denali. The Montana Creek is clear and swift. It empties into the Susitna River about ¼-mile downstream. We are parked next to a highway bridge that spans the creek.

The first morning sign of fall is a thirty-pound red salmon carcass in the creek. Against all odds, he has been born, escaped predation, run in the ocean for five years, grown large and swam upriver two hundred miles to spawn, turn red and die. He reached the creek in which he was born and returned. He was the lucky, (1000 to 1), son of a line of a million lucky sons.

You can fish for trout here on a catch and release basis. Trout strike at anything that looks like salmon eggs. Fishing for trout, you might use a small bobber with a lure resembling a small bunch of salmon roe.

The season for King Salmon is closed here (catch and release only), but you can still keep Chum, Pink and Silver Salmon. Reds are not here yet. Above the bridge you must use a lure with a single hook, but across the road you can try one with a triple-gang hook.

Mrs. Phred and I walk down the bank of the Creek toward the Susitna River and come to a railroad bridge over the creek. Several passenger trains cross the bridge while we are there, carrying tourists from the cruise ships to Fairbanks.

I wade into the swift current to my knees. You could easily lose your footing on the slippery round river rocks. There are large red shapes swimming motionless in the current. One appears to be four feet long, certainly a King, at least forty pounds.

The trick is to cast out a weighted fly (weights must be at least eighteen inches above the lure) and let the line sink into the fish’s mouth in the swift current. The fish strikes on the first cast and jumps clear of the water. Whatever it is, it’s big. It runs downstream, stripping 50 yards of line off my reel in five seconds. I tighten the drag and the ten-pound test line snaps.

A fisherman from Canada come over and gives me a two-minute lesson on the proper amount of “drag” to have on my reel. He’s fishing for trout with plastic salmon eggs. He tells me about a 57 pound world record Mackerel he caught in the Florida Keys. He’s using six-pound test line.

The fish comes back and I hook it again. It fights hard for a minute and the hook and weights come loose when it jumps and they snap back at me like a bullet, catching me in the forehead. Blood streams down into my eyes. Lesson two is to hold the pole off to the side when fighting a big fish.

I hook and lose several more. Mrs. Phred gets bored and walks back to the RV. Lost in thought, I lose my way on the return trip and spend a few anxious minutes stumbling in the underbrush. Fortunately, I’m a trained navigator, so when I find the creek again, I follow it upstream to the RV.

Denali is 20,320 feet high. Robert Kennedy climbed it. I remind Carol that you go on oxygen at 12,000 feet. She remembers. She did that the last time we circled the mountain and waved at the tiny climbers on the summit.


Monday, 23 July 2007

Summer of Love

Kasilof River, Alaska

Time to start for home. It's about 8,000 miles away. We should arrive by October or December. The return trip might include a stop for the Summer of Love concert in the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Country Joe will be there, but I think Jimi Hendrix, Grace Slick, Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia and Jim Morrison are all booked this time.

We're still here, though. Mrs. Phred is considering flying for the arrival of grandchild #6. Also she has an elderly friend in Miami who may require a few weeks of her assistance. Camping alone won't be the same.

Under the bridge the dead are gathering.
What happened to the ferryman, his bag
of coins, his pity? In all this traffic
how can they cross these girders of steel
and starlight?

- author unknown

The road home:
- Anchorage
- Denali National Park
- Fairbanks
- Dawson
- Whitehorse
- Jasper National Park
- Banff National Park
- Waterton National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Wendover
- San Francisco - Free Summer of Love Concert -September 2
- Wendover
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Webb City
- Mountain Home
- Smokey Mountains National Park
- Blue Ridge Mountains National Park
- Wake Forest
- Smith Mountain Lake
- Atlanta
- Home

Saturday, 21 July 2007

A Day In Alaska

Crooked Creek RV Park, Kasilof River, Alaska

3 AM...t’s daylight. I put on my fishing boots and walk down to the Kasilof River hoping to catch some reds. It’s 45 F. My hands are cold. Later, a camper tells me the reds swim on the opposite bank and tells me about a spot a half mile down. Also he tells me to fish two hours after high tide.

6 AM...I return to the RV with no fish. Mrs. Phred and I had a tiff at tennis last night and had dinner and went to bed without speaking. The atmosphere is still strained, but we maneuver, with long practice, to correct things.

7 AM...Tim calls. One of his engines is out and he cancels my halibut trip for the 2nd time. He feels really bad and offers me 25 pounds of frozen halibut from his fish bank as compensation. I accept and reschedule for Sunday.

9 AM...Mrs Phred and I Google a Laundromat in Soldotna. We start the wash and her glasses are missing. These are her last par.

9:30 AM...I drive to the post office to buy a stamp. There is a long line so I go to the vending machine, Everything is sold out except one $.60 item. It turns out that I get 30 2 cent Indian Pottery stamps. I spend 15 minutes pasting them on my letter. The return address had to go, but I work around the recipient's address.

10 AM... Mrs. Phred’s glasses turn up at the end of the wash cycle. They are deformed. We try to bend them back into shape.

11 AM...We go to the Kenai River and I put on my boots and strap my net over my shoulder. An old man gives me thirty minutes of friendly advice about the placement of my sinkers and where to stand. We go home with no reds.

3 PM...I change the oil and filter on the RV and wash the RV and Toyota.

4 PM....Tim calls back. He still doesn’t have the boat running. He jokes that I must be bad luck and suggests that I leave town. I tell him I’ll call in the morning

5 PM...The people in RVs next door come back from dip netting. They are limited out with 60 to 80 reds each, depending on the number of dependents they claim.

7 PM...I grill a pound of red salmon that I bought at Safeway yesterday for $8.99 a pound and make a salad. Domestic tranquility has been completely restored.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

The Reds are Running

Kenai, Mouth of the Kenai River, Cook’s Inlet, Alaska

Cook’s Inlet runs along the Kenai Peninsula for about 150 miles. It’s lined with 12,000 foot snow-covered active smoking volcanoes. I used to fly up and down here once a month to deliver supplies out to a radar station at the end of the Aleutian Chain a few miles from Russia. The trip from Washington State to the end of the Aleutians took 20 hours. After a 100 hour trip to Southeast Asia, you could just squeeze in an Alaska supply trip at the end of the month before running out of hours.


Seeing the volcanoes again from our perch on a bluff brought back the old memories. I remember falling asleep with my face in a radar scope cowl over the remote Pribilof Islands. I remember flying here between pink and purple fantasy cotton candy cloud layers at dawn.

The fishing regs here are incredibly complicated. I read a sign this morning on the Kasifof that says King salmon with adipose fins can only be taken on Thursdays and Saturdays. There is a picture of an adipose fin but no other explanation. I go to Google and learn that hatchery fish have adipose fins removed before release. The fish with adipose fins are therefore wild salmon that get extra protection five days a week.

For part of the season, kings between 44 and 55 inches in length must be released. As I understand it, this restriction has expired, but Kings over 55 inches must be presented to Fish and Game within three days before they are filleted.

The residents are lined up shoulder to shoulder now along mouth of the Kenai with dip nets. They stand in lines of about fifty waiting for a turn to run down the beach and scoop up the reds. It’s called subsistence fishing.

A resident is allotted 25 reds annually plus 10 reds for each dependent. We see a family, cooking jars of red flesh chunks in pressure cookers, preparing for the winter. Reds run about 10 pounds each. This is a big event in summer. Tomorrow is the weekend and with the news of the run, the beach should be even more crowded as the 24 foot tide and fish come in.


I buy some rubber boots that come to my crotch so I can stand on the shore and attempt to snag a red or two before we continue the trip. About 40,000 reds a day will enter the river for the next two weeks. They swim along the shore making them easy to scoop up with dip nets. You have to be a resident to use a net. I'm nervous about catching a fish that violates regs. However, no one seems to be checking.

This morning, I walked down to the quiet Kasilof River. A moose waded out a few feet from me and then swam across the river. These are the moments that a volunteer nature photographer lives for. It’s a job. Someone has to do it.

Finally I’m in a place with enough bandwidth to post pictures to my blog. I catch up on about two weeks worth of blog pictures.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Love It to Death

Wolverine Creek, Alaska

We took a small float plane over Cook's Inlet to an isolated lake. You can only access the area by float plane. The lake is turbid with glacial silt, except for a tiny corner where Wolverine Creek turns the water blue and clear.


The salmon bunch up in the small patch of clear water, waiting for the urge to make the run in mass up the rocky creek to another lake further up the mountain pass.

Eagles, black bears, brown bears and grizzlies come to the mouth of the creek to feed on the Sockeyes, Silvers and Pinks.

If you go down to the woods today,
You're sure of a big surprise.
If you go down to the woods today,
You'd better go in disguise.
For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain because
Today's the day the teddy bears have their picnic

The ride in the small plane was exciting and the bears put on a continuous show for six hours. One tried to get in a boat and several dragged off their own salmon.


This State is like Florida, quickly being ruined by its own beauty. We went fishing today with Larry. Larry has been fishing here for thirty years and has the record for two of the ten biggest King Salmon ever caught (both nearly 90 pounds). He remembers when there were 20 boats in the river instead of 500. Back then you didn’t keep anything under 50 pounds. Now the boats zip back and forth all day, disturbing the fish. He feels it’s a good day when one of his clients catches a 30 pound king. We haven’t caught anything on our last four trips with him, despite his skill.

The bear flight was similar. They get $300 a head for flying tourists to the lake. The accountant in me can’t help estimating a daily harvest of $60,000 and wondering why the bears are so thin. We waited six hours for a chance to catch a salmon, but our boat never made it to the head of the line of tourists in boats to fish in the small patch of lake where the fish churn the water.


The salmon runs in the rivers are very late this year. The rivers are low because of limited snowfall. When the run starts at some ancient signal, they come into the rivers in swarms on the rising tide. I’m hoping tomorrow will be the beginning of the Sockeye run.

Sockeyes (reds) are the best tasting of the five types of wild Alaska salmon. They have adapted to eat only plankton, unlike their carnivorous relatives. Their flesh is bright red.

Tourists hook a sockeye by casting a fly with a single hook (no larger than 3/8 inch diameter) out into the river. They swim upstream with their mouths opening and closing. The trick is to drag the line though their mouth and snag them in the mouth. Sockeyes snagged anywhere else must be released. Residents can use large dip nets and even fish scoopers on rafts to catch the Sockeye.

Monday, 16 July 2007

The Eagle Lady

Grewingk Glacier, Alaska

Jean Keene lives in an oceanfront campground on the Homer Spit year round. She is 82 and has been feeding the Bald Eagles since 1977. She feeds about 250 eagles a day from December to April. Jean loads her truck with barrels containing 500 pounds of herring and salmon every day. In summer, the yard of her trailer is a lovely garden. The Homer City council has granted Jean an exemption from the City ban on feeding eagles until at least 2010.

The kiss of the sun for pardon
The song of the birds for mirth
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth


We are camped near Jean’s trailer on the Spit.

In the morning, we walk to the docks to catch our water taxi. The ramp is pretty steep when we leave at low tide, but it rises 24 feet by the time we return. There are strange things growing on the dock poles. They appear to be huge white flowering anemones. We ride 30 minutes and get off on a rocky beach and walk seven miles to our pickup point.

Along the way, we stop for lunch and see a small black dot fishing for lunch about a mile away. We convince ourselves that the dot on the bank is a bear and wish for binoculars. Mrs. Phred says she talked to a lady with a 500 power camera and we argue about whether that is possible. I think of Carlos, the Viet Nam sniper.


Grewingk Glacier feeds into a large alpine lake. There are icebergs melting in the lake and a small island covered with nesting seabirds about a half mile away. We take nap for about an hour and walk on to catch our taxi.



Pictures of the hike.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Halibut for Two

Homer, Alaska -

Yesterday I went out at 6 am to catch Halibut in Cook Inlet. Homer is a lovely place on the tip of the Kenai Peninsula. We are camped on Homer Spit, a strange strip of glacial moraine that extends about five miles into the ocean. Homer is surrounded by tall mountains and glaciers. Mrs. Phred didn’t go. She gets seasick.


The fishing was fair. Everyone caught the limit of two halibut within two hours. Mine were on the small side, about 20 pounds each. Each halibut yields four filets weighing about two pounds. I keep one out for dinner and put the rest in the freezer. Last year the halibut were much bigger.


Today we will take a small water taxi for a 30 minute ride across Kachemak Bay to a place with no roads or people to hike up to an Alpine glacier. The Grewingk Glacier dumps into a large lake. The stream coming out of the lake is full of Sockeye salmon this time of year and brown bears feeding on the salmon. We are likely to be the only two people in the area. We get dropped off on the beach at 9 am and picked up six miles away at 3 pm. Mrs. Phred wanted some bear bells so we picked up two to clamp to our boots. We have bells, books, sandwiches, trail mix, rain gear, Sockeye flies, a fishing pole, water, sunscreen and bug repellant.

We also found a tennis court. It’s light enough at 3 am to play. I hope to get in a couple of sets before the hike if I can wake Mrs. Phred up. Here’s my favorite of all my favorite halibut recipes. Probably one pound of halibut would have been enough. 

ALASKA HALIBUT ROYALE

1 cup dry white wine
2 tsp. salt
1 ½ lbs. Alaska Halibut steaks
¼ cup fine dry bread crumbs
½ cup each sour cream & mayonnaise
¼ cup minced green onions
paprika
Combine wine and salt; pour over halibut. Marinate in refrigerator at least 1 hour. Drain halibut on paper towels; dip both sides in breadcrumbs. Place halibut in shallow buttered baking dish. Combine sour cream, mayonnaise and green onions; spread over halibut. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 400°F for 10 minutes per inch of thickness, measured at the thickest part, or until halibut flakes when tested with a fork

Friday, 13 July 2007

Why are we here?

Portage Glacier, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

Philosophers have pondered that question for thousands of years. I know the answer. The annual runs of King Salmon and Sockeye Salmon begin in the Kenai River about July 15th. I’ve been here the last three years. The eagles and bears also begin to congregate.

It never really gets dark here this time of year. There is a period of twilight from about 1 am to 3 am, but it’s still pretty light.


Dave and Karen next door are hauling one of those aerodynamic aluminum trailers. They have a topper on their Chevy pickup. He has a full size freezer in the bed of the truck that runs off a complex system of 12 volt batteries, inverters and a portable generator. So far he has collected 30 Sockeyes from the Copper River and three small Kings (about 25 pounds each). When they stop, they set out pots full of fresh herbs and growing tomato plants. I watch him set up his fly rods.


The pink salmon we caught ended up each being a package of two pound filets. We can’t grill and eat a whole one at one meal, so Mrs. Phred mixes the leftover with mayonnaise, eggs, celery and chopped onion for sandwiches. It's really good.

We make reservations for three days in Homer for Halibut fishing and another three on the Kenai in Soldatna for Salmon. One day is with our traditional guide, Larry, for kings. We also hope to take a fly-in trip to the back country to watch the bears fish for salmon.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

King Copper

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska

The park is the largest in America. It contains 9 of the 16 tallest mountains in the United States and the largest sub-polar ice field in North America. It can only be reached by driving 120 miles over old railroad road bed. Half of the distance is unpaved gravel washboard road studded with railroad spikes that work up to the road surface in the summer. Here's a funny 30 second video of the road. Imagine three hours each way.


We get lucky and have a clear day to see the nearest mountains. On the way in, we see native people netting Sockeye salmon in the Copper River. The dip nets turn slowly on the river banks and drop an occasional Sockeye into wire baskets.


In 1898, Edison and Tesla were fighting it out over whether alternating current or direct current should be used to electrify America. No matter which one prevailed, copper would suddenly became a much more valuable metal.

At the same time, a huge copper deposit was discovered near the Kennecott Glacier in what is now the park. To extract the metal and bring in mining equipment, the men from Kennecott Copper built a railroad that spanned 200 miles of glaciers, rivers and mountains down to Cordova on the coast.


Some of the copper deposits here were 98 percent pure. The nuggets are incredible heavy. By 1938 the area was mined out. The last copper train left Kennecott on November 11, 1938.

The gravel road into the park ends at the old Kennecott copper mine. Huge piles of cables, twisted rails, gears and abandoned smelters remind you that this was the industrial age and the age of steel.

You can walk up to the glaciers from the mining camp and into the back country. One of the buildings has been converted into a high end lodge where you can stay if you are touring by automobile. A small airport outside the park offers fly-in service from Anchorage.

Here are some pictures of the park and mining camp.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

You Can't Have Your Kayak and Heat It Too

Columbia Glacier Ice Field

So Mrs. Phred wants to Kayak around a glacial ice field. It's a two hour boat ride to the ice field from Valdez, Alaska. After an hour, we pass Bligh Island, where young Bligh and Captain Cook looked for a Northwest passage.


Bligh Island is where the Exxon Valdez hit the reef. They spent $20 billion on cleanup and recovered 11 percent of the spill. Exxon lost the lawsuit over the cleanup costs 20 years ago, but the case is still on appeal.

We see more Orcas hunting seals and salmon and finally I get an acceptable picture. Usually the delay between pusing the button and opening the lens puts them back underwater for the picture.

The bergs from the bottom of the glacier are brilliant blue. The ones from the top are so dirty gray that we mistake them for rocks. The only bad thing that happened is that one of the kayaks caught fire and sank. I guess the old saying, "you can't have your kayak and heat it too." is still true. Here's a funny video of the kayak in the bergs.

As we kayak though the icebergs, several seals pop up to take a look at us. Today my arms are sore, but Mrs. Phred is happy. Here's a slideshow of the Kayak trip.

Monday, 9 July 2007

A Dog Named Pat

Valdez, Alaska – July 9, 2007

On the way to Valdez, we meet a lady in Slana. She is about 75, we guess. Her art is done with bits of elk and moose antlers. Her dogs are all dead and the three log cabin dog houses stand empty. I imagine them chained up in the deep snow and huddled inside on the straw. The rusty chains and straw are still there. A nameplate says that one dog was named Pat. Pat was probably a Husky.

The lady has outlived three husbands and many dogs in this place over a fifty year period. She collects camping fees at the nearby State campground and tries to operate a lodge and RV park by herself. She also operates the Slana Post Office. She makes the beds, mows the lawn, burns the trash and cleans the salmon that she catches in her fish traps. She seems lonely now. Everything is hard. It's a 100 mile trip in to buy gasoline for her generator so she can have electricity.

She no longer has time to sell her art that she makes in the winter, since she has no help. We are her only guests. It's a slow summer. She built the lodge with her own hands. There is no Home Depot here, but I see three trailers to haul things in the yard. She talks to strangers like us. Mrs. Phred feels sad for her. I tell Mrs. Phred that there are a million stories here and we can't even change the outcome of our own.

The drive into Valdez is though jagged mountains capped with glaciers that come down to the road. We go fishing for pink salmon and catch eleven that are about four pounds each. We eat one for dinner and freeze the rest. The bay is surrounded by snow-capped mountains. You can see bears in the meadows with binoculars. We see a seal next to the boat catch a salmon for lunch. The fish here are released from a hatchery and have no place to spawn. They just mill around in the bay looking for a stream that doesn’t exist.


We see a purse seine boat catch about 15,000 pounds of salmon in its net. The sea otters and seals on buoys float in front of the oil tankers next to the refinery tanks at the end of the Alaska pipeline.

This morning we will take a water taxi for a two hours ride to kayak under a glacier in the icebergs.

Here are some Pictures of Valdez:

Friday, 6 July 2007

DB Cooper: You have a message.

Alcan Highway: The Yukon – Mile 1135 – July 6, 2007.

On the 4th of July we took a hike though the Chilkat rainforest near Haines, Alaska.

 
The trail comes out on a rocky beach overlooking a glacier across a bay. It’s quiet. All you can hear is a waterfall under the glacier about ten miles away. I try my luck fishing with the usual result.


Later, we encounter a huge grizzly bear. She has her new cub with her. She is eating yellow flowers and pretty much ignoring us except for an occasional glance. You can tell a grizzly by the size and by the hump on the back. Black bears and brown bears are smaller.


In the evening we go up to Chilkoot State park to watch the “Mad Raft Race” on the Chilkoot River. There are four rafts in the race, all home-made. In last place are two little girls on a raft built of milk jugs. Their raft disintegrates as they pass, but they float on in the swift, cold water to finish. A fisherman stands in the current and brings in a salmon. So far this season, only about 10,000 “reds” have crossed the weir. The big run should start soon.


We drove north from Haines on the 5th and reentered British Columbia, then the Yukon. Northern Alaska is about 60 miles from where we camped last night. As we drive we pass a bald eagle preserve area where about 3,500 eagles gather to feast on salmon later in the summer. The campground is full of abandoned WWII highway construction equipment.



The bears here in the empty Yukon put on fat for the winter in September when the “chum” or “dog” salmon come to spawn. Chum salmon are considered the least desirable of the five species of Alaska salmon by humans.



They say to wear little bells and carry pepper spray when you hike in the woods because of bears. We see lots of bear droppings on the hike. You can tell black bear droppings by the berries and squirrel fur. Grizzly bear droppings are full of little bells and smell like pepper spray.


Here are some bear and forest pictures.






Monday, 2 July 2007

She Laughed at My Mighty Trout

Haines, Alaska – July 2, 2007

We hiked up a mountain trail near Skagway to Little Dewey Lake with a backpack full of fishing gear, sandwiches, water and books. Eventually we found a spot clear enough to cast a silver spoon. I caught two energetic rainbows. Mrs. Phred giggled and called them babies, so I sent them back.


The sandwiches were good. I packed a tomato to add at the last minute. We hiked a three mile loop around the lake. On the East side the trail seems to disappear and you climb over fallen boulders and tree trunks for about a mile. The trail guide does mention that the trail is full of rocks and roots on the East side.. Mrs. Phred asks if I’m sure this is the trail. I remind her that I’m a trained navigator and keep the lake in sight on my left. Eventually we emerge from the woods.

The Alaska ferry will take us to Haines this afternoon. Haines is a small commercial fishing village on the Lynn Fjord. There are a couple of state parks on the nearly uninhabited peninsula south of Haines. It’s about 600 miles to Valdez from Haines, the road runs along the largest collection of mountains and glaciers in the Western Hemisphere.


The Copper River is on the way to Valdez. The Sockeye Salmon enter the river at the rate of 15,000 a day from now until July 15th and then the summer sockeye run drops off there. On the Kenai Peninsula, the sockeyes start running up the Kenai River about July 15 and rush though at the rate of 35,000 a day until July 23. Eventually they end up in the Russian River upstream from about August 1st to August 13th. The concensus is that Sockeye taste the best of the five types of Salmon. They average about ten pounds each.

We wait three hours for the Ferry to offload and onload from Skagway. The Toyota goes on two hours before the RV. I hear a shouted "Bob!" from 500 yards away over the boat and truck engine noises and see a small figure in pink waving from the top deck of the ferry...Mrs. Phred has an impressive set of lungs...Sometimes I hallucinate that "Bob!" hail, but this one was real.

We meet George and Alice. He is a retired auto shop teacher, Boston Irish, and have dinner with them on the Ferry. Two fishermen are casting spoons into the harbor while waiting to board. I join them, make ten casts and quit. They both keep fishing and each brings in a 30 pound salmon, although the run is not here yet. Later I learn that Skagway is enjoying a run of "kings" released from a hatchery with no place to spawn.



There are about 20 antique cars loading up, a D-8 caterpillar tractor, four dump trucks, eight motorcycles and about 30 RVs. What takes so long is that everything that goes aboard has to back out. It's an experience. Some of the things backing out are 40 foot trailers pulled by pickup trucks. It's all done by watching a deckhand in front of you point left and right. The space is too small for extended mirrors. The ferry will arrive in Bellingham, Washington next Friday. It's a big ferry, with three decks of staterooms and a very nice bar playing Bob Dylan music.

Haines has a fish market. We buy some sockeye and look at the state parks in the area. The old Fort Seward in Haines is an artist colony now. It was established in 1902 to keep Canada from reclaiming this part of Alaska on the cheap.

Here are some pictures of the Haines area.