Saturday, August 31, 2013


Haines is a lovely fishing village.  The day we were there, one cruise ship was in port - the only day in the week a ship arrives.  Therefore, the town is not really set up for tourists.  There are a few shops, but Haines is mostly a fishing village, and they like it like that.

There are a few special parts of Haines, however.  One is their fish and chips.  They have delicious halibut fish and chips.  We got these at the Bamboo Pioneer restaurant.

Another is the Chilkoot Trail and Park.  Besides being beautiful, it is very easy to see bears there.  We saw a momma and her cub, and then at the weir, two grizzlies were eating salmon and one of them actually stood up to look at us.  The Ranger was not pleased that we stopped, so we did not get a picture of the standing guy, but we did get the momma.  We also saw some mountain goats up high in the hills.

Finally the scenery around Haines is spectacular.  This lake just a little north is spectacular.

Finally, this sunset picture does not do it justice, but it was very pretty!

Haines is not a tourist town, but we found gorgeous scenery that made it a great place to camp.

Fires in the Sky

Tuesday night was clear as I took Babs outside.  We had set the alarm for 1:30 to check for auroras, but it had not gone off yet, so I knew it was before that.

As I looked to the heavens, the brilliant stars were out in force, the Milky Way running down the middle of the sky.  Shadowed trees stood stately, pointing up as if to tell me I was in for something special.  I noticed a little wisp of white, and then looked down the valley to realize the aurora was already there.

I summoned Don to come look, and just as he came outside, I whispered (loudly - is it possible to whisper screamingly?  I think I did) "Look at that.  Hurry up, or you will miss it!"  When he confirmed that we were looking at an aurora, I ran to get Chris and Katie, though Katie took some encouragement.  I told her I thought sleep is overrated, but she does not agree.

Anyway, although it was slow to start, it soon began to put on quite a show.  Don figured out how to use his camera and although the first picture was not too good, he improved!

After Katie and Chris left, we stayed out a little longer to get a few more photos.  The aurora was leaping and rolling, sending spires into the air.

When we looked at the picture on Wednesday, I was surprised that they showed the aurora to be green with some purple.  Funny.  All I saw was white.  The camera was better able to gather the light spectrum, and therefore, the pictures were more in line with what the aurora really looked like.


One of my favorite activities, and one I have duplicated several times with Betsy, is picking berries.  In this case, we picked blueberries and cranberries.  We went three different places to find them, but finally, in her secret place, we found enough to allow me to make two batches of blueberry jam.

I was a little concerned about being able to cook it in the RV, but frankly, it was a breeze.  I had one pot that I used for both the cooking and the processing, and it worked great.  I didn't start either batch until after 9:30 at night, but both were done by about midnight.  

The crowning glory of the first batch was that when I was through, Babs was still eating. I took her outside to find that the aurora was out.  It skittered across the sky a few times, enough that Katie and Don were able to see it.  Unfortunately, Don could not get his camera to work, so he did not get pictures of it.  Guess we will have to see another one!


We had been warned about the big mosquitoes in Alaska.  Fortunately, we have not had much trouble with them, and by the time we arrived in Fairbanks, most of them were gone.

Except when we arrived at the Knotty Shop outside of Fairbanks.  Chris found a mosquito that was going to eat her for lunch!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Denali at Last

Finally.  The third time is the charm.  Denali.  We saw the mountain!  Several times.  Sunday in Fairbanks was clear and cold - 31 degrees a man from El Dorado (yes, Kansas) told us.  And the mountain was out.

It was hard for us to see her when we first went to the University lookout, but Betsy set us straight, and sure enough, even though we were 200 miles away, we saw the huge mountain.  We were wishing we were in the park where we could see her up close and personal, but seeing her at all was a huge accomplishment.

Every time we drove past a lookout, we stopped.  Monday morning, too.  Denali is a gorgeous mountain.  I am glad we finally saw her!

Boating the Chena

On Sunday, Captain Matthew and Betsy came roaring down the Chena River to pick us up and take us boating.  The day was crystal clear (cool by Kansas standards but not by Alaskan ones), and a day on the river sounded wonderful.  The Chena is a lovely river that runs more slowly than many we had seen; many of the houses on the edge of the river were quite large an beautiful.  

It was obvious when we arrived at the huge Tanana River.  The water flowed faster, choppier, and dirtier.  The banks were farther apart.  And Matthew was loving racing down the river.

Unfortunately, the motor didn't like it as much.  Similar to our WLEBAGO issues when we first left Wichita, he thought the motor was running smoothly, but for some reason, it wasn't (though last weekend when they tested it, it was fine.)  Rather than push it and end up paddling somewhere, he chose to bring us back up the river.

It was too bad, but we did get to see what boating on an Alaskan River is like.  And we enjoyed it!


I feel very fortunate to know many intelligent people.  Matthew Sturm, Betsy's husband, is one of those.  He is a world-renowned glaciologist, specializing in ancient snow.  But that is not his only area of expertise.  He has a broad array of interests, which is what makes him so fascinating to me.

Matthew is an adrenaline junkie.  He loves to climb rock cliffs, high mountains, and glaciers. (His and Betsy's honeymoon was spent climbing Mount Rainier.)  Just last year he climbed to the top of Mount Healy, outside Fairbanks.  No small feat, in that it is not only high, it is snow-covered.   He has been in Antarctica, has gone across Canada above the Arctic Circle on a snowmobile, and has traveled widely.  

Matthew also is very mechanically talented.  He and Betsy built the house in which they live - all 2200 square feet of it.  They started with one room, and then as the family expanded, so did the house.  When they first moved in, they had no running water - just an outhouse and available water that was hauled in.  When their first child was born, they did have running water in the kitchen . . . but that is all.  Matthew is now building another house just up the road from them.  He also can fix engines, work on cars, and do almost any repair needed.  I have yet to hear of a limitation.

But most interesting to me is the range of topics we discuss when he is around.  He is currently working on a paper with an economist trying to determine which is more economically feasible for Alaska - ice roads for hauling supplies or airplanes.  They are looking at the ecological and financial aspects of both.  I think that is an exciting collaboration.  I find his experiences with glaciers fascinating, his thoughts on global warming important, his ability to answer questions thoroughly but on my level unusual (many people like him talk so far above their audience, they are not comprehensible.)  

Matthew has written a fascinating children's story called Apun: The Arctic Snow.  I believe every classroom should have it . . . and I don't think I am particularly biased.  I love the book.  Matthew does not talk down to children, as he knows they can understand anything they are told if it is done right.  His book teaches many important aspects of snow and makes children think about many phases of discovery and science.  It can be found here.

Matthew is now a distinguished professor at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.  Those lucky students.  They will have a great education with Matthew as their mentor.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Betsy, a Bestie

Once we arrived in Fairbanks, I knew it wouldn't be long before I got to see Betsy.  Childhood friends are the best, and Kathy, Betsy, and I go back a long ways.  So it is always fun to get together again.  Saturday night, we picked up pizza and went to her house.  I could have stayed all night.  

Betsy has experienced more in her little finger than I have in my whole lifetime.  She has climbed numerous mountains throughout the world, she used to snow camp (too cold for me), she walks 7 miles one way into their cabin, she cross-country skis . . . get the idea?  She leads a very active life, and she is as fit as can be.

Betsy has had several different careers.  With a degree in landscape horticulture, a master's in biology, and a master's in fisheries, she is qualified to do most anything out-of-doors.  Then she acquired a teaching license and now teaches second grade.  Her biology and fisheries training make her an awesome science teacher, and her natural inclination to be outside broadens the horizons of her students.  I would have loved having a teacher like her!

Betsy and Kathy have always been the crafty ones, too.  I have Christmas decorations from both of them from many years ago . . . and Betsy added to my collection.  She is learning to weave birch bark.  She showed us several of the baskets she has made - stunning - and this is a picture of the ornament she gave me.  I love it!

I always feel better after a "Betsy fix."  Thanks, Betsy, for being such a great friend!


Between Denali and Fairbanks lies the lovely little berg of Nenana.  We stopped through it in 2006 when Betsy was with us, and she taught us about the Nenana Ice Classic.  Ever since them, I have loved Nenana.  Every spring, the townspeople place a tripod in the middle of the frozen river, attach a timing device to it, and sell lottery tickets to people who try to guess the exact minute when the ice breaks up.  

When the ice breaks, it moves the tripod which stops the clock . . . and then they go through all of the tickets to see who wins the jackpot.  In 2011, I entered the contest but came nowhere close to winning.

Anyway, Nenana is a charming little town.  This time, we took Katie to the river to show her the tripod, and then we stopped to see an Episcopal mission there.  

The doors are open all of the time, so anyone is welcome to come in.  The pews are all hand-hewn, and the altar cloths are hand-beaded native work.  I would have loved to have gone to church there the next day, but it just wasn't going to work out.  I am glad to have experienced such a beautiful little church, even if it was just for a few minutes.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Many Faces of our Trip

Our sister-in-law, Jerri, is a very talented photographer.  Following are just a few of her many great pictures of our trip.

She especially likes taking pictures of people.  Here is the group photo she arranged.

The Convoy Ends

Friday was very sad for us.

First, Kenneth and Melinda had to catch the bus into the Visitor Center so that they could head to Anchorage and catch their plane.  They knew their bus would arrive at 10:10, and it potentially could be full.  The plan was for them to be at the bus stop by 10.  Didn't happen. They rushed out the door to get to the bus stop.  To all of our surprise, the bus was already there.  We didn't even get to hug them good-bye.

After they boarded, the bus driver placed a "Sorry, Bus Full" sign in the window.  Whew!  If Kenneth and Melinda had missed this bus, they would have had a rush to make their flight.  As it was, everything went well (including avoiding a moose on the road), and they made it home fine.

In the meantime, Bart and Jerri were preparing to leave.  Although originally they were not going to leave until Saturday, Bart wanted to get part way to Anchorage so that Saturday would not be so difficult.  So at about 2:00, he, Jerri, Jess, and Kate pulled out.

After they got on the road, I cried.  It was the end of what had been a fabulous few weeks.  With Diana, Teri, Kenneth, Melinda, Bart, and Jerri joining us at various times during the trip, Katie, Chris and we had only had two days where it was just the four of us.  It was a strange feeling. Having the "fam" together at various times only enhanced the fun we had.  This will be a trip we will always remember!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bart's RV Adventure

When we decided to take this trip, brother Bart and sister Katie were invited to join us.  Katie was a natural, since she has long wanted to come to Alaska, and she owns a fifth-wheel trailer.  Bart, however, has a very small RV (he calls it his FedEx van) and has never driven a bigger one.  But he chose to reserve a class "C" motorhome, and he and Jerri joined us last week.

His first reaction to driving it (right after seeing the movie the dealer showed about everything that could go wrong) and then dealing with Anchorage traffic was, "I think I will just find a campground in Anchorage and stay here for ten days."  He got over that when Kenneth and Melinda arrived, and soon they arrived in Seward.  

Things went well in Seward, and the drive to Russian River was uneventful.  When we were setting up, however, he could not get the slide to open.  Jerri read the instructions to him.  "Set the parking brake, leave the engine running, push the button."  So he started the engine.  No go.  "Go get Norto," he told me.  Don went down, and they tried several things.  Finally, Don asked him if the parking brake was set.  "Well, no, I guess not," Bart replied.  And the slide very happily opened once that was done.

Russian River was the first time we were without electricity, which mean Bart's C-PAP machine was going to have to operate on battery.  The next morning, he told Don that he was going to have to go to Anchorage, because the machine wouldn't work well enough.  Don went over to the RV, took our inverter, and within a few minutes, the machine was working well enough that Bart decided he could stick around.  Another crisis averted.

The next adventure involved dumping.  Bart knew how to dump his FedEx van, but he had never dumped a bigger model.  He used some of our disposable gloves, and amazingly enough, it went all right.

With the exception of setting off the smoke alarm a few times, the remainder of the trip went well.  Until Friday morning, right before he was preparing to leave.  "Do you have any matches?" he asked me.  I did, but I couldn't figure out why he would need matches.  Well, he twisted the automatic ignition lighter on the stove the wrong way, causing it to snap off.  Oops.  That is going to be an expensive mistake.  But he will want to cook breakfast in the morning, so he would need matches to light the stove.  Luckily, when he got to Anchorage, he found out he did not have to pay anything for the lighter.  That guardian angel has started watching over him, too!

Despite a few difficulties, Bart figured out how to drive close to the speed limit (we frequently don't because the roads are pretty hard on RVs), how to keep his battery charged, and how to keep his machine working.  Jerri was very good at conserving water, at using the campground bathrooms (I don't do that very often, but will if I have to), and at keeping warm.

All in all, I think the RV experiment went very well.  I hope they are willing to do other RV trips with us now that the maiden voyage has sailed.

Jess and Kate

Friday morning, Chris and I took our recycling to the recycling center at Teklinika, and we saw two young women huddled behind the food locker, trying to make their breakfast.  One had on flip-flops, and it was obvious they were both very cold.  We talked with them a minute and found out they are employed by Aramark, the concessionaire, and they had gone hiking yesterday.  Last night it rained very hard, and somehow Jess's boots ended up getting soaking wet.  So she put on her flip-flops.  

They were going to take the 12:50 bus out, but they knew their chances of catching a ride were slim, so they would have to wait longer.  I couldn't stand the thought of their sitting at the bus stop for an hour, freezing.  So I invited them in.  

About an hour later, Jess and Katie were sitting in the RV drinking tea and coffee.  

It worked out well for all of us.  We learned about the way the park works, I met a big Packers fan, and they got warm.  Bart and Jerri offered to take them to their employee camp where they live, which was much better than riding the bus.  They enjoyed a little pampering, and we made new friends.  Everyone won!

Blueberry-Picking Denali Style

One of the activities we really wanted to do was to pick blueberries.  I knew I would get to pick them with Betsy in Fairbanks, but Chris also wanted to pick some.  When Don and I were walking with Babs, we stopped to talk to two young people, who mentioned they had seen blueberries.  They told us where to find them, and I decided that perhaps later in the day we could go.

It finally quit raining, which allowed Chris, Don and me to walk to the Teklanika Rest Stop and on past it to the place where the "kids" told us they were.  Sure enough - blueberries, and lots of them.

In Fairbanks, the berry bushes are tall; in Denali, they are short to the ground, similar to low-bush cranberries.  But they were plentiful.  Chris is the master berry picker - she picked more than Don and I gathered combined.

Yum. No wonder that bear was going after them.  Although the berries are small, they pack a powerful punch.  They taste so good!  Tomorrow's oatmeal will taste pretty good with fresh Alaskan blueberries on it!


I love the game of cribbage.  I always have.  Ever since Dad taught it to me when I was little, I loved to play it.  Dad got such a kick out of me saying, "Muggins" if someone missed a play that he gave me that nickname.  

Unfortunately, I have a bad rap.  No one will play it with me.  They think I win too often.  It is not true, but I cannot seem to escape it.

I also love cribbage boards.  We have several at the cabin, so I do not need any more of them, but I always find them and wish I could use another one.  (One at the cabin was from my grandfather's friend, Uncle Buck, so it is near and dear to our hearts.)

When we were at Wal Mike's, he had several cribbage boards there.  One was a handmade wood one that was too expensive, and there were several other faux ivory ones that were pretty, but way too heavy to take with us.  So I passed, knowing I would just enjoy looking at them.

Wednesday night, Bart came in to give me a gift - an Alaskan cribbage board.  It even has a magnetized cover to keep the pieces in it.

But I still had a problem.  No one would play cribbage with me.

Luckily, Bart took pity on me.  It has been so long that I had to remember the rules, but it came back quickly.  I managed to squeak out a win, but only because I got to count first on the last hand.  Otherwise, it would have been Bartley Always Wins!

Kenneth then wanted to refresh his cribbage skills.  We played several hands, and before he left we played two games.  In the first game, Kenneth had a hand I have never seen before.  He had four 8s and two 7s.  What a conundrum.  I helped him with it, and he scored 24 points + 14 in his crib.  That gave him an edge in the first game, and I won the second.  Since we each had won one, we had a final championship game.  The score was tied with one hand left to play.  I came up one point short, and Kenneth became the champion cribbage player.  

Thank you, Bart, for my cribbage board.  It means more than you know!

Fall Is On Its Way

Fall is just around the corner, or at least it is in Denali.  On Wednesday morning, it was a brisk 41 degrees when we awakened.  Without electricity and relying strictly on the furnace (until we were allowed to turn on the generator), it was a little cool inside.

We took a bus in the afternoon, and one of the first things we noticed was fresh snow on the tops of some of the peaks.

Those peaks are not too far away from us.  One guide said this summer, for the first time in many years, has not had any snow in the valley, which is unusual.  It was a late spring, dry and hot summer . . . and perhaps early fall.

The leaves are beginning to change all around also.  As we drove further into the park, the more yellow and red plants became.  Unfortunately it was quite cloudy, so the contrast in the colors is not as great as it would be on a sunny day. The red leaves on the tundra, the yellows of the willows, the orange lichens, and the red fireweed, made for lovely vistas throughout the park.

Monday, August 26, 2013


Thursday morning in Denali, Kenneth, Melinda, Don and I took the very early bus into Wonder Lake.  On our way in, we saw two sets of sows and two cubs.  One set is pretty surely the group from yesterday; the other was a brown mom with two black cubs, though one had a neckline of brown fur.  Very cute.  We also saw several more single bears grazing on blueberries here and there.

I came back home from the visitor center, however, as Babs was going to need to be let out.  On our way back, a bear came down not 20 feet from the bus to graze.  

He then walked onto the road in front of the bus and trotted down the road for a little while before becoming irritated with the bus and pulling off the road.  Luckily, I thought to get my video camera and take a movie of him eating.

I have to say I was pretty pleased with my video.  Hope you enjoy it, too!


We finally saw a big bull moose.  Well, really we saw two.  And Bullwinkle they were not!

After a fabulous meal of King Salmon that we cooked in the rain at the Savage River Campground, Kenneth, Melinda, Bart, and Jerri left to go to their hotels.  

Unfortunately, we had to eat in the RV because it was raining so hard.

About twenty minutes later, Kenneth returned to tell us there were two moose just three miles down the road.  A sign had said it is the start of the moose rut, so we thought they might be around . . . we just didn't know when.

We went where Kenneth told us, and sure enough, two huge bulls were walking around the meadow. 

Yes, he is hard to find, but look closely - he is there!

This guy appeared later.  He was much larger.

We couldn't understand why two bulls were in the same area together, so we decided either the rut had not yet begun, or one of them had already won and the other was just staying around.  We really did not know.  But we were able to watch these two guys for about ten minutes, and they were an impressive pair!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

WalMart Trapper Creek Style

After what seemed like a short night in Talkeetna . . . well, it actually was short.  Between the trains passing, the trucks on the road, Babs wanting to eat, Babs falling down the stairwell, and Melinda's crab not agreeing with her, three of the four of us did not sleep very well.  Don, of course, did not have any trouble.

But I digress.  After what seemed like a short night in Talkeetna, we traveled to Denali.  It was a very rainy day, and the clouds hung over the mountains so that it seemed as if we were in flat Kansas.  I wish it had been less cloudy, as the area is gorgeous, but today it was not to be.  We managed to fit Wal Mike's in between raindrops, however.

We had been telling everyone about going shopping at Wal Mike's.  It is a little slice of America, and certainly better than the Cypress Knee Museum that I dragged our family to when we were in Florida many years ago.  The proprietor, Mike, is actually from Peabody, Kansas, but he moved to Alaska many years ago.  He has been collecting other people's junque for years, and he will sell almost all of it (but not his totems.)  

It looks like a huge flea market, but some of the stuff is actually pretty good.  Chris found two pairs of boots for her and for Don - hers were a $20 steal, and although Don's were more expensive, they were at least 1/2 off what he could buy them for elsewhere.  

Katie found herself a gnome.  Apparently, she has several, and this guy is a hunting gnome.  $10.  What a deal!

Wal Mike's has antiques, expired food and medicines, consignment art, trinkets and more trinkets . . . just about anything you could imagine.  Amazingly, we stayed about an hour, and several people purchased items.  It is one of those places you just have to see!

Bear Bells

They say if you smell bear scat, it will smell like two things:  bear spray and bear bells.

We heard many bear bells, especially around the Russian River.  People walking along, jingling and jangling.  It became rather humorous, as we can see that once the bears get used to the ringing, they don't care.

We thought it would be especially funny to give Bart a bear bell.  Don made quite the production of giving it to him.

He took it in good stride and even wore it one day . . . but only one day!