We remember big events in little bites. And, the further away in time one is from an experience, the dimmer and more selective the memories become. Here’s a rough attempt at capturing highlights and low lights of our Alaska OWAA trip. I’m plugging away at this and will publish more occasionally.
I had been putting good energy into this trip for a number of weeks. And, Rich had put lots of thought into it for actually planning. Initially we didn’t have three nights accommodations accounted for, and all worked out well. Things went like clockwork! An unusual event in and of itself, but an indicator of the aura of our trip.
Airport Personalities.As we traveled out the personalities of the airports revealed themselves. Cedar Rapids Sensible. Minnesota
Sunset at SEATAC
Nice (“Please stand clear of the door. Door closing. Please hold on to the rails.”) People smiled, directed us, held doors. Sleepless in Seattle taking in the ambiance of the Asian population, casual dress and demeanor of travelers and workers. Fairbanks just darn cool with the displays of polar bears, the ice cat that takes people out on excursions. Friendly and manageable. The return flights were also on time with one exception. We left Seattle almost an hour late and with only a 40 minute connection in Minneapolis to CR, we were worried. So, I put good energy into this, too. “I’m on it, Manny” came the reply from the Guides. As it turns out, they were. We rushed off the plane – well as fast as people in front of us would move – and hurried along. I heard a call for electric carts to F6 “tight connections” and then saw a cart turning around. I asked if it were going our way and the driver responded, yes. So, we three Rich, Maridyth Maas of IntelliPayments who is a native of Kalona, IA, and I jumped on board. The rest of the trip to the plane was like a James Bond car chase! Weaving in and out of pillars, around people. The driver screeched to a stop and said, “This is as far as I can go. Stairs. Go down and RUN!” So, we did! half way down the hall was an attendant waiting for us. She cleared our boarding passes and we sighed into our seats. Thank you Universe. Last plane of the night. And, our kind neighbor, Gary Crandall was waiting for us in his new car.
People we met. Going out I thought of our passport holder and minutes later saw a woman with a beautiful scarf carrying one just like ours. We chatted. Lori was off to Germany for a conference and presentation on the Earl of Shaftesburg the 3rd and 12th. Intrigue, murder, suspense! And the 12th Earl sounds way cool – a modern moral philosopher. From Minneapolis to Seattle, I sat next to a young woman who is an English Teacher and teaches by distance technology. Then a very long wait in the airport. On the three hour flight to Fairbanks we dozed. At one point I woke up and the woman next to me, from North Pole, AK, said, “Oh, I am happy you woke up. Look, the Northern Lights.” Sure enough above the clouds was an undulating band of green light. We finally landed at 3:20 a.m. Up 24 hours! Yikes! Car rental fine and they are equipt to handle late arrivals. Off to Minnie Street Bed and Breakfast. What an adventure that was! Road construction. No signs. No lights. Police didn’t know the location. Well, we made it, eventually. Marnie and Lambert were kind enough hosts for our three nights there. They were reserved and I discovered why. Marnie’s mother had died the week before!
Alaskan Prospectors owner, Jim Madonna looks through his “one power” lens – has no lens!
The Fairbanks CVB missed the boat by not researching rock shops for us. The heavy bias to direct inquiries to “members” truncates variety. We simply asked Minnie Street B and B proprietors and they immediately directed us to Alaskan Prospectors run by Jim Madonna (really, that is his name!) What a guy! We chatted, admired his newly groomed dog and I found “the rock” to bring back. Naturally, it was Waaaayyyy too big. So, I continued to look as Jim peppered us with amusing stories of searching for rocks, his senior citizen runs, life in Alaska, and philosophy . “When you get a focus, do it. If you don’t, then you won’t do it.” Succinct. After a few minutes he disappeared and I heard a whack…whack…whack out front. Then, hammer and rocks in hand he drawled, “For wielding the hammer – $15, OK?” Wow! He had whacked off two pieces of the rock with pyrite in it. Well, what could I say? Annie and Michael Hopper, our hosts at The Lodge at Black Rapids had a full, hopping house! Chris and Shannon with their eight-month old Miriam presented a calm, relaxed demeanor. The baby bounced in a handing seat right in the middle of the dining area. Annie picked up the guitar, sang and played some songs. Michael chatted with Rich about being “off the grid.” Guests mingled, relaxed in the upstairs lounge and sprawled in the cupola as the setting sun split through the clouds and poured through the stained glass windows. And, Rowdy. How cool a dog is he! Part Chocolate lab he greets you with a smile, maintains his distance, accompanies hikers on their outings and makes sure they come back A-OK! He dragged around numerous “Mikeys” (like a toddler’s blanket) which ended up in the woods and along the river. Then, he would wrestle with a branch until it broke and that became the the newest best toy…until the next one. What a dog. Very neat. Chena Hot Springs Resort was our Outdoor Writers of America Conference (OWAA) destination and Bernie Karl is quite the character. He certainly has taken a marginal facility and created an amazing complex of buildings, Ice Palace, Aurorium, rooms, hot spring pool, hot houses for garden produce, stables and dog sled areas, trails and pond. He produces much food on site, recycles and generates electricity. There is a lot of “showmanship” but no one can deny he has energy and makes good use of “grants” and contacts as he recycles odd materials and creates new useful products. But, he is overbearing. I will say he “made it right” by getting the outhouses cleaned and offering us indoor accommodations for no additional cost. Good will trumps a few extra bucks. Marty Malinand I appear to be the only two either civilized or brave OWAA
attendees as we sprinkled his “Texas Champagne” (Scorpion Poison) onto our food. Hot Cayenne – which I suppose is redundant. Dawn Faught and Patricia Stockdill from ND are two seasoned OWAA members. Pat served on committees when Rich was President of OWAA and proved to be sensible and reliable. Dawn has another story: As they picked their way back to the yurt at 11 p.m. one evening past mud puddles, between buildings and along side the corn patch, Pat chatted away happily. Dawn, flashlight in hand guided them. Hearing a noise in the corn patch, she whispered, “Pat, be quiet.” Pat chatted on happily. “Pat, shhhh, be quiet.” Pat chatted on happily. Then, Dawn took her arm, pointed with the flashlight and hissed in her ear, “Pat. Be quiet!” About 10 feet from them was a bull moose browsing on the left over corn. One step and he would have been in range to toss them high with his antlers! Pat stopped chatting happily.
Server in the grocery store gave me a discount. “You have earned it.” Another clerk gave spot on directions to the nearest USPO.
Foods We Enjoyed: King crag legs. Boudin. Alaskan Beer. Fish – salmon, halibut! Fresh vegetables grown in Chena Hot Springs hothouses. And the restaurant meals, though expensive, were really good – salads, soups, a killer pizza in Denali, fabulous B n B breakfasts and dinners.
Accommodations: Now this is a story. We knew prices would be high, and think about it. In Interior Alaska businesses have about four months to make a living. The B and B and Lodges were great. Interesting artifacts on the walls, comfy beds, great meals, and charming owners. The yurt on the other hand was, well, let me say: A difference exists between rustic, primitive and “being taken advantage of.” The latter was the case. Smelly, dirty in and out – the dome needed cleaning and the tent sides were heavy with lichen and mold. No heat. No light. Three cots, three plastic chairs and one table. No hooks for clothes. Pretty bare. Not what any of us were thinking and certainly not $83 worth! Well, we “yurtees” as Rich called us, were rugged and made it. But the last night was way chilly. Good thing we had Grabberwarm packs.
Yurt Village. An experience.
Weather: Typical Alaska weather drizzle. Mid-50s. Need rain jacket and hat/gloves. Wind! OMG! Leaving the Lodge at Black Rapids the wind was picking up glacial dust and tossing it into the air, where it traveled miles. Geology in Action! I loved it. I mentioned to Rich in Delta Junction, “These winds are like gale force winds of a hurricane.” And, it proved I was correct in my observations. We later learned that the Anchorage Airport was closed. Michael Hopper said his wind turbines broke and trees fell all over central Alaska. One day we had low 70s. Interesting that Glenallan, AK, gets 11″ of moisture a year. It is drizzily, damp, and has many trees and mosses. Pasco, WA, in the desert gets close to the same amount yet is dry, hot and barren by comparison.
Landscape: Rugged and barren in many places. Tall peaks, dense monoculture forests to flat and braided glacial rivers. Broad valleys and thermal springs. Some rounded mountains north of Fairbanks and on the way to Denali. Then, up Chena Hot Springs Road the view was pastoral with cows and hay bales, gardens and rounded mountains. Down near Glenallen the rivers were either clear and salmon filled or braided and milky coming off glaciers. Both cold.
Rocks: Well if any state is about rocks and geology, it is Alaska! How fun to see geology in action! The glaciers, deep forests with permafrost, rugged mountains, lush valleys, tumbling creeks and braided rivers. The land is almost too much to grasp. While walking up Gunnysack Creek near the Lodge at Black Rapids south of Delta Junction, I admired the boulders, the smaller rocks and turbulent waters. A small handful of rocks was tucked into my pocket, but none really seemed to be “The One.” Then, Universe said, “You will know it when you see it.” Within about twenty-five feet I spotted a gleaming round, green and white rock propped up against another, larger rock. That was it! So, now this amazing rock is in the labyrinth at home. Some hand-sized rocks have gone to friends and a few others are in the spillway of the little pond beside the deck.
Wildlife: Why people think wildlife is abundant in Alaska is a puzzle. Grant you, the ocean is fertile, some rivers at certain times of the year when the salmon run is on, and caribou herds are magnificent. But overall, acre for acre where habitat is decent, wildlife is more abundant in Iowa than in Alaska. Rich tells of giving rides in August to fuzzy-faced teens out to make a living in the wilds who think they will have a cabin built, wood stored in, and meat in “the locker” all before freeze. Well, we were there the last of August and into September and freeze, snow, and winter were upon us. We saw a few eagles along creeks with fish, several ravens, three grizzly bears in Denali, a three moose – one in the resort and a cow and calf, some LBBs (little brown birds), a few flocks of ducks on the waterways. And, at the Creamery Wildlife Preserve right in Fairbanks were dozens of geese and Sand Hill Cranes.
Rich’s Remembrances: Rich lived in Alaska three different seasons ranging from four to seven months. Way out. No phone. No heat. lanterns. Although “the best” gear at the time, it was poor by comparison to today. Amazing to see the conditions and locations. He pretty much found Poplar Grove Creek where he did weir work and showed me Glenallan, the town that was and seems to be still, pretty unfriendly. Rich recalled the drizzle, which is pretty much what we had, that bugs are down, the color is up in late August. In the early 70s fewer roads. He got dropped off the Alaska RR at Denali and camped. On the rainy days he sat inside the lodge, which later burned, and read. He and Charlie Nikita (sp) backpacked in and did see Denali. We have the picture he took with his good camera back in the day.
Some Adventures: Gunnysack Creek served up a mystery yet unsolved. We found all rolled up a quality tent and tripod right next to the creek – photography or elk hunting? Sharing this information with Michael and Annie, they then contacted the Reserve guy up the road who said he had noticed a car overnight. So, Rich, Annie and I set out up the creek again. The tent was still there where we placed it up away from the creek edge. We kept walking up and looking, calling. Universe said, “Stay close to the creek downstream.” Up into a marvelous canyon, past some “mining” claims we went. Then, headed back, picked up the tent and returned to the Lodge. Rich opened it and found it to be well-used but in good shape. Finders keepers, but we decided to leave it with the Hoppers, hoping that the owner would find it. As soon as we returned to the tent, the message from Universe stopped.
On the Denali trip we witnessed three golden eagles tussling with each other and two hikers avoiding a Griz along a river bank. The
Two of three golden eagles on the wing. Adults teaching young?
hikers waved their arms, seemed to be singing or talking loudly and moved away from the bear.
Coming in at 2:30 a.m. we navigated into town but could not find Minnie Street as per the directions. Well, no wonder! The street was torn up, all signs and stop lights were down and the construction moved us away from our turn. Back to the police station we had passed and our query of Minnie Street Bed and Breakfast was greeted with, “I don’t know!” but, the person found out and we dragged in about 3:30 a.m. Tired after 24 hours up.
The flight tours were mostly postponed or cancelled from Chena Hot Springs. On Friday we checked and two seats were open, so we signed up. Well, the other folks who were initially on the Beaver flights didn’t realize they had to re-sign up on cancelled flights. So, seven seats – nine passengers. Rich and I bowed out and as we did so, a rainbow appeared over the runway! I felt good about the “good karma” we generated and perfectly OK not flying. I have a feeling something pretty special will come from this.
Walked two labyrinths that demonstrate the wide variety of beliefs: The Unitarian Universalist of Fairbanks and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks. Rich had a thought to contact Connie Karl about installing a labyrinth at Chena Hot Springs.
Disoriented: For a number of nights after our return I would wake up and really not know where I was. Strange.
Synchronicity: Stopped in Nenana at The Roughwoods Inn and Café and the Alpen folks also appeared. We joked about having “the winning guesses” to the Nenana Ice Classic that happens in April.
That is all for now. Perhaps more thoughts will emerge as time goes by.
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