Thoughts, ramblings, experiences and joys of an Alaska girl. Home is where the heart is, and my heart is firmly rooted in the Great Land of Alaska.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Touring with the Tourists

Even though I was born here, I haven't seen much of Alaska. I left when I was little, was raised in Utah, spent the last 14 years of my life in Virginia and didn't return to see the land of my birth until my 35th birthday 2 years ago. I had an inkling that I'd want to live here permanently before I visited in October of 2005, and the experiences I had here and the way I felt about this place when I was here just confirmed my need (not desire, but an urgent calling, a need) to live here. When my trip was over and I was on the plane, my heart was breaking having to go back to Virginia. I decided then and there that I was moving here. After a "hiccup" in January of 2006 where I had to totally let go of my past and the people in it, I started making plans to move to Alaska by the end of August of last year. In July, I quit my job, cashed in my company stock and my 401 K, sold all of my belongings except for what would fit in my car, graduated from college and started the drive from Virginia to Alaska. I've never regretted my decision to move here, and every day that I'm here my conviction that I'm supposed to be here grows stronger and stronger. I can breath here, I feel free and content here, my soul can expand here. I feel at home here.

I met Alex online the beginning of February of 2006. We'd both been through some hard times (admittedly, his much tougher than mine), and were looking for friends. I wanted to meet people in Alaska that I could talk to that could give the the "lay of the land" of the Anchorage area so I would know exactly what I was getting myself into. We really hit it off. We talked online and by the phone February through July. I came to visit and do a job search in July. From that moment on, we were a couple. There have been some intense times, of course. Both of us had some adjustments to make, had wounds to heal, have kids to help adjust to the new situation we are all in. But, I wouldn't trade him for anything.... unless it required me to move out of Alaska anytime soon. If he moved, I'd miss him! Relationship or no relationship, Alaska is my heart. Maybe I'll move in a few years, who knows what the future holds. Right now though, I can't even breath when I think about moving away, or moving to the lower 48.

With all that said, I moved here in August and haven't really gotten to see or do much. Sure, I've gone on hikes, have gone berry picking, have gone kayaking, have taken long drives to see Homer and Seward, and even made some brief jaunts to Talkeetna. I've had some great adventures and a lot of fun! However, I have never just taken time off of work and acted like a tourist. I started working right after I moved here. I get to finally take some time off and enjoy my Alaska now that Julie is coming. And boy, are we going to be exhausted. Our schedule is packed. She wanted to see as much of Alaska as she can in 6 days (6 days won't even scratch the surface of what this place holds, but I'll give her a taste), and I'm going to do my best to show her as much as I can. Here's the plan:

Wednesday: Drive to Talkeetna to see Denali (hopefully, it will not be covered in clouds). On the way, stop in Eklutna to see the Spirit Houses; go to the Musk Ox farm; hike Thunderbird Falls on the way out of town (it's a short 1 mile hike, and fairly elevationless); stop in Willow to view float planes taking off and landing.

Thursday: Head towards Girdwood and southern parts. On the way, hike Virgin Falls; hike the back end of Winner Creek Gorge, cross the hand tram (or hike the front section and ride the tram to the top of Alyeska); hit Girdwood for lunch; head south to the AWCC to see the animals of Alaska.

Friday: Head to Seward for the Marine Wildlife and Fjord tour (includes lunch). The tour is 5 hours long! On the way back, we'll stop just outside of Seward and take a look at Exit Glacier.

Saturday: FINALLY A BIT OF A REST! We are bbq'ing at Mirror Lake with the MEETin group. I reserved a pavillion, we will be hiking and biking and kayaking. In the morning, we'll walk around the trails in the neighborhood (my neighborhood has AWESOME trails) and see what we can see. I've seen fox and moose on my walks on the trail. Saturday night, we are going to introduce Julie to brewed beer by heading to one of the restaurants that offers some good brewed beer choices, probably the Moose's Tooth, Snow Goose or Glacier Brewhouse. I think even the nice restaurant in Eagle River offers brewed beer, maybe we'll head there.

Sunday: North to Matanuska Glacier! On the way, we'll stop by the reindeer farm. Matanuska Glacier is one of the few glaciers that we can hike up to, and hike on!

Monday: She and the kids leave today, so we'll stick around Anchorage. We'll hit the Anchorage museum, walk along the coastal trail, eat at the Snow City Cafe, let her do the tourist shop thing, get her a reindeer dog and get her to the plane on time! Monday, we'll sleep (notice I didn't put sleep time on any other day!)

I'm looking forward to being a tourist along with her. I really am. I'm going to take TONS of pictures. There will be NO SHAME while I carry my camera around, ooohhing and aaahhing at this place I call my home. I'm sure I'll be feeling a HUGE swell of pride too, showing her the place I love so much!

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Alex and I hit the AWCC ( with our friend Sonia and her two kids yesterday. It was pouring rain, it was cold, it was packed with tourists. We braved the elements and the tourist migration of 2007 and had a great time.

We came about 15 feet from brown bears, musk ox, elk, black bears, wood bison, porcupine, caribou and moose. Thank goodness for fences. I got some great pics that I'll post once my batteries are charged! They managed to die half way through the park.

Tourists are funny. They ARE in Alaska, they should expect to have to deal with the weather, right? Nope, not these tourists. They stayed in the buses, pointing at the animals through the window, even though the bus drivers stopped to let those out that chose to get out. There Alex and I were in our rain jackets, in the pouring rain, in the mud, walking around the park, dodging cars and buses. It was wonderful! Sonia and the kids opted to take their vehicle around the park. I hope they got to see as much as we did. When we first went by the brown bear habitat, they were hiding. They came out to say hello to us, all three of the bears, after we'd been standing there for about 5 minutes or so.

I'm looking forward to taking Julie, Daniel and Katelynn on Thursday when they are visiting. The weather report says it'll be clear for that day, but I've learned not to base anything on weather reports. This is Alaska, after all. The only way to tell what the weather is going to be at any given moment is to look out the window, and then look out the window five minutes later (it's more than likely the weather has changed between checks). Come rain, snow, sleet or hail, nothing will deter us from our appointed activities for the week.

I'll post the pics from the park I took yesterday as soon as I'm able!

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Roads We Travel

The weather changes on a dime here. When I was driving home from work today, the skies over Eagle River loomed dark and gray. By the time we got out of karate at 8 pm, the skies had cleared, the sun was shining, and the last place we wanted to be was stuck inside. So, we went for a drive. We plopped the kids in the car, and headed up Hiland Drive to the entrance to the Chugach Park and Symphony Lakes.

We didn't end up going on our hike of Crow Pass over the weekend (Nicholas had karate camp on Saturday and Sunday, and our "sitter" decided to go white water rafting instead... traitor!), but there will be other weekends. We decided we are going to console ourselves with a night hike up to Symphony Lakes on Thursday of this week instead. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate. Even though it's only a few miles from our house in Eagle River, I've never done the Symphony Lakes hike. I'm looking forward to it.

On the drive up Hiland Road, we saw some sights we didn't expect:

Then again, there were sights we DID expect to see:

The thing about Alaska I love... no matter what road I go down, there's beauty, and the unexpected.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Renaissance in Alaska

I'd expect sportsman's shows here. I'd expect hunting and fishing expos too. The Native Alaskan conference is in town, that's something I'd expect. But, a renaissance fair? When I found out that there was going to be a renaissance fair in Anchorage over the weekend, I jumped at the opportunity to go. I'd never been to one before. Kaylee was less than enthusiastic about being drug along, but we had a blast, and look forward to next year's show!

At the Three Barons Renaissance Fair (, there were jugglers, a life-sized chess game (complete with battles for the squares), singing, acting, and lots of fun. The food was overpriced, just as it is at any fair, but much more tasty than the typical hot dogs and cotton candy.

I can't pick the funnest part of the fair. I had a blast at the Circus of the Damned (a total parody on freak shows, with nothing truly freaky about it). We got another view of Homer's the Odyssey (a woman was the hero in this version). The pirates sang shantys and raunchy tunes at the Twisted Toad Tavern for the Baudy Tavern Show. We got to enjoy The Dating Game, renaissance style. Shakespeare's King Richard III has never been performed so badly, I'm sure of it (and, the tomato tossers in the audience agreed). Kaylee even got over her irritation at me dragging her along and said that she was going next year, but with friends. The tomato tossing won her over! Or, maybe it was the guys getting tomatoes poured over their heads by an audience member for their horrible acting!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Backpacking, Not For The Poor of Pocketbook or Faint of Heart!

Alex, a few friends and I are backpacking Crow Pass the 16th and 17th of June. Crow Pass goes from Girdwood Alaska to Eagle River Alaska. The trail is 24 miles long (add a few miles for sightseeing detours). The first 3 miles of the hike are totally uphill (the last 21 are downhill). I know I'll be hurting when the trip is finished. Just writing this, I'm wondering what in the heck I was thinking agreeing to go! Oh yes, I remember now. It was for the amazing experience I anticipate I'm going to have. Wildlife viewing is a guarantee, with moose, marmat, ground squirrels, mountain goats, bear and beavers along the trail. Glacier viewing is a guarantee; we'll pass Raven Glacier and Eagle Glacier on the trip. There are mining ruins along the way. Wildflowers are in full bloom. We'll see waterfalls, cross a gorge, traverse a river and camp under the stars (for the few hours it's actually "dusky" with the midnight sun in full force). (

I found some great websites that I've printed information off of. I'm new to backpacking, so I need all the tips I can get! I've camped before, taken day hikes before, but backpacking overnight is something I haven't done. There won't be any bathrooms, or running water, or restaurants along the way. I won't be wearing makeup, or styling my hair. This definitely isn't a retreat trip to a mountain spa! We are going to try following the no trace principles of camping (, and of course we'll be practicing bear safety along the way.

Purchasing items for this trip has been pretty pricey! I had to go get a cold weather sleeping bag for temperatures down to 15 degrees, one that could be cinch sacked down to a very small size to fit in my pack, and one that didn't weigh more than 2 1/2 pounds (and, a sleeping pad for the rocky ground). Since the pass is so high up, snow remains there (deep snow) until well into summer, and I needed a bag that will keep me warm. Hypothermia is the LAST thing I want to have to worry about when we are in a remote area with no phone service. I've also got to pack two separate sets of clothes, at the least. When we went last week to check out the trail, we spoke with someone who said that the pass was still covered with snow, and that we'd need to be prepared to traverse when the river would be about knee to thigh high and COLD, COLD, COLD (it's glacial and snow run off). We'll be crossing the river in shoes other than our hiking boots. Nothing worse than wet socks and hiking boots. I've got to have a set of clothes for warm weather, and one for cold weather, along with extra socks, slick socks, tennis shoes, and all the regular essentials for a trip like this ( We also got bug spray, bear spray, a gps unit and binoculars. I'll also be taking my snow shoes, just in case. The food we got for the trip is all freeze dried. No bringing a cooler on this trip! Alex found some pretty interesting grub. For breakfast, we will be enjoying freeze dried eggs, bacon and milk. Just add water, and PRESTO! we'll be in hog (excuse the pun) heaven. For lunch and dinner, we'll be dining on freeze dried Beef Stroganoff and Chicken Teriyaki. And, the piece de resistance... a dessert of freeze dried Bananas Foster. Snacks along the way will be provided by Power Bar. Water will be provided for by the land (we've got a purifier filter and pump). How's that for living off the land? (I'm almost positive I'll be in gastronomic distress by the time we get to Eagle River, but it'll be worth it). With how much we spent on this trip, we would have been able to fly to Seattle from Anchorage and stay at the Crown Plaza! We will be using the equipment again though when we backpack Caines Head ( and Caines Head Alpine Trail ( next month when the tide is low (Caines Head can only be accessed at low tide). We'll be using the gps unit when we go geocaching this summer (

I know I now have the utmost respect for "professional" backpackers, those brave nomads who, with packs on their backs and dreams in their hearts, hit the trails of Alaska all summer long. They live off of the land, staying only occassionally at a backpacker's youth hostel. I totally respect them, and their unshowered, unshaven, hippy selves. The next time I see one hitchiking, I am definitely going to offer them a ride.

Reference sites:

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Afternoon Delights

I have taken afternoon "trips" the past two days. When I got off work on Monday, I decided to take the Arctic Valley exit and head up Arctic Valley. It was too beautiful an afternoon to waste by just going home and sitting around until my karate lessons began at 7 pm.

I love going up Arctic Valley any time of the year. Although, I do believe my car likes it better in winter. When there isn't snow on the road to even out the terrain (the road isn't paved), it's quite a bumpy ride. The views make all the jarring worth it. Around every bend there seems to be more and more beauty to be seen, more mountains off in the distance to be discovered, and more views than my afternoon joy ride afforded me time to enjoy.
Yesterday, after getting my Alaska driver's license (it's official now, I'm an Alaskan by birth, and by choice), I took Kaylee on a trip to St. Nicholas Orthodox church in Eklutna, and to Talkeetna for a view of Denali. St. Nicholas Orthodox church has a wonderful Athabascan cemetery housing a few dozen "spirit houses" on its grounds that dates back to 1650. Spirit houses are small house like structures built over the grave of the deceased in order to give the soul a "house" to live in and a place for personal relics and momentoes of the deceased to be left. They are painted in the traditional colors of the deceased's family. I was sad to see that the cemetery is getting run down, but happy to hear that the church is cleaning up and restoring the area using local caring teen volunteers.

The drive to Talkeetna is not an especially lengthy one. It's only 100 miles from Eagle River, so I knew we'd have time to get back by early evening. The drive to Talkeetna is beautiful. I wish we'd had more time so that we could have stopped and enjoyed the views at the many lakes along the way. There's also a small airport in Willow that I would have liked to stop and take pictures at of the small planes and the float planes.

We got to Talkeetna in about an hour and a half and took a few pics of Denali. It was lost in the clouds. The mountain is so tall, it was hard to see where the mountain ended and the clouds began. Clouds aside, it was a beautiful view. I had to put the size in perspective for Kaylee by explaining that the mountain we were viewing was still almost 300 MILES away. The town of Talkeetna itself is a lot of fun too. It's a quirky little place with a lot of character, and a lot of characters living there! Kay and I went down to the river and enjoyed the views there for a few minutes before heading home. I don't know if I'll be able to talk Kaylee into another road trip for a while though. I think I enjoy them much more than she does!

I have a friend visiting with her kids at the end of the month from Virginia Beach. She's up for anything, and I plan to take her to Talkeetna. Hopefully, we'll get to see much more of Denali than I did during yesterday's trip.

I really love that I can just get in my car, and in a few minutes, or a few hours, be someplace amazingly beautiful and breathtaking. Alaska is an amazing place.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Winner Creek Trail is a True Winner!

I started a group here in Anchorage in February called MEETinANCHORAGE. I saw a need for a group that would bring people together when I kept meeting people who asked me time and time again if I had a hard time making friends here. The group gained membership quickly and continues to grow. It's now up to over 185 members! We do all sorts of events and activities. We do dinners, book clubs, hiking, biking, game nights, movies, walking, you name it, we probably do it. The members choose events and post them, and other members RSVP and attend. It's part of an international group called MEETin (

This past weekend, the group did a hike of the Winner Creek trail in Girdwood. The trail starts just above the tram at Alyeska ski resort and ends just below Crow Creek Mines at Crow Creek Road. I love this trail. It's one I always enjoy hiking (I snowshoed it twice during this past winter). The area is nothing like any other hiking area around Anchorage. The Girdwood Valley is part of a temperate boreal rain forest. The plants there are more like the ones I'm used to seeing in Virginia. There are huge ferns, moss covered trees, and long moss hanging from the branches of the canopy overhead like the Spanish moss I'm accustomed to seeing in the southern states of the lower 48.
The trail leads to a foot bridge over one gorge and a hand tram over another. The waters that rush through these gorges are glacial melt water. When we were there, the water was rushing so quickly that I ended up with a mist of water on my camera lens while I was taking pictures. The water views are gorgeous. During the hike to the bridge, more water views can be seen off to the right of the trail at different points, through the trees. There is also a wide foot bridge along the trail off to the right that leads to some cabin ruins and more spectacular views of the water. We hiked part way up the trail to the ruins, but decided to save that side-hike for another day and turned around half way up. Another side hike we'll do later leads to a one-man gold panning camp. One of the girls on the hike showed us a path that lead to a rope down a very steep path that took hikers to the water level of the second gorge. At the bottom of that trail is a rustic gold panning camp. We'll be heading back in a few weeks to check out that camp. Maybe we'll try our hand at panning for gold too!

The difficulty level of the trail makes hiking Winner Creek trail a winner. It's not a difficult trail at all, it's relatively incline free (though parts can be steep and slippery), so people of all activity levels can enjoy hiking it. The tourists go on paid tours to do the trail and pay upwards of $120 a piece to take the tram ride at Alyeska and hike to the foot bridge over the first gorge. All we paid for was gas to get there! Well ok, we had dinner at Chair Five restaurant after the hike too (which in my opinion is a must if you go to Girdwood).
Chair Five is a fun little restaurant located near the post office just off the main road into Girdwood. They've got amazing pizza, terrific burgers, appetizers that beg to be main entrees, and the beer really hits the spot after a hike. The locals of Girdwood hang out there, and there are bound to be some pretty interesting characters back near the pool tables, sitting at the bar.

It was a beautiful Alaskan spring day. The temperature was great, the bug level was low, and the company was awesome. There wasn't much snow left on the trail at all, and it was relatively mud and muck free on the path. There are also sections of wood blanked bridges over parts of the trail that are anticipated to be the most muddy which is really nice (beats having to traverse mud like we've had to on the past couple of hikes I've done).

Alaska ROCKS!