Thursday, June 29, 2017

Magic Water Chain

[From Craig]  We're here in Valdez Thursday evening, where it has been drizzling much of the day.  I'm walking toward the back of the coach, when I notice this remarkable chain of water droplets on one of the windows:

A couple of days ago I washed the outside of this window, the final wash being with Windex.  I've never seen a chain of droplets quite like this, and I call Merikay over.  She agrees it's weird, and we watch it for a couple of minutes.  

Having always had a better understanding of things we see than I do, she says that water is flowing down through the chain as we watch.  From the inside, I can't see enough to agree...

So Merikay goes outside and captures this image:

It shows pretty obviously that she's right, and that water is coming into the chain from above and draining out the bottom.

Have any readers ever seen such a chain of droplets?  Can you guess what caused this effect?

Rainy Alaskan Weather

Glennallen to Valdez:  119 miles

The road between Glennallen and Valdez was not bad. 

The day started with partially cloudy skies. That means it was also partially blue and sunny.

We stopped to take pictures at Bridal Veil Falls. 

See those small spots of red at the bottom?

I was told they were a group of local teenagers on a river rafting adventure, by one of the other people taking pictures from the road.

This is the Lowe river where they were rafting, and the road we were driving. 

The sheer rock walls are also amazing. We think the river-side wall was natural, but we could see the tool marks where the road-side wall was carved away.

Road construction can be unbelievable.

The  foothills of the distant mountains are a lush green. Snow still clings to some of the higher places. The closer we went toward the coast, the lower the cloud cover came. The entire landscape reminded me of scenes out of the Lord of the Rings movies. I think they were filmed on New Zealand's South Island.

This is one of several melting glaciers we saw. I wonder how long it will last.

This was another.

We took our time traveling north through British Columbia because I really hoped to get past the usual rainy weather typical of June in Alaska. We have seen a lot of overcast skies, but not much daytime rain. Until we arrived in Valdez.  When I expressed dismay about the rain, the owner of the park we are at said "Welcome to the coast."

Even the dandelions kept their flowers closed.

I checked the national weather forecast and it predicts either chance of rain or rain likely for the next four days. Ugg!  I hope we can find some interesting indoor activities, and that there will be enough breaks in the fog to be able to see the surrounding mountains.

On the other hand, we are both happy it is not HOT! I'd much rather be in an Alaskan rain shower than a killer heat wave like much of the country suffered last week. 

Something in-between would be nice.  

Wednesday in Valdez 

I was very happy it was not raining Wednesday. 

I wouldn't describe the day as sunny, but it was dry. 

We can see both of these mountains from the dining table in the Alfa. It is quite interesting to see the clouds play around the peaks.

Craig said he really likes the rough velvet texture of the vegetation.

Knowing the break in the rain might not last,  we decided to do a couple of outdoor things. In a tourist brochure I had picked up there was mention of a Fish Hatchery, an oil pumping station, and the location of "Old Valdez" all on the same road, about seven miles out of town.

There wasn't much to see at the hatchery because there were no fish. Everyone, even the eagles are waiting for the fish. The "run" could start any day, and when it does, apparently the waters are alive with salmon wanting to go upriver to spawn.

The only thing at the hatchery that seemed to be set up was this weir:

Located at the mouth of the river it forces the salmon into a channel that guides them to the hatchery. There they are forcibly spawned and the resulting offspring are raised and released back into the ocean. 

When I took this picture, I knew I would call it "Waiting for the fish." I talked to this guy's wife, and she told me she knew they had come too early, but he wanted to get a good spot. There were only a few older RVs parked along the road and they all had Alaska license plates.

Look! Almost sunny!

Not far from the hatchery the road ended at the entry to the oil pumping station. But we did not venture in to explore because we were warned off by the "Do Not Trespass" and "FBI warning." It was not a tourist attraction.

We stopped at the Old Valdez site, and read a few of the posters. There is really nothing much to see. The town was destroyed in the big Alaskan earthquake in 1964. Some of the remaining buildings were moved a few miles away to the present location. 

Then we went back to town, bought some donuts and relaxed in the Alfa for the rest of the day. 

Just living. 
Waiting for the fish. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Musk Ox Farm, and a Glacier

Musk Ox have no relation to oxen or cattle. They are a distant relative of the goat family. They got their name because they look like oxen and during the rut they pee on vegetation and then rub their faces in it. Thus they have a musky smell. Musk Ox.

OK, so I really didn't get to hug a living Musk Ox bull, nor get nose to nose with a cow. These two were taxidermies of herd members who had gone to the big pasture in the sky and were now in the Musk Ox Farm Museum.

What we did get to do was walk along the fence lines of some huge pastures on a beautiful day hearing about how the Musk Ox was saved from extinction and now has been reintroduced to the wild. This farm has the only domesticated herd in the world. 

We were able to get quite close to many of them along the fences. They are not being killed for meat, although it is said Musk Ox meat is some of the best there is. They are being selectively breed for docility and for qiviut production. Qiviut is the soft under-coat that  is combed out and harvested in spring and early summer. It is highly prized by knitters.

The horns are trimmed to avoid injury to the people who handle them. The two calves in this picture are about two months old.

Four little legs and a hairy rump. This little guy is trying to get a snack, but mom gently kicked him away. Weaning is not a gentle process.

The calves are born with a full qiviut under-coat. They shed it out and regrow a new one by fall. It is hair, not fur.

It was soon time to say good by to these hairy guys and head on down the road. My plan was to stop at the Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Site and stay in the overlook parking lot. I had found the information in my book that overnight parking was allowed for a small fee, and that there was a nice walk out to an observation deck.

I'm really trying to just go slow and enjoy what we see.

But, this was not to be. Craig could not get the Alfa as level as he wanted it to be. When you have a Norcold refrigerator this is very important. I wouldn't mind a nice, bigger capacity residential like many other Alfa owners have, but Craig loves his Norcold.

So we were unable to stay there, and did not even go on the walk. Fortunately there was a great turnout quite close and we got a nice picture.

We ended up at a park in Glennallen.  Next, we are heading over to Valdez.
Months ago when looking at where to go in Alaska I felt a bit overwhelmed. Knowing it was a good idea to have a reservation for the 4th of July week, I picked Valdez. 

Our daughter and grandsons are coming to Alaska for a week and we will be meeting them in Valdez.  It should be fun.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Scottish Games in Palmer Alaska

As we travel, I like to look to see if there is a local fair or event going on. It is rare that we actually hit on the right day, but this time we did. We planned to be in Palmer Alaska, not far from Anchorage, on Saturday June 24. It was the day that the Alaska Scottish Games were being held at the State Fair grounds in Palmer.

We have never been to Scottish games, so we decided to go see what it was all about.

We spent most of the afternoon watching three competitions.

One was the Caber Toss. 

The object is to pick up the caber, which is the size and shape of a small telephone pole, and toss it so that the end the contestant starts holding goes up, over, and ends up away from him. If he manages to flip it, as about 1 in 10 contestants did, the  score is based on how it lines up with the direction he was facing when he let it go.

It looked really hard. First, one or more of the other guys stands it up straight before him. Then he has to get a grip on it and lift it straight up to about waist level. At this point he tires to run forward keeping it vertical until he is ready to toss it up and hopefully over.

I think Craig did a pretty good job capturing the toss in the nine images below. He shot about 150 images in short bursts. Most were discarded.

Another event we enjoyed watching was the "Weight over Height" event. The contestant stands with his back to a bar above him, swings the heavy weight between his legs and throws it up over his head trying to get it over the bar.

Neither of these two were successful, but the pictures are the best to give you an idea of what they were trying to do. These were 54 pound weights, and I felt there was some danger of having one smash a contestant in the head! 

The third event was the "Heavy Hammer Throw."

I rather expected to see a big sledge hammer, but instead they used a heavy ball on a handle.  These were really big "professional heavy event athletes", and the distance of their throws was impressive.

I have never been to a Scottish or Highland Games before. I'm glad we went, so as to add it to my "Been There Done That" list, but I doubt I will jump at the chance to go to another. 

While at the Fairgrounds in Palmer, we watched the clouds playing around the mountain tops.

It's one of the things I came to Alaska to see.

The Scenery!

Finally, this shot. It was taken at about 10 PM at our RV park. The sky was still blue and daylight prevailed.

Next stop:  A Musk Ox farm.  
Check back.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Thoughts about Alaska, and a Reindeer Farm

When we visited Karen's RV Service Center in Anchorage, on Monday, we were very lucky that they had a cancellation and could rebuild the battery tray for us on Thursday. On Tuesday we picked up the new Blue Ox tow bar and KarGard screen.  Craig was able to install them on Wednesday. He had a question about the new breakaway switch for the Air-Force-One, but a knowledgeable guy at TrailerCraft was able to help. 

The weather was rather overcast with occasional rain much of our time in Anchorage. On Wednesday we decided to look for an indoor activity and went to the Anchorage Museum.

This large original painting was part of a preview display for an Alaskan Art exhibit that was not yet open.

There was a large room of native artifacts such as this parka.

I had expected more art, but I guess we were at the wrong museum. This was the Anchorage Museum, not the Alaska Museum. But with that in mind, I was disappointed that there was no exhibits about the 9.2 earthquake that devastated the state in 1962.

Perhaps the most memorable part of it was this exceptional wood stairwell. A piece of art in itself.

After dropping the Alfa off at 7:30 AM on Thursday, we went out for breakfast and then decided to go for a walk at a place called Earthquake Park. It looked like a peaceful wooded trail.

But we were no more than 50 feet down the path when we were attacked. By mosquitoes! The repellant I had did us no good, because it was back in the Jeep!  A huge swarm of them surrounded us as we made a quick retreat. I continued to swat them for a long time after we were back in the closed car.

So instead of a walk, we spent the remainder of the day at a local library.

We will be using this little step until we get back to
The work on the Alfa was done by 4:30 or so. It was very well done. 

They completely rebuilt the steel tray and cold welded it in place.

They even secured the broken fiberglass front corner with duct tape. We may have to reinforce it from time to time, but it should be able to get her back to California for a nice new nose. 
Thank you Karen's!

Anchorage to Palmer: 47 miles

We finally left Anchorage on Friday. 

Reindeer shedding its winter coat
After getting settled at the Mountain View RV park, we went over to the Reindeer Farm, which I had read about in Bill and Jan's blog. They were just there. 

It was as delightful as she said. I got to hand-feed reindeer and see elk, a bison, and a baby moose up close.

The remaining pictures in this post are from the farm and are interspersed with thoughts I wrote at the library the other day.

This is our fourth summer living in our RV full time. Now, by coming to Alaska, we have gone to the four corners of the country, all three coasts, and criss-crossed the middle states several times. 

This is what I wanted to do. 

I was too old to ride in the reindeer train

It has been quite an interesting journey, and by living this kind of life we have been able to take the time to savor many special places and meet so many other Americans. 

A quick snack

Alaska! In all my years of day-dreaming about travel, and watching hours of nature programs on TV, I never really expected to get to Alaska. It was so far away. 

And yet here I am.  

How cool is that.

Mike, our guide, helped everyone get a picture with these
very large moose antlers
Everyone we have met and had business with so far has been very nice and very helpful. 

An older guy in Watson Lake BC told me that tourists came first in his town because we provided a large part of the town's economy. That doesn't seem quite as applicable here in Anchorage, there are many other businesses in town, but the people are great anyway.

His antlers are about half the size they will be by
 the end of the season. They are still covered with

 velvet, which feels like very short fur.
In some sense, as RVers we are somewhat isolated from the everyday lives of the towns and cities we pass through. But at the same time we interact with other people in the parks in a way we never could as hotel-bound tourists. If they are out and about, RVers are often chatty. 

Reindeer do not bite. We were feeding them reindeer chow

In the short time we have been in the state we have seen many rental RVs. Flying up and renting a rig for a couple of weeks is an option. I've heard experienced RVers say they didn't want to expose their rigs to the rough conditions of the roads.

In spite of the accident, we did enjoy our drive up the Alaska Highway. However I'm not looking forward to driving the rough patches again. 

They have two toes and two due claws that spread out to support them on the snow
I am also seeing more Alaska license plates than I expected. Mostly on fifth wheels and trailers. RVing is a wonderful way of taking a vacation.

OK, enough thoughts.  

We also got to see a baby moose up close.
He was rescued from a rock quarry. Nobody knows what happened to his mother. He is considered a ward of the state, and will live in captivity for the rest of his life.

If left in the wild he would have died. 

At this point he is about three feet tall. He is bottle fed five times a day, and is gaining about ten pounds a week. By fall he will be at least six feet tall at the shoulder and will have first year antlers. We were not allowed to pet him since he is still in quarantine, but eventually he will be as tame as the reindeer. Which is why if released, he would be too people-friendly to survive the hunting seasons.

We also saw elk in another part of the farm. This bull elk came trotting over to the fence when he saw we had bunches of grass in our hands. There is only one bull in the herd. He has forty or so wives.

We did not go into the paddock with the Elk. We were told they bite, and to be careful when feeding them.

Only a few of the cows came over to be fed. Most were resting in the center of their area. There were six calves in the herd. You can see five of them in the picture above. 

And finally, there was Dolly:

She is an old, smaller-than-normal American Bison. She too was a rescue animal. The story we were told was that a rancher saw her alone and abandoned. He took her home and bottle-fed her for a month or so until she could be placed.

All in all, we enjoyed visiting these critters. Yes we hope to see moose, elk and possibly caribou in the wild, but this was a way to get a really good look at them. They seemed well cared for, and it is good that the small admission fee helps keep them safe.

The Williams Reindeer Farm in Palmer, Alaska is a delightful place for any animal lover! Put it on your list.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Midnight Sun plus Tok to Anchorage for repair appointments

Sunset or sunrise?  This is what the horizon looked like Monday morning at 12:06 AM.  Tuesday is the Summer Solstice. We do not have extra darkening curtains in the Alfa, but have not seemed to be kept awake by the all-night lightness. At first, the effect was to wake us up extra early, but after a few days we have returned to being able to sleep in. What does seem strange, is going to bed when it is still bright daylight. But our bodies seem to demand it.

Tok to Anchorage : 319 miles

We could have driven the entire 319 miles to Anchorage, but felt that the stress of the accident still weighed on us, and the challenge of driving separate vehicles would be more tiring. So before we left Tok, on Thursday, I picked out a park that was a little more than half way. The Slide Mountain Campground was small, but pleasant. 

It was a good decision. Although the Jeep and the Alfa are easy to drive, the road was a bit windy and we were constantly on ready for frost heaves, pot holes and construction zones. But most of the way was very smooth. We kept in touch with our Walkie Talkies and kept trading places.

The scenery was breathtaking
We were intrigued by this triangular mountain
Arriving in Anchorage Friday, we made an appointment with Karen's RV for Monday afternoon for an evaluation of the batteries and the metal tray they sit on. This is the most essential repair. They seem like an excellent shop, and were able to fit us in to do the work on Thursday. Seems they had two cancellations. 

Using a 4 pound sledge hammer purchased at Home Depot, Craig got the towing "horn" out of its connection on the Jeep. We were glad to see that it was the horn that was bent, not the face plate. It looks like everything will work with the new tow bar we are picking up on Tuesday. We found a place that would order it for us, and handle the air freight shipment, but will not install it.  But Craig thinks he can manage it.

On Sunday we went down to the river to see a bunch of people fishing for salmon. There was a festival/ contest.

Nobody seemed to be catching anything, but we did get directions to a couple of places to buy some. 

Probably not quite as fresh as if we had caught it ourselves, but it was still very good, marinated in a bit of soy sauce and brown sugar and cooked on the Weber Q. I even had some left over to make creamed salmon on toast for Monday night. 

My culinary goal is to cook fresh fish at least once a week while we are in Alaska. Yum!