Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Day

Saturday we went North. Sunday we stayed around Anchorage. So naturally, we headed South early Monday morning. Our farthest of many destinations was Bear Valley and Whittier. In order to get there we had to travel south along the Seward Highway which runs along Turnagain Arm and is consistently ranked as one of the best drives in America. Turnagain arm got it's name during the exploration of James Cook in 1778. He was looking for a passage through to the Atlantic Ocean and had tried many inlets before finding this one. He first tried Knik Arm and then the second inlet in the area. Upon reaching the end of the inlet the order had to be given to turn again back to the ocean, hence the name.

We decided to head all the way to Bear Valley and then make our stops on the way back. However, we did have one little turn off to photograph this Dall Sheep that happened to wander down the 50 foot cliff to the side of the road (#21 on the list).
Our first stop in Bear Valley was Byron Glacier, which you can see about halfway up the valley on the left in the picture. We hiked out about a mile along Byron creek towards the glacier. As you can see there is still snow on the ground. However, Rebekah, thinking the hike would be like ones we did around Anchorage the day before, decided to wear sandals on this hike and got her feet a little cold. When we entered the Visitor's Center and told them we had just gotten back from that hike, they told us "Good to see you made it back. There have been a lot of avalanches in that area." That's always fun to hear.

Portage Glacier once was one of the favorite glaciers in Alaska. However, it has been receding rapidly in recent years. You can just see the end of it reaching out towards the lake in the middle of the picture below.

After that we decided to head over to Whittier (#53). In order to get there you have to travel through Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, which is the longest highway tunnel and longest combined vehicle-railroad tunnel in North America. It is only open for 15 minutes per hour in each direction. It costs $12 for a car to travel from Bear Valley to Whittier and the return trip is free.
Whittier is a happening place with a blossoming population of 182. Most of them live in the condo building pictured below (with Whittier Glacier in the background to the right). It is mainly a tourist town used as a port for cruise ships, fishing trips, and glacier and wildlife viewing cruises.
Once we returned we visited the other two glaciers in Bear Valley, Middle Glacier...

And Explorer Glacier (completes #30). We decided that was more than enough glaciers for one weekend.

Our next stop was the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (#29). It costs $10 per person to enter (max $30 per car). They house animals which were injured or abandoned when they were too young to fend for themselves. The animals you can view include Moose, Musk Ox, Grizzly Bears, Black Bears, Reindeer, Bison, Caribou, Owls, Fox, and sometimes (not this time) Eagles.

They gave the animals plenty of room to live, but it is still a great opportunity to safely see many different wild animals up close. Plus the money goes to a good cause.
Our next stop was Girdwood, which was not that exciting of a town either. The biggest thing there is Alyeska Resort, which is supposed to have excellent skiing and is a very nice year round resort. The most exciting thing I found too photograph was this street sign...
Crow Creek Mine (#27) was slightly more interesting. It is on the National Register as a historic site. Although at $5 to look around and $15 to pan for gold we thought it was a little pricey. The only cool thing was that you actually pan for gold the old fashioned way. You grab a shovel and a pan and walk to the river and start digging! We might go back and do that one time just for the experience.
All along this area by Girdwood and a little farther South, there are ghost forests from where giant waves of salt water killed the trees (possibly from the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake). It makes for some interesting scenery.
After continuing on our way we came across a lot of cars parked on the side of the road, so we stopped to see what was going on. It turns out that it was low tide, the perfect time to be out dip netting. Only Alaska resident with a fishing license can dip net, and you have to live here for a year to technically be a resident. But we will definitely try this next year.
Our final stop of the day was Indian Valley Mine (new entry #89). Here we did actually do a little panning for gold, and found a few small specks. It is $1 to look around the site and buckets of dirt to mine range in price and size from $10 to $50. We chose one that was $10. The family that runs the place is very nice and will help teach you how to pan. They also run a Bed and Breakfast just up a gravel road behind the mine with great views of the Arm. Rooms start at $159 per night with discounts available for longer stays.

Well this was a long post. May have been a little tiring to read...but just imagine how tiring it was to do all this. I think we are going to sleep all week...


Monday, May 25, 2009

Moose Poop Jewelry

We have had such a busy weekend! Yesterday we started our day by going to Earthquake Park (#9), here in Anchorage. It was really nice to walk around outside and learn about the Good Friday Earthquake in 1964. There was lots of information to read about. The earthquake was a 9.2 on the Richter scale and it was very destructive, making it one of the most powerful of all time. Where the park is now, there used to be houses, but then they fell off of the cliff into the ocean. It only took us about 15 minutes to walk through the whole exhibit and the mosquitoes were very bad! After we left we promptly went and bought some bug spray. Here is one picture of Earthquake Park:
Overall, not too exciting but we did find out where the parking lot is for the Coastal Trail, which of course follows the coastline! We are planning to either walk part of it or bike it...it is very long: 11 miles!

After this stop, we went on to Thunderbird Falls in Eklutna, Alaska (#33). It is just outside of Anchorage, so a short drive. The hike is only 1-mile there and 1-mile back and it was pretty easy. Of course, I complained when there were up-hill parts, but Steven just told me to keep going! There were lots of people there hiking the trail as well, with their dogs too! The view from the upper observation deck was not the greatest so Steven walked down to the river to get a better shot...
We also saw a very hole-y tree: we could even fit inside! Random tidbit of knowledge: some Alaskans collect moose droppings and varnish them. Then they make jewelry and Christmas ornaments out of them...Guess what you will be receiving for the holidays this year??? :) (just kidding, that's so gross!)


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Change of Plans

We woke up this morning with a plan. Today we were driving up into the Matsu Valley past Wasilla and Palmer, through Hatcher Pass stopping at Independence Mine, and heading over to Talkeetna (#'s 64-66). We were going to leave early...around 8 am and have a nice relaxing day, taking our time along the back road.

Things started going badly before we even left. The weather forecast declared that it would start raining around noon. And with us being a two hour drive away that gave us only a two hour window of nice weather for the day. But, we stayed positive and headed off only a few minutes behind schedule.

The scenery as you approach Hatcher Pass is gorgeous. The road runs along Little Susitna River, which you can see above. The drive starts to turn upwards as you head closer to the pass and there are some spectacular views of the valley below opening up into the Matsu Valley with another range of mountains in the distance.
We continued to climb and were approaching the entrance to the pass and the Independence Mine area when we encountered our next problem...the pass doesn't open until June 20th. So, after the two hour drive up there we had to head back. However, just down the road from the turn off for the pass is the Musk Ox Farm (new item #88), so we decided to make a side trip there.
If you remember from a previous post, this is the animal that produces qiviut that is sold at the Oomingmak Musk Ox Producers Co-op in Anchorage that we had already visited. There are only 54 animals in the herd to produce this material, which is why it is so rare and expensive. The animals were interesting looking to say the least, but they seemed to like the attention.
After that we had a decision to make. It was already 11 and it was supposed to start raining around noon. Should we drive around the non-scenic route to Talkeetna or should we do some things around Anchorage for the rest of the day. We decided to head Northwest from Wasilla up Parks Highway to Talkeetna.

The drive is pretty boring once you get outside of Wasilla. It was still pretty, just nothing compared with the other drives we had done in Alaska. After another couple of hours we stopped to have lunch at Sheep Creek Lodge, and got to sit outside as the weather was still nice. The food was prety good and the location was nice, just south of the turn off for Talkeetna.
We left and continued along to Talkeetna (#66), which with under 900 residents was smaller than we expected. It was a quaint little town that seemed mostly like a tourist destination. If you walk down one of the gravel roads from downtown there is access to the shore of the Susitna River, and from there we got our first glimpses of Denali. At 20,32o feet it is the tallest mountain in North America. And it is the highest mountain rising from it's own base in the world (beating even Mt. Everest). It is the large one in the distance right behind our heads.
We then headed back from Talkeetna, as there was not much to do in the town itself. We passed Fish Lake on the way back to the Parks Highway and got a great view of a floater plane in the mountain lake.
When we reached the junction to the highway we had yet another decision to make. Turn back towards Anchorage as it was already around 3 or continue on the additional hundred miles or so to Denali State Park (#41). Since we had already come all this way and the weather was still nice we decided to continue on....
Although the state park does not actual contain the mountain (the national park does), it has some of the best views of Denali and travels right along the Parks Highway. However, it is not an exceptional hiking park (as far as I could find just a few trails with none of them shorter than 9 or so miles).
The mountain was actually out today (although wrapped in some clouds), which from talking to other visitors and park employees/volunteers is quite unusual. This was apparently the best day to view the mountain all month. And in some years, such as last summer which was very rainy, Denali never comes out. Locals say that 85% of visitors to the area never actually see the mountain that they traveled all the way to see.
The park also contains an Alaska Veterans Memorial, which we thought was as appropriate stop on Memorial weekend.

In the end, it was good the pass was closed. It made for a boring morning, but we got to actually see Denali in the afternoon. And we timed it perfectly. As we turned around to head South the rain was just starting to roll into the area, and we even dodged it the entire drive home.

Well this was a long post and a long day, and just imagine...there are still two more days in this holiday weekend. So expect a couple more posts.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Martha Stewart Weekend

So, no travels this weekend because Steven went back to Atlanta for his friend Chris's wedding. He said that it was a very nice ceremony and reception. I know it meant a lot to Chris that Steven could be there. Congrats Chris and Christie!!!

I stayed here in Anchorage and did lots of things around the house. First I primed the last dresser that needs to be painted. This furniture painting will be the death of me, I think. Here is the progress...

This piece has doors that go on the top and one drawer within. Then it has two other drawers at the bottom. Plenty of room to hold all of my clothes! Now all it needs is 2 coats of chocolate brown paint and it will look like Steven's dresser that I already painted:

We have the TV, but we don't have cable, so we just watch movies on it! I also made some curtains this weekend. Some for the kitchen and some for the living room.
They look really nice and I am proud of myself!
Here is a picture of the kitchen curtains. I also wanted to include a picture of the eating area. Steven brought me home those beautiful flowers on Wednesday...they smell so good and really brighten up the area! Thanks Steven!

Now, here are some pictures of the living room. Everything is complete except for a TV and also something above the fireplace. I am thinking a mirror might be nice, but I have to find one that I like. There is no Marshall's or TJ Maxx here and that makes me sad! Here is a picture of the curtains and the fireplace:
The curtain fabric is greenish-blue with a brown toile print. It is very nice and goes great with the furniture. I am glad I picked it because the furniture looked very manly. Next is a picture of the coffee table that was the first piece of furniture that I repainted. It has this great underneath compartment and I use one side for pictures and the other side for books and movies. I got the leaf basket on sale for $1.99 and the tea cup (if you can see it in the picture) for $.49! Cute and cheap!
Now all I need to do is make some pillows for the sofa out of the same curtain fabric. I will get to that later in the week after work. Speaking of work, Steven and I are both very busy with our jobs. He is really enjoying and doing well at sales and I am working with special needs kids. Right now I am working with them while they are in school during the day and also after school. School gets done here on Thursday, so next week, we will begin the summer program. It is just like a day camp. The kids don't come every day of the week, most come only 2 or 3 days. They are also pulled out for individual and group therapy with the clinicians. Anyway, I really like working there. Once the summer program begins, we will take them to the lake, the park, on hikes, to the pool, do arts and crafts, play sports, go ice skating etc. It will be a great way for me to work and still see the city during the summer!

I have found a great way to save money and only go to the grocery store once a week- a meal menu! I have done this last week and also this week. I wanted to share with you what we are eating this week!

Sunday- Spaghetti pie
Monday- Grilled cheese and vegetable soup
Tuesday- Bacon and tomato bagel melts
Wednesday- Roasted vegetables and chicken with penne
Thursday- Marinated steak and baked potatoes
Friday- Omelets with cheese and tomato

I didn't plan anything for Saturday night because we might be sightseeing around Alaska since it is Memorial Day weekend. Alright, I am about to have to go pick up Steven from the airport! Hope you are enjoying reading about Alaska!!! We like comments!!!


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Busy Week

Well we had a very busy week. Rebekah started her new job last Monday, helping kids with problems. She likes it so far and it pays well so it seems like it will be a good summer job that she will enjoy.

On Tuesday after work we went ice skating. But it was still indoor, just like we would do back home. Once winter comes back along we can skate on some of the nearby lakes. Neither of us had skated for a long time, so it was a little rocky but after a while we were moving around pretty well. We had a little competition seeing who would fall the most times and it ended in a tie at 4 a piece (although most of the times Rebekah fell she was standing still).

Later in the week we went to the Ulu Factory (#7) and bought are very own Alaskan Ulu (#8). Ulu's are an old type of knife that has been used by natives in Alaska for thousands of years. They are supposed to be easy to use and very effective so we bought one to try out. As you can see the are a wide, curved blade that you rock back and forth to cut. And it comes with a matching rounded cutting board to help utilize the shape. If anyone is interested they do ship them all over the world.

On Saturday we went North into the Matsu Valley and drove out along the Glenn Highway.

The highway follows the Knik River for almost it's entire length and is a gorgeous drive.

There are plenty of places to pull off and take pictures...

...and I think we used just about every one of them.

It made the drive a little longer but it was definitely worth it.

After a couple of hours we finally began to see our destination in the distance: the Matanuska Glacier (new entry, #87) (pictured above) (and below too). It, according to the website, is the largest glacier accessible by car in Alaska.

The access to the glacier is commercially owned, so we paid $15 each and then we got to hike up close to the glacier. Since glaciers melt (glacial runoff which leads to most of the rivers in Alaska) and they push silt forward in front of them, the hike up to the beginning of the glacier was very, very muddy.

Luckily, it was nice once we got up there. And there were some other people up there so we were able to get them to take our picture on the glacier itself.

Glacial ice appears to be blue. This is because it is so compact and it absorbs every light in the spectrum except blue.

It was a lot of fun and we got to walk on our first glacier! Definitely worth the $15.

One the way back to Anchorage we stopped at Mirror Lake (#31), which is just North of Eagle River, which is just North of Anchorage. It was a nice park area with lawns and a couple of beach volleyball courts. You can see in the picture above where the lake gets it's name. It looks like a nice place to sit and relax on a sunny summer day so we will probably be going back soon.

Well this coming weekend I am headed back to Atlanta for my friend's wedding so there will be no new traveling, but the weekend after that is Memorial Day which gives us 3 full days for adventures.

And remember...we like comments!


Saturday, May 2, 2009

Spring Saturday

Today was such a pretty spring day! It was about 65 and very sunny! We started out this morning going downtown and visiting some of the shops. Some sold t-shirts, key chains and other touristy things. We went into a fur shop and saw lots of **interesting** styles of coats. There was also a coyote tail key chain. I decided that one would not be coming home with me today. We saw some boots that we liked and they were only $600. Here is a picture of them below:
We also visited the Visitor Information Center Log Cabin (#2 on our list) and got lots and lots of information about things to do in the area. We got maps and information for the parks in Anchorage as well as guide books for other cities we want to visit including Seward and Homer. Some of the things are really cheesy. For instance, we can take a dog sled tour. In the middle of summer. On a sled with wheels. Lame. I will wait until winter, thank you very much. Here is a picture of the log cabin, so rustic and right in the middle of downtown!

You can see in the picture the huge boulder on the left side of the door. It is a piece of Alaskan jade that was found in a creek above the Arctic Circle. It weighs 5000 lbs.! The cabin was just a very helpful place to visit for anyone visiting or new to the area.

For lunch we ate hot dogs from this little cart downtown. It was perfect because we were able to sit outside and enjoy the nice weather. Steven ate a reindeer dog, but don't worry it wasn't Rudolph! I just played it safe and stuck with a beef one...

Then we visited the Oomingmak Musk Ox Producer's Co-Op (#5). Some farmers shear the qiviut (the downy soft underwool of the arctic musk ox) from the oxen in the summertime and then spins it into yarn. They send the qiviut into the villages and the artisans there knit things out of it like hats, scarves and headbands. The qiviut is finer than cashmere, 8x warmer than wool, doesn't itch like wool, doesn't shrink, is lightweight and cannot be found anywhere else in the world. We are planning to go back and get hats for winter... I want one with some cute little ear flaps. The building has lots of oxen painted on the outside:

After a quick break for a trip to Best Buy and some basketball-watching, we went to Resolution Park (#10). It is right by the water and the mudflats. We also saw the Port of Anchorage and some of the metal shipping boxes. The statue is of Captain James Cook, who I am sure you are familiar with. He was a great explorer and is celebrated for his mapping and surveying skills.

Here is the view of Cook Inlet and the mountain that is across the water. It is called Mt. Susitna, but everyone calls it the Sleeping Lady. it is now almost 10pm and it is still very light outside. We have been forgetting what time it is and going to sleep later than normal!

It has come to our attention that no one comments about our posts. This is somewhat sad. We might stop writing and updating if y'all don't start leaving us some comments soon. THANKS!!!!