The Day Facebook Saved Our Lives

I try pretty hard to keep my posts in order, even if it means getting behind by weeks (sometimes months) where we actually are in real life. But, something happened recently that  I think is too important to wait.

We’ve been meandering our way back to Florida. My last post was about Yellowstone NP and since then, we’ve visited Grand Teton NP, Capitol Reef NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Grand Staircase NM, Carlsbad Cavern NP and finally Guadalupe Mountains NP. This found us once again in Texas. Our plan was to catch up with some friends from our job last summer then head to NOLA to check out the WWII Museum before making our way to Crystal River, FL to visit with Daddy. We were unemployed at the moment, so taking our time was fine.

Just outside of Odessa, TX our plan, and Waldo, came to a screeching halt. We were broken down. Naturally, this happened on a Friday afternoon. With the weekend looming, no one had any interest in getting us on our way. One company Steve called said sure, they’d come look at Waldo, but “Be prepared to pay ALL the money.” Gee thanks, but no thanks.

What do you do when you are broken down in a strange place and no one seems to care? You reach out to whoever you can think of, anyone you think *might* know someone in the area. Last year, when we were working at Wind Point Park, we met Ben Miller, the promoter of Turkey Drag. I was hoping with all of his car club connections he might know someone who could help. I reached out to him via Facebook and then something incredible happened. Ben posted a “looking for recommendations” on our behalf on his page and within minutes, people started leaving suggestions, tagging friends and offering help. Someone sent Ben a screenshot of a contact on their phone. It was Jake from DropTine Auto in Midland, Texas.

Steve called Jake and explained our situation. Despite the fact DropTine is a very busy shop, Jake said we could bring Waldo there. When Steve explained he was a mechanic and could do some of the work himself, Jake said – “Great.”  To make a long story short, not only did Jake allow Steve to do 99% of the work himself, but he let us stay in Waldo in the yard. It turns out the problem was related to what caused us to break down in Alaska, only this time, there wasn’t a “band-aid” fix. The gear which runs the hydraulic pump is located on the mainshaft of the compressor and it was toast! Steve called Caterpillar and they said sure, they could get a new one for $2200 in about 6 weeks. I just cried. “6 weeks, stuck in Midland? $2200 we can’t afford that!” Jake called the manufacturer of the compressor to see if there was a replacement available. The unit had been discontinued. WHAT? But, they offered to rebuild ours for $250 plus shipping.  All we had to do was get it to them in North Carolina.

In the meantime, I had been looking for winter work. I found a seasonal job in Fort Lauderdale selling Christmas trees. Would Waldo be repaired in time for us to get there? We had already been broken down for 15 days, now we had to ship the compressor to NC and hope for the best.

DropTine is a busy shop with several great employees, but Jake allowed Steve to help out in the shop when he wasn’t working on Waldo. That was awesome! It gave Steve something to do and helped make us feel like we weren’t just taking up space in his yard.

The rebuilt compressor showed back up on Monday the 5th…

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with its shiny new gear. Isn’t that sexy?! It took until Tuesday afternoon to get everything back together. When the work was complete and we were ready to hit the road, we asked Jake for our bill. He said we didn’t owe him anything. He took into account the work Steve had done around the shop and called it even. I was floored. He also said if the shop was still busy in the spring, Steve could come back and work for him for a month or so before our next workamping job. It makes my heart happy to know there are still people in this world like him.

Happiness through the windshield…

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We have since arrived at Daddy’s house and are leaving on the 14th to head to Fort Lauderdale. I’ll keep you posted on how selling Christmas trees goes and promise to eventually go back and write about the places we’ve been.

A heartfelt thank you to Ben, his friends and all the guys at DropTine Auto!

Wild About Wyoming – Yellowstone NP

I don’t even know where to begin. We have never been to a National Park with as much diversity as Yellowstone. To quote for the National Park Service website

Marvel. Explore. Discover.

Visit Yellowstone and experience the world’s first national park. Marvel at a volcano’s hidden power rising up in colorful hot springs, mudpots, and geysers. Explore mountains, forests, and lakes to watch wildlife and witness the drama of the natural world unfold. Discover the history that led to the conservation of our national treasures “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Yellowstone has been a national park for 146 years. Founded in 1872, it truly has something for everyone. We spent 3 days exploring and we could have spent 30. I doubt a lifetime would be long enough to see and experience everything. One of the things I loved about it was how much of it is accessible by vehicle…

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There are 5 entrances into the park and the main road is laid out in sort of a figure 8. We were staying at Henrys Lake State Park in Idaho (a place I sincerely recommend), so we always came into the park through West Yellowstone.  Visiting in late September was perfect, a light jacket was all we needed and the throngs of tourists who flock there in the summer had mostly vanished.

Within minutes of entering the park, we saw out first wildlife…

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The west entrance follows the Madison River and pullouts on the road allowed for photography without obstructing traffic…

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We drove along Firehole Canyon Drive to enjoy the first of several waterfalls…

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We spent the rest of the day checking out many of the geothermal spots. Between geysers, bacterial mats and boiling mud I was pretty much left speechless…

When we made it to Yellowstone Lake, we walked along the boardwalk. We were nearly done the loop when we came across a small herd of female elk and their young ones…

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Unfortunately,  there is an idiot in every crowd and a 20-something stepped off the boardwalk (for a better picture naturally) and spooked the herd. They moved down into the hot springs area and stayed there…

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On the way out of the park that evening, we were lucky enough to see a pair of bull elk not far from the road. We were the first to pull over and get a few shots. What I hadn’t immediately seen was the Great Grey Owl in the tree above them…

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It didn’t take long for the roadside to be crowded with cars, so we moved on before someone caused an accident.

The next day, we drove north after we entered the park, heading to the Mammoth Hot Springs area. When we passed Thundering Mountain, I had to stop and get a shot. Yes, I know you aren’t supposed to take pictures looking into the sun, but it was nearly blocked out by the steam. And, yes, that is a layer of frost on the ground…

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Just down the road, the scenery was such a contrast to the steaming mountain…

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We finally made it to the Mammoth Hot Springs and took some time to explore.  I was intrigued by the dew…

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Millions of tiny droplets covered the plants. And I caught a chipmunk having a mid-morning snack…

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But the colorful formations are what took the cake…

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Our final destination for day 2 was South Rim Drive. This lead us to the “grand canyon” of Yellowstone, complete with an amazing waterfall…

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Knowing it would be our last day in the park, we set off early to try and catch more of the wildlife. Of course I couldn’t pass up another waterfall…

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Just as we were passing by, these 2 buffalo decided to but heads…

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After watching them for a while, we headed towards Lamar Valley. From everything we had read, this was the best place for wildlife viewing. Also it was noted for being a well traveled wolf route. It wasn’t hard to know were the wolves were expected…

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Unfortunately, we arrived about 20 minutes after the wolves. They had already laid down for the day and wouldn’t become active again until late in the afternoon. It was interesting to note most of the tripods held spotting scopes, not cameras.

We spent most of the rest of the day just watching the buffalo and enjoying the scenery…

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We couldn’t leave Yellowstone without watching Old Faithful erupt. We got there early, found a seat and waited. It didn’t take long for the crowds to arrive…

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Old Faithful was as punctual as predicted and we watched her amazing 4 minute spectacle with awe…

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Steve and I  often talk about which of the national parks we have visited is our favorite. We almost always agree, you can’t possibly pick one over the other because they are all unique. Each one offers something special. But, I think Yellowstone’s diversity makes it my top pick!

I’d like to thank Laura over at Chapter 3 Travels. She and her husband, Kevin, visited Yellowstone a few months ago and wrote a fantastic piece about it. They stayed at Henrys Lake SP, which is how I found out about it.

Next up…Grand Teton National Park

Do you have a favorite national park? I’d love to hear about it…

(Wild) Life on the Road

After spending 4 1/2 months in Alaska, it was time to return to the lower 48. I spent weeks reviewing our route. We had already driven the Alcan, so I wanted to travel other roads. It was a horrible year for wildfires in British Columbia, so I changed our route several times. BC has a great website I used to make sure the roads I wanted to take were open. Eventually, I settled for returning on the Alcan. It just seemed safest.

We had seen some pretty cool wildlife while we were in Alaska, but we always want to see more. Not long after we crossed into the Yukon, we got our first chance…

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These wild horses were contently munching on the grasses along the highway. I felt pretty lucky to see them, apparently there have been efforts over the years to capture the remaining wild horses. I don’t know how many are left, but it can’t be many.

When we crossed into BC, the first thing we saw was a highway sign warning us of bison in the road near Muncho Lake. Herds of wood bison move pretty quickly and we spotted them long before the lake. At first we saw lone males hanging out by the road…

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Or in the road…

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It’s always a good thing to remember, these are wild animals and to always keep your distance.  Steve did that by taking his pictures out the window…

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A short while later, we came across a herd of wood bison. We stopped and watched as a calf nursed…

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After a while, we had so many pictures of bison, we didn’t pull over to watch the next few herds we saw.

What there weren’t any warning signs for was the herds of mountain goats. Early one morning, as we were driving along, we had to stop because they just wouldn’t get out of the road…

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I took this picture looking through the windshield…

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Mooned by a mountain goat! Finally, they moved off the road. One stopped to look back at us as if to say, “NOW you may go”…

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I liked seeing them on the upper slopes better than in the road…

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We had seen a couple bears along the way, but they were always heading into the woods. By the time I got the camera, they were gone. Until this guy came along…

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We saw more wild animals in 4 days in Canada than we did in 4 1/2 months in Alaska. And that’s the wild side of being on the road!

Up next, the wonders of Yellowstone.

Have you ever had to stop because an animal wouldn’t get off the road?

The Denali Hwy and an Abandon Igloo

When driving the 135 mile Denali Highway, you should not take the word highway literally.  Only 24 miles are paved and the rest is a “2 lane” gravel road. That being said – DRIVE IT! Many rental companies don’t allow you to drive the Denali highway, but some do. If yours doesn’t, there are several companies that rent Jeeps so you can get the full affect. Luckily, we have a Jeep so none of that was a concern to us. We started in Cantwell. I hadn’t really planned on driving the entire 135 miles to Paxson, but with such scenery, who could resist. There are some interesting fact about the highway here.

Almost as soon as the road turned to gravel, we came across an open field and we were treated to a view of Mt Denali in the distance…

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The scenery only got better with every mile…Denali Hwy-9471

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Breathtaking!

Most of the beautiful reds were courtesy of blueberry and cranberry bushes taking on their fall hues…

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They were SO tasty!
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Ready for picking!

It took us nearly 6 hours to drive 135 mile because I had to stop so often. I think my favorite view was the cabin on the hill…

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Doesn’t it just scream Alaska?

But the rivers and lakes come in a close second…

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Hard to contain my excitement!

What a road…

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The only bad thing was now, we had to drive back to Healy. We decided not to go back via the Denali Highway, but to go through Fairbanks instead. On the way, we saw glaciers and parts of the Alaska Pipeline…

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I was surprised how accessible the pipeline was.

Steve had planned a surprise for me on our last day in Healy. As always, he had checked Atlas Obscura when we arrived. He found the perfect place for me to get my abandon building fix, Igloo City. You know that little voice you have that says, “Don’t go in there, it isn’t safe”? Ya, I don’t have one…

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It’s only 4 stories tall, what bad could happen with no safety rails?

Apparently, Steve’s little voice was missing too…

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What a view this room would have had

 

 

Hey, look, I can see the Jeep from here…

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I was surprised how little trash and graffiti there was since it was so easy to get inside. Perhaps its remote location, half way between Anchorage and Fairbanks, keeps it off the radar for the local teenagers. But, you will always have some “art”…

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The other buildings were interesting as well…

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On the way back to Waldo, we had our final magnificant views of Mt Denali. Of course, I couldn’t resist a couple more shots…

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And so ends our Alaska adventure. It’s been great having you along to enjoy it with us. Up next, wildlife in the Yukon and British Columbia.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

Joining the 30% Club

We feel downright privileged to have been inducted into the 30% club! When we first arrived in Alaska, we had no idea such a club existed. The chalets where we worked were usually the final destination for our guests. They had already explored Fairbanks, Denali National Park and Anchorage. The Kenai Peninsula was the end of their adventures. Time after time, we heard stories of visiting Denali NP only to be terribly disappointed they didn’t get to see Mt. Denali. I mean, after all, it IS the tallest mountain on the continent – how can you not see it?!?!?

Mt Denali is 20,310 feet tall, that’s about 3 1/2 miles. Its 2 peaks are over 2 1/2 miles apart. It’s hard to imagine you couldn’t see it! But the fact is, given its location and size, it creates its own weather.

“Denali is so massive that it generates its own weather; much the way a huge boulder submerged in a river creates whitewater rapids. All mountains deflect air masses and influence local conditions, but Denali rises so abruptly and so high that this effect is more dramatic here than perhaps anywhere else on Earth. Storms barrel in from the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea and collide with Denali’s towering mass. Weather can quickly change from sunny and clear to blizzard conditions with fierce winds, intense cold, and heavy snowfall.”

                                                         From The Alaska Range and Denali: Geology and Orogeny

This pattern of weather convergences means it can be sunny and 70˚ in town and Mt Denali could be obscured by fog and clouds. It’s estimated only 30% of visitors actually get to see Mt. Denali. We were in that 30% – FOR 3 DAYS IN A ROW!!!!   Denali means “the high one” in Koyukon, a subset of the Athabaskan language family, sometimes thought to mean “the great one.” Every time we got to see Mt Denali, I was in awe.

The park has an incredible history and many of the stories can be found here.

The First 15 Miles

a map showing the predominately east-west road through denali national park

Private vehicles can only be driven on the first 15 miles of the 92 mile park road. To go beyond Savage River, you must take the park shuttle or hike. We spent our first day driving those 15 miles and seeing all we could see…

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The view on the left side of the road
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Compared to the view on the right side of the road

It was strange how the left side of the park was in bathed in dappled sun while the right side was shrouded in clouds. There would be no view of Denali today, but, we did get to see some informative signage…

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And when we made it to Savage River, we were treated with a surprise…

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A rainbow over Savage River

We weren’t worried we didn’t see any wildlife on the first day. Guided by the weather forecast, the next day we planned a trip on the shuttle to the Eielson Visitor’s Center – Park Road Mile 66.

The First 66 Miles

We opted for the transit bus, as opposed to the narrated tour bus. The up side of the transit bus is you can disembark, hike, then grab another bus, while you have to remain on the tour bus. We promptly departed at 7:30am, along with 58 of our newest friends. Our shuttle driver Annie filled us in on what to expect, she said we’d stop for all wildlife sightings and several scenic overlooks, in addition to potty breaks for the 8 hour ride.

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Our first view of Mt Denali was over the mist settled in the valley. But, we had seen it! Already a member! As the morning worn on, we stopped for several wildlife encounters…

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Meet Mr Caribou
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Those 2 black dots at 2 o’clock and 8 o’clock are grizzly bears

It was a bit frustrating for me, jostling for a view out the window, but we made it work.

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Those white dots in the center are Dahl Sheep

Are you noticing a pattern? Lots of dots. The colors on the mountains reminded me of Death Valley, except this color came from brightly colored fall foliage instead of minerals…

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The park road winds past colorful mountains

A good part of our day was spent taking pictures like this…

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At mile 46, we stopped to check out Polychrome Overlook. The myriad of colors were astounding…

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Lots of buses filled with tourists

We also stopped along the route for the iconic picture of the park road with Mt Denali in the background. Yes, everyone else has taken this picture, but I couldn’t resist…

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We did get a closer view of some grizzly bears, but unfortunately, the sun was shining toward us and the bears ended up with a halo…

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We also saw a couple moose in the distance…

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And lots more “dots” on the mountains…

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I loved watching this group of caribou. With winter around the corner, they are beginning to shed the velvet covering their antlers. It’s  not a good picture, but the antlers were almost orange…

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The views, despite being out the window, were breathtaking…

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When we arrived at the Eielson Vistor’s Center, Mt Denali provided an amazing backdrop…

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We decided to stay at the vistor’s center and catch a later shuttle. We were treated with a couple minutes of solitude before the next bus arrived. While we were basking in the splendor of Mt Denali, some of the wildlife posed for a closeup…

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An Arctic Squirrel
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Munching away on an apple peel someone had carelessly or purposely dropped

The park rangers go to great length to educate the public about the dangers of feeding ANY of the animals. Annie had reminded us time and again, it was best to eat on the bus so as not to leave so much as a crumb for the critters. But, you know people, some of them just can’t help themselves.

We walked along the trail and looked back at the visitor center…

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And ahead to the 33 more miles to the base of Mt Denali…

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Hard to imagine, Mt Denali is still 33 miles away!

One of the interesting things about Denali NP is the fact it is a “trail-less” park, with a few exceptions near the entrance. People are encouraged to find their own path. Go out and walk on the tundra. Feel the springiness of it under you feet. Enjoy it in your own responsible way.

It was time to head back. We had seen everything we had hoped to except the wolves. Pretty darn good day!

Up next…Cruising the Denali Highway and Abandon Igloos

Are you a member of the 30% club? Did you even know there is such a thing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

No, We Didn’t Win the Lottery

After reading about all of the adventures we’ve had this summer, you must be thinking we hit the lottery. I mean, really, who could afford to do all of those things?

Links go to the blog post I wrote about the adventure.

Two glacier cruises…

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Our cruise with Kenai Fjords Tours
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Our cruise with Major Marine

Two Helicopter tours…

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Marathon Helicopter tour
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Seward Helicopter Tours

Dog sledding…

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Turning Heads Kennel

Rafting…

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Rafting with Alaska River Adventures

Took the tram…

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Riding the Tram

Visited the wildlife center

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Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

And did sight seeing on our own…

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11 1/2 week old eagle in Homer

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One thing I haven’t written much about is the fact we are working. For May, June and most of July, we worked full time, 40 hours a week. We are the “On Site Hosts” at the Spruce Moose Chalets in Moose Pass. What does an on site host do, you ask? Well, lots of things. But one of the major things we do is be an ambassador for the area. Chalet guests come from all over the world and want to have the best experiences possible. But how can we recommend an excursion if we haven’t tried it ourselves? Would you recommend a restaurant you’ve never eaten at? No! So what I did was contact all of these businesses and explained to them we would be here for the summer and wanted to be able to tell our guests about our adventures. I asked if they would be willing to give us a discount in exchange for our testimony. Simple as that! Nearly every place I contacted offered us a deal and discounts varied from place to place.  We never would have been able to afford to do all these things if I hadn’t been able to leverage our position as the on site host.

I still have one more post to write (maybe two) about our time but I am pretty much caught up. Finally!

Our job contract here is almost up. We will be leaving Moose Pass on Sept. 4th, but our adventures are far from over! We are heading up to Denali for a week (where we have an interview for a job next summer), then we will be heading down to Haines for 4 days. I have mapped out a pretty ambitious trip back to Florida, 4 National Parks and lots of cool sights along the way. I hope you continue to follow our adventures!

We’d love to hear your comments!

Drifting into Happiness

Despite the fact the weather hasn’t been all that great this summer, we’ve been very lucky to have mostly warm sunny days when we’ve scheduled an excursion. Our rafting trip through the Upper Kenai River was no exception. Our trip began at the office of Alaska River Adventures in Cooper Landing, where we donned rain pants, rubber boots and a life vest. (The rain pants were for “just in case” we get splashed by the rapids) We walked down to the launch area and were given a quick but thorough safety speech. Our guide, Austin, promised us he hadn’t had anyone fall overboard, at least not accidentally. This was good news to me!

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Our float would take us nearly 7 hours covering the entire Upper Kenai River. This portion of the river is closed to all motorized craft. Drifting (and paddling) is the name of the game. A family at the launch waved as we headed off…

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There were only 2 other couples on our trip, both on their honeymoon. That made Steve and I “the old married couple.” Austin pointed out landmarks and mountains of interest as he seemingly effortlessly paddled our way. The flow of the river is very calm here and he mostly just used the paddle for steering…

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As we rounded a bend in the river, Austin gave a shout, “There’s a bear!” Of course we all turned trying to get the best view…

 

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He told us another rafting company had put it there to fulfill the promise of seeing a bear in the wild. We all had a good laugh, but I was hoping for one just a little livelier. This time of year, the river is full of fisherman, hoping to land the big one…

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The current began to pick up a bit as we neared the confluence of the Russian River and the Kenai River…

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The Russian River Ferry brings fisherman to the far bank. This is an extremely popular fishing spot and where you can witness combat fishing. I, for one, was happy there weren’t too many anglers out on this day. It would be neat to see fisherman shoulder to shoulder on the river, but I imagine tempers can flare…

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If you’ve never heard of combat fishing, you should Google it! It’s nuts! Anyhow, back to our adventure. We lucked out and got to see several eagles as we drifted…

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We were coming up on the only Class III rapids on our trip and I decided to video going through the Kenai River Canyon…

Austin noticed a couple up on the bluff, they were pointing and looking at something across the river. And guess what – finally – a bear…

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See the couple on the bluff

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We were getting closer and closer to Skilak Lake, which would mark the end of our float. Austin knew of a small side channel where he frequently sees moose. Since we had plenty of time, we left the main part of the river and found ourselves in the most beautiful, peaceful area I’ve been in for ages…

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The detour was a wonderful addition to an already exciting day. When we finally got to Skilak Lake, Austin broke out the makings for our lunch…

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After we had eaten, Austin packed up everything and prepared to lead us on a mile and a half hike to where the van was waiting…

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It was a beautiful hike to the van. I’m hoping Steve and I can go back and hike the trail again.

You won’t believe it, but I am almost caught up! It’s a good thing too because we only have another 3 weeks in Moose Pass before we head to Denali!

Thanks for coming along with us on our adventures.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!