29 June 2008

Gull Rock Hike

Hiking Crew (L-R): Nick, Noah, Jules, Kiki, Amanda

Today, we set off for a 10-mile hiking adventure near Hope, Alaska, an 85-mile drive from Anchorage. Much of the drive paralleled the train route along Turnagain Arm. It's really magnificent to see jagged mountains, shiny mudflats, and churning water in all directions. The mountains have gotten significantly greener since I saw them from the train a few weeks ago. Despite temperatures lingering in the 50's, I suppose I have to admit that "summer" has arrived.

The Gull Rock Trail was supposed to be beautiful and beginner, and I think it (mostly) lived up to its reputation. Some parts of the trail were a bit wet and muddy, others right along the cliff, others densely covered in nettles, and yet others under the canopy of trees. We really appreciated that cover on the way back as rain and wind followed us throughout the entire 5-mile return trip. Even though we didn't see the beluga whales and moose that my hiking book promised, the hike was still well worth our efforts. We saw one bald eagle and had a view of the other side of Turnagain Arm during most of the hike. I hope these photos will begin to give you an idea of the grandeur of Alaska. Click to see the full-sized photo.

21 June 2008

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

Kiki, Erica, and I were supposed to bike to Girdwood (a small town about 40 miles south of Anchorage) this morning. However, the weather had other plans. We started out with good intentions, but had to call it off once the pouring rain held steady. Luckily, the B-n-B in Girdwood let us move our reservations to a weekend in July, so we'll try for the long bike ride and relaxing soak in the hot tub in a few weeks.

As for this weekend, we'll probably do some relaxing, perhaps see a movie, maybe hike Flattop Mountain again, and maybe bike the local coastal trail. One thing is for sure: on the longest day of the year, time is on our side!

Here's Kiki sitting under the awning at Brown Jug (a liquor store) as the rain keeps pouring down:

17 June 2008

Weekend in Seward

This past weekend, Kiki and I enjoyed a weekend in Seward. I took far too many pictures to post on here, so check out the Gallery. I'll try to get more pictures from my other Alaskan adventures up on there, too.

Our trip started with an early morning train ride on Saturday. Despite the fact that neither of us had gotten much sleep the night before, we were both giddy with excitement at the scenery. This is Alaska! The route leaves Anchorage and follows Turnagain Arm and the mudflats. After passing through the small town of Girdwood and a few beautiful meadow sections, the tracks pass two glaciers and some snowy areas of mountain near the pass before wrapping around Kenai Lake and into Seward. It's a 4+ hour train ride, but the trip is well worth it. The cars were all well-kept, and the atmosphere on the train is generally really relaxed. Although there are assigned seats, it's really open seating. Perhaps best of all, there are open air spaces between all of the cars allowing for photos and lots of fresh air. We spent a lot of time taking photos out there on our way to Seward.

Once we arrived in Seward and enjoyed Alaska's best halibut tacos at the Railway Cantina, we made our way to the bed and breakfast: Soo's. Soo keeps a very clean and comfortable home. We don't get a lot of that here in Anchorage, so it was a nice treat.

Before we knew it, we had called a taxi to take us to Iditarod trailhead a few miles out of town. Supposedly, this is Mile 1 of the famous Iditarod race. I'm skeptical because every town seems to make the same claim. Anyway, the whole way there, the crazy driver told us moose and bear horror stories. I believe his parting words were "I hope the people ahead of you on the trail made a good bear meal." Needless to say, we were a bit nervous that our very trendy orange and purple bear bells would not be sufficient to warn bears in the area to get out of the way...especially after we saw fresh bear track after fresh bear track. Just over a mile into our walk, our minds were diverted from bear worries by the realization that we could not cross the river separating us from the rest of the trail. Apparently Alaska suffered severe floods in 2006 which re-routed several rivers...including Salmon Creek. We're adventurous, but we're not stupid. Crossing a cold, rushing, deep, wide river was simply not happening. We found the creek's old path and headed back to the trailhead for our walk back into town. Along the way, we stopped to take a few pictures...and must have been somewhat quiet for a moment...when I looked up and saw a mother moose leading her calf across the river. It was stunning! Despite the camera in my hand, I didn't get a picture. Moose are some fast creatures!

Back at the trailhead, we started the 3+ mile into town. But, before long, a van pulled up and offered us a ride into town. This is a prime example of the native giving tradition. They were driving in the same direction that we were walking and had some extra green tea. Why wouldn't they share with us?

On Sunday, Soo made us a great breakfast before driving us to the kayak shop where we had booked a full day paddling tour of Resurrection Bay. We had a beautiful day with calm waters, some overcast skies, some sun, and plenty of wildlife. Right off the bat, we saw nesting bald eagles and a few harbor porpoises. [I have to finish my waterproof camera before developing the pictures I took on the water.] After about two hours of paddling, we stopped at a pretty impressive waterfall for a short rest and snack. Continuing toward the Pacific, we saw otters and seals. The otters were especially cute sunning themselves on their backs. After a stop for lunch and short hike up to a look out, we paddled far enough to see the bay meet the Pacific and then headed back. With winds pushing us back, our return trip didn't take long at all.

By the time we got back to the shop and picked up our bags, we had just enough time to grab some fish and chips, make our Father's Day calls, and jump on the train. Kiki and I relaxed in the dome car for our return ride. The dome car is basically a double-decker train car with a glass dome over the top level which allows passengers to see out in every direction. It was the perfect way to wrap up a fantastic weekend and prepare ourselves for the week ahead.

Check out Kiki's blog for a great slideshow from the weekend.

08 June 2008

An Unknown Adventure

...was my plan when I woke up this morning. Kiki, Jules, Nick (all people from SU Law), and I intended to meet in the morning, drive north from Anchorage, and follow whatever seemed interesting. Our first success was spotting a large moose munching on grass along the road.

Later, we stopped in the small town of Talkeetna. We ate lunch and discovered a huge, rushing river complete with sand. I'm very confused about finding sand in the Alaskan interior. I know it's the result of the water breaking down the river rocks, but my brain still doesn't seem to comprehend it. So be it. As they say, things are different in Alaska. While this conjures lots of ideas, I think you have to experience a bit of Alaska to truly understand the significance of this phrase.

After filling our bellies (my second amazing halibut burger in a row), we headed for Denali State Park for a hike. When accessing the area around Denali/Mount McKinley, the state park is to the south and national park to the north. Our hike around the Troublesome Creek area proved successful. We all enjoyed being out of doors, surrounded by natural beauty, and getting a bit of exercise. The brush was quite dense, so we were sure to whistle, clap, and generally create enough ruckus to warn the local moose and bears of our presence well in advance of any confrontation. We didn't run across any significant wildlife, but I suppose that's a good thing. When the trail appeared to end (due to a landslide in 2006), we turned back. I was particularly taken with the many young ferns growing up along the trail.

Not far from the trailhead, but on our way back to Anchorage, we stopped at the southern viewpoint for Mount McKinley. It's too bad that today was so overcast because the view must be dynamite on a clear day. I'm sure we'll be back to check it out. I'm pretty sure that we were all smitten with the giant that is North America's highest peak.

It's challenging to transition into the work/school week after being in the Alaskan wilderness, but I must admit feeling quite refreshed. Speaking of work and school, both are off to a great start. This is my first summer school experience, so I'm relying heavily on the interesting subject matter (Alaskan natives and environmental law) to pull me through. My job is already quite rewarding. I had my first client meeting last week, and I'll be writing the final draft of my response to discovery this week. I actually enjoy breaking my day into 6 minute increments. Do you believe it?

07 June 2008

A Beaver Encounter

The Beaver Family's Home Sweet Home

In the week before all the rest of us arrived, Kiki discovered the local beaver. He is known in Anchorage for attacking dogs in the off-leash area that surrounds his home at Behm Lake. Tonight, I finally decided to join her on a walk near the lake to catch a glimpse of him for myself.

Although we're both covered in mosquito bites, we had great success. After several minutes of pacing near the beaver's home, an adult came out. We watched him/her gnaw on some wood and swim around for a bit before a baby beaver joined him/her. Because it was getting dark, my pictures and videos are not ideal, but you'll get the point. Be sure to turn up your volume to hear the chomping...and be prepared to ignore the noise pollution.

Alaskan "Nights"

The summer solstice is slowly approaching, so the days in Anchorage are getting longer by about 2-3 minutes per day. Officially, there are 18 or 19 hours of daylight. These are a few "night" shots I've taken so far.

First, this is Sleeping Lady (the mountain) and some mudflats from the Snow Goose Brewery downtown on Wednesday night at 10pm:

Next, this is Behm/University Lake (walking distance from our dorms) tonight around 11pm:

Finally, this is the same lake at about 12midnight tonight:

01 June 2008

Flattop Mountain

Meet a very wind-blown Kiki. She's a friend from law school who is doing the same summer program and living in the same dorm/apartment. You'll be hearing lots about our adventures over the next two months.

Today, on a bit of a whim, we decided to hike Flattop Mountain. Why this trail? There's a shuttle (we're without wheels), and it's supposed to be the beginner hike near Anchorage. It turned out to be a little more difficult than a "beginner" trail...and a lot windier than expected. As a result, we didn't summit...but came darn close.

This is the view out over Cook Inlet, downtown Anchorage, and the surrounds from about 2/3 of the way up the trail.

This is the point on the trail where I could hear my mother's voice telling me to "use your head." As you can see, Kiki and our new friends from Jersey were carefully placing each foot in the snow. One mistake, and... I'm not sure I was "using my head" when I decided to track across this, but we made it!

We're looking forward to hiking the whole trail again in the future. There's a big party on this mountain for the summer solstice. What could be better than a bunch of hikers watching the sun not set? If the weather isn't clear for that hike, we'll have to do it a third time because, on a clear day, the view is supposed to stretch as far north as Mount McKinley. That I have to see!