Friday, January 7, 2011

Family Christmas 2010

A Merry California Christmas to us!

Frances and the Tower of Lights from Germany.

Grampa David celebrated his 74th birthday on Christmas Eve.
(Here with Nola (15) Frances (4) and Margo (12). )

Cathy cooked up a storm and fed us well.

Bronwyn took over the Christmas turkey ...

and Douglas made a special German stuffing.
Toasting good times and good food!
( Jennifer, Tom, Douglas and Cathy)

Frances created a special Christmas tree for our RV.

Nola, Margo and Frances helped Santa wrap the presents.

David and his girls arrived late Christmas Eve. 
Nola and Rachel were happy to see each other.

Caellagh recruited Margo and Rachel to help cook our Christmas morning breakfast.

Nola and Maureen hang out.

Maureen and Frances shared their new toys...

and a hot bath at the end of the day.

Jennifer and Douglas.

Cathy and Tom.

Bronwyn and David.

Jennifer and her baby boy bump.

David, checking out Douglas' I-pad.
He has it on his Santa's list for next year.

Frances, playing with the 20 cent parachute man she got in her stocking!

Margo in her cosy flannel 'jamis.... it did feel like an extended PJ party.

Rachel knits mittens, so Caellagh asked for one and got it....ONE !

Maureen and her Daddy.

Bronwyn and Frances do a double downward-facing-dog.

Tom and Peanut catch some zzzzzzz's.

"The Cousins Production Company" gave us a show.

Noni and her wonderful granddaughters at the end of a great celebration.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Well Made Plans of Mice and Men ... Part Two

I found an "old" friend in Barkerville.

Billy Barker's discovery of gold on Williams Creek in 1862 triggered a stampede of thousands of miners to the area over the next eight years.  Many travelled by way of the Cariboo Wagon Trail which was the route we drove up when we first started our Alaskan Adventure in May. 

Barkersville was a typical gold rush boomtown.  Now it is a unique heritage site, and well worth the visit.  There are over 125 heritage buildings and museums, and lots to do, including live stage shows, mining demonstrations, gold-panning, stagecoach rides, and historic tours of Chinatown.   

Main Street in Barkerville.

David, visiting one of the many buildings in Chinatown.

From Barkerville we drove over to Bowron Lake Provincial Park.  After days of driving we were looking forward to spending three quiet days kayaking on the lake.
We found a campsite and then walked around to get familiar with the park.  David was feeling strong and healthy so he celebrated by doing 50 jumping jacks!

Our campsite at the Bowdon Lake Provencial Park.

Bowdon Lake beckoned to us.

The next morning we walked up to the Ranger Station to register since we planned to be out on the water for three days. 

However, that was not to be... thwarted again. 

David had been taking a powerful anticoagulant (Plavix) since his "cardiac event" and apparently the jumping jacks had caused internal bleeding. With a history of bladder stones and kidney stones, we could not ignore the blood in his urine.  So we packed up and drove to the closest hospital, which was in Quenel. David spent the night in the ER hoping that the bleeding would stop.  Fourteen hours later we were on our way to see the closest urologist.  We spent two more days at the Regional Hospial in Prince George. We were well taken care of by the Canadian health care system.

We had been thinking about extending our trip to include Jasper National Park in Alberta, meet up with our friends at the Lazy Daze Rally in Idaho and end up at the 100th Anniversay of the Pendelton Round-up in Oregon.  However, our focus had switched and we were eager to get home.

Upon discharge we high-tailed it to the border.

When we first started out on our Alaskan Adventure we saw young shoots of fireweed along the roadsides and in camping areas.  As the summer went by, the fireweed came to full bloom.  Now the flowers were spent, and the tall stems were topped with fluff and seeds which were carried off by the autumn breezes.

It felt like it was our time say goodbye to the summer too. 

Fireweed, at the end of the season.

When we returned to Eugene we checked in with David's doctors and then settled in at the RV parking lot at RiverBend Hospital. He enrolled in the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program for six weeks and graduated with flying colors.  

The main section of RiverBend Hospital.

There's our rig, next door to the hospital.

Behind the RV parking spaces there is a lovely path leading through a stand of old growth trees, to the edge of the McKenzie River. We walked it nearly every day and soaked in the energy of Nature.

This turned out to be a healing time for both of us. 
A time for rest and reflection. 
A time for renewal before our next RV adventure.

The path ... inviting us to keep moving.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Well Made Plans of Mice and Men... Part One

Saying goodbye to the Alaskan flag.

We arrived in Tok in anticipation of picking up our mail.  Our dear friend, Margo, has forwarded our mail to us all along our travels and we have never had any problems.  It had been well over a month since our last mail pickup so we were eager to get our news.  We were also anticipating a pile of bills and insurance reports from David's hospitalizations in Wasilla and Anchorage. Well, our mail was not there. We considered having it forwarded to a location in British Columbia but the postal clerk warned us that that could take weeks, and suggested we keep the packet within the boundaries of the United States of America. So we arranged to have it forwarded to Sumas, WA, and figured we'd pick it up when we crossed the border on our way home.

We were also anticipating a side trip up to the colorful towns of Chicken and Eagle and then driving The Top of the World Highway into Dawson City in the Yukon Territory. However, the endless rains had caused hugh landslides which washed away part of the road out of Chicken.  Nobody could predict when the road would be repaired and rumors had it that it would remain closed for the rest of the season. 

We put the disappointments behind us as we headed for British Columbia.  We had wonderful memories of the Cassiar Highway and were ready to kayak again at Boya Lake. You can imagine our shock when we learned that the Cassiar Highway had been closed off  because of forest fires! 

Luckily the road opened again day we arrived at the junction with Highway 37. The smell of smoke was in the air as we drove down the Cassiar.  We passed smoldering trees and some small areas that were still in flames. We were happy to land safely at our old site on Boya Lake, and that evening we were blessed by a beautiful rainbow.  

Our lucky rainbow over Boya Lake.

Having had our earlier plans thwarted, we decided to drive to Stewart/Hyder. These two little communities are right on the border of British Columbia and Alaska, at the head of Portland Canal. The attractions here include the Bear Glacier that can be seen from the highway, and the famous Fish Creek bear viewing area.

Main Street of Stewart, British Columbia.

We stayed at Bear River RV Park, just outside of Stewart, and drove up to Fish Creek the next day.  After all the stories of the fantastic bear viewing, we were a bit disappointed when we learned that only one or two bears were still being seen, and they were usually only seen in the early morning or at dusk! We hung around all day and then when it was too dark to take a photograph, a grizzly finally came down the middle of the creek swatting at the water and eating fish as he went. 
The show did not last too long, but was thrilling because it was "real".

David at the boardwalk viewing area at Fish Creek.

We were able to watch the salmon spawning in the shallow water.

Driving back along the spur road we got a wonderful view of Bear Glacier. After all the glaciers we had seen, I still got excited about being so close to one.

Me and Bear Glacier (along Highway 37A)

Next stop... Bowdon Lakes. We planned to take some extra time to visit Barkersville, and then kayak a portion of the famous Bowdon Lake Canoe Trail.
Little did we know that these plans too, would be thwarted! 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Fairbanks to Tok ... completing our circuit tour of Alaska

The Tanana River Valley south of Fairbanks.

We took the Alaska Highway, Route 2, out of Fairbanks.  The first town we drove through was North Pole. This is a theme city: "Where the spirit of Christmas lives year round."  The street light poles are painted to look like candy canes and many of the streets are appropriately named.... St. Nichols Drive, Santa Claus Lane, and Mistletoe Drive. Many children's letters addressed to Santa Claus, North Pole, end up here. There were Santas at every other shop, but we managed to get through town without getting caught in the glitter of the Christmasy tourist traps. 

The highway follows the Tanana River most of the way.  We stopped at one roadside display that said, "Gold deposits found in 1902 north of the present day Fairbanks proved to be the richest in Alaska..... A second strike in the following summer catapulted a temporary trading post (Fairbanks) into the largest city in the territory."

A braided section of the Tanana River, with the Alaska Range in the background.

As we followed the route in The Milepost, time and again there was a red caution notation... "Watch for moose".  And sure enough, we spotted a moose beside the highway who fled into the woods just as we approached! 

We finally saw a moose when we were not looking for one!

We stopped at Dot Lake which was once an Athabascan hunting camp and a spot on the Indian freight trail to the Yukon River. The area was homesteaded in the 1940's and was a work camp called Sears City during construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942-1943. Dot Lake Lakeside Community Chapel was built in 1949 and is a wonderful example of an old-time Alaskan church.  It is still being used by the local population of 33 people.   

Dot Lake Lakeside Community Chapel, built in 1949.

A view of Dot Lake from the chapel.

We made a point to stop at Dot Lake because David's favorite aunt is named Dot. We picked up a brochure in the chapel, and decided to send it to Dot with a note.  We knew she would get a kick out of this, and it was fun to mail it from the local post office so it would be postmarked Dot Lake.
(The post office is housed in the former Dot Lake Lodge, which is now a private home)

David, mailing the note to his Aunt Dot, in Maine.

Of course this little side trip brought back sweet memories of our trips to Maine and our visits with Aunt Dot.  Every time we go there she spoils us. She stocks up on all David's favorite foods, including Moxie sodas, haddock stew and LOBSTERS!

That's Aunt Dot in the middle...  with me and Uncle John and all the "lobstahs".

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fairbanks ... a pioneer city

Riverboat Discovery Cruise on the Chena River

Fairbanks was a very pleasant surprise.  It is Alaska's second largest city, but has a population of only 33,000 people! The surrounding area has another 50,000+  people, however, which includes many Indigenous people and makes for a wonderful mix. 

Other RV travellers had recommended that we take the Chena River trip on the stern wheeler, and it proved to be the perfect way to begin our visit.

Sled dogs at the kennel of Susan Butcher,
four-time winner of the 1,100 mile Iditarod Race.

From the ship we were given a demonstration of a bush pilot taking off and landing on the river. Then we stopped opposite the Johnson River Kennels and "chatted" with the staff over a mic system.  We got to meet the puppies and watch a demonstration run by the dogs.

After that, we stopped and toured a typical old Chena Indian village. Our tour guide was a young Athabaskan woman named Jobeth.  She was brought up with what she calls "the old ways", but is now attending the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and majoring in ecology.

Me with Jobeth at the Indian Village.

We walked from one area of the village to another learning about the life of the Athabaskans of interior Alaska. It was interesting to learn that different  furs are used for different purposes.  Thick moose hides make good blankets, and since the guard hairs on the outer caribou hides are hollow, their hides insulate the best and are often used for parkas.  If I remember correctly, the "sun ray" around Jobeth's face is made of ermine fur which will not freeze and keeps the face protected.
The parka that Jobeth modeled costs a cool $20,000 ! 

We also found the fish camp interesting.  There was a fish wheel there, and a drying rack and smoke house for salmon. It was explained that a dog eats one salmon a day during the winter, so it is no wonder that the local people take advantage of their fishing rights.

A fish wheel for catching salmon.

Salmon on drying racks.

Salmon in the smoke house.

For us, the other highlight in Fairbanks is the University of Alaska Museum of the North.  The beautiful building dominated the campus.  It was designed by a woman who wanted to capture the grandeur of the glaciers. Inside the building the sweep of the walls, the design of the staircases and all the interesting angles and corners integrated the structure of the building with the displays.

University of Alaska's Museum of the North.

I spent six delightful hours taking in the displays. I rented an audio guide so that I could hear wildlife calls, Alaska Native languages and details about the individual works that especially caught my eye.  There was a wonderful variety... everything from classic Alaskan paintings, Eskimo clothing and ivory carvings, to a mummified prehistoric bison, and videos on the Bering Land Bridge, umiaks and whale hunting and the salmon life cycle.

Upstairs there is a small room called "The Place Where You Go To Listen".  A single wide bench sits in the middle of the room and there are 16 speakers in the walls and in the ceiling. You are invited just to sit and listen.  This is a unique sound-light environment created by composer John Luther Adams. "This ever-changing musical ecosystem gives voice to the rhythm of daylight and darkness, the phases of the moon, the seismic vibrations of the earth and the dance of the aurora borealis, in real time."  He has somehow tapped into the sounds of the earth. What you hear is an ever-changing composition of the wind and the warmth of the sun and the groans of the earth.  The colors on the walls change with the time of day.  It was mostly yellow when I was first there, and then later in the afternoon a rich blue was creeping up from the floor.  At times the sounds were light and musical and at times they were so deep they seemed to be coming from the belly of the earth. I enjoyed sitting there silently by myself.  When I reluctantly left the room I wished that all the women in my Womens' Group could join me there, and be touched as I had been, by this connection to the sounds of the earth.   

One of my favorite pieces ... caribou antlers and shadows.

The longer we stayed in Fairbanks, the more we liked it.  Our campground , The Chena River State Park, was right at the edge of town and on the city bus line. One day we took the bus to the fairgrounds to attend the Tanana Valley State Fair. There were the usual rides and games, and the unusual  ..... salmon crepes, fried halibut fish 'n chips, the Tundra cartoonist Chad Carpenter, and an agricultural display that would make your eyes pop. 

The Tanana Valley State Fair.

Carpenter.... an actual living cartoonist!

The Blue Ribbon cabbage at the fair!

For us the whole town of Fairbanks was like a fair.  We had such fun seeing the sights and talking to the people. It is a city by size but it feels like the Alaskan bush country.  We learned that about half the homes do not have running water or indoor plumbing.  We learned that many people depend on sled dogs or snow machines to get around in the winter. We learned that many of the people depend on subsistence rights and live off the land for most of their food.  And yet.... they have created a lifestyle they would never trade.  One woman told me that the minus 40 degree temperatures don't bother her. She even likes going out to her outhouse at night in the middle of the winter because it is sited so she can sit and admire the Aurora Borealis! 

Ahhh, simple pleasures that brighten life ..... like giant sunflowers!