Wednesday, June 30, 2010


<-- Flowers on a trail along the Seward Highway.

Arrived in Seward on the Kenai Peninsula Sunday night. Beautiful drive along the Seward Highway despite the rain. Stopped at Potter Marsh along the way for a little birdwatching. Saw a Short-billed Dowitcher, Red-necked Grebe, a Greater Yellow Legs, and lots of Tree Swallows . This birdwatching thing is addictive. Also checked out Exit Glacier - the only part of Kenai Fjords National Park that can be reached by car - the rest requires boat or plane. The trail is frequented by bears though we didn't see any. As bears are the only animal I fear (though I have a very healthy respect for many others) I was happy to miss this "attraction". Trail to Exit Glacier.

Glacial striations created when rocks carried by the glacier scrape against other rocks as the glacier moves.

Exit glacier is one of many glaciers that are part of the Harding Ice Field at the core of Kenai Fjords National Park. The ice field and its outflowing glaciers cover 700 square miles (though the glaciers have receded a great deal and lost much of their thickness in the last 100 years).

Exit glacier - it's not safe to approach the glacier so this is as close as we could get.

<-- nature's paintbrush does some pretty spectacular work

Seward is beautiful. A little town tucked between mountains, Ressurection Bay (part of the Gulf of Alaska), and more mountains on the other side of the bay. It's the most touristy of any of the towns we've been to since the cruise ships stop here, but touristy Alaska is not on par with most other touristy places - it still feels like a small Alaskan town. The Moby Dick hostel is nice enough. Quiet and clean though a bit cramped. It's right in town so we are able to walk everywhere.

Monday Scott went on a full day guided fly-fishing trip on the Upper Kenai Peninsula. The river is glacial fed. Glacial fed rivers are generally either aqua blue (if pretty silt-free) or look like liquid clay if full of silt. As fish don't breath or reproduce so well in the silty rivers, their trip was on beautiful aqua blue water. Initially they were to fish for Sockeye Salmon and Rainbow Trout, but this first Salmon run of the summer is really small so they were only able to fish for Trout. He caught 6 trout and 1 Dolly Varden. The trout were the biggest he's ever seen - largest was 25 inches. So, despite having his heart set on salmon fishing he came back very happy. Unfortunately, trout fishing is catch and release because this is a natural river with no stocking - so no dinner yet!

While Scott fished the boys and I explored Seward. The day was sunny (very rare as this is temperate rainforest) and cool - high 50s - so we started outside exploring the shore. Could have done this all day - the boys love looking at the kelp, mussels, barnacles, and rocks. The view was breathtaking.

A family of very tame baby bunnies lives along the shoreline trail - definitely the offspring of someone's dumped pets. The boys fed them dandelion shoots.

Later in the day we visited the Alaska Sea Life Center - built after the Exon Valdez spill with some of the money the state received from Exon. A state of the art facility but not a typical aquarium - it has more of a research and education focus. Exhibits include fish, crabs, shrimp, seals and Steller's Sea Lions with a focus on the research and conservation of these creatures. We particularly enjoyed the touch tank, getting to touch a sea anemone for the first time. I did not know that sea anemones are 98% water. When you touch their thick, succulent tentacles it feels like you are touching nothing, just more water. Lifting them out of the water they completely drain - just a thin membrane rests in your hand. Very odd. The very knowledgable interpreters set up microscopes for viewing seastar sperm and egg they had collected that morning. Surprisingly watching the eggs get fertilized interested rather than grossed out the boys.

The center had an outdoor viewing area overlooking Resurrection Bay. (Saw some Harlequin Ducks there). In this location in 1964 a 9.2 magnitude earthquake (largest ever in the US and one of the largest on record anywhere) leveled much of the town. The earthquake was followed by a 40 foot tsunami that destroyed much of the shore.

On Tuesday took a 10 hour boat tour through and beyond the bay to Holgate Glacier. There were just 16 of us on the boat including the captain and co-captain. The weather was rainy most of the day and though it obscured the view of the mountains most of the time it added a mysteriousness to the journey that enhanced the experience. Michael's seasickness did not enhance the experience but after he cleared out his stomach he had a pretty good time (my deepest apologies to everyone in the cabin!!!). We were prepared for Elliot to be seasick so gave him Alka-Seltzer Plus Cold which we were told works like a charm. It did - no seasickness - but it also knocked him out cold. We woke him for all the "biggies" plus some birds that excited us - Steller Sea Lions, Humpback Whales, Porpoises, Seals, Horned and Tufted Puffins, Sea Otters, Bald Eagles, Common Murres, Double-crested Cormorants, Surf Scoters and the calving glacier. He'd take a look, build up some excitement for a moment then crash. At least he wasn't complaining! In fact, both of the boys were so good - despite being sick Michael didn't complain once. As we left, some other people on the boat complemented them for being so good (the rest just wanted to get as far away as possible I'm sure).

--> Steller's Sea Lions

--> starfish

--> Holgate Glacier - sounds like a crack of lightening or a tree that cracks and falls when it calves - very loud

Leave for Homer today. Our last stop - the 8th place we will have stayed in less than 3 weeks! Feels like we're on the lam!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Stop in Talkeetna

Spent one night in the hostel from hell in Talkeetna - gross and noisy. Glad to get out of there though we enjoyed visiting the town again. The boys (all 3 of them) especially enjoyed playing with the town dog (Michael named her Ruby) and feeding some horses.

Elliot the Enforcer

The boys trying to escape the hostel from hell any way they can....

Friday, June 25, 2010

Last Day in Fairbanks

Hard to believe we were wearing 6 layers on top and 3 layers on bottom just a few days ago! It's a pleasant 75º - just right for a day at Chena Lakes. The boys had a great time swimming. Elliot got out for a little while to pull a leech off his hand. Michael got a little cold, but a sand blanket took care of that!

the beach at Chena Lakes State Rec. Area

Michael caught his first Arctic Grayling around midnight last night. So many places to just pull of the road and fish!

Scott's Arctic Grayling

Elliot still trying for the fish.

While the boys fished I was busy looking for birds, taking pictures, and making sure whatever Scott heard growl at him the night before didn't eat my kids. Saw a Bohemian Waxwing and a male and female Belted Kingfisher. Lots of moose on our drive back. They like to eat the newer, tender shoots near the roads in the areas that are mowed.

Had to see the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline while here. This is a stretch of it above ground. Most of the pipeline is above ground as the temperature of the oil is over 100ºF and would melt the permafrost. In some areas the line has to run underground but special measures are taken to keep the soil cold. The line is 48 inches in diameter, 800 miles long, crosses 3 mountain ranges, and has been operational since 1977.

- a Great Horned Owl visits the trees right outside Dave and Jill's window (making the resident squirrel chirp frantically in panic mode).

Leaving Fairbanks tomorrow morning. Will stay over in Talkeetna on our way to Seward. Fairbanks has been great, and Jill and Dave are the best hosts you could ask for. Has been very nice to have a kitchen, free laundry,wireless internet, and TV for the kids. Their apartment feels like a mansion compared to the hostels we've been in. But, Dave and Jill are gone on a fishing trip and I am anxious to head south - back into the mountains and on to the sea - ready for new adventures!

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Staying at the University of Alaska Fairbanks where Dave and Jill are teaching for the summer. Spent the last few days putzing around - definitely a slower pace than the previous week. I think Scott and the boys are enjoying the slowdown, but it makes me antsy. While here we've hit all the science highlights - visited the UAF Museum of the North (great movies on auroras and Alaska in winter), 2 hour tour of the Geophysical Institute (the Alaska Satellite Facility and the Alaska Volcano Observatory) and toured the Large Animal Research Station where they study musk ox and caribou. Which leads to the question, why study musk ox and caribou? Lots of answers but the most interesting one is a super efficient bacterium found only in the rumen of musk ox that has implications for the development biofuels out of straw. Yes, that is interesting to me. Met a middle school teacher that is a very promising lead on developing some collaborative projects between 7 Hills and Fairbanks students. That makes me happy :0)

The housing complex we're staying in was built specifically for native students. The circular arrangement of the units is a more familiar community structure. Signs are written in both English and native languages (nor sure if this is Athabascan, Inupiat, or what). Efforts by the college to make native students feel at home are very important as many students drop out because of pressure or the desire to return to their families.

"The Place Where You Go To Listen" at the Museum of the North. Lights and sounds constantly respond to and represent the movement of the sun and moon, and seismic and auroral activity. An interesting concept but you'd have to have a lot of time and patience to notice much change. I definitely lack the patience.

Large Animal Research Station

Large Animal

Monitoring the data coming in from satellites at the Alaska Satellite Facility. A lonely job but it seems to suit this guy well - didn't even acknowledge us in the room.

Another lonely job evidenced by this guy talking to us for 2 hours about monitoring volcano activity using remote sensing. It was interesting...for the first hour.

Scott and Dave went fishing last night up near Chena Springs. Both caught 2 Arctic Grayling and saw at least a dozen moose - one of which followed them to the car. Home at 3 AM - still light out.