Monday, May 30, 2016

Lazy Bears

I am not feeling very wordy these days, but there are many pictures to describe the things I lack to energy to say, so, here are some more bears from last summer.

On the hot summer days at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, particularly around 3-4 pm, the bears lollygag around.  Salmon feeding happens every afternoon.  These bears are never late for dinner.  Really, when you're a bear, it's always dinnertime, so this schedule thing may make a bear feel a bit blue.  This guy parked on his butt below the viewing deck waiting patiently for salmon time.

Bears are not the only ones who know when feeding time is.  The birds arrive early too.  It turns out bears are not the tidiest of eaters, and there are generally lots of bite size tidbits strewn about for birds.

Hello big guy!  I love the way they can wiggle their noses from side to side.  He is looking at me hopefully for a fish.  But alas, it is only the staff that feed these guys.

Just sitting around on his backside, waiting for salmon snack.

And if you randomly get an itch...scratch it.

Oh yeah, that's the spot!

And the butt...don't forget to scratch the butt.

Meanwhile, across the meadow, this bear is feeling much less lively...and looks almost despondent about having to wait for dinner.

This bear is trying a little pole dance routine, maybe that will make dinner come faster?

Finally!!  The salmon gets delivered!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Summer Days

The rain is drizzling outside, which is a good thing after all the forest fires in Alaska last year, and the mammoth fires south of us in Alberta.  So what better to do on a rainy Saturday than to flashback to a sunny summer day of last year?  Well, that and drink coffee.

It's been almost a year and I am still reviewing photos from last August when Siobhan was here.  On her last couple of days we went to the Nature Center, a spot that is close and picture perfect enough to take all of my guests, and a few other last minute stop[s.

We saw a moose on the roadside on the way back to Eagle River....and a mile or so later we also saw a momma bear with two little cubs!  Both hands on the wheel for that one though so no pictures.

We managed to catch a gorgeous sunset over in Chugiak.

And for her last full day, Siobhan picked a return to the Wildlife Conservation Center as her last day trip.  So we headed back down TurnAgain Arm on another sunny summer day.

The check in kiosk at the Nature Center.

And our first visit with a little moose calf who was brought to the center after being orphaned.

We timed our visit for bear feeding.  Each bear gets a big old salmon in the afternoon.  And they show up early for dinner!

Oh come on and hurry up, it's not like you have to cook it first
 I'm so hungry I could eat a tree.  Except I already ate those.

Even the local birds know when feeding time is.  Bears are not the tidiest of eaters.

All in all it was a very patient bear.

And as the salmon cooler approached, he could smell it long before it arrived.

Finally!  Salmon is on the way!  Happy bear.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Knik River

When I head north from my house, it doesn't take long until I reach what locals call "The Valley."  This valley, is the Matunaska-Sustina Valley, lovingly known as "The Mat-Su" here.  The valley is formed between The Alaska Range, The Talkeetna Range, and the Chugach Range.  Three major rivers run through it, the Matunaska, the Sustina, and the Knik.  Today I found myself on the banks of the Knik.

The Knik is a relatively short river.  It begins at the base of the Knik Glacier and empties into the Cook Inlet by Anchorage, a mere 25 miles.  The Knik gets its name from the Inupiaq name, igniq, meaning fire.

The Glenn Highway crosses it once or twice.  You could follow the river to the town of Knik which was once an Alaska boomtown.

As for me, I found a place that might make for good aurora watching if the urge arises on a clear dark night in the not so distant future.

Even the vandalism is pretty here on the banks of the Knik.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Reflections Lake

Sometimes Alaskans just call em as they see em.  So when I saw a road sign pointing to Reflections Lake, I was pretty sure it was going to be exactly that.  I was not disappointed.

This little trail proved to be a gem.  It starts right off the main highway.  A flat trail makes for an easy walk for anyone who wishes to see a little of Alaska's quiet beauty.  The trail is well worn and loops around the lake.

I loved the striping on the tree.  I always thought this was due to animals stripping the bark, but the surface was even.  So why ever it is the way it is, it's quite pretty.

True to its name, Reflections Lake gives a perfect image of the skies and treeline that lines it shore.

The clouds are close enough to touch on the rippled surface.

Alaska never ceases to stun in the summer.

Earlier this year I was told I had already missed the mating pair of Trumpeter Swans that stops at the Nature Center each year.  I wondered if they had simply moved a dozen miles away, or if this was a separate pair.  It was nice to see them all the same.

I never used to think swans when I thought Alaska.  But they are somewhat iconic around here.

I don't think the swans appreciate the walkers.  They were initially tucked near the shoreline, but as a group approached from the other side of the lake, they moved more out to the middle of the lake.

 It became evident they knew I was there.  Both from this glance...

And the fact that they"mooned" me.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Hatcher Pass

Yesterday dawned bright and sunny...on a Saturday to boot!  Perfect adventure weather!  I knew exactly how I wanted to spend my day.  I would travel north instead of my usual southerly route and get some pictures of a place that was on my "must see" list.  The besty texted from 10,000 km away and asked if I had any plans for the day.  "Going to look for the abandoned mine at Hatcher pass," I texted.  "Abandoned mine?" he texted back, "That doesn't sound like the beginning of a horror movie at all.  Safe from bears there?"  I replied "You are right, let me start again.  I am going to look for the abandoned mine in a desolate bear filled mountain pass, alone, armed with a camera, coffee, and a false sense of security."  Humor is a strong bond.

Hatcher Pass is in the Talkeetna mountains.  When I hear mountain pass, I immediately think settlers, wagons, and the Donner Party.  But a quick scouring of what limited information is available on the pass on the internet, it seems as though it is not that kind of a pass.  Settlers came to Hatcher Pass in search of gold, notably one Robert Hatcher who was a Texan who become somewhat famous as a secretive private man who staked some most lucrative gold claims.  Hatcher came to this region of the Talkeetna mountains rather quietly.  He took the train most of the way, the railroad came only as far as Knik back then.  By horse or foot I suppose he made it to the small gold town of Fishook, and meandered another 10 or 12 miles through difficult terrain to these mountains.

The picture above shows the nearby mountains.  The elevation gain is almost 4000 feet from where I took this picture to the valley.  In the distance on the mountain furthest in the background is the Mint Glacier, where he staked one claim.  Directly behind me is the trailhead to Archangel Creek, another claim.  And a few miles further up yet...his claim in the bowl of "Hatcher Pass" that became known as "The Independence Mine."

This was as far as I could get by car.  You can see the outlines of the old mine in the snow above.  The mine is a State Park, and in the summer it would be thronging with visitors...and you could drive up to the parking log by the buildings above.  I was a little disappointed that my journey wouldn't take me to the old mine after all.  But as the Besty also noted, I have a bit of a stubborn streak.  So I assessed my options taking all relevant thoughts into consideration.  Point one.  Any self respecting bear would be in the valley below eating things down there.  The piece of rough, scratchy fur tufts at my feet were probably from a bear headed downhill, so going uphill makes sense (or it was moose fur...who knows?)

The barrier showed the snow was a good three to four feet deep.  If it was hard packed, it wouldn't be such a bad walk.  There were a handful of others on the trail, notably all in skis rather than runners.  But there are no lifts, it's a multi-purpose recreational area, so while I might look like the odd duck out, technically I was allowed to hike it if I wanted to.  Decision made!

 The gold in these mountains found is 74 million years old, according to a geology reference I can't claim to be able to understand well enough to validate.  I have to admit I find it interesting though, I had never before thought of my jewellery in the context of how old they were when the events that created them happened.  Gold mined here literally came from the Cretaceous-Paleocene era.  Those of you who are dinosaur nerds might recognize that as being around the time the dinosaurs died out and the marsupials took over the earth.  Most of the gold is in the rocks that lay just beneath the headwaters of the Willow Creek and the Fishook Creek.  Makes me think it might not be a bad idea to go gold panning just a little further down the valley.  Surely the last hundred years since the mine closed will have unleashed a nugget or two from those same rocks.

Looking down Hatcher Pass to Palmer, Alaska
 I saw a few critters along the way, too.  Apparently there is such a thing as an Arctic Squirrel, and I saw several come out of their little snow burrows.

The one squirrel was across a snowbank that I could hear the river running underneath, and he was literally wringing his little hands when I walked up the path and got close to his little squirrel friend, hoping he would be safe.  Very cute little critters.

 A few of the squirrels I came across later looked Alaska tough.  This one brandished a twig like a Jedi squirrel.  I was not going to mess with him.

Hope they have a healthy supply of food in their dens...there is still a lot of snow to melt before new ones will grow up here.

 I wasn't sure if this building was part of the original mine, or something added later for the State Park.  If it is part of the original mine, it looks pretty good for all of those winters in the Talkeetna mountains.  The mine started in 1906, peaked in 1941, and closed around 1950.  Once sources says 624,000 ounces of gold came from this little site.

Hatcher Pass has had a lot of avalanches this past year -- 3 fatalities since November.  I felt like I was in a relatively safe spot in the bowl, but I was still a little unnerved when I heard the unmistakable sound of ice and rock giving way and echoing in the bowl.

The fresh brown dirt indicates the avalanches path.  And the photo below is a zoomed in shot of this one showing a little snow still flowing from the source once I pinpointed it and pulled out the camera.

The peaks in Talkeetna rise up to about 6000 feet above sea level.

I passed this sign on the way up.  Not going to be a problem, I thought.  Gaining elevation, a bit of soft snow, I was making progress at a turtle like speed.  Notably, it might have been an easier journey in a month when I could drive the road undernearth.  But it was worth it because I had my time in this beautiful place all to myself for the most part.  I think 4 skiers who had worked their way up ahead of me zoomed by on the way down.  But otherwise, it was all mine on the way up!

The old mine buildings were just a little out of reach for my trek.  I had the hard packed "ski trail" to this point, but it did not approach the buildings themselves.  Not knowing where the streams crossed under banks, or how deep the snow was in places, I thought it wise to not go "off road" any further.  You could see the old tracks for what must have been the ore carts.  

It looks like I am standing on a good three to four feet of snow here.

The visitor center restrooms will be melted free in a month or so.

This is one of my favorite photos of the hike.  It was so nice and crisp and quiet, and, I was still delighted to have it to myself.

Snowy serenity
 On the way down, i did encounter another small group of hikers.  They had their little Boston Terrier with them.  I asked if I could take a picture, it seems I could do a whole series on dogs I see on mountains here.  I quickly explained my "mountain dog" fascination, and tried to get one quick picture before the lens would be overwhelmed by slobber and out of focus doggie running at a camera photos.  Alaskans are very considerate with their dogs, and usually pleasantly surprised when you ask to pet or photograph their little companion.  As I walked further down and they walked up, I heard them telling proudly asking  this little fellow "are you a mountain dog now?"  Yes, here he is, proof that he is a mountain dog :)

One last photo from the end of the hike.  Can you see the Arctic ptarmigan here?

Bet you can find it after this close up!

So that's Hatcher Pass in May.  I will definitely explore it again in the summer...but there is something magical about the spring solitude up here.