The Kenai Peninsula and Life Off the Grid

Dear readers,
It may be that some do not realize this is being posted in a time delay fashion. No I am not really on the Kenai Peninsula today. Actually (and this is just for you burglar wanna-be’s) I am more likely home today, cross stitching my new ‘Right to BEAR Arms’ with patriotic red, white and blue colors, wall hanging.
Oh, and Happy Birthday America! We are free because of the brave.

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Here we are with Dean and Saki. Doesn’t Dean just fit the picture of an Alaskan?

This morning we were able to more clearly see the view from Dean and Saki’s house. The one with the million dollar view. What I didn’t mention yesterday is that two years ago a tremendous storm washed away 60 feet of their property…Right up to the front door. Today their homes literally stands at the edge of a 500 foot cliff. The picture below shows their front porch. They have the materials and a plan to reinforce the rest of the shoreline to hopefully keep their home out of the ocean. But…it’s a relentless ocean.

The view down from Dean's window. An easy 500 feet...straight down.

The view down from Dean’s window. An easy 500 feet…straight down.

We left Kenai and followed the coast south. The land was treed with both deciduous and evergreen trees and there were a few small farms sprinkled along the road. As we were passing through one small town we spotted a moose and her two babies. Munching on grass. Right next to the library. So cute.north to alaska 073We had one more sister to visit. Nora and Paul have chosen to live off the grid. We drove to the end of the road…and then turned left to reach their house. They are building their home from the ground up and each year add something major. This summer it will be a septic system. They also raise chickens and geese and Nora is going to start making goat cheese from her goats. Modern day pioneers.

Nora and Paul's home. Got it closed up last year, but still working on it. Notice the satellite receivers. Being off the grid does not mean not modern.

Nora and Paul’s home. Got it closed up last year, but still working on it. Notice the satellite receivers. Being off the grid does not mean not modern.

After our visit, we drove the extra few miles into Homer so we could all see the famous Homer Spit. I’m told it’s the second largest spit in the world. (If you don’t know what a spit is, I’ll let you look it up.) But I’ll share a picture as a clue.

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Homer Spit. See it?

Then reversing our trip we followed the blue Kenai River back up the mountain and ended our day at the base of Portage Glacier. I thought I was being clever picking a spot just under the glacier but discovered the mosquitoes also thought this was a great camp site and were waiting to welcome us. Yes, we are still camping. No, we are not any faster putting up the tent.

We’re all looking forward to seeing the glacier tomorrow and taking a ferry ride.

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Friends and Family and Alaskan Beer

My dad was an early settler in the Chugiak area. He still lives in the house he built in the 60’s. When we were out to breakfast everyone who walked in called out a greeting…kind of like on “Cheers.” It was nice to have a chance to catch up with him and his wife Debbie. Too much time goes between visits.

Here's the gang.

Here’s the gang.

This is us to the right along with three of my brothers and two of my sisters and some of their kids and some of their kids.

This is us to the right along with three of my brothers and two of my sisters and some of their kids and some of their kids.

We have a lot of family in the Anchorage area, so my sister Cindy offered to organize a family get together. Brother Kelly and his wife offered to serve as hosts. The warm summer sun kept the mosquitoes at bay and we were able to meet and greet and visit everyone out on their lush green lawn in the back yard. It was great fun to meet all the extended family.

Brother Tom's one of a kind Moose Truck. Now THIS is Alaska.

Brother Tom’s one of a kind Moose Truck. Now THIS is Alaska.

Of course, we are ones who do eat and run… Oh, if we only had more hours in a day. After saying our good byes we headed south to Kenai where we spent the night with our longtime friend Dean and his amazing wife Saki.

Their home is right on the edge of a cliff overlooking the bay; they truly have a million-dollar view. We got to see Saki’s mini farm where she raises all kinds of poultry, including ones for dinner. The kids were especially impressed that we got to see a baby chicken hatch out of its shell! What an experience.

Look closely. This is the eyeball of a baby chick working to peck his way out of the shell.

Look closely. This is the eyeball of a baby chick working to peck his way out of the shell.

The drive to Kenai is absolutely beautiful. It begins heading south of Anchorage following Turnagain Arm where we could see the mudflats as the tide was out. Even as a young child it was drilled into me how dangerous the mudflats were; the mud acts as quicksand, making it difficult to move quickly, and the long shallow flats mean that the tide can race in, catching an unaware person.

Turnagain Arm in Cook Inlet

Turnagain Arm in Cook Inlet

Further south we drove over the pass and then followed the Russian and Kenai Rivers. I hope my pictures can adequately show the aquamarine color of these rivers. Amazing.

I've forgotten, this is either the Kenai or Russian River. Look at the beautiful color. They catch big salmon in this river.

I’ve forgotten, this is either the Kenai or Russian River. Look at the beautiful color. They catch big salmon in this river.

Here’s an observation: Every house we have visited in Alaska has a twelve pack of cold Alaska beer in the fridge. It makes me wonder if I shouldn’t be stocking some kind of Arizona beer?

Next: All the way to Homer and then to a glacier.

Playing Tourist

Chugach Mountains form a beautiful backdrop for this area.

Chugach Mountains form a beautiful backdrop for this area.

My early childhood was spent in the town of Chugiak, Alaska in the community of Birchwood. As I’ve mentioned before, it was a small rural area separated from the city of Anchorage by two military bases. Birchwood was aptly named for, yes, its birch lined roads. On a clear day you can actually see Mount McKinley if you’re on the right spot on the loop road. It’s a very picturesque place.

It still is, but today most of those 2.5 acre parcels on the loop have homes and the entire Chugiak area is but a short suburbian drive to the city. Many of my extended family continue to make this their home, including some, like my father, who live in their original houses.

For the next couple days we are staying with brother Tom and his son Cody. Not only is it nice to have a bed, shower and laundry all at the ready but we are also enjoying some of the 100 lb halibut Cody caught last week. Talk about delicious!

Remnants from the Independence Mine at Hatcher Pass. We saw people panning for gold at every creek along the drive.

Remnants from the Independence Mine at Hatcher Pass. We saw people panning for gold at every creek along the drive.

We took Tom up on his offer to serve as tour guide today visiting some of the local popular spots.  I realized that even though the area has grown and developed greatly, many of the early settlers were still around or at least remembered through street names. We hiked the trail to Thunderbird Falls, enjoyed the beauty of glacier fed Eklutna Lake and then drove to Hatcher Pass where we could view an old mine operation. Along the way we watched a moose munching in the marsh and saw to Wild Bill, a local legend apparently, who appears to be very anti-government everything. Thunderbird Falls is reached through a shaded path in the woods that invites mosquitoes this time of year. Today was another blue bird sunny days and the path was filled with families out getting their exercise. We saw similar groups at both Eklutna and the Independence Mine, everyone taking advantage of the weather. We’ll take credit for the weather… we heard that last June had rain every single day of the month.

A little cemetary at the Russian Orthodox church. The little burial houses incorporate their Native American heritage with Christianity.

A little cemetary at the Russian Orthodox church. The little burial houses incorporate their Native American heritage with Christianity.

A short post today as I catch up on laundry. Oh, and attention burglars: it sounds like everyone in this state takes advantage of their second amendment rights. If you’re coming by to rob us you might want know that I’m seriously thinking about picking up a new 45, maybe one with a scrimshaw ivory grip.

The View from the Passenger Side

Patch of black spruce. They say a 2 inch diameter tree might be 60 years old.

Patch of black spruce. They grow slow in the permafrost and  a 2 inch diameter tree might be 60 years old.

We have three drivers on this trip and while Rebecca isn’t too keen on driving the narrow two lane roads especially when it comes to passing semis, we are able to enjoy the scenery in greater detail when passengers.

So what have we been seeing? As desert dwellers we first notice the green, in all kinds of different shades and intensities. From the deep forest of the tall pines to the silvery shimmer of the quaking aspen the landscape has been filled with verdant tones. Then we see that the two most popular flower colors are the lavender of lupines and sunny lemon colored dandelions. My favorite flower since we entered Alaska has been the pink wild rose. So delicate and dainty, yet managing to grow where few other plants can take hold. The ever popular fireweed is just about to bloom, yet another reminder that summer is not quite here.

Along the road, the tall pine trees of the Pacific Northwest were gradually interspersed with more fir and spruce evergreens, and, along with them, aspen and birch. The birch and aspen grow tall and straight. We think they would make good log cabins.

Driving north into the Yukon we noticed the trees became smaller and more scraggly. It’s hard to say what point the permafrost impacted the tree growth but suddenly we found ourselves in forests of thin, scruffy black spruce which we were told grow very slowly due to the long cold winters and permafrost. Those same skinny black spruce have shown up all across the state wherever we see swampy areas. It also sounds like they are ripe for burning as we saw a massive forest fire near Tok. The forest service was letting it burn naturally because it was so rural. Also, for those wondering, the moss appears to not know which direction is north and we see it growing on all sides of the trees.

So, we see a surprising number of trees in most areas but there are also many more swampy areas than we expected. We are here for the longest day of the year, which truly seems to mark the beginning of summer. Many trees and shrubs are just now leafing out and wildflowers just starting to bloom. But up in the Yukon I don’t think they are even at this point. Definitely a short summer season this far north.

fireweed

fireweed

Consistently sprinkled across the landscape are ponds, lakes and swamps. Oh, and large, sometimes meandering, sometimes raging, often muddy brown rivers. Spring breakup for the frozen rivers happened the end of May and we wonder if these rivers are always muddy or whether this a result of the continued snow melt in the mountains. Other rivers are an aquamarine green which comes from light reflecting off the glacial silt. And yet still other streams are so clear you can see fish swimming. The bottoms look muddy though and I wonder how far I’d sink if I accidentally stepped in.

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Yes, it’s crooked, but at least the car window isn’t in this pic.

Also we noticed a decrease in farm animals once we left the southern part of British Columbia. Occasionally we have seen horses out in the fields but farming appears on to be much smaller scale as we have traveled north. Interesting to note after we crossed the Alaska Range heading towards south central Alaska we did see more farming and even more cattle. We have friends and family out on the Kenai Peninsula who raise goats along with poultry.

One thing I am surprised to see out 100 miles from nowhere are bicyclists. Their bicycles are loaded with gear and we guess they camp whenever they run out of steam for the day. On the days when it’s rainy they are wearing ponchos and have covered heads. Honestly, I like the idea of riding but these roads are pretty skinny with little shoulder and between the iffy weather and ever present mosquitoes I’m not sure this will make my bucket list.

We were surprised not to see road kill until one friend explained that some people are on the ‘road kill’ list and they come rescue the meat of freshly killed animals. Ha, this is something I thought only occurred in West Virginia…

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Oh, and I did tell you about the mountains right? These windy roads aren’t just traversing a plain. Everywhere we look there are mountains. The hills are all tree covered but we can see tree lines on all the mountains. Interestingly, most of the passes we have driven over are around 3,000 feet, not as high as I had imagined.  And most surprising to us is that all the mountains, and many of the hills still have snow. We did imagine it would be cold but forgot that the hillsides often were permanently snowcapped.

Definitely a passenger side shot--the trans Alaska pipeline.

Definitely a passenger side shot–the trans Alaska pipeline.

Much of what we are driving through reminds me of the wooded areas of Wisconsin or Minnesota. Just without the mountains…and without any towns for hundreds of miles.

Next:  A Tourist in my home town.