Alaska


Bowhead Blessing 1

I wanted baleen bad, but I didn’t want to go to jail over it — especially in the middle of giving a whale lecture. So when Steve and I set out for Anchorage, I called NOAA and asked how I could carry a piece of a protected species around the world without risking handcuffs. No problem, actually. If a member of a Native Alaskan tribe inscribes the baleen with artwork, it is no longer taboo. Better yet, the agent I talked to, had a few illegal pieces that were cluttering up the NOAA office, and he was happy to gift […]


Blossom Clock

Flaming pink fireweed earned its name by being one of the first plants to colonize scorched earth.  The flower is also a virtual hourglass for its season.  In spring, the lowest buds on the stalk begin to blossom and blooming progresses up until the topmost debut in fall. Everywhere we go in Alaska we see fireweed.  Near Haines Junction the roadsides looked like there’d been a massive Pepto Bismol spill.  The timekeepers are now climbing past their midpoint, constantly reminding us to step lively if we want to hit the high spots and get out while the getting’s good.


Painreliever Puzzle

When we drove the Alaskan Highway, my back protested the long hours in the truck.  I tried pillows and cushions and giving Steve heck, some of which helped, but not enough.  Then I happened on another sort of remedy–Sudoku.  Puzzles do an amazing job of muting discomforts of all kinds, and for some reason, staring at them doesn’t make me carsick. They are somewhat addictive, and I miss miles of scenery, but I see a lot more than I would staying home with a bad back.


Valdez Falls Fascination

The water cascades off in knots as if the drops wait for reinforcements. Courageous en masse, they loft, catch-air, then sheet down in the extended train dubbed Bridal Veil–or  Horsetail, depending on who you ask.  Horsetail Falls/Bridal Veil is a symphony of tens of thousands of tiny falls foaming over a tumbled rock face. The pictures don’t begin to do them justice. Waterfalls are a full-body experience, the spray, the rush, the power. An ultimate commune-with-nature place.


Talking Crap

Bear scat ought to be too icky draw interest, but it’s so readable. It doesn’t even stink if the bear’s eating vegan. I was lured into the topic by an Alaskan guide who said that bears eat dirt, rocks, and moss to plug their systems for hibernation. It turns out not to be true. Bears do rid themselves of “plugs” after they hibernate, but hidden hibernation cameras reveal that dirt, leaves, and hair get lapped in as sleepy bears groom themselves through the winter. Much as I love guides, I need to remember they may not know squat.


If You Know What These Are…

You might be an Alaskan. Why are the trees bent? Snow easing downhill puts pressure on young trunks and gives them saggy knees. I’m sure I recall a guide telling us that these are called “snow loops” but I can’t find any confirmation.  Anyone out there know?


Urban Alaska Adventure

Our Anchorage campground, bordering two noisy highways, was a dreary necessity, but it backed up to an alluring river trail.  The leafy woods had me so enamored that even the debris from a couple of squatter camps didn’t deter me.  Down the way, the trail led me meandering through a wide-open park.  After weeks in the wilds, the sprawling green seemed unrealistically civilized, and then unreality took an Alaskan turn.  Between the soccer fields and playgrounds and spandexed bikers, Daisy and I came across a moose grazing on a willow thicket, maybe six feet off the path.  With her homely head hidden in the willows, she might have passed for a large horse, but I saw enough to give her wide berth.  Messing with moose, I’m […]


Where to Eat in the Inside Passage

“I think a banana is a good gift,” a rafting guide told me.  The more I listened to Alaskan guides, the more I realized that food is an issue in those parts.  Transportation costs make food pricey up north, and customs regulations much compound the problem.  Another guide talked about buying berries in Canada and having to pull over and finish eating them before she reached the border. A camper I know was so disgusted at having to give up her oranges “to protect Alaska’s citrus orchards” that she smuggled a few tomatoes through the next checkpoint.  I would never do anything […]


Gasless in Alaska

Along the Alaskan Highway gas stations are crucial stepping stones.  Travelers–especially RVers–who leap, then look, are apt to end up hitchhiking in hungry bear territory.  Steve did his homework and plotted every gas stop along our route before we left home.  Milepost, the guide to negotiating Alcan, kept us comfortably fueled until we’d almost reached Alaska’s southernmost highway stop, about 40 miles from our intended Hyder camp spot.  At Meziadin Junction we pulled into a lonely gas station and found it closed–as in vacant.  Our fuel-mileage-estimator showed no hope for making Hyder with our camper…but the pickup, unhitched, had a chance of getting close. Leaving the trailer mid-nowhere […]


Bear Crossing

Steve spotted the bear a good way down a wide-open Canadian highway.  He let off the gas to give her ample time to get clear.  Then a cub fell in behind her.  Steve applied some brake.  Camp trailers take extra time to give up momentum, but the cub was okay as long as he held to his course across the roadway.  As many bears as we’d seen in our Alaska exploration, it was still a treat to watch the pair–until a second cub took up the rear.  Steve used his best words, pushed the brakes to the limit, and we held our breath through a silent, slow-mo disaster […]