Steve and I tried and tried to find our thrill on Blueberry Hill in Valdez, Alaska. Turns out there’s a mosquito version of that song which goes on to extol “drinking our fill.” The human chorus chimes in “kill, kill, kill!” Deet, don’t leave home without it.
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 […]
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 […]
“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 […]
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 […]
Denali’s ban on private vehicles not only eases congestion, it increases sightings through sharing inside the bus and between guides. Our busload was stoked and quickly chalked up sightings of caribou, moose, and Dall sheep. Then, far down in the valley, a charging grizzly caught someone’s eye. As the bus pulled over, someone else noticed that the bear was chasing a moose and calf. The pair had a fair lead, and as they passed through a wooded area, the calf split off, turning east up the valley slope. Mom kept herself visible and kept the bear on her trail. When she reached the river our valley ran into, she drank and then rolled in […]