“Winter is coming.” ….. George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
“Bittersweet October. The mellow, messy, leaf-kicking, perfect pause
between the opposing miseries of summer and winter.”
Carol Bishop Hipps
“October,” In a Southern Garden, 1995
October is the transitional month for the weather on the north coast of Oregon. The month began with sunny skies and day time temperatures in the low sixties. Then on the 12th, the first of the fall rain storms arrived; as of today my weather station has recorded nearly six inches of precipitation and the month still has a day to go.
I took the above image at the South Jetty which overlooks the Pacific ocean during a brief respite between storms last week. Oh I fear that it’s going to be a long winter!
One evening this past spring, my lovely wife reminded me that this was the summer for our Alaskan adventure to celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary. Apparently the promise of said trip was in the fine print of our marriage vows. I quickly discovered that the planning process would not be simple. Not only is Alaska the largest state in the union but it also offers a near endless list of options for sightseeing.
We discussed simply taking a cruise but I was a little uncomfortable with that option. I always assumed that making a voyage on a cruise ship was for those of the gray hair generation. After looking at my passport photo, I quickly decided that I fit that profile! We finally settled on an nine day overland tour by train and bus through the interior of Alaska and the Canadian Yukon before boarding a ship in Skagway for another four nights.
If you ever plan on visiting Alaska, be prepared for any type of weather even in the middle of summer. During our thirteen day trip, we were rained on nearly every day. Upon our arrival in Anchorage, we learned that much of interior Alaska was experience their wettest summer on record. Living and working on the north coast of Oregon has conditioned us to dress in layers and to not leave home without foul weather clothing.
Initially, I was going to leave my camera at home. Alaska receives well over a million visitor annually so I figured the odds of photographing something that no one else has were pretty slim. In the end, I decided to take it because you just never know what you might run across!
We began our journey in Anchorage where we boarded the McKinley Explorer historic railway for our trip to Denali National Park. The park is six million acres in size making it about the size of the state of Massachusetts. Much of the park is locked in permafrost, a permanently frozen layer of earth just below the topsoil that has been frozen for thousands of years. The park is also the home to Mount McKinley, aka “Denali”. Rising 20, 320 feet above sea level, it is the tallest mountain peak on the North American continent.
Views of the white spruce from the rear of the train thirty minutes north of Anchorage
Views of the tundra region within Denali National Park
The Toklat River, Denali National Park
Not every visitor who visits Denali National Park actually gets to see “Denali” because during the summer months it is often shrouded in clouds. We felt very fortunate when we got a glimpse as our tour guide told us that this was only the fifth time he had seen the mountain this summer. If you want to increase your odds of sighting Denali, go during the winter months when the skies are frequently clear. The downside is that the temperature is typically a minus ten degrees or below!
"Denali", AKA Mount McKinley as seen from the Stony Hill overlook
Mount McKinley and the glacial ice flows seen from our airplane tour
Our pilot took us on a one hour flight over the mountain providing us with the ride of our lives
Following our flight, we once again boarded the train for the six hour ride to Fairbanks. Fairbanks is the state’s second largest city and once was the jumping off point for those headed into the interior in search of gold. In those days, the steam boat was vessel of choice because its flat bottom allowed it carry heavy loads in rivers that were shallow and fast moving. Today, these vessels are not powered by steam and their primary use is to give the tourist a taste of days gone by.
The river boat Discovery II navigating the waters of the Chena River
If you visit the interior of Alaska, you will not have to look hard to find a float plane. They are a primary means of transportation for those living in remote areas.
A float plane landing on the Chena River
If you are interested in boats, Alaska should be on you list of places to visit. Every house we saw that was adjacent to a river had one tied up along the bank.
This boat was typical of those found along the Chena River
After we departed Fairbanks we headed northeast on the Alcan Highway to Whitehorse which is located in the Yukon Territory of Canada. No trip up north would be complete without a stop at North Pole, Alaska to see the world’s largest Santa Clause.
The “Big Guy” stands forty-two feet high and weighs in at nine hundred pounds
Even the fire hydrants are decked out for Christmas at North Pole
After a long day on the bus, we arrived in Whitehorse which is the largest city in the Yukon Territory. Early the next morning we made the trek to Kluane National Park and Reserve which is home to numerous mountain ranges and the world’s largest non-polar ice fields. Unfortunately the skies were gray from the persistent low cloud cover so were unable to see the famed lofty peaks. We did however take the Kathleen Lake Cultural Cruise, our guide was Captain Ron who is a local First Nations elder. His small boat is the only-motorized access into the park and he regales you with tales of the local First Nation people, geology of the park, and life in the harsh Yukon environment.
The waters of Kathleen Lake are actually this color of blue
Our next stop was a quick visit to Carcross, population 52, which was formally known as Caribou Crossing. The area was once the hunting and fishing camp of the Inland Tlingit and Tagish First Nation People. In the late 1800s the area became a popular stopping place for prospectors headed to the gold fields of Dawson City.
This was the most interesting house I saw while visiting Carcross
After wandering the dirt streets of Carcross, we boarded the bus for Fraser, British Columbia, our last stop in Canada. Once arriving in Fraser, we boarded the White Pass Railroad and slowly descended from the mountains into the valley below where the city of Skagway, Alaska sits. We quickly boarded our ship, found our cabin and settled in for the remaining four days.
The White Pass Railroad making its way along the dock in Skagway before returning to Fraser
We sailed into Glacier Bay National Park early the next morning and were again greeted by gray skies that alternated between drizzle and outright rain. The lovely wife and I had come too far to be deterred by a little rain. We grabbed our cameras, binoculars, and rain gear and headed for the ship’s top deck which offered unobstructed viewing. Fewer than fifty peopled experienced the beauty of the glaciers from this wind swept deck.
3.3 million acres of mountains, glaciers, temperate rainforest, and deep sheltered fjords, the park is the highlight of Alaska's Inside Passage
The ice flow from a calving glacier
The face of the Grand Pacific glacier
So ends our journey to Alaska; gone from home a total of fifteen days, traversed 3,951 miles by land, sea, and air and returned with countless memories that will last a life time!
No, I didn’t take a trip to Japan. Early yesterday morning I decided to visit the beach to see if I might catch the rising sun. September usually offers clear skies in the early mornings on the north Oregon coast and yesterday’s adventure was well worth the drive.
I recently had the good fortune to spent an afternoon sailing on the Columbia River aboard the Hawaiian Chieftain. The cruise was billed as a three hour family-oriented adventure which demonstrates tall ship handling and life at sea during the turn of the nineteenth century. I was excited about the opportunity to sail aboard a tall ship but I was a little leery about the tour’s length. As we approached the sixty-five foot ship, I remembered that Gilligan’s big adventure began as a three hour tour. I took solace in the fact that Gilligan departed from a tropic port; since we were sailing from Astoria I assumed that we were safe.
The Hawaiian Chieftain is a replica of a typical European merchant vessel that sailed the coastal waters of California, Oregon, and Washington. During the late 18th century, this type of ship was frequently used by merchants involved in the Pacific fur trade. Ships of this type were ideal for navigating the shallow waters of the numerous coastal inlets where native Americans would be found offering furs for barter.
So what did I learn about sailing during this adventure? Sailing a ship with tall masts is definitely a job for the young. The Hawaiian Chieftain is not the biggest of sailing ships but it main mast still towers over seventy feet above the deck. The only way to raise or lower the sails is from working aloft in the rigging; a dangerous task under the best of conditions.
Climbing the rigging
“Holding fast” while preparing to lower the sails
Aboard a sailing ship, the captain is the closest to God this side of heaven. He is constantly barking orders at the crew to adjust the sails in order to keep the ship moving.
The captain keeps a watchful eye at all times
Preparing to fire the carronade which was used for defense and as a signaling device
It was an interesting juxtaposition as we sailed past the container ship Hanjin Washington as she was fully loaded and outboard for Asian ports of call. Just two of her forty foot containers hold more cargo than the entire Hawaiian Chieftain. In the late 18th century, a voyage across the Pacific to China in a vessel such as the Hawaiian Chieftain would take about two months. Today, the Hanjin Washington makes the same journey in about ten days. There is definitely something to be said for size and massive engines.
The Hanjin Washington outbound on the Columbia River as seen from the deck of the Hawaiian Chieftain
I am happy to report that following our three hour tour, unlike Gilligan, we returned safely to our original port in Astoria.
Signs, signs everywhere, there's signs
Blocking up the scenery, breaking my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?
Five Man Electrical Band
Yesterday we were greeted with what has been a very rare treat this spring; sunshine. After doing a little painting on the front porch, I consider my options for the remainder of the morning. I could either choose between working in the yard and garden or take a walk and enjoy the sunshine. It didn’t take long to arrive at the decision that a walk would definitely be more fun and exercise is always a good thing.
I decided that a walk through some of the roads less taken in my neighborhood might be in order. With camera in hand, I set out to see what I might have other wise missed while driving in my truck. What I found amazed me; ever where I looked there were signs of beauty and sign of confusion.
No dumping of what?
No wonder it’s a road less traveled
When the Titanic set out on it’s maiden voyage from Southampton, England on April 10th, 1912 she was the largest passenger ship afloat. Words such as unrivalled, magnificent, and unsinkable were often spoken when describing her. No one expected that just a mere five day later she would end up the the bottom of the icy waters of the north Atlantic. In just two hours and forty minutes after striking an iceberg, the lives of 1,514 passengers and crew were lost making Titanic one of the worst peace time maritime disasters.
Over the past one hundred years, much has been written about the disaster. I believe that Filson Young said it best in his book Titanic: “There is nothing that man can build that nature cannot destroy and far as he may advance in might and knowledge and cunning, her blind strength will always be more than his match. But men easily forget this, they wish to forget it; and the beautiful and comfortable and agreeable equipment of this ship helped them to forget it.”
This past week I had the pleasure to experience the sights and sounds of Philadelphia, the birth place of American democracy. Six months ago visiting Philadelphia was not on my” bucket list” of places to see but some opportunities are too good to pass up. My lovey wife was making the trip to attend a conference and invited me to tag along. Besides, after twenty-five years of marriage, if nothing else, I have become a skilled baggage handler.
Things I learned while wandering the streets of the city:
If you one day get the chance to visit Philadelphia don’t pass one it, just be sure to get a map and a comfortable pair of walking shoes.
This picture taken from my living room window pretty much sums up the state of the weather in Astoria today, confusing. The National Weather Service is predicting snow but today has seen very little action to that end. One minute the sun was in full view then twenty minutes later it was completely obscured by dark and very threatening clouds.
Snow is not unheard of in these parts but the receipt of a significant amount is a pretty rare event. Lets just say that it’s more likely that your neighbor’s kids will own a boat than a flexible flyer sled.
Just to be on the safe side, I will make a trip to the basement before turning in this evening to be sure that my snow shovel is ready for action.
Old Growth Ponderosa Pine near Lowman, Idaho
I am often inspired by the people I meet on a daily basis and the sights I witness. As we begin the new year, I thought it might be appropriate to share two of my most inspirational events from 2011.
This past August, I made a trip to Idaho to visit the community in which I lived and worked following graduation from WSU’s college of forestry. Living in Idaho was a wonderful time in my life, I was in my early twenties and everything was new and a grand adventure. The visit this summer allowed me to be inspired once again by the simple beauty of God’s creation. This visit may have been short but the experience continues to inspire me.
Working as a volunteer docent at the Columbia Maritime Museum gives me countless opportunities to meet people from all walks of life. This past September, I met a man who called himself the “gimpy geezer” and his story was incredible. The “gimpy geezer” spent much of his life in Wisconsin tied to the daily routine of a dairy farm. Upon the death of his wife, he decided it was time see of the the United States so he sold the farm and began his three year adventure. Unlike most people, he didn’t load up the car for a road trip; instead he bought a pair of walking shoes and bus ticket to Delaware where began his journey west.
I asked him if he had planned out his route using a guide book to which he responded that he wasn’t very good about following directions. He instead preferred to find his own way while heading west. He also spoke about the people he met and the sights he saw. He continued his quest each year until the early fall, at this point he would hop the bus to Wisconsin to wait out the winter. In the late spring he began again from where he left off the pervious summer.
After three summers, he finally reached Oregon and the end of his hike. During our visit, he told me that he averaged thirteen miles a day and wore out several pair of walking shoes. I use to think that it was a good day if I rode my bike seven miles in one day; not so much any more!
I have often wondered what he will do in the new year.