When we are not out climbing new peaks in Alaska, we are happily living with my brother- and sister-in-law, Jerome and Janis at their home on a hillside outside Anchorage. They have welcomed us to share there homestead here, with chickens, gardens and greenhouses, along with a pizza oven where they first started to bake bread.
When we arrived here in early May, it was still too chilly to plant seedlings in the ground but the two greenhouses provided a perfect environment. The tomato plants that Jerome grew from seed are now heavy with fruit.
It has been chilly and overcast this summer and it seemed like it took a long time for seeds to take root. By early July, the lettuce, carrots, potatoes, kale, beans, radishes and peas were thriving.
We eat salads daily, trying to keep up with the produce in the garden beds.
The kale and carrots came from the garden and the artful Romanesco broccoli was grown in Alaska, too (but not by us).
The garden is also home to three beehives and thousands and thousands of buzzing bees. Janis and Jerome recently opened the hives to pull out the honeycombs within.
Dinnertime can be serious, as we sample new creations prepared by Jerome, whose baking skills led him and Janis to open the Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop. As you can see, Jerome and Janis take pies and cakes very seriously.
But largely, we have food to gather family at the table and enjoy the richness of an Alaskan summer day
Not every corner of Alaska features snow-covered mountains and glaciers like the one pictured above. However, you can feel the chill blowing down from the peaks and, even in summer, Alaskans must be prepared for a blast of cold air.
At the end of May, we attended a three-day music festival at a roadside lodge in Mendeltna where performers could barely play their instruments because their hands were so cold.
The small audience, many bundled inside their sleeping bags, dwindled as the day wore on.
Living in a cold rural environment shapes the personalities of the locals, an independent lot who take pride in their survival tactics. At the Mendeltna Creek Lodge, the fireplace was burning day and night and, in the kitchen, co-owner Mabel baked a thousand cookies for musicians who jammed inside for hours every day of the festival.
We ate cookies and drank hot coffee while listening to good ole bluegrass!
Outside, festival Master of Ceremonies Lulu Small kept warm by dancing in front of the stage.
We met a woman named Sue, a woodcarver from the mountains, who drives a pick-up truck with a four-foot-tall blonde doll in the back. The doll travels with a chainsaw in one hand and Sue whipped out her own chainsaw and showed us how she rolls!
Mabel told us that they hold the music festival every year to provide a comfortable place for musicians to play and relax with their families. She doesn’t advertise and in fact had posted a CLOSED sign on the front door of the lodge.
Lulu thanked everyone who “braved the elements” to attend this year’s festival and she set about planning the next event, this one in Anderson, Alaska, starting July 28. Turns out that one of the secrets of summer in Alaska is that you can find a bluegrass jam into the night almost every weekend.
We took a 2-1/2-hour plane trip south from Anchorage to explore Sitka, the capital of Russian America in the early 1800s. The municipality covers most of Barankof Island, which rises from rain forests along the coast to snow-capped mountains in the interior.
For more than a century, from the 1740s until the 1860s, Russian fur traders, priests and settlers plied the coast of Alaska, setting up trading posts from California to the Bering Sea. Despite conflicts with the local native Aleut peoples, the Russian put down roots, creating permanent settlements flush with schools and Russian Orthodox churches and priests
The capital of this tenuous Russian outpost was Sitka, where the Russians repeatedly clashed with the native Tlingit people living there. The Russians brought in their true believers, including Bishop Innocent who oversaw his religious duties from a large house overlooking the bay.
In a replica of the original Russian Orthodox Cathedral, gold- and silver-encrusted icons speak of the glory of the past.
Weakened by the Crimea War, Russia had to sell its territory and, in 1867, held a formal ceremony in Sitka to hand it over to the United States.
The Russian legacy in Sitka, along with its lush rainforest environment, make it an interesting place to spend a few days. A National Historical Park now covers the site of an ancient Tlingit village and native totem poles emerge from the fog-covered forests along the path.
The year-round residents of the city have shown grit and imagination, carving softly sloping trails around the perimeter of town and steeper, stiffer challenges on the mountains that drop into the sea.
My brother-in-law Jerome visits Sitka frequently in his role as a member of the board of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp. The camp has restored several buildings of a former college and runs a vibrant summer program for children and adults with dance, music, painting and pottery.
The marina brings in pleasure boats as well as fishing boats that provide the economic backbone to the place. An occasional cruise ship docks in the waters off-shore and come onshore to view the sights.
In the distance, Mt. Verstovia, a dormant volcano looms.
During four days in Sitka, a notoriously rainy place, we found slivers of sunlight every day on the trails beneath its mountain peaks.
The solstice is fast approaching in Alaska and the days are virtually unending. We took advantage of the sun-filled days to bike across the Denali highway from Paxson to Cantwell, a 135-mile gravel-and-rock road that passed some of the most spectacular mountain vistas I have seen in Alaska. I drove the rig and the car with the bicycle rack, offering a rest and cooked meals along the route for all.
We drove five hours from Anchorage to get to the Denali Highway, determined to get some road time in before sunset. The four set off on the road at 8 p.m., pedaling uphill from forest to tundra until they caught up with me 12 miles ahead.
The intrepid cyclists, Mark, his two sisters, Janis and Margo, and his brother-in-law, Jerome.
The next day we continued west, against a backdrop of the Alaska Range and Amphitheater Mountains. The region was dotted with archeological sites from the hunting grounds of the first people who roamed there 12,000 years ago. Along with the craggy rough peaks, we found graceful trumpet swans swimming in beautiful lakes along the way.
There were a half-dozen or more places to stay overnight or get a meal along the 135-mile trip.This sod-and-horn-covered shelter was one of the places, next to the quaint Sluice Box bar.
We stopped at a couple of places to get water, including the Alpine Creek Lodge, where you can go out hunting and trapping in the wilderness year-round. Mark settled for a ping-pong tournament and handily defeated the father, the son and his best friend.
Bob, the 14-year-old son of the lodge owners, proudly showed off the muskrat and ermine pelts that he had trapped and put up for sale at the lodge.
Back on the road, the gravel got even more rocky and one of the tires blew a persistent hole. Roadside assistance amounted to whatever tools we had.
The isolation and sheer natural beauty all around us made this three-day journey extraordinary.
Unaware that we had busted a tire on our tow car we dragged it for miles down the highway.
As we look back, the busted tire appears as a small calamity on a breathtakingly beautiful road trip.
We’ve settled into the hillside home of my sister- and brother-in-law that overlooks Turnagain Arm on the south side of Anchorage. Here's the view from our kitchen.
Janis built the house by hand on a piece of property that bumps up against a state park with a commanding view of the Pacific Ocean and the snow encrusted peaks of the Alaska Range.
We’ve parked the Sprinter van in the yard and taken up residence in a small apartment that Janis and Jerome renovated for us. Here’s the gorgeous view from our place.
Wildlife is abundant around the neighborhood. Janis caught a photo of this black bear family munching on new leaves and shoots nearby. Needless to say, whenever we go out for a walk, we bring bear spray.
A moose calf recently gave birth to two babies near the house and when the dogs saw the moose, they started barking like crazy. This angered the protective mama moose, who charged at the dogs sending them flying, then she trotted off with her newborns. Check it out in the slide show below.
The dogs, Mack and Nelly, took a rest after that scare.
During long, long days with sunlight until nearly midnight, we have plenty of chances to get outdoors. One day we climbed a mountain ridge in the state park above Anchorage, then walked to the next couple of peaks.
We’ve had a few sunny days but it has been largely a cold and cloudy month. The seeds planted outside are slow to germinate and the seedlings barely grow at all. On May 28th, snow and hail fell in the heart of Anchorage.
Once the sun comes out, all the plants grow at the fastest rate I have ever seen. Check back in a couple of weeks to see more of the garden production!
Two weeks after we arrived in Anchorage, Mark and I hitched a ride to Whittier with our amenable brother-in-law, Jerome, where we boarded a ferry for an eight-hour trip to Cordova, in Prince William Sound.
We took a mountain tunnel to get to Whittier, passing the Portage Glacier, which is shrinking rapidly but still beautiful. This morning, a layer of thin ice covered the lake in front of the glacier.
The Aurora ferry sped away from Whittier, down a channel with the snow-covered Chugash Mountains rising behind it.
After a sun-blessed sail across the Sound, we pulled into Cordova at 7:30 pm and walked a half a mile to the Reluctant Fishermen Inn.
The economy of Cordova, which is only reachable by boat or plane, centers on fishing. The season would not begin for another week, but the harbor was busy with crews preparing their boats, the gillnets and seines.
The town of about 2,500 people was lively, with a huge new community center and library, built with funds from Exxon following the massive oil spill from one of its tankers in Prince William Sound. The Exxon Valdez oil spill is also depicted in a “shame pole” built by a local Eyak carver and on display at the Ilanka Cultural Center museum.
We hiked up a hill outside town the next day and walked through snow for the last thousand feet. The view from the top was spectacular .
The majestic bald eagle is almost common place in the Cordova area. In this photo taken during a hike, you can see five. Other eagles trolled the seafront, looking for tasty morsels.
Our second day in Cordova we rented a car and drove 35 miles west, following the Copper River which flowed out of mountains that were the site of huge copper mines in the early 1900s. A flood had washed out the bridge, cutting the only road out of Cordova.
The Copper River will be full of salmon by June.
Back at the Reluctant Fisherman that night, we feasted on fish – oysters, tuna, ceviche and a sushi roll.
It was a short trip, but one worth repeating because we left too many trails unexplored along the glaciers and hikes we want to take.
On our second trip to Alaska, we drove through British Columbia west of the Rockies, along Highway One. We spent the first night parked at a lake outside the town of Ashcroft.
The next morning, we looked around the town park’s display of local history since the Europeans settled the region were on display. Mining, first for gold then for other precious metals, began in the late 1800s.
The covered wagons that carried settlers to the region and the sod-roofed cabins they lived in remind visitors of the hardships they faced.
In New Hazelton, early settlers are honored for three major economic activities: Mining, lumbering and packing. Cataline, pictured below, was said to be the best packer in British Columbia.
Before the influx of settlers, the First Nation Peoples lived a nomadic lifestyle, following the fish and the animals they hunted. In Ashcroft, a historian noted that the gold seekers changed all that.
“A shortage of white women among the miners means that a lot of Indian women are taken as wives or housekeepers. Many Indian males become cowboys or handlers of horses. This sort of interaction with the white man effectively puts an end to their nomadic lifestyle and changes their life style forever.”
The next day we visited the ‘Ksan Historical Village and Museum along the Bulkley River, a replication of an ancient Gitanmaax village. Similar to those of other First Nations, these totem poles tell the story of an individual clan and communicate legends, history and culture.
In Canada, many First Nations Peoples have well-funded cultural centers and thriving economies but others, like these in a beautiful mountain setting near ‘Ksan, reveal poverty and neglect.
Ice-crusted surfaces on a lake in early May.
We continued north along the Cassier Highway, headed to the Alaska Highway.
We often drove without seeing other cars or trucks but one day we saw seven black bears on the edge of the forest. They were waking up from their winter habitation and hungry!
The snow-capped mountains grew in majesty as we went further north in the Yukon.
After five days of driving, we entered Alaska where we spent the night at the Eagle Trail and in the morning took our first hike in the state this year. Hello to the Wrangell Mountains!
The West Coast has surprisingly turned into a place where we can meet up with family. After a week in the redwoods with Margo and John, we drove north to Eugene, Oregon. Our nephew Tom and his partner, Judy, both recent graduates of the University of Oregon, are starting out in new careers. After a dynamite meal of Thai food, they came over to check out our rig, parked that night along a walking path, courtesy of a friendly retail mail. We had a few laughs and listened to the rain on our metal roof.
After Eugene, we stayed a night in Portland where we returned to Powell’s, the world’s largest bookstore, and had to sample some of the cutting edge food that gives the city its culinary reputation.
A day later we were in Seattle, sharing food at Molly and Allegra’s home. There is nothin better than food made with love and seasoned with the passion like that of this newly-wed couple. They made the thinnest homemade fettucine pasta I've ever eaten. Buonissimo!
After two days in Seattle, Mark and I went our separate ways for a week, Mark to D.C., me to Bangor to check in on my mother and sister.
Mattie and I went to Portland (Maine) the day before I left and we had a blast with our dear old friend Lizzie, seen here on beautiful Higgins Beach in Scarborough.
Mark returned to Seattle first, in time to find our friends David and Hanna at the Climate March.
We left the next day for Canada, then Alaska, with the enthusiastic support of friends and family.
Ever since we read the book The Wild Trees we wanted to visit the coastal redwoods and see close up the magic of the towering giants hidden in the rainforest of northern California. In mid-April we got our chance, meeting up with our sister- and brother-in-law, Margo and John, to spend a week hiking through the forest and looking at trees.
We started in Humboldt Redwoods State Park where the famous Avenue of the Giants winds through the tall trees. A high annual rainfall feeds the unique plants and trees that are only found there.
Not surprisingly, it poured most of the time we were there. We still managed to get out into the forest and walk among the trees, the tallest ones estimated to be more than two thousand years old and as high as 380 feet.
Inside the forests at Humboldt, and further north in Prairie Creek and Jedediah State Parks, we entered a remote eco-system where young trees sprouted on the remains of fallen giants.
On the ground, the roots of trees mesh together, creating a living network across the forest floor.
High above, the broad crowns of the tree are lush environments for plants, animals, birds and insects.
Miraculously, even fire could not destroy these trees. Charred bark and empty trunks on the first ten feet of a tree did not kill it and fresh green leaves flourished above. The empty trunks offered a shelter that would be perfect for a hobbit.
The Redwood forest of today is only a fraction of the size it was before settlers began to log the giants in the late 19th century. In 1917, naturalist Charles Kellogg fashioned a fallen redwood into a camper that he put on the back of a flatbed truck, then drove around the country to campaign to save the remaining trees. He called the truck the Travel Log.
Kellogg’s efforts led to the preservation of several redwood groves, though conservation protests in some groves continued into the 1990s.
In between camping among the redwoods we spent a few days on the wild Pacific coast in Trinidad.
We also stayed for two nights on the serpentine blue-green Smith river, at the lovely Hiouchi Bed & Breakfast. From Hiouchi we could access the remote Grove of Titans, a circular colonnade of the largest redwoods in the world, trees so enormous that one of the first biologists to find the grove cried when he saw them.
Our time among the ancient redwoods filled us with awe and gave us hope that others will be able to experience the majesty of nature in these groves.
lWe drove west from Utah and Zion National Park, speeding past the lights of Las Vegas to the Mojave Desert Preserve where we boondocked our first night. in California.
After sunset, the desert came alive. Coyotes prowled and rodents scattered. By chance, a couple was holding their marriage ceremony nearby and we could hear the lovers pledge their hearts to each other under a white memorial cross, then depart for Las Vegas. We didn't want to crash their party, but got this photo of the cross and the raven who made it his hangout.
The next day we headed to an RV park in Los Angeles county, just outside the city. From our hillside perch in a county park, it was hard to believe that the city could be seen on the horizon.
We came to do some work and to see family, especially our new grandnephew, Jack, his brother and parents. Tiffany and Danilo and their sons AIden and Jack hung out with us for two days giving us a rare chance to catch up and play with our two grandnephews.
Seeing family was our mission when we drove north through the Central Valley, headed to Santa Cruz, where we parked in the town’s famous harbor.
Our nephew Jackson was on hand to show us the beaches at sunset and to eat sushi with his friend Nathan until we were all stuffed. We had breakfast then headed north to the Bay area the next day.
After driving over the tortuous Santa Cruz mountains, we arrived at my sister and brother-in-law’s house in Concord, where we were greeted by Ricardo’s mother, Carmen. The Meyer lemons were ripe and the flowers were blooming!
We missed my sister who is in Maine caring for my mother, but we all had a lovely meal at a Peruvian restaurant with my brother-in-law Ricardo and his mother, Carmen. The next day I took care of car maintenance and other errands. Despite a howling rainstorm that evening, my niece Deirdre and her partner, Justin, drove over and we had a barbeque! Ricardo cooked a great meal under the downpour!
After two days in Concord, we got back on the road. Our next stop was Sonoma, where our long-time friends Fran and Mary hosted us for the weekend at their beautiful new home. Here’s a view of their garden.
On Monday morning, Fran and Mary left for work and we piled into the rig, heading north to our next destination: the Redwood forests.
Listen as Johnny Cash & Lynn Anderson tear it up.
Where we are today.