Organ Pipe National Park

Organ Pipe National Park

About Me

I purchased "Sadie''s House On Wheels "in late 2007 and loved traveling in a motor home so much that I went on the road full time in late 2008. I started writing this blog to help me remember all the wonder places I have been and it allows me to share those places with my family and friends. Summer of 2013 I decided to hang up the keys for a while and moved back into my stick house. After nearly two years, I am on the road again.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

June 30, Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is an eleven mile paved trail from down town Anchorage to Kincaid Park.  The scenic trail follows the coast line through forests and meadows and part of the trail skirts the very busy Anchorage International Airport.  The trail is just one of the many green belts and trails in the city.  There are over 180 parks/green belts in Anchorage.  Wow!! The Coastal trail ends at Kincaid Park which is a popular cross country ski area in the winter.  The park is a honey comb of cross country ski trail in the winter and a wonderful place to walk or mountain bike in the summer.  

We checked the weather and it looked favorable for a bike ride.  The weather man said once the fog burned off it would be cloudy with only a chance of rain.  So we headed out shortly after lunch to check out the famous trail.  

                                 Anchorage as seen from the trail

There are many access points to the trail and we chose to catch it from Earth Quake Park around the 2 mile mark.  Earth Quake Park has several information plaques about the 1964 earthquake and resulting tsunamis.  Although Anchorage was hit pretty hard by the 1964 earthquake and tsunami, Seward and Portage, south of Anchorage fared even worse.  

                                              Earthquake Park

Our ride totaled nearly 20 miles and was fairly flat.  Although the trail follows the coast line for almost the whole length of the trail, the views are limited due to the heavy tree and brush growth.  

                                        Wow!  Blue sky.  Haven't seen this for a while!!

                        Although there was some blue sky, the clouds are still hiding Denali which can been seen from Anchorage on a clear day.  

I'm looking forward to exploring some of the other parks and trails in the Anchorage pending.  The forecast is for more clouds and rain over the next few days.  Ugh!

June 28-29 Anchorage


I arrived back in Anchorage to drizzle rain and darkness.  Contrary to popular believe it does get for a little while at night.  My flight arrived around 12:30 A.M. and after to wandering around for about 45 minutes trying to locate the parking lot where my car was located, it was actually dark outside.  By the time I returned to my RV it was respectably dark.

The next morning I retrieved Sadie from the doggie hotel (she did fine) and returned to find the rest of the group had arrived at the Moose Lodge.  After everyone got settled in we headed for downtown and the visitor center to get "oriented".  Anchorage is the jump off point for so many destinations...Denali, Fairbanks,Seward, Homer, Palmer and the Kenai Peninsula,  to name a few.  Since we had already been to Denali and Fairbanks we were able to concentrate on information pertaining to some of the other areas. Were to start? Liz exclaimed she could stay here for at least a week!

Tuesday, we had planned to hit the Tony Knowles Coastal Bicycle Trail, but it was cloudy and foggy.  We checked the weather and it looked like the next day would be better for a ride so we decided to go check out the trail to Flat Top Mountain.  Several guide books and the folks at the visitor center said the Flat Tom Mountain trail was suppose to be one of the top rated hikes in the Anchorage area.  The weather did not cooperate and by the time we got out of the car it had started raining so we just walked up to the lookout point and will try and hike the trail another day.

                                                 Flat Top Mountain

                                       Views from the overlook

The Seward Highway is a Scenic Byway that leads south from Anchorage.  We decided to drive south aways and stop at Potter Mash, where there is a long boardwalk over the marsh.  The marsh was formed as a result of the building of the Alaskan Railroad and Liz was hoping to see an abundance of birds and other wildlife.

                                       I think there was at least of mile of boardwalk..maybe more

                           Potters Marsh and vistas looking south

                        Liz was having a good time birding and Nancy and Bill joined in.
                             Canadian geese and family.  Look at the one watching out for everyone.

We continued on down the coast stopping at various pullouts enjoying the vistas of the Turnagain Arm.  We ended up in Girdwood for late afternoon snacks at the Bake Shop where Bill and Nancy tested more cinnamon buns and then the Ice Cream Shop where Liz and I sampled home made ginger ice cream.  It was really good. Girdwood is the home of the Alyeskan Resort, which is a cute little ski resort and is active with summer residents.

Mud flats near Windy Point on the Seward Highway

Just one of the scene driving down the Seward Highway

We plan to travel the Seward Highway down to Seward and eventually work our way to Homer after we leave Anchorage which won't be until after the weekend.  

Sunday, June 27, 2010

June 24-27, side trip to California

Side trip to California?  I'm leaving the group for a few days to catch a flight to Pacific Grove California to celebrate my mother's 90th birthday and will return on Monday to rejoin my group.

The drive to Anchorage from Denali was very beautiful.  I stopped at several of the places noted in the Mile Post to see the "mountain" but the clouds prohibited any peeks of mountain.  There were lots of pull outs and campsites along the way, especially in Denali State Park.  Had it not been cloudy I would have stopped more often.  The road was good and the views of the mountain range were exceptional, especially, as I got closer to Anchorage.

My plan was to drive to the Moose Lodge and leave my RV there while in California. The Moose Lodge was very easy to find and the folks were really kind.  I explained I wanted to leave my RV there while I flew to California.  No problem.   My flight to California didn't leave until12:20 A.M. so there was plenty of time to do a few errands and get Sadie to the doggie hotel.  How time flies.  Before I knew it , it was almost 9:00!  I think the fact that it is so light out until late is throwing my clock off.  I had planned to check out a few other campsites like the Elks but ran out of time.

My flight from Anchorage to Pacific Grove, California was uneventful and I miraculously I connected with two of my sons who flew in from Phoenix and Virginia.  We all were flying in on different airlines and flew into different terminals. The wondrous age of texting and cell phones sure makes times like this easy.  We all were excited to see each other and drive to Pacific Grove to celebrate mom's 90th birthday.

                                          Mom, 90 years young

                         We made blowing out candles easy for mom. We only put two candles  on the cake.

Zoe, 10 months.  Isn't she adorable!  She is my grand niece, daughter of Jenifer and mom's youngest great grand daughter. She almost stole the show.

Mom, Zoe, and my son Justin.  Justin doesn't have children, but loves is cousins and has a great time with them.

My son Conlan Craig and Zoe.  He loves kids also, but doesn't have any of his own.

                                        Jenifer (Zoe's mom), Scott (Zoe's dad) and Conlan

My niece Christina and her husband Craig, and Justin.  Christina a Craig have four children, but they were with Craig's sister.  My son's Justin and Conlan were a little disappointed because they were looking forward to seeing their little cousins. 

Brother Dale and his wife Carolann

We all had a great time and the time flew by way too fast.   One of my nieces and two of my sons couldn't make it to the celebration.  I had previously told mom I probably wouldn't make it for the birthday party because of my travels in Alaska, so she was really surprised when I showed up on her door step with Justin and Conlan in tow, and didn't seem to mind the other couldn't come.  


Saturday, June 26, 2010

June 23, Denali

I was on my own for most of the day so I took the opportunity to explore the "front country" a little. I drove out to Savage Creek and stopped at mile 9 where you can see Denali on a clear day.  The clouds parted for a few minutes and I did get a view of the mountain 80 miles away.

I hiked to Horseshoe lake and was treated to a scene of a moose and her calf frolicking in the water.  There was also an older calf (yearling?) playing nearby in the water.  I walked down to the end of the trail and saw a wonderful beaver dam.  On the way back I almost ran into the older moose who at this time had left the pond and was having breakfast.

                                Note how she blends in with the forest.  Her hide is wet from swimming.

                                         Beaver pond.
I went back to camp and loaded Sadie in the Jeep and drove out to the Old Denali Highway to explore a little. The Old Denali Highway connects Paxton to Cantwell and is about 135 miles of dirt road.  I only drove about 25 miles out, but the road was very good (similar to the Taylor Highway) and the vistas awesome.  I pulled off the road in several places and walked several different of the  ATV trails.  Most lead to a primitive campsite or overlook.
                                          Views of the Alaska range a long the Old Denali Highway

No visit to Denali is complete without a visit to the sled dog kennels.  I had been to the sled dog kennels years ago, but thought with all of the new facilities in the park that there might be something new. I also wanted to see how these dogs would be different from the sled dogs I saw in Fairbanks which were racing dogs.  I walked to the visitor center from the campsite and then took the bus to the kennels.  The walk to the visitor center was  a little over a mile and very pleasant.

                                          One of the lead dogs
The dog kennels haven't changed all that much.  The dogs have nicer dog houses and several are available for petting.  The dogs are very sociable and love to see people. The  ranger demonstrated how the dogs are harnessed up and pull the sled.  The dogs are worked all winter long hauling provisions out the cabins in the park.  They also assist in other tasks, the most recent was  moving building supplies to a new trail head.The generally don't work in the summer because it is too warm for them.  They really like the cold and stay in the outdoor kennels all winter.  They are a little larger than the racing dogs, but other than that their temperament seems to be the same.

                                                   The ranger is modeling the winter gear

                                           And off they go

This evenings ranger talk was on moose.  She also talked a little about living in the cold climate and how to dress for -40 degree weather.  She talked about most  people have a threshold of -30 and don't go out if it is colder than that.  Its a very dry cold, so it doesn't seem like -30.  The other interesting fact is that most housing does not have running water, it freezes in the winter.  She also indicated winter was the nicest time in the park and they have visitors that come and snowshoe and cross country ski.  Contrary to popular belief they do have 4-5 hours of day light in the winter because they are farther south.

This is my last day in Denali.  I wish I could stay longer, and I am sure I will return someday for a much longer visit.  I'll be heading for Anchorage tomorrow  to catch a flight to California to join my family in celebrating my mother's 90th birthday.  The rest of the group will stay in Denali for a few more days and will catch up with me when I return to Anchorage.

June 22, Denali

The group made reservations to go on the bus tomorrow, so that left Nancy free to go hiking with me.  We started out to take the bus to the Visitor Center where the trail head began.  The bus that picked us up  and the campground was the camper bus, not the courtesy bus, but the driver said he would let us off at the Wilderness Access Center and the service road would intersect with the Healy Overlook trail.  I think I mentioned in my last post, the buses were a little confusing.

The Healy Overlook trail is suppose to be a 4.5 mile out and back trail with an elevation gain of over 1700 feet.  The trail is steep and  very rocky. Our actual mileage was a little more than six miles. Three miles up and three miles down.  Not much level hiking at all.  The vistas were spectacular.  On a clear day you are suppose to see Denali, but the day was cloudy.  The good news was we didn't have any rain.

                                 Just a few of the vistas from the Healy Overlook trail.

In the evening we decided to attend the ranger talk on squirrels.  Squirrels?  Its seems the big five (caribou, moose, wolf, bear, and sheep) get all of the attention.  My curiosity was peaked ..what could be so interesting about squirrels in the park.  There is the flying squirrel which eats truffles and then scatters the spores through his scat.  The truffles are good for the spruce forest because they are a type of fungus which helps the tree roots store water.  Then there is the arctic ground squirrel which is "fast food" for the bears and wolves.  The red squirrel  eats the spruce cone seeds .  The red squirrels drive Sadie crazy. They sit in the trees and taunt her to the point I have to put her in the motor home because she starts barking at them.

                This arctic ground squirrel was looking for a hand out while were eating lunch.  When he didn't get anything from us he let out a shrill sound and scurried on.  He was really perturbed that we didn't give him snacks.                      

On our way to the ranger talk, we encountered a Moose cow and her calf.  The path was separating the two so we had to wait until one of them crossed the path.  You really don't want to get between the cow and her calf.  So we waited until the two meandered on and then we continued on to the amphitheater to listen to the talk on squirrels.  Then the cow and the calf wandered into the amphitheater area within 10-20 feet of us, which according to the ranger is way to close.  So far at the beginning of every talk, they say stay 25 yards away from Moose and 300 yards away from bear.  The ranger was getting a little worried, but finally the cow and her calf moved on.

Bill took these pictures.  I had forgotten my camera.  Thanks Bill for sharing.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

June 21, Denali

I was the first to arrive at Denali.  I wanted to check on the "Discovery Hikes" and sign up for one.  They have two ranger led hikes a day in the Park and space is limited, so I wanted to be sure I could get signed up.  More on that later.

Checking in to the Riley Creek Campground proved to be a little confusing.  Since we made the reservation for the four of us under one name, I had to check all of us in.  The camp sites are not assigned, but you pick yours first come, first served.  So, it was a good thing I was there shortly after check in time because there was lots  of empty campsites to chose from.  They are very strict about you checking out by 11:00 and I was there about 1:00.  I spent a good 45 minutes circling the various campground loops trying to find spaces for us that weren't to hilly or too short and would accommodate the RV and a tow vehicle

Finally, off to the Wilderness Access Center (WAC)   to see about the Discovery hikes.  I'm told I have to go to the Visitor Center (VC)to find out about the hikes, another mile up the hill.  The ranger at the VC says the only one available is a 65 mile bus ride into the park and its labeled a strenuous hike.  So, strenuous that in order to sign up the ranger needs to see my boots to make sure I have hiking boots and not tennis shoes.  The strenuous part doesn't bother me, but the fact that it is probably a 3 hour bus ride out and 4-5 hour hike and another 3 hour bus ride back does bother me.  That means Sadie will have to be left ALL day in the motor home.  Not.  She is good, but not that good.  The ranger said there is doggie day care available and I checked into it.  Doggie day care was $35-45.  Ouch!!So I opted not to do the Discovery Hike this time.

For those of you not familiar with Denali  National Park, you cannot drive further than 15 miles into the park. The road ends at about 98 miles.  You have to buy a shuttle bus ticket and ride the bus or walk, or ride a bike.  No cars are allowed except by lottery in September.  You cannot take your dog on any of the trails, not even the access trails to the visitor center or campsites.  You have to walk them on the paved road.  This is not dog friendly territory. Furthermore, it is not an easy place to see.

The bus system itself is a little confusing also.  There are three different "shuttle" buses that go to different places in the park, these are the green buses.  There is no narrative or food( you pack food and water for the whole day) and it can be a 6-12 hour ride depending which bus you chose.  You can get off the bus anytime in the Park and get back on any of the buses...if there is room. Then there are the "tour" buses. They are tan, I think. These have a narrator and food is provided and they cost more money.  Again long rides.  There are also the "courtesy" buses that are free which shuttle you between the camp ground and visitor center, the wilderness access center,  and the sled dog kennels.  And last but not least there is the "camper" bus.  This is the bus that will take you to the meeting place of the Discovery Hikes and tent only campsites for a fee.  All of the buses, except the courtesy bus require reservations and they fill up fast.  Usually you have to wait a day or so to get on unless you make reservations way a head of time.

The bottom line is, if you are going to go to Denali,  you need to plan ahead and not take your pets and plan on spending a week if you really want to see it and get the feel of it.  If you like to hike, there are some trails, but most hiking is cross country as there are no designated trails beyond the 15 mile mark.  Also, you go to see the wild life, not the mountain.  Denali is shrouded in clouds 2 out of 3 days in the summer, and there is only one place you can see the mountain in the park without taking one of the shuttle or tour buses.

So, no discovery hike, and no bus ride for me. Nancy, Bill, and Liz were able to make reservations and did go on the green bus to Wonder Lake which was about a 10 hour ride.

I traveled to Denali nearly 15 years ago on a trip with my mother.  We took the bus out in the Park and I have good memories of that trip.  At that time there was only the shuttle bus and none of the other buses existed.  The Park has undergone huge, huge changes since then.  The VC campus, the WAC, the paved access trails are all new.

I ended my day with going to the ranger talk at the amphitheater.  The topic was on Caribou and their impact on the park and their summer and winter migration habits.

Didn't take one picture today.  The drive from Fairbanks was uneventful and there was road construction.

June 20, Last Day in Fairbanks.

I was very undecided what I wanted to do today. There was still a lot to see in Fairbanks yet I had toyed with the idea I'd go to Denali a day early. Well, the weather made the decision for me. It was raining...really hard. So off to the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska. I think I read somewhere that I should allow at least 4 hours to fully enjoy the museum. I'm not a real museum enthusiasts..I get bored easily, but the museum kept my attention. In addition to the cultural and art exhibits, and Alaska's largest public display of gold, there were three short 30 minutes films. The film on the aurora boreal was very interesting and full of information, so much so I watched it twice.

                                                Snow goggles worn by the early settlers and Athabaskans

                                          The kayak is made out of caribou hides and parts.

                                         This is "Babe"the mummified bison

                                    There were lots of displays of bead work.  This is just one example of the detailed bead work done by the Athabaskans. 
                               Part of the gold display.  Look at the size of the nuggets.  

There was also a nice collection of classic and modern art.  
The Northern Museum at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.  

Part of the University Campus.  It was very big and very nice.  
I have noticed that the native term Athabascan is spelled several different ways.  I checked and there are several correct spellings:  Athabascan, Athabaskan, and Athapaskan.  Apparently they are all correct spellings, just to confuse one.  

Every year Fairbanks has a summer solstice festival in the downtown area starting and noon and continuing until midnight. This is a huge event and it is usually held on a weekend day closest to the actual Solstice, this year being Sunday.  Bands play all day and into the night; there is a wide of variety of food to sample; and local artisans show off their work and offer it for sale. We are so far north that it really doesn't get dark at night, maybe a little dusky. I lasted until about 10:00 and then called it a night. The pictures were taken pretty late in the evening so you can see how light it was. On the actual summer solstice date, they play midnight baseball.  The city folk are quit proud that no lights are used.  

The band Cold Steel, uses only steel drums for their music.  I took a video of them and a recording.  Someday, I figure out how to up load it to the blog.  

The arch is made of moose antlers and is located downtown at the entrance to the river walk. 

Tomorrow we head for Denali! 

Sunday, June 20, 2010

June15-19 More on Fairbanks

                                           Angel Rocks, Chena River Recreation Area

We spent most of Tuesday morning planning our stay in Fairbanks and deciding when we would go to Denali National Park.  We needed to make a commitment in order to make reservations.  This was a big deal for us because so far we hadn't made any schedules and were just going day by day.

Liz and Nancy wanted to take a flight seeing tour up to the Arctic Circle and Prudhoe Bay.  I considered driving part way just to the Arctic Circle but it would be almost 200 miles one way...much too long for a day trip.  Nancy and Liz booked a two night three day trip leaving on Wednesday and returning Friday evening.  We were able to book reservations for Denali the following week so we are committed.  Pretty scary.  I opted to stay in Fairbanks and not go on the flight seeing tour because I would have had to put Sadie in a kennel and finding a kennel on such short notice would have been difficult.

While Liz and Nancy were gone, I had a few days to leisurely see Fairbanks.  It is a wonderful little town with a huge community spirit.  The downtown area is on the river front and there is a nice river walk along the Chena River.  The path starts across the street from where we are staying at the Moose Lodge.  Every Wednesday evening and Friday noon free concerts are given in the Central Heart Plaza put on by Festival Fairbanks.  There are lots of bicycle routes and I have noticed on my morning walks with Sadie there are lots of people riding bikes to work.  I'm not sure what the bicyclists do in the winter when it is 40 below.

There is also a true Farmers Market.  Everything has to be  made and/or  produced in Alaska in order to be sold at the market.  There were lots of crafts as well as produce and home made baked goods.  It is a little early in the season for fresh vegetables but there was a nice selection of cucumbers, zucchini, different types of lettuce. Most of these were started in a greenhouse and the tomatoes and huge zucchini were grown in green houses.  Also, there was a large assortment of different honeys and jams.  There were home made breads,  pies, cookies, and the like.  No commercial stuff here. The crafts included work by some of the Athabascans.

Of all the choices, Bill chose some freshly fried fry bread.  He said it was delicious, especially after loading it with sugar and cinnamon.

It seems vegetable gardens in the summer are a must.  Almost everyone has some kind of vegetables growing and some in the most unlikely fence borders, in empty lots, on berms.  They fish for pike and salmon and hunt for moose, bear, and caribou.  These are not hobby activities but a way of life for most Alaskans. Food is expensive, especially during the winter so they grow what they need and hunt and fish.

I took a drive on the Chena Hot Springs road on the way to Chena Hot Springs.  The literature I had read said this was prime moose country but there was no moose to be seen o. Bill went along and we decided to hike up to Angel Rocks which is one of the few designated trails in the area.   The trail is a 3.5 mile loop rated easy to moderate with a 900 foot elevation gain in the first 1.2 miles.  The going was easy...until we made a wrong turn going back on the loop.  We took  what looked like the most traveled route which turned out not to be the trail at all, but most likely a short cut  social trail (there were lots of human footprints) , and extremely steep.  Once we got down to the bottom, we could see the real trail intersecting with what we had just been on.
This was the easy part of the trail.

Angel Rocks are huge granite rocks that seem to protrude straight up from the ground.
 Queen of the Rocks (Sadie).