We are home and planning our next adventure because the compass never stops spinning. Check out my Future Adventures tab to see some of the possibilities! I’d love your feedback and ideas.
I stand corrected regarding an earlier statement I made that reindeer are not indigenous to Alaska, but had been brought here from Siberia by fur traders in the 19th century. According to one of our naturalists, reindeer and caribou are one and the same animal, and caribou are definitely indigenous to Alaska. In Europe and Asia, the animal is called a reindeer. In North America it is called a caribou. Alaskans use the term “reindeer” to refer to a “domesticated” caribou, a caribou that is kept in a herd for the purpose of meat harvesting, and the domesticated variety probably did originate in Siberia.
It was James Michener’s book, Alaska, that confused me. He described the fur traders purchasing reindeer in Siberia to bring back for the Inuits in northern Alaska. These natives of the Arctic coast couldn’t always get out to hunt in winter. If their Fall hunt wasn’t sufficient to sustain them over winter, they faced starvation. Domesticated caribou would provide a reliable supply of meat during the winter. Perhaps the Alaskan wild caribou could not or would not be herded, but the domesticated variety from Siberia, bred in a herd, could be.
The Dall sheep’s primary defense from predators is to hang out at high altitudes on inclines too steep for their predators to climb. Their teensy feet help them balance on impossibly narrow ledges.
Denali grizzlies are significantly smaller than the coastal variety. They don’t have access to salmon and other fish and are essentially herbivores. At this time of year they are eating every berry they can find, some 20,000 calories a day. Mama Bear may have to get up in the middle of her winter’s nap to forage for food, if she’s got new, or even yearling, cubs to nurse.
In the video below, Mama Bear’s pace never changes as her young cubs (born in the Spring) frolic around her. They stopped to sniff and eat a few berries, wrestled with each other a bit, then ran to catch up, never letting her out of their sight.
These four beavers were busy storing willows in their cache for consumption during the long winter. They construct underwater accesses to their lodge (the mound of sticks in the foreground) and cache because the surface of the pond will be frozen over.
We heard them calling before we could see them, two large flocks of sandhill cranes preparing to head south. They will follow the Alaska Range southwest until they come to a low pass where they will wait for air currents strong enough to lift them up and over the mountains. These two flocks merged and separated, merged and separated, and finally merged as one before heading toward the mountains.
We saw hundreds of sandhill cranes preparing to migrate. Our guides say that the crane’s migration is their cue to make their own preparations to head south. Safe travels everyone! We’ll see you cranes this winter in Florida!
Last February I was researching a place to stay inside Denali National Park. I had read that the best place to see wildlife is as deep into the interior as visitors can go. There is only one road into the park, and it’s 92 miles long. The first 15 miles is open to car traffic, but the next 77 is open only to the buses that ferry almost 600,000 visitors a year in and out. With stops for wildlife viewing and other necessities, these buses don’t average much more than 10 mph on a bumpy, gravel, single-track road. I started thinking: 92 miles at 10 mph—the drive could take nine hours in one direction! I planned on visiting the park every day for four days, and I had no intention of living on a bus. We were going to have to stay in the park.
There are only three places to stay inside the park, and one involves cabins without plumbing. Scratch that—an outhouse down a dark path on a cold, windy night was not in my plans either. We chose the North Face Lodge, the camp’s sister lodge just down the hill. I read something about guided hikes on the website. Not sure where, when, or how that would work, but if it didn’t suit our needs, we could always do our own thing.
We discovered that the lodge had our entire four-day adventure planned down to the personalized napkin pins. We were met at the park entrance, assigned to a bus, relieved of our luggage, and welcomed aboard—along with 30-some other people. The 17 rooms at the lodge would be occupied for four days by the same group of people. Everyone arrives on the same day and leaves on the same day. We were greeted at the lodge by two energetic, young hosts who, over the course of our four-day visit, told us where we needed to be next, and what we had the option of doing there. They were supported by a whole passel of staff who rotated through various tasks: naturalists, guides, bus and van drivers, cooks, servers, gardeners, dishwashers, housekeepers, and more. The lichen expert may be your bus driver/hiking guide one day, and the next morning she’s serving you stuffed French toast. They were an incredible team, so enthusiastic about spending their summer in the great outdoors.
We were delighted to be part of this little family. We ate our meals together, and at each meal we were seated with someone we hadn’t had a chance to talk to yet. Each day after breakfast we chose our own level of adventure: strenuous, moderate, or foray. Or we could choose to stay at the lodge and hike their nature trails, bike, canoe, or just sit by the fire and read. Selecting our own tempo provided a different way of mixing us up. After finishing a moderate hike on the tundra the first day, we were a bit envious of the forayers who did less walking and more riding around in vans to carefully selected locations where large mammals were known to hang out. So the second day we chose to foray, and we had an opportunity not only to see wildlife, but also to get to know a different group of people. Normally I like to call the shots about what we do and when we do it, but this was so well orchestrated and so congenial that I felt a bit sentimental on the day we departed. What a marvelous group of people—both guests and staff—and what an enjoyable way to share a common passion! I’m going to miss them. Sometimes it’s fortuitous not to know what you’re getting into.
We’re back in Anchorage after our three-week explore of the Kenai Peninsula. It was tempting to take a day off our first, full day here–we had a busy week in Girdwood–but I checked the weather forecast, and our first day was going to be the best weather-day of the week. So we hit the trail, the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, a brilliant 11-mile trail along the Knik Arm of the Cook Inlet. We chose to bike it, rather than hoof it, and opted for a tandem bike. It worked very well. I rode in the back, which meant I didn’t have to steer or shift gears while I navigated us through all the twists, turns, tunnels and train tracks on the trail. But I still provided power, especially on the hills. (Those spinning classes really paid off!) We covered a total of 20 miles–the trail and then some–and an elevation gain of 420 feet. Not bad for a day’s ride!
It was a long day with an itinerary covering 190 miles of spectacular Oregon coastline. We managed to check out of our apartment in Gold Beach by 9:00, which for us is amazing. But then we got hung up by the stunning wildlife at Port Orford, the friendly volunteers at Cape Blanco, the intriguing walking paths at Coquille Point, the delicious Sea Star Bistro and the worthwhile Washed Ashore gallery in Old Town Bandon, and then the unbelievable dunes between Reedsport and Florence. Then the rain set in, and it was growing dark. We don’t like checking in to a new rental in the rain and the dark. All that unseen mud! We’d just have to chuck the rest of the itinerary and make a run for Newport.
I always plan more stops than we have time for, and my motto is “No regrets.” We do what we can. This is supposed to be slow travel, relaxed travel. Ix-nay on the ess-stray. As we headed to Newport, I was trying not to regret missing Cape Heceta lighthouse, reportedly one of the prettiest on the Oregon coast.
I looked up to see a sign for the Sea Lion Cave. As much as I like sea lions, I didn’t regret missing what sounded like a cheesy tourist spectacle—an elevator ride down the face of a cliff to gaze into a cavern full of Steller sea lions. I wonder what they make of that. Oh, look! Here comes another cage of tourists!
We drove on. And there it was—the coziest little lighthouse you could ever imagine nestled into the side of a rocky point, its beacon sweeping through the misty rain and out to sea. Cape Heceta! I didn’t realize it’s visible from the Oregon Coast Highway. We pulled off the road onto a conveniently situated overlook.
We rarely travel at dusk, so I’m not used to actually being able to see a lighthouse beacon. They tend to disappear in the light of day. But the rain and the hour were the ideal setting and that rocky backdrop the ideal canvas. Thomas Kinkade would have been euphoric. I stood at the overlook wall taking it all in. And then I heard the barking. Dogs? No, it was coming from the cove below us. Sea lions!
There was still enough light to peer into the waves 300 feet below us, and there they were. Dozens of sea lions diving into the surf in search of dinner. Dawn and dusk are optimal times to see animals in the wild foraging for food. Our timing couldn’t have been better. We stayed until the light grew too dim to see, then got back in the car and drove into the darkness. We arrived at our rental and unloaded our stuff in the pitch black (the porch light wasn’t working), but we didn’t care. Sometimes you see the most extraordinary things when you step outside your comfort zone.
Here we are in cute little J’ville. The town is so perfect we felt like we were on a movie set. Lots of cute shops, restaurants, galleries, wine-tasting venues, and even an impressive Halloween-themed show by the local art league. It was fun wandering around pretending like we lived here.
You’ve got to love a town named Bend. There’s just something about the name that sounds so, well, flexible. Everyone we’ve talked to who has been here says they love it. We had high expectations, and were not disappointed. Here’s a slideshow that attempts to show why.
Much more interesting than The Dalles is Hood River, a town 22 miles west and also on the Columbia River at the mouth of the Hood River–surprise, surprise! Among its claims to fame are the invention of wind surfing (it gets quite breezy here on the Columbia) and several very noteworthy craft breweries. It’s also a cute town to walk around. Great coffee shops, independent boutiques, and restaurants.
Bucket list item realized last night: Bonnie Raitt in concert! We sat for three hours in a steady rain (Oregon!) and got drenched to the bone, but it was worth it. McMenamin’s Edgefield resort in Troutdale was loads of fun, if a bit muddy. I’m glad I allowed for a day off in our itinerary today. We’re cleaning up the mess and doing laundry.