Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Back home and still adjusting!

I don't know if anyone is still looking at this blog, but just in case . . .

It took about 24 hours of traveling (Kotzebue to Anchorage, (4 hr layover); Anchorage to Minneapolis (5 hour layover); Minneapolis to DCA; DCA to Shady Grove Metro; Shady Grove to Germantown to retrieve my car (kindness of my good friends the McClures); Germantown to Columbia), but I made it home last Tuesday evening. I left the next morning of three days of training in Southern Maryland.

It's taken me since then to get readjusted to life in the lower forty-eight, on EDT, etc. I have some amazing pictures of Copper Center/Kenny Lake, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, our INCREDIBLE glacier hike, and Kotzebue and I want to get them up in case anyone is interested. Hopefully soon!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Joy's Top Ten List of Fun Things to do in Kotzebue

1) Watch the Tundra grow.
2) Go to the E.R. (recreationally)
3) Watch the Alaska Airlines flights (aka the "Freedom Bird") take off and land at the airport
4) Lay on the floor and stare at the dusty ceiling fan
5) Watch the rain come down.
6) Bake banana bread.
7) Reminisce about summer.

Alas, we could only come up with seven . . . . . .

Saturday, August 2, 2008

No There There

Now that we are in Kotzebue (more on that later!), we have had a bit of chance to reflect on the journey through interior Alaska. We covered almost 1500 miles in the trusty rent-a-car and saw some absolutely amazing things and had some incredible experiences.

We also couldn't help but we struck by how much nothing there is out there. Miles and miles of road with few or no cars. Acres and acres of land with nothing (and not just in the national and state parks, perserves, and forests, but all along the road side.). Every 50 miles or so (sometimes less often) we would pass a "town," which would mean a gas station, a convenience store, a post office, a school (sometimes), a church, and that's about it. A few houses. A few people. And this is in the part of Alaska that is ON the road system!

I guess this should not be that surprising, given the size of Alaska and the population -- 680,000 people, 250,000 of whom live in Anchorage and another 40,000 in the suburbs thereof. After Anchorage, the next largest city is Fairbanks, where the population is around 30,000. Juneau, the capital, is about the same. There are just hardly any people here. Alaska has 121 high schools with less than 50 students. Less than 50 total, not 50 per class.

I found it interesting to visit and contemplate. I think Joy found it a bit oppressive.

North to Fairbanks!

So, Monday night we stumbled off the bus after the 8-hour ride into the park and headed to the "Denali Outdoor Center" where we were spending the night in a cabin and doing a rafting trip (a float trip - no whitewater) the next morning. We arrived to find that our cabin was ready but our trip had been cancelled, because no one but us had signed up and they have a four-person minimum. They tried to talk us into a white water trip (no thank you!) or a later float trip, but we declined. On our quest to find some food (harder than you'd think), we did see a gorgeous double rainbow. At 10:30 pm. Only in Alaska.

So after a cozy night in the cabin, we headed back to the Denali visitor center and out for a short hike (about an hour) through the "boreal forest" or as it's also called by it's Russian name, the Taiga -- which means "land of little sticks", because most of the trees are quite thin of trunk and many are twisted and stunted, because it's not easy to grow on the permafrost. The trail came out by a beautiful lake, where we saw the largest beaver dam any of us had ever seen (but not any actual beavers).

Then we piled back in the trusty blue rent-a-car and headed for Fairbanks, a drive of a couple hours through moutains and woods, opening out into the Tanana valley, where the city (population 30,000) sits on the banks of the Chena River. We throughly embraced the tourist role for this part of the trip, visiting a historic gold mine (where we learned about the gold rush and panned for gold -- yes, I bought the necklace to display my found gold flakes and I wear it with pride, thank you very much!), "Alaskaland," with it's historical displays, the all-you-can-eat salmon bake, the "golden heart musical review" (which was corny, but funny), and North Pole, Alaska (complete with Santa and reindeer). We also visited the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, which was somewhat more edifying, with displays about the geography, climate, wildlife, and Native cultures of Alaska's various regions, as well as Alaskan art (and, of course, a very nice gift shop).