Sunday, March 26, 2017

Winter on the Kenai

After working 9 months full-time without any time off I am now working 25-30 hours per week so have a little time to catch up on blogging. I would like to share our experiences while spending the winter in Alaska. We are not in the extremely cold interior or north slope but near the Pacific on a peninsula, south of Anchorage. I would compare the temperatures with Minnesota, but we did not have much wind so did not have the extreme wind chills. We had about 3 feet of snow on the ground 3 weeks ago but have had sunny weather with afternoon temps around freezing so melting has started. But the low temps are still in the single digits and I am ready for that to change! Still have to bundle up to walk the dogs in the mornings!

We moved into an apartment in October, just before the first snow fell. By the end of October we had 4-5 inches accumulated and we have not seen grass since. The last 2 winters were unseasonably warm here with very little snow so everyone was hoping for a real winter. I was still able to walk to work into November because I started at 4 pm. Rollie was working as a school bus attendant so he worked early mornings. We share one vehicle which takes some planning.

Sitka spruce
We took several drives to see the snow in the trees, the beach, the frozen rivers and the countryside. I love snow and mountains so I was in my element!
Kasilof Beach, Cook Inlet











Kasilof River before it froze

Looking east, Kenai Mountains


















Soldotna is on the western side of the Kenai Peninsula near Cook Inlet. The eastern half of the peninsula is mountainous with the largest icefield contained entirely within the United States, Harding Icefield. 








Mt Redoubt

Looking west across Cook Inlet we can see the mountain range that makes up the Aleutian Islands farther south. There are many active volcanoes including Mt. Redoubt, which I can see looking west up the street we live on, Redoubt St. 
Redoubt St. and Mt. Redoubt in the distance





On one of our drives we saw a dogsled team training and it reminded me to check for local races. The Tustumena 200 was held January 28/29. the race starts and finishes near the Sterling Highway just south of Kasilof which is where we spent the end of the summer at Crooked Creek. The route goes through the Caribou Hills almost to Homer and back, 200 miles. They were looking for volunteers so I did. I helped with teeshirt/sweatshirt/hat sales at the start and had a great view of the activities.

Preparing to enter the start chute

One team started every 3 minutes
Most of these teams also ran the Iditarod which made that race much more interesting for me to watch. I had seen them up close! 







The dogs really love to run!











We see moose around our neighborhood frequently. I think It is the same cow and calf but I could be wrong. They are not afraid or aggressive when the dogs and I pass by and the dogs don't bark at them. They are obviously used to humans since they live in town. I have gotten to know where they hang out in the wooded lots and I see tracks and droppings, even right outside our window!




Their long legs are great for walking through deep snow 


Moose droppings look like pecans in their shells














Two eagles in the top of the tree

And we have bald eagles in the neighborhood. It seems as though the local fur shop tosses animal carcasses out behind their building which attracts the eagles and ravens. It's about a block from our apartment. There are 2 adults and two juveniles (don't have white yet) so I assume it is a family.

They watch the dogs and I watch them

Two juveniles feasting, the adults were up in the trees.
A raven and a magpie watching and waiting.

The winter was dark, cloudy and snowy but the last 3 weeks have been sunny which we all appreciate. With longer days, melting has started but we have a long way to go before we can move back into our RV. We have accepted workamping positions May to August at Denali RV Park and Motel just outside Denali National Park. Another new adventure!

Some miscellaneous photos:
Mt. Iliamna

One of our favorite dog walks, Beluga St., with fresh snow

Had some serious fog which frosted the trees. 

Frozen Kenai River from Soldotna Park

The sun did not rise very high in December and January.
Soldotna Park

Sitka Spruce, typical countryside for the west Kenai

Heading east on Sterling Hwy towards the mountains

The spruce trees are good at catching snow.
Frequently there was bare ground under them.

How sand, snow and wind make art. Kasilof Beach.

A true Minnesotan cannot let 2 inches of snow lie on the driveway!

Mia and Sonny taking it all in stride.


Monday, October 3, 2016

Crooked Creek, Soldotna and Kenai

The host site at Crooked Creek
Kasilof River, late evening.
After living in 2 locations for 7 weeks, Rollie transferred to Crooked Creek State Recreation Site on July 18 which is closer to Soldotna where I work. His new job included checking in campers along with the duties he had at Lowell Point. This park is situated where Crooked Creek joins the Kasilof River which is the second most popular salmon river on the Kenai Peninsula. The Kenai river, which runs through Soldotna, is the most popular and they were both very busy for the month of July. They say the population triples which of course means a busier emergency room where I work, lots of RVs on the roads and made parking and grocery shopping difficult. Fishing died down August 1 as dip netting season ended but the silver salmon were still running and then the pinks. I guess if you don't fill your freezer by scooping up fish as they move from salt water to fresh you just have to catch them the hard way, one at a time. Rollie was given several salmon by the dip netters who camped at Crooked Creek. Our little freezer was full so I stored some in the break room freezer at work. Also got some ground moose from a co-worker who was cleaning out his freezer in preparation for getting his moose this season.





Crooked Creek is just a small parking area in the woods for day use and dry camping so no one stays very long. There are 2 sets of latrines to clean and stock with toilet paper, and a little trash to pick up. But all in all, it is a quiet place used by fishermen and women. Didn't see much wildlife but there were moose prints and bear poop so we knew they were around. I did find lots of different mushrooms and learned one type, boletes, which are large and edible. It was a good year for mushrooms here! I dried some for soup later.


There are also lots of lingonberries growing wild on this side of the peninsula, but no salmon berries or blueberries like I found in Lowell Point. Lingonberries are small wild cranberries, also called lowbush cranberries, probably because the plants are only 2-3 inches tall. Backbreaking picking! The deep red berries in the photos are the lingonberries. The larger ones are bunchberries which are also edible but flavorless. I have used the lingonberries in baking and will make some cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving.
The end of August I finished my original 3 month contract at Central Peninsula Hospital and moved from my apartment in Soldotna (supplied by the agency I work for) to the RV at Crooked Creed 20 miles away and turned in my rental car (also supplied by the agency) to take the housing and car allowances. I was asked to stay permanently at CPH, which I declined after some research and soul searching. I enjoy travel assignments and the option of taking a month or two off between assignments. I also like new challenges. I do enjoy working here, the people are great and we all agree I fit right in. Coming back every summer is an option. For tax purposes when on a temporary assignment I can only work 11 months at one facility as I receive housing, transportation and per diem compensation tax free. If I work for a year it is considered permanent by the IRS and I would have to pay taxes on that compensation. My contract was extended to March and I will extend to April if they still need me. We are hoping to start another State Park Volunteer position in May, possibly in another part of Alaska. 
Creamer Field, Fairbanks


We took a 3 day trip to Fairbanks (9 hour drive one way) to check out two possible state park sites there. One is a wildlife refuge for migratory birds, Creamer Field, where sandhill cranes and Canada geese were preparing to head south. The other is a small state park right in Fairbanks where they are looking for a campground manager and host. Rollie visited the grocery store where he worked in 2008 when I worked at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. His old boss was still there and offered him a job anytime he wanted to come back. Nice to know!

Denali from the north

Typical view from Parks Highway
We had beautiful weather for the drive and could see Denali (so glad we now use the correct name for the mountain) for miles and miles both ways. That is rare! The Parks Highway runs from Anchorage to Fairbanks and parallels the Alaska Range most of the way. I love mountains and theses are the best! And of course this one is the highest in North America. 
Typical view from Parks Highway

Fall colors on Parks Highway

Skinny Dick's Halfway Inn near Fairbanks 
Denali, view from the south.


































With mostly spruce, birch and aspen trees there is not the color range we are used to in the Midwest in the fall. As I described it on Facebook, it's Packers' colors.















This always makes me laugh!


























First week of September our state park position ended and they informed us they would be turning off the electricity. We moved the RV to Diamond M Ranch Resort in Kenai, AK, which is very close to Soldotna, where I work.  They have cattle, horses, llamas, pigs, Icelandic sheep and a young goat. There are trails in the woods and lots of room to walk the dogs and explore.







We are up on a bluff overlooking the Kenai River Flats, just above the mouth of the river and Cook Inlet. We can see mountains across Cook Inlet near Anchorage but the driving distance is much farther to get around the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet.





This is our site at Diamond M for the month of
September. We are moving to an apartment in Soldotna on 10/10 for the winter months. We will be storing our home-on-wheels here at and moving back into it when the weather warms up in the spring. Since we are both working and sharing one vehicle we found an apartment close enough for me to walk to work (I go to work at 4 pm).



Once I extended my contract, Rollie started looking for a job. Like the other times we have been in Alaska, that proved to be easy, unlike our stints in the lower 48. He will be working as a school bus attendant with First Student, which is a nationwide provider of school bus services. They seemed to like his umpiring experience! The school year ends in May, about the same time State Park campground hosts are needed. At this time we are planning to stay through next summer then head back down through Canada. I hope to take several months off so it would be a great time to come see why we love Alaska! Drive up, fly up to Anchorage, cruise to Seward, Homer or Whittier (all close), or take the ferry (Alaska Marine Highway) to Whittier. I will be your personal guide!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Playing Tourist around Seward

We saved some tourist attractions until a friend from WI visited and the wait was worth it!




Rollie went on 2 all-day fishing charters bringing in halibut, rockfish and salmon to fill our freezers.












But the most exciting part was Jesse catching a 125 lb halibut!









We took a ranger led hike to Exit Glacier which is just outside Seward. It has receded from where the trail was constructed but we got pretty close. The run-off created the Resurrection River which, of course, flows into Resurrection Bay. There is a much longer hike up on top of the glacier or, if you wish, there are folks who will fly you up there.




Jesse and I went on a Kenai Fjords Tour aboard Orca Voyager to see more of Resurrection Bay, it's glaciers and it's wildlife. We had a beautiful day on the water and nature did not disappoint us! We were greeted by sea otters and a bald eagle before we got out of the small boat harbor.








I didn't even have time to get my camera out for the sea otters but I have other pictures of them from our many sightings in Seward and Lowell Point. Have seen many bald eagles also but not often this close.








Seward is a great place for RVers. The entire waterfront is a city RV park. You might want to enlarge this picture to see the RVs packed in. The mountain on the right is Mt. Marathon where they race to the top and down on the 4th of July. A new record was set this year!









We passed Lowell Point just south of Seward, our site was up the hill in the woods. We were an official tsunami evacuation site.








Bear Glacier?


We saw several glaciers and I did not think to write the names down. They are all part of the Harding Ice Field which is the largest ice field entirely contained in the US. The glaciers and fjords on the SE side are part of Kenai Fjords National Park. We got up close to one glacier (Aialik?) to hear it groaning and cracking and to see some minor calving. Jesse got to hold a piece of the ice right out of the water.


Aialik Glacier?



















We visited a sea lion rookery where most of them were just soaking up the sun on this beautiful day.



























And puffins all over the water but difficult to photograph.




















But the best of all was the whales we saw, many of them feeding and swimming, even swimming right under the boat.

For more photos: https://goo.gl/photos/MuQGj5VVz6Hrds729