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!

More photos at:

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:

Monday, June 27, 2016

Life on the Kenai Peninsula

After 6 weeks in our new home I realized that I have not blogged, although I have posted lots of photos on Facebook. I will try to recap our adventures here in one of the most beautiful places I have been. The photos don’t always do it justice. Alaska is the one place I always recommend you visit to see it for yourself.

Our RV site next to the bunkhouse
We got set up in our RV site in Lowell Point State Recreation Area on May 17 after attending a meeting of all the Kenai state park volunteers on May 16. We are about 2 hours from the rest of the volunteer sites as they are all on or near the west side of the Kenai Peninsula and we are on the east side. We had not heard from our ranger after multiple phone calls but we were assured by the other rangers that he was around and we should just move into our site. We had scouted it out already so hauled our home out a 2 mile rutted dirt road with a solid rock wall on one side and a drop off to Resurrection Bay on the other. It was considered a 2 lane road but due to rock slides there were several places that 2 RVs could not have passed each other. It was very tricky backing the 5th wheel into the site with an S curve but Rollie did it after 3 tries. We realized we would not be making trips in and out with the RV. The hookups were primitive and a little difficult but we were lucky to have them as we had learned that some volunteers had none.

Latrines and parking for the trailhead to Caines Head State Park
With our general instructions from the volunteer meeting we started cleaning the latrines, stocking them with toilet paper, picking up trash and checking cars in the 2 lots to see that they had paid their $5 day-use fee. If not we placed a payment envelope on their windshield. The second day we met Andy, the Park Specialist, who was remodeling the bunkhouse and helping the ranger (who we still had not met) with large projects. He was very helpful, gave us some of his canned smoked salmon from last year, told us where to find things in town and generally made us feel welcome. We met Ranger Jack, our boss, 5 days later. He apologized, asked us if we needed anything and was on his way in 5 minutes. We have seen him twice since then.

Trail down to the beach

We are situated on a hill in a temperate rain forest which is very much like the terrain in Ketchikan; big old-growth spruce trees, lots of ferns and moss. I was excited to see salmonberry bushes blooming in open areas and later learned there are blueberries too. I am picking both now. There is a trail down to the lower parking area, the second set of latrines and the beach. There is also a road. We have access to the trail crew bunkhouse next to us which was empty until last week, and contains a washer and dryer, full kitchen and bathroom. 

New tree growing around an old stump

We also have a park truck but share it with the trail crew (3 young men who appear not to be very happy to be working this job). The woods is dense so we are sheltered from wind but not much light gets in except when the sun is directly overhead.

Very old stump covered in moss

It stays cool here in the woods but we have a fire ring and wood outside and heat inside. No TV, which is a problem for Rollie. He is a little bored. There is a nice variety of radio stations so I am happy. We do have ATT service so we have wifi with our hotspot.

Salmonberry bush in bloom

I had 2 weeks in Seward before I started work in Soldotna, 2 hours away. I got a nice furnished apartment and a rental car (a red Prius just like I used to have!) with my 3 month assignment at Central Peninsula Hospital. I negotiated four 10-hour shifts with 3 consecutive days off so I can travel to Seward for 3 days each week. I have finished my training and am working the evening shift with a great bunch of people. My first day they asked me to stay permanently! I will certainly stay through September when they are going live with a new hospital-wide computer system (Epic). We are thinking we will stay through the winter and most likely next summer so are looking for winter housing. The average low winter temperatures are a little higher than MN but too cold to live in the RV.

We have been asked to move to a busier park on the west side of the peninsula, Crooked Creek State Recreation Area near Kasilof. They have no park volunteer and the salmon are starting to run, meaning lots of folks coming to fish. Seward does not have a salmon river. The Resurrection River flows directly from Exit Glacier into Resurrection Bay with no lake for the baby salmon to mature. The big Seward Fourth of July celebration and Marathon Mountain Race are coming up so we will stay based in Lowell Point until the middle of July. Rollie will be coming over to “my side” of the peninsula on Thursdays to work at Crooked Creek. As my contract is up 8/20 I can renegotiate to extend it at least a month, give up the apartment, take the housing allowance and live with Rollie and the dogs full-time again. I will have a 20 minute drive to work through an area with a lot of moose so will have to be very careful late at night. As I discovered after my first late shift, moose do not show up in the semi-dark! I didn’t see the 2 standing on the shoulder until I was right next to them!

Speaking of dark, I took a couple photos to show what night in Alaska looks like. Rollie said he was up at 3 am one night and it was dark. Most of the night the sun is down below the horizon but it is not completely dark; shades of twilight.

11 pm June 20, my back yard in Soldotna

2 am June 26, leaving work in Soldotna

I really love Seward: the mountains, Resurrection Bay, sea otters, harbor seals, bald eagles. It is a beautiful setting with lots of wildlife. Rollie saw a black bear near our RV site, headed away from him. We have a bear bell on Mia’s leash and a little air horn because noise is a deterrent that works at a distance. Some folks carry bear spray but bears have to get close to use it. We are lucky to have a beach to watch for sea life and watch the tides, which are around 9 feet. The beach goes from about 6 feet wide at high tide to about 40 feet wide at low tide. Unfortunately there are not a lot of shells or other beach treasures, unless kelp is in that category. There are not many moose here but Moose Pass is about 30 miles up the highway so there must be some around. Our temperatures range from lows around 45 to highs around 65. We love it!
Our fire ring outside the RV

Bald eagle

Moose near Soldotna

Tern Lake between Seward and Soldotna

On Seward Highway north of Seward

Seward Small Boat Harbor

Sea Otter

Moose near Moose Pass