Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Armchair Traveler Challenge - book #5 - Manhunt

I finished this book weeks ago and at the time felt like I was just blowing through these books! My last challenge book however is proving to be more of a chunkster! Manhunt was yet another "twinkie read" - this was the utmost of "twinkie reads". Alex Scott is in her late 20s and single. She wants to find a husband so she trades her condo on the East Coast for a cabin and "hardware store" in rural AK. While on the ferry coming from the states she manages to get herself in a bit of a predicament and the drama surrounding it caught the attention of an unsuspecting man. Turns out the man's cabin/property is adjacent to Alex's and thus blooms a love/hate relationship that surprises them both. With few characters and a straightforward plot this was a light and easy read. It was def a "romance" novel, however it was in no way "trashy". There were parts that made me laugh out loud!

This is an "orginal" Janet Evanovich. Before Janet became a famous author she, like many aspiring writers, wrote romance novels, and like many budding authors Janet used an assumed name. Now that Janet has hit it big and made the NY Times Bestseller's list, they are re-publishing all her original books and putting her name on them. I think I'm going to have to add Janet Evanovich to my "To Be Read" list!

It could be awhile on the last book, "About Grace", it's a great story and I'm enjoying it, however it's slow going. Been reading it for weeks and am not even 200 pages into it! To further complicate things it's my turn at the library for Khaled Hosseini's latest "A Thousand Splendid Suns". When I requested the book back in June I was 176th in line...I'm surprised at how quickly I got to the front - maybe it's a quick read. So I will have to put "About Grace" down tomorrow when I can finally get to the library (they were closed all weekend) and pick it up since I know that I won't get more than 3 weeks to read "A Thousand Splendid Suns". What will be interesting is that I renewed "About Grace" for the 4th time today...I think that's my limit so I may have to plead my case with the librarian to let me return it, then check it right back out again!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Armchair Traveler Challenge - Book #4 - Sitka

Sitka by Louis L'Amour

I had never read any Louis L'Amour though the name was familar as I believe that my grandfather read all his books. I never thought I'd like "Westerns" but having been to the western parts of the country I think I might enjoy them more.

This might be one of my favorite of my Alaska books that I have read. This was a historical fiction set during the time when Alaska was a Russian colony, right before it was sold to the US. At times my comprehension skills were put to the test as the book was political in places and many times the author presented information before he explained it. Once I figured out his style I could relax a little and know that if I was confused I should just keep reading and it woud get all explained.

I highly recommend this one!

Armchair Traveler Challenge - Book #3 - The Serpents Trail

Sue Henry has written a whole series of mysteries set in Alaska. I saw them all and randomly picked one. The one I picked had a motorhome on the cover and it said it was about a single retired woman driving the Alaskan Highway.

Well, not quite. It was about a 60 something single lady, Maxine, and her Dachsund, Strech. And she has a house on the Katachemak Bay in Homer. And she drove the Alcan Highway to get to the Lower 48. However the story took place in Colorado.

This was what I call a "twinkie read". Not exactly good for you but enjoyable and easy to read. The story was about Maxine's best friend Sarah who died unexpectedly and Maxine was charged with uncovering many deep dark secrets about her friend and investigating her untimley death.

The odd thing about the plot was that this woman was confronted with the death of dear friend, however the emotions that would surround that didn't come out in the story. To me that took away from the story. Also the author spent a large amount of time describing unimportant things. I think maybe she was creating a distraction and giving the reader more details to sort through, but I found the extraneous information just that.

I will def read more Sue Henry novels when I'm looking for some twinkie reads! I already have the next Maxine and Stretch novel!

Armchair Traveler Reading Challenge #2 - True North

During my trip I managed to read 3 of my challenge books! I'm going to review each of them in seperate entries.

True North - by Kimberly Kafka

This was a nice book. It wasn't a great book, just a nice one. I would recommend it to someone else though.

Bailey has moved to Alaska from the east coast to escape a tragedy. She lives alone in a cabin way out in the bush. She flies her own float plane and she's a medical professional. She finds acceptance, and even attracts the attention of one of the native men. All is going well until two 20something kids come from the east coast for 2 weeks of camping at the lodge owned by the natives nearby. The kids arrival causes many secrets to be revealed and personalities questioned.

The setting was definitly a major part of the story. I enjoyed learning more about the native people in AK and what they are doing to maintain control of their land and bring in income, despite the internal controversy over it. The Alaskan bush was an excellent place for the female kid (whose name I can't remember and I returned the book the library!) to "come of age"!

Nice book, a good read.

Pictures Posted!

I have finally finished posting my pictures from AK! I have posted 2 slide shows, one of the 1st week and one of the 2nd. I recently added a lot more pictures to week 1 so if you checked right after I posted it, be sure to check it out again. The new pictures are at the end of the old ones, I can't make the slide show save them where I put them. The new pictures start after the one of Mom and Dad's MH being towed. They are in chronological order, just not matched up with the others. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Pictures from the 1st week in Alaska


I got home in the middle of the night last night.

Flying out of Anchorage on a clear day is fabulous! We saw McKinley again - that's 6 out of 7 days getting to see McKinley! This time we were above it, but my camera was in overhead bin! We flew down the inside passage and I got some pics of the glaciers and fjords and mountains before the movie started and we put the shades down.

Sunday night I connected with John and we went out to see his airplane! I got the grand tour since a maintance guy had left the door open! I think I saw John taking off on his daily flight on my way to the airport on Mon!

When I got home last night I brought my luggage in and left it open on the floor in the kitchen since most it goes directly to the basement to the washing machine. This morning I picked up the dog at the kennel and brought her home, then went to run some other errands. When I got home this is what I found:

I think someone is happy that I'm back! Her tail is blurry because she is wagging it!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Denali and back to Anchorage

Sorry it’s been so long since I updated. We had internet in Denali, however I was very busy. We took the bus ride to Toklat River – about halfway in, walked on the road, went on a ranger hike, and saw the sled dog demo. Denali is an awesome park. It is a hiker and backpacker’s paradise – you can hike anywhere, no trails, and you can get on and off the bus whenever and wherever you want. I didn’t have nearly enough time and can’t wait to come back to hike!

We have seen the mountain for the last 5 days! It was sunny and clear the whole time we were in Denali! That “rain insurance” paid off !!!! It did however dip into the 30’s at night while we were there! We even heard it was into the 20s at one of the campgrounds farther in…Summer is almost over in Denali!

We are back in Anchorage tonight. Tomorrow I return my motor home then I fly home on Mon. I may not update tomorrow but will when I get home.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Denali National Park

We mostly drove today. It was another 150 miles from Talkeenta to Denali NP so we got an early start, I was hoping to be here early in the day so I could do some hiking/walking around the Visitor Center.
The mountain was out this morning!!! I could see it in the rearview mirror as we drove out of Talkeetna! I got some good shots before the clouds swallowed her up again.
The morning’s drive seemed to be a lot of start and stop. First, I needed fuel in my MH – I’d filled up at Fred Myer but it was already down to ½ a tank! Turn out I’d hit the $75 limit for credit card purchase and really didn’t fill up. So we stopped about 15 miles out since we weren’t sure where the next station would be. This highway is very remote and there are few services.

I could see the mountain from the gas station! I took this picture there! Kim…is this McKinley? I’m not sure which peak is which! I was aiming for the tallest one assuming that was it…distance obscures things though.

Immediately after I filled up we came to “Wal-Mikes” an eclectic little store that sells just about everything…think junk antique store and is run by a “Mike” who is a unique character. You really have to see it to fully get it!

Then about an hour later we came upon the south view of Denali Peak overlook – part of Denali State Park. So of course I had to pull off. There was the great view of a smaller mountain that you see above (prob 7 -8,000 ft but compared to 20,000 it’s tiny), but McKinley and her sister peaks were enveloped in clouds. We had lunch at the overlook – the sun was shining and it was very warm! We ended up being there over 2 hours because Mom and Dad ran into a friend they’d met while driving the ALCAN and had to chat, then we ended up making a few “new friends”. I finally just left.

I ended up being pretty far ahead of them and by the time I realized it the radio was out of range and I had no service on my cell phone. I just kept driving figuring they were back there somewhere!

The road is beautiful. There are mountains on all sides, yet the road itself seems to be in a valley so it’s flat. The Alaska Range seemed to be churning up some weather – they were all ensconced in dark rain clouds, yet where I was driving on the Parks Highway it was sunny with high thin clouds or puffy cumulus clouds, no sign of rain at all!

I arrived at Denali and set about making our plans, campground reservations, ranger lead hike sign ups, passport stamps, bus tickets. Turns out mom and dad were just a few miles behind me – the cell phone worked so I was able to call them. We are camping outside the park tonight (hence the pictures…high speed connection), but tomorrow and Friday nights we’ll be at Riley Creek in the Park. I didn't make it to the hike/walk today - doesn't look like we'll have time for that now. I hope to get in some walking/hiking tomorrow and then again on Fri.

Tomorrow we are moving over to the park 1st thing, and then at noon we are riding the shuttle bus to Toklat River. Dad and I plan to hike/walk a bit; mom will probably stay on the bus most of the day.

There won’t be any more high speed connections till I get home. I might not be able to connect tomorrow or Friday either – my cell worked in the park so hopefully the internet card will too.

PS - to those of you dealing with the oppressive heat and humidity on the east coast....it's 58 degrees here. I have the heat set to come on in the night. I love it!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Denali - The Great One

I got to spend nearly the whole day with The Mountain, Mt. McKinley, Denali, The Great One. I took over 50 pictures. Since I don't have time to post them all here I'm giving you the overview...Morning in Anchorage, evening in Talkeetna, and sunset in Talkeetna! Enjoy!

The tall peat is Denali, The Great One. The other peaks are part of the Alaska Mts.
This is from Anchorage - Elderberrry Park- around 9:00am, zoomed in.

This is McKinley along with several other peaks, zoomed out a bit. The mts are over 200 miles away. The body of water is the Cook Inlet.

This is all the mountain I was able to fit in the frame. I climbed up on some playground equiptment to get even higher to get the whole thing.

From the Talkeetna Spur Road (I was on foot!) at around 7:30 pm.

Talkeetna Beach area - around 7:45 - 8:00 pm. Note the clouds to the left of the big peak. They weren't there earlier!

Talkeetna Beach - 10:30 pm. Note, no clouds. You can see how much closer I am now to the mountain by looking back at the picture from this morning that has the peak zoomed out a bit and you can see the other three peaks. This picture is not zoomed.

Denali Mountain after sunset - 10:45 ish pm. The dark blueish purpleish shapes at the bottom are more mountains. I have obviously zoomed in here...this may become my new background on my computer!

It really doesn't get much better than this.

A few More Pictures

Again these are in reverse chronological order....

The Coach being towed off of Turnagain Arm.

These puffins are in captivity at the Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward - they are much easier to photograph that way. These are horned puffins, as opposed to tufted puffins.

Aialik Glacier in Kenai Fjords NP - that's fog above the glacier.

Harbor Seals in Aialik Bay - Kenai Fjords NP. No the picture isn't grainy...it was that foggy.

Elephant Island off Katchemak Bay near Homer - this was taken from a kayak, in the wind!

The Homer Spit, Katchemak Bay, and the mountains - taken from the overlook just before you go down the hill into Homer.


It's only 3 for now....I have a high speed connection tonight so I'll try and post more - esp my pics of The Mountain and a few of the glaciers and hopefully one of my puffins -trust me this is a microscopic tip of the iceberg! They are in reverse order because I posted them wrong!

Off to watch the sunset over Mt. McKinley!

This is the trail up the mountain to Harding Icefield that dad and I hiked in the rain.

Eagle sitting on the rock at the Homer beach right in front of my motor home.

My little motor home and my parent's "big rig" at Williawaw the 1st night.

The Mountain! The Mountain!

The Mountain was out today!!!!! Mt. McKinley, at over 20,000 feet, is the tallest peak in all of North America! Usually you can’t see it due to clouds, today how it was crystal clear and as the locals put it “The Mountain is out.”

My aunt Kim and Uncle Jason, who live in San Francisco but used to live in Anchorage, called us this morning to tell us about it…they saw it on the web cam!!!!! We piled into the car and just as we rounded the Cummins Truck Repair building where we were “camped” we saw The Mountain in all her splendor. “Camp Cummins” was more scenic than we’d thought!

We drove to Elderberry Park at the end of a street to check it out! Absolutely amazing! The Mountain is about 250 miles from Anchorage, so we could see the whole thing! There are several other impressive peaks as well. It was a challenge to photography because it is so big and would get washed out in the blue sky (it’s covered with snow!), however I did get some good ones!

Late this afternoon the motor home got fixed!!!! Since we were “cleared for take off”, I took off heading for Talkeetna, about halfway from Anchorage to Denali. Mom and Dad were going to finish a few things and follow.

It was a lovely drive up here, the mountain would occasionally show herself through the trees and it was sunny and warm! I arrived in Talkeetna about 7:00 and got us a campground then explored the little town. Most of the stuff was closed but it was a nice walk. I walked down to the river and saw the mountain again, only here we are so close you can’t see the whole range, just McKinley. On my way back I strolled through the residential section, Talkeetna is a cool little town – kinda Alaska meets West Virginia!

Mom and Dad just called and will be here soon – the campground has public WiFi so I need to post this so I’ll be ready when they get here! This connection is lighting fast compared to the cell phone card...maybe I'll post so pics later tonight.

Tomorrow it’s Denali National Park!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Today's post

Blogger is being especially uncopoartive tonight and there's lots to tell....I already went as briefly as I could but Blogger would only post it in small chunks so I divided it up into 3 posts...be sure to check all 3 for the full story of today's adventure....

Breakdown - Part 1

Woke up to sunshine in Seward!!!! The mountains all around us revealed themselves to us in all their splendor and the sky was bright blue. Awesome.

Today was a travel day – we were headed back to Anchorage to do some errands before going on to Denali – so we “made ready”, dumped the RVs and headed off down the stunning Seward Highway under crystal clear skies! Soon we reached Turnagian Arm and while windy it was a stunning day – bright sunshine and puffy cumulus clouds!

Just after we passed Girdwood we pulled over for lunch at the Bird Creek access point – which had a large parking lot with plenty of room and a great view. We had a lovely lunch and about 2:00 decided to continue on our way to Anchorage, about 28 miles away.

Breakdown - Part 2

Dad was in the lead in the big motor home. He pulled out of the parking area and I had to wait my turn as a few cars passed then pulled out into traffic. Just as I did the walkie talkie squawked to life – it was mom with a stern “Cool it a second”. I looked up and there on the side of the road was the Country Coach, stopped. I pulled in behind and put on my four-ways to await further instruction.

The coach had simply stopped and would not start again. After a few calls to numerous people who know about these things and my dad’s knowledge of how it all works it was determined that most likely we’d had a fuel pump part failure and would go no further. We had to be towed.

For those of you who don’t know my parents MH is a 36 ft “diesel pusher” – it looks like a tour bus. Towing something that big is a challenge. We found someone who could do it, and waited for them to arrive.

Breakdown - Part 3

Now, if one’s motor home is going to breakdown, Turnagain Arm is a damn good place. Since we were right in the middle of the Chugach State Park I decided to go for a walk. There were folks “combat fishing” in Bird Creek, a nice bike path with awesome views, and I even found a hike that I could have taken had we been there longer.

The tow truck arrived and they got the motor home secured. Dad had to drive it up on the truck! He thought that was cool. Mom didn’t. We decided that it would be best for me to head to the Fred Myer in Anchorage while they went to the Cummins dealer (MH has a Cummins engine like a truck) to get the coach down and parked and to see if there’s room for me to “camp” there or not.

They just called and it looks like we are all “camping” at the scenic Cummins Engine Repair yard. They’ll look at the MH tomorrow and see what the issue is and then decided how to proceed.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Alaska Sea Life Center & Caines Head State Park

This morning it wasn't raining!!!! Cloudy but no rain. We did some "indoor activities" - seemed appropriate after spending the two rainy days doing outdoor activities!

We went to the Alaska Sea Life Center, it was good. They had a neat exhibt of shorebirds - had a viewing area where you could see the birds dive! I got some awesome pictures of puffins! It's way easier to get good pictures when you are standing on solid ground!

While in downtown Seward we went to an outfitter store. After yesterday's hike both Dad and I decided that new rain gear was in order so we both got new "The North Face" 100% waterproof rain jackets. We decided that now it prob won't rain anymore. We are calling it our "rain insurance". Sure enough by the time we returned to our motor home the clouds had broken and there was blue sky. A few minutes later the sun came out. We took pictures, it was so exciting!

Late this evening Dad and I decided to go hike at Caines Head State Park - it was a 3 mile hike and was actually fairly easy. This hike went through a rain forest and was totally different from yesterday's alpine hike. Throughout the hike we saw peeks of sun and blue sky! We got back around 9:30 (and it was still bright daylight) and had a late dinner.

The clouds have lifed some and the mountains are beginning to reveal themselves to us! Amazing. Although as quickly as they come out they are esconsned in fog again.

Tomorrow we head back to Anchorage to do some "chores", then it's on to Denali!!!!!!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Harding Ice Field Hike

Today Dad and I hiked to the Harding Ice field. This is also in Kenai Fjords National Park.

The hike was great, very difficult though - 3000 feet of elevation gain/loss, lots of steep rock faces to scramble up, and it was raining – the whole day. However there were excellent views of Exit Glacier! There was also tons of lush vegetation – probably thrives on all the rain. The trail in most places was just beautiful, but limited views and very wet.

Going up the trail wasn’t so bad – the climb made us warm and the scenery was great! The trip down however, sucked. It was very cold, windy and wet at the top so the 1st mile or some coming down was miserable. I hate hiking downhill, especially scrambling down the wet rocks.

We finally reached the end and I was quite happy to have my motor home right there so I could change in dry clothes right away! (We’d left the Jeep so mom could do laundry and stuff!)

Time to head to bed….I’m sore from the hike so it’s gonna be hard to get in and out of my “cab over” bed in my RV!!!! Tomorrow is the Alaska Sea Life center and possibly driving back to Anchorage.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Deadliest Catch

Our connection is painfully slow (but it's better than nothing), blogger can only post a little at a time before the connection times out - that's why I have been so brief with my updates (as most of you know, this is hard for me!)...this didn't fit in my post from today but I wanted to share it...

Our captain today used to be a crab fisherman in the Bering Sea! My now extensive knowledge of 2 out of 3 seasons of Deadlist Catch was very important! He used to own and pilot a sister ship to the Maverick, and he says Sig Hansen and the Northwestern are the best crab fishermen on the sea!

Kenai Fjords National Park - Wildlife cruise

Woke up to no rain! It was however very cloudy, foggy, misty, cold, and generally unpleasant though. Our plans for today were to go on a 9 hour wildlife & photography oriented boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park. I donned all my cold weather and rain gear and headed out!

The cruise was great! We were on a small boat with 16 people. We saw so much a bald eagle, a huge pod of orcas (Shamu), harbor seals, puffins (so darn cute!), sea lions, and Dall Porpoises.

The mountains were supposedly beautiful, but they were hemmed in with dense fog – you could hardly see 50 feet. We did go to a glacier that came right down to the water and was cracking and calving (when chunks of ice fall off).

Despite hardly getting to see the landscape, Kenai Fjord’s is a pretty awesome place! I’ll have to come back on a sunny day to see the mountains, although I think the only time it’s not raining in Seward is when it’s snowing!

Tomorrow dad and I are hiking to the Harding Ice Field near Exit Glacier. It’s supposedly the best hike around – though quite strenuous.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Travel - Homer to Seward

I woke up this morning to the pitter pat of rain on the roof of the motor home. Ugh. It had been predicted, but I’d hoped they were wrong. The forecast for the next 5 days is rain. Ugh. Did I mention that it’s 50 degrees. Yeah cold and wet. But it beats the 95 degree weather in Washington right now!!!! I’d much rather have this!!!

Our 1st task was to dump my motor home’s waste holding tanks and fill up with fresh water. Not a fun job, but must be done. This was my 1st time emptying the tanks so doing it in the rain was really no fun, but it was quick and soon we were on our way down the road.

The drive from Homer to Seward is about 170 miles and it went fast. I’m getting better at driving the RV so it’s more comfortable and easier. Today I even backed up a few times all by myself! I even backed myself into my campsite! Mom was going to help but I decided I could just do it myself!

Seward seems like a nice town. It’s bigger and more populated than Homer, lots more tourists and shops and such. We are camped by Resurrection Bay in a City campground. We don’t have a beach view though. L When we were driving after dinner we saw a porpoise/dolphin (not sure of the difference) in the harbor!

Tomorrow we are going on an all day wildlife photography tour of Kenai Fjords National Park. It’s on a small boat so we are promised to see lots of animals and get close. Because it’s raining and cold and damp I decided I needed some synthetic long underwear – I cannot even believe I considered bringing them but left them at home – luckily there is a Helly/Hansen store in Homer where I obtained so cool pastel pink polypropylene long underwear! They are actually much better than the pair I have at home!

Today won’t be my favorite day of my trip, however a bad day in AK is still way better than a good day at home!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Halibut Cove and Wildlife Sightings

This morning there were 2 eagles right outside our motor homes! They were feeding in the tide pools at low tide! I got some great shots!

We took a small ferry boat to a tiny little town on the other side of the bay called Halibut Cove. The boat ride took about an hour and we stopped at Gull Island – a huge bird rookery! There were hundreds of birds – all types! Mostly gulls. We saw a few tufted puffins and some horned puffins in the water! They are really cool birds! We also saw several sea otters in the water, and a black bear cub on a beach!

Halibut Cove is a quaint little artist community. All the houses are up on stilts to accommodate the huge tides. There are boardwalks that connect everything. We ate lunch at The Saltry, the only restaurant in the town. It was very good! All the food is made from scratch and all the dishes were hand made! It was a really cool experience.

After we ate we had about an hour to explore. Dad and I hiked up a steep hill to the top of a bluff that had views of the bay on one side and view of the town on the other.

When we got back, it was high tide so the bay was at our doorstep. There was a seal hunting for food a few hundred feet out in the bay! Because it was freezing outside (55 with wind and clouds) we sat in the front of Mom and Dad’s motor home and watched him – he would surface every few minutes and he didn’t seem to be moving much. Better than TV!

Tomorrow we are leaving Homer and heading to Seward. We get to go back the same way we came so hopefully by the time we get back to the really pretty parts I’ll be more comfortable driving and can pay attention to the scenery!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Kayaking in Katchemak Bay State Park

I woke up this morning and it was so light in the MH I panicked! I thought I’d overslept and it was 10:00 or something! I looked at my clock and it was 4:59. I did a serious double take – couldn’t believe it was that light that early!

The kayak trip was great! We took a boat ride across the bay to Yukon Island where our outfitter had a base camp with all the kayaks, life jackets and other gear we’d need. Just as we were getting ready to get in the kayaks, a strong wind whipped up! Out on the water it was sooooo windy! That made it very hard to steer the kayak and paddle the kayak. We paddled to Elephant Rock – a large rock island shaped exactly like an elephant! We saw a seal pop his head out of the water right in front of us! Also saw an immature bald eagle and a river otter.

After the trip we came back and got cleaned up and went to the Homestead Resteraunt for dinner. After dinner we drove out East End Road – it sits on the bluff above Homer and the Homer Spit and has amazing views of the bay, the mountains, and the glaciers!

Cool thing about Homer: it has 20 ft tides! This is huge, it’s the 2nd highest tide in North America (the Bay of Fundy being the 1st). When we went to the water taxi this morning, almost exactly at low tide, the ramp to get to the boat dock was at nearly a 45 degree angle! When we returned, at almost exactly high tide, the ramp was almost level! Very little slant to it. The entire dock in the Homer Harbor is floating and rises and falls with the tide.

Better get my pictures uploaded and then get myself to bed! Tomorrow we are doing a lunch cruise to Halibut Cove and then spending some time there.