BEAR JAM !

YUM!

YUM!

………KATMAI NATIONAL PARK!

A long planned and anticipated foray into the wilds of the Alaska Peninsula, with great excitement, we boarded our plane in Anchorage.

Boarding the PenAir plane for King Salmon:  the first leg of our journey to Katmai National Park

Boarding the PenAir plane for King Salmon: the first leg of our journey to Katmai National Park

What beautiful landscapes we saw from above:IMG_0785

Rivers of ice visible on our flight into King Salmon

Rivers of ice visible on our flight into King Salmon

We were shuttled to our float plane:

This is the plane we flew in and out of Brooks Camp in.

This is the plane we flew in and out of Brooks Camp in.

And landed on the shores of Naknek Lake.20160729_124912

Before we could go in search of bears, we had to attend a mandatory bear education class.  Then we walked down a trail to the campground.  I went ahead to find a good site, which I did, right near the restrooms and picnic shelter.  We weren’t allowed to have anything except bedding in our tent.  All food went into the food cache, gear into the gear cache, and fuel into the fuel cache.

Denis arriving at our campsite with our packs.

Denis arriving at our campsite with our packs.

We were informed that the electric fence around the campground was a suggestion to the bears to keep out, but it was NOT bear proof!

More of the LAND BEYOND!

More of the LAND BEYOND!

So thrilled to finally be here – a dream I’ve had ever since I first heard of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes over 40 years ago!  Off to see bears!  The Valley Tour is tomorrow!

At Brooks Falls with the bears!

At Brooks Falls with the bears!

These are ‘cousins’ of the grizzly seen in the interior, like at Denali.  About 50% of their food is vegetation.  We attended the ranger talks, and learned all about scat.  Now we can tell if the bear has been eating grass, or berries…. or like we saw in one place (and didn’t linger to take a picture!), salmon (glistening and fresh!).

Another type of 'bear jam'.  This bear is probably a mama or young one not competing with the big guys for salmon.

Another type of ‘bear jam’. This bear is probably a mama or young one not competing with the big guys for salmon.

Similar to a traffic jam, “Bear Jam” was a common problem.  The flights would be delayed because people couldn’t get across the river because the bridge was closed.  Life here is on “bear time”.  We were not to approach closer than 50 yards.  So if the bears got close to the bridge, it was closed.  We watched one mother and a cub swim and fish, heading towards the bridge.  The bridge closed.  They swam right under the bridge and went on out towards the mouth of the river, and the bridge opened.

First we stopped at the lower platform, that looks out over the mouth of Brooks River.  There was a mama, teaching her yearling cub how to fish.  I just loved watching them swim, and occasionally stand up and look all around.  20160730_081324

This picture is priceless!IMG_0802

We walked about a mile and a half up to the falls.

We talked loudly all the way down the trail.

We talked loudly all the way down the trail.

There were three big ones, and others came and went.  The fish were jumping up and falling back into the clutches of the waiting hungry mouths.

The bear on the right has a salmon down.  Big Daddy sauntered right up the falls.

The bear on the right has a salmon down. Big Daddy sauntered right up the falls.

Look at his teeth!  Intently watching for a salmon.

Look at his teeth! Intently watching for a salmon.

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Just below the Brooks Falls platform, was another called the Riffles platform.  There were mothers and cubs there, as well as younger males.

A young male, sitting below the falls.

A young male, sitting below the falls.

There was a ranger, recording who was out on the platform.  With only 40 people allowed at a time, there was an hour limit.  After the day trippers were gone, there was no line, and lots of room to stand out there for as long as one wanted.  But we were ready for supper (cooked on our stove in the picnic shelter), then an evening at the lodge and ranger talk.

Cozy fire in the lodge in the evening.

Cozy fire in the lodge in the evening.

On the way back to camp, a ranger stopped us and said there was a bear on the shore, so we couldn’t take the usual trail to the campground.  This is a BEAR JAM!20160729_210418

 

 

The ranger said to go up and follow the orange flags down a new trail.  So Denis is in the lead, and a ditzy lady is behind me.  Suddenly we see a bear just ahead and to our right.  We stop, and start to back up, and this lady says, “No, we have to keep going now!”  So we cautiously start moving forward again, and see a cub with her.  Stopped in our tracks.  Then Denis spots ANOTHER cub, to our left (i.e. we are almost BETWEEN the mother and cub!).  We firmly let that lady know, that we are to start backing up, speak calmly, and RETREAT!

After a restful night on the ground in our tent, we’re up at the crack of dawn, making hot chocolate and coffee and enjoying a nutritious breakfast bar and dried prunes.  We again enjoy watching the bears at the mouth of the river while we waited for our bus to get going to the Valley of Ten Thousand smokes.

At the mouth of Brooks River

At the mouth of Brooks River

We saw a mother bear and three little dark cubs, but they disappeared quickly into the trees.

Back country bus with dual wheels on the back, geared down to go through streams.

Back country bus with dual wheels on the back, geared down to go through streams.

Before we could leave, we had another BEAR JAM!

Here he comes!

Here he comes!

"Either get in the bus or up on the platform!  There's a bear coming down the road!"

“Either get in the bus or up on the platform! There’s a bear coming down the road!”

Right outside the bus, "Think I'll take a break."

Right outside the bus, “Think I’ll take a break.”

We were first, of course, so got the front seat for our trip!

We drove through three streams - this was the easiest.

We drove through three streams – this was the easiest.

……THE VALLEY OF TEN THOUSAND SMOKES

The 20th century’s greatest eruption began on June 6, 1912.  We saw the beautiful panorama of the Ukak River valley, no longer steaming though (except for occasional steam from the Novarupta crater).

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After lunch at the visitor center, we hiked 3 miles down below the cliffs (cryptobiotic crusts), to the falls and the Ukak River.  What a unique and beautiful landscape!

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THE VALLEY OF TEN THOUSAND SMOKES

THE VALLEY OF TEN THOUSAND SMOKES

After descending 1,000 feet, shedding rain jacket, and sweatshirt, as it got warmer, we arrived at the falls.

Almost down to the river.

Almost down to the river.

UKAK RIVER FALLS

UKAK RIVER FALLS

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1,000 feet elevation change down to the river.

1,000 feet elevation change down to the river.

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Since we were hiking with a ranger and several other folks, we headed back up 45 minutes before the time arranged to meet.  Resting every once in awhile, we actually beat almost everyone else up!

Back at camp, we savored another packaged dinner.  It was chicken and dumplings last night, and chicken alfredo tonight.  Back to the lodge, the fire, and another ranger talk.

Brooks Camp visitor center, restrooms and food cache on the left, electric wire surrounding a picnic shed on the right.

Brooks Camp visitor center, restrooms and food cache on the left, electric wire surrounding a picnic shed on the right.

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Passed woodpeckers on the way.  And this sign greeted us at the trail:

On the trail to our campground.

On the trail to our campground.

We learned so much about bears, including that the shore belongs to them (which is why the trails are several feet off the beach into the woods).

Hind paw print (you can see the heel)

Hind paw print (you can see the heel)

Along the lake shore, right in front of the lodge.

Along the lake shore, right in front of the lodge.

We were noisy and cautious everywhere we went.

On the bathhouse door - you can be sure I closed the door behind me!

On the bathhouse door – you can be sure I closed the door behind me!

We talked a lot on another trail out to a cultural site:

An underground dwelling.

A partial underground dwelling.

Packing up our tent and gear in the picnic shelter.

Packing up our tent and gear in the picnic shelter.

Our last day arrived, and we delivered our luggage to the porch, and went in for breakfast.

Breakfast buffet in the lodge our last morning.

Breakfast buffet in the lodge our last morning.

Right outside the lodge window where we were having breakfast

Right outside the lodge window where we were having breakfast

The ranger was trying to shoo them out of the area.

I went shopping:

A souvenir to hang on the wall at home!

A souvenir to hang on the wall at home!

We walked on the shore, carefully.

We've landed on Naknek Lake

Denis  on the shore of  Naknek Lake

Went up to the falls and watched more bears.  Total count:  41.   WOW!

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Words can’t describe the feeling as we say goodbye to this very special place!

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From fishing to fishing

View over Kachemak Bay near Homer

View over Kachemak Bay near Homer

Here is a map of our journey to the north,  highlighted in yellow:

Edmonton - Dawson Creek - Atlin - Skagway - Dempster Highway - Chena - White Mountains - Deadhorse - Denali Highway - Denali National Park - Anchorage - Kenai - Homer - Whittier - Cordova (SE of Valdez) - Valdez - McCarthy, and back to the Kenai (so far)!

Edmonton – Dawson Creek – Atlin – Skagway – Dempster Highway – Chena – White Mountains – Deadhorse – Denali Highway – Denali National Park – Anchorage – Kenai – Homer – Whittier – Cordova (SE of Valdez) – Valdez – McCarthy, and back to the Kenai (so far)!

 

Leaving our Russian River fishing (with no fish), we headed for Homer and a wonderful Sunday with a potluck and visiting afterwards.  Fantastic scenery along the way, and unique sights.

Ninilchik Russian Orthodox church and cemetery

Ninilchik Russian Orthodox church and cemetery

Lucy from Georgia, visiting Lucy in Anchor point

Lucy from Georgia, visiting Lucy in Anchor point

Potluck in Homer, with Kathryn

Potluck in Homer, with Kathryn

Rainbow Tours treated us to a fantastic wildlife trip to Seldovia.  I’ve never seen so many whales.  We saw cormorants, bald eagles, horned puffins, black oystercatchers, mew gulls, common murres, arctic terns, pigeon guillemots, whales, and rafts (lots) of sea otters.

Puffin

Puffin

No description necessary for this beautiful heart shaped scene!

No description necessary for this beautiful heart shaped scene!

Cormorant

Cormorant

Juvenile Bald Eagle

Juvenile Bald Eagle

Penguin - like birdx

Penguin – like birdx

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Tail fluke plus two spouting!

Tail fluke plus two spouting!

A family!  Papa, Mama, and Pup Otters!

A family! Papa, Mama, and Pup Otters!

I just love how the mother otter nestles her baby on her tummy!

Nesting on Gull Island

Nesting on Gull Island

Stupendous!

Due to all the wildlife, we were two hours late getting into Seldovia, but still had two hours to hike to Outside Beach on the Otter Bahn trail.  We picked blueberries.

The perfect container for collecting blueberries.

The perfect container for collecting blueberries.

The boardwalk in Seldovia was ‘pre-earthquake’, and so picturesque.

Scene from along the boardwalk

Scene from along the boardwalk

The cove was like a mirror.

The cove was like a mirror.

What a fun plant stand!

What a fun plant stand!

And the boardwalk:20160702_153111

We've driven the furthest south (Key West), north (Prudhoe Bay), and now west!

We’ve driven the furthest south (Key West), north (Prudhoe Bay), and now west!

Can't quite see the volcano, but a beautiful day in Homer

Can’t quite see the volcano, but a beautiful day in Homer

 

We were so impressed with the Seldovia tour, we decided to go on a half day halibut trip with them too!

Going to catch some halibut!

Going to catch some halibut!

That's MY halibut!

That’s MY halibut!

Too heavy for me to lift!

Too heavy for me to lift!

Now these are Denis' halibut!

Now these are Denis’ halibut!

These are MY halibut!

These are MY halibut!

Would you believe we saw even more whales……. and orcas too!IMG_0194 - Copy

How could this be better framed????!

How could this be better framed????!

A fish tale:  He pulled our boat all the way back to Homer!     ha ha ha ha ha ha

 

And later:

Delicious fried halibut, fish and chips for supper!

Delicious fried halibut, fish and chips for supper!

Camping on the Homer Spit was fun, right at the fishing lagoon.  Struck out there too, but knew we’d get some of those elusive salmon before long!

Good visiting with Barb and Keith

Good visiting with Barb and Keith

Back to Anchorage, for more work on our van…….. We got in a nice visit with old friends….. they lived right down the road from the house where Sonya was born, neighbors back in 1975!

We’ve had a little gremlin bugging us.  Not too bad, but rather inconvenient when the van didn’t want to start.  Luckily we’ve had friendly and helpful neighbors, like when we needed a jump in Denali and at Wasilla.  We’d been having some battery problems, but were assured it was the alternator, so got that put in when we were home in March.  Our starter started misbehaving about the time we were out far from cel phone reception and AAA.  Up at Prudhoe Bay!  Well, we got a new starter.  Then we noticed the van liked to die on us, like it was losing the idle.  Well, after searching on the internet, I discovered that every time the battery is disconnected, the computer ‘needs to find it’s idle setting again’.  That problem was solved, but in the meantime, Denis replaced a nut, and we got a new battery.  Back down to the Kenai and another couple fruitless days of fishing at Russian River.

Big bull moose near Soldatna

Big bull moose near Soldatna

Then, the van wouldn’t start!  Off to Soldatna, after AAA came and jumped us.  FINALLY, someone found a short – it had burned a bit on some part, and when it was damp, would short out……… now it’s been behaving wonderfully!   Next stop, Girdwood and the train tunnel to Whittier:

Whittier Boat Harbor

Whittier Boat Harbor

Off on the ferry to Cordova!

One of many glaciers seen from the ferry

One of many glaciers seen from the ferry

This was how I spent my five hour ferry ride to Cordova!

This was how I spent my five hour ferry ride to Cordova!

We camped out on the Copper River Delta, and had no luck fishing there either, but it was free, along a river, beautiful, solitary and quiet.

On the Copper River Delta

On the Copper River Delta

One of several glaciers, named for Union generals in the Civil War (Sherman, etc.), along the Copper Highway from Cordova

One of several glaciers, named for Union generals in the Civil War (Sherman, etc.), along the Copper Highway from Cordova

Baby trumpeter swans

Baby trumpeter swans

Canada Geese and and babies, called "duskies"

Canada Geese and and babies, called “duskies”

On our last day, we went in close to town to fish.  Denis netted a sockeye for someone in a boat, and he gave us the fish!  Then I caught one!  After hiking way down the river and back, not finding a good fishing spot, we walked through the river below the dam to get out to a little metal dock right in the middle of the dam.  The water was so high it went over the tops of my hip boots.  But we sure did enjoy seeing all the fish coming up and milling around.  They were hard to catch though.  We’d put our fly right out in front of them and they wouldn’t grab it.  But finally, I did get one.  Denis got one too, but the silly thing went zipping around under the metal dock and cut his line off, so he lost it.

Sockeye salmon from the dam at Eyak Lake

Sockeye salmon from the dam at Eyak Lake

We eat well.  And we’ve done a lot of experimenting.  The best stew and pot roasts over a campfire, and then this:

Blueberry and Saskatoon berry pie baked over the campfire!

Blueberry and Saskatoon berry pie baked over the campfire!

Free dump, free water, free parking in town, and free camping.  We liked Cordova!  But it was time to move on to Valdez.  It was a LONG day, as we took the ferry back across to Whittier, and then to Valdez.  But it gave us a lot of time to relax, nap, take showers.  I even washed my hair!  We had a wonderful meal – they have good food on this ferry!  And then we arrived at Valdez, where we found a fabulous fishing spot, just outside the fish hatchery!

Phenomenal salt water pink salmon fishing near here!

Phenomenal salt water pink salmon fishing near here!

Sea lion and gulls competing for salmon

Sea lion and gulls competing for salmon

Pink salmon were milling around and I got this cool picture:

Look at that eyeball!

Look at that eyeball!

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The salmon all lined up for cleaning:  our first day's catch of salt water pinks

The salmon all lined up for cleaning: our first day’s catch of salt water pinks

Lifeboat from the fire on the cruise ship during the 1980's, that eventually sank.  No lives were lost.

Lifeboat from the fire on the cruise ship during the 1980′s, that eventually sank. No lives were lost.

The cruise ship story was at the museum.  The passengers and crew were all rescued and brought to Valdez.

We camped down Dayville Road, right on the bay.

Solomon Falls, across the road from the fish hatchery.

Solomon Falls, across the road from the fish hatchery.

We met a fantastic lady, Gloria Day:

Gloria Day, from Valdez

Gloria Day, from Valdez, taken at her daughter’s in Arizona

She is 94, and lived through both the earthquake and the oil spill.  Talk about history!  She shared some of her story with us, and then when we visited the museums, we learned more…… how she had come to Valdez, married Walter Day, and they lived down the Dayville Road (where we were camping).  They had a salmon cannery where the Alyeska Pipeline Valdez terminal is located today.

After our successful fishing (6 salmon the first day, 12 the next!)

My fisher husband!

My fisher husband!

We headed north to McCarthy and Kennecott.  Along the way, we walked in to a glacier, and to another lookout at Thompson Pass.

A sunny summer days hike

A sunny summer days hike

Mountain goat just north of Valdez

Mountain goat just north of Valdez

Now this is supposed to be the last bad road on our trip….. our poor van!

We've done it again, a washboard, rough road to the Kennecott bridge.

We’ve done it again, a washboard, rough road to the Kennecott bridge.

There were fish wheels running, and people dip netting the Copper River:

Dip-netting on the Copper river - he has a red salmon in his net.

Dip-netting on the Copper river – he has a red salmon in his net.

After a long grueling drive, we arrived at the end of the road.  They’ve put up a pedestrian bridge across the river, and you can walk or catch a shuttle.  McCarthy is 0.6 miles (we walked there the second day), and Kennecott Mine is 5 miles.

Hot dogs and marshmallows at our camp on the Kennecott River

Hot dogs and marshmallows at our camp on the Kennecott River

We hiked about four miles at Kennecott, toured some of the old buildings, hiked out and past a glacier, then back around the top of the hill above the mine.  We took a wrong turn, hopped on stones across a stream, then found a bridge to get back on the right trail back to town.  Sore feet, and glad for a shuttle back to our camp site and supper!

On the hike to the Root Glacier

On the hike to the Root Glacier

Fully summer camouflaged ptarmigan, trying to draw attention away from her babies

Fully summer camouflaged ptarmigan, trying to draw attention away from her babies

We caught a moose eating fire weed on a trail above the mine.

We caught a moose eating fire weed on a trail above the mine.

 

On the pedestrian bridge.  Our RV is the third on the left.

On the pedestrian bridge. Our RV is the third on the left.

We saw people hiking on the glacier….. we hiked on the trail beside it, not on it!IMG_0621

Interesting sign at the campground

Interesting sign at the campground

After a dusty, bumpy ride out, we were glad to drive on to Anchorage, enjoying another Sunday there, and then back down to the Kenai, where we had six days at the Crooked Creek RV Park.  The fishing was non-existant on the Kasilof, but we scored big time on the halibut charter:

MY halibut and Gabe, the captain who hauled him in over the side of the boat.

MY halibut and Gabe, the captain who hauled him in over the side of the boat.

We got fish!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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JUNE IN ALASKA

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I have a hard time making up my mind:  Do I like wildlife or scenic pictures more?  20160616_110727 The past month has been a blur of both.  After we left the Dalton Highway (loved those Musk Ox), we spent a little relaxed time in Fairbanks.  We went on a riverboat trip on the Chena River, where we saw a float plane take off and land on the river.20160601_140626

Then we floated by Susan Butcher’s (Iditarod winner) daughter’s dog kennels, where we saw them exercising and running.IMG_0007

We got off the boat for talks and demonstrations.  Our favorite was the fish filetting:IMG_0019

We spent four days up in the White Mountain Recreation area, IMG_0064 where we were the only campers at one camping area along a river. IMG_0076 We scrounged campfire wood, and enjoyed a nice fire.  We hiked one day in the rain, then moved to another campground,

Four days up in the White Mountains NE of Fairbanks; nice camps and hikes

Four days up in the White Mountains NE of Fairbanks; nice camps and hikes

and had a bit more enjoyable hike.

At the top of our Quartz Creek hike

At the top of our Quartz Creek hike

A side trip to Paxson, and across the Denali Highway looked appealing, so we stayed at the Tangle Lakes campground and hikes and fished there.  Denis caught another grayling. Funny thing:  a boy camping there took pity on us and gave us some flies.  Then he offered to take Denis to his favorite fishing hole, so let Denis use his Dad’s kayak (unbeknownst to the Dad).  The Dad was a bit bewildered when he went down to the lake to fish, and his kayak was missing.

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The road across to Denali was lovely, and we stopped for a hike.

Hiking the summit trail on the Denali Highway

Hiking the summit trail on the Denali Highway

Found some snow to hike through!

Found some snow to hike through!

We saw a mother moose with twins,  20160612_180547 they are hard to make out, because the mother keeps them hidden…. but they are a lighter red color.

and along one stretch a bald eagle swooped up and flew down the road in front of us!IMG_0099

Five days in Denali National Park left me just about speechless.  It had rained for 2 1/2 weeks, and slowed to a drizzle the day we arrived.  It was pleasant for a hike down to and around Horseshoe Lake and along the Nelchina River.  We saw a beaver, so big, that when he hauled himself up onto the bank we both thought he was a bear! 20160613_143324 There were moose browsing in the lake.20160613_142625

The next three days were clear blue skies!  We went to the campfire talks every night, and learned about beavers, wolverines, bears, and wolves.  Hiking to small lakes and the river took up our second day.

Overlooking the Teklanika River

Overlooking the Teklanika River

Up early on our third day to catch the shuttle for Wonder Lake.  Beautiful scenic vistas and wildlife.  Hiked up a mountainside near Eilson Visitor’s Center.

Oh my, this one was really close!

Oh my, this one was really close!

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IMG_0179This guy was getting chased by a bird because he was too close to the nest.  He’s called a ‘cross fox’, which is a type of red fox.

We had a wonderful camp site at Teklanika

We had a wonderful camp site at Teklanika

CARIBOU!

CARIBOU!

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Our first good view of Mt. McKinley (now called Mt. Denali).

And the view furthest in, at Wonder Lake:20160616_110906

The next day, I hopped on the shuttle (space available) early in the morning again, while Denis stayed in camp and worked.  Another gorgeous day, and we saw tons of caribou, some Dall sheep (rather far off), and bear.  The mountain was out in all it’s glory again.

I just love these little arctic ground squirrels!

I just love these little arctic ground squirrels!

Trail into the mountain!

Trail into the mountain!

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I took another hike:

Trail into the mountain!

Trail into the mountain!

Our driver described how in their yearly training they have to learn how to turn around and back up on this portion of road:  IMG_0274 IMG_0270

Sunday in Anchorage and gospel meeting in Wasilla, followed by a Village Inn supper with Kale:

Out to supper with Kale, from Anchorage (and from the Big Island!)

Out to supper with Kale, from Anchorage (and from the Big Island!)

Off to the Kenai, and some fishing on the Kasilof River:

Denis's Father's Day gift, and the salmon he netted!

Denis’s Father’s Day gift, and the salmon he netted!

Denis filetting our first sockeye (red) salmon

Denis filetting our first sockeye (red) salmon

Denis was busy netting other people’s king salmon, and this sockeye.  That man said he had lots at home, and we could have it if we wanted it!

Wasilla convention was special, and so good to see folks we knew and meet others.

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Larry, from Petersburg, Bob and Aleta,from Haines,  with Jeff, from Sterling,  at Wasilla

Larry, from Petersburg, Bob and Aleta,from Haines, with Jeff, from Sterling, at Wasilla

Back down to the Kenai, passing mountain goats along the road, IMG_0422 IMG_0415

and camped at the Russian River campground, and fished for sockeye.  They were all huddling at the mouth, and Denis waded out into the midst of them, but we didn’t catch any.

Alas, no luck with the first run sockeye on the Russian River

Alas, no luck with the first run sockeye on the Russian River

 

Seagulls pretending they're eagles, watching for salmon

Seagulls pretending they’re eagles, watching for salmon

Notice the eagles perched behind me?!

Notice the eagles perched behind me?!

A mature and a young bald eagle, waiting for salmon

A mature and a young bald eagle, waiting for salmon

Denis fishing the Russian River

Denis fishing the Russian River

Off to Homer, great visits, 20160630_184655 - Copy

King salmon dinner at Bruce and Ruth"s

King salmon dinner at Bruce and Ruth”s

A Sandhill Crane in Bruce and Ruth's yard in Anchor Point

A Sandhill Crane in Bruce and Ruth’s yard in Anchor Point

 

more camping and fishing.IMG_0121 IMG_0119Homade bread in a little oven with corn on the cob.   Yum.

Sockeye salmon and sweet potato

Sockeye salmon and sweet potato

Maybe my favorite thing isn’t wildlife and animals, but food!

 

 

 

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THE LAND OF BEYOND

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Dipping my toe into Prudhoe Bay

Where the highway ends………..

where the road ends……….20160527_062331_003

where the trail ends………

Midnight at Deadhorse on May 28

Midnight at Deadhorse on May 28

Yup, the sun did NOT set!  And it won’t again, until the end of July!

Caused us to think of a poem (we changed only one word, so it would reflect a female, as well as male, side to the subject!)

The Land of Beyond

 by 

Robert Service

 Have you ever heard of the Land of Beyond,

That dreams at the gates of the day?

Alluring it lies at the skirts of the skies,

And ever so far away;

Alluring it calls: O ye the yoke galls,

And ye of the trail overfond,

With saddle and pack, by paddle and track,

Let’s go to the Land of Beyond!

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Have you ever stood where the silences brood,

And the vast horizons begin,

At the dawn of the day to behold far away

The goal you would strive for and win?

Yet ah! in the night when you gain to the height,

With the vast pool of heaven star-spawned,

Afar and agleam, like a valley of dream,

Still mocks you a Land of Beyond.

 

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Thank God! there is always a Land of Beyond

For us who are true to the trail;

A vision to seek, a beckoning peak,

A farness that never will fail;

A pride in our soul that mocks at a goal,

A being that irks at a bond,

And try how we will, unattainable still,

Behold it, Our Land of Beyond.

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Yes, we made it to the Arctic Circle……… and BEYOND!

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Overlooking the Klondike and the Yukon Rivers above Dawson City (Hiked the Crocus Bluffs trail)

Leaving Dawson City, Yukon Territory behind, May 23,

we journeyed over the Top of the World highway, which had just opened 4 days earlier. 20160523_130307

We had to check out the delicious pies in Chicken,

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try our hand at gold panning, crossing the border,20160523_131006and passing North Pole, Alaska,

Deanne at Delta Junction, the end of the Alaska Highway

Deanne at Delta Junction, the end of the Alaska Highway

we made it to Fairbanks.

After a good hot soak at Chena Hot Springs, we began our adventure to the Land Of Beyond:  The Dalton Highway, known at various times as the Ice Road or the Haul Road.IMG_0913

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Didn't eat here!

Didn’t eat here!

We saw lots and lots of snowshoe hares.  There were four, bounding across the road and back again.  Looked like young bunnies – maybe their first time out to play without their mother and they were quite naughty.  We just parked in the middle of the road watching them bounce around!

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We stopped at the Yukon Crossing:20160526_151534

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We averaged about 25 to 30 mph, and the road varied from beautiful (for about 25 miles north of Coldfood)

Beautiful paved road!  (Not typical)

Beautiful paved road! (Not typical)

to awful to awfuller!  They were repairing the road from last years flood of the Sag River near Deadhorse, and that was the worst:20160527_150136

 

We discovered a trucker’s diner at Coldfoot  20160526_193150, and we are now on a diet.

We made it to a BLM campground (after paying $4.60 for gas at Coldfoot), (campground only cost $4) and enjoyed a nice night.  The following day we drove all the way over Antigun Pass, 20160527_074724and down to Prudhoe Bay (gas there was over $5 per gallon)!  We saw musk ox (total about 25 to 30, which we heard is pretty rare):IMG_0734

20160527_104710_002We saw caribou, IMG_0744and one playful fellow lowered his head at us, reared up on his hind feet, and then raced us.  Then he’d stop, lower and shake his head, and race off again.  He was running just our speed.  He could have gone much faster.  He was having the time of his life!IMG_0820

Miles and miles and miles and miles……..20160526_162645

An interesting development with this grizzly; we think he’d just come out of hibernation and was rooting around for food…….. but look what he missed!

A tasty meal of arctic ground squirrel, so close, but he doesn't see it!

A tasty meal of arctic ground squirrel, so close, but he doesn’t see it!

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We camped alongside the river, and enjoyed bright sunlight all night.  The following day we took a tour through the oilfields and camps as far north as you can drive. 20160528_160516

On one side of the spit was Prudhoe Bay, and the other Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean.

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Standing on the ice in the Beaufort Sea

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Almost falling into the Arctic Ocean!

We had our supper, then drove a few hours heading back, before pulling off for the night. A beautiful wayside, just as we started up into the mountains, leaving the Sag River and tundra plains behind.  Our water froze that night!  The wind was howling, and we huddled in our sleeping bags, nice and warm, and thankful for a propane furnace!  We awoke to a dusting of snow!

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It was foggy – probably just low clouds, and we were happy it cleared off, and we had a lovely outdoor lunch at Glabraith Lake.20160529_130644

Arctic ground squirrels and wildflowers!IMG_0853 IMG_0839 IMG_0838

And a hike to the lake:IMG_0843

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Top of Antigun Pass

Our van got really dirty!

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and we followed the pipeline the whole way!  Sometimes it would disappear underground, or cross right under us.

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Just as scenic heading south, and we camped alongside the Jim River, and Denis got our supper!

Denis caught the first arctic grayling!

Denis caught the first arctic grayling!

Enjoyed the biggest yummiest hamburger at the Hot Spot café at mile 60; after the free dump and filling with the best water from an artesian well.

We finally saw a moose just before we were back to civilization

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What a  beautiful trip to our LAND OF BEYOND!

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Oh, Canada!

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Farewell to the good ole USA!

Special visits with family in South and North Dakota sends us on our way.  Kathy, Loretta & Charles, and Deb & Scott & Lance, welcomed us Saturday with scrumptious meals and welcome visiting.

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It was a treat to see Sonya and JD and little Wayne Henry again in Devil’s Lake, 20160501_112645

enjoy a potluck, say our goodbyes, and hit the road north.20160501_112720

Had to stop at Rugby, North Dakota, the geographical center of North America:20160501_135807

Crossing into Canada at North Portal, we made good time to Weyburn.  We were an hour and a half earlier than we’d predicted, because we weren’t aware that Saskatchewan does not spring forward for daylight savings time.  Had a fun time with Brad and Deanna, three of their kids and a couple grandchildren.

20160502_075856On our way out the following morning, we stopped for a tour of their house in town.  It was built in 1908, and has most of all the original things in it.  Even the two big boilers are over one hundred years old!

Deanna and Brad's historic mansion on the hill in town.

Deanna and Brad’s historic mansion on the hill in town.

Manitou beach is several hours north of there, and we decided a side trip was warranted to see if the “Dead Sea of Canada” actually is so buoyant that you can’t sink.  The park was lovely, and we had our first campfire for this northern part of our journey.  Hiking in the mornings and evenings, and we saw deer….. and a tick!    (crawling on my back!)  (Yikes!)20160504_135856We sure had fun, first at the provincial park, then at the Manitou Springs Hotel.  I didn’t sink, but then I never do!

Traveling northwest, we passed through Regina, then Saskatoon.  There we noticed a haze on the horizon, which gradually got thicker, and accompanied a smoky smell!  The smoke from the fires at Ft. MacMurray were being blown southeast.  We drove through the smoke, until we hit the Alberta border.  Then it was clear blue skies again.

Our next exploration was Elk Island National Park.  There are Prairie bison on the north side of the Yellowhead Highway, and Wood bison on the south.  20160506_142531We didn’t see any elk, but we did go on several hikes, saw tons of buffalo, IMG_0106

and one smart goose who was setting on her eggs on top of a beaver lodge!

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The park had placed five pairs of Adirondack chairs at various scenic places, and we found three.

We enjoyed the one near where we camped. IMG_0073

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The campground wasn’t open, but the park ranger let us stay overnight at the parking lot by the lake.  We enjoyed a gorgeous sunset.IMG_0085

In Edmonton, we got an oil change, shopped, and got picked up by Carol Stewart (who we’d met in Hawaii), and met Brian and Shirley Hewlett.  Would you believe she’s related to Beth, so we had a grand time finding all the connections.  20160508_134721

North to Athabasca, and most beautiful scenery in the Peace River country.  We took pictures from the hill above town, and were the only ones at a little park just past town, at West Baptiste Lake.  From there we drove to Slave Lake, through old forest fire areas, and along the lake.  Our next destination was a beautiful little park, just out of Peace River, also the only ones there, and free!  The following morning we headed to the grave-site of Twelve Foot Davis.

We saw three Timber Wolves! IMG_0154

Overlooking the Peace River, there was a layer of fog.  After breakfast it lifted, and we were treated to a spectacular view of three rivers coming into the Peace.  IMG_0182We heard a train whistle, and watched it work its way down to, and then across the river, along below us, and across a trestle on the Hart River.

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On our way from the hilltop overlooking town, Denis noticed the heater wasn’t blowing warm, and the temperature was too high.  Uh oh.  Thankful for Alberta Auto Association, who is affiliated with our AAA, and we got a free tow.20160510_103131_001

Luckily there was a good restaurant within walking distance, and after most of the day at Canadian Tire, and a good lunch, we got to go to the museum, and walk to the statue of Twelve Foot Davis (He found out that a couple guys had 12 feet over their allowed 100 ft. each on their gold claims, so he claimed the extra twelve feet for himself and struck it rich, in British Columbia.  Then he came up to the Peace River country, where he competed successfully with the Hudson Bay Co.)

Twelve Foot Davis

Twelve Foot Davis

A tipi made with old plumbing and tools (this one is for Kevin!)

A tipi made with old plumbing and tools (this one is for Kevin!)

We saw a very peaceful snake along the Peace:IMG_0220

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Did I mention Bears?  Lots of black bears.

We stopped at Hommy Park near Hythe, which was part of land that Beth’s grandfather donated to the county.  It is a beautiful park, along the Beaverlodge River, where Beth learned to skate and play hockey.20160511_081128We found some fresh beaver activity too!

Then we tried to find their house/restaurant, but it looked like the lot was vacant.  I think it was next to this old store:20160511_082847After poking around town a bit, we noticed a guy drive by slowly, staring at us.  20160511_083704Just before Pouce Coupe, a RCMP car passed us coming from the other direction, and I noticed him looking at us too.  I was beginning to wonder if we looked wierd of something.  Anyway, I’d just slowed down to 70 (that’s kilometers/hr), as we approached town, when I noticed flashing lights behind me.  I pulled over, knowing I’d been keeping within the speed limit, so I wasn’t too worried.

Well, he sat there for awhile.  Wondering why he wasn’t getting out and approaching my window, I gathered up my license, insurance, while I waited for him.  Then another car with flashing lights came up!20160511_092120

Oh boy, what now?!  Well, it turned out we looked like a wanted vehicle on an Amber Alert, and the guy back in Hythe that was staring at us called us in!  I politely invited them (a young nervous looking man and young woman) into the van, and told them the only place big enough to hide a child was in the bathroom, so they looked in there.  I’d actually seen the pictures on Facebook the day before, so I knew what it was all about.  I pointed out that we had three windows up on top and that van didn’t.  They were very apologetic and polite, and it was rather an interesting experience!  It was probably the most exciting day they’d had in Pouce Coupe in years!

For old times sake, we drove into the park at Pouce Coupe to see the place where we turned a picnic table over on top of us.  Looks like we could still do that.  (We’re very careful to sit on opposite sides of the table if it looks suspicious now!)  Needed to pull off and pull our nerves together, too!

On to Dawson Creek, mile “O” of the Alaska Highway!

Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway!

Mile O of the Alaska Highway!

 NORTH TO ALASKA!

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Fort St. John was our first stop after beginning the Alaska Highway, where we met a very talkative and informative lady, who filled us in on lots of interesting things to see along the way.

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We passed by still smoldering forest fires just north of Fort St. John.  20160511_162322

A beautiful hike up to Fort Nelson,

20160511_132157where we explored the museum first, especially enjoying the monument to those who worked on the highway (thinking of Grampa Claude)20160511_162755

Along the trail of the voyageurs, Denis had to try on a Beaver Hat!

Along the trail of the voyageurs, Denis had to try on a Beaver Hat!

then we were welcomed by Ron and Charlotte.  We had a wonderful visit, bible study, and the following morning a humongous and luscious breakfast.  They sent us on our way with a CD their son had made (very good Canadian country music), and a book.

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Beautiful Muncho Lake was the perfect place for our lunch,20160512_133349

 

Stone Mountain sheep along the road:20160512_144824

Liard Hot Springs was a delightful soak, after we registered for our camp site.  The first to welcome us was a big bull bison, followed by several females, parading right by us.20160512_153551We hiked up to the ‘hanging gardens’ before our afternoon in the pools.  We soaked again in the morning before heading on up the highway.20160512_165619

My hair was wet from washing in the river, but Denis insisted I get in the picture with our first moose picture:

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After a tortuous, pot-holed, rutted 2 km. drive on a dirt one-lane road, dodging downed trees, we arrived at the overlook for Smith River Falls.  We decided not to hike in, as one fit-looking guy came up panting, and said the trail was as bad as the road with downed trees.

Smith River Falls
Smith River Falls

Note an old forest fire area in the background; we passed lots of old fire areas.

A fabulous cinnamon roll (places along the Highway compete for their ‘world famous’ cinnamon buns).  This one was from Coal River Lodge.

20160512_110736We shared it.  That makes it only half as bad.

We got propane and gas and a walk by the lake in Watson Lake, Denis did some work, and then we found a lovely little spot off the highway to spend the night.  We had the whole place to ourselves, and a nice walk to the falls both evening and the next morning.  Talking or singing along the way, and carrying a big stick!  IMG_0477

IMG_0459 Carefully walking through the woods, because we’d seen our first grizzly just before arriving here!IMG_0451

Totally awesome color!  ”The so-called Toklat grizzly from the Alaska Range is a striking pale golden color with chocolate-colored lower parts.” says Google.  This is a ways from the Alaska Range, although not too far east from the St. Elias Mountains….. anyway, I’ve seen grizzly bears before, and never one this beautiful color.  I’m going to say it’s a Toklat Grizzly!  (Or at least, his cousin!)

After another cinnamon bun at Johnson’s Crossing, we drove to Jake’s Corner, and took the road down to Atlin.

Denis and Deanne at Atlin Lake

Denis and Deanne at Atlin Lake

This is about the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen.  Beautiful blue sky, snow capped mountains, and crystal clear lakes.

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We explored around the little town, enjoyed lunch by the lake, then headed to the public gold panning stream.  IMG_0535 IMG_0532Spruce Creek – it was a little hard to find, but when we found it, we were quite happy with the flakes of gold we saw in our pan.  We were also happy for the solitude as we camped there for the night.

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The next day, we hiked to a lookout spot on Monarch Mountain.   20160515_102057 20160515_110558 20160515_112435

Gently carrying our snacks, we munched on the best shortbread apple tarts!

Resting along the Monarch Mountain trail.

Resting along the Monarch Mountain trail.

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Scenes along the Highway….moose (3), grizzly (1), sheep (several), caribou (1), elk (1), wolves (4), black bear (8), eagles, bunnies, arctic ground squirrels, mountains, rivers, and construction!

We decided to drive to Six Mile Resort and RV park alongside the Tagish River.  We were only the second ones to camp this year.  A couple from Holland, who had rented a camper, were parked there too.  They wondered why we got in for half what they had to pay, so it was explained that they were the furthest north Passport America campground.  (He hee)

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More breath-taking scenery as we made our way down to Skagway, through the clouds up on the pass, and alongside the rocky, half frozen area called “Tormented Valley”, down past multitudes of waterfalls, into town.  20160516_095405

We explored the docks, looking at all the boats.  Didn’t buy one, though.  So after that fun morning, we drove to Whitehorse, took care of business (shopped), and headed for Takhini Hot Springs, where we camped for two nights, and soaked and soaked and soaked!20160517_111710

North past rivers and lakes, the Klondike Loop to Mayo, on the Silver Trail was our next destination.

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After two hikes up the hill at Devil’s Elbow (a forgotten pair of glasses at the lookout, led to two hikes.), seeing lots of forget-me-nots,  we wandered through town, looking at all the old buildings, the Stewart River, where the steamboats used to put in to distribute supplies and pick up ore for the miners.  Our camping spot for the night was at a park right on the Mayo River, about eight feet from the riverbank (and free)!IMG_0581 IMG_0595

We saw so many arctic ground squirrels and snowshoe hares, that we aren’t counting anymore!

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare

Did I mention we aren’t counting black bears anymore, either?!

At seven black bears, we're quitting counting!  "Smelling the daisies!"

Seven black bears later, “Smelling the daisies!”

On to Keno, on a rougher gravel road.  20160519_145254

We met Leo, the owner of the hotel, who told us lots about the area’s history and mining.  He encouraged us to drive as far as we could, and hike the rest of the way to the top of Keno Hill.  If we weren’t back by 4 pm, he’d come get us with his 4 wheel drive rig!  20160519_105921

Hoary Marmot on Keno Hill

Hoary Marmot on Keno Hill

Willow Ptarmigan:  still in it's winter dress

Willow Ptarmigan: still in it’s winter dress

Denis at the Keno Hill signpost

Denis at the Keno Hill signpost

What a beautiful opening in the sky!

What a beautiful opening in the sky!

IMG_0649 20160519_124531 20160519_121805From the top, we could see a round rainbow in the cloud around the sun.  I tried to block the sun with my hand:20160520_171358

Leaving a message for Leo, that we were down safe, we began the next part of our trip:  On to Tombstone Territorial Park!

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Between Stewart Crossing and the beginning of the Dempster Highway, we saw a BLACK WOLF!  It tore across the road in front of us so fast, we didn’t get a picture.  But we knew it wasn’t a dog, or a fox, or a cyote, and it looked like a wolf!  Asking the park ranger about it, he said there were 4 wolf packs in the park, and YES, most definitely there were black wolves in the area:  jet black!

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Beginning transition from winter to summer camouflage

Beginning transition from winter to summer camouflage

Campground closed, we boondocked near the trail-head to the Goldensides Hike.

20160520_095906We had to detour around the snow-covered trail, and scramble through the bushes and tundra to reach this overlook.

The following day, we drove to the highest point on the Dempster Highway, then got into the campground.  20160520_113148Free wood, which Denis had to split, and hours of sitting around the campfire.  A luscious steak and baked potato supper, followed by marshmallows, then a hike.

on the Klondike Trail from our campground.

on the Klondike Trail from our campground.

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The following morning, we were the first to sign the guest book for the year at the interpretive center.  We took a short hike from the campground there.  20160521_093803

Ptarmigan in summer camouflage

Ptarmigan in summer camouflage

Denis sampled the Labrador Tea, made from local herbs.   Another little hike down to a beaver pond was next on the agenda.20160521_105023

 

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On to Dawson City, and the 31st annual international Gold Show!20160521_124810

See that gold!

See that gold!

A little hike to Crocus Bluff, a drive to the top of the Midnight Dome, and we are off to Alaska!  The Top of the World Highway opened a few days ago, and we are off to more adventures!

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HALFWAY!

Seven and a half months of travel to the south, then a month taking care of business in Colorado, and visiting.  Six months to go!

NORTH TO ALASKA NEXT!

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We’ve been joking that we’ve been chasing spring for months.  It was springtime in Alabama in February, and in Texas in March.  In April nothing was more gorgeous than the beautiful lilacs, rhodys, flowering dogwoods, and so many more I can’t even describe, as we drove through the Pacific Northwest!

A quick trip up through Texas (and special visits),IMG_0141 Steve and Alice, our old friends from Hawaii,20160314_205304Linda Taylor, Witchita Falls, who we met in Mission, Texas, and Leroy and Sara in Arlington, Texas! IMG_0137

and we were on our way to Colorado!

Thanks to technology (weather app on our phones), we were warned about the big snowstorm descending on the Sierra Nevadas.  Scooting over a day earlier than planned, we enjoyed a leisurely drive around Lake Tahoe, before settling into a campsite at Walmart at Placerville.  There was even a hiking trail behind the store!

From the east side of the drive around Lake Tahoe

From the east side of the drive around Lake Tahoe

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After our Wed. bible study our last week in Colorado, we watched the storm up in the mountains, and hovered at the base of Monarch Pass.  We looked at the cameras on the internet, and as soon as the pass was clear, we took off over the Pass.  So we avoided the big Denver blizzard, as well as the Tahoe storm!  I don’t know what we did in the old days….. probably just didn’t plan trips across the mountains in March!
But, as a result, Denis has gotten in lots of time on his work, and I’ve read a good book. 

Jan's green chili lunch with Terry & MaryAnn

Jan’s green chili lunch with Terry & MaryAnn

While we were in Colorado, we got in some wonderful visits, and Wed. night the first week at our new bible study home in Canon City, then Sunday and a potluck as well as Wed. AM the next week at Jan and Dexters. 

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We visited friends in Colorado Springs and Penrose, and got all our medical stuff done.  Got my nose burned off.  Actually, there was a pre-cancerous spot, and it wasn’t too bad.  A few other spots treated, but no skin cancer.  Had my mammo and bone density – have osteopenia just in one place in my hip, so supposed to get more calcium.  They gave me a list of foods high in calcium, and first on the list is milkshakes.  Yippee!  Of course, in her second breath, the doctor said we needed to address our little ‘overweight’ situation!  Ah well.
Our fitness ‘plan’ includes walking, so we stopped at The Garden of the Gods:

Hiking to the Devil's Kitchen in Colorado National Monument

Hiking in Garden of the Gods, near Colorado Springs.

Enjoying a sunny walk in the Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

Enjoying a sunny walk in the Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

Denis is great.  His heart murmur, mitral valve, has not gotten any worse, so we got the doctors blessings to head to Alaska!
In Colorado, we got our Mountaineer out of storage, and took off for Steamboat Springs.  Now that was to visit our former landlord, and we had a good visit. 
Ivan and Ted making us a luscious supper

Ivan and Ted making us a luscious supper

A four hour trip each way, and through several passes and ski areas.  His condo is right on the ski slope, and as we noshed down on salmon and tiger prawns, the snow gently fell.  Took a broom to it in the morning. 

The back of our Mountaineer after our night at Steamboat Springs

The back of our Mountaineer after our night at Steamboat Springs

Good thing our rig is AWD, as we needed it in the morning after about 6 inches of the white stuff.

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So we had a good time in Colorado, got our van worked on (2 new tires, alignment, alternator, front brakes & one rotor & adjustments, and a couple bolt things to tighten us up), unpacked a few things from the van and loaded it with stuff we’d set aside in our storage marked “Alaska”.  Fishing tackle, etc.
Waiting until Monarch Pass was clear, we scooted over about 4 pm, and encountered this beautiful sight:20160323_192633
Cool and crisp up here in the mountains!

Cool and crisp up here in the mountains!

I made it into the Devil's Kitchen!

I made it into the Devil’s Kitchen!

Hiking in Colorado National Monument was a bit difficult, due to the fact we’d been at sea level and not acclimated to the elevation.  But we did make it to Devil’s Kitchen! Walking the trail at the Petroglyph site in Nevada:20160326_114556

It got cold at night, and our water froze in the van.  No problems, though.

It got cold at night, and our water froze in the van. No problems, though.

We basked in the sun at Angels Camp, CA, after a great visit with Jan and Bill near Placerville.
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They took us to an airport near their place, where there was a community with homes that had airport garages, and the signs were close to the ground.  Airplanes in the yards, and very wide streets shared by cars and planes!
20160328_170042_001 20160328_165653 20160328_165646 20160328_165414 We We had a nice 1 bdrm condo with Washer/Dryer, balcony with our own gas grill, and a nice work area for Denis.  Did laundry.  Lots.  Cleaned the van before putting back the clean bedding and rugs.  Very relaxing, and their pool is actually open!  20160329_143323We walked and explored the property and the pool and hot tub.  Here three rejuvenating days.
Beautiful views of Mount Shasta:  20160401_164548 20160401_154607
And a trip through California, always includes a stop at the Olive Pit! 20160401_142806
Our next few weeks: more friends and family.  Jim and Marian, Center Point, Oregon, 20160402_115215_001and then, a quick stop at the covered bridge on the way to Holly: 20160402_151617_002
Beth & Oty, and Lori in Holly, Oregon on the farm.  

Oty and Beth's at the farm in Holley

Oty and Beth’s at the farm in Holley

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A beautiful early morning walk through the woods on Holley Farm.

A beautiful early morning walk through the woods on Holley Farm.

Trillium blooming on the forest floor

Trillium blooming on the forest floor

Denis on the banks of the Calapooia River

Denis on the banks of the Calapooia River

My Dad’s cousin, Roy and his wife Jean, in Happy Vally, Oregon. 20160404_105553My sister, in Lacey, on Monday, 20160404_175236then Keri and Keith in Olympia,

Hiking a beautiful forest trail near Olympia

Hiking a beautiful forest trail near Olympia

20160406_081824Wilma in Enumclaw,  20160406_171509Kathy S.  Friday evening after Thursday with Kay Butler, 20160407_190133

Deanne and Kay, at her home in Tacoma

Deanne and Kay, at her home in Tacoma

and on over to the island for the weekend with Ron and Larry. 

Kathy with Ron's granddaughters, and her beautiful rhododendron

Kathy with Ron’s granddaughters, and her beautiful rhododendron

20160410_134043  Ron and Larry, Denis’ brothers.

Lucious supper at Ivars with Ruthie and Renee (our hanai daughters): 20160410_184752From there more visiting,  Kevin & Janie,20160415_101543

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Jenni, Jazmine, & Jaden, Peg & Peter,  and then we took a trip to the Skagit Tulip fields, then on over Deception Pass and Whidbey Island explorations:
IMG_0064 IMG_0047And of course, the Salmon BBQ in Mt. Vernon!20160415_123325
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Deanne at Double Bluff on Whidbey Island

Deanne at Double Bluff on Whidbey Island

Chris and Rob in Bellingham, 20160415_202317
and a ferry ride to Friday Harbor, 20160417_143005 20160416_130736 20160416_084458_002
and a visit with Merle and Bonnie.  20160416_142253_001
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It was great to visit Andrea, Matt & Marie on our way east, 20160418_113011and the drive up the Nez Pierce Highway was spectacular. 20160418_170652 We spent the night along the river, and had a refreshing soak the next morning.20160419_102445_001

Lolo Hot Springs, 30 miles west of Missoula, Montana

Lolo Hot Springs, 30 miles west of Missoula, Montana

Another refreshing stop was with Bob and Yvonne on their ranch in Montana:20160420_100435 20160420_100600

Greeted by our grandchildren in Aberdeen!

Annette's daughter, Alice, at 21 months.

Annette’s daughter, Alice, at 21 months.

20160421_163612Wayne Henry is 5 months old, and we had such fun with him.  Took him and his brothers to Wylie Park:20160423_103350 20160423_104841 20160423_104331 20160423_103450

Got to Fargo Monday, and everyone was available to meet us at the Super Buffet for supper!20160425_184812 20160425_184906 We had a grand time with Diana and Shelly and their families!

E Grand Forks for Denis’ annual help in Kay’s yard. 

Denis spring cleanup at Kay's in East Grand Forks

Denis spring cleanup at Kay’s in East Grand Forks

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Our van is stocked, cleaned, and ready to head out for Canada and Alaska!  Our last stop before crossing the border will be Devil’s Lake just before we head north on May 1.  

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What a spectacular, whirlwind tour through georgeous scenery and even more fantastic folks.  Thank you to all who took care of us along our journey! 
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Texas Travels

GOODBYE, FLORIDA – It has been a fantastic three months!

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Saying goodbye over lunch with Pat and Frank in Old Town, Florida.  We’d met them in November, and it was wonderful to be with them our last Sunday in Florida.

Moving on to Panama City, we enjoyed a studio condo on the 16th floor overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.  We had a day of rain here, including a thunderstorm, when the pool was closed.

Our view of the pool from our lanai:IMG_0731

IMG_0010And of the coastline.  We walked on the beach until our feet were exhausted, but we were rewarded with a spectacular sunset!

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Four days later, we happily made our way down the road to Robertsdale, Alabama, where we shopped at the German sausage supplier for the Elberta Sausage Festival that we attended in October.  We stuffed our little freezer for the road!

It's springtime in Alabama!

It’s springtime in Alabama!

We even found luscious sweet local Alabama strawberries at a Farm Market!

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Nearing evening, we decided to try to get a campsite without any reservations.  So we got on Yelp and found Davis Bayou Campground in the Gulf Shores National Seashore, near Ocean Springs, Louisiana.  We got the last camp site!  It turned out to be Mardi Gras weekend, and the ranger said things had been crazy, but that site was open for one night only.  We lucked out for sure.  $11 for the night, and wood stacked up right beside the fire pit for our use!

It's winter in Louisiana!

It’s winter in Louisiana!

Roasted purple sweet potatoes and Elberta German sausage cooked over the campfire.   Yum!

Denis walked that night, but I got in under my blankets!  The next morning was our coldest so far, at 30.9 degrees!  We walked around the campground, down to a boat launch and picnic area, and a nature walk.

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Well, I wasn’t planning to swim anyway!

Six little turtles, sitting on a log………..IMG_0041

On to Independence, Louisiana to June and Terry’s home (Marilyn’s folks – we’d met her at Foster’s convention, and again in Fairhope at the Ekeland’s, where we met June too), where we were welcomed with aromas from the kitchen and a warm hug!  Fresh rolls and homemade spaghetti, followed by blonde brownies just out of the oven.  Oh, we are spoiled!

The next day we visited the Global Wildlife Center, where there are over a thousand animals from all over the world on their 900 acres.  There are kangaroos, and three kinds of deer, and about anything but carnivores.

Hopping on a covered wagon train pulled slowly by a tractor, we received a big pail with cups full of feed.  We fed the lamas and camel out of our hands, but poured the feed into cattle’s mouths.  For the ostrich-like birds, deer and zebras, we just tossed the food out.

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There was a little 3 day old Watusi calf, so cute!

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Now this camel caused quite some laughter, as we saw she had brought her own plastic cup with her!

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Special friends and fellowship Saturday evening, as we were joined by several folks for the best ever gumbo!

From left to right:  June, Gene, Lindsey, Randy, Hal, Gilbert, and Denis.

Gene is June’s son.  Randy and Mr. Gilbert were staying with Hal, so Hal drove them over.  Here in Louisiana, if one is older and respected, it is “Mr” or “Miss” in front of their first names.  Kind of like “Auntie” and “Uncle” in Hawaii.  So Mr. Gilbert and Denis did lots of reminiscing about the good ole days in North Dakota.  (Yah yah, ya betcha!) He was in the work three years already when Denis was born, so he had some really OLD stories!

Sunday we enjoyed union meeting, followed by lunch at the Acme Oyster house, where Denis had grilled oysters with butter and cheese and bread.  I had shrimp Creole Etouffee, topped with fried crawfish tails.  About the best melt in your mouth ever!

After a quick nap, we followed June west about an hour for Gilbert and Randy’s gospel meeting.  We continued on west about another hour, as it was dark at 6 pm when we got out of the meeting.  Finding a good rest stop, we hunkered in for the night.

Monday we got on our way at dawn, and with breakfast, lunch, and shopping stops (oh, and the Texas stop sign place, known as Dairy Queen), we arrived about 4 pm at Bay View RV Park at Rockport, Texas (Just NE of Corpus Christi).  Found a lovely site near the lake with shade trees, and only a short walk from the pool and hot tub.  Perfect for two weeks.  Denis got lots of work done (and the taxes), and I did, ummmmmm, more of my relaxing stuff!

My typical view, settled into my recliner with my book and a soda:

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We proved we could stay put in one place for two weeks!  During that time, we enjoyed our walks, Denis enjoyed working, and I enjoyed the pool.  We also explored food.  See, we’re working on our book, “Our Culinary Tour of North America”.  Anyway, that’s our excuse for going out for BBQ twice.  Chinese once.  Cinnamon roll.  And shrimp.  Local shrimp again – so yummy!  And these we found in a bait shop.

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Yummy.  The table shrimp, of course.

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From the lighthouse at Texas Maritime Museum, overlooking the water at Rockport. (The beach to the left, marina to the right.)

We took the ferry at Port Aransas, drove down Mustang Island, and explored North Padre Island.

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We had a great time with friends Sunday at special meeting with Lyle Schober, Jim Holt and Andy Kuehn.  Also Joann Ernsthausen (says hi to all you ND and SD folks!), Jennifer Bartels, Jennifer Lester, Emma Perez, and Nadine Throgmorton.  At the potluck Monday, Nadine told us about her experiences in the Philippines.  That was such fun, to get included in a potluck especially for the “Winter Texans”.  They don’t use the term “snowbirds” down here.  Gotta get the local language right!

We then headed to Port Isabel, to visit Denis’ cousin, Darrold, and Joann.  They took us out to a fantastic Italian Restaurant.  The next morning we headed to South Padre Island.

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Walking the beach, nature trails (more birds), and towards sunset, walked across the road to the gulf side for sunset gazing.

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Did I mention birds?  Driving on the beach (we didn’t).  We’d heard about a van that got stuck out there last week and they want $2000 up front before they’ll pull you out.

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The next morning we drove as far as we could up the island.

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On the way up to Mission, Texas, we walked through history at the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park.  We never stop learning!

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And I also never stop being very aware of the dangers:

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Fantastic visiting and meeting folks in Mission.  Eight for dinner.  Lois and Rose, John and Myrna, Linda from Henrietta, Texas and her sister-in-law from Missouri.

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The next morning, Myrna and John and some other folks were preparing breakfast for eighty people.  We got to help!  (And eat!)

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The cooks cooking and serving (Denis is in the back left corner scrambling eggs).

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We met at the Erickson’s, visitors and locals (representing Indiana, Ontario, Minnesota and Colorado), who wanted a little excursion into Mexico.  Taking three vehicles and traveling north of La Joya, we headed to the Rio Grande.

IMG_0370 IMG_0372 IMG_0371Scenic sights along the way, included a beautifully decorated cemetery.

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After boarding the hand-pulled ferry, we were reminded:IMG_0385

Crossing into Mexico, we didn’t dare go further.  So we waited and watched to see if we’d make it back to the good ole U. S. of A.

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Denis helped pull us along to our homeland:IMG_0423

and the blimp and it’s camera’s were watching:IMG_0426

On the way back, we actually saw a helicopter hovering very low, and a few border patrol vehicles.  Apparently the blimp found someone hiding in a ravine.  Sad.

Back to Port Isabel, and an interesting tour of Port Isabel and South Padre Island.  Darrold and Joann have a beautiful lot for sale on one of the ‘fingers’.  They live on another ‘finger’, and have a lovely home, right on the water, with a boat, and they fish and crab right off their back deck.  They pulled up their crab pot, and there were several crabs in there!

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After another luscious dinner, we headed out early the next morning for our next stop.

Fantastic BBQ , friends and visiting at Denis’ cousin, PJ and Richard’s in Wheelock, Texas.  The best ever ribs, which twe enjoyed the next day too!  PJ sent us on our way with lots of her salsa and pickles.  Yum.  Seems I say “Yum” a lot!  Toured their beautiful property and gardens the next morning:

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We got a free week at a condo at Lake Conroe – right on the lake!IMG_0459  So special to get a visit with Hannah, see her place, and she introduced us to a yummy restaurant and all of us had crawfish!IMG_0465 IMG_0461

And a very special honor to be included in a morning bible study at Pecan Grove, a retirement home at New Waverly, near here.

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There are seven residents, all such precious folks!  Doris Crawford, Jean Hagemeier, Raymond Reece, Elton Cleveland, John Culver, Alice Oetken, Leah Bolt (from Pennsylvania, here for the winter).  Joyce Lawrence was there for a visit too, and sends special greetings to those she knew during her time in North Dakota.

Jack took us on a tour in his UTV all around the 150 acres, with several homes, lakes, and the pecan orchard.

IMG_0024 Then he showed us the pecan processing shed, and we got some fresh yummy pecans! IMG_0036

And speaking of yummy, lunch was fantastic too!IMG_0040

 

They have a beautiful back porch with a fireplace, and lawn stretching down to the lake.IMG_0021

Inspiring and beautiful to see these folks, the oldest at 98, so peaceful and contented in their place in the sunset of life.  Reminded me of Grandma Sadie, who spoke of this song to me when I visited with her on the phone not long before she passed:

“So while the hours are passing, All now is perfect rest;                                                                I’m waiting for the morning, The brightest and the best.                                                       When He will call us to His side   To be with Him  -  His spotless bride”

 

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FLORIDA! Flora, Fauna, and Fun

The Florida Everglades:  our next destination!

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A couple walks on our way to Flamingo campground were interesting.  We saw some Strangler Fig Trees, huge mahogany trees, flowers, and birds.

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Arriving at the campground, we discovered there were hordes of mosquitoes under the trees, so we did as the National Park flier suggested, and found an open and breezy site.  We put up our screen tent, and enjoyed the first cool weather we’ve encountered in Florida.  Seems winter has finally arrived.  That lasted about a day, then it was nice enough to explore the marina, where we saw 6 manatees and a couple crocodiles.

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The Florida Bay Boat tour was such fun:  IMG_0311

more birds to see, and two bottle-nose dolphins played in our wake.  They were joined by another and we were thrilled to watch them jump in the waves for quite awhile.

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Having had such a great time on the boat in the bay, we decided to take another boat tour down the canal surrounded by mangroves and up into the wilderness waterway.  We saw 9 crocodiles, and since the tour was narrated, we learned about poisonous trees and snakes.  A portage was described as “Here’s the landing, where you can carry your canoe down a spider and snake infested path to another stream.”  Don’t think we’ll do that one!

Look at this little crocodile's teeth!

Look at this little crocodile’s teeth!

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We also saw the Anhinga, also known as ‘the snake bird’, because it’s head and neck are all that’s above water when it swims.

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White Pelicans flew overhead:

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We moved to the Long Pine campground for the last night, after we went to the visitor’s center to get reception, so we could do some business and make reservations at Katmai National Park for next summer!

Early morning hike at Long Pine Campground

Early morning hike at Long Pine Campground

Next on our itinerary was an 8 night Carnival Cruise to the Eastern Caribbean.

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The water taxi ($7) took us to the town and beach at St. Maarten.

On the beach, and in the water!

On the beach, and in the water!

The food was good.  Great alternate places to eat:  fish and chips (with shrimp, oysters, etc. too), the BEST hamburgers, and pizzas made to order while we waited.  Mostly I did a lot of laying around.

Scenic view of the Atlantic side of St. Kitts, from our bus.

Scenic view of the Atlantic side of St. Kitts, from our bus.

Beach day on the Caribbean Sea side of St. Kitts

Beach day on the Caribbean Sea side of St. Kitts

The next ports were St. Kitts, then San Juan, Puerto Rico, followed by Grand Turk.  We took a walking tour of San Juan, which was very educational, and full of history.

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Our walking tour lasted three hours!  It was sunny and warm, so we were glad to be handed a bottle of ice cold water at our first stop.

Climbing inside the fort.

Climbing inside the fort.

Inside the dome of the capital building

Inside the dome of the capital building

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At Grand Turk, we went to the beach right at the port, just walking down the beach past the crowded area.  We rented an umbrella and two chairs, and the beach and water were fantastic!

Our two cruise ships, side by side, at San Juan, Puerto Rico

Our two cruise ships, side by side, at San Juan, Puerto Rico

Fun to see our cruise ship (on the right) with the one we were going to be on the following week (Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Navigator of the Seas).

The towel creation magicians were busy in the night!

The towel creation magicians were busy in the night!

A cute towel creation greeted us every evening after supper.

It's a bear!

It’s a bear!

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We didn’t buy any photos, but took this one in our room on formal night.

We took the Park n Go shuttle (free) from one cruise ship to the next, and were happy to get on the next boat.  This was quite new, and had lots of exciting features, like a huge indoor promenade with shops and eating places.  Also had lots of things for kids like a flow rider and rock climbing wall.  My favorite thing was the ice show.  It was totally awesome, like the ice capades I remember seeing years ago.  Skaters from Japan, USA, Canada and Russia were exceptional!

ICE DANCIN'!

ICE DANCIN’!

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Our table mates:  Carmen Alvarez, a Dominican nun from Cuba (lives in Boca Raton), Fred, a veterinarian from Connecticut, Shirley (a former nun from Seattle), Delightful folks from Beijing, China (he is a university professor of nuclear physics), and their daughter, a software engineer from Chicago.  Shelly, who took this picture, Dr. Fred's companion, also works with software from her home in Connecticut.

Our table mates: (Left to Right) Carmen Alvarez, a Dominican nun from Cuba (lives in Boca Raton), Fred, a veterinarian from Connecticut, Shirley (a former nun from Seattle), Delightful folks from Beijing, China (he is a university professor of nuclear physics), and their daughter, a software engineer from Chicago. Shelly, who took this picture, Dr. Fred’s companion, also works with software from her home in Connecticut.

A fun and lively group of people were at our dinner table.  Shelly knew Mandarin, so she visited freely with the folks from Beijing.  Shirley, would you believe was born and raised in Aberdeen, South Dakota?!  Her mom cooked only one meal, which lasted twelve hours.  They were on a farm, so she doesn’t like jeans because that’s what she wore to milk cows.  Such fun visits.  As a nun, who would have preferred being a priest (in the days before they allowed women priests), she felt limited, so went into other ministry in her church, which included family counseling.  She lives in Seattle, near Swedish Hospital, where I was born.  Funny how we find ties as we travel!

Shirley moved to Florida from Seattle, and has a beautiful condo (which she has on the market).  She worked in Carmen’s parish, which is where they met and became good friends.  Shirley was going to travel alone, but Carmen insisted on keeping her company.

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Days passed quietly, as I read and dozed on my super comfy lounge in the solarium.  Looking out full-length windows at the ocean, with the pool and hot tub behind me, I only left my lounge for a soak or a swim or a meal.

My lounge with a view of the ocean.

My lounge with a view of the ocean.

The only tour we took was in Jamaica.  Our tour was cancelled (the horse died or something), so we got refunds, and went on a trolley tour around Falmouth.

Beach along our trolley tour in Falmouth, Jamaica

Beach along our trolley tour in Falmouth, Jamaica

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Our last port visit at Labadee, Haiti, was cancelled due to political unrest and protesters greeting a ship the day before in the harbor.  So we had an extra day at sea.  Missed the beach, but you can’t beat relaxing in the lounge chair.

After two weeks at sea, where Denis got a lot of work accomplished, and I got a few books read, we picked up our Roadtrek, and headed to Palm Bay to visit Denis’ cousins.  First we went to Susan Thomas’ beautiful Florida home, and Roger and Judy came by.  We went out to Bob Evans restaurant for a yummy dinner.

Sunday, we went into Melbourne for our church meeting, then to Roger and Judy’s.  Sue was there and we went up to Satellite Beach to see the manatees!

Manatee face close up

Manatee face close up

Denis with his cousins: Roger & Judy, and Susan. See the manatees in the canal behind them?!

Denis with his cousins: Roger & Judy, and Susan.
See the manatees in the canal behind them?!

Those are all manatees, huddling together in the shallow canal to keep warm on the coldest day of January.

Those are all manatees, huddling together in the shallow canal to keep warm on the coldest day of January.

Off to play at being retired kids at Disney World!

We  checked into a beautiful hotel, where we enjoyed the pool and hot tub.  We walked all the way around this lake, which was surrounded by Wyndham properties, and we had access to all the pools and lazy rivers we wanted.

The view from our room at Wyndham Grand Hotel

The view from our room at Wyndham Grand Hotel

The Magic Kingdom was a fun place to visit, and we took the first hotel shuttle.  We cheered as the park opened, and we walked, rode the rides, experienced the attractions, ate and watched parades and the final fireworks over Cinderella’s castle.

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We hadn’t had enough attractions, so went to Medieval Times, and stuffed ourselves again, as we cheered the knights on.  Absolutely beautiful horses!

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Florida has been such a fun and interesting place to explore, and we intend to make a lingering goodbye, as we head west to Panama City, via Old Town, and our friends there Sunday.  After four days at a condo in Panama City, right on the Gulf of Mexico, we plan to head west and arrive in Texas in a few days.

ON TO TEXAS!

 

 

 

 

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Marooned on a desert island

Alone with just a few other campers and some park rangers, we watched the ferry leave the dock, heading back to Key West, Florida.  In the south Gulf of Mexico, we were far from land and home.  Surrounded by aqua seas, with elegant frigate birds circling overhead, we luxuriated in our solitude.

New Year’s Day, 2016.

Early in the morning, we boarded the Yankee Freedom III and headed west from Key West across the Gulf of Mexico.  About seventy miles and 2 1/2 hours later, we arrived at our destination.

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Along with 150 other people we hopped ashore to enjoy the sights, history, snorkeling and beach.

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The main difference was that us and three other camping families were loading our gear and water, and hauling to our campsite.

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This is the best beach on the island, just steps from our campsite.  This is what it looked like after the people left on the ferry at 3 p.m.  There are only eight campsites.  There is a group camping area and an overflow area, but only one other couple camped there (I think to get away from the hermit crabs).

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The fort is surrounded by a moat, and there is a moat walk of 6/10 of a mile, which I swam that first day (around the outside in the ocean), while Denis walked the wall to accompany me.  We saw tons of fish.

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Before I did the outside of the moat, we both snorkeled over to the old pier, and saw literally thousands of fish.  They are more game fish there, and more tropical along the moat wall.

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Laying on my beach mat, this friendly little guy scooted up near my face and stared at me.  I shooed him away, and he scooted off sideways, then rotated his antenna-like eyes and oogled me.  Isn’t he cute?

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Fort Jefferson is the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere.  Construction went on for years, and during the Civil War, but was never completed.  The lower level is where the soldiers lived, and where the prisoners were housed, including the famous Dr. Mudd of the Lincoln conspirators.

An interesting story about the Civil War:  The fort remained in Union control the whole time.  As soon as the North recognized that Florida was on it’s way to succeeding from the Union, they sent a commander and some men to the fort.   Later, a Confederate ship arrived, with a brave officer who thought he’d really get recognized for capturing Fort Jefferson.  He sailed in cautiously, and he didn’t get shot at, so he kept coming.  When he was within hailing distance, the Union officer sent him a message, “The reason I didn’t blow you out of the water, is because I want you to go back and tell your leaders that any ship approaching will be shot.  This fort is Union, and will remain Union.  Now you skedaddle out of here and deliver that message, or I will blow you up in ten minutes!”  So the Confederate captain turned tail and sailed away, with disappointment. (kind of my words there)

Now the interesting fact is that the Union officer was totally bluffing.  His cannon were on a boat on it’s way and hadn’t even arrived at the fort yet!

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The first evening we walked all the way out along the shore of Bush Island.  You are only allowed to walk on the shore, not the inside of the island, or swim there, due to protected birds and turtles.  Actually everything is protected out here, and you can’t take shells or coral, so there is lots to see and enjoy.

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Frigate birds nest on the next island which is totally closed to the public.IMG_0054

This little guy was hunting.  Bush island is also totally closed for about 9 months of the year during nesting season.

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This pelican just gobbled a fish, still in his pouch.

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And there were tons of hermit crabs, so you’d see many different kinds of shells crawling along with the crabs.  They were all around the campsite and the rest of the island. IMG_0079

Sunset from the top of the fort wall, New Years Day!IMG_0082

After it got dark, we took our flashlight and walked the moat wall, looking for the crocodile.  Apparently one got washed over to this island during a hurricane, and it lives a lonely life here.  His eyes glow red at night, but we never saw him.  We saw lots of fish, and 11 huge lobsters!  Lobsters are protected so they grow really big – over a foot long!  And we saw a nurse shark too!

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This is the only ‘safe harbor’ in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.  Not only is it the pathway for birds coming from the mainland to and from Cuba and South America, but lots of big and small boats put in for the night (or longer).  Saw some beautiful yachts.

This view from the top of the fort wall looks out over Bush island where we walked the right side the first night, and the left side the second evening.  IMG_0093

We had the best campsite, sheltered in a little grove of trees.  Boiling water for our Mountain House supper.  We ate well (we always do!)IMG_0091

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The second beach on the island.

IMG_0101 Discovered beautiful corals and shells on the beach.  When snorkeling, I love to watch the fans move back and forth in the surge.  Don’t pay attention to my hair I was trying to dry!  There were fresh water showers on the ferry for us to use every day, but they were outside, and didn’t allow soap or shampoo, so it was basically just a rinse.

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Portuguese Man of War.  This is the first we saw with the tentacles intact.  We first saw a bunch washed up on the shores of Long Key, and didn’t know what they were.  Glad we didn’t touch them!  We just stomped them, thinking they were some kind of bubble wrap…. ha ha!

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The Conch Tree (Pronounced ‘konk’, like “I’m going to conk you on the head with my conch shell.”)  Someone had found a piece of driftwood and decorated it with lots of conch shells.

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After the ferry left the second night, we saw this funnel cloud!  Called a water spout actually.  It was a bit scary to see, but it was in the direction the weather was not coming from, so we weren’t too concerned.

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The second evening, an interpretive ranger showed a movie inside the fort on the parade grounds “Prisoner at Shark Island”, made in 1935, which was the story of Dr. Mudd.  It was VERY good, and if anyone gets a chance to see it, I’d highly recommend it!  It is not totally historically accurate, but really gives you a feel of the time and place.

The rain arrived the next morning, after the tent and all our gear were packed up and protected from the storm.  Racing for the fort, we got drenched, but it was warm, and we dried off as we spent the next hour leisurely exploring the lower two levels.

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Quite a fascinating story about the Cuban refugees.  They get lots of boat arrivals here.  If they make it to land, they are safe.  If they are intercepted by the Coast Guard they are turned away.

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These are a couple boats from the Cuban refugees that landed at the Fort.

Our second night, there was a boatload arriving, but they were intercepted and turned back.  Rather sad.

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The ranger told us to come alert him if a boat arrived in the night.  He left his porch light on.  The rangers live in a modernized section on the second floor of the fort.  He said the Cubans usually have medical issues, and they take care of them.

We met a man from Key West, who said he’s seen two boats arrive.  He said the locals welcome them with dry clothes, blankets, water, food, and a cell phone to call their relatives or friends in Miami.

 

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As we sat up on top of the fort, gazing out at the horizon, we had sweet fellowship together.  We sang what we could remember of the song “Art Thou Waiting For the Day  of the Lord’s Appearing?”  ”Lift thy head, the day draws near……”  All alone, in the peace and quiet of our little place on Garden Island, we were waiting.

IMG_0197That’s the ferry arriving!

The first two days were excellent snorkeling.  The second day I swam way out to a couple of buoys and back.  There was lots of coral, and I about jumped out of the water when I saw a huge fish.  The best guess is it was a Florida Pompano.  It was about 2/3 my size.

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The last day, the waves were high enough to enjoy floating out in them.  The clarity of the water wasn’t so good, so I just stayed on top instead of snorkeling.  I spent the whole day until we had to leave at 3 p.m. in the ocean.

Extraordinary adventure at the Dry Tortugas National Park.  What a fantastic way to start our New Year!

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DECEMBER TRAVELS AND ADVENTURES

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Anticipation was high was high as we drove across Florida to Fort Myers.  It was December 1, our fourteenth anniversary, and we were celebrating with a Mexican dinner, and an early night at our campground, the Ft. Myers airport.  We were warmly welcomed by our campground hosts, the airport parking guys.  They helped us find a good spot, and we settled into our beds, anxious for the morning to dawn, and to begin our journey to the far cold north.

We touched down at 6:15 pm in Minneapolis, where we hopped into our rental car (we were the first to rent this new little Hyundai with no cruise control) and made it to Marleen and Terry’s in time for bible study, followed by apple pie and great visiting.  After waffles and bacon the next morning, we headed for South Dakota.  We totally lucked out on the weather; a winter storm had come barreling through Monday, and left stark white beauty in it’s path:

Driving in a winter wonderland

Driving in a winter wonderland

It rained all week in south Florida while we were gone, and the weather was warmer than usual and sunny the whole time we were in the Dakotas!

We drove Highway 12 straight west, arriving in Aberdeen for special family times, and welcoming our new grandson, Wayne Henry:

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That’s what I call his “The Thinker” pose.

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Denis teaching Wayne Henry how to roll over

Denis teaching Wayne Henry how to roll over

He didn’t roll over, but he did learn to lift his head and move it from one side to the other!

It was special also to get up early and drive Connor and Austin to school.  Almost forgot I had to scrape the ice off the windshield!  Little Alice has grown so much, and it was so special to see all our family.

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Our next stop was in East Grand Forks, and such a nice visit with Mark & Lorri, Gene, and Denis’ mom.  We celebrated Kay’s 91st birthday with a trip to the post office for a new passport, followed by lunch at Red Lobster.

All the family in Fargo were available (which was a miracle, with all the different work schedules!)  for a birthday celebration at the Super Buffet.  Since we don’t get here often, we just celebrated everyone’s, although it was actually Shelly’s birthday that day.

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Diana and Billy.  Our daughter, and her son, who is River’s dad (our first great grandchild)!

Daughter Shelly

Daughter Shelly

Granddaughter Inara

Granddaughter Inara

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Lochlan’s second birthday is coming up soon!

Great granddaughter River

Great granddaughter River

So is River’s!

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Most of the gang.  I’m not sure if Caleb’s trying to get in the picture or out of it!

Back to Aberdeen, and a couple more days of grandparent time. IMG_0052

The Tesky family, including Kenai

The Tesky family, including Kenai

I sure love being a grandma!IMG_3422

Arrived at 5 a.m. in Ft. Myers, so we crawled right under our blankets and took a good nap, before heading out to the Florida Keys.  Our first campground on the keys, situated right on the Atlantic Ocean, was Long Key State Park.

IMG_0102 IMG_0120Right in front of our camp! There’s a wading bird along the shore.

We saw lots of ibis at Long Key State Park

We saw lots of ibis at Long Key State Park

And some get REALLY close!

And some get REALLY close!

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We saw lots of birds on our hikes and morning walks.  Also little crabs.

Hang on!  I'm coming in for a landing!

Hang on! I’m coming in for a landing!

Fiddler crab

Fiddler crab

Wildflowers too!

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All good things must come to an end.  What a beautiful site!IMG_0167

Our second shortest move:  Just over 2 miles north to an RV Park on the Gulf of Mexico (The other side of the same island).

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Fiesta RV Park, Long Key Florida

Fiesta RV Park, Long Key Florida

My place in the shade.

My place in the shade.

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There’s a method to my madness:  Due to the difficulty in obtaining reservations (even eleven months out!), we had to do a bit of back and forth to get to our campgrounds. Also we wanted to be close to the mainland so we could get up to Miami.

Next:  North to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, on Key Largo, where we walked several trails, had a nice campsite with room for our screen tent, and took a glass bottom boat tour out to Molasses Reef.

Pestering me for a snack.

Pestering me for a snack.

And no, I didn’t share!

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Cormorants on a channel marker

Cormorants on a channel marker

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Botany or trees or whatever:  on one hike, every tree and bush had a sign and description. I had no idea there were so many different varieties in the Florida Keys hardwood hammock.  We saw wild coffee, tamarind, and dozens more.  One of the more interesting was the poisonwood tree.  The sap is black, and so it’s pretty easy to identify, which is a good thing, because it’s like poison ivy!

The Poisonwood Tree

The Poisonwood Tree

A gumbo limbo tree

A gumbo limbo tree

Denis got a bit tired of hearing me exclaim “Gumbo Limbo” every time we saw one.

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Sunday we drove into Miami for a church meeting, and were thrilled to get together with an old friend from Hawaii!

Sam Sorenson and Christie

 

Sam Sorenson and Christie.  Good food and catching up on all the news at the Outback.

Key limes discovered in an old orchard made delicious holiday pie!

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Heading south again, it was great to connect with Bruce and Rhonda Weeda (we’d met them in Hawaii too!), and their two children and four grandchildren.  They had a fantastic vacation rental on the beach at Marathon.

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Denis and his catch of the day!

Denis and his catch of the day!

Quite crowded at the Key West KOA, as it’s family oriented and it’s Christmas time.  The pool was usually full of kids, but I did manage to get in and do some exercising.  We walked north, south, east and west, and over the bridge.  There was some interesting wildlife here too.

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Yup. Iguana up in a coconut tree.

 

Denis' relaxing feet, when this iguana swims up in front of us!

Denis’ relaxing feet, when this iguana swims up in front of us!

Iggy chasing a little girl iguana up on the dock

Iggy chasing a little girl iguana up on the dock

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View of our campground from the bridge:

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Conch chowder, conch fritters, and a yummy hamburger after a warm walk in Key West.  We had a key lime smoothie, which really made you pucker, but was quite refreshing.

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Did the tourist thing on the conch train.

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And I guess we can’t go any further south on this trip!

Mile 0.  As far south as one can drive!

Mile 0. As far south as one can drive!

Well, maybe we can get just a bit further south (and west), as our plans for January start out with an exciting ferry ride out to the Dry Tortuga’s National Park!

Hiking and exploring again:  This female came across the lake, and rested her head on Big Daddy:

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Five Key Deer

Five Key Deer

The grand finale for our year was visiting the Key Deer National Wildlife Sanctuary.  We saw a herd of five, and then one alone, that ran back into the trees, then one who crossed the road and ended up in front of a six foot fence.  You can see how tall they get!

A mature Key Deer in front of a six foot fence.

A mature Key Deer in front of a six foot fence.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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