Monthly Archives: August 2012

Cosmic Contentment and Happiness in Homer

Our last post included a few pictures of great begonias in Girdwood. We thought we could start this one with a lovely landscape photograph taken from the small road by the Russian Orthodox Church in Ninilchik, Transfiguration of Our Lord Church.

Four years ago we stopped here and gazed at the exterior and the surrounding cemetery. The church was built 1901 and seems to be in pretty good condition for its age and the climate.

Today the priest was inside and very graciously discussed the church, faith, history, and prospects with us. His talk was interesting, full of Gospel Scripture and local knowledge. He attended seminary in Kodiak.

Jim’s favorite sight in Homer is this Harrington homestead cabin. It sits beside the Pratt Museum, its fifth site in over sixty years and only a couple of blocks from original site. It is large enough for life while small enough to heat. We also like browsing NOMAR, a very cool manufacturing/sales place for heavy-duty outdoor gear and clothing.

Our favorite place to dine in Homer continues to be Fat Olives for their great pizzas and beers selection. It’s a fun place, with large art on the walls and friendly service. Our other place is Two Sisters Coffee and Bakery, down the hill from Fat Olives. Two Sisters is a neat hangout with great scones and coffee.

We think the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center is a must-see while in Homer. The movie about U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s largest vessel, the M/V Tiglax, is fascinating. The movie weaves together history, biology, and wildlife management in the Aleutian Chain.

The M/V Tiglax (TEKH-lah) travels up to 20,000 miles per year transporting scientists and supplies throughout the Aleutian Chain and elsewhere in the Bering Sea. Fun fact: 37,000 gallons gives the M/V Tiglax a cruising range of 10,000 miles. Wow!

The weather during our visit four years ago wasn’t so fair and we spent no time on Homer Spit. This visit we stayed on the Spit awhile, walking along the rocky shore beyond Lands End. We met and talked awhile with a neat couple from Sweden/Ethiopia/Texas, they snapped this picture for us.

How do you feed 76 caravanners? You could start with five loaves and two fishes (Mark 6:30-44). We were very very fortunate, we started with forty pounds of fresh caught and cleaned halibut and two large boxes of rolls. A bunch of us fired up two large pots with hot oil, breaded the fish with Sandy’s yummy recipe, and fried the fish as quickly as they could eat it. No one went hungry!

Our Homer campground was Ocean View, as nice a campground as we’ve had on the caravan. Clean hot showers, nice laundry, super location for walking throughout Homer, and great views like this. We like Homer a lot, understand how people visit and end up staying. It’s a happy place with a lot going on.

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees

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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr


Welcome Back to Seward, dreamstreamrs

We stopped enroute to Seward in Girdwood AK to revisit The Bake Shop and The Kobuk Valley Jade Co. Sadly, the Jade Co appears to be closing down — hopefully just leaving early for the season? The Bake Shop was going full tilt, on the other hand. We enjoyed a couple cups of coffee and splitting a tasty hot bun before walking around this ski resort.

Everywhere we’ve gone throughout Alaska we see phenomenal vegetables and flowering plants. These flowers are outside The Bake Shop and adjacent businesses. It’s a little difficult to get perspective on just how big these blooms are.

Compared to Debbie’s hands, how big are these begonias? They’re just beautiful, they’re sometimes everywhere we look, and we don’t tire of looking at them.

We enjoyed walking around Seward a few times. A couple of highlights were Raven’s Brew Coffee and Bakery, the historical society museum next door to their Senior’s Center, and this nice welcome sign downtown. Shopped great brands in historic Brown and Hawkins store, the oldest continuously operated mercantile in Seward.

The campground is the same one the dreamstreamrs stayed in four years ago, but was far nicer this visit — August weather was far nicer than May’s. This August visit we had sunshine and less chilly days. This was a neat campground too for our caravan arrangement within. Only a few Airstreams didn’t make this upper section, and they were immediately below so still close.

We know our caravan makes places more attractive, but would you have imagined we could have made this scene so gorgeous? This is a beautiful area and a fine place for the bay-side campground.

Our group had a cruise, our fifth, from Seward. This was pretty spectacular. It seemed as though we rode out to more distant glaciers. The scenery was lit differently, I guess, so we had different sets of pictures from the last cruise.

Holgate glacier made great popping and cracking noises, calved little piles of ice, but was otherwise just blue and gorgeous and monstrous. We stayed here over half an hour, hoping to catch sight of something that just didn’t appear.

This is a gratuitous mountain picture — we saw so many beautiful things to capture in pictures. We couldn’t resist this one, with it’s delicate grey scarf and white highlights.

These orca whales were sort of hard to photograph. They weren’t very close to us, they didn’t breach, they just moved around out there on their own and ignored us.

These dall’s porpoises were another matter completely. They raced along our boat, skimming then popping up briefly and creating a great rooster tail. They are the fastest small cetaceans, swimming at over 30 mph, and were very showy and playful.

The otters are just so darned cute, with their little praying paws together as they cruise about on their backs. It’s hard to believe those mean pelt hunters from so many countries nearly drove the otters to extinction, isn’t it?

We sat on the fresh air deck with a pair of Connecticut honeymooners, Bryan and Christy, and with Ted and Donna from our WBCCI caravan. Donna disappeared to hang out at the lower deck railing just about the time this humpback whale breached very near the boat. Bryan caught this great photo with Christy’s little camera and shared it with us.

Last time we were here, in May 2008, we tried to get to Exit Glacier and could not. Deep snow covered the access road. This time we wound our way into the park service parking lot and hiked the short trail to view Exit Glacier and the outwash plains below. We just cannot get the perspective on how big the glacier is, nor how great the connecting ice field above it is. Exit Glacier is so called because it was the easiest exit down from the Harding Ice Fields, an enormously broad and deep expanse of glacial ice.

Seward is a great place, and even better in nice weather. We’ll look forward to another visit here and to Girdwood.

When the Answer Doesn’t Make Sense, Get a Rubber Duck

Debbie likes explaining how the rubber duck was good for problem solving in her information systems jobs. Anytime you hit the wall and just can’t work something out, you need a rubber duck. You stop messing with the problem and verbalize the steps you’ve taken and the results you’ve obtained. Then the answer just seems to jump out at you, whether you explain it to a person or to a rubber duck. Might as well use the rubber duck.

We moved from Homer to Kenai Alaska today. A short drive in the rain, we had a nice easy day getting here. Parking in the Diamond M Ranch RV Resort was very easy, almost all the sites are pull-throughs and have full hookups.

Debbie and I work together to connect electricity from shore power to the trailer and to chock the trailer’s wheels. Then we split up and Debbie moves stuff from the truck and sets up house in the trailer again. This takes a little while because we stow things so they don’t jump around inside the trailer and get broken as we bump down the road.

I meanwhile unhitch the trailer from the truck, move the truck a few feet, stow the chains and cords that connect the truck and trailer for towing, and level the trailer front to back. Just as I finish my little part, Debbie lets me know the small portable space heater won’t work unless she plugs it into the receptacles above the kitchen counter.

Thinking I’m the patient and wise teacher, I suggest she open the trailer’s circuit box, find a tripped breaker, and reset it. All the breakers are fine. I check polarity and voltage on the two culprit outlets, and find they are fine, but the frequency regulation is wacky. I mess around with this question a few minutes then go return to trying the space heater in the same outlets.

Same result for the two wall outlets, one under our dinette and one beside the sofa. The space heater won’t work in either of these outlets we usually use for it. I try the space heater in the receptacle above the kitchen counter again and this time it won’t work. Wait a minute, this is the one receptacle that worked five minutes ago.

I start carefully wiggling the space heater’s power cord and it turns on, then turns off again. Aha! The problem was never the wall receptacles. Our heater has an intermittent connection in the power cord or in the connections inside the heater.

It’s been a little while since I had a worthy project and this qualifies on several accounts. Debbie and I like this space heater, it’s the best one we’ve had. It is an expensive little thing less than one year old. When things quit prematurely we hope we can extend their useful life. I folded down the truck’s tailgate, opened up my tool chest, and took the heater apart.

Everything looked good inside, and with my ohmmeter I detected which wire was broken. In a few minutes I narrowed down the location to a spot on the power cord a couple of inches just outside the heater. The insulation was in perfect shape but the wire was broken through without any evidence of why.

I found a four-inch piece of suitably rated wire in my toolbox and, with help from a friend, soldered in the new piece of wire. While the heater was all in pieces anyway, I blew compressed air through the heater’s ceramic elements to remove eleven month’s accumulation of debris. The heater went back together easily (and that’s justification for buying good stuff) and is working like new again.

We weren’t asking the right question and so couldn’t figure out why the heater wouldn’t work in two of the receptacles. We repeatedly asked why the receptacles weren’t working, and it just didn’t dawn on us the problem might be our nifty-keen nearly new heater. If we’d been thinking straight we would have more quickly worked this out with the rubber duck.

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees

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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr

Whittier Alaska hosts the Dreamstreamrs for a Day

Our caravan group boarded Alaska Railroad passenger cars for the day round trip from Anchorage to Whittier. One of the cool parts of this is the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, known locally as the Whittier Tunnel or the Portage Tunnel. At over 13,000 feet length, it is the longest combination tunnel in North America. It’s stout too — it withstood the tremendous 1964 earthquake without damage.

The dining car was comfy and roomy, just like our house on wheels. Except it weighs 50 or 60 thousand pounds more than our little Airstream trailer. We liked the windows and appointments in the train. Our passenger car had tremendous leg room and seats much more comfortable than coach class airlines seats.

We walked across the street from the Whittier train stop (zero train depot buildings, just the end of the track) and loaded onto this nice glacier cruise boat with a couple other small tour groups. The train was much roomier but it wasn’t a problem for us — we enjoyed sitting and chatting with friends on the haul out to interesting waters.

Looking back at Whittier as we pulled out into the Prince William Sound, all we saw was heavy low clouds hanging over Whittier and the harbor. Two things came to mind: (1) we’d heard Whittier averages over an inch of rainfall daily, so the low rain clouds make sense, and (2) the heavy cover supported the stories we’d heard of the U.S. armed forces establishing a secret military base here from the 1940s through 1960. No aerial surveillance would detect it.

This was our fourth and best dining cruise. They provided salmon and prime rib w/cranberry horseradish sauce, green salad and rolls. It was all really good and we could have eaten a lot more of it than we did.

The great posers and crowd pleasers, check out the steady gaze of these harbor seals. Jim just finished reading Edgar Sawtelle and one of the outstanding traits of the Sawtelle dogs was their gaze. Probably just like these seals, right?

The captain took us to watch several glaciers, and our pictures cannot do justice to how massive these are. We were able to stay long enough to hear the glacier groaning and cracking and calving just a little bit.

And of course, we have time to pose in front of the glacier. The weather was just about perfect for us. Winds and the water were calm, the sun came out, and air temperatures might have hit mid-50s.

The boat’s crew netted some fresh (but potentially very very old) ice and hauled it into the cabin for chopping. Not too much later the captain announced fresh glacial margaritas. We wondered if the drinks are so fresh if they are made with glacial ice of perhaps hundreds of years age?

This was one of the prettiest things we saw on our glacier cruise. We oohed and aahed over several waterfalls, and this one seemed the prettiest. We could print a few of these pictures, mount them, and hang them on on our walls. Make sure you get the nail in the right place the first time.

This boat is on their way out as we return. Of course we’re seeing everything through rose-colored glasses after having a great train ride and smooth sail with tasty food. Doesn’t this picture make it look like this is a fantastic place to work, at least in the summer?

We enjoyed walking this town of 180 people, after our cruise. Everything was very laid back. The Coast Guard station is automated (read: unstaffed), a little building houses the hardware/general store, there are gift shops and ice cream and fudge, of course. Several restaurants line the little shopping district.

Without stoplights and bars, this is what you have left, just hanging out at the CG station and listening to recorded weather reports and forecasts. Even this doesn’t take very long so this rowdy crowd moseyed down to the ice cream shop before walking around the harbor.

We had just enough time after our glacier cruise to tour the small boat harbor area and the shops. The train ride back to Anchorage was a good opportunity for a little napping before our almost ten p.m. return time. This was a full day and a great way to spend it.

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees

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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr

Dreamstreamrs Carried Away by Alaska’s Aviation History

Anchorage is home to the Alaska Aviation Museum on Lake Hood near the International Airport. We missed it in our last visit to Anchorage and had time this visit so we spent an afternoon browsing this fun museum.

Reader #9, this Cub’s for you. We’ve given you a couple great photos of Super Cubs, now we are looking forward to seeing your baby. We saw Widgeon, Beaver, PBY, Helio, F-15, B-737, but the Super Cub was the coolest.

Lots of exhibits, great variety of things to see and touch. We sat in flight simulators, watched a video, looked at a lot of different exhibits. The museum is divided into several different hangars and a couple pieces of flight-line outside.

Many aircraft significant to Alaska’s aviation heritage are restored and on display, like this late 1920s Travel Air hanging in one of the museum’s hangars. The museum displays interesting stories for many of their aircraft.

Every plane needs at least two of these for take-off and landing in the winter. We were surprised at the variety and stoutness of some of them. We had seen a few skis for aircraft in previous museums, it was fun to see so many up close in this museum.

A classic C/STOL (controlled short take-off and landing) plane, Lowell Thomas Jr donated this H-295 Helio Courier in 2010. He reportedly regularly flew it to Mt McKinley and other spots throughout Alaska for climbers and explorers. The Helio Courier is famed for near-hover flight capabilities and unexcelled, if tricky, short landing and take-off space.

And this last is a sign one of us encountered in the aviation museum and thought was pretty fun. These sorts of signs often are hand-scrawled and taped in strategic locations on the wall. My regard for the museum rose because of how nicely done this sign is.

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees

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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr

Savage Hiking in Denali National Park

Some people arrive in Alaska anticipating halibut or salmon fishing, or getting good looks at brown bear and wolves and moose. A few might even be looking for great antennae for their trucks. We think most visitors to Alaska hope to see Mt McKinley, the highest peak in North America and the world’s very greatest height difference from base to peak. The dreamstreamrs arrived looking forward to visiting Denali National Park again.

Denali NP has so many great things to see and do. We browsed through the train terminal, a place kept busy by many Park guests still choosing rail transportation. The Visitor’s Center has wonderful exhibits and we enjoyed seeing them differently this second visit, able to spend more time there. Murie Science and Learning Center presented cool exhibits in interesting fashion, using MAC mini computers and large screens with headphones. We also found places selling ice cream, coffee, and fudge, things we aren’t tiring of finding in every tourist stop in Alaska.

We had a cool breezy day free to hike the Savage River trail in Denali NP. The trailhead is at the stopping point for privately-owned vehicles, except for those with a back country camping permit. The hike is easy, only two miles, along the fast-moving Savage River. This little hike has again whet our appetite for hiking.

Whitish Gentian

One of the fun things we saw along the Savage River, and only there, was this little flower. We took a fine picture of it and showed it to the interpretive ranger at the trailhead on our way out. She said, “I don’t do flowers, ask Steve when he shows up.” What do you know, he rolled up just then. Steve had no idea either, but wisely knew the location of the answer — Denali NP’s FaceBook page, believe it or not.

Between Denali NP and Trapper Creek are a bunch of pull-outs to view Mt McKinley. We’ve heard varying likelihoods from ten to thirty percent for seeing Mt McKinley’s peak, often cloud-covered. This day we had great views from almost every place we could stop. Deb caught this picture from across Wonder Lake. Here’s a neat link to one of Ansel Adam’s pictures of Mt McKinley from a hired plane over Wonder Lake.

Mary’s McKinley Lodge is a must-do for us when traveling Parks Highway in Alaska, maybe even bigger than looking for antennae (just kidding). This trip we were really lucky, the views of Mt McKinley from the porch were superb and the kitchen was cooking wonderful burgers for a house full of airstream caravaners. Friends caught this picture for us with Mt McKinley in the background from Mary’s McKinley Lodge.

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees

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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr

Nenana AK is a little place with big happenings

Imagine a very large black and white striped tower, starting to sway and buck as the river ice begins to thin. A thin rope connects the top of the ice-bound tower to the officials’ observation platform on shore. The ice finally becomes too thin and the tower pitches, slowly at first and then noisily hauls sufficiently down river to yank the connecting rope.

Inside the observation platform the rope has released a meat cleaver which falls down and cuts a string, stopping the clock. This sets the time of breakup. The winner, or winners, guess the correct day, hour, and minute of breakup. Many years, several people may have guessed the winning minute and must share the prize.

The Nenana Ice Classic has vastly increased in popularity since it was founded in 1917 by Alaska Railroad engineers. The first year entries were $1 and the purse was $800. This year a sole winner (his correct guess was Monday April 23rd, 2012 at 7:39 p.m., the earliest breakup on record) took the entire purse of $350,000, funded by over 250,000 entries. All entries are in guess books like ones stored in these shelves.

The Nenana Ice Classic is operated by a nonprofit corporation formed by residents of Nenana. Charitable proceeds are the remainder after the winnings, salaries, and other expenses. A board of directors determines distribution of the proceeds to local charities.

We enjoyed the Nenana Railroad museum’s nice displays about railroading and early life in Nenana. It also houses some of the guess books from years past. Another set of displays, as well as a gift shop and nice prices on many furs, is down the street and across the tracks at the Heritage Center.

From the Heritage Center’s window we viewed this historic bridge, a 700-foot long Pennsylvania through truss. It was longest single-span truss bridge in the United States when completed. Some sources say it is still the third longest simple truss in North America. President Harding pounded the golden spike in this final link of the Alaska Railroad February 1923.

Nenana Alaska sits beside the Tanana River and is enroute from Fairbanks to Denali National Park. We pulled off the highway and all the way through town to the river where we parked at the old railroad depot. This is a good spot, or you can park at the Heritage Center. They are within walking distance of each other and also provide walking access to St Mark’s Mission Episcopal Church, founded in 1905.

Additional information about Nenana is in this link and this one. These are cool links, if you can stand a little more info about Nenana.

The former link is a nice collection of info about the Ice Classic and Nenana and includes a partially correct reference to the serum run. The latter link is for National Snow and Ice Data Center’s Nenana Ice Classic page. It addresses the scientific significance of the almost 100-year record of Tanana River breakup dates. NSIDC is supported by NASA, National Science Foundation, NOAA and other federal agencies, and is part of CIRES at Univ of Colorado, Boulder.

We’re glad we stopped in Nenana Alaska. It would be easy to accidentally blow right by Nenana when driving down the highway. Several hours only provided us enough time for the exhibits at the Depot Museum, the Heritage Center, and a visit to St Mark’s Mission Church. There are a bunch of shops and cafés closer to the highway if you wanted to stay off the road even longer.

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees

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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr