Sunday, July 13, 2014

ALASKA Journal

Day One Anchorage, Alaska:  After a minor luggage delay---{my luggage was missing for about 20 minutes in the Anchorage Airport)---we get settled in our beautiful downtown hotel and start out walking in the rain searching for food.  A cafe presents itself--very small and no people-almost seemed like it was closed.  It took forever to get service and after a glance at the menu we decided this place was NOT for us.  The waiter never returned anyway, SO, out the door we ran!  Three blocks later we come across a Mexican Cafe called La Casada and we had a Puerto Rican Waitress bring us some delicious food!

Day Two:  We leave anchorage by the Alaska Railway-a glass domed train.  We traveled 8 hours in that train and got to observe Alaska's beautiful landscapes and waterways.  We also saw our first Alaska wolf, eagle, and moose along the trip.  In the marshes we passed a saw a few horned grebes and their babies.  AS we entered the thick forests I noticed that thousands of ferns covered the forest floor.  I found out that the ferns are supposed to be good to eat covered in Garlic and Butter, but isn't everything good covered in garlic and butter?  One of the Guides on the train, a collage aged girl, told us that if we come upon a bear during a hike we're should sing it a song, "Hey there, Mr. Bear..."   Dinner that night was near Denali at the famous Salmon Bake and after dinner we enjoyed an impressive Naturalist lecture about Alaskan wildlife.  We had a great sleep that night at our cabin by the Nenana River in Denali.

Day Three:  Up early for reindeer sausage and eggs and an 8 hour tour of Denali Nat'l Park.  The day was rainy and cold but we were determined to just put on rain-gear and protect the cameras and have a great time.  One Grizzly sighting started the trip and of course we saw the white dots high in the mountains, Dall Sheep.  Later we came up next to a large herd of Caribou with impressive antlers close to us.  Mt. McKinley loomed in the distance but the clouds never parted to show us the summit.  I found a rack of Caribou antlers hiking away from the tour and after picking them up realized how strong those Caribou are to carry such a heavy piece of equipment on their heads!  That evening after a great dinner of fried chicken wings  we watched a gold panning stream and Gayln got a "moose" penny.

Day Four:  The day of the LONG HIKE.  We left our cabin at about 10:30 am hiking into the mountains.  We followed the Triple Lakes Trail.  We began with heavy coats but soon it got hot and we were down to just a light shirt, of course the backpacks got bulkier with coats in them.  We hiked through white barked Birch trees with warblers and Juncos flitting about.  They were also a number of multi-colored butterflies along the trail.  We hiked down to the first big lake and encountered Beaver "chewed" trees and found a massive Beaver Lodge next to the bank.  After about an hour of our hike we saw a dark storm coming over the distant blue and white mountains.  A little while later after crossing a few creeks and small waterfalls in the rising elevations the first raindrops began to fall, at least disturbing the BIG Alaskan mosquitoes that seemed to like to fly right by your ears.  We quickly donned raincoats and for the next few hours were drenched and of course it was cold now.  At least in the rain we encountered  more creatures of the forest, red squirrels, gray jays, stellar jays, juncos, robins, white striped sparrows, warblers, and others in the the thick Spruce and Birch trees.  After three hours we finally decided to turn back and the rain stopped.  We heard a loud crashing in the wood and we thought it was either a bear or a moose.  I looked down and saw the fresh moose tracks in the mud.  It must have been slowly following us on the trail.  The hike back was long and we were exhausted, me more than Gayln, she is like the "iron woman."  We got back to the cabin about 5 pm and took a shuttle to the Nature Center for the rest of the afternoon.

Day Five:  Bus trip back to Anchorage.  A few wildlife sightings from the bus, moose, eagles, mountain goats, dall sheep.  The inlets and lakes through the mountains were like hidden facets in a diamond of beauty.  Our first encounter with Arctic Terns-a bird that flies farther than any other bird from North to South Poles.  We boarded our ship, the Oosterdam, that afternoon and attended a nature seminar, Furs, Fins, and Feathers.

Day Six:  Finally after a week of no gym workouts, we go to the ship's gym and get a good weight lifting session with a hot tub soak and a swim in the pool on deck.  The day was at sea so we explored the ship and attended shows and I had some of my favorite food, Escargot.  I also had to to sip hot chocolate and sketch the passing mountain and glacier scenery from the Crow's Nest of the ship.

Day Seven:  The islands and the passing seascapes and majestic blue and white scintillating mountains were breathtaking.  We scanned the cliffs and were rewarded by finding Dall sheep and Mountain Goats.  We spotted a few bear roaming along the shores.  A few of the small islands were covered in bright orange tan piles of "sausages" which were actually Stellar Sea Lions.  Sea Otters swam around our ship slowly.  We spotted whales blowing spray along the shores.  Today was my first ever sighting of Puffins!

Day Eight:  Haines, Alaska, my new favorite small town.  We take a 45 minutes trip past Mosquito Lake--well named because giant mosquitoes were everywhere.  We were now in thick woods, and the trees were filled with awesome, black as the pits of hell, Ravens!  We were greeted at an old wooden gate by a mountain man with a huge grey beard and longhair with a red tailed hawk perched on his hand.  We entered their woods and were treated to a day of amazing animal encounters, red and arctic foxes, lynx, wolves, grizzly, moose, caribou, minks, ermines, weasels, martins, and a Wolverine!  Later hiking the rocky shore of Haines we found a moose bone.  In Haines, we saw the world's largest Hammer!  At the Eagle Recovery Center we met Dylan -the blind in one eye- Screech Owl and then near the ship later watched pigeon Guillemots -black arctic birds swim in the water like crazy ducks!

Day Nine:  Juneau and the amazing Whale day!  Best tour guides and staff of the trip.  We encountered so many whales that day, along with Sea Otters and Stellar Sea Lions.  The highlight of the tour was discovering a "GAM" of 16 humpback whales and we watched for hours as they demonstrated "bubble netting."  The whales created a net of bubbles and then all at once would open their huge mouths and all break the surface at once engorging on smelt-little fish.  Even some of the humpback younger whales leapt high breaching in the air.  We also were lucky enough to spot the flukes of "Sasha"the icon Alaskan whale who has the letters " and K" on her tail and she is 14 years old the same as Gayln and I-wedding anniversary on this trip!  returning to Juneau with visions of leaping and blowing whales in our head we stopped by the famous Red Dog Saloon to see Wyatt Earp's pistol on the wall behind the bar.

Day Ten:  The 4th of July Parade in small Ketchikan, Alaska was fantastic.  We caught a bunch of candy from the parade revelers!  I loved the reindeer on a stick freshly grilled.  That afternoon we took a tour guide into the Tongass Nat'l Rain forest.  This guide was SO annoying!  She couldn't identify any of the birds, and would never shut her loud mouth so we could enjoy the serenity of the rain forest.  She went on and on about every plant and moss species, meanwhile we're trying to photograph the many birds around us.  Gayln found an eagle perched not 20 feet from us and what does the guide say, "hey you two you need to hurry up you're getting behind!"  The eagle enjoyed that and flew off.  Later we come out of the forest and find a small river with waterfalls and the guide was ushering us in hurry again, good thing we hung back because we spotted a bear and her 3 cubs heading down to fish in the river.  Of course the big lady loud mouth guide tried to take credit for showing the rest of the people the bear! Gayln got good photos and a snowy owl.  

Day Eleven:  At sea again.Many Eagles flying by in the :Inside Passage" and we watched one eagle resting on a floating piece of ice.   The mountains and seascapes on each side of the ship were magical and were streamed with blues and violets and mists of grey and white, reflecting in the water and the deep green of the spruce trees were like spires of emeralds as we glided by.  

Day Twelve:  Vancouver, Canada city tour.  We have been here before but once again it is a beautiful city with many Eagles and a wonderful Aquarium.  Alaska was an incredible experience but I would not want to be there in the winter!  

This week I leave for Wimberley, Texas to get started in the Blue Hole studio working on painting 14 Texas bird species on the six foot tall acrylic boot to be installed in front of the Visitor Center.  Saturday my ink piece, "Bass, Crappie, Perch" will be delivered to the Nat'l LSAG show in the Woodlands and this month I am teaching a "Wine and Wire Trees" workshop.  

July 26th we will be in the Bahamas for my beautiful daughter, Heather's, WEDDING!!