Sunday, June 24, 2012

Eklutna Iris Fields

No, this is not a field in a botanical garden.  Here, in Alaska, nature doesn't need any help. 

I've been jonesing to take pictures of the iris fields since I found out about them last year when they were already past season. So I waited twelve long months...They are only in bloom the last two weeks of June and maybe a week into July, so the window to see them is small.

On the most fabulously sunny day, we headed out that way. 
This pic is Christmas card worthy, dontcha think?

Going southbound, there is a small turnout you can pull off small that going 65mph on the Glenn, it is easily missed.  Keep an eye out for it once you spot the sign for the Eklutna Exit, 1 mile and it should be there just a little ways. There's only space for two cars to park there, and that's if the car parked there beforehand was courteous enough to leave space and not hog the middle. Immediately off the road, there is a trail that leads west, into the fields and out into the Cook Inlet. 

There is no searching involved to find these fields. Like I've mentioned before, you can spot them from the road. There are fields and fields of these purple beauties EVERYWHERE.

 There are the more commonly seen wild prickly roses in full bloom as well.

 The chocolate lilies are starting to make their debut for the summer.

 There were big patches of shooting stars further in from the road.

A sign that the kids have had enough of the camera...they just start goofing off. 

We packed up the camera equipment, climbed into the car, and stopped at the Eklutna Historical Village (off Eklutna exit). Admission is $5 per adult and $2.50 for 12-18 yr olds.  Younger ones are free. It's a small place, featuring the charming Russian Orthodox Church below. It is the oldest building in the greater Anchorage area.

More interesting, though, is its cemetery.  Originally a Dena'ina Athabascan native tribe, Russian missionaries arrived in Eklutna and influenced their practices, to include the way they interred their dead.  Instead of tombstones to mark their places, colorful "spirit houses" lie atop the graves. 

After a bit of exploring, and Livy making it known she was done with the day's activities, we finally headed home.

Note: If you are looking to explore the Eklutna Flats as we have, please be aware that picking the flowers and digging up plants to take home and plant in your own gardens is ILLEGAL.  Please respect the beauty in front of you and step carefully so as to not disturb the vegetation.  Also, there have been bear sightings in the area, but closer to the coast (which is fine, since you needn't walk that far anyway). Take bear bells, bear spray, and perhaps a firearm (we didn't) just in case.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Rain, rain...

 Last summer, it seems it rained more than anything. And because it's never a throw-your-bathing-suits-on-and-run-around-barefoot-in-the-rain kinda rain, I remember much of those days spent inside, having our brains fried with television and video games. Who wants to spend their summer like that? This year,  it is different.

It rained the other week and filled up this gigantic puddle in front of our driveway. The girls were displaying the precursor symptoms of an imminent I-hate-you-and-will-pull-your-hair-out war between the two of them. So outside we went. There is nothing like the outdoors to inspire these two hellions to love each other again.

On went the raincoats and rain pants bloused over their rain boots, and I let them loose.

And the smiles reappeared, the potentially bloody battle of who gets to play with what Littlest Pet Shop toy suddenly forgotten. Don't you just love the outdoors?

Note: Rain pants with taped seams available at REI and Sports Authority.

Other things to do outside when it's raining:

  • Sidewalk chalk...drawings look pretty neat when you're using a wet sidewalk as your canvas
  • Watercolor abstract art...on heavy duty paper, have the kids make crazy paint strokes with watercolor paints (the thicker the better), stand outside with the paper and let the rain distort their paintings to their liking

Of course, puddle jumping takes the cake in rainy outdoor fun activities. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Making a List...Checking it Twice...

 I've had a couple folks ask about what exactly we pack when the fam goes off into one of our camping adventures.  Although each camping trip is different and may require different things, I usually work off a checklist (you know, 'cause I'm OCD like that). I do a lot of checking everything off, re-checking everything again, and again while we are loading the car.  I stress myself out pretty well during this time, but I've learned it's well worth the anxiety to do all this beforehand, because nothing BLOWS more than realizing you forgot an essential when you've already driven two hours to your campground.

This list here is everything we've accumulated over the years for our camping trips. Now, we don't take everything on this list, of course unless the type of trip/location calls for it.  For example, there are times we leave the doggy behind...therefore those items don't come with.  There are trips we won't take our bikes, or if we do, and the type of bike trail near the campground is a paved one, and we want to go further without little legs getting tired, we'll leave the girls' bikes behind and just take the trailer.

Sometimes, sleeping pads are too space consuming to haul with us, as in the case of the Eklutna backcountry trip in which we simply took just our bags and roughed it. 

Food items don't really make it onto this list as our food menu for each trip of course, that's a whole other list! 

We do not compromise on weather and emergency related supplies, however; they are with us on each trip (even the short bike rides to the other side of the base).  Weather flips fast here in AK and hypothermia can set in even at 50 degrees (which happens quite often during AK summers). Rain jackets are always within easy reach.  

Funny thing, though, no matter how neurotic I get, there's always ONE thing that gets left behind. Always, without fail, happens every time. But at least, it's always been something small that we can replace by stopping at a gas station somewhere along the way.

Anyway, hope this helps you peeps get your own lists going. I like to look at others' blogs and their lists since I always find a "hey, why didn't I think of that" kind of item.  I keep this spreadsheet on my computer, adding or removing things according to the ever changing needs of the Fam. It's definitely helped me in the beginning when we first started venturing out into the outdoors (Liv's first camping trip was when she was two months a tent...with temps at night dipping into the 40's).  Hopefully it'll get you guys out there!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Random Monday Updates

 As the sun refuses to set and yours truly is starting her annual summer struggle with insomnia (time for Ambien prescription renewal), it is smack dab in the middle of the Alaska summer season.
  • The midnight sun is a strange phenomenon. Much like the lack of sunlight in the winter, but much happier, I guess.  At random points during the late evenings, that sunshine streaming through the windows slaps me with this overwhelming urge to go outside and do riding, hiking, driving, shopping, pulling weeds, you name it. I get antsy, thus the insomnia.
  • Tuesdays have turned into Library day. Free books and with a 40 item limit per family for 30 days to boot. We go after lunch and we spend the rest of the day lounging and reading.
  • Wednesday mornings are dedicated to the Summer Movie Express program held by Regal Cinemas not even three minutes away from the casa. $1 admission only...G or PG films...can't beat that!
  • The girls have taken up music lessons. Sophie plays guitar.  Yes, she can play her first song very well (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star). It's just a simple single note plucking, but she is bound and determined to get "good enough to strum a Taylor Swift song." Little Livy and her little fingers play the piano now, and she can also play the same song as her sister. As many of you who know how big a role music played in my younger years, you can understand why this has me ecstatic!
  • I am enjoying having my young teenager at home. Our quiet conversations have revealed such an insightful kind-hearted young man...although he loves to pick on me by reminding me that in four years, he'll be off to college. What???? Not my baby boy!
  • Our adventuring this month has been toned down a bit compared to the one before. We've stayed close to home, riding our bikes around the neighborhood or down to Fort Rich to the cool playground there. The big adventures come in July with a three day July 4th campout with the hubby's squadron, a rest week in between, and then the big camping trip to Denali National Park.
  • Wildlife viewing has been remarkable this season! Last year, aside from the hubby man's almost kissing a black bear in the mouth at Otter Lake, we saw several moose and that was about it.  This year, moose and their calves are everywhere, and even bears! Many many sightings on base, with one big black bear crossing the street right in front of our car just last weekend.  
  • The Mister got to check off an item from his bucket list: Midnight Golfing! Twilight tee time at 1940 on Father's Day Eve, and he and Dylan finished the 18th hole at midnight oh one on Father's Day. Not to mention, it was at Moose Run (Creek Course) arguably the best golf course in Alaska according to Golf Digest. 
  • This crazy course I'm taking at UoP is driving me batty enough to consider a month long sabbatical to get me going again. Phone call to academic counselor happening in the morning.
How's your summer going so far?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Bicycling to Cottonwood Park

One weekend, we decided to tackle the bike path on base connecting Elmendorf to Fort Rich on Grady Highway, with the goal of getting the kids some outdoor play time at Cottonwood Park.
The trail picks up right across from the Shopette/Gas Station, by the Fam Camp, and towards the other side of base. This trail, to date, is still unfinished.  There are large swaths of it right after you pass the Fam Camp still in the in trees have just been cut down and all the resulting debris and mud strewn all over the place.  At this point, we moved to the shoulder of the highway, which didn't last long for me and Sophie because the cars whizzing precariously close at 45mph was too much for me.  Little girl and I went down into the dirt and walked our bikes until we met up with the other three where the trail becomes manageable again.  

There is a little footbridge crossing Ship Creek. Here is Sophie excitedly telling me to look at what she spotted at the creek bed.

The playground at the park is HUMONGOUS.  The girls ran back and forth between playground sets and forts, whooping and hollering the entire way.

The girls had a great time burning off their limitless energy while the hubby and Dylan played a game of one-on-one.

Roundtrip about 4 miles. One little note about this trail....take the bear bells and the bear spray.  This area is full of moose and bears. We spotted a moose munching on some lunch a good 20 feet or so from our trail.  Make sure the children know what to do in case of a charging moose (you can't out-bicycle bet is to abandon the bike and get behind a tree) or an angry bear (can't out-bicycle them bet is stay calm and use the spray).

I love that even when you want to stay close to home, there are plenty of true outdoor activities available on post. Love this place!

Bicycling the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

Fam Och has never been known as a cycling family.  Truth be told, we didn't even teach Mister D how to ride without training wheels until he was ten. (It's an embarrassing fact to admit.) When we arrived in AK, Hubbyman and I swore that wouldn't happen again.

This spring, we outfitted ourselves with our own individual set of wheels.  Although REI is our favorite go-to for outdoor gear, their supply of bicycles are for the hard core serious-as-death cyclers with corresponding just-as-serious prices. At the same time, reading reviews of the more pocket-friendly priced bikes sold at big box stores like Walmart and Target left us with the impression bikes bought there would last us one trip down a paved trail before it started falling apart.  We found a happy medium at Sports Authority, which had a large amount of inventory without being too overwhelming, and its very own bike maintenance shop inside.  The Hubby, Mister D, and I each got a set of wheels there.  (I, at 4'9", opted for a junior 24" mountain bike as the full-sized 26" women's' were waaaay too big. Laugh all you want...junior bikes are muuuuch cheaper.)

Sophia should really be on a 20", but since she just learned to be comfortable on her 16", we opted to stick with the one she already has.  It has no gears to help on inclines and only brakes on a backward pedal.  Next year, she's getting a mountain bike for sure.

Little Olivia is the lazy one of the fam.  She is known to put on a show of frustration when her pedals don't spin by themselves for her. But, she also gets frustrated when she is at the rear of the pack.  The Weehoo I-go Trailer solved those problems.  She could go as fast as Daddy, and she can still pedal when she wants.
She is very comfortable being towed, with drink carriers on either side of her. The panniers behind her seat are great for stowing rain gear, bike locks,  repair kit, and extra snacks.

At first, we stuck close to home, learning to ride as a family.  We rode down as far as Ship Creek in front of the Boniface Gate (not far at all, I know), and across the street for some ice cream at the Shoppette.  When the Mister and I decided everyone (more specifically Sophie) was able to ride longer distances, we threw the bikes onto the carrier and drove to Elderberry Park in downtown Anchorage to try the Coastal Trail. Because it was a Saturday, we found some parking between the park and the apartment buildings behind it.  Hubby says next time, we really should start the trail at its head, at 2nd Avenue, where there is plenty of parking.

So off we went despite the threatening rain clouds.  
Sophie and Dylan where the Coastal Trail forks off towards Westchester Lagoon and the Chester Creek Trail.

The trail, paved and fairly level (there are a few minor inclines, but significant enough for Soph to hop off her bike and walk it up), hugged the coast.  The view was nice.  I'm sure it gets nicer past Westchester Lagoon (about 1 mile down from Elderberry Park), but that first section consisted of mud flats, which weren't so pretty.

We veered off and took the Chester Creek Trail and stopped at Valley of The Moon Park and it's big playground  to give the kids a breather and for us big kids to enjoy the red velvet cupcakes we bought from Eva's Cupcakery.

The raindrops started to fall in earnest by then, so we decided to head back before it got any worse (it didn't). The round trip was a little shy of 4.5 miles, not too bad for us beginners.  The next time we head back out, the kids are determined to resist the lure of the Westchester Lagoon playground (it looks so cool, even I want to jump in on the fun) and go at least as far as Earthquake Park, where I hear the scenery gets crazy beautiful along the coast.

This has been on our Alaska Bucket List, but won't be considered checked off until we actually bike the whole way to Kincaid Park.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Eklutna Camping Day 2 -- The Best Laid Plans...

 Agenda for day two: Bike 3+ miles to Bold Ridge trail and explore the area or bike to the end of the trail to Serenity Falls.

Well, I've learned that no matter how much one prepares, sometimes, there are other things in store for us. We had a great morning...the skies were a cloudless blue, the lake surface was so calm it mirrored the surrounding mountains, we were all settled into camp life. We finally got up and out of the comfort of our sleeping bags around 0900. Ate breakfast, chatted, and then prepared to head down the trail...

Then Dylan discovered his front tire deflated overnight...bummer.  The air pump we had broke, the tire patch kit was missing the adhesive. So Alternate Plan B was suddenly in effect...We had no choice but to head to the trailhead where they had a bike rental place in hopes they would have repair supplies for us.  So instead, we headed the opposite direction of our intended destination. Dylan and I traded off pushing his bike and riding mine.

The lady at Lifetime Adventures was SO gracious, bringing out all the supplies she had available. After messing with the inner tube and unsuccessfully patching it up, she brought out a brand new tube and simply charged us 5 bucks for it.

We locked the bikes up next to her hut and hopped in the car, drove two miles away, to treat ourselves with ice cream after all of our hard work.

There is a general store there offering camping supplies. The ice cream shoppe had a variety of flavors (try the Birch Walnut!) in cones or sundaes, and even burgers and fries.

On the way back. we saw a momma moose and her brand new baby.

The girls having fun before we headed back to the cabin.

At this point, the headache I was nursing all morning blossomed into a full-blown migraine.  I requested we go back to the cabin to rest, have dinner, and attempt the Bold Ridge excursion afterwards instead of trying it right then and there.  My fam knows how bad these migraines can get so they were absolutely fine with Alternate Plan C.

We rode our sixth mile that day and got to our campsite.  I curled up on my sleeping bag and tried to sleep it off for an hour.  I awoke, slightly better, but determined to tough it out.  Dylan had built his first fire all by himself. The girls were enjoying collecting sticks and pinecones. It was almost time for dinner.

Then Liv came into the cabin, rubbing her eyes, "Something's in my eyes!" We rinsed out the dirt, but she kept complaining that there was still something there.  In fear that she may have scratched her cornea or burned it (she says it was ash from the fire that blew into her eyes), we called it and packed up to go home, which was all the better because my migraine took over my night. 

Shout out to my girl, Sophia, who rode her bike a total of 9 miles that day. Such a little trooper.  Another goes out to my boy who built his first full campfire. 

Oh, and we can't forget to thank our wonderful Wright family for taking in our chihuahua during this time.

Eklutna Lake Camping Adventure Day 1

 Backcountry camping can be daunting for a family with children...I've certainly been intimidated by it. The security blanket of immediately accessible transportation for issues of forgotten items and medical emergency situations is just something I have grown accustomed to while "car camping".  This jaunt into the Eklutna recreational area was a bit outside the comfort zone. So what does a paranoid, control freak planner do? Plan like crazy, of course! Check out preparations for this trip here --> Click!

First on the agenda: the bike trip to the cabin. As a recap, the site is located three miles into the lakeside trail. It is a wide multi-use gravel/dirt road.  There are times it splits into an upper and lower road, the upper trail dedicated for motorized users and the lower for hikers and bikers.

Armed with our essentials for the next 2.5 days, we set out for the cabin.  Let me tell you, it is THE most beautiful bike ride I have ever experienced.

At the parking lot, ready to go.

The boys plus gear and Liv led the way. Sophie and I held up the rear.  As a precaution, we attached bear bells to the bikes and had ready access to bear spray just in case of any wildlife encounters.

For those with little ones...let them set the pace, allowing them to call for breaks. Miss Sophie had a little 16" kiddie bike, no gears, and we knew the little inclines took a lot for her to pedal through. She usually called for a stop at the top of a hill...or in this case, at a nice creek simply because she wanted a closer look. She had a whistle that she would blow to alert the boys up front she needed a breather. 

As always, little Liv enjoyed the ride being towed behind her Daddy. She could help out by pedaling, although the Mister just laughed when I asked him if she assisted during the inclines.

At the beginning, Sophie played it safe, choosing to walk her bike down a decline versus zipping down. Towards the end of the trip, she was whooping it down every time.

Note: After the 1 mile marker, the trail will split into the usual ATV vs. foot/bike traffic. The foot trail gets  a bit unpleasant. Snow runoff trickles down this area and muddies/floods up about a ten foot section of the trail. It wouldn't be such a hassle if that part weren't inundated with large roots. Because the Mister was pulling a Weehoo child trailer and Dylan was hauling the Burley trailer (with our gear), we had to walk the bikes through the area. If it is a day when ATV's are not allowed in the area, feel free to take the upper trail to skip through this. (We took it the next day.) There is more of a significant incline at the ATV trail, but no mud. If you aren't towing any gear and your children are more comfortable with mountain biking, this would be a fun section to try your technical skills.

It's a bit difficult trying to videotape with a phone and steering a bike one-handed.  I'm not that good at it. LOL

 The roar of Yuditna Creek cascading down into the lake let us know we were close to our destination. Shortly after crossing the creek bridge, there is a path (clearly marked) leading to the cabin.
What a great campsite! There is a picnic table, a fire ring with sitting logs arranged around it, and the previous occupants even left us with plenty of cut wood. (No need to haul firewood over, there is a bunch of driftwood along the shores of the lake for easy harvesting.) 

The cabin sleeps five on the wooden platforms. Another three can lay their sleeping bags on the floor with plenty of space.  My favorite amenity? This wood burning stove! Yay for warm nights!!! There is a broom/dustpan, full sized axe, saw (dull), fire poker, and even a cabin journal inside. 

Note the view! 

Our own pit toilet. The trail is beyond those trees, and as you can see, we are pretty cloaked in privacy despite its close proximity to the rest of the trail.

The rangers met us at the cabin (they said they were meaning to beat us there to clean up before our arrival), and they were very friendly.  They stocked the latrine with toilet paper, made sure everything was working, and even gave the kids Alaska State Parks stickers. They reassured us that we needn't string up our food bag in the trees; it (and us) would be fine with it enclosed in the cabin. They also said bears haven't been plentiful this close to the lake this season YET. Apparently, they start encroaching later on in the summer when PEOPLE start leaving food and trash around. 

There is a path from the campsite down to the beach and to the creek. The water was fast and coooold. 

We collected water from the creek and ran it through our filter.  I can't say enough about this Platypus filter, btw.  It cleaned 4L in a matter of 2 minutes! We were able gather 12 L in no time (poured 4L from clean reservoir into a water jug, filtered another 4L into the clean reservoir, closed the clamp, and refilled the dirty reservoir). Plenty of water for drinking and cleaning up for the night.

The kids loved the beach! 

The thermostat registered at 50 degrees F, but the winds from the glacier at the end of the lake made it pretty chilly.

The best thing about camping, especially in places with no internet connectivity, is that it gives the family a chance to unplug for a bit.  The distraction of electronics is gone, and we get to focus on each other. There is no need to bring games or toys along...nature is just a big ole playground.

They used that hillside as a slide.

"I love it here!!!"

The boys challenged each other with rock skipping and shot putting contests.

My handsome men.

It's amazing to see how much he's grown. The first time our family went camping, he was Sophie's age.

Bedtime wouldn't be complete without a game of "What animal am I?" and "When you were a baby" stories.  It's cute that the Mister and I have to be very technical about animal trivia as these three are expert at it. Animals aren't constrained into general names like tiger, lion, elephant...but are pretty specific...i.e., Dahl porpoises, orcas (don't ever call them killer whales in front of the kids), RIVER dolphins, quails, golden eagles, and bald eagles...the list is endless. They try not to make it obvious when we have it narrowed down to "bear." The next clue isn't it's color, but "it has a hump on its back" or "it's snout is narrower."  Proud moments.

Such a wonderful time.