Sunday, July 29, 2012

Winner Creek Gorge, Baby!

 Ya'll know how excited I am for berry picking to start this summer. In my excitement, I've blabbed on and on to my friends about it, enthusiastically inviting them to come meet us at a local blueberry festival...and do some picking.  (We did it last year! We know where the berries are! Come with!!!) And then the realization dawned on me that perhaps the locations we've earmarked for future visits may not bear the same amount of bounty we've experienced in the past. What if I lead our new friends to barren bushes???? *Gasp!* How embarrassing would that be?

Solution? Scout the area out first! Aaaand, so...without further consideration of the busy Air Show weekend, I smiled sweetly and batted my short Asian eyelashes at my ever-loving hubbylicious until he agreed to take me out there to make sure that I won't look stupid pointing at nothing but leaves, "But I swear this had so many berries last year!"

Oh, and I also wanted to see if the internet forums quietly discussing other berry spots held true.  Psssst, guess what? They do! Salmonberries here! Salmonberries there! Salmonberries everywhere!!! They weren't ripe yet, though. But in two to three weeks time, it'll be a whole different story...and I'll be the heroine of that tale, lugging a five-gallon container full of them home, ready to make some preserves. Susie freakin' homemaker, folks...yep, that's me.

 Miss Sophie spotted the ONLY ripe salmonberry in the area.

After leaving our super secret  salmonberry location (really, it's not secret at all since it's easily accessible, so much so that I fear others will beat me to the punch and pick them all before I get a chance to return), we headed over to the other end of the Winner Creek Trail to check out the progress of the blues.

There were many many young green huckleberries. Two-three weeks, I tell ya. Just in time for that festival.

We did find this ONE bush hiding behind other foliage, sport in' some nice plump ones, falling into our palms with just a slight nudge.

We wandered further and further down the trail, examining more bushes, finding more surprises (trailing raspberries! salmonberries!), until we came upon this sign.

This, my dear friends, is the same hand tram listed on Fam Och's summer to-do list...the thought of which gives me this funny just-bit-into-frozen-solid-ice-cream feeling in my teeth because it makes me THAT nervous. 

At first, we kept going towards it just to see it. One thing led to another and I found myself standing on the platform, watching my boys pull themselves across a gorge hundreds of feet deep.

 Other images and videos of this can be viewed through the FB account.

This hand tram is a metal cage with a max weight capacity of 400 lbs, that traverses the width of the gorge via a hand pulley system, Winner Creek roaring below. The swinging door has two separate locks just in case you were wondering.

Anyway, the sisters (even cautious Sophia) asked if us girls could give it a try as well. So we did. (Really, how could I say no when I'm the one who keeps foot stomping about how important it is to try new things even if it scares us a little?)
It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.  If you are in the local area, put this in your bucket list NOW.

Then on the drive back, we spotted more of these on the side of the road:

What a fabulous way to end the weekend!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Arctic Valley Hike

 This is a perfect afternoon/evening hike with the children, especially if you want to try a place very close to the area.  The girls had their weekly Thursday golf lesson at the Moose Run Golf Course at Ft. Rich anyway (which is right on Arctic Valley Road). We figured it would be nice to try out the trail, especially on such a sunny day.

A few miles up, the road ends at the Alpenglow Ski Resort and trailhead parking lot.  There is a $5 parking fee, so come prepared.

The trail can be tackled straight from the parking lot, to the left of the Fee Station kiosk, or do what we did and cut through the resort grounds and start on the trail right under the ski lifts. It'll lead you to the left of the resort, away from the view of the Anchorage bowl.
 Bring mosquito repellent as it is very buggy here, especially when the trail runs along the creek.

 The trail is one mile to the saddle between Rendezvous Peak to the right and Mount Gordon Lyon to the left. The trail continues to both peaks, but we decided against it.

 Sophia, looking back towards the way we came.

 It always helps to use a motivating factor like a waterfall, bridge, or lookout point to fire kids up to finish the hike. Liv had been lacking her usual gusto, whining a bit as we began the hike. About a half mile in, we caught sight of a small snow field just below the saddle. Suddenly, the promise of playing with snow in July renewed her spirits and we had to warn her to slow down many a time.

 Unfortunately, due to the warmer weather, the snow field was more icy than expected. We stepped carefully for a brief time and headed back.

 Dylan, pointing out Rendezvous Peak from the saddle.

 The view of South Fork Eagle River Valley below.  The road down there is Hiland Drive.

 The poor hubby twisted his injury-prone ankle on the way down.  Uneven terrain can be tricky.  Hiking poles will help (although it didn't help him as much).

Of course, I had to do a bit of berry scouting.  I spotted many blueberry bushes, but no blossoms or young unripe berries. I'm hoping this is just because it is too early to see them. Crowberries are starting to exhibit bright green berries right now (very late August they will be ripe). There were a bunch of moss berry plants around as well. 

If you plan to do this hike, keep in mind the military closes the road down at 10 pm each night. Allow time enough to be beyond the gates by then.

Happy hiking!

Neglected Abode

 Ugh, the one thing summer keeps me from doing is finishing up the little tasks I have set to fix the case up a bit.  The sunshine beckons the fam outside...hiking here, camping there, exploring any which where we can find. We are absent from the home more than half the time. Yet, the myriad of "to-do's" remains, and I am reminded of them every time I walk through the place.

So, with the intention of embarrassing myself in front of you folks and motivate myself to get this all done before I let another guest into my home, here is all the unfinished business...


A good couple inches too short. I loved the bright cheery curtains (does wonders for those dark winter days), but this just looks so wrong! Yeah, I know, measure first before buying....but they were the standard length and I didn't want the curtain rod mounted lower (higher rod placement makes windows and rooms look bigger). I just need to add some sort of fabric trim to the bottom to lengthen it up...or shall I say nag the hubby to do it for me (he is the sewing master in the household as he uses sewing machines at work when he fixes aircrew parachutes). Oh, and please ignore the ugly baseboard...base housing, you know.


This makes me laugh. I didn't want to obscure the view from this window, and I figured a pelmet box would do the trick without leaving it looking undressed. I ventured to make my own pelmet window box matching the curtains on the other window out of this tutorial I found online using foam core board, batting, and staples.  It looks passable...except this was just a trial run and the back of this pelmet looks absolutely awful with white duck tape (I ran out of staples) and the whole thing running just an inch too short to be mounted properly.  Major do-over required!

The sight of this actually makes me angry.  I hate cord clutter. Cord management project has been ignored for the past year. It shouldn't take too long, really. I don't know why I don't just do it.

 Practically the same problem with the first curtain problem, except in this case, I had to rip the hem off so it could be long enough to reach the floor.  Problem is, it is too long and the sheer fabric is starting to unravel.  I just need to run the adjusted hem through the sewing machine and it'll be a project success, yet, it still isn't done.

We moved the girls toy storage shelving down the wall to fit in a reading nook in the corner.  The wall anchors left behind need to be puttied and plastered over. Eyesore!!!!


 This curtain rod has been standing next to the window for a couple months now, waiting to be hung....

Horrible lighting. The playroom has these extra large bins to fit their extra large toys, but they've just been sitting on the floor.  Gotta draft a plan to make extra shelving for this since store-bought shelves are too small.  Also, note those white shelves on the floor...they belong to that shelving unit in front of it.  During the move, we lost those silver little pegs that hold them in place. Quick trip to Lowes to hunt for spare ones will solve this problem.


The kids' board games have taken over my craft closet. I just need to re-organize this. ;-)

So there you have it. Many many little things with simple solutions still undone. Ugh. Embarrassing. Here's to hoping I get off my tush to get it off my list...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Isn't it Time Yet for Berry Picking?

As back-to-school shopping and registration starts back up in the next couple of weeks, it is clear summer is on its way out the door. Sad as it may be, this time of summer gets me very antsy and itching to go out and go berry picking!!!!

The previous summer's bounty of blueberries weren't so great because of some weird influx of caterpillars, which in turn killed off most blueberry blossoms. This year, however, the mosquito numbers were I'm crossing my fingers those pollinators have upped our chances of discovering a big big bounty of them berries.

Image courtesy of mrbeernhockey

As I sit here waiting and waiting for the blueberries to ripen, I am trying to find some time to arrange a family excursion to pick these salmonberries.  They are known to ripen about a month earlier than the blueberries and lingonberries in the area. I'm hoping picking these can ease my blueberry waiting. I'm also hoping the area I read about that is said to have an abundance of these bushes still have them.

These babies should also be ready for the picking:

Watermelon berries! I've only just heard of their existence here from a guide. Twisted stalk, as the plant is called, usually gets ignored. But its mild sweet flavor with a tinge of watermelon taste to it is divine.  The fam loves these! The only problem with finding watermelon berries is that you really don't find a lot of them in one place.  While berry picking, we would find one plant here, and another there, with each plant only yielding half a dozen or so berries. We just end up picking these on the side while picking blueberries.

I'm also hoping to find some of these lingonberries (low-bush cranberries). Apparently there are some nearby. I would love to try to make a lingonberry dressing (much like the stuff that is served with Swedish meatballs in Ikea?). The Riley Creek Campground in Denali is carpeted with this stuff, although they weren't ripe yet...and I'm not quite keen on driving five hours to go berry picking.

Last year, we only collected enough for a batch of pancakes and muffins (it was raining, there weren't many to begin with, and Sophie's harvest went straight into her mouth). Hoping this year will be more fruitful!

So, who wants to come berry searching/picking with me?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Denali National Park: Lessons Learned

 After the numerous posts of our trip to Denali, I wanted to do a little recap for those who may want to try out their own adventures there.

  • This is not a day trip. There are waaaaay too many things to do in the area. We stayed four nights and still feel we could easily stay another week.
  • There are nice resorts and lodges just past the park entrance. DON'T go there. If you want a uniquely Denali experience, stay at a park campground. I would feel comfortable tent camping in Riley Creek with little ones, but we opted for the camping trailer and we were very comfortable. I cannot say enough great things about Riley Creek Campground. 
  • Be prepared for weather. We were blessed during our stay with sunshine and 60 degree temps, but have rain gear and insect repellent. There's no point in wasting a day or two of huddling in your camper/tent just because of a little rain.
  • Take a bus ride (shuttle or tour...depends on your preference). It truly is worthwhile.
  • Take advantage of the Junior Ranger Program and loaner Discovery Kit backpacks. It will enrich the children's experience in the park.
  • Hike! There are soooo many trails in the entrance area. Plus, if you take a shuttle bus into the park, you can hike your own trail anywhere you please.
  • Compared to $3.84 a gallon here in the city, gasoline at the park is $4.60. Yikes! AND, make sure to fuel up at the Talkeetna gas station (we did that and had an 1/8 tank left when we got to the park). An extra 5 gal. canister of gas is a good idea just in case.
  • Enjoy!

Denali National Park: Day 4...Hiking, Hiking, and more Hiking

We had fully expected this day to rain on us.  I don't know why we haven't learned by now that Alaska weather likes to play jokes on those of us who plan. But at least we were prepared either way. Rain pants, jackets, boots were all at the ready in the trunk just in case. But the Mister and I had resolved to make this our main hiking day, rain or shine.

First on our agenda: Savage River Area Hikes (Mile 15 Park Road)

The kids spotted other hikers climbing on the rocks above the trailhead and begged to try the Rock Trail first.

 This is a short climbing trail, 0.6 miles round trip. 
There is also another trail in the making, the Savage Alpine Trail, leading up to the summit of that hill behind us. The trail is still undergoing construction, but there is a "social" trail easy enough to follow. We passed on that one, our legs still a bit tired from the Mt. Healy climb two days before.

We just took some pictures at the top of the trail, looked down at the river canyon below, and headed down before Liv tried to scramble up to the top of the boulder.

 We began the Savage River Loop Trail, heading away from the parking lot, along the river one mile to a bridge that leads you back to the opposing bank's parking lot one mile back.

It is an easy, manageable trail. Little ones can do this with no problem.  I did have to hold on to Liv during a narrow section because she has this crazy habit of hopping around carelessly on narrow trails.

She also likes to climb. 

We reached the bridge and crossed over to the other side for our way back.

 But then Dylan spotted a social trail up to our right past the maintained trail. He wanted to see what was on the other side of the hill, so he and I scrambled up real quick while the Mister stayed behind with the girls, trying to chase down an arctic ground squirrel (which looks more like a prarie dog).

 We did have to cross the road bridge to get back to the other side of the river where we parked.  Since it's the farthest private vehicles can go into the park, there wasn't much traffic going over the bridge.  The cars that did go by gave us a wide berth. 

After an early dinner, we headed down to try the next trail for the day: Horseshoe Lake 

Just past the railroad crossing the Park Road, there is a small parking lot where hikers can start their trip down to Horseshoe Lake.

Just a bit along the railroad tracks (this is an active railroad)

A sign will prompt Horseshoe Lake hikers to cross the tracks to the right and start their descent.

 From the overlook point, the oxbow lake can be seen far below.

This was a nice relaxing out and back hike. 1.5 miles roundtrip.
The kids took their time, using a vegetation identification guide to name the various flowers and berries along the trail.

 Soapberry plant

 Blueberries waiting to ripen

 Down at the lake

 There is an active beaver dam at the north end, but we didn't spot the beavers that inhabit the area, although the number of trees gnawed down were fascinating enough for the girls.

 On the way back up the trail, Dylan led them in some calisthenics and walking lunges (as if the full day of hiking wasn't enough to wear them down).