The Kenai Peninsula: The Iditarod Museum And Hope

From Denali to Hope

Heading south from Denali on the Parks Highway, great views of the mountain
Alaska Range peaks on both sides of the highway all day

Leaving Denali National Park, we headed south toward Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula with beautiful views on both sides of the highway.

The Sled Dog Relay That Inspired the Iditarod (From The History Channel Site)

“The children of Nome were dying in January 1925. Infected with diphtheria, they wheezed and gasped for air, and every day brought a new case of the lethal respiratory disease. Nome’s lone physician, Dr. Curtis Welch, feared an epidemic that could put the entire village of 1,400 at risk. He ordered a quarantine but knew that only an antitoxin serum could ward off the fast-spreading disease. The nearest batch ofthe life-saving medicine, however, rested more than 1,000 miles away in Anchorage. Nome’s ice-choked harbor made sea transport impossible, and open-cockpit airplanes could not fly in Alaska’s subzero temperatures. With the nearest train station nearly 700 miles away in Nenana, canine power offered Nome its best hope for a speedy delivery.

Sled dogs regularly beat Alaska’s snowy trails to deliver mail, and the territory’s governor, Scott C. Bone, recruited the best drivers and dog teams to stage a round-the-clock relay to transport the serum from Nenana to Nome. On the night of January 27, 1925, a train whistle pierced Nenana’s stillness as it arrived with the precious cargo—a 20-pound package of serum wrapped in protective fur.

Musher “Wild Bill” Shannon tied the parcel to his sled. As he gave the signal, the paws of Shannon’s nine malamutes pounded the snow-packed trail on the first steps of a 674-mile “Great Race of Mercy” through rugged wilderness, across frozen waterways and over treeless tundra. Even by Alaskan standards, this winter night packed extra bite, with temperatures plummeting to 60 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Although every second was precious as the number of confirmed cases in Nome mounted, Shannon knew he needed to control his speed. If his dogs ran too fast and breathed too deeply in such frigid conditions, they could frost their lungs and die of exposure. Although Shannon ran next to the sled to raise his own body temperature, he still developed hypothermia and frostbite on the 52-mile leg to Tolovana before handing off the serum to the second dog team.

With moonlight and even the northern lights illuminating the dark Alaskan winter days, the relay raced at an average speed of six miles per hour.

While each leg averaged 30 miles, the country’s most famous musher, Norwegian-born Leonhard Seppala, departed Shaktoolik on January 31 on an epic 91-mile leg. Having already rushed 170 miles from Nome to intercept the relay, Seppala decided on a risky shortcut over the frozen Norton Sound in the teeth of a gale that dropped wind chills to 85 degrees below zero. Seppala’s lead dog, 12-year-old Siberian Husky Togo, had logged tens of thousands of miles, but none as important as these. Togo and his 19 fellow dogs struggled for traction on Norton Sound’s glassy skin, and the fierce winds threatened to break apart the ice and send the team adrift to sea. The team made it safely to the coastline only hours before the ice cracked.

Gusts continued to batter the team as it hugged the coastline before meeting the next musher, Charlie Olson, who after 25 miles handed off the serum to Gunnar Kaasen for the scheduled second-to-last leg of the relay. As Kaasen set off into a blizzard, the pelting snow grew so fierce that his squinting eyes could not see any of his team, let alone his trusted lead dog, Balto. On loan from Seppala’s kennel, Balto relied on scent, rather than sight, to lead the 13-dog team over the beaten trail as ice began to crust the long hairs of his brown coat. Suddenly, a massive gust upwards of 80 miles per hour flipped the sled and launched the antidote into a snow bank. Panic coursed through Kaasen’s frostbitten body as he tore off his mitts and rummaged through the snow with his numb hands before locating the serum.

Kaasen arrived in Port Safety in the early morning hours of February 2, but when the next team was not ready to leave, the driver decided to forge on to Nome himself. After covering 53 miles, Balto was the first sign of Nome’s salvation as the sled dogs yipped and yapped down Front Street at 5:30 A.M. to deliver the valuable package to Dr. Welch.

The relay had taken five-and-a-half days, cutting the previous speed record nearly in half. Four dogs died from exposure, giving their lives so that others could live. Three weeks after injecting the residents of Nome, Dr. Crosby lifted the quarantine.

The Iditarod Museum, Wasilla

At the museum, we viewed a very interesting video re: the Iditarod race, Alaskan Huskies and related topics. We also took a short ride on a training sled, played with puppies, met the son of the race creator, and learned about working sled dogs diet requirements (quite interesting actually).

Wild sled ride at 12 MPH, pulled by dogs who competed in the Iditarod
Ray Redington, center, son of Iditarod Race founder Joe Redington
Sooooo cute!

Hope, Alaska

Drawn by tales of the town’s gold mining history, restored buildings and natural beauty we made a short detour to Hope.

Oh and It didn’t hurt that we had gotten inside information that the best pie in Alaska could be discovered in Hope.

Historic Cafe
Signs of the times
The view from our campsite
The Dirty Skillet Restaurant pie menu

After some detective work, we found the pie baker’s delicious products were to be found at the Dirty Skillet Café, not far from our campsite.

We met the owners Jeannine and Derrick Janaay, enthusiastic, hard working owners of the Cafe and adjoining Bear Creek Lodge.

The “pie lady” turned out to be named Marie, was from Italy, married a Japanese man and settled in Hope to make some of the most delicious pie we have ever had. A bit pricey, but the delectable crust, tasty fillings and generous size slices made Marie’s pies a big hit.

Pie!
After pie in the restaurant, we couldn’t resist a slice or two to go Ray was so impressed , he got three to go!

After perusing the dinner menu, we decided to go back To the Dirty Skillet for dinner as well. Good beer, tasty food and FOUR MORE SLICES OF PIE!

Waiting at camp until we could return for more pie!
Same table, shepherds pie, Caesar salad with crab cakes, Mac and cheese with bacon and, of course , more pie
Lovely Diana Z’s music at the Dirty Skillet

Next Post: Seward Alaska

The Denali Highway: 135 Miles of Unpaved Beautiful Wilderness

Meier’s Lake Roadhouse at the east end of the Denali Highway

No internet or phone service since Haines. Generally great weather. Occasionally it rained. Generally warmer (in the 60’s) than home in Colorado.

Wikipedia:

“The highway is now little used and poorly maintained, and closed to all traffic from October to mid-May each year. Only the easternmost 21.3 miles and westernmost 2.6 miles are paved; whether the remainder should be paved as well is a continual source of debate. Washboarding and extreme dust are common, the recommended speed limit is 30 mph

Winter travel on the Denali Highway is exclusively by snowmobile and dogsled. Automobile travelers are severely discouraged from attempting to traverse the road in winter; as recently as 1996 three persons died from exposure when snows blocked their progress. The road is cleared by DOT late in April and generally is passable by non-4WD from then until the first snows close it, usually late September on the eastern, tundra end and late October-early November on the lower, boreal forest western end.”

The description on the internet of the Denali Highway is scary, but the roads were actually better than the county roads to our cabin in Colorado!

Ray, bemused by the 1970’s era gas pumps which work better in the extremely cold winter temperatures
Strawberry rhubarb and berry pie with homemade vanilla ice cream
For $330 I could have purchased an authentic beaver hat. Warm! and I look like a rock star, don’t I?
The Trans Alaska Pipeline. A scar upon the land.
Maclaren Mountains as we climb to the pass.
Maclaren summit Second highest in Alaska
Camping next to Clear Creek
Some fishin’ but no catchin’ on Clear Creek.

Breakfast and Pie at the Alpine Lodge:

The Alpine Lodge

“We are a wilderness lodge in remote Alaska. We are open year round, every day. Alpine Creek Lodge is on the Denali Highway, so travelers can get there in the summer via a gravel road. 68 miles West of Paxson Alaska, and 67 miles East of Cantwell, Alaska. In the summer, we offer hiking tours, photography tours, wildlife viewing tours, gold panning tours, fishing tours and much more! Fully guided, or you can do it yourself! In the winter, the road is not plowed from October 15th to May 15th. During this period, snow machine, dog mushing, skiing, etc are the only way to get to us. Drop off and pick up are available in Cantwell, Alaska via snow machine or tracked vehicle. We are on the South side of the Alaska Range, in the Clearwater Mountains, and this is where you will find real Alaska!”

While we visited the Alpine Lodge, we spoke with the owner and hunters staying there who were harvesting excess grizzly bear (supervised by Alaska game and fish). Grizzlies had almost eliminated the moose population and cameras mounted on grizzlies had evidenced killing sprees of moose calves, fox, Trumpeter Swans, Ptarmigan, beavers and other game animals. The grizzlies killed without eating, then moved on to the next opportunity.

In the winter, the Alpine Lodge gets fresh food and supplies every couple weeks from Cantwell (67 miles to the west). They have a Jeep fitted with tracks (a $10,000 accessory) allowing then to travel the Denali Highway over the snow where otherwise only dog sled mushers or snow machines can go.

Chrissy served up omelettes, spam, hash browns and apple and berry pie!
Ray decorating his omelette with Sri Racha
Oh yes, did I mention there was pie? Best in Alaska so far!
Trumpeter Swan, one of many we saw along the Denali Highway
Campsite on Seattle Creek “Just singin’ in the rain”
Getting close to the end of the Denali Highway
Our first sight of Denali, the mountain, wreathes in clouds
Denali National Park

Next – Denali National Park

Cabin Elk Hunt

Saw a few cows, fresh scat & tracks. They let me get close because I was using my cow call while I walked.

Talked to two other hunters no one had seen anything, nor heard any shooting. Three trucks parked at school section gate.

Tonight’s low was 11 degrees. 5” snow this morning , high 16 degrees. Brrr…

Stellar Jay loves the seed cake that Sally put out!

5” of snow. View to the east

Bull Mountain remained shrouded in low hanging clouds most of the day

Stellar’s Jay feeding on Sally’s seed cake.

Let’s get that one over there….

Packrats Eat My Wiring

Truck parked at my cabin. Packrats ate the spark plug wires on my old, faithful ‘92 Chevy truck. Will try to install new wires tomorrow. Nice to get away from the news media for awhile and do something simple……

Packrats ate my wiring!

Successful repair. Replaced 3 spark plug wires plus coil wire. Two were completely chewed through, so had to guess, guessed wrong, but switched them and it worked! 🐭

Have not done this in a while…

Springtime in the Rockies

It is now officially spring at 8,500 feet in Colorado.

I saw lots of American Pronghorn antelope and a golden eagle on the drive in to my cabin. Four elk and two antelope met me in the front yard as I arrived. Two geese appear to be nesting at the beaver pond, and I’m hoping for a new crop of “young ‘uns”.

Alpine Forget-Me-Nots, Hedgehog Cactus, Arrow-leaf Balsam Root and Western Pasque Flower are in bloom. Broad Tail Hummingbirds and Mountain Blue Birds have returned – the hills are alive!

Some surprises in the game camera keep things interesting 🦁

Lovely sunsets each evening . Wish you were here !

Xx
Alpine Forget-Me-Not

Western Pasquale Flower
Western Pasque Flower

Neighbor Deb’s Hedghog Cactus

Arrowleaf Balsam root

One of many beautiful sunsets

Mountain Bluebirds on the wind turbine

A cow elk vists in the early morning

January Moose

January coyote

Surprise!  A Mountain Lion visits the game camera on April 1st!

 

An “Old-Fashioned” Wyoming Horseback Elk Hunt

Grizzlies and Wolves and Elk, Oh My!

My son-in-law, Ben, and I recently returned from a guided horseback elk hunt with Lynn Madsen, at Yellowstone Outfitters, Afton, Wyoming.  It was incredible!

Here’s what Lynn has to say about his outfit:

“Our Hawks Rest Camp is located in the Teton Wilderness northeast of Jackson…It sets off the southeast corner of Yellowstone Park between the Yellowstone and Thorofare Rivers (Area 60 on a Game & Fish map). It is one day-pack 28 miles, from our base camp at Turpin Meadows…The Hawks Rest camp holds the reputation of being the furthest spot in the continental United States from a road in any direction. Not only will you be hunting in one of the best trophy elk camps in the United States but you will also be hunting in country that looks the same as it did 100 years ago.

Our fully equipped camp consists of a large cook tent, shower tent, sleeping tents with cots, foam mattresses, and wood burning stoves along with plenty of fire wood. We are proud to say that our camps hold an excellent reputation earned by hiring reputable licensed guides, maintaining a clean comfortable camp, serving good food and supplying both good horses and mules and equipment.”

Well, our experience lived up to Lynn’s promotional material and then some.  We had a “once in a lifetime” experience.  Read on, if you are interested in the details.

Ben flew in from California and the following day we made the 8 hour drive from Fort Collins, Colorado to Jackson, Wyoming, where we spent the night.  You can fly into Jackson’s small airport, but it’s kinda expensive and you have to pay hundreds of dollars to ship your elk meat back home, so driving seemed like the frugal option.  Besides we were able to enjoy each other’s company and the lovely Wyoming scenery as we motored along.

On Monday morning October 9th we rose early, ate breakfast and made the 1 hour drive north and East to Turpin Meadows where we met Lynn, our guide, four other hunters and were introduced to our horses who would become our new and closest friends for almost 10 hours today.

Lynn provided quality, well cared for horses that are a cross between big, strong draught horses (for strength and stamina) and quarter horses (to reduce the size).  They are still really big, tall horses and getting a leg up into the stirrup was my yoga/stretching challenge each time we mounted.  Getting off was no issue, but is was a long way down.

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The yellow marker highlights the beautiful pack trail into camp.  We cross the Continental Divide at Two Ocean Pass and gain over 1,300 feet in elevation over the 28 mile trek.

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Hunters “chew the fat” while pack mules wait patiently

Heading up the mountain, we were passed by Lynn’s string of mules bringing our gear and replenishing needed supplies.  On the way in we passed several sets of grizzly and wolf tracks.

Nearly there!  Riding through the Yellowstone Valley, soon to cross the Yellowstone River, Hawk’s Rest Mountain in the distance.

Continue reading “An “Old-Fashioned” Wyoming Horseback Elk Hunt”

Death Valley National Park

With 3 million acres of wilderness, Death Valley is the largest national park outside Alaska. Elevations in the park range from -282 feet below sea level at Bad Water (the lowest point in North America), to 11,049 feet at Telescope Peak. The park encompasses 3.3 million acres and normally enjoys summer temperatures in the 110’s and 120’s, but also experienced a record temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit. It is considered the hottest place on earth and the driest place in the United States.

Of the more than 900 plant species found, 19 are unique to this area.

Driving in from the south as the sun sets, we make our way up a narrow winding road to the Wildrose Campground at 4,100 ft elevation. The mountains being much cooler than the surrounding desert, the temperature dropped quickly from 72 degrees, down to a low of 31 degrees in the early morning.

Up early at Wildrose Campground, we drove the dirt road up Wildrose Canyon toward the Charcoal Kilns and Mahogany Flats.

The 25’ high Charcoal Kilns were used to produce charcoal to smelt lead and silver from local ore mined beginning in 1877, and ceased operations shortly afterward.

After the Kilns, the 4WD Road gets a bit rough, climbing to the Mahogany Flats Campground and the road’s end at 8,133 ft.

Returning the way we came, we head for the Visitor’s Center to view the exhibits and plan a sunset photo tour of the park.

On the way, we encounter a small herd of feral donkeys, turned loose after mining operations ceased in the late 19th century.

From the Visitor’s Center we set out for Bad Water Basin and Artists Drive before the sunset. On the way we pause at the Harmony Borax Works and an example of the “20 Mule Team” borax mining transportation and extraction methods.

Next stop: Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin is an endorheic basin in Death Valley National Park, noted as the lowest point in North America, with a depth of 282 ft (86 m) below sea level. Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous 48 United States, is only 84.6 miles (136 km) to the northwest.

The site itself consists of a small spring-fed pool of “bad water” next to the road in a sink; the accumulated salts of the surrounding basin make it undrinkable, thus giving it the name.

From Bad Water we quickly travel to Artists Drive to attempt to capture the beautiful mineral colors in the hot light of sunset.

Artist’s Drive rises up to the top of an alluvial fan fed by a deep canyon cut into the Black Mountains. Artist’s Palette is an area on the face of the Black Mountains noted for a variety of rock colors. These colors are caused by the oxidation of different metals (iron compounds produce red, pink and yellow, decomposition of tuff-derived mica produces green, and manganese produces purple).

Called the Artist Drive Formation, the rock unit provides evidence for one of the Death Valley area’s most violently explosive volcanic periods. The Miocene-aged formation is made up of cemented gravel, playa deposits, and volcanic debris, perhaps 5,000 feet (1500 m) thick. Chemical weathering and hydrothermal alteration cause the oxidation and other chemical reactions that produce the variety of colors displayed in the Artist Drive Formation and nearby exposures of the Furnace Creek Formation.

 

Artists Palette

Artists Drive is a very narrow one-way road restricted to vehicles less than 25 feet in length.

Alas, dusk put an end to our photographic endeavors, but a sunset dinner back at our campsite provided more than adequate recompense.

There is so much to experience in Death Valley and we have barely scratched the surface. We will undoubtedly return!

Tomorrow, on to Flagstaff and Sedona Arizona.