And Now For Something Completely Different

It’s autumn… it’s typically the rainy season (which is good, because we need the water)… and that means it’s time…

…to head south and jump in the RV for another kind of adventure. First stop is Yellowstone National Park. We planned for five days to explore just a little bit of the nearly 3500 square miles in our nation’s first National Park.

Yellowstone is known for a wide variety of geothermal features as well as wildlife. Where to begin? Well, some of the wildlife isn’t all that hard to find. It’s important to remember: DO NOT honk your horn.

Bison are iconic residents in the park, but it’s important to remember that they are wild animals… very very large wild animals, so don’t get too close. Thank goodness for long lenses.

You might notice the snow in the background – it was cold and it continued to flurry and snow on us now and then through the day, but the fall color…

…and the beautiful scenery in the Lamar Valley was worth a little cold. The wildlife was too!

Elk

We almost didn’t see this coyote – it was so camouflaged in the brush, but the motion gave it away.

We explored the Lamar Valley late in the afternoon hoping to see more wildlife – particularly bears and wolves, but we had to “settle” for sublime scenery.

No first day in Yellowstone would be complete without some geothermal action so we spent some time around Mammoth Hot Springs.

The stark landscape contrasts with the bizarre colors caused by heat-loving bacteria in the pools.

Some of the bacteria form thread-like strands that collect together to form mats.

The cold temps made prolific steam as the hot spring water hit the air. Mammoth Hot Springs is pretty mellow, as geothermal features go, with pools overflowing into more colorful pools. Around other parts of the park the geothermal action is a bit more lively. Take a look:

Stay tuned… there’s a lot more of Yellowstone to show you.

Mitkof Island – We Live Here

Cruising around interesting places all over the Alexander Archipelago (also known as southeast Alaska), sometimes we forget how good we have it right at home. Mitkof Island is pear-shaped, about 10 miles wide at its widest by 17 miles long, with Petersburg located on the northwest tip.

Most of Mitkof is part of the massive Tongass National Forest, and some parts of the island were logged in the 1960s and early 70s. Logging roads are still maintained by the Forest Service to provide access for recreation – such as the Three Lakes area and one of my favorite easy hikes on the island – Ohmer Creek.

After cruising all summer, returning to the hustle and bustle of town was a little overwhelming so I took advantage of a beautiful day to head Out the Road with cameras and drone for some hiking, flying, and berry picking.

My first stop was to the middle of the Three Lakes – named Sand, Hill and Crane. The lakes are connected by trails, and Hill Lake also has a spur trail that runs down to Ideal Cove. Moose, black and brown bears, porcupines, grouse and deer are the most common animals on the island, though I didn’t encounter any this particular day. (Usually we see more deer in town than Out the Road.)

Hill Lake

The Forest Service built a little dock complete with a rowboat and a picnic table at each lake, and in the video below you can see some of the boardwalk where the connecting trail traverses the squishy muskeg. The video starts at Hill Lake, flies south to Crane Lake, then north to Sand Lake. As the drone gains altitude you can see the panorama of the Coastal Mountain range as well as the entrance to the Le Conte Glacier inlet.

After flying and a picnic lunch, I spent a little time picking red huckleberries and high-bush cranberries. A friend makes a delicious homemade ketchup from the high-bush cranberries, so I wanted to get enough to try making some of my own.

High-bush cranberries

The drive along the logging roads is so beautiful, coming around a bend and seeing a distant snow-capped mountain framed by trees, or savoring the sunlight dappling the forest understory.

Before heading back to town I decided to hike part of a favorite trail – Ohmer Creek (marked on the map at the top).

Venturing along the creek in one direction I found some humpy (also called pink) salmon trying to make their way upstream in the shallow water. You can just see the humps on their backs sticking above the water.

I was surprised that I didn’t see any bears – I must have just missed them because these fish were easy pickings. After hanging with the salmon for a while I headed in the other direction, into the thicker forest.

The bunchberries (also called dwarf dogwood) were ripe all over the place – they’re edible, though they’re not tasty to eat.

I launched the drone and got a terrific bird’s eye view of the creek, the muskeg, the mountains and the endless forest. The drone offers such a different look at familiar things, and makes me fall in love with this place even more. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that we get to live here.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

If you’ve been reading the Blog since mid-May, you should have a pretty good idea of how we spent the summer… and when all was said and done, we cruised 1500 nautical miles this summer. Except for a couple of days in Juneau, two weeks in Sitka and maybe a day here or there, we anchored out most of the time.

Here’s a chart of southeast Alaska (aka “the panhandle”) with this summer’s route.

On one of the last legs we had to stop the boat and steer around this sleeping whale. (That’s not a log… logs don’t breathe!)

We stopped to visit the town of Kake on Kupreanof Island since we had never been there before. Kake is a Tlingit town with a population of about 450 people. If you look at the photo below you’ll see a tall antenna tower, and just to the right of it is a record-setting totem pole. It was 136′ tall when erected in 1971, though a wind storm snapped off the top portion in 2015.

It was pouring down rain, though we dressed for it and took a long walk. Someone from the town agreed to meet us part way to collect payment for dockage, and he very kindly offered to show us around town a bit. It doesn’t take long to see the sights, but with the hills and rain we were very grateful for the impromptu tour. The highlight wasn’t the beautiful totem though, it was the black bear right in town, trying (unsuccessfully) to break into the trash container by the coffee shop.

It’s always bittersweet to see the summer cruising season end – we’ve loved our quiet days at anchor, but we miss our friends back in town too. After topping off the fuel tanks we settled back into our spot in Petersburg, ready to jump into the Rainforest Festival that started the next day.

Botanist Mary hosted a “muskeg walk”, and we love to learn new things about the bog plants that inhabit so much of our area.

Mary helped us spot some tiny sundew – a carnivorous plant that’s about the size of a pea.

Ketchikan artist Ray Troll gave a lecture about fossils in southeast Alaska, which he hunts for with his paleontologist buddy Kirk Johnson, who just happens to be the Director of the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History! His artwork, humor, enthusiasm and deep knowledge made for a terrific evening.

You probably don’t know that there’s a garnet mine on Mitkof Island (and also on nearby Wrangell Island too). The owner of the private mine brought some garnet-bearing rock, mica-schist, for us to gently hammer to extract some garnets. What fun (and mashed fingers)! These garnets are over 100 million years old!

The following weekend Petersburg’s Muskeg Maleriers group – the ladies who do the traditional Norwegian rosemaling painting – hosted a gold-medal-winning teacher from Minnesota to teach some advanced classes.

Rosemaling is prevalent around town (Alaska’s “Little Norway”), decorating storefronts, window shutters, and on nearly every surface of our Sons of Norway hall!

The guest teacher graciously agreed to teach a beginner class where we learned a little about the Os style of rosemaling.

It’s fun to see how a piece evolves from some simple strokes of color. The secret is in all the delicate line and accent work that really makes a piece “pop”. I’ll never be a decent painter or any kind of rosemaler, but I sure had fun!

Now it’s time to start getting the boat ready for winter. The fishermen are returning to the harbor, and the last of the big lion’s mane jellyfish are drifting through…

…they look like big beautiful flowers.