No One Can Beat Petersburg…

…when it comes to the holidays. This place takes “festive” and “fun” to new heights, and I’ll share some of it with you in the coming weeks.

But first, I want to show you how Alaskans shop. I’ve probably mentioned that things are very expensive up here because of the transportation costs. We have it pretty nice because Petersburg gets two barges a week from Seattle, all year ’round. More northern coastal communities may only get a barge once in the summer months, and all the Interior towns have to rely on air freight. So whenever we’re “down south” (anywhere in the Lower 48) we try to shop for heavy and/or bulky things, or things that are expensive to mail order. This trip we bought new engine start batteries, wine, some Christmas gifts, paper towels, a new rug for the galley and lots of shelf-stable favorites from Costco and Trader Joe’s and loaded them onto a pallet for the barge from Seattle to Petersburg.

It’s just another part of the routine now that we live in an interesting place.

Meanwhile, the whales have been very active in Frederick Sound on the north side of town, breaching and blowing. It sure is nice to be back home.

North Harbor

I promised to show you some of the ways that Petersburg hits the ball out of the park when it comes to holiday events. First, we have the lighting of the town Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. Here the Power and Light crew are getting the lights on the monster of a tree we have this year. When it comes to choosing a Christmas tree, it sure is handy to live in a National Forest.

The whole town gathers at one end of the main street, carrying candles (or light sticks for the tots)…

Santa leads us all in a parade down to the Municipal Building where the tree is waiting for the big moment. Some of the high school band members play holiday music…

and we all count down…

…and we warm up with some cups of hot apple cider that the Sons of Norway hands out. It’s old-fashioned and lovely and if that doesn’t get you in the holiday spirit then you’re a Grinch or a Scrooge!

Right after the tree lighting the roller derby team hosts a “Brews and Stews” contest where we can taste all kinds of interesting chilis and stews as well as homemade beers, wines, cordials and meads. The chili pictured below was my favorite – I didn’t know that musk ox was so tasty! Venison, moose and elk as well as the more traditional beef and chicken were all represented. We have some really good cooks and brewers in this town!

Next up was the always popular (and VERY competitive) Pickled Herring Contest.

Other kinds of pickled seafood as well as smoked seafood round out a variety of categories, and judging is serious business.

Two guys ended up winning the top choices in every category… and the gentleman on the left has won the contest countless times over the years.

As soon as the judging is FINALLY over with, the assembled crowd devours what’s left. I wish I liked seafood because the spread here is some of the best you could ever hope to taste.

The last event I’ll report on in this post is the special presentation of a Quilt of Valor to Jim.

The Raincountry Quilters in town make a patriotic quilt for every Veteran, and this one was made by a dear friend of ours – making it even more special.

There’s much more to come… concerts, dance recitals, and of course… Julebukking! Stay tuned.

Crater Lake National Park

First it was a mountain, then it became a lake thanks to a huge volcanic eruption about 7700 years ago. Crater Lake is big and it’s really intensely blue!

Crater Lake is located in the southwest corner of Oregon at an altitude of about 6100′, though the lake level varies with precipitation. It’s the deepest lake in the U.S. at 1943′, but all the statistics and superlatives are eclipsed by the fact that it’s really beautiful.

Wizard Island, the most prominent feature in the lake, is a cinder cone from a subsequent eruption. Several other cinder cones have been left behind from other eruptions, but the rest of them are hidden in the depths of the lake.

These two photos of different parts of the rim try to show how high the lake sides are – ranging from 500′ to almost 2000′ above the lake level. It’s hard to grasp how big it is just peering down from the rim.

We were at the lake in later October, but most of the rim road was already closed due to snow. Crater Lake is a very snowy place, getting up to 533 inches a year!

Snow sticks

The second day we were there the plows managed to open up a little section of the rim road so we could explore the park just to the north of the lake itself. Distant mountains…

…and the Pumice Desert tell the unmistakable story of volcanic activity throughout the region.

Pumice Desert

As we wrapped up our fall road trip we realized that almost all of our stops were related to volcanoes and geothermal activity, though we didn’t set out with that intention. We covered roughly 4000 miles on our circuit around some of the western states and the fact is that volcanoes and faults and basin-and-range formations influence a significant part of the landscape in the northwest.

We’re sorry to take so long to get back to the Blog, but we arrived home and hit the ground running… and now we’re already in the very busy (and fun) holiday season in Petersburg. There’s lots to report about – the massive town Christmas tree, Pickled Herring, etc. The stores are stocking up on butter and other baking supplies, the dancers are making final preparations for their recital next weekend, holiday parties are filling everyone’s calendars, homes and our boat are colorful and sparkly with lights to brighten these days with so little daylight. Santa is coming!

More Lassen Volcanic – A Real Gem!

The final image in the last post was of the 700′ tall Cinder Cone volcano in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Formed in the 1650s, this basalt lava cinder cone was part of two eruptions. The hike to the top starts at over 6000′ of elevation, but we’ve spent most of the past couple of weeks at altitude so we were acclimated pretty well. I wasn’t sure I could make it up that steep trail… but the closer we got to it the more we just had to see what was up there!


Trudging in the soft cinders was challenging, but we would take about 50 steps and then pause for a count of 50. The trail winds around the cone so the views kept changing, offering new rewards for the climb.

Lassen Mountain

You can see how steep the cone’s sides are in the photo above! I wouldn’t have guessed that I could do it, but we both made it to the top and it wasn’t as difficult as I had imagined. The reward for our efforts was well worth it!

Two tiny people on the rim

We scampered around the inner and outer rims, even hiking part way down into the center…

…marveling at the different colors of the rocks…

…and taking in the sweeping views of the Fantastic Lava Beds and Painted Dunes below.

The Fantastic Lava Beds were formed when basalt lava leaked out of the bottom of the cinder cone as it was erupting. It was overwhelming to grasp its size as we took in the panoramic views from the rim. Here’s what it looks like from ground level, next to tall Jeffery pines at the edge of the forest.

What a stunning landscape, with such stark and sudden transitions!

With names like Brokeoff Mountain, Chaos Crags, Devastated Area, Fantastic Lava Beds and Bumpass Hell – Lassen Volcanic National Park is a true gem of a place, well worth a visit. We enjoyed other hiking trails in the park – the variety of terrain offers something for everyone.

Lassen Volcanic is located in the midst of Lassen National Forest, and we found other notable features worth exploring in the National Forest as well. There just wasn’t enough time to see and do all of it! But we brought our flashlights and were able to investigate the “Subway Cave” that was just off the road between the park entrance and our campground. Subway Cave is a lava tube, formed when the lava at the top cooled as it was exposed to the air, while molten lava continued to flow underneath. The name “subway” is appropriate – it’s as wide and tall as a modern subway tunnel!

The tunnel meanders for about 1/2 mile, and it’s amazing to imagine nature’s forces at work as molten rock oozed along the smooth channels. The tunnel was found when part of the roof collapsed, revealing the secret underneath. As we drove past the area, we saw the terrain in a completely different way – with a better understanding of what we were looking at. We came, we hiked, we explored and we learned – it was a perfect visit.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

One of our goals for this trip was to visit some lesser-known National Parks (as well as Yellowstone, which is probably too well known for its own good.) The advantage of these other parks is that they’re delightfully un-crowded and the rangers have more time to share information with us.

We had to drive across a good chunk of America’s Great Basin, continuing to traverse the basin-and-range topography that we learned about in Great Basin National Park… crossing flat high-desert valleys and up and over mountain ranges in Nevada. As we moved farther west, the ranges gradually grew a little lower in elevation. At the Nevada-California border we stopped to visit friends in Lake Tahoe, and we saw a bit of the beautiful lake as we drove around the perimeter.

Lassen National Park is only a few hours drive from Lake Tahoe – a gem of a spot among tall stately Ponderosa and Jeffrey pine trees in Lassen National Forest. Lassen was a delightful surprise, with examples of four different types of volcanoes in one relatively small area: shield, cinder cone, plug dome and composite.

Composite volcano in the distance

The park is still seismically active, and there are several special monitoring stations located in key places.

We hiked down to see the steaming fumaroles and mud pots in a place called “Bumpass Hell”, named for a settler and cowboy who planned to mine the area in the 1860s. He was showing the place to a newspaper editor when Mr. Bumpass accidentally broke through the thin crust over a boiling hot spring, burning his leg severely enough that he eventually had to have it amputated. Bumpass Hell is smaller than the hydrothermal features found in Yellowstone, but it’s just as mystical in its own sulphury, steamy way.

There are other, smaller geothermal features we visited as we toured around the park – boiling mud pots…

…and steaming, bubbling sulphur springs.

The park has such a variety of terrain, from meadows with meandering streams…

…to deep forests of tall, stately Jeffrey pines.

The cones from the Jeffrey pines were huge prickly things, and there was an abundance of this vivid lime-green lichen on the trees and occasionally on the ground.

If you look closely in the photo above you might notice that the soil is a fine black material – it’s composed of cinders from the nearby Cinder Cone…

…which has a daunting-looking trail that you can hike up. Stay tuned for more from Lassen Volcanic National Park!