Monday, July 30, 2012


There are many ways to travel the vast wilderness and lonely roads within Alaska----- float or bush-piloted plane, canoe, sea kayak, and one of the most popular… hitching.  We tend to be cautious about providing a lift to anyone, but Tamar was an exception.  At first, we were put off by her aggressive manner toward others and her aloof attitude; however, she turned out to be the most interesting and intelligent guests we have hosted along the road.

We met her at the visitor center for the Wrangell St. Elias National Park, the largest US National Park with 9 of the 16 tallest peaks in North America.  We had spent several days in the park and were stopping at the visitor center for just a few minutes when we saw her for the first time.  She dominated the picnic shelter as she barked and growled with fear at those who had spent two days trying to help her.  We gave her a wide berth as we entered and left the parking area.  A few hours later, after the center had closed for the night, we returned to use their bathrooms and Tamar was lying under a table, quick to bark hostilely at us until she discovered the meat stick Jess had brought for her.  Piece by piece she hungrily gulped it down as well as the two hot dog buns that followed.  Still suspicious, she stayed away, but as we talked softly she got a bit closer.  She laid down to the delight of the waiting mosquitoes, as despair led to depression and we watched hope fade from her listless eyes.  She ignored us, occasionally whimpering in frustration at the mosquitoes, but for the most part just allowing them to feast on her.

We walked away from her and once out of sight, heard a despondent, gut-wrenching howl of desolation only a husky can deliver into an evening sky.  We turned back to try once more.  Finally, as Sally patted her leg and said to both Jess and the young, female husky “Let’s go”, Tamar (as we were to learn was her name) rose and led us the few hundred yards to our van.  We looked uncertainly at each other as we opened the door and she jumped in as if she had a thousand times before.  We got in as well, silently looking across the narrow, now claustrophobically-small space, at the dog that had growled and barked away all others.  We all needed the same thing but did not know it at the moment…….trust.

Tamar was done with the aggression as she panted with fear over her audacity of jumping into our van.  We eased around her and got into bed watching her carefully.  Finally, she came to us and when we both reached to pet her, she put down her ears and vocalized some of her hopes and fears.  If you have ever heard a husky speak to someone, you can imagine the moment and sound.  As we watched, she curled up, spent of her anxiety and fear, and slept as close to us as she could.  We laid restlessly in bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering what we had just done and what the morning would bring.  We needed faith.

The next morning, after her much needed breakfast, Tamar showed who she was searching for as we took her to different places up and down the highway.  From her reaction at one site, we were pretty sure that she was looking for a man who wore fishing clothes (that describes about 80% of Alaskan males in July).  We knew he had taken excellent care of her and that she was well trained.  We were beginning to deduce that she was not dumped, as the Park personnel had assumed, but lost.  After looking at bulletin boards in grocery stores, visitor centers and outposts along the highway and getting a tip from a BLM ranger on where she thought she had seen a posting, we found the yellow paper with the description of our guest and a phone number.  A few calls, an emailed photo, and an excited owner motivated us to get on the road heading toward Tamar’s home 150 miles away.  She had been lost almost a week earlier while her owner was fishing in the area almost 30 miles from where we first encountered her.   The family had prayed for her return and if prayer is the root of trust and faith, it helped her find her way back to those that love her.
Joy.  One of our favorite moments of the past 7 weeks’ journey was the reunification of Tamar and her family of three from Delta Junction. Alaska.  We left them and turned back toward the west again, but with them we left a piece of ourselves.  Once you have been given and you have gifted another with trust such as the three of us did, there is a part of you that forever travels with each other.   The next morning, we both found ourselves glancing back toward where Tamar had slept, knowing that we had been given something special in our time with her.

Posted from Trapper Creek, Alaska

Monday, July 23, 2012


For three to four short months each year, Alaska teems with life, and the inhabitants, whether human or other species, take full advantage of the richness before them. 

We both had mixed feelings prior to coming to Alaska about the exemptions in the Wilderness Act and other public lands management rules and regulations that allowed Alaskans to use motorized vehicles, nets, etc. to move into pristine land and catch food for their families (a process that is called subsistence).  For example, a family of four can harvest up to 160 salmon a day in some areas and in other areas, there are no limits at all.

As we have traveled, we have come to understand that the vastness of the area and the rare travel by any means outside of the few road corridors result in little impact on the millions of acres of land.  In addition, the sheer quantity of some types of prey species has been a source of subsistence hunting and fishing for people and other predators for millennium. 

An example was in the inlet near Valdez, Alaska.  We drove in at low tide and were caught off guard at the over 100 ravens we saw on the tidal flats gorging themselves with salmon.  As we drew nearer, we realized that the large birds were not ravens, but bald eagles of every age group (young ones have little white) surrounded by gulls of a variety of species.  In the narrow channel next to them, we watched dozens of sea lion heads bob up and down as they occasionally grabbed a pink salmon, called humpies by locals, as the schools swam over and around them.  The water seemed a bit rough until we realized that what looked like rapids in the sea with water boiling over low black rocks were actually fish….tens of thousands of the more than a million pink salmon heading toward the fish ladders of the Solomon Gulch Fish Hatchery. Down the beach, a grizzly mother with her four, strong cubs enjoyed each day’s delights as well. 

To our excitement, every fishing pole along the shore seemed bent with the weight of salmon as RV’s crowded the road.  We hurried to join folks, snagging salmon coming down ocean currents toward fresh water.  Locals prefer the richer, red flesh of the Sockeye (reds) and Coho (silvers) that arrive later in the season, but we found the flaky pinks tasty too. 

As we have come up through the different highways, we have stopped at many First Nation villages, interpretive centers, and special sites.  In all, they talk about the importance of the salmon to their culture, their winter food stocks, and to the animals such as eagles and grizzlies.   We have looked at river traps and drying shacks and come to understand that this gift from the sea means survival in a place where winter temperatures make our native city of Gunnison look balmy in January.

The seasons are challenging, but the brief period of abundance allows existence for those able to gather and store the wealth of plant and animal life each summer.

(Pictures of Pink Salmon, a family fishing for subsistence, and a very wet Bald Eagle)

Posted in Valdez, Alaska.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A tale of two cedars

In both places, it was the rich smell of cedar that hit us first.  Two tales bound together across more than a thousand miles by communities and individuals presenting the past to visitors to help us understand the present and future.  Two tales bound by the rich, red, aromatic gift of cedar trees.

In Carcross, Yukon, Keith Wolfe Smarch, a well known Tagish-Tlingit artist was bent over a cedar totem pole, carving totems of the 6 clans (beaver, raven, killer whale, crow, frog and wolf) in the region who have recently gained political sovereignty.  He graciously invited us to share in his work and to visit his shop.  Each totem is massive, with one central figure for each clan brought skillfully to the surface of the tree beneath Keith’s hands.  He sees figures in trees, old buildings, and throughout the natural world and his training with his teacher in British Columbia and master carvers in Alaska and Japan has given him a unique style.  His tools are those of a wood worker from more than one continent and often made by his own hand so that not a branch of the cedar is wasted.  His son Aaron has joined Keith in his passion, working by his dad’s side with a unique style of his own as the two year old grandson draws his own emerging designs.  The tree, in this final act, may stand for a century or more engaging visitors in the culture of the people of the area.  

In McBride, British Columbia, the locals have partnered with a dozen organizations to build an incredible loop trail through 20 hectares of old growth cedars previously undiscovered.  The lichen and moss drape over the ancient giants in a world that takes visitors over 2,000 years to the past.  The trail is sacred and the opportunity to see the majestic trees that stood watch as Vikings and Europeans landed on the eastern shores is a privilege protected by locals. 

In both places we met people that want to maintain their history, their culture, their sacred places so they can share them with their families and the steady stream of visitors venturing forth toward the north.  We have seen citizens, like those in Gunnison working on the Hartman Rocks area or bringing a farmers market to life, come together in partnership to promote their place.  The efforts are not always easy as generations of locals work with recent arrivals to find a common future.  Yet, this is a theme we have seen repeated across thousands of miles.  Community, history, collaboration, and preservation.

Posted in Haines, Alaska

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Have you ever felt small and insignificant?  If so, what pictures/memories does it bring to mind?  Have you ever been completely overwhelmed with what is going on around you? 

We have journeyed to places where landscapes are gigantic and sights are overwhelming.  It does no good to take pictures, because these pictures are not worth a thousand words……words are inadequate for what we are experiencing and seeing. Photos cannot express the moment in time or the vastness of the scene.   Photos in this landscape are like showing someone a single grain of sand when you are trying to describe a beach.

Every curve in the road brings incredible, jaw-dropping sights.  Stark mountains stretching for miles and reaching to the sky shrouded by feathery clouds.  Vast glaciers, their many colors of cobalt and turquoise blue changing as the ice grinds inevitably back and forth across immense valleys carved from bedrock.  Uncountable waterfalls cascading hundreds, sometimes thousands, of feet down steep, sheer cliffs and narrow gorges.  Rivers, chocolate-colored with runoff or sandy blue with glacial melt, roaring and boiling through deep, narrow canyons carving downward through the rocks as they have for centuries.  Wildlife as free and majestic as it is meant to be.  We peer from our vehicle “cages” into brief moments of their lives as they ponder the strange creatures visiting their homes and, with great dignity, turn away.

We feel a power greater than ourselves in this world as we wander through these amazing lands.  Each day, each hour, we are humbled.

The picture is of Bear Glacier on the way to Stewart, BC and Hyder, Alaska.   We are now in the Yukon.  Posted from Whitehorse, Yukon.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Life has been the theme during our past week.  Life lost, life in the balance, ancient life, living life.   Our journey has taken us from visiting friends and family in Washington State to the top of a peak where a 530 million year old ocean once existed.  During the week’s  journey, we have celebrated renewed connection with family and friends, watched a brave woman face the precious fight for life  that modern chemo promotes, and heard of the tragic loss of a young life well- loved in a community little used to such loss.

Life.  As we settle into a fourth week of travel, we find that we celebrate each day with each other and see wonders around every corner.  We had believed that the life we lived in Gunnison was one of unparalleled beauty until we entered the Canadian Rockies.  “Awesome” seems like such an inadequate word yet we utter it constantly at every turn of the road that winds past glacier rivers and basins.

 A high point of the week was a killer hike straight up a mountain to visit the Burgess Shale Fossil Beds in Yoho National Park in British Columbia.  Jess had been a fan of the scientific work done in this ancient sea on top of a mountain since she was an undergrad and convinced Sally that the guided tour was worth the price.  After an arduous ascent, our small group stood on a mound of fossils etched into the dark, gray shale of a 530 million year old sea bed that stretched as far as the eye could behold.   Each step was centered on top of a new organism that spoke of the greatest explosion of life the earth has known with creatures of mysterious names and livelihoods, some so small that Sally peered at them with a lens and others broken pieces of organisms 6 feet long.  All were soft body experiments from a time long past with multiple eyes, strange snouts, tentacles and spikes galore living in an ocean as no life existed on land. 

While the diversity of the Burgess Shale Fossils beds may not be matched in modern times, we find a quiet excitement in each new glimpse of life we see.  Whether an American Three-toed Woodpecker, a young wolverine,a foraging black bear, a glacier ice worm, or the first orchid of the season… life abounds everywhere we look.  

Posted from Jasper National Park, Alberta.