Chapter 6.  Central Alaska

Bert & Shari Frenz, 2002 All rights reserved.

A6130011.JPG (43057 bytes)  Denali Highway

Day 29 - June 12, 2002 - Cantwell, AK (Milepost 2126, today 208)

(Shari) We start late on this travel day. First we all need gas, and then the lug nuts that I bought are the wrong size. (Why are we finding this out minutes before we leave when I bought them yesterday?) Finally after returning the old ones, getting new ones and tightening them down, we are ready for our trip north. It is drizzly today so we will be unable to see Mt. McKinley along the drive. We stop for "fishing." camera.GIF (1399 bytes) Actually we stop for lunch at a cute little lake and watch a floatplane take off, but Jim tries fishing for grayling without success. As soon as we arrive at camp, he eats his dinner and out he goes to try some more. I, on the other hand, am waiting until he catches something. He invites me along and calls me a "fair weather" fisherman. About an hour later I see him walk by the motor home. I bound out the door, asking to see his fish. Unfortunately he got his car stuck and has walked back 3-4 miles and now a neighbor is going to pull him out. Only Nancy and I are left in camp - the rest went birding - so we are of no help to him. I would be madder than a wet hen and would lash out at anyone who crossed my path. But Jim just takes it in stride and do you believe this? He goes out fishing again. At 9:30 PM I walk over to see if he is home yet, but I see no car. At 10 PM he is knocking at my door showing me his limit of grayling. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) "Come on," he says. I gather my stuff, and off we go. From the vantage point of the road, I already see the little buggers swimming around. The little "lake" is extremely shallow and I have a difficult time not catching "weed bass" on every cast. I let Jim try, and no sooner does he cast out, than he catches one. I try again: same old weeds. Jim thinks I may be taking out the supply of weeds and soon none will be left. I do get a number of strikes, but do not have the right touch to land them. Jim tries to show me a couple of more times and every time he catches more fish. Unbelievable! That man has the magic and I am getting mad. He tries to encourage me but no matter what I do I get weeds. Finally towards midnight, even he does not get any nibbles, so we leave. Tomorrow I will have Bert get out my own gear and we will try again for the elusive swimmers. I saw with my very own eyes just how easy they are to catch. For Jim anyway!

Day 30 - June 13, 2002 - Denali Highway, AK (Milepost 2157)

(Shari) I bet the group is thinking we made a mistake by taking this road. Even I am a little concerned at one point when R-TENT slips a little in the mud. Rain the past three days has made the road wet, muddy and broken up in spots. However, I think it will get better and since we have taken this gravel road twice before without problems, we cheer up the group and march onward at an average speed of 15 mph. The slogan for the day is "This is a treat. No other caravan takes this road." Virginia and Wally are having a blast and at one point Virginia says, "You pay money for this at a carnival." Jim retorts that she has paid. David keeps asking if we are having fun yet. Pat is glad she has unhooked the car and is driving it separately. I find it rather amusing since I had all those feelings my first time on the road, but now am thinking this is nothing. They should see the drive up to Catemaco in Mexico. We are adventuresome and this road is an adventure. We want to see birds, wildlife and unspoiled scenery. We are not disappointed. Wally replies that the view is so open and he feels like he is on top of the world. We can see for miles; sometimes the road twists in front of us, sometimes it stretches straight ahead. From the valleys to the peaks, we experience the last real wilderness of Alaska reachable by road. That will not be true in a few years and although we see only 7-10 cars during our travels, four years ago that number would have been 2 or 3. When we arrive at camp, a legion of mosquitoes assaults us. We quickly put up our screen tent and start a fire. Donning my mosquito jacket, I am able to walk around. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) Luckily, Wally, Jim, Bert, and Virginia are not bothered as much. Jim goes off to fish and the rest of us prepare for our cookout of freshly caught grayling supplemented by salmon. Nancy brings tasty garlic potatoes and Virginia crowns the meal with rhubarb pie still warm from the oven. The fish call to Jim, and the group splits up; some to bird and others to escape to their rigs away from the mosquitoes.

Day 31 - June 14, 2002 - Denali Highway, AK (Milepost 2219)

(Shari) It takes us a good while to travel a little over 60 miles to our next camp because there are so many places to stop along the road to enjoy the scenery and look for birds. Our weather is still 110% with clear blue skies and warm temperatures. On our left, the Alaska Range is spectacular with the sun shining on the snow-covered peaks and the clouds playing shadow tag on the green slopes. At about 11 AM, we stop for a slice of pie that turns out to be supplemented by eggs or a chiliburger, depending on who's ordering. We reach our designated camp spot and it is much smaller than I had remembered it. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) Luckily we are a small group and each of us is afforded a million dollar view for no cost. Out our windows we have magnificent views of a glacier and the river it runs into. Perched on a cliff, we look down the valley where moose were seen last time and only Pat sees one this year. Bert takes the group birding - they find Arctic Warblers camera.GIF (1399 bytes) - Nancy and I stay back to read and Jim goes fishing, of course, and brings back his limit again of great sized grayling. For dinner we have a hot dog cookout over a campfire with fantastic views of the mountains. I never can drink in enough of this landscape. Soon Jim and I leave for his fishing hole. He takes me about seven miles back, down a cliff, through brush over my head and next to a pond where I have to stand in ankle-deep water. Here is where he caught his fish earlier. While looking out for bears and listening to the millions of mosquitoes buzzing around my net-protected head, I cast and cast and cast and cast and cast and cast. Using the same lure, casting the same distance and reeling in at the same speed as Jim, I never get even a bite. He in turn catches his limit. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) This is unfair!

Day 32 - June 15, 2002 - Denali Highway, AK (Milepost 2240)

(Bert) "I've stepped on it! I've stepped on it!" cries Pat. I spin around just in time to see a dull-colored sparrow flee from Pat and dart to the hedge of Dwarf Birches. Before I can adjust my binoculars to the hedge the bird again takes flight over our heads and continues far to the horizon. Pat has not moved an inch, so I gingerly return twenty feet to the spot I had crossed just before Pat reached the same area. There, just below the tussock where Pat had placed her boot to tie her shoelaces is a tiny nest. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) Pat had not actually stepped on the nest, but was close enough to force the sparrow from incubation. Cradled in a cup-sized cave of moist tundra earth, overhung by mosses, the petite nest is all but invisible. Inside, in the dark, are 4-5 bluish-white eggs with brown blotches, revealed by a few photos taken quickly before we leave the vicinity. At a safe distance away we sit in the tundra and wait for the bird to return. Our hopes are that the unidentified sparrow is a female Smith's Longspur. I visited this same site in 1998 and photographed a male Smith's Longspur. The circular plane of tundra, surrounded by higher vegetation is a known breeding ground for longspurs, although reports from other birders along the highway this season indicate that longspurs have not been seen thus far. As we sit on the tundra, hundreds of mosquitoes encircle us, but seem mostly intent on annoying us with their buzzing warning signal and blocking our view, rather than injecting us. While waiting, I inspect the plant life of the tundra surrounding me. An intricately woven mosaic of Labrador Tea, Bog Rosemary, Dwarf Blueberry, Alaska Cotton and several types of mosses interweave in an uneven terrain of foot-high soft spongy clumps and wet holes. Over the jumbled topography, hiking to this spot took nearly a half hour, even though our parked car is easily in sight just on the other side of a small kettle lake. A 15-min. wait is insufficient and we give up our vigil. We speculate about the bird's identity and when we return to camp, Virginia gets out a copy of Stokes' book and reads about nests. Of the possibilities known to be in the area, we can eliminate White-crowned, American Tree and Fox sparrows. That leaves us with Savannah Sparrow and Smith's Longspur as distinct possibilities. Fortunately, tomorrow brings another opportunity to solve the puzzle.

Day 33 - June 16, 2002 - Denali Highway, AK (Milepost 2240)

(Bert) Yesterday, we spotted a Red-throated Loon sitting on her nest. My digiscope photographs (digital camera through spotting scope) were blurred, probably because the distance to the nest was too far and the lighting insufficient. So this afternoon, Wally, Virginia and I decide to hike around the pond and try to get closer to the nest. Hiking through the tundra and willow patches is slow going. About a quarter of the way to the loon, we have a repeat performance of yesterday. This time it is Virginia that scares up a sparrow. But unlike yesterday, on this occasion I get a clear view of the escaping bird and identify a Savannah Sparrow. We step gingerly around the area where Virginia stands frozen, inspecting every plant and every hole and every thick clump of moss. Finally, after five minutes of searching I push aside a few stiff twigs near Virginia's foot and reveal a hidden nest with three eggs and two featherless chicks. While Virginia parts the overhanging twigs, I take two quick photographs. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) We again leave the area and wait to see what happens. In just a few minutes, a Savannah Sparrow returns to the area, first to a cluster of Dwarf Birches, then approaching closer. A second Savannah, probably her mate, joins her. While the one sparrow disappears into the tundra, the second remains perched on the short bushes - a vigilant guard against further intruders. We continue our hike to the Red-throated Loon sitting on her nest and after I take a few photographs, we return to camp. Dave has a copy of Harrison's book on nests and eggs and I use it to compare the habitat, nest descriptions and egg coloration with the photographs I've taken today and yesterday. Today's nest clearly fits the description for Savannah Sparrow. It's dry grass lining and short twig support, nestled in a cavity probably created by the birds is a close match between photo and text. The pale bluish eggs are splattered with irregular brown blotches, most prominently on the thicker end. The chicks must be barely a day old. Their bulging unopened eyes and outsized bills seem grotesquely out of proportion to their frail pink hairless bodies. When I compare with the photographs of the would-be Smith's Longspur's nest and eggs, I can see no difference. I guess that solves the puzzle. We didn't get the much sought after sighting we had hoped, but then again, the thrill of finding two Savannah Sparrow nests is pretty exciting in itself.

Day 36 - June 19, 2002 - Fairbanks, AK (Milepost 2433; today 89)

(Shari) It had to happen. We just could not enjoy 35 straight days of sunny beautiful weather. As we drive the short distance to Fairbanks, we encounter drizzle and cold. On previous travel days we have had wonderful scenery of mountains and valleys and flowers as far as the eye could see, each turn in the road begging for a picture. Today only small hills are visible through the mist. But if it has to rain these are the four days it will not really interfere with our activities. We do not plan to look at scenery until Sunday. About an hour after arriving at camp we drive to the Fairbanks Market. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) Bert tells me that I had been here before, in 1996, but even after seeing it I cannot remember the place. It is small and a disappointment when compared to the market in Anchorage. We eat a bit of lunch and buy some vegetables before moving on to Alaskaland. This too is a bit disappointing. I remembered it having many more shops to browse. However I think our men think there are too many shops as it is. Old buildings from the early days of Fairbanks have been moved here and now line a "typical" street of historical time. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) Signs on the one-room low ceiling log buildings tell us the date and ownership of the buildings. Some of them have been turned into shops selling tourist stuff and others are empty. The grounds also have President Harding's railroad car, a river paddle wheel boat in dry dock and a small museum. The best thing here is the salmon bake, however because we have a fish and chips dinner planned for tonight we pass on it. Using our coupon to obtain a free birch planter, our next stop takes us to a wooden bowl company. Here they take logs and, as we watch, turn them into bowls of all shapes and sizes. The very pricey bowls can be personalized with engravings or purchased off the shelf plain or decorated with animal sketches or paintings. I think our "free" planter turns out to be just the unused section of the log left from the making of the bowls and would have to get carted off anyway. The refrain "You get what you pay for" keeps playing in my head. At 5 PM we drive for our fish and chips at a restaurant with a scenic view of the Chena River. Again, good food, good scenery and good company make this day memorable.

Day 37 - June 20, 2002 - Fairbanks, AK (Milepost 2433)

(Shari) Today has been just a hoot. It starts when we "girls" leave the men at camp in order to shop in peace at Santa Claus House here at the North Pole. I even get to sit on Santa's knee camera.GIF (1399 bytes) and tell him what a good girl my granddaughter is. He promises to write her a card and mail it in two or three weeks. This evening we drive out to Ester and have dinner, family style, at the hotel (a delicious buffet of all-you-can-eat chicken, halibut, reindeer stew, salad, beans, potatoes, carrots, rice, rolls, and apple crisp). After dinner we stroll to the Malamute Saloon to watch a hilarious show where two women and two men entertain us royally in the old time miners' tavern. We sit on straight back wooden chairs around a small round table with our feet buried in the thick sawdust on the floor. Ask one of us how you can add, multiply, and divide the numbers 7 and 13 and always get 28. It is a great story. The show includes song, dance, a little of the history of the gold town Ester and the performance of poems by Robert Service. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) I use the word performance because Bob, the narrator, puts life into the recitation of the poems. I can almost feel the chill of Sam McGee when he requests his cremation. The hour is late when we arrive home, but the sun is still up. Tomorrow will be the last day we gain daylight, but I think we will never notice. We are long asleep before sunset and after sunrise.

Day 38 - June 21, 2002 - Fairbanks, AK (Milepost 2433)

(Bert) The road not traveled has the most appeal to us. There aren't many in Alaska that we have not traveled, but the Steese Highway is one of them. So, this morning - too early for Shari's comfort - we head northeast out of Fairbanks. From Fox the road is newly paved, at least temporarily the best pavement in Alaska. The low mountains roll gently around us, clothed thickly in dark green trees. Few people live along this highway and after the road turns to gravel, the number becomes miniscule. We stop a few times for Shari to cast into stocked ponds, but without a strike the mosquitoes get the best of her and we move on. At the first pond we watch a beaver; at the second I find White-winged Crossbills, new for the trip list. For the first eighty miles the scenery is mesmerizingly similar: an endless rolling sea of trees. But then the Black Spruce cover shortens and becomes sparser, eventually petering out completely in high country tundra. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) After a hundred miles we reach our goal: Eagle Summit. Shari's expectations, guided by what she reads in the Milepost, are to see lots of wildflowers in bloom. But taking one step out of the Pathfinder quickly chills her interest. A blast of Arctic wind tugs open the door and fills the car. We change plans and eat lunch first, in the car. Then while Shari reads her novel, I put on many extra layers of clothes and start hiking. Once on the uphill trail, the flowers are plentiful, but all in miniature. I photograph many of them, and later by blowing up the image on my computer I can see their intricate beauty. In the wild, the best way to see them is lying flat on the ground, the same way I photograph them: Pink cushions of Moss Campioncamera.GIF (1399 bytes), intricate petite flowers of Purple Oxytropecamera.GIF (1399 bytes), orchid like white and pink blossoms of Parry's Wallflower and the unusual inky blue-black flowers on Glaucous Gentian. (In all, I identify 20 species, but six flowers I can't identify from my photos even with the aid of the seven Alaskan wildflower books on my shelves in R-TENT). Returning to our car, I remove several layers of clothes for our trip back to Fairbanks. At the precipice, the wind blew so strongly I had to lean heavily into it to avoid falling. Now in the parking lot, tiny bits of hardened ice crystals fall like rain. Summer solstice is chilling at this high altitude only one degree shy of the Arctic Circle.

Day 40 - June 23, 2002 - Denali National Park, AK (Milepost 2552; today 119)

(Shari) She's lying down in the dry gravel streambed, but she looks unnatural. Caribou generally do not lie down like that. We wonder why she is doing that when a veterinarian standing next to us tells us she is about to give birth. We soon see the enormous rack on a male caribou not far away, but hidden in the bushes. I wish we did not have to go to the wine and cheese party back at camp at 4 PM because I would like to stay and watch the birth. We are told that probably a grizzly is not far away and after the birth will stalk the trio and try to get supper. Believe this or not, but not a half mile down the road, we see another female caribou in the same position, with her mate walking around the perimeter of the streambed. I can only surmise that they choose to give birth in the open so that the male can see predators easier. What a sight! It is a beautiful day for a birth, nice and warm and sunny. Unfortunately Mt. McKinley is hidden in cloud cover even though the surrounding area is in full sun. Hopefully the peak will come out on our bus trip, scheduled for the day after tomorrow. We get back to the campground a bit late for their hosted wine and cheese party. We talk to the hostess of the camp and find that she teaches in Nome and her friend went to Belize in 1996. Again, it is a small world. We chat awhile about both places laughing about the pet reindeer in Nome and the hot sticky weather in Belize. I would like to drive back to see the conclusion of the soap opera in nature that we saw this afternoon, but I cannot convince Bert. He can be a party pooper sometimes.

Day 41 - June 24, 2002 - Denali National Park, AK

(Bert) While hiking and birding in North America I've seen well over a hundred species of mammals in my life, but there is one that I thought I'd never see in the wild. Today is the day I see one of North America's rarest. In fact, today I see just about as many mammal species as bird species. It starts with a moose browsing in the willows near the railroad tracks at the entrance to Denali. Then a few miles further, four caribou approach our vehicle and cross the road behind us, offering full frame photos. Oddly, one of them wears hoofs that look like white dancing shoes. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) Wally parks his truck at Savage River and with Virginia we hike the loop trail and then continue on the narrow foot path along the river, searching for a easier route up Mt. Margaret. A sharp whistle draws our attention to a Hoary Marmot a hundred yards above us. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) We decide to take that route and begin our climb. More marmots whistle from the heights and, in fact, we find seven of them this morning. We also see Arctic Ground Squirrel camera.GIF (1399 bytes) and a Snowshoe Hare by the time we stop climbing. The last vertical climb is on all fours as we grab onto rocky outcrops to balance on the steep slope. The rewarding view of the Savage River valley is worth the climb. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) I can see how the V-shaped valley, carved by the river, transforms to a wider U-shaped valley hollowed out by a glacier. Heading back down the mountain is trickier than coming up, but not as tiring. Back at the river we talk to another hiker who says he found Dall Sheep further downstream. So we continue another half mile along a crude footpath following the river. We stop for lunch at a perch about 75 ft. above the river and see a Collared Pica eating lunch as well. Larger than the pica of the Lower 48, this mammal reminds me of a Chinchilla Rabbit, a gray ball of fur. While sitting on a rock and staring at the river I notice a large mammal treading its way through the grass on the other side of the river, further downstream from us. Wally notices it too and when I exclaim, "Wolverine," he excitedly concurs. The wolverine reaches the river and tests the water. Not too it's liking, it prances downriver and surveys the turbulent water from a large rock vantage point. Then it heads upriver searching for a good crossing point. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) None seem better than another, so finally the wolverine plunges into the narrow river and floats downstream in the whitewater. It swims slowly to the other side, floating away ten times faster than its lateral movement. Reaching the opposite shore, it climbs out, shakes off the water and disappears in the underbrush. Wow, what a sighting! I've never seen Wally so excited. None of us have ever seen a wolverine in the wild. We can't get over our great fortune. Later I quiz some of the park rangers and find out that even those that have been at Denali for 10 years have not seen a wolverine. In fact, a wolverine is at most seen once per year by a visiting tourist. Aren't we the lucky ones!

Day 42 - June 25, 2002 - Denali National Park, AK

(Shari) Better than in 1996, but it is still a school bus ride with straight back double seats and windows that separate in half horizontally right at eye level. We are on the park bus to Eielson Visitor Center, 66 miles down the bumpy gravel park road. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) With a few short stops for animal sightings and two rest stops, it takes us four hours. Tom, our driver, is excellent and talks the whole time, giving us a history of the park and tales of mammal encounters he's had on the road. Unfortunately today is a slow day for animals and we see very few. Of course, we are not the typical tourists here who fly in from Anchorage, take the train up here and then board the bus. We have already seen these animals in prettier settings and from a closer vantage point. So for us, this bus trip is an exercise in patience and endurance. It is something everyone has to do, because everyone back home will ask about it. To be fair, we do see a fox, two grizzlies, a moose and numerous caribou, one only 50-75 ft. from where we walk. We chose the Eielson trip because it gives us a good sample of the vastness and wildness of this gem of a park. I just wish we could take our own vehicles on the road. But the traffic would be horrendous. We counted over 50 buses on the road today with each holding its full capacity of 50 people. In 1996 and 1998 we saw fewer buses, less people and more wildlife. I wonder if there is a correlation here.

(Bert) Having been frustrated during previous visits into Denali National Park and encouraged by Wally's enthusiasm for hiking, I join Wally today for a ranger-led Discovery (nicknamed "Disco") hike. To get there we take the same type of school bus - painted green - Shari and the others take for their tour. The long ride takes us most of the way to Eielson, seeing the same scenery and wildlife as others see, including three grizzlies and a couple dozen each of caribou and Dall Sheep. From the road we hike upward onto the mountain pass, a steeply sloped alpine carpeted in flowers. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) Our guide today is Jessica, a recent college graduate with a keen knowledge of the Denali flora. Her spirited voice carries in the open air, an infectious cheerfulness emanating. I find it difficult to take more than a few steps before discovering another variety of wildflower. Several of us hikers are interested in photography and point out interesting specimens to each other. I photograph a couple dozen species, including 15 that I have not seen earlier in this trip. My favorites are the oddly shaped purple Monkshoods, the jazzy Arctic Shooting Stars and the Alaska state flower, Arctic Forget-me-nots. After climbing 1100 ft. above the road we break for lunch, sitting on rocky outcrops pushing above the damp floral bed. I notice a couple of birds flying much further up the mountain and decide to finish eating quickly and continue hiking. Another 300 feet higher the alpine flowers end and the barren rock mountain is uncovered. Snow, several feet deep, fills a crevice up the mountain. And, there, I find the birds I saw from below. Gray-crowned Rosy-finches are often listed as common in national parks with high mountains, but most birders never see them. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) I've always found that they spend their summers so high up the mountain, usually near snow, that only hearty hikers can reach them. These two are quite tame and I get many close up photos of the pretty gray and red birds. The hike downhill is much harder than up. In addition, a light rain becomes heavier and we pile on raincoats. Wet on the outside, but dry inside, we reach the road and soon board a bus headed back to the park entrance, tired but happy to spend an enjoyable day in one of America's best national parks.

Day 43 - June 26, 2002 - Denali National Park, AK

(Shari) Today is a day of terrific twos. The first set of twos we see are two moose. We are taking a day trip to Talkeetna and the moose want to cross the highway in front of us. The first one makes it quit easily but about 10 minutes later, further down the highway, another one wants to do the same thing but is hesitant. Meanwhile Bert and I are craning our necks to the side to see if we can find Mt. McKinley peak out of its cloud cover. When Bert is alerted to the moose he has to step on our brakes quite hard. The poor moose gets so confused that he runs parallel to the road, looking for a spot to jump into safety, almost slips and falls before disappearing into the brush. What a fantastic treat! Traveling on, Nancy says she thinks she sees the mountain. We stop at a lookout and sure enough there it is, towering over the mountain range below it. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) A lady comes out of her pickup camper and tells us, "Oh no, that is not Denali. The milepost says it is way south of here." Not to be put off, Nancy finds a park attendant who tells her, "Yes, it certainly could be the mountain." But she tells her a better place to view it is down the road. We stop at another viewpoint with informative kiosks and yes indeed we did see the twin peaks of Mt. McKinley. How exciting! Our third delight of "twos" is the two pair of trumpeter swan babies (signets) that we see paddling next to their two parents. Of course, Bert stops right away to take pictures of them and soon the highway has a bit of a traffic jam on the shoulder. Worth it nonetheless! Our final pleasure occurs when I overhear the clerk at a gift shop in Talkeetna asking a young man about his climb on the mountain. Brazen as I am, I exclaim, "Did you really just finish climbing Mt. McKinley?" He assured me he had and Nancy, I and another lady about our age, pepper him with questions. He seems very pleased to be a hero for us and I can just see the joy he still feels from accomplishing this feat. He lets me take a picture of him and his climbing buddy. Four young men did the climb that took 20 days. One man had to stop at the 17,000-ft. level because of altitude sickness. But the other three made it. Russ, (his name), told me he has climbed other mountains; Kilamajaro and Ranier are the two I remember.

Day 44 - June 27, 2002 - Denali National Park, AK

(Shari) Wally wonders what gives and Pat wants to know if I am sick. It is such a beautiful day that I just need to get out and walk with the birders. We choose to walk a beautiful 1.8-mi. loop along the Savage River. We leave at 8 AM and do not return until 12:30. It is hard to believe such a short walk could take so long but there is so much to see and as Wally reminds me, "The group is easily entertained." Our first stop is at mile 9, the first viewpoint to see Mt. McKinley on the park road. The mountain is still playing hide and seek with us but we do see the bottom of it today. If I take all our pictures of the mountain, put them together, and eliminate the clouds, I may have a picture of the whole thing. On our walk we see a gull attack a fisherman and then notice three cute little newborn gulls scurrying on the gravel. We yell to the fisherman to get away from the birds and he moves upstream. The little babies are so scared that they head for the river and the current rushes them downstream. We keep hollering for them to get to the bank but I do not think we speak "gullize". The mommy is a twittering away and finally the birds "get it" and land back on shore. Pat sees her first marmot ever and is fascinated by its call and its chubby body. One of them gets quite close to Bert and Virginia and I wonder if they are going to get bit. On our way home, we see Jim peacefully fishing a river in the park. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) We remark that even if he does not catch any fish, he sure has a wonderful setting to do his fishing. If I had to bet, I would think he will not catch anything here, but low and behold he knocks on our door and gives us 10 nice grayling for supper tonight. After Bert cleans them, I divide them into two meals. That is a treat for us for sure. Pat hosts a Happy Hour for us and while munching on nachos, cheese and crackers we have our travel meeting and get a pelagic bird lesson. Tomorrow we head for the shore, Sunday we have a boat trip and Bert wants us to know how to recognize the different birds we should see there.

Day 45 - June 28, 2002 - Anchorage, AK (Milepost 2798; today 246)

(Shari) "Boy oh boy, can you pick 'em," exclaims Wally as Mt. McKinley looms in all its naked glory, towering over the highway in front of us. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) Wow! I have never seen it like this. There is not a cloud in the sky and we can see all the bumps and crinkles of the mountain, just overwhelming anything in its vicinity. Wow! As we travel south towards Anchorage, we are treated to various views of the mountain unhindered by cloud cover. Wow again. Days like today make you just want to live forever and thank God for his beautiful universe. Wow again and again. It takes us 7 hours to travel 246 miles because we just have to stop to enjoy the views. The mountain can only be viewed 20% of the time and many fewer times than that in its entirety. We have a very special day for sure. Upon arriving at the RV Park we are greeted by a sky writer. He too must be enjoying the day. He writes "Hello Blue, :)." camera.GIF (1399 bytes) It just makes me smile all over my body. At the gas station a mustached man in a white van asks if I know of any young man willing to work. I answer the first thing that pops into my mind, "At my age I do not know any young men." This tickles his funny bone and he laughs and laughs while beginning the story of his life. He is 52 and wants to retire like other men he knows. Alaska passed a law called an 80 rule for truck drivers. If the number of years of service plus your age equals 80, you can retire with full benefits. He knows people at 50 years of age that are pulling in $3000-$4000 per month. That deserves a "Wow!" too. I am writing this outside R-TENT at our picnic table. It is close to dinnertime but I do not want to go inside. Did I tell you that the day is just perfect?

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