Archive for 2018

It’s July Already?

This is our second year campground hosting at Cooper Creek campground on the Kenai Peninsula.  I have been calling us ‘sophmores’ or ‘wise fools’.  Freshman year we learned the ropes of running our ‘own’ campground, sophmore year, we are learning there are always new things to learn and see with regard to campers and their shenanigans.  

Wild Roses

Last year our biggest problem was guests leaving salmon everywhere, filleting salmon on the old wooden picnic tables, leaving their coolers sitting out full of salmon or just plain salmon problems.  It also meant that people were catching a lot of fish and we were blessed by so many campers with salmon that I rarely ate anything else.  Wild-caught fresh salmon (20 minutes or so old) is to die for.  Several people this year have also blessed us with salmon and even fresh halibut.   

Why is salmon such a problem?  We are in BEAR country.  Though what makes you stronger may not kill you, a BEAR will kill you.  Just last weekend I had a guest who had been attacked by a grizzly three years ago.  She had been hiking along the Skilak Lake lower trail (we did this last year) and the grass was tall, the river high.  Though she and her two dogs wore bear bells, the sound of the river drowned them out.  They surprised a grizzly sleeping in the grass.  She is an Alaskan and was prepared, but fear took over.  She stepped backwards, tripped and fell.  The bear picked her up by the leg and threw her on the ground several times; she doesn’t remember too much as she passed out.  When she woke up, she was by the river and just rolled into the frigid Kenai river which saved her from any more blood loss.  One of her dogs was missing, the other one she attached his leash to her backpack and he pulled her 1 1/2 miles to the trailhead where she was able to get help.  Several days later her other dog was found seemingly fine until she got sick and they found she had internal injuries, probably from fighting the bear to save the woman’s life. 

Apart from reminding guests about bears, this year it seems our biggest problem is tree cutting.  Imagine being in a forest service campground and going into a campsite to greet guests and there’s a 15-foot tree lying either near or in the fire pit!  Really?  First, GREEN wood doesn’t burn and secondly, it is illegal in a US Forest to cut anything GREEN.  I had to tell that to a BLM employee who thought he could do whatever he wanted in our campground including stripping branches to make marshmallow sticks – also illegal.  He challenged me to show him the law which was hanging on the very board where he bought his permit to camp.  So, now I have to remind EVERY camper not to cut trees or strip green branches to make marshmallow sticks.  After talking with some forest service law enforcement, our best friends and backups, I learned an interesting ‘fact’.  The US Forest Service is committed to protecting the forests while the Bureau of Land Management is committed to abusing the forests.  Now I know and you do too.

Happy Birthday Ducks!

Lil Campground Host with is bike

July arrived hot, hot, hot.  When I say hot, it was about 80 degrees but feels like a humid 90. For the peninsula, this is HOT.  Trust me, it’s HOT!  Last year we never reached 70 and that felt HOT! Those few days last year were a blessing in the midst of a very rainy summer.  This year we have had mostly sunny days until now.  Hence why I can take some time to update our adventure.  It is supposed to rain the next 10 days and has been raining for the last 4.  July also brought my grandson’s first birthday which is why we host in Alaska.  He lives here with his mommy (our daughter) and his daddy (our son-in-law) in a log house with a dog named Max and now has a sandbox!  He loves to come to our campground and either rides or pushes the wagon I use to tidy up sites.  He loves being in our trailer as I made a zone for him with toys and books.  He loves to eat rocks, wave to guests, and meet other children.    

July is also exhaustion month.  We arrive May 3, but we begin working May 15.  Until Memorial Day weekend, we have few campers and prepare for our first big weekend.  Again, like last year with the rain, it was slow.  During the first few weeks, we hike and spend time with family.  Then, June 11 arrives.  Fishing season opens on the Russian River which is about 2 miles down from us on the Kenai River.  We are considered ‘overflow’ from the Russian River Campground which has a stay limit of three days.   From July 11 until about August 1, we are non-stop and I mean non-stop between fish runs and dip netting for natives.   From the moment our eyes open in the morning until we drop about 11 p.m. at night, we are working hard.  Remember, it stays light in Alaska until 1 p.m. at the solstice! We have to put “Office Hours” on our trailer or people would knock on our door 24-7.  

Comment Card

We work for Alaska Recreational Management running our own campground with a lot of freedom.  We dry camp all summer hauling water, hauling our waste, and running a generator while managing and hosting about 100 campers per night (a smaller campground).  I have really learned that hosting and managing are two different positions, both of which we perform.  Hosting is easy.  “Hi, how are you, where are you from, what are your plans while you are here?”  Managing is more complicated.  “You need two nights and there’s only one?  You need a bigger site and I’m booked solid?  Let’s see if we can trade you with this site for another site?  Your friends are coming in, do I have anything for them too?  Did you pay for last night? Where is your permit as it should be on your campsite post?  Why are you in this site when it has a reserved sign?”  And, we have paper work.  Everyday I have to submit a daily sheet that lists the permit numbers of every filled or reserved site, the license plate number, where the guests are from, number of days paid, number of days stayed, the amount paid.  My wonderful oldest son helped me this year with a spreadsheet as last year I had to hand input repetitive days on every sheet.  And, my other younger son bought me an iPad so I can welcome and check-in guests on the spreadsheet as I meet and greet them.

Kenai River*

The South side of the campground has 21 reservable sites.  This is the part of the campground I host and manage.  The North Side is by the Kenai River and has 7 walk-in non-reservable sites.  My husband manages that side as they are our ‘problem children’ most of the time.  This past weekend one of those campers decided they didn’t want to pay for wood so they ravaged all of our other sites ‘stealing’ wood left behind for those campers who would eventually have that spot!  For those of you who camp and see a checkout time, be kind to your hosts and checkout before or at least by that time.  What many people don’t realize is that we only have a few hours everyday when we can actually leave the campground and enjoy Alaska or just do laundry and grocery shop.   Some days I never see the river and it’s only 100 yards away!  Together, we have created a motto for our work: Done by 1, have some fun; Back by 5, keep campers alive!  

*The Kenai River is ALWAYS that color of turquoise.  When the glaciers melt they are full of silt.  As the water enters the Kenai Lake, the silt falls to the bottom leaving only the minerals suspended in the water.  It is the most beautiful river I have ever seen.

Along with managing and hosting, we are responsible for cleaning toilets, tidying up campsites by cleaning out the fire pit that is used for everything from cigarette butts to broken glass beer bottles, raking the site when needed,  and unfortunately, cleaning up dog poop whose owners neglect that part of their responsibility.  We check bear boxes for items campers left behind; some campers leave things with us like coolers, stoves, or food they can’t take with them on an airplane.  We also weed whack, hang signs reminding people of the rules, and keep our eyes open for squatters who steal campsites or refuse to pay.  

Joe and Beryl, Australia

 

 

 

One of the greatest rewards to this ‘job’ is the people we meet.  Without them (and family) this would truly be a thankless job.  Recently, we had guests from Australia who are traveling the world. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had a little problem with some guests’ payment (they paid too much) and when I went to talk with them, they were from Switzerland and gave me a Swiss chocolate bar. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a Baptist church group of men who fish together and are here nearly every weekend so we have been able to share our Messianic faith walk with each of them after they see our Shabbat Shalom sign. 

 

 

 

 

 

Nate and Crystal

 

 

 

We had a wedding ceremony by the Kenai and a reception in Site 10 celebrating Nate and Crystal. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marcia and Me on the Kenai

 

 

 

I had an Inner Court dancing friend visit from Colorado. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol, Sam, Sarah, and Lisa

 

 

 

We have had Israelis along with many Europeans and even some crazy women who decided to jet ski out of Whittier to see the glaciers!  Their next stop was a fly-out to a glacier for dog sledding!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mike and Kim

 

 

At the moment,  we have guests in the campground from York, PA where most of my mom’s family still lives.  Hi Keith! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sandy, Gene, Carrie and Brian

 

 

Just now I received a text message from some guests who went to a creperie in Seward that we recommended!  We enjoyed these fabulous four and spent our Erev Shabbat with them.  Two of them will be back in the ‘hood’ next week.

 

 

 

 

 

Such is the life of a campground host in July.  Right now we’re slower because we’re between fish runs.  It has also been raining.  I’ve been reading a lot of books as I made a Cooper Creek Library book bin: Take One, Leave One.  Today we’ll be checking out a few of the other campgrounds in the area so we can give better information to our campers who are on vacation.

I started this blog post today with the intention of saying ‘thank you’ to all of the campers who stayed with us this past weekend.  Our dumpster was full to the top with trash and there was no pick up until yesterday.  We asked each camper/campsite to either haul out their trash or take it to the other side and put it in that dumpster.  Saturday night my husband I discussed where and how much trash we would find because people would be lazy, stupid or just not care about what we asked.  We expected bear boxes to be full, the bags in the toilets to be full or just bags set by the dumpster welcoming every bear on the peninsula.  We found NOTHING!  Absolutely NOTHING!  Every camper this past weekend took their trash with them out of the campground.  I was astounded and my faith in humanity was somewhat restored by these people who were here from all over the world.  Thank you!

Host Site View Day 57

As for today, this is what I see today from our host site.  I have been taking one of these everyday from the same spot and will create a slide show of how Cooper Mountain looked as I began each days chores.  Until August …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©2018 Tentstake Ministries

Fishing, Floating and Fun

In the area of Cooper Landing are three campgrounds managed by Alaska Recreational Management.  Russian River is about 3 miles south and butts the Russian River where the infamous ‘combat fishing’ takes place at the confluence between the Kenai River and the Russian.  This is where the first-run of Red, Coho and Sockey Salmon begins on and around June 11.   For those ‘in the know,’ this time of fishing is anything but ‘relaxing’ and the fish are plentiful.  Generally there’s a three-fish limit per 24-hour period, but last year that was raised to six.  The second run of fish comes in mid-July and goes further up the Kenai.  There is always catch and release trout fishing and Dolly Varden (a type of trout).  The season actually begins further down river with King Salmon.  There is also the world-famous Halibut fishing 3 hours south of Cooper Landing at Homer.

The second campground is at the north end of Cooper Landing known as Quartz Creek.  This campground sits on the Kenai Lake and about 10 of the 45 sites open late April, early May depending on snow.  This is where we initially ‘land’ when we arrive at Cooper Landing.  ARM allows us to use electric and water from the host site which is extremely nice especially in colder weather when we are able to run our fireplace and keep the trailer a toasty 68 degrees.  Quartz Creek is where we wanted to host because of the amenities, but we have learned it has a multitude of duties that we don’t have where we host.  They have a public boat launch onto the lake along with public rest rooms, they have a pavilion to maintain, they collect trash from the bins to put into the dumpster, they have 45 sites (15 more than we do) and they are responsible for maintaining the dump station.  Boondocking looks good from that vantage point.  For those who believe campground hosting is ‘glamorous,’ I’ve come to tell you there are parts that are not!

We stayed at Quartz Creek until we got permission to enter ours, Cooper Creek.  This campground is more primitive than Quartz and is located south of Cooper Landing.  ‘Our’ campground as 29 sites, one is ours, on two sides of the Sterling Highway.  This highway is the major route to Soldotna (about 1 hour away) where we will be doing our shopping and to Homer (about 3 hours away).  We were quite happy to see that all the work we had done last fall when closing the campground down remained ‘perfect’ on the south or mountain side where we stay.  The north or river side also opens early if there is no snow and we definitely have some clean up to do.  It seems some trees were cut down by the forest service and they didn’t remove the debris; it also appears some beavers had fun this winter removing numerous trees, leaving not only the telltale signs of the stumps, but also the trees!  Don’t beavers use the trees for their lodges?  Or, do they just cut them down to sharpen their teeth?

On the mountain side, our ‘home’ side runs Cooper Creek.  Trout and Dolly Varden may be fished there, but because of some manmade issues, the fish left the creek.  The short story is many years ago the salmon returned to Cooper Creek to spawn.  A dam was built up top by Cooper Lake to divert water for a power plant.  This changed the temperature of the creek by four degrees, only four, but it was enough that the salmon couldn’t find their way.  A diversion pipe was put on Cooper Lake to siphon the top warmer water off back into the creek in order to raise the temperature.  Fish and Game now study the effects and are seeing that there is some restoration happening.

On the river side is the Kenai River and its aquamarine luster.  We have 7 non-reservable sites on the river that all have access to the river and fishing.  This is where we see most of the wildlife from eagles to moose and we’ve heard about bear sightings; thus far we haven’t been blessed with that wildlife!  Alaska River Adventures, our son-in-law’s fishing company offers not only guided fly-fishing trips down this river, but also morning, afternoon, and evening scenic float trips when wildlife can be seen along the banks.

As I mentioned, our campground, Cooper Creek, is primitive.  We have no electricity or running water though there is a well pump.  We have two pit toilets, one on the river side an the other on our mountain side.  We ‘boondock’ all summer or ‘dry camp’.  This means we haul our water from a spring or other source, use both a gas and solar generator to recharge our batteries, and haul our waste in a wagon-like hauler to the manhole of the pit toilet.  Fun? Not really, but it makes the job possible and all of the processes become routine until it becomes fun!  We know how to conserve water both in washing dishes and showering, we use the pit toilets so the black-water job isn’t often (about every 2 weeks) and we have puck battery lights everywhere in the trailer so we don’t live in the dark even with nearly 20 hours of light.  We have a propane stove, hot water heater and furnace though we use our Mr. Heater more often than not.  We spent Mother’s Day morning dumping our black water at Quartz, moving on down the road a bit, and setting up our little ‘home’ for the next four months.  Tomorrow we begin our second year of campground hosting on the Kenai Peninsula.

The gate is still closed and we are not open to the public so I’m saying that we live in a gated community where we’re the only ones living, for now anyway.  By Memorial Day weekend we will have reservations that don’t stop until Labor Day.  From June 11 to mid-August, we are booked and busy 24/7.  We will meet people from all over the world as well as nearby communities; people who love to ‘get away’ from Anchorage and fish.  We will eat pizza at Sacketts right next to the campground, enjoy scoops of ice cream at Wildmans, hike some difficult and easy trails, pick blueberries, bake Alaska sourdough bread, watch the salmon swim upstream, remind people of bears and best of all, spend the next four months with our every-growing grandson – the real reason to campground host in Alaska!

©2018 Tentstake Ministries

 

 

 

Cooper Landing

Sunrise 5:40 a.m.; Sunset 10:11 p.m.

Thompson Pass

From Valdez, we headed back north on the frost-heaved destructive road to Glennallen. I didn’t sleep much because I ‘worried’ about the weather over Thompson Pass.  I am not fond of whiteouts normally, but with a 42-foot trailer that is my home on wheels, I really am not fond of the idea of losing it on ice or snow.  All night it was as if the Lord spoke to me saying, “Trust me!”  I do trust Him; I just don’t trust ME ‘hearing’ Him clearly!  We woke to clear skies and great hopes for a safe passage.  511alaska.com said the pass was good and clear and so we headed out of Valdez.  The L-shaped poles on either side of the road mark the edges for snow plows – yes, the snow gets that high.  Near the top of the pass, we saw hundreds and hundreds of ptarmigan.

Winter Ptarmigan

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos, but they are interesting birds.  In the winter they have white plumage, in the summer camo.  I had no idea they were such small birds and quick fliers.  What’s even cooler is our daughter’s address is Ptarmigan and now I’ve seen winter ones.

From Glennallen, we took the Glen Highway.  We had clear skies with some low clouds which made for some beautiful photos of the glaciers.  We have now traveled this highway in late summer with fireweed in bloom, in fall with the autumn colors and now spring/winter with frigid temperatures and snow. 

Nelchina Glacier

 

When we finally arrived in Anchorage, it was time for a quick stop for lunch and … Cabela’s.  We didn’t really ‘need’ anything, but I’m looking for a rain parka (long) to replace the 30-year-old one that fell apart after last summer.  Soon, we were on the Seward Highway and heading around the Turnagain Arm, past Girdwood, the Animal Conservation site, and onto the Kenai Peninsula. Though this drive takes about two hours, it is a beautiful trip.  We met a woman at Toad River who commuted 45 minutes (1 ½ hours) for 29 years from Girdwood to Anchorage.  She said in spite of the weather, it was the most beautiful commute ever.  As always, it seems the wind blows and the rain falls, but then over Turnagain Pass, we enountered snow … again.  We passed all of the campgrounds that are managed by Alaska Resource Management and noted our memories of the hosts from last year.  

Turnagain Pass

And now … we made it to Cooper Landing.   For a short time we will be staying at Quartz Creek NFS campground until our campground is opened.  The break-up of the lake has already happened, but the winter melt hasn’t even begun to start and the lake is rather low.  A morning hike to and around the lake and then by Quartz Creek was brisk and refreshing on the Shabbat morning. 

Quartz Creek at Kenai Lake

 

 

 

Kenai Lake

 

Storytime!

Before we start our campground gig on May 15, we have some time to enjoy the REAL reason we campground host in Alaska: our daughter, son-in-law and grandson!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©2018 Tentstake Ministries

 

Valdez

Sunrise 5:31 a.m.; Sunset 9:51 p.m.

Spring/Winter

Being only hours from my daughter’s house, we had a huge decision to make – Do we take a side trip to Valdez?  When we left Tok it was a clear morning with sunshine.  As we progressed along the Tok Cutoff, not only were the frost heaves the worst we had encountered on the Alaska Highway, but the weather deteriorated into rain, frozen mixed and snow.  Once we were over the pass, everything cleared up.  Though it  generally takes two hours to Glennallen, it took us three.

In Glennallen, we asked about the Richardson Highway to Valdez.  We had been told the weather was ‘fair’ but passable so we decided to make an adventure of the trip.  My husband had been to Valdez many years ago, but never to spend some time sight-seeing.  As we traveled the highway, he showed me where he had taken other side trips and hikes and I began to get more of a picture of where  he had been when he lived in Anchorage.

Thompson Pass

As we approached the Thompson Pass, the rain started and then turned to a freezing mix.  Thompson Pass is known for its irregular weather and sudden changes from dry to wet.  Last December the pass received 70 inches of snow in 24 hours.  This is not a pass to mess with normally, but we are towing a 14,000 pound trailer!  The closer to the top of the pass, the worse the conditions became until we could only see about 25 feet in front of us and yes, it was whiteout conditions.  The bars on the sides of theroad are used for snowplows to know where the sides of the road are.  Yes, the snow gets that deep!

When I called a campground in Valdez to ask about the weather on the pass, I was told that if it was bad to remember that once over the pass, it’s only 20 miles to the town.  We took the curves slowly and eventually left the wintery conditions.  The rain continued in the canyon.

Bridal Veil Falls

We passed the two famous waterfalls: Bridal Veil and Horsetail and they were mostly frozen.  My husband commented, “This is wrong, really wrong to be in winter again!”

We found our campground, Bayview RV Park, that sits on the edge of the water and an animal protected zone.  We were directed to our ‘parking spot’ in the parking lot campground and began to set up in a downpour.  My husband hooked up the electric and I turned on our ‘fireplace’.  The temps outside were in the 30s and the trailer was about 50.  Soon after I smelled something electrical burning.  The ‘fireplace’ started acting weird and I couldn’t turn it off.  I called my husband and he pulled the fuse.  The smell filled the trailer and he went for the owner of the park.  Long story short, when some work had been done a few days ago on the electric in the park, a ground wire had disconnected.  He asked us to move to another site which we did – after we put everything away and re-hitched the rig.  After we were re-set, the furnace didn’t work.  We had a problem last year with a board, but this time we knew it had something to do with the electrical issue.

My Cozy Place

To put it simply, the ‘fireplace’ puts out warmth, but with a nighttime low of 20, we were going to freeze without the furnace coming on and we only set it to 50 degrees!  It is necessary to keep the water and other pipes of the trailer from freezing.  Our bed is cozy, but as my brother says, “We are heating a tin can!”  My husband did some serious trouble-shooting – the manuals only tell you how to install the furnace, not troubleshoot.  Eventually, he saw this green button called the ‘wizard mode’ and he reset it.  YAY!  We had a furnace, but the electrical smell continued to permeate everything throughout the night.  Wizard mode … what the heck is that?!

 

In the morning, we were greeted by fog.  By this time we weren’t so sure we should have come to Valdez, but when the fog burnt off, well, the rugged majestic mountains around Valdez envelope this little town giving it spectacular views from everywhere all the time. We spent the afternoon by the ferry landing, driving around the boat docks, and visiting the usual ‘touron’ sites. 

 

The 1964 Earthquake

The huge earthquake that nearly leveled Anchorage in 1964 actually had its epicenter only 40 miles from Valdez.  In the museum, we watched a video that said the earth shook for 5 minutes.  The original townsite of Valdez with its docks and waterfront businesses washed into the sea because the land was not really solid; it was liquid underneath and when the two fractures split, the land liquified and washed away.   Thirty men on the docks lost their lives before they knew what was happening.   The people decided to rebuild on more solid ground and with the gift of land from some locals, rebuilt and even moved buildings from the old townsite to the new one.  Today, the old townsite is considered ‘wilderness.’

Glaciers

Valdez Glacier

Valdez is known for its many glaciers.  I would love to take a cruise and see them along with whales and seals, but I get seasick so that’s not happening.  Instead we took a drive to the Valdez Glacier and hiked towards it over the rocks and small streams that flow from it.  The two glaciers have receded, but there were small sections that looked like they could calve.

Eagle has landed!

We were told by the owners of the park (who returned our two nights payment because of the electrical problems) to return by 5 p.m. as they feed the Bald Eagles.  For the past 29 years, the owners have fed the eagles between May 1 and June 15 until the salmon runs start.  We didn’t want to miss having eagles fly over our heads – we were even told to move our truck as they would hit it when they dove for their fish.

The Magnificent Eagle

We were not disappointed in the feeding frenzy.  From eagles sitting on the ground in front of us to dive-bombing each other into collisions for one fish to watching them catch fish in their claws in mid-air, it was one magnificent life experience having Bald Eagles of all ages soaring over our heads and trailer and landing in front of us to eat fish!

We are now preparing to leave tomorrow for Anchorage and Cooper Landing.  Snow is expected on Thompson Pass so we are hoping to leave EARLY before the rain starts here and the snow starts there.  And tonight is going to be another cold one at 16 degrees after a nice, warm 47 today!

©2018 Tentstake Ministries

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