Posts Tagged ‘Kenai Peninsula’

Return to the Last Frontier

This year our trek to Alaska will be very different.  Apart from weather complications or stopping to see some superb view that changes every year, we will be dealing with the ‘effects’ of coronavirus on the universe. 

Also, we have a new trailer.  It is a 2020 Grand Design Solitude 375Res.  We are hoping for a better experience than with the Forest River Crusader.  I’m hoping that the name change provides some insight into our travels from ‘crusading’ to being in ‘solitude.’ I’ve actually gave it the name “Goshen,” but since my husband doesn’t like that name, we have adopted the following Scripture for our ‘home:’

“Therefore, let us approach [draw near] the Holiest Place with a sincere heart, in the full assurance that comes from trusting [faith]” (Hebrews 10:22).

The differences between the two fifth-wheels are many.  The frame and under parts of the Solitude are made sturdier for full-time living.  Some of the positives for this trailer on the exterior are the controls for the black and gray water being more easily accessible than underneath.  There is more insulation underneath which keeps the trailer warmer especially the hot water.  Also, this trailer has a small toy hauler located underneath a raised living room.  Traveling with bikes has been a challenge every year and now they are safely stored beneath the living room in a pull-out cargo drawer.

Cool Bike Storage

There is also a lot more storage in the cargo area which takes some of the weight off of the hitch where we had so many ‘cracking’ issues.  I still can’t quite figure out the weight because we have yet to install a washer/dryer and there’s no more allowance and we’ve put almost nothing in the front area storage, bedroom, or closet.  This trailer also has back-up cameras. These cameras will save our marriage when forced to use a back-in site rather than a pull-thru! 

The inside of the Crusader was like a great-room cabin, a condo on wheels.  The inside of the Solitude is more like a ‘house’ with rooms.  We have a larger and more inviting living room which was big enough to host a Passover seder with our son and his girlfriend.

Chag Sameach Pesach

My husband enjoys the two recliners that have heat and massage settings. Unfortunately, those only work when we have access to electricity which we won’t in Alaska where we boondock.  We have a larger kitchen/dining area with a full-sized residential refrigerator and a massive pantry.  These were both empty when we picked up the trailer and we had to find food during the viral issues in Las Vegas.  The bedroom closet is a huge change.  Our clothing hangs like in a regular closet not sideways and close to the floor.  The whole closet situation in the Crusader was difficult to deal with every. single. day.  We did lose our bunk room with this new rig, but it had become a ‘junk room’ and now everything that was in there fits in the under storage.  We spent hours minimizing the trailer even more – and removed even more from our storage unit in Colorado.   

We have spent the past six weeks making this trailer ‘home’ with upgrades from the shower head to dimmer switches.  We have books on ‘shelves’ and pictures on the walls.  Since this trailer doesn’t have any carpet,  we bought rugs that make each room more ‘homey.’ I have yet to decide about curtains though I know the bedroom will need something this summer in Alaska with 20 hours of daylight.  

After spending a month with our son (and girlfriend) in Las Vegas, two weeks with our daughter (and boyfriend) and son (and daughter-in-law) in Colorado, we head north with our new Solitude.

The fenders that were broken in our little mishap in Arizona on Hwy 40 and the storage door with the hole from road trash in Arizona were supposed to be fixed and ready to go (unfortunately, the door didn’t arrive at the dealer in time to be fixed so we will travel with a hole.) We have our Canadian money to make traveling easier – something we learned after the first year. Once on the road again, we will face new challenges – Canada.

First, we traveled from Fort Collins to Buffalo, Wyoming KOA,

During this unnecessary shutdown, we learned that KOAs remain open because they are considered ‘essential shelter.’  They are though they must shut down all internal rest rooms, showers, and laundry (considered non-essential).  For those of us, millions of us, who live full-time as nomads, finding ‘shelter’ is very important.  What is absolutely crazy is the campgrounds that close to those of us who are self-contained.  State parks, especially in Colorado, have sites that are easily 50 feet apart.  When we travel, we pull into a site, sleep, and leave early the next morning.  We don’t meet or greet anyone.  We are not spreading disease, nor are we carrying disease.  But, that is not how the ‘powers that be’ see us and how many who are fearful of the spread of this virus see us.  We are just a little too free even though we are virtually ‘homeless’ without a ‘brick and mortar’ home.  

All along every highway and some off the beaten path roads, we can’t believe all of the billboards and electronic road signs reminding people to ‘stay home’ and ‘stay healthy’ – all part of apparently global Behavioral Priming.   Some billboards actually have sick families on them and tell you to come into their facility.  Really? I thought sick people are to stay home?  That’s what QUARANTINE is! How did all of these billboards get made so quickly?  Just some of my questions regarding the entire shut-down of the world especially in states like Wyoming and Montana who have 23 deaths between the two of them!   

Men of Character and Integrity

For those who are new to our adventures, we have legal residency in South Dakota as do many of those like us.  South Dakota has no state income tax and only requires 24 hours to make residency.  We have an address, a mail forwarding system and, register our vehicles in that state.  We also vote in South Dakota.  This year I am grateful to be a resident of a state with a governor who understands not only civil  and Constitutional Rights, but also human rights.  I even wrote her a letter telling her how grateful I am she is standing firm against herd mentality!   

We would like to make residency in Alaska, but that is a little more difficult because their residency requirement is nine months.  We will almost make it for this year because of the winter we spent there.  We were able to get Alaska ID cards which is a long story.  If we decide not to return to the Lower 48 with our trailer and work again this winter in Alaska, we will meet the requirements to ‘move’.  We don’t make this decision lightly as three of our four children live in the Lower 48 and now we have no idea how the requirements of this pandemic ruse will change our freedom to travel protected by the Constitution.  

From Buffalo, Wyoming, we headed to Butte, Montana.  This KOA put us in the farthest place possible. Another requirement is that RVs need to be in every other site. In Butte they had so many empty sites that we were put ‘out to pasture’ or in their own type of ‘quarantine.’

From Butte, we traveled north through some grandiose “Big Sky” country. For those who are offended by people who believe this virus is not as deadly as hyped, well, skip this part. We stopped by a scenic viewpoint at Flathead Lake, Montana. We were the only people in the the pullout when we arrived. I walked to a lower area to take a picture while my husband stood in a patio-like area taking pictures from above. I walked back up the walkway and into the area and stood next to him. Another man and woman had arrived and she immediately freaked and cried out, “Get six feet away!” Well, sweetie, first and foremost, we are outside in the wide open space and beautiful sunshine and second, my husband was here first so perhaps you can move out of the way. Maybe that’s harsh, but my goodness, if you’re going to travel and not ‘stay home and stay safe,’ then relax a little and enjoy the adventures! About 30 minutes later we stopped for lunch at another pullout. A couple was there enjoying the view. They had driven their little convertible sports car from Missoula. They were very, very friendly and made up for the woman whose fear outweighed her common sense.

Beautiful Flathead Lake, Montana

From the region of the Flathead Lake, we headed north to cross the border into Canada through Roosville. We have crossed the border many different places, but we prefer smaller crossings. We heard it was easy to cross, but there would be restrictions about where we can stay, how we buy fuel, and specifically in the Yukon Territory, how long they allow for passing through. Look at a map of the Yukon Territory and ‘essential’ travelers have 24 hours to go from British Columbia to Alaska on the Alcan.

As expected, the crossing went well. The border patrolman asked us more questions than usual specifically about what we do as camp hosts and then the list of Covid questions. Had we experienced any symptoms? Nope. Not in the eight previous weeks of traveling through Seattle to Vegas and then driving through Arizona and New Mexico to Colorado (I didn’t say all that, but duh!) He asked us how long we would be in Canada. Six days. He asked us if we had enough food because we weren’t allowed to stop anywhere. Fuel stops had to be ‘pay at the pump.’ Any infraction of these ‘laws’ was enforceable with a $1,000,000 fine and a year in jail. He concluded by saying that 5 kilometers down the road we would be stopped again by British Columbia border people who would want to know our full itinerary.

We drove to our next KOA in Cranbrook and never saw any other border patrol. Not sure if they packed up and left for the day or if he was just wanting to see our reaction for a six-day journey.

If we drive back and forth to Alaska another time, we will take this same route. Cranbrook/St. Eugene has to be one of the more beautiful places we have ever stayed while traveling. St. Eugene has a casino and is a magnificent hotel former mission. Unfortunately due to the virus, the place was closed even so much that we couldn’t even walk around the grounds.

From Cranbrook we headed to Kamloops for the night, another quick stop. This route takes us by the Walmart where in 2017 we had our tires slashed. Last year we drove by for the first time realizing we hadn’t actually seen Quesnel, BC. This year I decided to ‘get back on the horse’ and go inside for a few things. I know, $1,000,000 fine and 1 year in jail. We had already broken the law by paying cash for everything from campsites to fuel. And, I feel the need to go into Walmarts just to boost my immune system from all of the germs, bacteria and whatever else flies around that store.

The ‘Infamous’ Walmart, Quesnel

We stayed one night outside of Prince George in a trailer park. We had no idea that is what it would be and it was a little strange, but we were the only ones in the RV part of the park. Again, we are self-contained and self-isolated so we didn’t see anyone and we paid cash through a mail slot. We couldn’t travel from Prince George to Dawson Creek, the beginning of the Alcan, without a lunch break along a river.

We stayed one night in Dawson Creek at Northern Lights RV Park. Though it’s not the most beautiful park, the owners are wonderful people who over the years have helped us in big and little ways. I also love their laundry facilities, but unfortunately, they were not open – apparently clean clothes are not essential. We were and are, however, grateful to all of the RV parks who are open, who are willing to take cash, and who are trying to rise above the flood waters of economic destruction. So many of these places rely on tourism, and tourists are considered non-essential. But in reality they are very essential to these seasonal businesses along the Alcan.

From Dawson Creek, we made the big trek to Toad River. This involved crossing two passes, Steamboat and Summit Lake. As we drew closer to Toad River, it began snowing. We spent our first snowy night in the Solitude. We were cozy, but had some concerns about the drive the next day. We woke to ice on the slide roofs and icicles hanging off the slides. All of the ice had to be removed before bringing in the slides so we had a little chip work before we could leave. Apart from leaving our outdoor thermometer under the snow and me slipping and falling down the steps, we had a fun stop at Toad River.

The snow continued to fall from Toad River through Muncho Lake where winter never seems to end.

Muncho Lake

The first year we drove to Alaska we saw one, ONE grizzly bear. Last year we saw a few bears and moose. This year it seemed as though the wildlife knew there was a virus and they were suddenly free to be. Seventeen bears! We watched two ducks, a Mallard and white domestic duck, holding hands waddling down a hillside in the rain. Apparently, they were running away together to some distant land. Porcupines hobbled up and down berms writing notes with mud ink and their long quills about how slow traffic is for this time of year. One white stone sheep licked salt from the double yellow lines thinking that perhaps he shouldn’t cross to the other side for there was nothing to see. Moose galloped across the black bumpy sea of asphalt as if in a race for a finish line. Mr. Lynx sat like a regal rabbit statue only twitching his ears and turning his head from left to right to count vehicles as they passed by. Roadside elk threw snowballs at each other while bouncing from one side of the road to the other. A momma bear grazed with her triplets looking up now and then to make sure no one was offering them bowls of porridge. One crazy beaver with buck teeth stood by the roadside waiting for the local bus to take him to another lodge. It even seemed he stuck his thumb out because we heading the right direction.

We made one short side stop in the Liard Valley. Last year two young people, one from the U.S. and the other from Austrailia, trekking their way to Alaska stopped for lunch. They pulled off to the side of the road to enjoy the quiet and sunshine. Unfortunately, their time was cut short by two teens who shot them both and then eventually after a manhunt were found dead from committing suicide. This event caused a lot of concern for those traveling on the Alcan and staying at Liard Hot Springs. A memorial was set up by the road that we passed last fall, but this time we wanted to stop. A trucker also stopped and, along with his tools, fixed parts of the memorial which were needing repair.

We entered the Yukon Territory at Watson Lake where a temporary border crossing had been set up. The men and women working this checkpoint were actually park rangers. Our gentleman was very kind and asked the basic COVID questions again. He talked with us about the Kenai Peninsula and wants to go there again to fish. We gave him our son-in-law’s company information cards. He reminded us that we had 24 hours to pass through the Yukon Territory with no stopping except for fuel – pay at the pump. He also gave us a map listing fuel and lodging stops, however, there were no RV parks. He said that even though all pullouts in the Yukon said “No Overnight Camping,” we could. Well, because of our slashed tire incident, we like to stay in parks. One of his last comments to us was “I didn’t sign up for this!”

One of the ‘legal’ stops was Whitehorse, the capital and biggest town in the Yukon. Last year we stopped there to get our leaf springs fixed and were hoping to ‘beef’ these up this year. Ironically, a legal stop was in the biggest town! This province has had no incidents of coronavirus at all. I know they want to keep it that way, but for people to stop in a city or outskirts seems a little strange. No one mentioned anything about consequences for breaking any laws, so we went on our merry way knowing we had two long driving days ahead of us. Let me say at this point, my husband is a warrior driver. He just kept going and going and going. We had never done this trip in 6 days and I hope we never have to again, but it is possible. Unfortunately, because we couldn’t stop anywhere, we didn’t get to see our ‘Run Forest Run’ sign in the Sign Forest, but maybe next time.

We stayed in Whitehorse at an RV park, again paying cash through a mail slot. See? We don’t see or talk to anyone. We just pull in, pull out and go.

About lunch time we were in Kulane National Park. We pulled over for lunch in the most beautiful spot and I realized I had lost my keys. I had lost them earlier on the trip, but had dropped them in a tissue box. Duh. Right? This time, however, we were able to remember the last time I used them and I knew they weren’t in any tissue box. I called the RV park in Whitehorse and thankfully he found them about where I took off my coat in order to get into the truck for the drive. My keys should arrive in Cooper Landing one of these days. No such luck for the outdoor thermometer.

We crossed the border back into Alaska 26 hours from when we entered the Yukon Territory. We did the best we could, but frost heaves and damaged road doesn’t allow for 60 mph, but 40. So, it took us longer than the average bear. Plus, the fuel stations we usually use because they don’t have covers over the pumps were all closed down. The sadness of what is going on from Vegas to Alaska is heart wrenching. The anger that governments can control people to such a degree as to kill their livelihood is indescribable.

The entrance back into the USA was a little different from previous years. We always have to pull into the area for commercial vehicles because we are so tall – 13 feet 4 inches. This time, however, we were asked to get out of the truck and come into the building. We were asked the COVID questions again! It really is ridiculous. If I didn’t have symptoms in the US, didn’t have symptoms in BC, didn’t have symptoms in the Yukon, and I’m not allowed to do ANYTHING, why would I suddenly have symptoms? They approved our entrance into the US and though we had heard there was online paperwork to fill out about our whereabouts, we were told there was NO paperwork. Thus, no required information about ‘quarantine.’

We hopped back in the truck and drove the most disastrous roads in the world to Tok, Alaska. Two-hour drives on these roads takes 3-4. It’s really infuriating how the DOT allows roads to deteriorate into nothing but holes and gravel.

The Empty Campground

We arrived in Tok and when I asked the owner if we could stay two nights, he said we could stay the whole summer! His 100+ RV park was EMPTY. We were the only sojourners for two nights. Plus, a big plus, I was able to do laundry just as I was able to do in other private parks in the U.S. On top of that, our two-night stop was Friday and Saturday – we were getting a REAL SHABBAT!

From Tok, we drove to Cooper Landing by the Turnagain Arm that is no longer frozen over.

In Cooper Landing, we are required by the USFS to quarantine for 14 days. The governor was going to lift the quarantine ‘tomorrow,’ but decided on two more weeks. I’m not sure how that works as we are the same people we would be yesterday as in two weeks, but we have to quarantine. This became known to us right before we left Colorado and required some more planning.

First, where to spend our ‘set-apart’ time about the 60th Parallel? My son-in-law’s parking lot for his business was out. He cannot have people ‘set-apart’ and have clients. The campground was out because the forest service is requireing the quarantine. Foolish, I believe, but it is what it is. Eagle Landing in Cooper Landing offered us a place to park because the community needs to help one another. What a wonderful offer and place right by the Kenai River! Unfortunately, the ground is too soft for our big rig and there was no real turnaround for us. Then, God. Always God. Micromanaging. We received an offer to stay in the Baptist Church parking lot. It’s a huge gravel parking area for our rig and we can have some electric. So that is where we are as I write this. The church sits right on the Kenai Lake so we can enjoy our forced vacation sitting by the lake that is now unfrozen and looking as turquoise as ever remembering how we ice fished not too far away.

With the ten-day quarantine required by those who enter the State of Alaska, everyone is cancelling their vacations.  No one has enough time to quarantine AND fish in the wide, open, clear skies, long days of sunshine, and fresh air of the Last Frontier when there is some remote possibility of inhaling a micro-viral germ.  Remote?  Yes.  In the State of Alaska, there have only been 10 deaths in a population of 731,545 (some of those deaths didn’t even occur in Alaska, but those who died had Alaska licenses!)  The percentage of death in Alaska comes out to be .0000136.  Thats 136 people in 10 million dying and they have only had 10 and don’t even have 1 million people.  You have a better chance of being bitten by a snake and Alaska doesn’t have snakes!

Food. We are not allowed to go anywhere. Of course we do have to fill with water, propane and dump our doo, but those are not public places. I want to thank Mark and Margie from Anchorage who once again came to our rescue. Last year they helped us camp in JBER during the fires. This year I ordered food online, they picked it up, brought it to Cooper Landing and gave it to our daughter who in turn brought it to us. We will see these two wonderful people next weekend when they come to pick up their cooler.

Tomorrow we meet with our manager about our hosting duties this year. I’m sure we will have all sorts of ridiculous restrictions for safety, but that’s the way fear fuels all sorts of pandemics. Because we have arrived later usual and have to be set-apart, we won’t have time to ready our campground.  Generally, we spend two weeks making sure all of the fire pits are clean, all the leaves are raked from the sites, and all trash that may have blown in is cleaned up.  This year, however, the job will be leftovers from last year’s fire when the campground never closed to become a waiting place for those needing to pass through the fire area. 

The restaurant with the delicious smoked brisket and gourmet pizzas next to the campground has been sold.  It is now a pot shop with pizza like Little Caesar’s.  Weed is legal in Alaska, but not on the federal level meaning USFS. In the past, we just ignored those few campers because we had bigger issues to deal with like improperly disposing of salmon guts which attract bears and out-of-control campfires.  Now, with pot right next to us, the game plan may have to change.  

We expect an interesting summer of pot heads, drunks (already we’re hearing about one who has needed THREE trips from the local EMTs), rebels fishing and camping where they don’t belong, building bonfires with the chance of another wildfire kicking up, and even firearms from those who want to wield their Constitutional Rights.  Coupled with the lack of basic law enforcement, we will be challenged.  Still, I can’t wait to be there, spending time in the outdoors, seeing eagles soar, watch moose graze, and hear about bears prowling after idiots.

One more change.   At the end of last year, I was asked to be the naturalist for the campgrounds.  I spent much of my winter preparing programs with several different themes.  I have no idea if I’ll even be able to use what I created, but I have even more ideas for self-guided hikes and learning about Alaskan nature. 

Kenai Lake at 9:48 p.m.

In spite of all of the challenges and unknowns,  the real reason we drive 6000 miles round trip to Alaska and camp host is to spend time with our grandchildren. This year will have a whole new set of summer adventures with our grandson riding his Strider bike around the campground while his little sister has snack time in her camping high chair.  Our grandson has already asked if he can help rake leaves!  He loves to check the bear boxes and have Grandpa pump water from the well.  He loves when the generator is on and he can flip light switches.  His toy box is ready and waiting with ‘bola de neves’ (indoor snowballs) and Bubbe (me) brought a lot of books.  Hiking of course will be on the agenda as well as Bubbe’s world famous chocolate chip cookies.

Solitude and Mt. Cecil

So, we’re unhitched in front of Mt. Cecil, hooked up to electric, filled with water, have food, a warm bed, two chairs, the Kenai Lake and not only is it raining, I hear a float plane moving on the lake readying to take off! Home for now.

©2020 Tentstake Ministries Publishing, all rights reserved.  No copying or reproducing of this article without crediting the author or Tentstake Ministries Publishing.

Fire, Smoke, and Ash

Though I am ready to go, I am not ready to leave Alaska. This summer has been one of the weirdest of my life and full of plans that changed daily. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that God is in control and He keeps letting me know. Of course, with Him in control, those seeming plan changes always turn out to bring on different, unexpected adventures.

The fire that created so much smoke for Cooper Landing began on June 5 with a lightning strike. As it began in the National Wildlife Refuge, they followed their policy of ‘let it burn.’ And burn it did. The lack of rain – only four days all summer in a boreal rain forest – and high winds took the Swan Lake fire to the west toward Sterling and Soldotna along the one-and-only-main road from Anchorage to Homer – the Sterling Highway. All local businesses and campgrounds in Cooper Landing are on this two-lane highway.

Though for the first six weeks the fire remained quite a distance from Cooper Landing and Cooper Creek Campground, the smoke always blew east. The Kenai Peninsula is south of Anchorage and its south and eastern ends are in the ocean so the winds blow inland. There is a smoke index that we checked everyday for the amount of dangerous particles in the air. The scale goes to 500, but some days the smoke levels were 800 to 1200. In the beginning, the river guides said they couldn’t seen the sides of the Kenai when they were in the middle of the river. Tourists, those who had saved their whole lives for a bucket list adventure to Alaska, were deprived the beauty of this area. The mountains became submerged in smoke and those who had asthma or other lung issues were discouraged from fishing for world-famous salmon or rafting to see the bear and moose along the river’s edge. Those who did felt the effects of severe smoke inhalation.

Ash covered everything.

Normally the weather pattern for the Kenai Peninsula is wet and cool. Our first summer we would have ten days of rain followed by a few days of sunshine and repeat. When the temperature reaches 65-70 the locals are unable to breathe as these temps are HOT, and sometimes unbearably HOT. The reason for this is because of Alaska’s latitude and summer tilt of the earth. The sun, rather than shining directly overhead, has a slant and hits the land in a hotter, fuller way. This makes 70 degrees feel like 75-80. Again, that’s not ‘hot’ by some standards, but it actually is. This year temperatures reached 92 degrees and remained in the mid-to-high 80s most of the summer. This would be comparable to 100 degrees anywhere else and for this area, a rainforest without rain, became the catalyst for spreading wildfires.

With the intense heat and smoke, we had an infestation of bugs – mostly biting flies along with mosquitos. The bug issue became so intense at times that campers would pack up and leave after one night of their reservation. Between the smoke that darkened our days with a green haze and filled our lungs and the high temperatures that our ‘tin can’ fifth-wheel absorbed and opening windows was not an option, and the bugs that bit our bodies incessantly leaving welts, we felt like we were living in the apocalypse!

In mid-July we had two days of rain – about 1/2 – 1 inch total. For some reason we will never comprehend, the fire fighters packed up and left town. All we can surmise is that Alaskans have no clue about wildfires and how they burn. Though the State of Alaska issued a fire ban, the USFS continued to allow campfires – adding to the smoke and the possibility of flying embers. Being part of a volunteer fire department in Colorado and losing our home to a raging wildfire, we spent many days in complete confusion as to why the authorities acted as they did. Even our own company had no contingency plan to remove camp hosts who couldn’t leave because none of us are on vacation – we are working. We eventually took matters into our own hands and asked that people NOT have fires. Those from California, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado thought we were nuts for asking. It was just a ‘given’ you don’t have a campfire when the state is on fire. Alaskans, however, thought we were nuts because they needed to have their ‘s’mores.’ Of course, we have learned over the few years here that rules do not apply to Alaskans because they are so … Alaskan.

With the first bout of smoke, raining ash and bugs, we decided to leave for a few days. We visited Seldovia, a cute little village accessible only by boat or plane. We enjoyed several days of fresh ocean air and returned to the mainland with the two days of rain.

Near the end of July, my daughter and I were driving back from Soldotna and saw plumes of smoke puffing along the mountain ridge near the Sterling Highway. We wondered why no one was manning those plumes or putting water on the hot spots. My husband and I had attended every community meeting for the fires and every agency said that though the fire was not under control, it was burning in areas that were nearly impossible to get to, but this was obviously not one of those places. Firefighters had cleared three hiking trails as fire lines: Skyline Trail, Fuller Lakes Trail, and Resurrection Pass Trail telling us that they could keep the fire away from Cooper Landing.

The fire kicks up!

Within the week, the winds began to blow, hot, dry winds from west to east. The smoke, raining ash, and bugs returned with Biblical proportions. We put on masks and asked campers once again NOT to have campfires because the USFS refused to ban them. Russian River Campground, only three miles away, was closed and the Russian River Ferry was removed from the river and taken to a safe place. The fire jumped Skyline Trail, Fuller Lakes Trail and chugged its way to Resurrection Pass Trail which was evacuated. The fire jumped the Sterling Highway and began to burn the beautiful Skilak Lake Wildlife Area all the way to Skilak Lake. Beautiful hiking trails have became desolate blackened trees with the the danger of falling with every breeze. Wildlife ran for their lives. Firefighters that had gone home, returned. New incident command was established along with numerous camps for firefighters that grew to over 700.

On August 18, our manager from ARM came by to see how we were doing. We told her that we were fine and at that point had no intention of leaving unless the fire came closer or the smoke became unbearable. She got down on one knee and asked if I would be willing to be the ‘naturalist’ next year as the previous one (for 20 years) was not returning. I was aware of this situation and knew she wanted me to ‘take a more valuable role in the company.’ Though I’m a little ambivalent about what I will do and how I will do it, I accepted the position. So, next year Chugach campgrounds, look out. I have some great ideas about salmon, wasps and 5-Star Campers! If you have any ideas, let me hear them. I am NOT crafty, but I do like to hike and make kiosks.

One of the many wasp nests!

Soon after she left, the captain of the Cooper Landing Fire Department, a friend of my husband’s, came to the campground. He informed us of what he knew was happening with the out-of-control fire and suggested we pack up and leave. Two hours later, the mayor of the Kenai Peninsula, a very large borough in Alaska, stopped in our campground, invited us into his rig and explained what he had seen from a helicopter and learned from incident command and the national guard. He also suggested we pack up and leave. So, in spite of our earlier conversation with our manager, we began packing our trailer and organizing our campground tools, etc.

At the same time, our daughter and son-in-law began loading their valuables into her car and preparing their truck camper for bugging out. The smoke values were in the 800s and, being pregnant, she didn’t need to breathe what is considered ’emergency air.’ Also, the Kenai River was closed to all boats as the pull-outs down river were either in danger of being on fire or were already burning. Their fishing/rafting business had to close down. The hit that the businesses in Cooper Landing received this summer may never be completely known, but work is seasonal and so many people depend on the summer for their entire livelihood.

They headed to Anchorage and with the help of some friends were sponsored on the Elmendorf/Richardson Air Force Army Base campground. Ironically, the campground is called Black Spruce and that is the main fuel for the Swan Lake Fire. They set up their truck camper and an easy-up and had a new ‘home’ camping.

While we were packing – it took two days because we still had to maintain the campground – we received a text from some friends in Anchorage who we had met through the campground. They offered their driveway in Anchorage for our trailer until we could figure out where and what we were doing. Because he is a retired Colonel in the Army, he was able to sponsor us in the same campground as our daughter.

The Bible teaches that every matter is established by a ‘witness of two.’ After having the fire captain and the mayor tell us to leave, we had our witness of two to leave the area. Receiving our friend’s text and finding ourselves in the same campground as our daughter proved the Hand of Elohim in this crazy journey we called ‘summer in Alaska.’ When we left Cooper Landing, the air quality was at 1200 and there was no view of the lake or river for the green smoke haze.

The base campground was refreshing. It is clean and pretty quiet except for the ‘sound of freedom’ flying around. This is a home base for F22s that monitor the airspace between Russia and Canada. Whatever goes on day and night, the jets are flying overhead and around us. We learned the ‘whistling’ we hear is ‘throttle up’ and we are so close to the airfield that we hear that a lot both on the ground and above. One day the path of two jets was directly over our trailer. As my grandson slept, the sound increased until it was deafening and then the trailer shook as if in an earthquake. Once they passed overhead, I heard his little voice say, “Bubbe, that was a loud jet!” He was awake! So was I!

The sound of freedom …

Also every morning and evening, depending on the wind direction, we can hear a canon ‘boom’ and reveille being played. Two days in a row we heard strange music and a warning sound for a practice lock down for a shooter. Because the warning sound is also kind of a weird sound, I felt like I was on the Truman Show and ‘who was watching us?’ Overall, it has been a blessing to be here and to be with family as we are all displaced.

Our first two days at Black Spruce were filled with de-smoking our belongings. With the price of laundry being very inexpensive, I washed everything imaginable. I borrowed a carpet cleaner from our friends. The black water in the cleaner and black rags from wiping the walls showed how much smoke and ash we endured. Our truck, thankfully, has leather interior, so it cleaned up quickly and the smell of smoke is gone.

Fumigating our ‘home’

As we settled into the campground, we began making plans to see friends in Anchorage. We had dinner with a camper at his home and went to an erev Shabbat with him. We met some other friends from Tennessee for lunch. They had returned for another year of fishing. We met some longtime friends of my husband’s in a coffeeshop and had a wonderful dinner with the friends who have been so helpful. It seems sometimes we have more of a social life in Alaska than we ever had anywhere else.

Brownie the Bear

Everyday we checked the Kenai Borough log for updates on the fire and the website for air quality. One particular day, a flood warning was issued for the Kenai River. Every two years or so a glacier lake releases water into the Kenai and this year happened to be the year. So along with the fire, ash, and smoke, the Kenai River was going to flood!

Flooding on the Kenai at the boat launch

We visited Kincaid Park, a former missile base. My husband played frisbee golf with our son-in-law while my daughter, grandson and I wandered behind enjoying the views of the Cook Inlet and the fall-like weather. My husband remembered going to Earthquake Park when he lived here in the late 1970s so we did a trek through that park which memorializes the 1964 earthquake and all the homes that fell into the ocean. The land rolls and dips from where the liquified earth undulated so many years ago. I actually have a National Geographic from 1964 that chronicles the events of the earthquake.

Frisbee Gopher

Very close to the campground is Otter Lake. We stopped at the Visitor Center to find out if we could go to the lake as we are not military. They told us we were free to do anything except the commissary. We took the little drive to the lake and spent an hour using their paddle boats. Of course with a two-year-old directing the rudder, we spent much of the hour going nowhere. We did see lily pads and watched a loon spread it’s wings and dive into the lake. Because the smoke from the Kenai as well as the smoke from some northern fires seems to coagulate in the Anchorage area, we couldn’t see the mountains from Otter Lake.

The Loon

Another event we all wanted to attend was the Alaska State Fair. This fair is known for its large vegetables that are grown with 20 hours of daylight. However, I learned that these large vegetables are actually special seeds that are produced for extra large vegetables. We saw the the largest recorded pumpkin in North America at this year’s fair – the largest ever is somewhere else in the world.

We had a family outing to Hatcher Pass and Independence Mine. What a spectacular area to explore! We thought it reminded us a lot of the mine at Telluride, Colorado and through reading signs found that the foreman was originally from Telluride! This was also the first day that we had consistent rain and we managed to drive in the rain and hike in the sun, but we were still grateful for the rain and to hear it was raining in Cooper Landing – though not necessarily on the fire. After a bite to eat in a quaint 1940s A-frame cafe, we headed back to Black Spruce.

Independence Mine

On every trip to Alaska, as we reach the Palmer area, there is a Musk Ox farm. We decided since we were close and didn’t have our fifth-wheel, we would visit this farm. Though it didn’t involve petting Musk Ox, to our disappointment, we did learn a lot about these native animals and their fur. It is the second most expensive fur in the world and having natives spin and knit it into just a small neck gator costs $195. It was the first time that I ever wished I could knit and could buy a skein for $45. Musk Ox have bad eyesight and think anything that moves below their eyes is a wolf so we had to stay in a group and keep the lil guy up in the air!

Baby Musk Ox

We hiked to Thunder Bird Falls and took a quick gander at Mirror Lake. We ate Oreos instead of S’mores because we couldn’t have a fire. We played on the playground, did loads of laundry, tried to photograph F22s, played catch with the dog, had work done on the truck, retrieved parts for our trailer, spent lots of time with our grandson camping, and waited to hear when our daughter could move back ‘home.’ Nearly three weeks into the Anchorage adventure, it was time to move back to Cooper Landing.

We began a major trip of hauling everything they took in their vehicle and a cargo trailer along with their truck camper and our truck full of stuff back to Cooper. Within five hours the cargo trailer was unloaded and everything put away, five loads of laundry were completed, the house was dusted and vacuumed, the car was unloaded and cleaned from smoke, ash and dog hair, and the truck camper was restored and ready to roll again.

No one knows for sure what will happen with the fire. Their home has hoses and sprinkles around it put there by firefighters. Every home has been labeled. Even while we were unloading the sound of chain saws mitigating properties could be heard. Firefighters were seen along the roads chipping trees and brush. Tent camps dot the roadside wherever there is space. ‘They” say it will take snow to douse the fire completely, but it will burn underground all winter and could spark up again next summer. For those who own homes and businesses in Cooper Landing, the threat of this fire is not over.

Taking a short break from hanging photos and folding laundry, my husband and I left to pay rent on a small apartment for two months – December and January – when we will be returning to Cooper Landing for the birth of our second grandchild. We were quite excited with the place as it has a view of Mount Cecil and the Kenai River though with 20 hours of darkness, I’m not sure how much we’ll see.

After a nice little dinner at the Princess Lodge – the only place open to the public in town as all the other restaurants are feeding firefighters – we said good-bye to our son-in-law, daughter and little man grandson. Hugs and “I love yous” are not enough after nearly 5 months, but we know we’ll be seeing them all again – soon. He has my nearly empty bag of mango treats that he can eat in memory of his Bubbe and Grandpa. He also has his bike.

Today we are back in Black Spruce preparing our truck and trailer to head to the Lower 48. Of course my husband is the one preparing as I write this blog! The smoke in Cooper Landing has cleared. Our original departure date of September 16 has moved up 10 days allowing us to re-plan our trip south. We will be able to visit places that are normally closed, visit a family ranch in Idaho, go to Las Vegas and spend time with our youngest son until we head to Colorado for Sukkot in Denver with family. From there, the adventures will continue hither and yon as we really are modern-nomads enjoying the freedom we have to spend time with our children and grandchildren.

©2019 Tentstake Ministries Publishing

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