2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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LOTS TO LEARN ABOUT LIVING IN ALASKA!  
OTHER ANCHORAGE ACTIVITIES & OBSERVATIONS

SUNDAY, JULY 1

 
"People don't notice whether it's winter or summer if they're happy."
 
~ Anton Chekhov
 
 

This year visitors in Anchorage may be confused about which season it is. The calendar says "summer" but the chilly temperatures at sea level and the remaining snow in the surrounding mountains say "late winter" to those of us from warmer climes.

I'm very happy in Anchorage. Contrary to Chekhov's assertion, however, I'm very aware of the weather and perceived season.

We've been in Anchorage two weeks now. We extended our stay at the Black Spruce Campground at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) twice because we liked it so much and found plenty of interesting things to do in the area -- despite some cold, wet weather. We had enough beautiful sunny, warm days to form mostly positive impressions and memories of the city and its environs.


Lupines blooming at Black Spruce CG; our camper is the one in the distance.

Now it's time to explore another part of the state. We recently made reservations at the Russian River National Forest Service campground on the Kenai (KEEN-eye) Peninsula for the 4th of July holiday. We'll be heading that way in the morning.

One of the fascinating things to me about visiting Alaska is learning new things about how the people live, their cultural traditions and history, different ecological environments, and so on. This entry is a hodgepodge of some of our observations and activities in Anchorage, tidbits that didn't seem to warrant separate entries but information I still want to share with readers -- including some of the new things we've learned.

The photos on this page are ones I've taken in the last two weeks. They may or may not relate to the topics discussed here (most are wildflowers).

RELAXING AT JBER

When we first arrived at the Black Spruce CG we were "bugged" by mosquitoes, not so bad that we had to use the head nets we purchased before coming to Alaska but annoying enough to discourage us from sitting outside the camper.

Within a couple days the campground was sprayed and it's been great since then. That was one reason we decided to stay here another week instead of going down to the Kenai earlier.

There is a lot to do in the Anchorage area, regardless of your interests. We like the conveniences, too -- just about any goods or services we could want. Those are nice to have between our visits to more remote areas of the state where they will be more expensive or unavailable.


Bunchberry AKA dwarf dogwood blossoms after a rain shower

After visiting the Kenai Peninsula we'll return to Anchorage for another week or two before heading farther north to the Mat-Su Valley, Denali National Park, and Fairbanks. 

It's been fun to learn about the flora and fauna in different parts of Alaska. I've already shown some photos of the moose and bears we've encountered in town. I'm also impressed with all the beautiful flowers that are in bloom, which help to dispel the gloom on rainy days.

The lupines haven't quite peaked yet in the campground; I hope some remain when we get back in a few weeks:

Cotton from cottonwood trees has been flying around the campground and city while weíve been here. We didnít know they grow this far north. They are prolific in CO, WY, SD, and other places where we've lived or visited.

OTTER LAKE

JBER has three campgrounds. Black Spruce is on the Fort Richardson side of the joint base, and we like it the best. There is another heavily-treed RV campground near the BX and commissary on the Elmendorf AFB side and a more remote campground suitable for tents and smaller RVs at Otter Lake.

This morning we took a ride to Otter Lake, three miles north of our campground. It is one of three lakes accessed by gravel Otter Lake Road, which extends about ten miles through the northeast part of JBER (this is a huge joint base).

Otter Lake has rental cabins, a lodge, and some campsites:

 

We didnít see any bears or moose, probably because we drove up there too late in the morning. We talked with some other people in our campground who went up there yesterday morning and watched a black bear go from one picnic table to the next, entertaining the campers.

WINE TIME

Black Spruce CG doesn't have free WiFi that reaches back to our site. About every other day Jim has gone over to the BX or library on base to use free WiFi to do web searches, upload photos to this website, watch movies, etc. That helps us save on our Verizon MiFi service, which we still have to use for secure transactions or whenever I want to get online with my PC, which isn't portable like Jim's laptop.

One evening when Jim went to the BX to get online he did some shopping and brought me back a bottle of Bear Creek rhubarb-strawberry wine made in Homer, AK. It was about 75 cents less there than at Walmart.

I told Jim I didnít get it at Walmart because it would have been the most expensive bottle of wine Iíve ever purchased! I'm pretty sure it's still the most expensive bottle of wine I've ever enjoyed. It's tasty.

Above and below:  Cow parsnips (kind of like Queen Anne's lace) along the Coastal Trail

I read about Bear Creek's rhubarb wine in several RVersí Alaska blogs and wanted to try it while weíre here. Walmart and the BX didnít have the rhubarb wine, which is more dry than the blend with strawberry. I like the sweet taste of this wine; it's nice as an after-dinner drink to sip in the evening while I'm on the computer or reading.

Bear Creek blends at least a dozen kinds of wine and offers tours. We like wineries so weíll have to check it out when weíre down in Homer.

F-22 RAPTORS

Another observation about our life at JBER -- the F-22 Raptors that are used for training here. They are noisy when they fly over the campground but they're awesome aircraft.

One morning we were driving toward the flight line at Elmendorf on our way out of the base and stopped to take some pictures of a pair of F-22s taking off and landing:

F-22 Raptors are the newest, "baddest" fighter jets in the U.S. fleet and look similar to F-16s in flight. I got several pictures of them airborne, including the one above.

Elmendorf AFB (the "E" part of JBER) is one of several Air Force bases in our country with F-22s. You can read more about their capabilities on Lockheed-Martin's website.

I don't know whether to feel more safe or more vulnerable hanging out where these things are . . . because they make a tempting target for our country's enemies. Guess you could say that about most any of the military posts and bases where we like to camp!

BUSH MAIL SERVICE

One of many new things we're learning about Alaska is the difficulty of living in the Bush. Here's an example of the challenges facing some of the residents.

The first time we visited the Walmart at Dimond Blvd. and Seward Hwy. in the south part of Anchorage I noticed a big sign in the back of the store: BUSH MAIL.

I did a double-take. Bush Mail???  


Wild geraniums along the Coastal Trail

I initially figured it is something like our mailing service in South Dakota, where our mail is sent when we're traveling. We notify the company when and where we want to receive our mail and they forward it to us. Perhaps people in the Bush use this Walmart address as their mailing address?

After I did some online research I discovered I was wrong about how Bush Mail works. I also learned more about the challenges of living in a truly remote corner of the world.


Wild iris at Potter Marsh

First of all, most people living in remote Alaskan villages cannot catch, make, or purchase locally all of the items they need to survive, let alone all the other things they want to make their lives happier.

Second, many items they can get locally are even more expensive than they are in cities like Fairbanks or Anchorage. Most things used in Alaska are shipped, flown, or driven there. Transportation costs make nearly everything cost more in Alaska.

Third, most of these towns and villages are not located on the limited highway grid. That's why they are considered "Bush" communities. They are often on rivers or coasts, however, and they usually have places where airplanes can land (dirt, grass, snow, water). Instead of receiving supplies by truck or personal vehicle, they get them by boat or small airplanes.


Purple phlox on Rendezvous Ridge

Residents in far-flung areas of Alaska often buy large quantities of food and other supplies by phone or online and have them shipped by boat, rail, truck, and/or airplane to their community. They use the Bush Mail services offered by Walmart, Sam's Club, Costco, and other businesses in the larger cities in Alaska.

Even though they're purchasing in quantity at lower prices they still have to pay handling and shipping costs -- plus their own transportation costs if they fly or drive to Anchorage or Fairbanks to buy the goods. Some folks in remote areas with roads also buy in quantity in the cities to save money. If they shop in person and can't get all the goods in their vehicle or airplane luggage, they can also use the Bush Mail services to get the items to their home.

In what other U.S. state will you find Bush Mail Service??


Bright cinquefoil on Flattop Mountain's summit

While doing a web search I came up with this womanís website and found an explanation of how Walmart's Bush Service works to reduce the cost of parcel post through the Post Office, especially after significant 4th-class postal cost increases this spring that significantly affect all rural Americans but especially Alaskans:

The walmart in Anchorage also has a thing called the bush department. While at walmart you can fill up your cart with things that you want to buy and then drop it off at the Bush counter. They will shrink wrap it, box it up and send it C.O.D. to you in your village. You can also call them up on the phone and tell them what you want and they will box it up and mail it C.O.D. Of course this service isn't free. On the total of your merchandise you pay a 15% handling fee and 26% for postage. Even still it is often cheaper to get things you want than buying it at the ONE store here in Kotzebue.


Showy succulent flower on Rendezvous Ridge

Another observation about higher prices . . .

Crude oil has recently dropped to $78/barrel from over $100/barrel in the spring. According to a recent RV Travel e-newsletter the average price of diesel the week of June 18 was $3.72/gallon. It was $4.19/gallon on base when we got here about that time, the cheapest weíve seen in Anchorage. It dropped a few cents last week to $4.11/gallon but itís as much as $4.29 in town. Itís even higher in smaller communities and very high in the Bush. 

Everything is more expensive up here because of transportation costs. Iím not sure that wages and salaries are commensurate with the overall cost of living, which is one reason for the annual oil dividend that residents receive (the PFD, or Permanent Fund Dividend).

It's a financial incentive to get people to live up here. No state income tax or sales tax helps, too.

ALASKA'S SALMON INDUSTRY

Here are some things weíve learned about another significant economic challenge for many Alaskans.

Fishing for five different species of wild Pacific salmon (and some other fish like halibut) is a huge business in this state. King AKA Chinook salmon are supposed to be returning to their spawning grounds in Alaska this time of year but the count is very low where their numbers are measured downstream.

It remains to be seen if any of the other four kinds of salmon that spawn in Alaska will have low counts this year. Their numbers vary from year to year and species to species.


Delicate white flowers on Rendezvous Peak

Last week the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game decided to ban and/or strictly limit the number of kings that can be harvested from some rivers in South Central Alaska, which includes Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula. Itís critical to conserve the remaining fish so they can reproduce.

This is big news in this area because it affects so many people. Weíve heard about it on the local newscasts for several days.

I found these articles on the Alaska Dispatch websive that explain the problem and the resulting conflicts/controversy:  http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/king-salmon-clamp-down-binds-southcentral-alaska-fishermen and http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/state-officials-try-contain-western-alaska-salmon-revolt.


Sweet vetch near Flattop Mountain

The economy is affected in many ways:

  • Commercial fishermen and the people they hire make their living catching and selling the salmon. A ban or severe restrictions can lead to higher unemployment and businesses going bust.

  • If sport fishermen canít fish, they donít visit these communities and support local businesses like charter companies, RV parks, motels, grocery stores, gas stations, etc.

  • Consumers will ultimately pay more at the grocery to buy more scarce salmon products.

  • The group I sympathize with the most are the indigenous people who rely on the salmon they catch for their main source of food in the winter. These are subsistence users who have relied on salmon for centuries. I think they should have priority over everyone else for the few fish that are permitted to be caught. The competing groups disagree because they have their own vested interests.

The bans/restrictions on sport fishermen may turn out to be a benefit to us this summer if itís easier to find campsites when weíre traveling through the Kenai Peninsula in July. Many Anchorage residents go down there on weekends to fish. If they know the fish aren't available, they'll cancel their reservations.

In the long run, though, the higher prices may affect us when we buy salmon here.

TIME TO MOVE ON

I enjoy learning all these new things about what it's like to live in such a different place than I'm used to. In some ways it's like being in a foreign country.

On rainy days this past week we spent more time reading over material online, in our Milepost and Alaskan Camping books, and the promotional brochures we've gathered about places we want to go on the Kenai Peninsula.

There is so much information, and so many places to visit and things to do, that it gets a bit overwhelming to plan even for the next week, let alone any longer.


Small blue flower on Rendezvous Ridge, the only one I saw up there

Weíre glad we have reservations at Russian River for the 4th of July holiday (but for only three days, the maximum allowed when the salmon are running). Weíll be camped in the busiest sockeye AKA red salmon fishing area of the state -- if they are running in larger numbers than the kings this year.

Even though we donít fish itís supposed to be fun to watch everyone else fish there.

We considered visiting Seward over the 4th but discovered that the campgrounds (and other accommodations) are booked long in advance for the holiday. Many thousands of people descend on Seward for the festivities there. We weren't able to make reservations before the 4th but we can camp at the Seward Military Resort for several days after the holiday.

This is one example of how we're being flexible on this trip. Since we don't have to be in Seward for any special event it is fine with us to go at a later time. I know we'll enjoy it more when it's less crowded.


Another kind of blue flower on Rendezvous Ridge

One day this week when Jim was at the library on base he got a brainstorm and borrowed two DVDs. Good decision!

The first was a 60-minute movie by Alaska Video Postcards about Kenai Fjords National Park, located on the SE coast of the Kenai Peninsula.

The second video, produced by the same company, was about Denali National Park. It focused on the wildlife and seasonal changes in the park. Most people see it only in the summer, which is a very short season at that latitude and elevation.


Denali National Park reflections from the video; I took some photos
while watching the video and this one came out better than most.

Both videos were excellent and got us even more psyched up about some of the things we'll be seeing this summer!

We'll be leaving Anchorage tomorrow morning for an undetermined number of weeks on the Kenai Peninsula. Other than our reservations at Russian River and in Seward the next eight or nine days we'll be playing the rest of our visit in that region by ear. 

Next entry: trip notes from Anchorage to the Russian River Campground

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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