Pushing The Envelope One More Time..!

As bands of moderate rain showers sweep through this area tattooing a rhythm on my home’s metal roof I’m staring out my office windows while contemplating an upcoming major ‘adventure’ which will likely consume the entire month of September and will almost assuredly tax my endurance, creativity and self-confidence to their limits.  It has been a full year in the making and while it is a bit daunting I will be very pleased to get it underway and probably even more pleased to see it through to a (hopefully) successful completion.  At this point I feel this undertaking will be on a par with, if not exceed, my relocation from SE Michigan to Talkeetna during the late summer of 2013.  In an interesting piece of ‘synchronicity’ this trip will be undertaken in the late summer as well although it will likely extend into the early fall.

I remain somewhat uncertain as to the outcome largely because it is an undertaking of huge proportions replete with more than its fair share of ‘unk-unks’ (unknown unknowns).  In June of 2016 I made the decision to purchase a hard sided camping trailer so I could begin to explore more of Alaska with my two canine companions.  Anana, my 112 pound female Alaskan malamute, and Qanuk, my 88 pound male German Shepherd Dog, are both seasoned travelers having made the relocation up here in my Escape and are a joy to have as companions.  But to safely camp with them in many Alaskan locations a hard sided shelter is required for protection from bears.  To this point I’ve been unable to really get out and explore my new home due to this limitation.  Therefore, once I decided I needed a hard sided trailer I did a lot of research and based upon my relatively small and low powered Ford Escape I decided upon the 2017 Forest River R-pod 172.  The unit is completely hard sided but comes in with a dry weight of around 2,300 pounds which is well within the Escape’s max towing capacity of 3,000 pounds.  I had a chance to briefly ‘tour’ a R-pod over Memorial Day of 2016 when one was parked at the Tesoro gas station located at the ‘Y’; while small it had everything I wanted as in a full kitchen, fridge, shower, and bathroom.  I found there were no dealers in Alaska so I started perusing the lower 48 and found a wonderful deal at an RV dealer in Hamilton, Ohio.  I worked with a dear friend in SW Michigan to make the purchase and had him and a friend pick up the trailer and haul it back to SW Michigan where he made extensive improvements in the basic unit.

Mast_Down

My R-pod with a collapsible mast added atop which I’ll place my wireless weather station when overnighting. This work, along with much more, was handled by dear friend, Sarge.

Then, a friend of his put the R-pod on his flatbed trailer and hauled the unit to Three Forks, Montana.  This was to happen by early September of 2016 but thanks to mechanical issues with his truck he didn’t get the unit to Montana until late October; by this point it was too late for me to make the 5,300+ mile round trip to pick it up.  He was able to store the unit in his barn over winter; I had planned to drive down in mid-April of 2017 to pick it up but a leaking heater core in the Escape forced me to postpone the trip while it was repaired.  By the time this was finished it was already early May and the tourists were out in force so I elected to wait until early September to make the run.  Now I finally find myself preparing to make the 2,650+ mile drive from Talkeetna to Three Forks to finally take possession of my 2017 R-pod.

The very distances involved are a bit intimidating especially as I’ll be the solo driver with only my canine companions as company.  While they are wonderful accomplices they cannot spell me behind the wheel so I all the driving will fall upon me.  And it is telling the total trip will involve more miles than I drove on the relocation to Alaska.  While during that trip I was driving the Escape solo with ‘the kidz’ aboard I also had a friend driving a 26’ U-Haul van in close proximity; we shared overnight motel rooms and having him along meant I wasn’t really alone.  On this upcoming trip it will be just me and ‘the kidz’.  In addition, I’ve never pulled a trailer longer than ten feet and it probably weighed a thousand pounds fully loaded.  My R-pod is eighteen feet in length and when loaded with water, food and supplies it will probably tip the scales at 2,600 pounds.  It does have electric brakes which are good but I will have to configure said brakes before I start the long drive back to Talkeetna and I’ve never done so previously.  Assuming I can get said brakes properly ‘lined out’ then I will have to learn to tow an extra eighteen feet and 2,500+ pounds on a variety of roads from multi-lane highways to single lane back roads.  And then there’s the always ‘interesting’ aspect of backing a trailer into a specific spot…

The drive down to Three Forks will be a ‘speed run’; I intend to make it in a comfortable six days arriving at the farm where the trailer is stored around noon on the sixth day.  Doing so will minimize the number of nights I’ll have to pay for a motel room and insure I have plenty of time for a slow, leisurely return trip before the snow starts to fly.  I’ll be able to really learn to haul the R-pod across a variety of road conditions and varying degrees of traffic.  I’ll also have the time to learn to utilize the R-pod to its fullest extent.  I’ve rented pickup trucks with simple campers all the way to 28’ RVs so I do have some experience with using the built-in amenities like fridges that run on electricity or propane.  But the very compact nature of the R-pod means some of the gear will be new to me so I will have a definite learning curve.  This same ‘compact nature’ means me and ‘the kidz’ will have learnings regarding how we live in such close proximity.  Both my canine companions love to stretch out when sleeping and this isn’t something they’ll be able to do very well within the ‘compact’ confines of the trailer.  In addition, I’ll need to be able to navigate the narrow center aisle which will almost assuredly mean I’ll be stepping over the kidz.  I can put sheets down on the seating areas and the one bed so they can use them but it will still be a very confined lifestyle.

Given the location of Three Forks – a bit southeast of Helena – on the return trip I’ll be entering Alberta (Canada) via I 15 and heading north on Canada Route 4 to Canada Route 2.  But just outside Calgary I’ll be making a detour on Canada Route 1 into Banff National Park and visiting this park as well as Lake Louise and then taking Canada Route 93 north into Jasper National Park before taking Canada Route 16 to Canada Route 40 and finally Canada Route 43 to Dawson Creek and the Alaska Highway.  I plan to spend at least three days in Banff and Jasper national parks and possibly more depending upon the weather and the tourists.  Wildfires are also a concern; British Columbia is seeing very dry conditions and a myriad of wildfires raging across its southern extremes.  These fires could easily cross over into southern Alberta and that’s where the aforementioned parks are located.  Once on ‘the Highway’ I’ll be stopping at numerous places of which Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park is just one location.  I plan to take time to visit so many of the locations I had to speed by on the relocation trip in early August of 2013 due to my buddy’s time constraints.  The beauty of a travel trailer – or any RV – is the ability to stop in any acceptable location and spend time be it a few hours or a few days.  Of course, it is a requirement to not trespass on private land and this is a tenant I respect with all my being.  I’ve seen too many witless tourists just pull onto someone’s property in Alaska to overnight; this is rude and of questionable safety.

Once I make Tok I plan to take ‘the cut-off’ and follow the Alaska Highway to Delta Junction, then head north on the Richardson Highway (AK 4) to Fairbanks and pick up the Parks Highway (AK 3) which I’ll drive back south to Talkeetna.  While this looks rather convoluted on a map and isn’t as short as heading onto the Glenn Highway (AK 1) from Tok I’ve driven the Glenn Highway many times and remember all too well the myriad of hairpin turns, narrow single lane roads and difficult driving conditions.  I cannot imagine driving that route pulling an eighteen foot trailer!  The ‘Fairbanks loop’ adds another 180 miles to the trip but involves much safer roads lacking the tight turns and extremely difficult passing issues encountered on the Glenn Highway.  I’d rather take a bit more time and get myself, my canines and my vehicles back to Talkeetna in good shape than risk the shorter but less ‘driver friendly’ Glenn Highway route.

It should be obvious from the aforementioned monologue I’ve already invested a load of time into researching and planning this adventure but I also know so many factors like the weather, road conditions, traffic, wildfires and similar can make chutney of the best laid plans in the blink of an eye.  I will have my copy of ‘The Milepost’ with me as well as my Garmin GPS unit and a list of websites offering travel info in Alberta and British Columbia.  However, there are a very limited number of routes to get me from The Alaska Highway to Three Forks (MT) so I will have to be very aware of the conditions and also have at least a plan ‘B’ – if not a plan ‘C’, ‘plan ‘D” and similar – in my back pocket.  While this is a huge undertaking for a solo sixty four year old man it will offer incredible scenery, amazing wildlife, exceptional experiences and opportunities to meet a bevy of new and interesting folks.  Assuming I have internet connectivity at the places I overnight I plan to send out updates on my progress and share some of my best images and experiences.  If all goes according to plan I should be pulling out of my driveway fully loaded before 06:00 on Sunday, September 3rd.  Let the adventure begin..!!!

R-pod Door side

Another view of my R-pod this time from the ‘door’ side

R-pod inputs

An image showing the many inputs/outputs of the R-pod

 

Alaskan Skies & Weather

A number of readers of this blog have commented on the images I sometimes include with a posting and quite a number of folks have expressed real amazement at some of the collages I’ve blogged.  A recent reader shared some thoughts with me; from these grew the idea of creating this piece which is really a blog regarding Alaskan skies and weather scenes.  This was very difficult to create simply because I have so many beautiful images of The Last Frontier’s skies and unusual/extreme weather.  I believe my initial perusal left me with almost sixty images; from these I managed to winnow it down to ‘just’ thirty six and from there down to the following 18 images.  I will most likely do another such posting down the road and include the remainder of the final 36 images which just failed to make the cut.  So, for your enjoyment, I offer you eighteen images of ‘Alaskan Skies & Weather’…

GunsiteMountainSnow2.jpg

This is Gunsite Mountain just north of the Glenn Highway.  If you look closely at the ‘dished’ area you will see a tiny square notch with the overcast gray sky visible beyond; hence the mountain’s name.

The Spur after the storm.JPG

A portion of ‘the Spur’ which runs from the ‘Y’ (intersection of the ‘Y’ and the Parks Highway also known as AK 3) to the village of Talkeetna after an overnight early spring snowfall

SR Basin-taiga XC.jpg

Savage River Basin in Denali NP&P on an early September afternoon.  The taiga and tussock tundra are in full fall color; this image has not been manipulated in any manner and I wasn’t using any special filters.  It is just this colorful!

Lil Cloud That Could.JPG

I spied this ‘Little Cloud That Could’ on the Parks Highway just outside Houston.  I don’t know if the rain was reaching the ground but I’d never seen just a single small cloud in an almost clear sky trying so hard to make rain!

AK 11 Orange Trees CU.JPG

Hill side fall color along the Elliot Highway (AK 2) between its junction with the Dalton Highway (AK 11) and Fairbanks.  Notice the small line of orange colored trees just a bit above and left of center; such color is rare up here due to a dearth of hardwood trees.

Thunderstorm Outflow at Fish Lake.JPG

Classic thunderstorm out-wash above the float plane docks on Fish Lake around Mile 9.5 on the Spur.  The thunderstorms were forming along the Talkeetna Mountains to the east.

Timbers Red Sunset2.jpg

A fiery red sunset over Kachemak Bay as seen from the front porch of a magical little cabin in Kachemak Bay SP&P named ‘Timbers’.

Timbers-Fog.jpg

The same view as above but on a different day and time.

NL2.jpg

The incredible Aurora Borealis as seen from a neighbor’s place perhaps six miles north of my home.  The late fall/early winter of 2016/2017 featured amazingly clear skies and intense auroral activity.  Many nights I lay in bed and just watched ‘Nature’s Light Show’ for hours.

RichardsonHighwaySnow4.jpg

The eastern Alaska Range as seen from a pipeline access pull out on The Richardson Highway (AK 4) maybe thirty miles south of Delta Junction.  It was early September of 2000 when this image was captured looking SSW and a brief snow event had occurred across the night.

AK 11 Alyeska Pipeline Into Fog WA.JPG

Split layer fog is relatively common in Alaska and this is a classic shot of said weather phenomena.  Just left of center is the Alyeska pipeline with the road splitting off to the right.  This was taken somewhere along the Dalton Highway (AK 11).

Foraker Forming Lenticular Cloud in AM.JPG

Mighty Mount Foraker (17,400 feet in elevation) is tall enough to form its own weather as evidenced by the lenticular clouds forming above its peak.  This image was taken from the Spur around Mile 5.

AK 11 Alyeska Pullout Sunset 6.JPG

A ‘molten’ orange-red sunset taken from a pull-out along the Dalton Highway (AK 11) just a bit north of Coldfoot.

MtIliamna Sunset.jpg

A majestic early September sunset above Mount Illiamna which is a four peaked active ‘strato-volcano’ exceeding 10,000 feet in elevation.  The image was taken at Stariski SRS and is looking west across Cook Inlet.

DaltonHighway-Sky.jpg

The huge Alaskan sky as seen from a gravel pit pull-out along the Dalton Highway (AK 11).  My buddy was using his video camera to capture the same ‘big sky’ effect.

Blowing Snow on Spur.JPG

It’s Alaska so ya gotta have one image of snow falling, right..?  This was taken in January of 2017 as I was driving south down the Spur from the village to my home.

Clouds Then Mountains CU.JPG

Close up of an unknown glacier in the Kenai Mountains with a thick cloud layer almost cutting off the tops of the mountains; the image was taken from the foothills around Homer and looking across Kachemak Bay.

Denali in Morning Alpenglow adj.JPG

Mighty Denali (20,287 feet in elevation) cloaked in morning Alpenglow as seen from the famous overlook on the Spur.  From this point the village of Talkeetna is just another couple miles up the road.

 

Sorry For The Recent Disappearance!

home-in-sparkling-snowfall

The ole Homestead the day before the Winter Solstice always looks better with a foot plus of snow!

First off, let me offer up my sincere hopes that everyone out there has the very Merriest of Christmases and the best New Year – or whatever holiday you may celebrate – yet!  I apologize for being ‘incommunicado’ of late; the demands of this season coupled with a thorough lack of creative spirit and two weeks spent fighting the ‘disease de jour’ ravaged my blogging.  With a bit of luck I should get back into the saddle after New Year’s.  I’ve missed sharing some of my thoughts and perceptions with you all but hopefully I will right that issue come January.  In the interim please stay happy, healthy and safe!  And if you are so blessed, spend as much time as possible with family and friends.  We never know how much time we have remaining to us so often it is best to treat each new day like the treasure that it is; after all, it could be our last..!

cold-afternoon-at-the-y-cu

A cold albeit colorful afternoon sky down south at the intersection of the Spur and the Parks Highway (aka ‘The Glenn Parks, AK 3, etc.) also know by the locals as ‘the ‘Y’…

 

 

 

 

The Rains of September

Most folks following this blog know of my fascination with meteorology and my expression of said interest by participating in volunteer functions like ‘Skywarn spotting’ and ‘CoCoRaHS’ (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow network) as well as reporting on the marvelous extremes of weather in The Last Frontier.  I’ve always been a sky watcher and had learned to predict short term weather in the lower 48 just by observing the clouds and winds along with the barometric pressure.  Since relocating to Alaska I’ve had to re-learn this knowledge as it is quite different this far north but I’m having great fun undertaking this re-education.

August is historically Talkeetna’s rainiest month averaging 4.5″ (11.43 cm) of rain but September is a close second at 4.2″ (10.67 cm) of rain.  As you may know from June and July’s wildfires in The Great Land 2015 has been very dry, at least up until this month.  During 2015 only July hit its historical rainfall amount although obviously September is going to grossly exceed its ‘typical’ rainfall!  As I watch the ongoing moderate rains out my office window I am again reminded that in Alaska the weather rules and we humans are just along for the ride and must learn to be both flexible and patient.  Since this latest rain event started last Saturday evening I’ve recorded 2.14″ (5.44 cm) of rain with 1.44″ (3.66 cm) of that amount occurring between 07:00 Sunday morning and 07:00 this (Monday, 09/28) morning.  Since sending in that report to CoCoRaHS this morning I’ve accumulated another 0.33″ (0.84 cm) or so as of 10:40 AKDST and the rain continues:

CoCoRaHS Rain Gauge showing 0.33

CoCoRaHS Rain Gauge showing 0.33″ accumulated rainfall in previous 3.6 hours!

I believe the aforementioned 1.44″ (3.66 cm) of rain across a 24 hour period is the largest amount I’ve recorded during such a time period since relocating to Alaska in September of 2013.

Yet this rain is just the precursor to what could well be significant accumulating snowfall which NWS is currently projecting to begin in roughly 24 hours for this area.  Everything depends upon the speed at which the very cold mass of Siberian air moves into the Mat-Su Valley; the faster this happens the more snow we will receive.  If it happens sooner than forecast we could see over 6″ (15.24 cm) of snow especially at elevations above 1,000 feet (304.8 m) in the Susitna Valley with larger accumulations further north.  If it arrives later then we’ll see more rain and less snow.  I sympathize with the forecasting folks at NWS because so much affects the movement of such an air mass like pressure, upper level winds, lower level winds in the mountains and temperature.

I am very concerned about the rain; given we’ve already seen 2.14″ (5.44 cm) since the event began Saturday evening and the rain is forecast to continue as moderate to heavy rain into Tuesday we could see amounts above 3.5″ (8.89 cm) across the period.  Because the ground is already beginning to freeze the water cannot soak in as well and hence tends to pool and form torrents which can and do wash out the local road system.  I am expecting to pick up a buddy flying from SW Michigan to Anchorage this Wednesday (09/30) evening and the only driving route to Anchorage is the Parks Highway (AK 3) to the Glenn Highway (AK 1).  There are numerous areas along the Parks between Talkeetna and the intersection with the Glenn which have washed out in the past and these conditions are as extreme in terms of rain as any I’ve experienced in my 24 months living up here.  I have driven the Parks in snow and ice but I’ve never had to negotiate washed out areas; at least that hadn’t been repaired before my arrival.

While I love snow and cold I must admit to hoping that the rains do not continue as they sure appear they will do; I’d rather negotiate a foot (30.48 cm) of snow than try to navigate washed out portions of the Parks!  Ironically my buddy is visiting in part to assist me with mounting an electric winch on my Escape; at least I do have a hand powered ‘come along’ capable of moving 4,000 pounds (1,841.4 kg) in the back cargo area along with my standard winter survival kit.  I never thought I’d be hoping for little snow and no more rain but this is the case!  I will remain glued to the NWS and ADOT websites especially tomorrow morning moving into Wednesday.  It appears Alaska is looking to test me once again and I can only rely on my experience and the reports from the aforementioned services to determine if I should attempt the drive Wednesday evening.  At least my buddy has the option of getting a rental car and motel room should the worst come to fruition…

I've never seen so much ponding water on my driveway! In fact I can never remember seeing any pools of water on the portion in this image!!

I’ve never seen so much ponding water on my driveway! In fact I can never remember seeing any pools of water on the portion in this image!!

 

Family Visits ‘n Fun!

Of late you may have noticed a dearth of postings on my site; there is a reason for this and said dearth will continue into early September.  My sister and brother in law – Sal and Gene – are visiting Alaska for the first time.  They began their travels with a flight from Colorado Springs (CO) to Vancouver (BC) where they boarded a cruise which took them up the Inside Passage with stops at Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Glacier Bay before reaching Seward where they disembarked and spent a day visiting the sites.  Then they took a bus to Anchorage, spent a day looking around and then boarded the Alaska Railroad and traveled up here. 

Since they arrived the weather cleared up and has been warm and dry; I told them they were welcome any time and that Alaska was smiling on them!  Since arriving they’ve done the ‘Grand Tour’ on a K2 Aviation Beaver which flew them among the peaks and valleys of The Alaska Range as well as landing on a glacier.  We visited the Palmer-Wasilla area via the Hatcher Pass road, toured the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer (neat place and well worth the time), picked up great fish and meat at Mat Valley Meats in Palmer and shopped Fred Meyer before heading back to Talkeetna via the Parks Highway.  I’ve driven them around the area and they spent Saturday morning wandering the village.  Sunday they participated in my music show on KTNA; they gave their impressions of ‘The Great Land’ in general and of Talkeetna in particular in between music.  Both were fascinated by live radio and really got a kick out of seeing their ‘little brother’ make it happen.  They have walked ‘the Kidz’ multiple times each day and Sal is still trying to get a picture of the musher who takes her team up and down East Barge Drive on her ATV.  I’ve seen a bevy of moose but sadly Sal and Gene haven’t been with me but they did see a pair of moose in Hatcher Pass.  I also caught a brief glimpse of a grizzly at Mile 2.8 of the Spur but once again they were not in the Escape.

We finished baking six apple pies Sunday afternoon and gave one to my neighbor (Cathy); the remainder will go to Holly (my dear friend and realtor), the KTNA staff, the ‘ladies of the Talkeetna PO’ and another neighbor leaving one for us.  I still want to introduce them to more folks around town and get in a Mahay’s Jet Boar ride up the Susitna River.  Wednesday we drive to Anchorage to pick up a RV; we’ll return here to load it up and then head north to the Denali Highway.  As pets are not allowed in the rental RV Mark will live here in our absence and handle ‘the Kidz’.  We’ll be in Denali NP&P from Friday through Sunday and then most likely drive into the Kenai and visit Homer and the immediate area.  Then we turn in the RV the next Wednesday and we’ll have another four days here before they depart.

All told it has been a wonderful visit to this point and it there’s no reason to assume it will not continue to be great.  I am hoping they will get to see wildlife on Saturday when we take the bus in the Park to Wonder Lake.  At least they’ve already had a chance to see The Alaska Range in general and Denali, Mt Hunter and Mt Foraker in particular from Talkeetna so even if we don’t see ‘the Mountain’ in the Park it will be okay.  I’m also hoping for more moose views around here and in the Kenai and I remain hopeful they will get to see some grizzlies in the Park as well.

It has been a fantastic visit to this point so here’s hoping for more of the same!  I will be back to blogging on a more regular schedule come early September.  Here’s wishing everyone a great remainder of summer and a colorful upcoming fall..!

Sis Sal fitting glacier boots for walking on the glacier

Sis Sal fitting glacier boots for walking on the glacier

Heading to the Beaver!

Heading to the Beaver!

Hatcher Pass mine and vista!

Hatcher Pass mine and vista!

A cow moose and two yearling calves on the Spur

A cow moose and two yearling calves on the Spur

Data screens at the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, AK

Data screens at the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, AK

My First Look At The Willow Area

My final OT session was yesterday (Thursday, June 25th) and so I had reason to make the 64 mile drive south down the Parks Highway to Wasilla; in so doing I drove through the Willow area. It occurred to me I’ve never actually seen an area recently burned by a wildfire and so I was basically clueless as to what I would see. Much to my surprise it was actually rather limited in scope but then this was only what  I could view from the highway as I had no intention of wandering around the area. I began to see burned areas perhaps four miles north of Willow and recognized the destruction was extremely haphazard in nature; in some areas wide swaths of forest were burned but in others just pockets of forest and grassy areas were blackened with other areas immediately adjacent untouched. I also witnessed a couple of apparently intact dwellings surrounded by blackened forest; this bore testimony to the valor and skill of the hero firefighters and possibly some die-hard locals.The air was just a bit hazy but I believe this was due to the slowly breaking down temperature inversion we’ve experienced across this week but the instantly recognizable smell of ‘wildfire’ was everywhere. Along with the smell were numerous signs thanking the firefighters; in addition there were official signs designating command centers, a heli-pad, and marshaling points. I also did see a few fire vehicles off the road in burned areas. The main town of Willow appeared to be untouched by the fire but was mostly surrounded by burned areas especially to the north and east. While driving through Willow I tried to imagine how it would have appeared with smoke and active fire all around the outskirts; it would have been very frightening!

I must admit that I had expected to see more damage given all the reports and aerial coverage but was very pleased to see a relative dearth of destroyed buildings. This is not to minimize the destruction wrought by the Sockeye Fire; it was very costly and only because of the heroic actions of the firefighters and immediate action on the part of the Mat-Su Borough in getting evacuation plans functioning were no lives lost. Even so it was a debilitating fire and something no one would want to experience if given a choice. It is up to we Alaskans to insure our sisters and brothers receive all the assistance they require to put their lives back together. While heartbreaking to lose one’s home and possessions to such an event in the end it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been especially as Mother Nature did not cooperate. In the final analysis possessions are just ‘things’ but life is special and also irreplaceable.

Concentration of firefighting vehicles just north of Willow

Concentration of firefighting vehicles just north of Willow

Burned areas on both sides of the Parks north of Willow

Burned areas on both sides of the Parks north of Willow

Close up of burned Boreal Forest

Close up of burned Boreal Forest

Fire truck heading north on the Parks Highway

Fire truck heading north on the Parks Highway

 

Just When We Don’t Need Hot, Windy and Dry Conditions…

Alaska has an amazing way of demonstrating just how little real ‘control’ we humans can exert upon this awesome state and yesterday we saw another humbling example of this truism. My friend Mark stopped in around 14:30 and told me a wildfire was burning to the south around Mile 78 of the Parks Highway. We immediately turned on the television but had to wait until 17:00 to get an Anchorage newscast; from it we learned a wildfire was burning out of control along the western side of the Parks at Mile 76 and had jumped the Parks Highway and was now burning along the east side as well. The state troopers had closed the Parks at Mile 78 to any traffic south bound; they were also diverting folks trying to drive north. At that time the fire was believed to be about 30 acres in size. Around 17:20 we decided to make the 7 mile trip to Cubby’s – a small grocery store – at the intersection of the Spur and the Parks Highway. As we approached the entrance to Cubby’s from the Parks we could see a huge cloud to the south along with the upwelling of ash brown smoke. This was our first glimpse of what was to become the Sockeye Wildfire.

The parking lot of Cubby’s was filled and inside it was a mess; many locals and tourists didn’t even know there was a fire and those that did were scrambling. The RVer’s were buying anything they could grab and many tourists in cars were panicking because they needed to get south. Few people had even the scant information we possessed so we disseminated what little we knew to the crowds. Upon finishing our shopping we headed back to the Spur; in so doing we saw a trooper parked on the side of the road stopping folks southbound on the Parks. They were allowing anyone access who lived at Mile 80 or further north; all others were being diverted to Talkeetna or asked to head north. Driving north on the Spur I saw three large Princess Cruise Lines buses pulled off on the side of the road; I’m sure they were trying to figure out what to do. As tourist season is in full bloom most of the rooms in Talkeetna were occupied and I’m sure by Sunday evening there was no lodging to be had in the village or outlying areas.

Our weather was about the worst it could be with blazing sunshine, an air temp of 84 F along with 30+ mph northerly winds and a relative humidity of just 22%. Sadly today is the same but as of 13:12 AKDT the outdoor temp is already 84.2 F with just 26% RH and 25+ mph northerly winds. Given our maximum temps are now occurring around 20:00 we will most likely set a record with temps near if not exceeding 90 F. Because of the northerly winds this area is safe; in this sense we are extremely lucky. But the fire continues to burn out of control and within a bit over 12 hours it has grown from just 30 acres to more than 6,200 acres; that’s an increase in size of almost 207 times!!  The Parks is currently open but is just one lane through the Willow area and vehicles can only drive this area when led by a pilot car.  Given the usual amount of summer traffic on the Parks coupled with a very busy tourist season there are a lot of rightly worried people.  Sadly many tourists are getting a taste of what it is like to live in Alaska!

Out of control due to high winds and hot temps with low humidity the Sockeye Fire burns ever onward

Out of control due to high winds and hot temps with low humidity the Sockeye Fire burns ever onward

The tenuous hold we humans have in ‘The Great Land’ is highlighted by this fire; in just 24 hours the blaze has cut the only road from Anchorage and the Palmer/Wasilla area to the interior and is destroying homes and properties. Normally the state allows wildfires to burn uncontrolled unless lives or property are in danger; in this case they are working feverishly to contain the fire.  Six ‘hot shot’ teams were flown in from the lower 48 last night and are on the fire lines along with every available firefighting team from the state. As of this writing it has spread to the outskirts of the Nancy Lake area which is large and densely populated – at least by Alaskan terms – with expensive homes, summer cabins and lots of docks with lake access.  Just to the SE is Houston; it really lies at the northernmost reaches of the Wasilla area. These folks are being evacuated as are those in the Nancy Lake area.

Iditarod contestant Jan Steve's Willow home

Iditarod contestant Jan Steve’s Willow home

Alaskans know Mother Nature will largely do as she will and there’s little we can do about it but go with the flow. But we can support our neighbors and do all we can to help them not just survive this disaster but also rebuild. For the near term just trying to organize to assist them is a huge chore; no one knows just how much work will be required in the future to help them re-establish their lives.  Not that most of us needed the reminder but we humans exist in this majestic state at the benevolence of Mother Nature; as such we must always remember she can be a fickle landlord.  Please say a prayer for all our neighbors to the immediate south and for all the brave firefighters!

Water tanker aircraft makes a run on the Sockeye Wildfire around Willow

Water tanker aircraft makes a run on the Sockeye Wildfire around Willow