As I prepare for my next great adventure to pick up my R-pod from a rural farm in Three Forks, Montana I thought perhaps I should finish clearing out some of more memorable images from my Alaskan life and visits. Included in this collage is an image taken on The Alaska Highway in British Columbia during my relocation trip from SE Michigan to Talkeetna. I mention it only because technically it isn’t Alaskan weather or Alaskan skies but it was tied to moving up here. I hope to be able to share some amazing images from the majestic provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and The Yukon Territories as well as from Montana and, of course, Alaska. Here’s to the wonder and majesty of Nature regardless of its location!
Wow, what a difference a week can make! Just seven days back we were entering a substantial cold snap that lasted four full days during which we never saw temps rise above 0° F (-17.8° C) and our lowest temp was probably a bit below -40° F (-40° C). I write ‘probably a bit below’ because my two electronic temperature sensors stopped transmitting between -34° F (-36.7° C) and -39.7° F (-39.8° C); I did see -39.7° F (-39.8° C) on my Ambient weather station outdoor temp sensor at 05:20 Thursday (January 19th) morning but when I finally arose around 07:30 the sensor was no longer transmitting data. Given the sun didn’t rise for another two hours I’m sure we dipped below -40° F/° C on that frigid morning.
One key learning was honored with my order of an 18” bi-metallic dial type thermometer good to -60° F (-51.1° C); I will not have to guess at low temps below -40° F/° C from this point forward. Despite having lived in this area for almost three and a half years until last week the coldest air I’d experienced was Chicago’s record low temp of -27.2° F (-32.9° C) which occurred on January 20, 1985. Although memory can be a tricky thing, especially across 32 years, my remembrances of that Chicago cold snap were of much colder temps. However, I’d wager the humidity was higher in Chicago and there were winds to 40 mph (64.4 kph) which were producing wind chills colder than -70° F (-56.7° C).
Living within an immense span of boreal forest – if in doubt just look up Talkeetna using Google Maps and pull out to view the northern half of the Susitna Valley – has the advantage of really degrading wind. We do see substantial winds off the Talkeetna Mountains to the east and The Alaska Range to the north but while the tops of the birch trees – around 35 feet (10.7 meters) in elevation – might be really swaying in winds probably gusting to 30 to 40 mph (48 to 64 kph) I rarely measure even 5 mph (8 kph) breezes at ground level. Thus during the cold snap I saw very little in terms of wind chill. This allowed me to replace the lithium battery in my Davis Vantage Pro 2 weather station’s sensor platform in -30° F (-34.4° C) temps while maintaining complete comfort. I’d learned the value of layering outdoor clothing when facing Alaskan winters early on. Only my fingers became a bit chilled when I had to swap my insulated mittens for poly pro glove liners to do the actual ‘fine’ work of swapping the batteries.
My buddy Sarge installed a pair of exterior storm doors on my front and back doors during his October visit and I was impressed no end regarding their insulating ability. I’d wager my main floor stayed at least 3° F to 5° F warmer thanks to these doors. I haven’t seen many places that utilize storm doors up here; the most obvious issue would be any door opening out onto an unprotected area. If we were to receive 12” (30.5 cm) or more of snow it might be impossible to open the storm door. Thankfully my front door opens onto my front porch and hence snow build up is not an issue; when it is snowing I do try to keep the back porch cleared more often to facilitate getting the door open once the snow ceases.
I also learned a very important lesson regarding said aluminum storm doors; when the exterior temp drops to -25° F (-31.7° C) one shouldn’t touch any of the bare metal with bare skin! Doing so produces the equivalent of an electrical shock as it almost instantaneously pulls the heat from one’s skin. This is also true regarding the window glass; I started keeping a pair of poly pro glove liners at the front door so when I needed to let the kidz out I could put one on before pushing the storm door open. In addition I learned that the brutal cold can have deleterious effects on internal hardware; see the following picture of what happens when ya try to force a frozen hinge to function:
This particular hinge is part of my front door which is in the mud room.
My first winter in this area I learned of the necessity of keeping air circulating within one’s dwelling during cold snaps. My initial inclination was to close off a couple of second floor rooms which were not in use. Because my dwelling began its life as a cabin and has since had a number of additions, including the second floor, the air circulation is almost non-existent. During a three day run in December of 2013 when temps never reached zero and lows were dropping to -25.2° F (-31.8° C) I entered one of the shut up spare rooms to find the windows looking as such:
Needless to say I was not happy and quickly determined it was best to just deal with the cold air coming from the unused rooms while leaving them open such that some air could circulate!
My new home is an amazing place and Alaska is always teaching me something new; I need only keep my eyes and ears open and learn of her ways. There are many folks out there who think I’m borderline insane for seeking out such cold weather extremes; I suppose one could make such a case but then I’ve always loved the cold and, not surprisingly, loathed the heat especially when coupled with humidity. I did venture out briefly when the air temps were below -30° F (-34.4° C) and the conditions were amazing. The air was clear like I’ve never seen previously and the ‘immense silence’ was even more…immense! Just breathing took on a new feeling as air at such cold temps definitely causes one’s lungs to ‘tingle’. I remain in awe of this incredibly majestic albeit amazingly extreme state; while not for everyone those bitten by the ‘Alaska bug’ can never get enough of her magic…
If you’ve read any of the earlier posts in this blog you know about the awesome visit I just completed with my sister (Sally) and brother/brother in law (Gene) who hail from Monument, Colorado. This was their first visit to Alaska and they did it right by spending a week sailing up the Inside Passage from Vancouver, debarking at Seward, catching a wildlife cruise in Resurrection Bay, visiting the town and Kenai Fjords National Park, taking a bus to Anchorage and then riding the Alaska Railroad to Talkeetna where I picked them up. We spent 18 days together during which I was privileged to show them ‘my Alaska’ which consists of many locations most tourists don’t know exist let alone visit. Some of the aforementioned include East End Road in Homer, the west side of the Kenai Peninsula, the Denali Highway and Teklanika campsite in Denali NP&P.
During their visit we all took hundreds of images and I want to share some which I really enjoyed. With that said here’s the first ‘installment’:
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..!
The recent Labor Day weekend was gorgeous here in south central Alaska with three days of azure blue high pressure skies, abundant sunshine and highs in the lower to middle teens with morning lows from -2 C to 0 C. This was a refreshing change from the rather mundane weather across most of August and hopefully is a promise as to a ‘normal’ fall and especially winter this year. Granted, it was just a bit early to see freezing temps here in Talkeetna as it is more ‘normal’ to see frosts occurring around now with the actual freezes waiting until the second half of September but such conditions are far from unheard of in this area. My canine companions loved the cool morning walks; indeed, my female Alaskan Malamute (Anana) had a spring in her step and was running like I haven’t seen since last winter. Concurrent with this cooler weather darkness has once again returned to the night skies and I found I truly missed its presence across the previous three months! It was wonderful to once again see stars within the darkness. The seasonal dance is once more underway after seeming to have stalled during the summer and I couldn’t be more pleased.
I’m now almost a month into my second year of rural living in south central Alaska and I find I am loving the lifestyle even more; it just feels ‘right’ to be starting to work on a bevy of chores tied to the approach of fall. With the demise of the mosquitoes midway through August the propane tank on my ‘Mosquito Magnet’ obligingly emptied itself so I disconnected it and stored it in my shed. I’m just finishing cleaning and winterizing the main unit and soon it, too, will find its winter resting place in the shed. I pulled down my hummingbird feeder; it never attracted any of the ‘flying jewels’ but in July the Swallow Tailed Butterflies made good use of its nectar. I will probably not bother hanging it again next year but who knows; hope does spring eternal!
Last winter I learned an important lesson regarding the snow pack and my shed; even though it is more than a foot off the ground by December there was so much snow it was impossible to open the door. As I use it for storage this was a real problem; I could not get to items I needed and hence had to awkwardly wade the snow and shovel just enough away to get the door open. In hindsight we saw just 33% of the ‘typical’ snowfall last winter so this year I’m planning ahead and digging out items I know I’ll need like snow shovels, snow rake, battery charger/starter and similar. These will be staged on the front porch or in the mud room for easy access. I’ll return items like my bicycle, pump and ground pads to the shed. This will ensure I have the items I really need at the ready before the snow flies.
I also drained the gasoline in the generator and changed the oil. I took the three full five gallon Jerry cans of gasoline I’ve had on hand since last fall (Yes, I added Sta-bil to each just after filling!) and emptied them into the Escape’s fuel tank. I’ll haul all four can to the gas station, fill them up, return them to the house, add Sta-bil to each and empty one into the generator’s tank. This way I’ve cycled the gasoline and will have fifteen gallons on hand for the upcoming fall and winter. Last season I had all four cans filled along with the generator but given I used just one can across the period I think having three full cans as back up is probably sufficient.
I finally removed the sun shields from the master bedroom windows and replaced the screens; it was wonderful to once again have fresh air flowing in that room! I’ll leave the screens in now but will also be prepared to apply the 3M film once it is truly cold again. With the cool weekend I discovered my Toyo furnace is functioning just fine when I accidentally left a few windows open Friday night. I awoke early Saturday morning to a ‘strange’ noise; until I really became conscious I didn’t realize it was the Toyo firing up! Not being a fan of heating the great outdoors I immediately jumped up, threw on some clothes and proceeded to locate the three windows I’d left open and close them. Given the -0.5 C outdoor air temp I wasn’t surprised to see the main floor air temp was 9 C. Definitely a bone headed maneuver on my part but at least this did prove the Toyo is ready for the upcoming cold.
Thinking about last winter and some procedures which didn’t really work well I’ve some new plans of action. The dogs normally use the back door to access the back porch and then the back yard; I didn’t keep their path well shoveled initially and then I had a huge issue with icy steps. This year I’m getting my butt outside any time we have more than a few inches of new show and clearing it while the dogs are outside; my goal is to keep their access route clear of any ice and snow. Speaking of ‘the kidz’ I have booties for my male German Shepherd Dog (Qanuk) as he had real issues with the extreme cold last year; his paws eventually cracked and bled as did the areas between his pads. I now know I have to control his outside exercise based upon the air temp but the booties should also help. Anana suffered no issues which isn’t a surprise given this is the home of her breed but I will be checking even her tough paws on a regular basis.
As I measure daily precipitation for CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain Hail & Snow network) I will also need to keep the path to my snow board – it’s located on the SW corner of the back porch railing – open and as free from snow as possible. And, if we get any truly monumental dumps I will need to have access to the back yard such that I can shovel an area for the kidz to take care of their business. I’ll also insure I have a large broom staged by the back door as last year the snow was often light and fluffy and hence could be ‘broomed’ away. I’ve also rearranged my winter ‘ditty bag’ to fit into a milk crate which will go back into the Escape soon; it contains everything I’d need to get by for a few days if stranded by winter weather while out on the road.
These are just a few of the ongoing tasks one undertakes when preparing for the seasonal shift in this area. I truly enjoy them as they are reminders of last year’s fun in what winter we had and also a harbinger of the approaching fall and winter. All around me there are signs of this change; the birch are beginning to change into their yellow and gold colors and the taiga/tundra is already shifting to that majestic patchwork carpet of gorgeous reds, oranges, yellows and greens. There’s a feeling of increased activity within the boreal forest as the inhabitants prepare to either move to warmer areas or hunker down for the winter. In the lower 48 fall was always my favorite season; based on my 13 months of living in the Talkeetna area I’d say winter is now my favorite month with fall right behind it. But more than anything else I feel my essence reverberating in harmony with the seasonal changes and this seems to release more energy and appreciation of Nature’s wondrous dance…and what a partner she is!!
One of my favorite past times since moving to Talkeetna has been to regularly view the Alaska Range in general and Denali in particular. In this blog I’ve shared images of ‘the big three’ (Mount Foraker @ 17,400 feet, Mount Hunter at 14,700 feet and Denali @ 20,237 feet) as a group and as individuals. While all are impressive Denali remains my favorite for its sheer size; it’s just so ‘Alaskan’! Throughout most of the late fall and winter the mountains were visible mainly on clear days as just snow-covered peaks. Of late, however, there’s been warmer air that’s carried more moisture aloft and that has translated into more clouds of the layered kind as versed with the just plain thick cloud cover which obscures the range. The following are a couple of images taken last week of ‘the Mountain’ adorned with some interesting cloud formations. I’d love to see a lenticular cloud crowning Denali’s majestic peaks – there are both a north and south peak with the north being the highest – but I suspect such a situation would be extremely rare as the winds that blow around the peak are generally very strong and would most likely shred any large lenticular cloud. However, I am an avid Denali watcher and hope to some day catch such an event.
This image was taken from Mile 5.2 of the Spur which leads from The Parks Highway (AK 3) to ‘downtown’ Talkeetna
This image of Denali was taken a bit later last week and shows a feathery white cloud mass almost conforming to the top of ‘the Mountain’s’ peak. A careful review of the flanks of Denali reveals some of its rocky massif is visible which is indicative of slowly melting ice and snow due to the warm weather and long periods of daylight which is now around 18 hours of direct sunlight
One of the events I cherish in my new home is viewing true ‘alpenglow’ up here in ‘The Last Frontier’ and to this point I’ve seen some marvelous examples of the effect. To those unsure true ‘alpenglow’ is caused when the sun is just below the horizon – this can occur just before sunrise or just after sunset – such that the more energetic (i.e. higher frequency) portion of the visible light segment of the electromagnetic spectrum isn’t bent enough by the earth’s atmosphere and radiates into space while the less energetic (i.e lower frequency) portion – in this case the reds – are bent just enough to strike taller objects like mountains. The phenomena is always very short duration and requires a clear atmosphere. There are other instances of a pink to red light striking mountains which technically do not meet the above definition but are also referred to to as ‘alpenglow’. While I prefer the images of true alpenglow I have included a number of examples of both effects in the following pictures. This effect is just one more demonstration of the incredible natural beauty that truly makes ‘The Great Land’ unique and so memorable!
Mt Foraker, a 17,000 foot high mountain, shows true alpenglow on its western face
Denali and Mt Hunter awash in early morning alpenglow
Early morning alpenglow on The Alaska Range
Just the peak of Denali showing evening alpenglow
This is a shot of the Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords NP with its run-off in the foreground; the glacier is just a bit north of Seward in the Kenai Peninsula. It is an alpine style glacier and sadly has been retreating very quickly across the past few decades
Here is the Portage Glacier which is located in the northern Kenai Peninsula; it is a classic Alpine Glacier
The Alaska Range is full of glaciers and there’s an unnamed glacier sweeping down from The Alaska Range foothills in this image taken from the Paxson end of the Denali Highway (AK 8). This image was taken in early September of 2002 and although it was snowy and cold in the immediate vicinity of the mountains just getting a few tens of miles to the north or south saw sunshine and air temps in the fifties.
The toe of the mighty Matanuska Glacier as seen from a school driveway off the Glenn Highway. This glacier cut the Matanuska Valley which runs for over 100 miles east-west and separates the Chugach Mountains to the south from the Talkeetna Mountains to the north
Close up of Denali from overlook on the Spur just a couple miles south of the town of Talkeetna