Category Archives: Alaska

Happy Autumnal Equinox

Autumn has officially arrived. Which for those of us in the north, means snow should be just around the corner.


Walking Poker Flat

Entrance to Poker Flat Research Range

It’s early August and people were starting to think “white stuff”. I had three jobs lined up, everyone desperate for me to start, yet not one of them was ready for me. What to do with the day off?

As luck would have it, Poker Flat Research Range had one of their summer walking tours that day, so I drove the 25 miles out to Chatanika.

“The Blockhouse” or bunker

PFRR is the world’s largest land-based rocket range. The facility is owned by the University of Alaska – Fairbanks. They launch sounding rockets from the range, in order to study the Earth’s atmosphere and the interaction between the atmosphere and the space environment.

Space junk returned to Earth

Study ranges from the Earth’s magnetic field to the aurora. NASA is prominent at the range, but researchers come from all over the world. All of the rockets launched from PFRR return to the Earth’s surface, and the range collects the spent payloads every summer. There is a reward paid out to anyone finding material from Poker Flat.

Poker Flat Launch Pad

The building above is open on the far end. The interior of the building, and the actual launch pad, was off limits to photography. It’s a NASA rule that doesn’t thrill UAF apparently, but we all honored the rule. The sounding rocket is brought in on what is basically an open trailer. The rocket is loaded onto the launcher, which looks like a giant erector set with a large pivot. The building itself is sitting on a pair of tracks. When ready to begin countdown, the building is pulled back away from the pad, and the rocket is spun vertical with the large erector set pivot.

Mission Control

The control center was surprisingly manual in operation. Scientists are extremely fussy about launch conditions, and they often pull the plug with one second to go. An automatic system does not give the flexibility that is needed, so there is still a “launch button”.

Power central

That doesn’t mean there is a shortage of cable, wires, or connectors.

The touring rocket

PFRR does a good job with the tour. It’s pretty relaxed, and a nice way to spend some time outdoors, for the most part, in an Interior Alaska summer. After the tour, don’t forget to stop by the Chatanika Lodge, which is just down the highway.


Catch of Day Two

We caught some fish

Normally, we head down to Seward with the idea that we may get one day of fishing in with decent seas. This year, we went down knowing we had perfect weather for the entire time on the coast.

The second day out, we hit the silvers early and often outside of Resurrection Bay. Once we hit our limit there, we came into the Bay for the possibility of three more silvers each. The fishing within Resurrection Bay was considerably slower, but we did catch some cohos.

Since we were planning on being out on the water all day, we wrapped things up by going after rock fish. It took us a couple of stops to find them, but when we did, it was nonstop action. Rock fish are a blast to fish, and they are incredible eating too.

It was a great day out on the water, and I have a nicely stocked freezer as winter approaches.

It’s not full, but the freezer holds some fish


September!

Fireweed gone to seed

Of the twelve months, September is my favorite in Interior Alaska. That holds true even though I know what lies just around the corner.

The length of days would be considered “normal” in the Outside world. Sunrise on the final day of August was 6:29am, with sunset coming in at 9:12pm, for a loss of 7 minutes from the day before.

Mornings carry a heavy dew, and there is a definite chill to the air. We have already seen several nights with a hard frost. A hike down any trail is likely to bring the scent of woodsmoke from a cabin or two. Finally, the scent comes from chimneys and not wildfires.

The change of colors has started

The sound of cranes and geese filled the air today, as they gather their flocks for the trip south. A bull moose showed himself this morning; his massive set of antlers now devoid of velvet. For the next two weeks, I expect he will make himself scarce.

Finishing preparations for the coming winter likely dominate thoughts, but one can not forget to get outside and enjoy the brilliance of this month of transformation.

As much as I love the long days of June, I revel in the colorful days of September.


SS Nenana Day

Artwork: The SS Nenana

Saturday, August 17 is SS Nenana Day at Pioneer Park.

Friends of the old stern wheeler are throwing it a party to help with finances for her renovation. Celebrate the Last Lady of the River.


Alaska Wild Salmon Day

We have circled around once again to the day we officially celebrate the wild salmon here in Alaska. It can not be stressed enough how this aquatic migrator is vital to both Alaska’s economy and psyche.

Festivities can be found throughout Alaska today. Events include everything from catching & cleaning, to preparing our favorite fish. I’m sure you can even find some salmon poetry if you look for it.

So, grab that rod and get out on a river bank or climb over the gunwales and wet your line. The salmon are running.


Canoe Repair

Cracks in the hull, minus the moose hoof prints

Prior to heading out to the lake a couple of weeks ago, I had to do some repair work to the hull on my Old Town Discovery canoe. This past winter, I followed moose tracks over to where I had the canoe stored, and found that the moose tried to go through the canoe. I thought it was stored well enough on saw horses, but a moose does what it wants to, and I’m sure it looked like a snow covered log.

There were moose prints in the snow covering the canoe, but it must have realized that it wasn’t a log. If a moose had put all its weight on the Old Town, it would have gone through the hull. As it turned out, the moose only put a few cracks in it. To be fair, the canoe is at least 30 years old, so I have received my money’s worth, but I also like to squeeze every bit out of something I can.

So I decided to repair the hull.

Sanded hull

The first step was to get the canoe in the Rover Hut, then sand the entire hull.

Acetone the hull

I then cleaned the entire hull with acetone. Warning: Acetone should only be used in a well ventilated area**

After the cleaning, I cut alongside the cracks with a razor blade to allow the epoxy I was going to use to get down into the cracks. Then I cleaned the entire hull a second time with the acetone. Luckily, acetone dries extremely quickly.

G-Flex 650 Epoxy

After some internet searching, I found that the G-Flex epoxy was the best product out there to repair the Royalex of an Old Town canoe. I called their tech center to tell them my plan, and get any insight from them. They were incredibly helpful! I received the go ahead from them, and went back out to the Rover Hut. Side note: I did have some down time. The product is not sold in Fairbanks, so I ordered it from Amazon. They promptly sent me a box containing only the epoxy hardener, which is utterly useless by itself.

Filling the cracks with epoxy

Like most epoxies, G-Flex is a two part system. There is a resin Part A, and a hardener Part B. You mix equal parts of both together to get the working epoxy. I mixed up a small batch, and filled the large cracks. The next day, I flipped the canoe over to fill brush some epoxy over the cracks that had come close to coming all the way through the hull.

The hull completely coated in G-flex epoxy

Because of the canoe’s age, there was a fair amount of what I would describe as “spider-webbing”. A series of tiny cracks that had not gone through the hull, but had probably made it easier for the moose to cause the large ones. I wanted to coat the entire hull in the epoxy to at least buy me some time with the spider-webbing. Luckily, the G-Flex went on rather easy with a brush, and spread out in an even coat.

The epoxy can be top coated, although I have not done so. Krylon Fusion spray paint is said to work well on Royalex, but again, I have not attempted that.

The Discovery back on the water

The end result: The old canoe was back on the water, and glided just like it did when I bought it. No leaks, and the epoxy didn’t scare away the lake trout.


The waning of summer

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Fairbanks daylight; Graph by @AlaskaWX

Civil twilight ended on Sunday morning in Fairbanks. Monday was the first time since May 16th, that we have not experienced civil twilight at night. All night.  Basically, during civil twilight, the sun is just below the horizon, which allows for most outdoor activities to take place without artificial lights. As if to punctuate that fact, when I returned home from the working-fishing trip, my security light came on for the first time in months.

Sigh.

Fairbanks community wood pile

I needed one more truckload of firewood to put me over the top for the coming burning season, so I went the easy route and picked one up. The wood has now been hauled, split and stacked. It’s a good feeling to have all those BTU’s piled up outside the cabin. I’m ready for a cold winter, but if we have a mild one like last year, I’ll have quite a bit left over.

Fireweed past bloom

 

Fireweed is our unofficial harbinger of darkness. The plant blooms from the bottom to the top. When we reach the peak of the fireweed blossom, like we have right now, residents of Interior Alaska feel a natural sense of apprehension. Summer is nearing its end; winter is close at hand.

What about autumn in the Interior? It’s beautiful, and to be honest, September is my favorite month up here. With a little luck, autumn could last a good 3-4 days.


“Gasoline on a Stick”

One reason the Shovel Creek Fire has been such a persistent pain for firefighters and locals alike, is that much of the forested area surrounding Murphy Dome is saturated with black spruce. The resins in the black spruce makes the trees highly flammable; once flames hit the boughs, the flames race up the tree with amazing ferocity and speed. A wildfire can double in size very quickly. That is why black spruce has earned the nick-name: “Gasoline on a Stick”.


A firefighting crew on Old Murphy Dome Road, fighting the Shovel Creek Fire; Photo credit: AKFireInfo

The past few days have been brutal, air quality-wise. Fairbanks was way past double the unhealthy level of particulates in the air, and the Murphy Dome area was way past triple on Wednesday. The smoke has been bad enough for my UPS driver to show up wearing a dust mask this week.
Rain is on everyone’s mind, but the forecast is for more lightning than rain drops this coming weekend.

This season, 1.28 million acres have been burned by wildfires. That’s one Rhode Island, every 10 days.

For the first time since records have been kept, NOAA analysis has the July-June (2018-2019) average temperature for the entire state of Alaska at above freezing.


Alaskan Heat Dome


A huge upper-level high pressure has parked itself over much of southern Alaska; Graphic credit: TropicalTidbits.com

Record breaking temps hit the southern part of Alaska on July 4th. A large high pressure dome has planted itself over the state, and is moving very slowly north and east. Several communities in the southern part of the state have seen all time record high temperature records broken. Fairbanks probably won’t be seeing any all time records broken, but we are going to see temps in the upper 80’s within a day or two as the high pressure moves into our area. Just what we need with all the fires around the area.

Broken records:

Anchorage Merrill Field: 90F
King Salmon: 89F
Kenai: 89F
Illiamna: 86F

These are all-time record highs for our coastal areas; The Anchorage Bowl had never recorded 90 degrees before. When one thinks of King Salmon, you picture wet, rainy, cool weather as you fish for salmon. The coast could be breaking records for the next 5-6 days, as the high pressure takes its time moving out of the area.