Camera: Minolta SRT201; Film: Kodak 35mm, Ektar100
Camera: Minolta SRT201; Film: Kodak 35mm, Ektar100
It’s the first day of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, although to be perfectly honest, we are well underway up here in Interior Alaska. The colors have definitely peaked already, and over half of the leaves are now on the ground.
I had an unscheduled day off on Monday. A job cancelled on Friday, and there wasn’t enough time, or ambition, to schedule something else in its place. It’s unusual for me to get a nice day on an unscheduled day off, and Monday was an absolutely beautiful fall day up here.
So I spent the afternoon hiking the seemingly, endless system of trails that start at my deck. I saw only one other person and her dog at the start of the hike, and after that it was only the grouse, red squirrels, a couple of moose and myself.
The woods were mostly silent, with only the occasional scolding from a squirrel, or the pre-flush clucking of a grouse. Even the trail, loaded with a carpet of leaves, allowed me to pass with barely a sound: Only a faint rustling was left in my wake.
When we were camping at Blueberry Lake earlier this summer, we spent a rare sunny day hiking up to Worthington Glacier.
Worthington Glacier is located in Thompson Pass at Milepost 29 of the Richardson Highway. It’s a typical small valley glacier, approximately 4 miles long, and sits at an elevation of 3800 feet.
In normal years, the glacier is one of the most visited recreation areas on the Richardson, but this year we were the only ones hiking out at the glacier, while a few people hung out at the viewing area.
Worthington Glacier is retreating, although not quite as fast as other glaciers in Alaska. Thompson Pass is the snowiest area in the state of Alaska. On average, the pass gets 500 inches of snow every winter. It holds the state records of 974″ of snow in a year (81 feet!), and the most snow in a single day at 62 inches.
Still, Worthington is in retreat. In the late 1990’s, the glacier extended to the pond in the picture above. In the last 20 years, Worthington has retreated a quarter of a mile, in spite of the tremendous snowfall in the area.
On what has become an annual visit, I swung by Exit Glacier with some visitors last week. The picture was taken from where the foot of the glacier stood in 2010.
A Pandemic Roadtrip: Part 2
Day two of the road trip had absolutely beautiful weather. Slightly cooler than the day before, but still warm and a tad sticky.
I had camped out fairly close to Devil’s Tower, and actually had no real plans to stop. In the end, the sight of that column of rock rising up from above the Belle Fourche River valley, was too tempting.
Devil’s Tower is a butte formed of igneous rock. Known as the Bear’s Lodge locally, The Tower was the first national monument in the United States, established in 1906 by then President Theodore Roosevelt.
The Tower rises 1267 feet above the Belle Fourche River, and is 867 feet from base to summit. It’s an impressive sight, and I was not the only visitor to the monument.
The visitor’s center was closed. The parking lot at the trailhead was full, although the overflow parking was not. There was not one car in the parking lot with a Wyoming license plate; everyone was out of state. There were a lot of RV’s trying to force their way into some sort of parking situation, and park workers tried valiantly to get them to park in RV parking. So that part of the experience was no different than Pre-Covid.
There is a trail that runs around the Tower itself, that I had already trekked in the past. It was crowded, and confusion ran rampant. Once again, park workers were doing their best to get people to social distance, but few people were paying any attention. I decided to pass on that trail, and found a side track that no one else was on, just to stretch my legs.
Eventually, I had to get back on the road. It didn’t take long to pick up the interstate again, and I was off for Montana. Camping in the Lolo National Forest was the goal for the night.
The North Slope village of Utqiagvik woke up to -20F degree temperatures on Wednesday morning. That was a record low for the day for the village. It was Utqiagvik’s first recording of a record low since 21 December 2007. During that same time span, the village had set or tied 112 record high temperatures.
Alaska has started to “reopen” businesses throughout the state, with everyone seemingly holding their breath as it happens. Travel restrictions into the state remain in place. Restaurants are now able to seat to within 25% of capacity, and members at a table are supposed to be from the same household.
The Fairbanks Borough had seen two weeks go by without a new case of Covid-19, but that ended on Sunday with a case in North Pole. Since then, North Pole has seen another diagnosed case. The State had six new cases on Tuesday, for a total of 351. 228 individuals have recovered from Covid-19, and nine Alaskans have died from the virus. Concerning, to me at least, is the first recorded cases in small, isolated, communities like Kodiak, Petersburg and Sitka after a long period of social distancing.
Fishing communities are still struggling with what to do for the summer season. Valdez has decided to allow fishermen into town without any quarantine, where several smaller communities are demanding a quarantine. The State of Alaska has agreed to allow fishermen to quarantine on their boats, although a realistic plan for that option remains elusive, considering most fly into these small communities, and air travel between towns not on the road system is off limits. Travel between communities on the road system is now being allowed.
Tourism is all but scrapped for the 2020 season. The two main cruise ship companies have written off Alaska for the year, and have even decided to keep their lodges and hotels closed until late spring 2021.
Denali National Park has now opened the Park Road to Mile 12. As spring takes a stronger grip on the land, the Park will continue to open up more of the road as conditions allow. Denali Park is also considering having additional road lotteries in 2020. The lottery, which allows permit holders to drive well into the Park, where usually only busses are allowed, takes place in September. Additional opportunities would be extremely welcome. I’m thrilled with the idea, since the State is all but closed to Outside tourists this year.
The Denali Highway, not to be confused with the Denali Park Road, is NOT open. Yet, people keep getting stuck on the road between Cantwell and Paxson. The Denali Highway, possibly the best drive in Alaska, is not maintained during the winter. It is also not paved, which keeps the riffraff numbers down. Or at least, the tour busses.