Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I like cheese....NOT

So I decided that this entry will mainly be pictures...because I know all of you are tired of reading words when you can be instantly gratified by cool pictures!!! (P.S. I survived the canoe trip. Although I came devastatingly close, I did not die.)

Me and my precious shotgun last Wednesday at the shooting range. Don't I look so hardcore?

Shooting at the rushing "bear." That little screen thing in the back is a snarling bear about to eat me!
Sam, me, Julia, and Eve on our rafting trip. I did not discuss this in an earlier entry. Last Thursday, we went on a rafting trip (I think there were about 20 people in all) down the Kenai River. I think we rafted 10-12 miles...but I could be wrong. We saw amazing scenic vistas everywhere we went. Unfortunately, I didn't want to risk anything happening to my digital camera, so I couldn't take any pictures. All these pictures are happily provided to you by Eve Smallwood (copyright). This trip we probably saw the most variation in wildlife we've seen the entire time we've been here. We saw a moose and her (maybe) 4-day old meese babies, a beaver, a black bear and HER two cubs (amazing - unfortunately, nobody had a camera with a battery left at this point, so we couldn't take any pictures. But, we were driving back from our day trip in a huge 15-seater van when we saw a bear on the side of the road. And in all seriousness, the bear and her two cubs were literally 4 feet from the van. We got such an amazing view of them. And those pictures, my friends, are only in my heart.), a lone black bear, several eagles, several murganzer (sp?) ducks, goldeneye and harlequin ducks, and so much more. Our rafting guide person is a birder...so he told us all of this neat stuff about the waterfowl commonly seen. He said that hardcore birders travel from all over the world to see harlequin ducks right here in Alaska. And here we saw them everywhere. I felt so priviledged.
Here's a picture of the moose and her two babies. They were so unbelievably cute. They were all awkward on their legs.

A picture of us on the raft. I'm in the front. Sam and Julia are in the back somewhere, if you can spot them out. The rest of the people on the boat are trail crew and fire people. Anyway, after our rafting trip (which lasted about 4-5 hours) we went on a boating trip across Skilak lake. We saw a glacier in the distance (whose name fails me at the moment) and the absolutely breathtaking Kenai moutains surrounded us. We stopped onshore at a cabin and did a little roleplaying game to practice a potential emergency situation. We had to use the 7 survival rules to discuss and determine what we would do if we were stranded on this island with just the stuff on our backs and in our pockets. Mucho fun. Later that night (and unfortunately, or possibly thankfully I don't have pictures of this) we went to a bar and did some karaoke. Dad, I would have made you proud. Julia and I sang "Take on Me" by Aha! and "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" as duets. Although I suffered sweaty palms and shamefaced embarassment, it was hellishy funny. I kinda wish we did have pictures. Anyway, here's pictures of our canoe trip:

This was on our first day of canoeing. It absolutely poured on us the entire day. It was miserable, but fun (surprisingly). This little area was a portage, but thankfully, was one that we could canoe through. The other ones weren't so painless. We had to portage through muck that made you sink 'til you were knee-deep in sketchy brown stuff, with it underneath your nails, covering your hands, and if you were lucky, with it even splattered on your face (I was that lucky). With the exception of the final portage we did, I fell knee-deep in muck every single time. I was lucky (no exaggeration here) I didn't break my leg...because I almost did. We had to portage through trails that were knotty with tree roots, limbs, and full-on trees that blocked the path. The portages were long and arduous...but somehow we made through it, bruises on our spines and all.

This is a picture of me, Scott (our guide - Ranger on the refuge) and Eve. Me and Eve were partners (and tent sharers) the entire weekend. I think me and Eve shared something special that weekend that will forever change our relationship. Or not. This is me portaging a canoe. Doesn't it look like oodles of fun?? NOT! It was a horrible experience. Although I can say I can portage a canoe by myself, now. Nearing the end of the third day, Eve discovered a little something that would help us through 'til the end. She realized that listening to a little "Thriller" by Michael Jackson on her ipod while portaging would move mountains (or at least canoes). I, on the other hand, listened to some Jack Johnson. I have a new and unadulterated appreciation for Jack Johnson now...as he saved my life. (I'm considering writing him a personal note of thanks.) This is a picture of Sam [bless her heart - she seriously damaged her back this weekend - Randy - she'll be needing some serious therapy when she gets back :) ], Me, Eve, Scott (being a badass), Julia, Christa (YCC co-leader) and Ryan (YCC leader and motorcylist extraordinaire). These past two pictures are really funny. Eve set a timer on her camera and set it off a ways so that she could get a picture of all of us. Unfortunately, it looks like we're focusing on a leaf. But I kid you not, what is more important is what's in the picture beyond. This is Scott, me, Julia, Christa, and Eve. We're stalking the camera. Seriously. You see? Although we all practically died this weekend, we did have some fun.

Alright, the next string of pictures are from our trip to Homer. I know I talked about it...but I didn't allow you to experience the amazingness that is Homer. It was absolutely beautiful...and it was such a clear day - so I got some pretty sweet pictures of the mountains. (We now get into the pictures that were taken with my camera. You'll see the difference. And no...I am not bigheaded or biased about my camera or picture-taking abilities in the least.)

Julia, Eve, Sam and Me overlooking the Kachemak Bay. Although you can't see them in this picture, there's snow-covered mountains surrounding this bay. Here's Dan the man...the guy I have been constantly referencing. He's so much fun. This was at the Pratt museum in Homer...where we saw one of only two remaining skeletons of the entinct saw-toothed whale. Dan is wearing some emergency safety suit that you would wear if you had to do some life-saving in hypothermic water. On the side of the bin where this suit was stored was a little challenge to visitors: to see if you could put this suit on in 30 seconds or less. I'm pretty sure Dan failed. But at least he can successfully do the robot in it!!Sam, Me, Eve and Julia overlooking the Kachemak bay and Kenai mountain range. This was probably the highest point of Homer. It was an absolutely amazing view. This is the closest I could get with my camera (if you ask me, it's pretty close) of one of the mountains. If you look close enough near the bottom of the picture, you'll see a glacier. The snow looks a little different at the bottom than the rest of the mountain. The way you can spot a glacier is by the color of it. Glaciers tend to look blue, because the ice reflects all colors of the spectrum except for blue - which it absorbs from the blue of the sky. I promised a picture of this, didn't I? Buttwhackers: we pack 'em, rack 'em, whack 'em and sack 'em. I'm pretty sure they're talking about fish. I could be wrong. Right next to this lovely place was the Salty Dog Saloon. Apparently it's a hot spot of The Spit. I'm pretty sure I explained this in a previous post, but -- The Spit is an peninsula that juts off of the mainland of Homer. It's not too wide across...so you can easily walk from either side to have a nice jaunt on the beach.

Got this picture off of a bumper sticker on a truck. This is Homer's slogan...and boy, does it hit the mark. This is a picture from the Spit of the Kachemak bay and the Kenai mountains. The water is so unbelievably blue. It reminds me of the crystalline water of the Bahamas...could be the very same - if it weren't for the temperature difference.

Sam, me and Julia on our day hike on Burney's trail in the Refuge. I talked about it briefly in a previous post. It was about a 2-hour hike (that was grueling - man, I need to get into shape) up some hilly areas. We got to see some wonderful views of Skilak Lake and the Kenai mountain range.

This is a picture of Cook's Inlet overlooking three of Kenai's ACTIVE volcanoes. I can't remember their names right now...but they're off in the distance. This was at 10 pm. See how far the sun is up in the sky? It was absolutely beautiful though. This was when Dan, Scott (fisheries fellow), Sam and I went walking on the beach at night. It was really amazing and quiet. We saw some seals and porpoises in the water...but they were too quick for me to get a good picture. And last but not least, here's a picture for Randy. I stole a picture of Sam when she wasn't looking. She's so sneaky, that one. She'll never let you take her picture...so you have to stoop down to her level and sneak in a picture whenever you can. In the background is Dan. Most likely, Dan just told a joke that he and Sam are presumably laughing at.

Anyway, that's it!!! Today we get a day's rest from our canoe trip this weekend...so I'll most likely be wasting a lot of time (like now, for example - but at least you've been visually stimulated, right?). Tomorrow we do CPR/First Aid training...and then I can't remember what. I'll be checking in soon!!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Spiderpig...spiderpig...does whatever, a spiderpig does...

So unfortunately, until my fingerprints and official background check get cleared, I can't use any of the computers at the visitors' center. So again I will have to give you a post without any pictures. I promise - amazing, breathtaking, wish-you-were-here photographs will be coming soon.

I have had an absolutely exhilarating time here in Alaska since May 18th. I'm not sure if I mentioned this in a previous post...but since I arrived here nearly two weeks ago, all that we have been doing is training. We get three weeks of training...and then I think we start officially working. So this week was filled with classroom sit-ins, staring at powerpoint screens for four hours at a time...and getting sprayed with bear spray. Monday of this week was bear safety training - where we learned bear behavior, what to do in a confrontation, and how to prepare for it. While one of the wildlife biologists (John) was explaining the benefits of using bear spray (a spray made from red peppers), one of the law enforcement officers thought it'd be funny to spray an inert bottle in the act of handing over the spray to John. Little did he know (or did know actually, and just didn't read the bottle correctly), the bottle actually said "Interp" on it, which is short for "Interpretation" --- meaning, it was a bottle of pepper spray for Interp staff. So lo and behold, out gushed the red pepper fumes and out rushed all of the people in the room. John was absolutely drenched in it...arms glistening and all. All of us were coughing and spluttering with eyes watering. Despite the immense pain I was in, it was extremely funny.

Later that night, Sam and I went with Dan and Scott (another fisheries fellow) to Cook's Inlet on the Kenai and walked a good 3 miles on the beach. Though it was nearly 11 pm by the time we got home, the Alaska sun was bright and shining at the top of the sky. One of these days I'm getting a sunset picture. I'll just have to stay up until midnight out at the beach and take pictures like mad.

We learned the 5 species of salmon that pile in on the Kenai River every summer. The secret to knowing them is by looking at your hand: your pinky finger stands for the "Pink" salmon; your ring finger...which has the potential of having a silver ring on it - is for the "Silver" salmon; your middle finger - which might be used for varied purposes like say, I don't know...flicking someone off - i.e. the "King" of all the fingers - is for the "King" salmon; your pointer finger - which might be used to poke somone's eye - is for the "Sockeye" salmon; and last but not least, your thumb - is the "Chum" salmon. Those two just rhyme. It works. Anyway, say that out loud -- and I promise you'll remember it forever. Now I can seem somewhat intelligent when visitors ask me what kinds of salmon we see here.

Tuesday was oodles of fun. That day, we got a briefing of our weekend - which is a 3-day canoeing trip around the Swan Lake and Swanson River canoe routes. As a little preview of what this weekend will entail, we practiced portaging a canoe around a parking lot. Each of us carried a tandem canoe on our backs by ourselves. (Michael - this doesn't mean next time we go canoeing I carry it.) It was extremely heavy and I'm pretty sure I'm going to die this weekend. You'll know for sure if I post after Tuesday.

That night, we went to Dan's house for "Taco and Tequila Tuesday." Got to taste moose and caribou for the first time - and my, were they tasty. There was also halibut and various other scrumptious delights. It was great fun - with Michael Jackson singing "Thriller" in the background and jokes all around.

Wednesday was probably the most grueling day of all. I wasn't able to get much sleep and so woke up at 4:30 in the morning. I took a nice hour and a half walk down the main drag of the refuge. It was really beautiful getting to enjoy such stillness. The only sounds I heard were the whistles and tinkles of thrushes and robins amongst the trees. I probably saw about ten snowshoe hares, but that was the extent of the wildlife I saw. Around 11 am, the 3 SCAs and I drove down to the shooting range, where I LEARNED HOW TO SHOOT A SHOTGUN. Yes. For the first time in my life, I shot a firearm. Repeatedly.

Although it was really exciting, it was also really hard and physically tiring. The guns are heavy - and since I have short arms (I'll admit it) the shotgun was hard to hold. Three hours into it one of the instructors finally realized I should have a shorter gun and so I finally got one that I could semi -handle. I can't count how many shots I did - but I shot buck shots, slugs, and another one I can't remember. I got to keep a slug as a souvenir. Every shot was pointed at a board that had a picture of a snarling bear plastered on it. As the final exam to the training, we had to shoot at a "running bear" - which was a model of a bear that sped towards you at the pace of a running human. Needless to say....I failed miserably. But that's okay. There are plenty of people (including three of my roomies - they proved to be impeccable shooters) that are around to protect me in case a grizzly tries to charge me.

Three days after the shooting range, my arms are still killing me. And tomorrow I have to portage a canoe by myself for who knows how many hours. Wish me good luck.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

So I realized today that I never explained the title to my last post. A quaint drinking town with a fishing problem is not Soldotna. It's the slogan of the town of Homer...at a whopping population of 5,000 people. The locals like to say, "It's a town of 5,000 during the winter, but 50,000 in the summer." I think most could guess why.

We went to Homer yesterday. The town was absolutely beautiful with breathtaking views of snow-covered moutains lining the Kachemak Bay. Right now I'm in the Environmental Education center of headquarters, and unfortunately, didn't bring my camera. So I'll have to upload photos of Homer later. To the west (I think) of Homer is The Spit, which is a peninsula that juts out far into the Bay. On either side are mountains upon mountains of sea-smooth stones that I know Aunt Kathy would be absolutely beside herself with. They were great for skipping...although the surf made it hard to get in more than 3 skips. The peninsula was lined with fish n' chip places and saloons. One shop was called "Buttwhackers" -- I'll post a picture of it later. Anyway, the four of us spent about three hours there, walking along the coast to repeatedly stop whenever we wanted to capture the scenery. It was so idyllic - with families setting blankets down and having picnics with their fair-skinned curly-headed children racing after their labrador retrievers who happen to be neck-deep in hypothermic water with sticks in their mouths. Homer is definitely a place I want to go back to.

I'll have to end this for now as I'm pushed for time. I'll repost in a couple of days with more tales about Seward, Homer, and the 2-hour hike we did today.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A quaint drinking town with a fishing problem

I'm currently sitting in a cushy recliner at a tiny hole in the wall coffee shop named "Mugz" listening to Dan the Man play his mandolin. Dan is a fisheries fellow I met the second day I was here in merry ol' Soldotna. He frequently plays at this coffee shop and other local bars in the area during open mic nights, bellowing out tunes that he seems to improv right there on the spot. He is currently singing "Dirt made my lunch." Here in the coffee house there is actually just me and my fellow SCA roommate, Julia, the coffee shop employees, and Dan. Doesn't stop him from singing, though! (This entry may be a bit all over the place...Dan's singing is a little distracting. :) )

So after nearly 11 hours of comfortable airplane time, I arrived in the city of Kenai. The plane I took from Anchorage to Kenai was the tiniest plane I have ever been on. There might have been maybe 10 people on the plane. I had a clear view of the pilot in front of me and was able to see all of the controls. Fortunately, despite the extremely bumpy ride, the flight only lasted about 25 minutes so I didn't have to suffer for too long. My supervisor met me at the gate and we drove to a Safeway and picked up some groceries. I discovered that a carton of delicious Tropicana orange juice costs nearly $7....needless to say, I had to settle for storebrand from concentrate. Then we drove to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Soldotna.

Candace (my supervisor) took me to the bunkhouse, where I met two of my roommates. Eve is an 8-month intern and has been here since February. She is from Illinois. I also met Sam, who is a summer intern like me and also from Missouri. I found out that my cell phone doesn't work in Alaska, and we have no internet access at the bunkhouse. The only way I am able to access the internet is by going to the local library or this coffee shop. So those of you who know the bunkhouse number, call to contact me. (Pictured from left: Me, Julia, Sam, and Eve)

The next day, Sam and I went to the grocery store and drove around Soldotna. Saw my second (my first was in Utah with Kaylie :] ) moose! We were driving along K-beach Hwy and Sam shouted out, "Moose!" and I looked over to my right and saw what appeared to be a moose attached to the side of a motel wall. I turned the tracker around (that's the govt vehicle we have access to) and drove into the motel parking lot. The moose was just nonchalantly (but awkwardly - meese are so awkward) grazing and munching on the ground. Two men in their underwear walked out of their rooms to see the moose. It was an interesting sight indeed.

Later that night, I met my third and final roommate named Julia. Julia is a graduate of Columbia University from Pennsylvania. The following day was our first day of work. Sam, Julia and I walked over to headquarters (the main visitors' center) and spent a good three hours filling out paperwork. After that, we walked back to the bunkhouse and went with Eve and received an official tour of Soldotna and the Kenai area.

The scenery is really beautiful. Kenai is bordered by the Kenai and Russian Rivers. You can tell the difference between the two by looking at the color of their water. The Kenai is a turquoise color due to the glacial silt that flows down from the mountains into the river. The Russian is more of a muddy brown color. Surrounding the entire area is the Kenai mountain range, which reaches not far beyond 5,000 feet above sea level. They are fairly short mountains by normal standards. The mountains are nearly entirely covered in snow. There is a lot of snow still chilling on the flatlands here. Since Sunday, the temperature has averaged at around 50 degrees. Three days ago though, it was 38 degrees - so it was cold!! I've been having to repeatedly go to Fred Meyer's (the Soldotna equivalent of a super Wal*Mart - but WAY better) to buy warm clothes...as I didn't bring clothes to prepare for such cool temperatures. My hiking boots are finally starting to look worn, with a bit of caked mud on them for good measure.

On Wednesday, Eve's supervisor Michelle took us on a tour of a large part of the actual refuge. We went to several different campgrounds, hiked some trails, and...saw a bear!!! Here's a fun fact that I learned: brown bears and grizzlies are the same bear. The only reason that some are called brown bears and some are called grizzly is on account of where they live. Brown bears in Kenai are brown bears. Bears in Denali are grizzlies. What's even more exciting is the fact that bears here in Kenai are larger than the bears in Denali...as they eat salmon. The bear we saw, though, was a black bear...which are smaller than brown bears. Here's a photo of him:

I found out that one of the trails is a 12-hour long hike up and over a mountain. Me and the other SCAs will be doing that at some point. We went on this one trail that gave an amazing vista of the Kenai River.

The next day, we drove to Seward and took a cruise tour of Kenai Fjords and the harding ice field. It was approximately 5 hours long. We got to see beautiful mountains, cliffs, a plethora of mountain goats, tufted puffins, comorants, stellar sea lions, HARBOR SEALS (!!!) eagles, sea otters, dall porpoises, and two humpback whales. We saw a momma humpback and her baby. They were so unbelievably cute and fascinating. They weren't shy at all. They came up right to the boat and were extremely playful. Unfortunately, we didn't see any Beluga whales or orcas...but I have the whole summer to hopefully see them sometime. A big group of guys in Holland America jackets came onto the boat with us and I found out a large majority of them were Mormon!

(Kaylie, you will appreciate this) Two really cute guys sat next to us (much to my disappointment, the cuter of the two had a ring on his left finger) and we found out that they went to BYU in Utah, and they were working for Holland America doing bus tours for the summer. Surprisingly, those two actually did their missions in Alaska!

Anyway, the coffee shop is about to close, so I will have to finish this post later. Enjoy more photos of wildlife below!!!