Friday, August 22, 2014

East End Road Construction 2014

The agony of this summer has been traffic delays nearly every time we drive into or from town. Road construction from about mile 3.5 to 5.0 on East End Road as they redo ditches, replace all culverts, move power lines and build a bike path has us scratching our heads daily. They dig out the dirt, then fill it in, push the dirt around, dig it out and then fill it in again. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to all this dirt moving. 

Large concrete forms have been built for culverts to handle large amounts of water coming down from the bluff

Just a typical construction view...recent rain has probably been slowing things down

Ravines along this section of East End Road are deeper than one realizes
A 3 foot deep, 1 foot wide square-cut ditch runs the entire length of the project, with plastic drainpipes sticking up out of it at regular intervals. Tybar, the heavy duty black tarp-like stuff they put down under the roads is rolled out, waiting for fill to cover it up and the road to finally be widened. It took nearly 2 months just to move all the telephone and electric lines on the bay side of the road to the bluff side and take down the poles.

Each of my two to three trips to town each day are punctuated by 10-20+ minute waits, unless I am lucky enough to catch the line just as it is beginning to head through the construction area. The flaggers are as familiar as family, and yesterday I had the misfortune to turn off my car while waiting and when the line began to move I discovered it wouldn't start so a flagger had me put the vehicle in neutral and pushed me to the nearest intersection. I now plan my waiting-in-the-car activities: read my email, open the mail, check Facebook or make phone calls. On the good side my kids know better than to ask me to run them to town, because a "run" to town means an hour round trip. We try to go before 8 a.m. or after 8 p.m. when the road is open without delays.

While waiting in traffic one day recently Denver was asking me about the road project and I suggested he get online and look it up. Apparently this is a 6.5 million dollar project, with 90% of it being paid for by the federal government. The bike path portion of it is $800,000, so it seems like that part is being paid for by more local (state or borough) monies. It is a 2-year project, which staggers me that we'll have to deal with this next year too. For what?  One and a half miles of gorgeous road and more bike path? The road wasn't great, but I didn't think it was that bad either! And of course we are just hoping the road is paved before winter. We have had more issues with car repairs this summer than all the other years we've lived here, many of them bump-related repairs, which seems like more than coincidence.

What really strikes me each time I drive through the construction zone is how little I know about road-building. I can't even venture a guess for some of the things that they are doing. On one hand it gives me more respect for a career where folks can figure out things like this and run heavy machinery like pros; on the other hand I wonder if they even know what they are doing and if our taxpayer dollars are being drained by projects like this. I just don't know, and I am really, really curious to see if the road and ditches they create actually can handle the insane water and ice issues that develop in this area in the winter. Time will tell. Come to think of it, I should have written this blog post while waiting in traffic.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Moose Hanging the Tennis Courts

The little ones are curious about what we're doing

We've been playing tennis just about every sunny day that we're in Homer this summer, which has been three to four days a week--quite a treat! The 4 courts at the high school court are pavement, but smooth while the 2 courts at the Kachemak Community Center are the hard tennis surface but bumpy so balls bounce funny and water pools. So we usually opt to play at the high school.

Moose hang out on the trails and in brush behind the high school and we see them regularly, since they are just outside the fence as we are playing. The other day we were still surprised to see a momma moose and two babies come up to the fence while we were playing and just hang out for 5 or 10 minutes. Momma would get startled when we would hit the ball with a particularly hard thwunk, but the young 'uns just went about their business, lippity, lippity.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Lucky Strike and Hirshey Mines in Hope

We're back to the mines again. After getting partway up to the mines last summer on our trek out here, we had a rainy day in Hope that made climbing Hope Point out of the picture. You can check out my blog post about visiting this area last year, July 2013. This time was much more interesting and exciting, though.

The road to the Couer d'Alene Campground  wasn't as wide as I recall but it was still close to washboard free, impressive for a gravel road. The view was still awesome with a deeply remote feeling to it. Past the campground up to the end of the road has been improved (looks like recently--this summer) so I could go 25 mph instead of creeping at 10 or 15 mph over giant potholes. The last mile is still rough but nothing a sedan can't make it through.

Palmer Creek as it gushes downstream

View of the valley on a rainy day from a spot almost to the first mine
As before we hiked up the trail towards the mines, which are not visible when you first start out, crossed Palmer Creek, climbed up over a ridge and then we could see the mine tailings spreading down the mountainside. That was our goal.

This is the jumble of rocks that met us at the end of the trail, just above the mining tailings. Disappointment!
Going at a steady pace it only took us 30 minutes from where we parked to reach the first mine. It was just a jumble of rocks, so I figured it was plugged up. The road-like trail ended, but this time I noticed a trail climbing up above to the right of the mine, so we pressed on. It seemed not 50 yards further we came to another mine, this one still open. We didn't have a flashlight, and it looked like sections had caved in, but it was neat to see the wooden structures still present. There was a pile of snow just inside the entrance as well.

The trail past the first mine turns into a minimal path along the side of the mountain

We were startled to discover a second mine along that path

The mine doesn't look very deep (40 feet or so--as far as we could see without flashlights), but old wooden structures are still evident

After checking out the mine I noticed (again!) a trail that continued upward, this one even more faint than the last. We pressed on. I was determined to get to the top of this mountain rather than go all the way down to the stream crossing and follow the trail up along the waterfall. Well, it was a little hairy. 

A messy, wet near-vertical scramble up the mountain sans trail above the second mine

The trail soon petered out and there was loose talus that we slipped and slid on. The climb was pretty darn close to vertical. Each time we grabbed a rock to pull ourselves up on, it would come loose. So I am totally not recommending that route up. It wasn't far--15 or so minutes from the second mine until we reached the top.

Ah, but it was worth it! The view from the top was amazing! If we'd stopped on our scramble we'd have seen it too, but to me it was more beautiful for being on flatter solid ground.

View from on top--comfortable walking with view of craggy mountain peaks
The top was wide and relatively easy walking on moss and rock-covered ground. The ridge-top stretched off to both sides of us. Below us we spotted a cairn on the back side of the mountain we'd just climbed so we headed for that, expecting to find a trail. There was no trail, but from that cairn we found another and another, angling us back up the mountain. Eventually we looked into a higher bowl and saw the remnants of a dying glacier. When we got back Homer Denver pulled up the area on Google Earth and the photo from 2010 showed a glacier substantially larger than the bit that was left. Once again, we are saddened by the disappearing glaciers.

Only 4 years ago there would have been a lot more glacier to view
Then we followed the cairns back down to the two beautiful lakes that are tucked in the mountains and which feed Palmer Creek. 

A beautiful alpine lake

Amazing plethora of crowberries

Palmer Creek waterfall

The trail down by the waterfall
After crossing at the mouth of Palmer Creek, we headed down a well-worn path back to the road.

What a gorgeous area! And as we were leaving we saw another trail going up a different mountain and said, "We have to come back. There's another trail to explore!"

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Typical Homer Flowerbed

I think it is funny seeing other people's flowerbeds around town. It seems like everyone has the same flowers growing in their yards. There are some flowers that just do amazingly well in this area, and they've probably been shared many times over the years (as I have done...).  Flowers that do well in the area are prolific and tend to spread easily so a bare flowerbed will soon be packed and need to be pruned back.

Here are some of the common flowers in the area (I tracked down the names to most of them)--all in my flowerbeds! I missed the iris's as they have already finished blooming.


Peonies do so well there are now numerous peony farms in the area. Usually they hit bloom stage after peonies in other areas but this year they came early here so sales were poor as the national (international?) market was glutted.

My lilies are brilliantly orange-red.

Bachelor Buttons spread easily.

These are a type of rose--small flowers on prolific bushes.

Delphiniums are local classics. Mine are 6-7 feet tall and the hummingbirds love them!

Geraniums bloom for a month a more.

Shrubby Cinquefoil grows wild and in many cultivated areas.

Russian Daisies dry nicely.

Forget-me-nots are the Alaska state flower.

Pansies grow in my lawn, my garden, my greenhouse AND my flowerbed! Here they are tucked between a kohlrabi and my chives.

This is my favorite of all flowers but it did not transplant well so just a couple stalks made it, instead of being a huge bush. The bees love it and it blooms much of the summer.

Daisies can take over if not controlled and are considered invasive. Here they are flopped over, making for a strange angle to view them.

My columbine didn't transplant well either so I just have a few plants left.

Goatsbeard (also known as potentilla) are more shrubs than bushes and they grow wild in the area as well.

An unknown flower that brightens my flowerbed with a different color

Wild roses do well around here. There are also the pale pink wild roses (I think of these darker roses as the domesticated wild roses). The moose "prune" them back every spring; my rose bushes are the last thing they eat before things start growing again in the spring.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mid-summer Wildflowers

One thing I love about Alaska is the amazing show of flowers every summer. Considering how short our growing season is, we get quite the variety of sizes and colors, with various microclimate having its own types and season. When we were hiking Slaughter Ridge in Cooper Landing last week I snapped pictures of flowers along this trail. My years growing up I memorized hundreds of flower names, and that serves me well now, so there were just a few I didn't know the common names of.

Yarrow (Excellent homeopathic properties; can make tea from the fresh or dried flowers)


A single stalk of fireweed. Right now there are fields of fireweed blooming around Alaska, creating stunning displays.

I knew this one as a harebell growing up; I'm sure it has other common names

I took this of the yellow flowers, and didn't realize I also caught some harebells and monkshood in it, as well as the bridge across the Kenai River in Cooper Landing!


Indian Paintbrush


Hiking Up Alyeska (And a Free Tram Ride!)

We were heading up to Anchorage with some of the Homer High School cross-country runners to drop them at the airport for a flight to Oregon to Steens Running Camp and decided to take in a hike at Alyeska on the way. At first we were going to hike to the hand tram but then decided at the last minute to hike the 2.4 mile trail up mountain and catch the tram down. I didn't realize the tram is free from the top, so we were earning our free ride. The chair lift was also running; not sure if that was just for the fun of it or maybe is a cheaper option than the tram for getting to the top.

The tram operator said the tram is just over 2000 feet, so that is the elevation of the hike, which is a pretty good climb. The trail starts out as a gravel road, then higher up narrows to a single track trail. It is steep in a few areas, but it is easy hiking--in other words, not scrambling or climbing over rocks. I'm going to put this hike on my "keeper" list as the views from the top are gorgeous!

A chain embedded in the rock in one section of the trail up Alyeska

View of Alyeska Resort from about halfway up the mountain

The tram runs every 15 minutes, shuttling bikers, hikers, sightseers and diners

The tram building near the top of the mountain

View of Turnagain Arm from the restaurant/tram area (which isn't quite at the top of the mountain)

View of the trail winding up the mountain

A couple parasailers who took of from near the top of the mountain

Friday, July 18, 2014

Cooper Landing Area Hikes-Stetson, Slaughter & Fuller

We managed to squeeze 3 hikes in 3 days at Cooper Landing and were so grateful that the weather was amazing--not too hot, not too cold, not rainy, not too buggy...! We have done all of these before but it has been awhile so thought I'd give some updates, and of course some pictures.

Stetson Creek Trail

There is actually a trail sign for Stetson Creek!
This trail has a connector from the Cooper Creek South campground, which is where we were staying the other two or three times we've hiked this. But since we weren't staying there we parked in the "trailhead" parking which is a pulloff on the right just before Sackett's in Cooper Landing.

My goal for the hike was to get above treeline, and I was thinking it wouldn't take much more than an hour. The other times we'd hiked it we just went for a jaunt from the campground, not taking water or supplies, and not making it more than 30 or 40 minutes out. This time we were prepared with bug spray, water, snacks, extra clothes: the whole nine yards. We hiked like we had a destination, moving along at a brisk clip.

Because we'd always taken this trail from the campground I didn't realize it actually had a name, and we've since seen it on a map. At our brisk pace the trail climbed for the first hour of hiking, in some places gradually and in a few areas quite steeply. After an hour the trail leveled out and followed Cooper Creek up towards the Cooper Lake dam. Across the valley on the opposite mountainside we saw the road that goes up to Cooper Lake dam as well (construction on it right now so it is closed to traffic--bummer!!). We never did get above treeline as the trail continued at the same elevation. I'm not sure how far it goes--going to leave that for another day.

We found out later when we visited the museum that this trail is used by a man who has a mining claim up it (we saw the trail to his camp) and he finds a good bit of gold. It was interesting hearing about the man's camp: a tent with electric wires around it and his equipment with electric wires around it as well--both to fend off the bears. We saw a little bit of bear scat on the trail, more and fresher the further along we got, and very little in the first 45 minutes of hiking.

Here are some pictures from the trail. It is nice walking, particularly as two people can walk abreast, which is unusual for Alaska trails, and it is in fairly good condition in most places, with a few boggy, rocky spots and one small stream crossing.

There are some pretty sections of the Stetson Creek Trail

A small but interesting section of the trail

This is as much of a view as we got--not quite above treeline but pretty nonetheless

This section of trail was built up with a substantial drainage on the right side

My feet got nicely frozen in this short stream crossing!

Slaughter Ridge/Juneau Peak

Panorama from the top of Slaughter Ridge with Kenai Lake to the left and Kenai River winding to the right
The ridge behind Wildman's store is called Slaughter Ridge, though the mountain is Juneau Peak, standing at 3261 feet (according to the map in the Cooper Landing Museum). Since Cooper Landing is at 410 feet, that would mean it is a 2851 foot climb, which is right around the same elevation gain as Skyline Trail up the road 20 minutes.

A pretty, mossy waterfall is near the beginning of the Slaughter Trail

Evidence of a dry spring and summer: no water or mud where there usually is some.
An interesting phenomena that I have noticed this summer is that when I am hiking my entire energy is focused on the moment that we reach treeline and get a sweeping view. I have never had that disposition before, but it is becoming a prominent part of my mentality of hikes: I want to get a view. It certainly motivates me to climb mountains as that is the main way to get a view!

Slaughter Ridge is all about the view, and I consider it my favorite one of all the mountains I've climbed (um, maybe after Hope Point, which is amazing as well). The trail is in fairly good shape and is easier to climb than Skyline as there is more distance to go with the elevation change. And it is more official now as there is a notebook at the top under a dishpan, along with some bug spray and miscellaneous foo-foos (like a geocache). We were the first ones up it on July 14th. One person ran up it in 45 minutes and 45 seconds a few days before us. It took us 1 hour and 45 minutes to hike it (1 hour 10 minutes back down).

View of the ridge we climbed with Kenai Lake in the background
Sections of the trail weave along the edge of a sheer drop-off, which didn't bother me as much this time as the last time I hiked this trail 2 years ago. The false peaks got me again. Each time I would be hopeful "This is the top!" and my hopes would be dashed as I reached it and discovered another two or three peaks up. Finally we did get there. It was comfortable on top, until suddenly a chilly wind whipped up and I went from shorts and t-shirt to bundled up (why we always bring extra clothes on the mountain hikes!), and then taking things off as we went back down and out of the wind.

From the top there are views of Kenai Lake, Slaughter Lake (I think it is) and Trout Lake on the Resurrection Trail. The water is aqua and so pretty, dappled as the clouds go by. We sat at the top for probably 30 minutes, soaking it all up.

Fuller Lakes Trail

As we were heading out of Cooper Landing back to Homer, we decided to spin up the Fuller Lakes Trail. The last time we hiked it was 6 years ago, a week before we were going to hike the Chilkoot Trail in Southeast Alaska. The kids were young, and we all had fully loaded backpacks. We could not remember a thing about that trail, and doing it again, we know why:  it is a completely nondescript trail. It is 2.9 miles, a 1400 foot climb, to the lower Fuller Lake. The trail is mostly packed dirt, a gradual climb, with little view. We felt like we could be anywhere in the Midwest. We did it as an exercise hike, so pushed along and managed to get to the lake in an hour and back in 40 minutes, which was a good pace.

Here are a few shots of the trail.

This trailhead along the Sterling Highway always catches my eye with the nice stairs

Not sure why I take pictures of bridges...probably because it is a break in the monotony of the trail

The bridge at the lower Fuller Lake; heading on to the upper lake

Lower Fuller Lake on a calm morning
Doesn't this look like it could be Anywhere, USA?