Friday, November 28, 2014

A View From the Other Side Sunrise

All of my recent blog photos posted have been of the Kenai Mountain Range with the sunrise coming up over the peaks. As I was perusing my pictures I came across this one, taken from Right Beach in Kachemak Bay State Park on the other side of the bay. I was puzzled at first, trying to figure out why the sun was rising over Homer, and when I am in Homer it is rising over the mountains. Then I had an ah-ha moment when I realized that it is summertime. In the summer, this is more easterly. In the winter the sun comes up more from the south than the east. And since the sun comes up so early in the summer, I am not usually awake when it comes over the horizon at 5 a.m. or so. If I'd thought about it I would have realized that the sun comes up straight into my bedroom window in the summer, but only angles in obliquely in the winter.

A Kachemak Bay sunrise--from the other side!


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Visiting Galena, Alaska

View of Yukon River near Galena from the air

As part of the statewide accreditation process for Alaskan schools, teams of 3-5 people visit each school or school district (depending on whether it is the school or district being accredited) and spend an intense 3 days reviewing materials, visiting classrooms, interviewing community members, students, teachers and school board members, and preparing reports on their decision.

Douglas was asked to be part of the accreditation team for Galena, a bush school district west of Fairbanks on the Yukon River. The town of 400 has a K-12 community school, a grades 9-12 boarding school on a now-closed military base, and a homeschooling school. There are 4000 students in this district between those three schools, though most of those students are homeschooled elsewhere in the state.

Galena
The process for getting to Galena was so typical of Alaskan travel:  fly to Anchorage, then fly to Fairbanks, stay overnight in a hotel, then fly to Galena Sunday morning. The earliest flight wouldn't have gotten them there before 11 a.m. on Monday, so they had to come in a day early. The 7-seater plane from Fairbanks to Galena takes an hour and a half to make the trip, and upon arriving the luggage is loaded on a tractor (seen to the left of the terminal in the picture below), parked next to the terminal and folks pick up their luggage from the tractor. Pretty casual baggage claim!


The terminal is the small building with the two spruce trees growing in front of it (the larger building to the right of it is a hanger)


The Galena airport terminal is fairly small and rustic


A panorama view of the Galena airport terminal

There are 400 people who live in Galena, 100 employees who work in the school and about 300 kids in the two physical schools (84 in the village school and 200+ in the boarding school). The schools are a significant aspect of the community's economy. There is a police station, two grocery stores, a coffee shop, a place they call the Liquor Store, and not much else. A couple years ago the Yukon River flooded when an ice dam broke in a sudden spring thaw and the entire town was flooded besides the base, which was protected by a dike that was built 20 or 30 years ago after the last flood. The entire town moved to Fairbanks for a month when the village was flooded a few years ago. At that time all the buildings were under water up to about 5 feet, and even today there are watermarks on many of the buildings in town.

The Iditarod goes through Galena each winter, and the town is situated on the Yukon River, but besides those and the schools, I don't think the town has any claim to fame. One of my cousins and her husband lived and taught in Galena for 7 years and raised 3 children there, so I know they have roads and cars (if I recall, an 8-mile road to the dump), and they trapped lots of different animals in the winter. The temperatures are normally well below zero at this time of year, but it was unseasonably warm and dipped to -2 at the lowest, and was into the teens during the day. My cousin and her family loved Galena and it was a tough decision to leave, but at $500 plus for a plane ticket to Anchorage, that adds up for a family of 5, and they had outgrown my cousin's 4-seater plane that she had a pilot's license for. When they heard Doug was going to Galena they sent some fresh food and gifts with him for friends--knowing how coveted and expensive those things are.

The Boarding School (Old Military Base)


To the left, the commissioned officers building, an activity building in the foreground, and the non-commissioned officers building (student dorms) behind it


The dining hall for the boarding school and visitors


This is now called the Iditarod Headquarters building--Commissioned Officers housing which is like a hotel


Picture of Doug's room in the commissioned officers building

Since there is no hotel, Douglas and the rest of the team stayed in the Commissioned Officers Housing, which is basically like a hotel room. The kids stay in the Non-Commissioned Officers dorms. The military pulled out of Galena in 2008 and the boarding school took it over, drawing students from around the bush of interior Alaska.


The snowmachines are owned by the school district for a Wilderness Survival class

The Community School

There are 84 students in the Kindergarten through 12th grade school. The buildings are all built up on pilings to avoid melting the permafrost, but the school has the additional feature of fans that diffuse the warm air escaping from the buildings so that it doesn't melt the permafrost. 

A metal and wood Athabascan-design decoration in the hall of the school
The front entrance to the school


Note the fins on the pilings that blow the air and keep the warm air from the building from melting the permafrost


Pipes and air ducts are above ground to avoid melting the permafrost. This structure between buildings was under water during the flooding a few years ago


The kindergarten classroom in the community school
Playground of K-12 school


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Blowing Snow On Mountain Peaks Sunrise

I find it fascinating when the wind is blowing on the peaks across the bay and sheets of snow creates a haze with the sun as a backdrop. This photo is just one of those times.


Friday, November 21, 2014

The Homer Spit

I don't find the Spit particularly beautiful, and when on it the feel is more of industry in parts of it, and tourism the rest of it. But the 5 mile length has provided much enjoyment over the years as I walk the paved spit path, explore the beaches, enjoy a meal at a great restaurant (LOVE Baliene Cafe and Finn's Pizza!), hop on a water taxi for a ride across the bay and once a summer check out the shops.

The spit actually is natural, and before the Earthquake of '64, was actually larger with trees and pastureland. After the quake it dipped 6 or 7 feet, according to accounts I have heard, so what is there now is quite bolstered up. This summer millions were put into the breakwall as during high tide storms the waves fly right over the road and started washing out the road. Now that is exciting driving on the spit during a storm with waves crashing over and debris of all sort flying by!

But this picture is just on one of the peaceful, sunny beautiful Alaskan days.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Unseasonably Warm Temperatures

It looks like summer outside my window yesterday. Though my old-fashioned thermometer shows 43 degrees, it felt like over 50 in the sunshine, and the neighborhood was alive with folks out walking--without jackets. This is November in Homer! Crazy weather, as everyone is saying. My husband came home from a week out of town and commented about mowing the lawn (he was coming from Galena in the interior bush, where it was from 0 to the teens, unseasonably warm for them). My daughter is delighted to still be able to run on the track. 

The temperatures seem stuck at 43 degrees the past couple weeks
I show the thermometer at 43 degrees, because that is the temperature it seems to have been stuck at for the past two weeks. Oh, it dips into the 30's sometimes at night, but then it bounces right back to the 40's. It has been raining a lot (yesterday's sunny day was an exception), and if it were below freezing we would have feet of snow by now.

The ski swap last week, an annual tradition in the Homer High School commons, was relatively deserted. Normally it is wall-to-wall jam packed humanity, but there were only a handful of folks actually buying, and the rest were there selling or socializing. I know the skiers are getting cranky for snow:  one can only enjoy so much dry-land training. I'm sure it will come, but someone said the Farmer's Almanac predicts a winter like last winter, which was scarce on snow and temperatures in the 30's: borderline enough to be snow sometimes but rain often enough. Personally, I'd rather have snow all winter than this borderline which gives us ice, ice, ice (the bane of my life in Homer: I am so tired of driving on ice!).

I like to ski, but if I have to go for hikes I'll do that. Complaining isn't going to make the weather better...but I'll admit I love some warmth and sunshine too.





Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mountain Peaks...Pink Sunrise

Most of the sunrises I have taken a picture of are slam-you-in-the-face with color. This one, for a change, is a gentle pink. I took it from nearer the head of the bay, so the mountains are closer. I don't zoom in on those mountains often, with their jagged, snow-covered peaks. I enjoy guessing when the picture was taken by the snow cover on the mountains and lighting. I would put this one at late spring since the foothills have no snow and it looks like the snow is melting up the sides of the higher peaks. It would depend on how much snow we got that winter, though.




Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Halcyon Heights B 'n B of Homer

Sunrise and spit, mountains and Kachemak Bay--view from dining room of Halcyon Heights

Sunset from Halcyon. Even though the sun is setting far off to the right of this picture, the whole sky is lit up

Each year for the past 4 years my church has used a beautiful facility at Halcyon Heights Bed 'n Breakfast for their Confirmation retreats. Each year the kids walk into the facility and go "wow!" and they wow their way through the dining room, kitchen and down the stairs to the meeting room. They say "Wow!" to their bedrooms, the bathrooms--everything! As one boy said, "I've never seen a B 'n B with BlueRay players in every bedroom!" Parents wow right along with them, and many of them want to move in! 

This could be a really long blog post as I rave about Halcyon Heights. I don't think my pictures will do it justice. But here's my try at capturing this wonderful place.

Steven and Juxia Scarpitta have owned Halcyon Heights for 9 years now. They did extensive remodeling.  Steven showed me a picture of a log cabin from 1964 after the great earthquake, which story has it their living room was built around that cabin (with the logs still in the walls) and the rest of the building was expanded on over and over again throughout the years in true Alaska style. After the Exxon Valdez oil spill in the 1980's it was made into a bed and breakfast. Workers helping with the oil spill cleanup rented rooms here, and it finally became a business.


I stay in the Quarterdeck (each room has a name) on the main floor.  Here are some pictures from that room. I believe there are 3 other rooms appointed like this on the main floor. There are no microwaves or fridges in the rooms, but there are refrigerators scattered around the B n' B that can be used. All of the bathrooms I have seen now have two shower heads (one high for tall folks and one low for short folks) in the showers, with beautiful stone floors and shower stalls, twin sinks and just a feel of comfort. The bedrooms and apartments vary in decor and fixtures and accessories.



Master bed in Quarterdeck; small couch to left, bench with large flat screen TV to right

A skylight lightens this bathroom area

Double showers grace nearly every room

The stonework in the bathrooms is beautiful

Downstairs in the room we use as a conference room/girls bedroom, there are 4 murphy beds (the type that fold up into the walls), with whiteboards that get put up over each of them during the day when they are up. One murphy bed is a king, one is a queen and two are twins so it sleeps plenty of folks, and then there's a couple cubbies that folks can sleep on the floor as well. While that room does not have any windows to the outside, it does have an air system so fresh air is constantly coming in from outdoors and an outtake sends out the used air. Outside of that room there is a small sink, counter space and full-size fridge. For our group of about 10 folks, we can sit in a circle comfortably. It is comfortable with various types of lighting for different ambiances we might want.

Another apartment downstairs has a queen bed, double bed, couple couches and full kitchen. Yet another apartment has two bedrooms, each with their own bathrooms, separated by a full kitchen. All have outside entrances so one does not need to go through the main entrance to get to them. All are nicely furnished with very comfortable beds (many have Temperpedic mattresses or at least mattress toppers).

View of Halcyon Heights--with about 3000 square feet of decking!
The view is best when you climb the hill behind the building to the top of the lawn. If one wants they can then follow a short path even further up, through the woods and loop back. Next to the steps to the hot tub was the most incredible highbush cranberry patch I've seen (the bushes were over 10 feet tall) and it took all my willpower not to pick them. What an amazing thing to have a patch like that right outside one's house! I'll admit to some jealousy!

The kitchen, with dining room in the background. This is where Juxia makes her delicious breakfasts!
 This is just a comfortable place to stay.  The breakfasts are delicious, a Kerig coffee and tea maker makes for easy drinks as needed, it is easy to get to (just 1.6 miles up East Hill Road, right on Mission Road, down it a bit and you're there) and of course the view is just amazing, especially when bald eagles soar by right in front of the window. I'll admit that I took the sunrise and sunset pictures in 2011--we got lucky that year and got both amazing sunrises and sunsets! 

A cozy living area with a large flat-screen TV, fireplace, couches, a piano and all the comforts of home--with a million dollar view
This is the view I want from MY hot tub! Imagine sitting here at night with the northern lights flicking above you...ahhhh.

If you're coming to Homer and want someplace to stay, I totally recommend Halcyon Heights. You'll be in for a treat! Every year when I come here for our retreat I say to myself, "I want to come here and spend a romantic weekend with my husband and just be a visitor!"