Sunday, August 31, 2008

Flattop Peak Trail

OK, today isn't quite as pretty as yesterday, but that didn't hamper our desire to get out and about. We've been to the overlook at Flattop Mountain several times before, but have never braved the hike up to the peak. Today was that day! I know what you are thinking, didn't you go hiking yesterday? Isn't this a tad ambitious for you? Yes, and yes. Still, we forced the kids into the truck and headed to Flattop. (I say forced, because although the kids love our family adventures, they sometimes need that extra push to get them going. Sometimes, it takes 2 pushes.)
Flattop is famous for being the most hiked mountain in Alaska, so how could we not experience this? There is a reason that this hike is so popular. We were not disappointed. The trail starts at the parking lot with wooden stairs leading to a winding gravel path through the trees and onto the hillside. From there, it's a nice wide path with wonderful views of Anchorage and Cook Inlet. This place is also the home of Blueberry Hill, where there are lots of wild blueberries growing, and almost as many hikers collecting them. We saw lots of berries on the hillside, but had only one thing in mind...the peak ahead of us!
When they say supervision recommended, they mean it. The path gets more hazardous as you near the peak. There aren't any guard rails along the path, and at some points in the trail it is very narrow with a sheer drop off on one side. If you have a fear of heights, the second half of the hike is not for you. If you feel brave enough to handle it, the view at the end is definitely worth it. There were nice stairs made with railroad ties at some of steeper slopes around the middle of the hike. They offer a flat area to sit if you need to take a breather, as well as help with erosion. Just before the last and steepest part of the climb, there was a wooden bench with a dedication plaque on it. It was a thoughtful gesture in remembrance of someones friend and family member, and offered a fantastic view of the city, not to mention a welcomed place to sit and catch our breath. At this point in the climb, I would have to agree. It was "the best dang bench in the world!"

After the family pried me off of that wonderful bench, we headed off again. A few more stairs, and then we came to the biggest challenge of the hike. We faced what can only be described as a rocky cliff. There are painted circles every so often on the rocks to help you safely make your way up the side of the mountain. There pale green spots for the easier route and red for the harder route. Someone must have a great sense of humor, because both sets of spots seemed to be following the same path up the mountain. Finally, we made it to the top! The views are awesome up there, and so worth all of the effort to climb. It took about 2 hours to hike 1.5 miles up to the peak and back. The elevation at the top is app. 3550 feet. This is definitely a hike to try if you are ever in Alaska. It was amazing.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Hand Operated Tram at Winner Creek Trail

We woke to blue skies and warm weather this morning, so we decided to have a real Alaskan adventure today and try something totally new. About 30-45 minutes south of Anchorage is the scenic town of Girdwood. Girdwood is known for it's skiing--the Alyeska Ski Resort in particular. There are lots of great hiking trails in Girdwood, but behind the Alyeska Prince Hotel is the Winner Creek Trail, and here lies our adventure!

First, I'd just like to say that this trail is fantastic. It is a mixture of gravel, dirt and boardwalks, and winds through the most beautiful wooded land you have ever seen. There are bridges over rushing streams and waterfalls, wild blueberries growing within easy reach, and plenty of log benches scattered along the way if you need a break. We didn't see any wild animals along the way, but we were temporarily adopted by Black Lab and a Husky who seemed to think we needed their protection. They were very polite and were great company for part of the hike. (Their owners were walking behind us, and apparently were too slow for the dogs' taste!)
After a brisk 2.5 mile hike through the woods and up and down along the gorge, we reached the hand operated tram that crosses Winner Creek Gorge. It was a little intimidating as first glance, because there is no railing separating you from the gorge, just a small platform to stand on to bring the tram to you. People on each side can help pull, as well as the riders in the tram itself. The tram has a 400 pound weight limit, so we broke into pairs. (I wasn't taking any chances on breaking the lines and falling down into the gorge!) The tram is a little metal box that you step into and shut the door. The sides and bottom look similar to a chain link fence, but much heavier, so you can see the water below you as you cross. After I got over my initial nerves and pulled away from the side, it was a blast! We crossed over the gorge, and then back again. The kids loved it, too. I admit, Russ did most of the pulling, but it wasn't too hard to do. Gravity takes over on the first part because the ropes drop a little toward the center of the gorge, and then you have to pull harder to get it up the little incline on the other side. Everyone there is really helpful, and people on the opposite side help pull you over. In turn, you help them go back the other direction.
You can continue on the trail for another mile past the tram to the Crow Creek Mine, but we were pretty tired. After a snack near the gorge, we started back along the 2.5 mile trek to Alyeska. This would have to be my favorite hike here so far. The Tram was definitely a reward that was worth the walk. We'll save the Mine adventure for another day.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Hatchers Pass

There's gold in them there hills! If you are ever going to catch gold fever, this is the place to do it. Independence Mine is about an hour drive north of Anchorage, just past Palmer. The road leading to it winds through the mountains and along Willow Creek. The main building has been renovated and now houses the welcome center and gift shop. There are a lot of interesting old photos along the walls, too. They also have some gold on display, so you know what you are looking for.

You can wander around the old buildings, or take the path up to the top and check out the entrance of the mine. There is a big mound of dirt and rocks on top of the hill that has been excavated from the mine, and they let you pick around in it and look for gold. You are looking for the white quartz rock, because that's where the gold it found. I've been successful in hunting for gold on each visit and am convinced I am a millionaire, but the lady at the gift shop assured me that my huge chunks were actually little chips worth about $5. She won't get a ride in my private chopper, will she?

Some of the buildings are open for exploration, and they are pretty interesting as well. In all, it's a beautiful area to check out and the staff there are very friendly.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Manventure, Alaska Style

There is nothing the guys enjoy more than a boys weekend out. No women, no rules, no indoor plumbing, and lots of 4-wheeling. Does it get any better than that? Russ and Brandon headed out for some 4-wheeling fun with some guys from his shop and their sons. They loaded up the 4-wheelers with all the necessities and went high up into the mountains on a camping trip.

Brandon was in heaven. He got to sleep in a tent, get as muddy as he wanted, ride the 4-wheeler all day, climb trees, and play. There were no rules this weekend. It was all about the fun.
One of the best things about camping is the food. Brandon loves to eat MRE's and Mountain House meals. Who needs a table when you have a 4-wheeler?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Trip to the end of the Spit

If you have a free day in Alaska, Homer is a great destination. It's a nice little town at the Southern end of the Sterling Highway. I'd heard a lot about it and wanted to check it out. There is a pull-off as you first enter Homer with a great view of Cook Inlet and a little bit of Kachemak Bay. Even on a cloudy day, it was beautiful.
Our first stop in Homer was the Visitor's Center. They had some great displays and a short movie about the Tiglax - it's a research ship for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. Tiglax is the Aleut word for Eagle. (See, I slipped in some education before you even realized it!) The film was really interesting.

From there, we headed on down to the Spit. It's a long, skinny piece of land that sticks out from the shoreline, and consists of a main road and lots of shops and eateries along both sides. There are also lots of places to fish. At the end of the spit is a restaurant and hotel (with the appropriate name). We checked out a lot of the shops and had some ice cream.

We headed back to the downtown area and went to the Pratt Museum. That was really interesting, too. They had a lot of great displays and short films on the local wildlife and history.

There is an old saying, "It's not the destination, it's the journey!" This is definitely true of Alaska. We seem to love the views along the way as much as any part of the place that we are going.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Fresh Salmon

We grilled some salmon last night. A little butter and some Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning (a nod to my southern roots) and yum! Even the kids like it, and they are picky eaters. We had a chance to go dip netting for salmon on the Kenai recently, and it was a blast. We headed out on a Friday night with some fellows Russ works with and camped out on the mouth of the Kenai. It's essentially a big tent city on both sides of the river. They only allow two weekends a year to dip net here and it's open to Alaskan residents only. The rule of the day is-- fish as much as you can in the time allowed, and play the rest of the time. The kids had a blast and the scenery was beautiful. We had a great view of the volcanoes on the other side of Cook Inlet.
Brandon caught his first salmon, and was so proud. He decided one was enough, though, and he was ready to go 4-wheeling again after that.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Summer of the Bear

Every day is a buffet, if you just know where to look. Our neighborhood has been very popular with the black bear this summer. They tend to hit the dumpsters around 5:30 or 6 am, before the traffic picks up. My husband was trying to decide what was worse, me standing in the driveway and taking pictures of the bear, or the fact that I was standing there wearing neon striped pajamas (he refers to them as my "clown suit") while taking the pictures. It was a tough call. I would think that the worst thing was the officer trying to get handcuffs on the bear. Littering is a crime, mister, and no one is exempt from the law!