Wednesday, January 28, 2015


A few days after we got back from camping at Denali we took our annual pilgrimage to Kenai to go dipnetting for salmon. It's always a bit comical the way we pack up our little car for dipnetting, and this year even more so because now we have 3 kids. But we've been enough times now that we've got our system pretty well figured out, even with a baby.

As an added bonus this year, our friend Sarah came down with her two girls and camped with us, even though she wasn't fishing. It was immensely helpful to have some one else to help out around the camp and for the girls to have friends to play with. We've also been lucky in that we've always had nice weather when we've gone dipnetting.

When we got there we watched all the other fishers and saw that no one was really catching, we set up camp and had a leisurely dinner.

The tides were much higher this time than the past times we've been. While we were eating dinner the tide came right up to the front of the tents. We were on the very back of the beach so we were fine, but the waves came just a few feet from some of the tents in front of us.

Later on, the run picked up a bit and I started catching. Sometimes we get lucky and catch two in the net at the same time.

After being pretty slow most of the day, it picked up quite a bit in the last hour before closing time. I caught almost all of these just in the last 45 minutes before 11pm, when everyone is required to be out of the water, which is when this picture was taken.

We caught another 9 the next day for 18 overall. The fish weren't running as fast this time as we've seen a few times in years past (certainly not like last year when we hit the peak day and we fished for less than 2 hours and caught 26), so we did pretty well considering. A lot of people we talked to who went the same weekend only caught 2 or 3 so we were feeling pretty good about our 18.

After we get back from fishing, it takes another full day to get the fish filleted and packed. There's a lot of slime on the skin of the fish, and lot of people don't bother scrubbing the slime off, but if you don't, the salmon will start to taste really fishy after being in the freezer for a few months. We're careful to get the slime off, and as a result, our salmon never tastes fishy, but it does take quite a lot of scrubbing to get the slime off. Well, Marel had the idea to try some potato peeling gloves, the kind we've seen on infomercials, but she wasn't sure where to get them. We checked Bed Bath and Beyond, which we thought was the sure bet for something like this, and they had never heard of them. I thought I remembered seeing something like this at New Sagaya, one of the Asian markets. So I checked there and, sure enough, they had them--straight out of Japan. Marel was pretty proud of herself for thinking like the Japanese when she saw the picture showing how to scrub a fish with the glove. And, in fact, it was significantly faster using this than the standard kitchen scrubber, so it was well worth the $3.99 we spent on it.

These last few pictures have nothing to do with dipnetting, but they don't really have a post they belong to, so I'll put them here.

One day Celia discovered that she could put her bike over the puddle in our driveway in such a way that it rested on the training wheels, but the back wheel could spin freely. They had fun for a little while making a little fountain, but before too long I think their backs got wet and they stopped.

We had quite a lot in our garden this year. We planted tomatoes in our window early in the spring, with the intent to move them outside once it got warm enough, but I guess we weren't really paying attention, because before we knew it, they were too big to move (growth happens fast with the nearly 24-hour sun. Like we said, we're proud of giant vegetables up here). The one in the middle had a vine that went all the up to the ceiling, back down, and then back up again. We also had a good crop in the boxes on our porch, and we even took over one of the communal beds along the fence (not pictured) since no one else was doing anything with them. Overall we had a beautiful Alaska summer.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Denali State Park

After our few days in and around Fairbanks we headed into the wilderness. Here are the girls in the back of the car on our drive from Fairbanks to Denali. Sabrina and Caleb are asleep and Celia is watching a movie on the tablet that is suspended between the headrests of the two front seats.

One thing about Denali--or Mt. McKinley--is that despite it being the highest mountain in North America, it's notoriously difficult to see. Because of its size, it causes its own weather patterns, so there are often times when the sky is clear in all directions, but Denali is still shrouded in clouds. In the past, more often than not, any time we've taken a road trip somewhere that should have a good view, the area surrounding the mountain is entirely socked-in, so we can't even tell where exactly we should be looking and hoping for a break in the clouds. But this time, as we drove the highway south from Fairbanks, we came around a bend at one point, and there it was in full glory.

Another thing about Denali is, unless you get real close to it, which in itself is not very easy, it can be difficult to portray in photographs just how large it is because it is surrounded by other mountains that are also quite large. So in contrast to Mt. Rainier and Mt. Hood, for example, which are solitary monoliths that dominate the landscape, Denali is part of the massive Alaska mountain range, which as a whole is very impressive, but as I said, until you get deep into the national park, it's difficult to capture a photograph that truly depicts the scale of Denali and the Alaska Range as a whole.

But anyway, on a beautiful, sunny, hot day, we drove from Fairbanks to Denali State Park, which runs along the highway along the eastern border of Denali National Park. We stayed in a public use cabin on Byers Lake, which is basically as close as you can get to Denali on the road system (the alternative being the 90 mile dirt road in the national park, which generally can only be traveled by the park bus, but gets you as close to the peak as you can get without flying). It's about a half-mile walk from the parking lot to the cabin, so we had walk all our supplies in.

The mosquitoes along the trail were brutal, and because we were carrying all our gear, plus carrying a baby, towing a sled with firewood, and prodding the girls to try to keep up, all in 85 degree heat in direct sunlight, we got real sweaty real fast, which is what the mosquitoes love. We had to keep a hand free while carrying everything to constantly bat ourselves and the kids to keep from being eaten alive. Once we got to the cabin, though, we lit some mosquito coils and were able to cool down in the shade and it was very pleasant.

We cooked foil dinners and s'mores on the fire and had a lovely meal. (Denali is sort of faint in the background in this picture because of the angle of the sun this time of day.)

After dinner and getting the kids to bed we stayed up late to watch the sun set over Denali.

This is the last one we took that night just after midnight.

Then around 4:00 am the next morning, I got out of bed to take some brilliant pictures of the sun rising over Denali while Marel and kids slept (or tried to sleep because our cabin was a million degrees).

And I was sure glad I did because by the time we got up around 7 or 8 the clouds had rolled in and we lost our view of the mountain. Although it was brief, we were glad we had such a nice view of Denali. Despite the clouds we still had a good time. Caleb got in touch with nature while I cooked pancakes for breakfast. He loved to watch the grass and ferns sway in the breeze.

He also enjoyed our little hike out to the outlet of the lake.

The girls liked it too. There was a bridge and they liked throwing rocks off it. Here Celia found the biggest rock she could carry to make a big splash.

Caleb also liked sucking on the spigot of our collapsible water jug, though he didn't (and still doesn't) actually like drinking water.

After two nights and the full range of weather, from hot and sunny to mild and gray, with a few little showers and one major downpour during the night, it was time to pack up and go home. Here I am taking the first load back to the car so we could all walk together with the rest of the stuff.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

North Pole 4th of July

On the 4th of July, we headed from Fairbanks to spend a day in North Pole (home of the real Santa, of course).

North Pole hosts a "Christmas in July" parade on the 4th. It was hot. And the girls enjoyed playing in the dirt while we waited.

Caleb was rocking the summer sun hat.

And then the parade began. This is a pony hauling gigantic rhubarb. Big vegetables are a theme around Alaska. Vegetables grow very large here in the 24-hour sunshine and we're all very proud of that.

We loved the logo on the City of North Pole's police cars.

Everything in North Pole is Santa or Christmas themed. 

The real Santa and Mrs. Claus were the highlight of the parade. The parade ends at the "Santa Claus house" and there are a whole bunch of booths and stuff set up there.

Here's the Santa Claus house. A long time ago, this one family opened a little curio shop of Christmas stuff they collected. And that turned into the entire town of North Pole. So, the shop has expanded. And they now have a gigantic Santa statue out front and a sleigh, and some reindeer. It's the real deal.

Santa, being the cool guy that he is, wore his patriotic flag shirt for the holiday and Caleb loved meeting him. 

This is as close as Sabrina would get. And Celia wouldn't even go in the same room.

We liked Santa's take on the Starbucks logo.

We couldn't go visit North Pole, Alaska without visiting the actual pole. It's in a random park with a plaque that explains its hilarious origin and story.

Again, the whole town of North Pole is on board with the Christmas theme. All the light posts are candy canes, the businesses have festive signs all year long, and all the street names are appropriately named.

We drove back to Fairbanks for the afternoon of the 4th and went to historic Pioneer Park. We got lucky and got to ride the original coal engine they only pull out for holidays. It's the oldest operating steam engine in Alaska, but it's so difficult to run they only do it a few times per year. It was fascinating to see those engineers work so hard (and it was so hot! They let us step behind the controls to take a pictures, but they cautioned us not to touch anything because the controls were over 200 degrees). 

Pioneer park is full of historical stuff from the area. Remember our jaunt to Nenana? Yup. Here's a miniature version of the tripod way back in the glory days.

And also, as we mentioned in the last post, sternwheelers were historically a big part of life in Fairbanks, and here is the largest one they had back then, preserved as a museum.

After the kids were in bed that night we left a baby monitor with the kids and snuck out for a little night out around the hotel grounds to play bocce ball, putt some golf balls, and try to throw rocks at driftwood floating down the river. We took this picture around 10 pm, and the last one was about 11 pm. The weather was in the 70s and 80s the whole time we were in and around Fairbanks so it was a nice place to spend the Independence Day weekend (except for the lack of fireworks, which just wouldn't make a lot of sense anyway with the midnight sun).

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