Sep 18, 2015

Valley of Fire Revisited - The Fire Wave

In late 2012 we visited Valley of Fire State Park in southern Nevada. It was part of a day trip from Las Vegas that included time at the Hoover Dam. We took longer at the Dam than we had plan so we had to rush through Valley of Fire during the last few hours of daylight.
We loved Valley of Fire and knew that we would have to do a return trip, only this time we wouldn't rush it.
You can see our pictures from our first trip to Valley of Fire here..
And our time at the Hoover Dam can be seen here...
In late March of this year (2015) we were able to do another trip to the southwest, and this time we blocked out a whole day for Valley of Fire.
I know most people go to Las Vegas to drink and gamble. We go for everything else. Great food, good shopping and the unparalleled desert scenery.
Valley of Fire is just an hour's drive from Las Vegas. There are tour companies that you can go with... But I always prefer having a rental car. That way I can explore at the pace that I want to go and see what I want to see. However, no matter how you get there, it's worth the trip.
On our last trip we we able to spot some big horn sheep. We went to the same spot on this trip but we couldn't get lighting to strike twice. The best we could do was to spot this little lizard. Christy initially saw him as he scurried under a rock. After some patient waiting he came out and we got a good look at him.
Our main destination on this trip was a natural phenom know as the Fire Wave. The hike in is a little over a half mile each way. Being there in late March meant it was warm out but not the scorching heat of summer. Anytime of year you'll want to stay well hydrated.
I'm sure there's some fancy way to describe the geology that created this amazing display... But who cares. It's so beautiful that you aren't too worried about how it happened.

About the pictures: you can click on any of them to see a larger picture. I'm not much of a photographer and I don't know if the lighting at the time was the best. So these pictures do not do it justice... But hopefully they'll give you a taste...

If I lived in Vegas, I think Valley of Fire would be a regular destination for me. There's multiple hiking trails taking you to scenic vistas. But even if you don't hike, just driving through gives you stunning views.
It's almost overwhelming. Our trip was 6 months ago but I just now got around to going through the hundred's of pictures to put together this post....

Jul 27, 2015

Three Hidden Alaskan Gems...

Of course Alaska is one of the most beautiful places on earth. There's plenty of websites and guides to the major attractions that tourist and locals alike visit. But there is also countless hidden gems that maybe even the locals are unaware of. So far this summer, we've discovered three great places here in Southcentral Alaska that are definitely worth the stop if you are in the area.

South Eagle River Falls:

Parking is extremely limited and it's almost a mile walk to the falls. But the trail is wide and easy walking. In the first part of the trail you'll cross a bridge of the South Fork of the Eagle River. This is downstream of the falls. Even coming this far is worth the walk. But of course, there's an even better view further down the trail. So stop for the view, but be sure to keep going on. You'll come to two Y's in the trail. Take the right hand trail each time.
This pictures isof the falls. You can click on the picture for a larger view... The journey to the parking area is a bit windy... But here's the Google Map link for it's location: Basically it's off the Glenn Highway at the Hiland Road exit onto Eagle River Loop. Take a right onto Hiland Road, then eventually a left onto Riverview Drive and another left onto Waterall Road. Then a right on River Park Drive and finally a left onto Ken Logan. Pay attention to the no parking signs in certain areas.
If you are in an RV or pulling a trailer, this stop isn't going to work for you. I don't think there's enough room to get turned around and parked.
  Pioneer Falls
I think this is my new favorite place in the Valley!!! It's easy to get to and easy to park at. And oh, so beautiful. Within a few hundred feet of the parking area, you are along side this soothing, cooling waterfall. If you have an RV or are pulling a trailer, there's an alternate parking area a little further away that should work.Pioneer Falls comes off of Pioneer Peak and empties into the nearby Knik River. 

To get there: take the Old Glenn Highway exit off of the Glenn Highway near the Knik River Bridge. If you are coming from Palmer, you can take the Old Glenn Highway through the Butte. It's about the same distance either way... You are headed for Knik River Road. From the bridge, you travel 1.3 miles up Knik River Road to this point. If you watch closely you'll see a wooden "Pioneer Falls" sign on the right. Just past that is a driveway that leads to a small parking area. You'll hear and see the falls just a short way up from the parking area. If you miss the road to the parking area, or if you are in an RV, there's a turn out on the left hand side of the road just past the driveway. 
Bonus: if it's a nice, sunny day; the next road on the left leads down to a great swimming area.

UPDATE: I made another visit to Pioneer Falls in December. They are just as incredible in the winter.....

Quartz Creek Boat Launch at Kenai Lake
This final spot is a little further south, on the Kenai Peninsula. Normally I zoom through Cooper Landing, in a hurry to get to a fishing spot or to home. But if you've got a minute and need a break from driving, or if you are looking for somewhere to relax for a while; this is your spot.
 Just as you start to come into Cooper Landing from the north there's a turn off for Quartz Creek campground. Just a quarter of a mile down the road on the right is the Quartz Creek boat launch. Also located here is 4 picnic tables with unbelievable views of Kenai Lake.
Here's the spot on the map....

Jun 12, 2015

Baptisms at Goose Creek

A few weeks ago I was able to be at a baptism service at Goose Creek Correctional Center. We held two services. The morning service is our regular God Behind Bars service for the inmates who are unsentenced or have not been to trial yet. These inmates are kept separate from the general population sentenced inmates.
Then that afternoon as part of the regular Sunday service for general population we baptized those inmates. Since starting baptisms 10 months ago in July, we have seen 97 inmates to this step of obedience.
Normally publishing any pictures of these services is prohibited. But, we had a picture where the background is kinda blurry and the only face you can make out is mine. This gives you an idea of what the gym where we hold the Sunday and Friday night services looks like. And I was also able to get a couple of pictures of the tank that is used for baptisms. It's not fancy, but it gets the job done.

May 28, 2015

The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Living in Alaska sometimes means you get so busy living that you forget that you live in Alaska. Tourist pay thousands of dollars to come and enjoy this place we call home... Why should we let them have all the fun? So recently we headed to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conservation, education, and quality animal care of Alaska's wildlife. AWCC has provided care for hundreds of displaced animals that otherwise would have died in the wild.

Kuma is a male black bear that was brought to AWCC in May 2002, weighing only three pounds. He was found alone in a hole in a backyard in Trapper Creek, AK. The homeowner was putting in a septic system and when the mother bear passed by, the cub fell in and was unable to climb out. When the cub was discovered, the sow was nowhere to be found. One of Kuma’s favorite hangouts at AWCC is high up in the cottonwood trees. He spends hours napping comfortably in the high elevation and doesn’t appear to be bothered by heavy rain or high winds!

 There are 3 brown bears at the AWCC, but they are in a 20 acre enclosure, giving them plenty of room to hide. The closest I was able to come to seeing them was spotting their tracks in the silty mud.

The Wood bison is the northern cousin of the Plains bison that roams many states down-below. It is bigger than the Plains bison and a large, mature bull will often weigh 2,250 pounds versus the 1,900 pounds of the smaller Plains. A mature cow will weigh about 1,000 pounds. Calves are born in May to July and are a reddish color for a few weeks. They begin to grow horns and develop a bison’s “hump” at about two months.

 After more than 100 years of extirpation throughout Alaska, wood bison have found their way back to the state!  In collaboration with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, AWCC was able to reintroduce the wood bison back into the Alaska wild. In 2003, 13 wood bison were brought to AWCC from a disease-free herd in the Yukon Territory in Canada.  The goal is to release the AWCC herd back into the Alaska wild. Currently, AWCC is home to the only wood bison herd in the United States. The first wood bison calves born in the state of Alaska in over 100 years were born at AWCC in 2005. In 2008, AWCC received 53 calves from Canada and placed them with the existing AWCC herd. Since 2006, AWCC has seen the birth of multiple calves every spring.

 Muskox are members of the goat family. They’re an arctic survivor with a thick coat consisting of long (up to 36 inches) guard hairs covering a dense winter coat of harvestable warm fur called Qiviut. Qiviut is considered to be one of the warmest materials in the world.

 During the summer of 2004, a working firefighter spotted month-old lynx  kittens in a recently burned area in Interior Alaska. Three kittens were found alone and suffered from burns on their paws, legs, faces and ears. The whereabouts of the mother was unknown. Had she died in the fire? Had she left some kittens behind, but carried as many as she could as she fled to safety? In need of treatment and knowing the kittens could not survive on their own, the firefighter put them into his backpack and carried them back to camp where he could make arrangements for their transport. Unfortunately, one male kitten died soon after the rescue, but the two females were flown to the Anchorage airport and transported to AWCC for treatment and care on July 20th. In the wild, lynx stay with their mothers for almost a year in order to learn hunting and survival skills. Since these lynx were orphaned at such a young age, a permanent home has been provided for them at AWCC.

 Adonis arrived at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in 1995. He was found near a remote village in Alaska and had been shot. His left wing required a full amputation as a result. Even though it is illegal to harm an eagle under the Bald Eagle Protection Act, an estimated 2,000 – 3,000 eagles are shot or injured in the United States each year. Since Adonis cannot fly, he has found a permanent home here at AWCC.

May 26, 2015

The Tram at Alyeska Resort

Living in Alaska sometimes means you get so busy living that you forget that you live in Alaska. Tourist pay thousands of dollars to come and enjoy this place we call home... Why should we let them have all the fun? So recently we headed to Girdwood to enjoy the Alyeska Tram.

The tram ascends 2,000 feet up the mountain to the Upper Tram Terminal, which is also home to the Bore Tide Deli and the Seven Glaciers restaurant. The tram can move at 26 miles per hour, making the trip in 4 minutes. In the summer, they slow it down to a 7 minute ride to give you time to enjoy the view. In the winter, the tram is part of a network of ski lifts to move skiers up the mountain.
The Alyeska Tramway, designed by Von Roll Tramways, Inc. of Switzerland, has a regenerative drive system. AC power is converted to DC, allowing the tram to operate at varied speeds – slow for scenic rides and fast for powder days.
The tram operates two cars on a counterweight system -- as one car goes up the other car comes down.

 The views are amazing. Below you can see the Girdwood Valley and the Turnagain Arm. To reach Girdwood and the Alyeska Resort, you take the scenic Seward Highway south from Anchorage along the Turnagain Arm. Girdwood is a funky ski resort town with some great restaurants.

With the valley below,the views above are all about the mountains, snow and glaciers. You can see several glaciers from the Upper Tram Terminal.

You can do the tram on it's own. It's also how you access the fine dining Seven Glaciers restaurant. The Roundhouse Museum is part gift shop and part museum with some displays explaining the history of skiing in the area. You can also purchase a ticket that includes a dining credit for lunch at the Bore Tide Deli.

Our group ordered an assortment of soups, sandwiches, fries and chicken strips. All of it was pretty good. But the real star attraction is the view from up top.

Even though we've been having summer weather down below, it's still winter up on the mountain. It'll be another month or more before the snow completely melts away.

Some years there is still skiing on the upper mountain into May and early June. This year we had a mild winter and Alyeska struggled to have enough snow to stay open.

 The tram runs every fifteen minutes or so into the evening. (Check the schedule for exact times...) So after eating you can explore as much as you like. Just pay attention to any signage marking a closed area.

The Alyeska Resort is one of Alaska's nicest hotel complexes. In the winter its a skiing hotspot. In the summer there's plenty of hiking that can be done on the trails in the adjacent Chugach National Forest.

On the way back down we managed to spot a black bear sow and her cub on the hillside below. Seeing wildlife is not guaranteed, but it does happen.

Your tram ticket is good all day. So after some other sight seeing we went up again. No bears were sighted this time, but it was still worth doing a second time.