Kennesaw Mountain

November 1

New states:  Mississippi; Alabama; Georgia

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Turns out the road home goes through home for both Rebecca and me.

We decided to drive to visit my father who lives at the foot of Kennesaw Mountain, a Civil War Battlefield Park in Marietta, Georgia.

ackyard view of one ofmthe new neighboring mansions.

ackyard view of one ofmthe new neighboring mansions.

Our route took us through Birmingham, Alabama, which is tucked into the lowest reaches of the Appalachian Mountains.  You might be surprised at how mountainous that region is.  The interstate highway just cuts through it, but one can imagine the backroads through the hills could be as steep and winding as those in the Ozarks.

We crossed the border into Georgia in time for our dashboard clock to be correct – for two days.  We’d left it on Eastern time through four time zones, but today it’s off by an hour anyway:  Today is the longest day of the year.

Growing up I did not spend a lot of time on Kennesaw Mountain, but we’ve made up for it since I’ve moved away.  We hike to Cheatham Hill or up the mountain more than once on every trip to town.

The best trail climbs Pigeon Hill, then ascends Little Kennesaw, drops to a saddle, then rises to the top of Kennesaw at 1800 feet, an elevation gain of 650 feet over two miles, not counting the extra hundred feet resulting from the saddle.  There are great views of the Atlanta skyline from several places on the mountains.

Visitors' Center

Visitors’ Center

There’s a new trail, the 24-battery trail, that starts close to my dad’s house that goes to the visitors’ center, aother four-mile round trip.  The 24 battery placements are the most interesting artifacts of the war in the park.

The Civil War was lost, or won, by the time Sherman reached Cobb County, but there was plenty of dying left to be done, along with the burning of the state.  The battle was especially ridiculous.  The Confederates were dug in in an unassailable position, but Sherman, with his superior forces, tried to take the mountain. Fought in heavy rain in June, 1864, the assault accomplished nothing more that convincing Sherman to go around the Confederates to get to Atlanta instead of through them.

When I was a kid on the other side of Atlanta, near Emory, Kennesaw Mountain was way out in the country.  We might have gone there once, before we moved to Marietta.  Now it’s just another suburb.  The park has become a major recreational destination.  The parking lots are always full, and the trails are crowded.

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When I was in college, my family went on a trip in an RV to the Gaspe peninsula.  When we got back, my father got involved in a business venture, leasing a prime location on Highway 41, the major southbound artery into Atlanta, near Lake Alatoona.  He built an RV campground.  It was very nice, in the woods with hillside, private sites.

I was the first manager of Lakeside Campground, which wasn’t on the lake.  It was a depressing job, as there were never more than two or three campers in the campground on any night.

Battery atop Little Kennesaw

Battery atop Little Kennesaw

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The Avis of Canyons

October 24

New states: Texas; Oklahoma

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The Texas panhandle may be the world’s largest wind farm.

We came up a rise on I-40 just after crossing over from New Mexico to be confronted by a line of wind turbines that stretched to the horizon. Some 40 miles later, they took a break for the city of Amarillo. They would resume on the other side of the city and continue, though somewhat less contiguously, well into Oklahoma.

EB1A0386The astute geographer among you may note that Big Bend National Park is nowhere near I-40. We decided to reroute north to avoid the flooding from Hurricane Patricia.

Fortunately, a Texan we’d met earlier in the trip told me the second largest canyon in the world is in the Texas panhandle.

So we set our sites on Palo Duro Canyon, which actually lays claim to being second in the U.S. At 800-feet deep, it does not threaten to steal the title “Grand,” but it is an interesting and worthy stop along the way.

The campground is located on the canyon floor. We parked the Wegwam and rode our bikes along the park EB1A0400road.

The next day we hiked the favorite park trail, to the Lighthouse. It’ a six-mile round-trip hike along a fairly level path through red-grounded desert. The canyon walls display excellent stratification and a variety of colors. In the heat of summer it would be a really testing endeavor, but in October it is a walk in the park. We were not alone.

The hike culminates with a steep scramble up to the base of the Lighthouse formation, which of course is a lot bigger than it looks from across the canyon. There’s also a great view of the canyon there.

EB1A0374We heard a familiar noise from above. Sandhill cranes. Over the course of two day, more than a thousand passed overhead. I wonder if we’d seen any of them in Fairbanks.

The park was booked for Saturday night, so we drove to Oklahoma City, where we “camped” in an RV park on the edge of the city bordering the Interstate, with what appeared to be 400 RVs. Not our favorite stop of the trip.

I should note that east of Oklahoma City the landscape suddenly changes with the appearance of trees. Definitely getting closer to home.

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Driving up Stairs

October 8

Canyonlands from Island in the Sky Overlook

Canyonlands from Island in the Sky Overlook

Someone put a bug in my ear about Canyonlands many years ago, so it was high on my list of destinations for this trip.  I’d since heard the park is sprawling and almost inaccessible.

EB1A0758We drove into the main entry into the park, at the Island in the Sky visitors’ center, where we got a taste of Canyonlands.

The Island in the Sky overlook is perched on a sheer cliff a couple thousand feet above the Canyonlands floor.  Two rivers flow through the park, the Green and the Colorado.  There’s a viewpoint for seeing the Green River from the Island in the Sky section, but the best view of the Colorado is from a bridge across it on the way into Moab.

We hiked the fairly short rim trail, which hugs the top of the “mesa” (really a cuesta – see Mesa Verde) and includes someEB1A0765 fun scrambles up slanty rocks.  Off in the distance you can see the Needles, a series of spires downstream from the overlook, accessible via a second entry and visitors’ center.  Although the Needles are only about 20 miles from the Island in the Sky overlook, it’s close to a 100-mile drive by paved road.

Another thing you can see from the overlook is roads that zigzag straight down the sheer cliff to the canyon floor, then shoot across the desert.

Tour guide John

Tour guide John

Since I’d heard the only way to really see Canyonlands was by four-wheel vehicle, we looked for tours and found a company, NAVTEC, that was authorized to drive into the park.

The weather forecast was for good weather on Sunday, with rain coming in on Monday, so we called to try to book a trip to the Needles on Sunday.  We were informed they need at least three customers to run the tour, but they had two on a waiting list for Monday.  We suggested they contact the two on the waiting list to switch to Sunday, but they never did, so we wound up booking the Monday tour.

An intermittent drizzle was falling when we were picked up by the tour driver in his four-wheel-drive Toyota SUV, with two German gentlemen already in place in the van.  The man in the front seat wasn’t feeling well and spoke little, but our partner in the back seat, Thomas, was excited about the adventure and a worthy conversationalist.

Our ride

Our ride

Our tour guide, A.H. John (not his real initials) seemed to have a chip on his shoulder.  He was an old coot, a grizzled veteran of 20-plus years of hard living in the Moab desert, who would have fit the profile for a prospector in previous years.  EB1A0081(I don’t think he was as old as me, although he looked it.)  We never figured out what his problem was, maybe he just resented people who thought sleeping in a van was camping and had enough money to pay for his tour.  At any rate, he was thin-skinned and defensive, and it made for an uncomfortable trip.  His was not the prototypical personality for a tour guide.

He didn’t like that we were concerned about the rain.  “This is the kind of weather where you see professional photographers.”  True, the fog that enveloped the Needles made for a ghostly effect, but blue sky and visibility also contribute to interesting pictures.

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He said something about seeing Alfred Hitchcock in one of the rock formations as we were driving into the park, and when nobody laughed he groaned that apparently this was going to be a humorless trip.

Now, you can probably imagine if somebody said that to me there’d be plenty of attempts thereafter to match wits.  Apparently, though, A.H. John had no wit, because he never recognized that anything I said was intended to be funny.

EB1A0085As we were bouncing along a dirt road a few miles beyond the visitors’ center, he said, “I guess nobody wants to take pictures.”  I dug my camera out of its case and said I guessed I’d have to accept that challenge, which only angered him because he insisted he had not issued a challenge.

Actually, it was a real challenge to take pictures.  If I rolled the window down, it would start raining and I’d have to roll it back up.  The ride reminded me of trying to take photos from the boat we took into the Kenai Fjords, rocking on ten-foot waves.  The image stabilization in my camera lens was no match for the jostling of the drive.

We arrived at Elephant Hill, a parking area and trailhead for one of the park’s most popular hikes, but instead of parking, John swung the car up the hill.EB1A0073

I guess you could call it a road.  Rebecca said it was like driving a car up a flight of stairs.  In hindsight, it would probably be easier to drive up stairs.

The drive to the end of the road, and our own trailhead destination, climbed two more hills like the first.  There was one stretch where we drove a rock-bound alley where there wasn’t more than an inch leeway on either side of the car.  It required masterful driving not to knock off one of the rearview mirrors.

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Squeeze. Rebecca took this.

The best trick of the drive was a point where, going up one of those rocky hills, the hairpin curve in the middle of the hill was too sharp, requiring the vehicle to pull beyond the turn, then back up the remainder of the hill.

A better day

A better day

Understand, when we booked the tour, we had no clue what we were in for.  We expected something like driving down one of those cliff-side roads we’d seen at Island in the Sky.  This ride was jarring and breathtaking; the longest drop-offs weren’t more than 50 feet, nothing like the thousands of feet of sheer rock face we’d seen, but still, more than enough to kill you.

In truth, the trip was exhilarating, a real once-in-a-lifetime experience.  (I repeated frequently I thought the ride was “fantastic,” but there was no appeasing John.)

So we were ready to stop and go on our hike after the hour-or-so drive of six-or-so miles.

It was only 11:30, so it was agreed to hike first and eat lunch second.EB1A0530

We got out of the car, and as usual I was futzing with my camera gear and the last one ready to go.  John waited for me, but the other three went tramping up the trail without us.

This further annoyed John.  About a hundred yards into the trail he suddenly turned to me, stuck his finger right into my face, and said I’d done nothing but insult him the whole ride in; and complain about the weather.  He acknowledged I had a bottle of water, but accused the others of going off totally unprepared.  “I guess I’m just the chauffeur,” he said.

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The hike was fantastic.  We hiked among giant rock formations.  We climbed steep rock faces.  We squeezed through narrow rock alleys.  We got closer and closer to giant red needles.

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But we were right to worry about the weather.  By the time we reached our trail’s destination, an elevated space with a nice view of a few needles in the gloaming, it was raining pretty hard.  I’d neglected to bring any cover for my camera, so I was struggling to keep it under my rain jacket, which did not enhance my hiking ability.

If you’ve ever hiked on rocks, you probably were glad it was dry.  Rocks look like they could get really slippery in the rain.  Miraculously, the rocks in Canyonlands are “sticky when wet.”  Footing was not an issue.

However … when we got to one of the narrow rock alleys on the return trip, there was more than a trickle of water running through it.  And then within a couple of minutes, before we’d gotten through, there was more than more than a trickle, and as I passed a side- alley that connected to the main passage, the little stream building up in it was breaching into the main channel.

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About 20 feet before exiting the alley, there’s a drop of about five feet facilitated by a log with steps cut into it.  I was last down that “ladder,” and the bottom of it was submerged.  John was there to assist, and verified that when I’d stepped on the last visible step that there was still one more.  I made it down to the bottom, where the water was lapping at the hem to my shorts.

EB1A0557Meanwhile, John was busy taking photos with his phone.  “I’ve never seen it like this,” he said.

There’s one tree at the trailhead, so we sought shelter beneath it was we ate lunch.  Then we battened down for the return ride, which was even more challenging than the ride in.  Perhaps John was going a bit faster than he usually would, given the nature of nature that day.  Going up one of the hills, we bottomed out a couple of times with really hard bumps, and on two occasions we almost got stuck in a near-vertical position.  Only once did it seem we were about to slide off a cliff.

It’s possible John had softened by the end of the trip.  He had to admire the intrepid nature of his group that day.  We handled the adverse conditions with aplomb.  He repeated more than once that he’d never seen conditions like that in the canyons before.

Having sampled the interior of Canyonlands, we were ready to see it on a clear day, so we came back to the Needles area from our visit into Colorado.  We had been told the park campground usually filled up by noon, so we hightailed it from Cortez and arrived at the park just after eleven, to be told the campground had filled up before ten.

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It was our good fortune to find a single accessible camp site in the Super Bowl BLM (Bureau of Land Management) campground a few miles outside the park gate.  It was a beautiful setting surrounded by giant cliffs and two huge formations known as the Six Shooters.  Best of all, it was free.

We staked out our site, drove into the park, dropped the Wegwam at the parking area in the park campground, and set out for Chesler Park, a nine-mile round-trip.

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It was a beautiful day, and it was one of the Best Hikes Ever (Rebecca still likes the hike to Harding Ice Field better).  We crossed long stretches of exposed rock trails.  We twisted around one canyon and then the next.  We squoze through rock-sided canyons (this time with no stream running with us).  We climbed up and down, round and round, finally reaching the destination, Chesler Park, an area with a view back into the Canyonlands offering a different view from the giant red rock formations we’d hiked through.  Lots of rounded gray mounds with white tops beyond a foreground of desert grasses.  We were close enough to rows of towering red “needles” to nearly touch them.  We had an elevated look back up the canyons toward the Island in the Sky.

Island in the Sky

Island in the Sky

In fact the perspective from the Needles area led me to a greater understanding of the Island in the Sky than I’d gotten from its overlook.  The Island in the Sky is a True Mesa, a near circle towering two thousand sheer feet on all sides above the Canyonlands floor.  From below, it really does look like an Island in the Sky.

The other reason we came back to Canyonlands was to experience the night sky.  The International Dark-Sky Association has granted Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Park status to the park.

The sky, even on a moonless night, was not as spectacular as we’d hoped.  There was a bit of haze left over from the previous days’ rain, but there were plenty of stars.  The milky way stretched from one horizon to the other, probably the most milky way we’d ever seen.  But the stars were all-in-all no better than what we see on a clear night at Bunky’s Hill.

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Iconic

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September 28

Miles: 150

Wildlife: Elk; roadrunners; antelope; fox

We have reached the penultimate degree of grandeur.

At the outset of our trip, we passed near the Grand Ole Opry. A few weeks later we visited Grand Coulee Dam.

We have now reached Grand Teton National Park. The Grand Canyon awaits down the road.

There are few images in American park lore as iconic as the Tetons. They jut way up EB1A0145into the sky from a generally flat landscape. There are plenty of mountains in the general vicinity, but the Tetons dominate, most prominently Grand Teton, at 13,770 feet.

Note the singular. The range is the Tetons, but the craggy precipice that pierces the blue sky the highest is THE Grand one.

Which is kind of funny. Within a 25-mile ride through the park the perspective changes so radically three distinct peaks can merge into a single apparent mountaintop. From our campground, Mount Moran rises above Lake Lewis and seems to be the main mountain.

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Our entry into the park did not bode well. We headed for the Coulter Village non-electric campground (I told you we’d figured that part out) only to find it closed despite wording to the contrary on its website. The alternative electric campground was open, but it cost more than a nice hotel in Sheridan, and didn’t have showers.

EB1A0335Rebecca called ahead to the next campground in the park, Signal Mountain, to be told the last site had just been taken. When we got to Signal Mountain, we decided to cruise through to see what the campground was like, and we discovered a vacant site, so we set up camp for three nights. (It turned out we moved to different sites within the campground for each night, a record for the trip.)

There is a nice little leg-stretcher of a hike that runs from the campground for a mile or two along a bluff next to Lewis Lake.

There’s also a nice bike path that runs next to the road for the length of the range, and it turns out to be a much better way to see the mountains than by driving. We pedaled the path from near Moose Junction almost to Jenny Lake and back.EB1A0306

Back in the campground, we got a good look at the lunar eclipse, as well as a bull elk that was grazing in the woods within 20 feet of us. And a very civilized red fox walked right through our site looking for table scraps.

We dined the last evening in the local inn’s restaurant, where we struck up a protracted conversation with a couple from, get this, Wilkes County, North Carolina (home of Bunky’s Hill). They travel to Montana for their vacation every Fall.

EB1A0191The highlight of the stay was a series of lake hikes. The clouds finally blew away, so we headed for Taggart and Bradley Lakes, then finished off the day with a hike around String Lake. Combined length nine miles, elevation gain 1000 feet, maybe.

Both hikes give superb views of the mountains from two different perspectives. The String Lake hike actually hugs the side of the range so you’re looking out away from the Tetons instead of at them.

That’s an ironic aspect of the park. If you hike the rigorous trails within the range, you don’t have views of it.

Gardiner, MT. Typical Montana view.

Gardiner, MT. Typical Montana view.

Our choice of hikes was facilitated by the closing of the boat ride across Jenny Lake for the season the day before our hike. Apparently, the weather usually turns much harsher by late September than it did this year.

On our way out of the park, we took the “scenic” route along Jenny Lake, which, but for one overlook where the Grand Teton is reflected in the lake, is much less scenic than the main route.

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Blowhard Homer

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August 28

Miles:  Seward to Homer 165; Homer to Girdwood 190

Wildlife:  Swans; Eagles; sandhill cranes

D’oh.

We’ve had our D’oh moments on the trip, but fortunately none of them were at Homer.

EB1A9284The route from Seward to Homer was a good sampler of coastal Alaskan geography.  Coming out of town we drove through glacier-topped, black stone mountains.  When we turned onto the Sterling Highway, we passed through mountains that grew from evergreen-clad bottoms to treeless brown tops, I assume some kind of tundra.

At ground level, we were surrounded by lakes and rivers, especially the Kenai and Russian, crawling with fishermen.

Russian Orthodox church in Ninilchik.

Russian Orthodox church in Ninilchik.

After a stretch of scraggily low country, we reached Cook Inlet.  Across the water, about 50 miles away, rose Mount Redoubt, at over 10,000 the tallest volcano in the Aleutian range.  Active volcano.  It’s erupted in the last ten years.

A few miles after driving through Anchor Point, the farthest west you can drive in the United States without doing some serious portaging, we arrived at Homer, where we camped in the Driftwood Campground, probably the smallest campground we’ve experienced so far.  There weren’t more than a dozen campers parked on the site, which sits on a bluff just set back from the water’s edge, at the mouth of Kachemak Bay where it connects with what looks like the ocean.

EB1A9306The town is a little different from others we’ve visited in Alaska.  It’s much more spread out.  The shops are a little higher end.

Then there’s the Homer Spit, a little appendix-like projection that sticks out into the Bay toward the mountains and glaciers of the Kenai.

We biked to the spit.  It was a good, long ride, mostly on level ground, but the wind was really howling.  And in our face coming back.  The spit is almost a causeway with campgrounds, a few restaurants, and a lot of fishing tour headquarters.

We heard, and saw, several pairs of sandhill cranes.

Homer Spit

Homer Spit

While we were on the spit, we saw a few wind surfers (one hopes they had thermal wet suits), and one wind surfer on an over-sized skateboard who passed us on the bikeway.

homer3We did find the local brewery, Homer Brewing Company, where I had an ESB that wasn’t particularly bitter; they didn’t have an IPA on tap.

Two Sisters bakery makes great bread and desserts, and the best sticky nuns you could wish for for breakfast.

After two nights we headed back toward the “mainland,” where we hit some serious winds when we got back to the Turnagain Arm.

Before we got back to Anchorage, we turned east for a couple of blocks and stopped at Girdwood, where we decided to spend a couple of nights in a condo.

EB1A9352Girdwood is a ski resort for Anchorage.  The setting is beautiful, with the Turnagain Arm on the west, mountains and glaciers in the other three directions, and ski mountain Mount Alyeska rising up above the small town.  There’s no skiing right now.

This morning we rode our bikes down to the Arm, then this afternoon we went over to the ski resort and hiked up the mountain.  Ho, hum, another mountain climbed, 2000 feet ascent in 2.2 miles.  It was a great trail, with appropriate switchbacks and, where the trail was steep, steps cut into the rocks.

The reward for the hike was a free ride back down on the tram.

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Tomorrow we start edging toward Denali, where right now the weather is turning cold and snowy.

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President Obama is apparently tracking our trip, as he will be duplicating the steps we’ve taken when he

Hey, Trintech, name that lighthouse.

Hey, Trintech, name that lighthouse.

comes to the area in a couple of days.  Although I’d like to see the President, I think we’ll be fortunate to get out of Anchorage before he gets to town.  I hear he’s going to Exit Glacier; I wonder if he’ll try for the Harding Icefield.we

No Exit Glacier

There’s still an Exit Glacier outside of Seward, but judging by its rate of retreat, there won’t be one for a whole lot longer.

Exit Glacier

Exit Glacier

Due to our experience at O’Leary Peak in Anchorage, we were leery of any hike in Alaska that calls itself strenuous, and the hike to view the Harding Icefield above Exit Glacier was described as extremely strenuous.

EB1A9016The Park Rangers reinforced the impression, so we were convinced to hike to one of the two shorter destinations on the trail, either the first overlook, Marmot Meadows, or the second, more scenic view at the Cliff.

We hiked the mile to the lower view of the glacier as a leg stretcher.  It’s a really impressive view of a glacier at close hand, but fifty years ago we would have been touching the glacier at the overlook point.EB1A9058

Then we set off to climb to a better view of the glacier.

The view at Marmot Meadows was okay, but we were fresh, and the trail was not as sheer as we’d feared.  In fact it had a trail feature novel to Alaskan mountain trails:  switchbacks.  And steps had been cut into the rocks to help with the steeper sections.

The view at the cliffs was exceptional, and we could see dozens of hikers coming down the trail from the end.  Nowhere did the trail go straight up.

EB1A9200Unfortunately, we had not packed sufficient water to carry us four-and-a-half miles (each way) and 3500 feet up.  So we rested up.

And then, miraculously, we went up instead of down.  The views from the trail above the Cliff were spectacular.  It turned out the trail was longer, and somewhat steeper, than it had appeared, but we pressed on.

Finally, after three and a half hours, we reached the upper terminus of the trail, where we could see hundreds of acres of ice stretching to the far peaks.

We were quite proud of ourselves when we reached the ground.  Deservedly so, I think.

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Juneau the road to Sitka?

August 13

Wildlife: Nesting arctic terns; salmon; eagles; beaver

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Of course Judon’t. There’s not one.

We arrived at Sitka in the rain. We set up camp next to the harbor in a veritable parking lot from which people were firing rifles into the sound. We drove into town.EB1A7575

There’s an interesting National Park installation in town where a trail leads you through a dozen totems. These totems are all under 100 years old, but they’re still interesting.

After the totems we went looking for the local brewery, the Baranof Island Brewing Company. We were directed to a shortcut through a park, which included a bridge over a small river. There were

Those are salmon

Those are salmon

a number of people standing on the bridge looking at the water. “Salmon,” I speculated.

At first glance, I saw no fish, but upon closer inspection saw two, three, maybe four or five fish. Then I looked again. The river was alive with salmon (dying salmon). Hundreds of them. As numerous as pebbles. It was an unreal sight. They were almost all of them just hovering in the water; it turned out they were swimming at the same speed as the current against which they were heading, so they weren’t moving.

The brewery was not a brewpub; they just served their beer, which was just as good as any. All beer in the Pacific northwest tastes good.EB1A7607

We walked around town, which was mostly closed since it was a Sunday night. We observed the Russian onion-domed church which was closed. We window-shopped several nice little stores.

I should mention we also attended the Alasksn Brewery in Juneau, which also did not serve food, but they gave free samples.  They brew several outstanding IPA’s.

EB1A7657Sitka was the main Russian city in Alaska before the Russians forced the U.S. to take it. You can learn plenty about the town in Michener’s “Alaska.” We climbed a hill that overlooks the city, where the Russian flag was lowered and the American flag raised when the territory changed hands. It’s also where the first 49-star Stars and Stripes was raised.   The hill has other significance in the Russian period for both residential and tactical reasons (read the book).

Before shipping out on the ferry the next day we did some real shopping, and it was very pleasant and rewarding. We were told that Sitka, once a major stop on the cruise ship lines, is now being bypassed.

Mendenhall glacier in the rain.

Mendenhall glacier in the rain.

The trip to Juneau, as previously reported, was fast and uneventful.

We arrived at Juneau in the rain. It rained for two days, but the forecast for Thursday (Johnnie Morris’ birthday) was for sun, so we delayed our departure for Haines by a day.EB1A7755

While it was raining, we went to the Mendenhall Glacier, which is very impressive. We took a couple of short hikes to amazing views.

It turns out, when it’s clear, the glacier is even more impressive, as well as the surrounding mountains. It dominates the landscape all around the Auke Bay section of Juneau.

We went to downtown Juneau. There were four cruise ships lined up in the harbor. There were dozens of jewelry shops lining the road next to the cruise ships. The Alaska knickknack shops were all a couple of blocks closer to the city center.

Inside St. Nicholas.

Inside St. Nicholas.

We found an onion-dome church, St. Nicholas’, which we were allowed to enter. It’s the oldest continuously-operating parish in town, and has a number of Tinglits among its current membership. We also had some really good Russian dumplings, to continue with the Russian motif.

The other thing we did in the rain was to hide out in the Wegwam.

We were camped in the Mendenhall Lake Campground, a U.S. Forestry Service campground. When we arrived (in the rain) we found our reserved site, and since there were only four campers in the 19 RV spots, we asked if we could move.

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The only way to switch sites was to cancel our reservation, at a cost of one night’s rent plus $10, and reserve a different site. We decided to stay where we were.

Care to fungus a few?

Care to fungus a few?

It turns out, it’s maybe the nicest campground in North America. For one thing, it handles rain really well (better than we did, but that’s coming up shortly). The sites are all wooded, and well separated from each other.

And there’s a fantastic view of the glacier from the campground; a view that is compounded when the sun shines.

We went into a bar next door to where we were doing laundry, McGivney’s or something like that, and realized we were sitting beneath an autographed Chipper Jones jersey.chipper

We walked one of the short campground trails, among trees and small ponds, and saw a beaver swimming at close hand. A mother and her children happened upon the scene. Suddenly the beaver raised its tail above the water and slapped it down with a big “Slap!” sound, then dove. None of us had ever seen such a thing.

In the sunshine on our final day in Juneau, we hiked both the East and West Glacier trails. The east trail, which leaves from the visitors’ center, loops a rugged three miles with a 500-foot elevation increase. The trouble is, the glacier has retreated so far you can’t see it from the viewpoint.

Campground view

Campground view

The west trail, in contrast, hovers right over the tongue of the glacier and gives you a view of the ice field that feeds the glacier, as well as several glacier-clad mountains, and another glacier (Lemon?) off to the east.

So about my mishandling of the rain. We put out our awning so we’d have a dry spot next to the door. I went out during the night and noticed rain had accumulated in the awning instead of running off to the side, so we had two large sags of water.

I pushed up on one of the bulges the release the water, which unfortunately upset the delicate equilibrium. One of the corner poles gave way, the awning fell toward the ground in a whoosh, and the center support crossbar bent in half.

We were lucky (Rebecca was awakened by the clatter and rose from her bed to see what was the matter) to be able to roll the wounded awning back into its holder, so we are able to drive.

But we will be ferrying to Haines, and driving to points beyond, without an awning.