Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Alaska Journal - Day 1

Mark and I have wanted to go to Alaska for many years.  After doing some research we decided we did not want to drive our RV there. 

We heard about UnCruise last summer from friends Virginia and Kirk (we volunteered with them at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge).

The large cruise ships have never interested Mark but UnCruise sounded more doable.  Before putting our deposit down last summer, we contacted the volunteer coordinator here at Dungeness (Dave) to make sure it would be okay for us to take a couple of weeks off.  It was fine with him.  He has continuously encouraged us to see and do as many things as possible while we are here.

Although UnCruise has been in business for 21 years, we had never heard of them.  Their brochure states:  “Small ships, Big Experiences, headed to where the big ships can’t go.”

After looking at all the different UnCruise Alaska trips and boats offered, we decided on a 12 night excursion on the Wilderness Discoverer.

We left Dungeness at 8 a.m. Monday, May 15, 2017.  After crossing the Tacoma Narrows Bridge we drove to an off-site airport parking lot.
The Tacoma Narrows Bridge is a pair of suspension bridges that span the Tacoma Narrows strait of Puget Sound.  The bridges connect the city of Tacoma with the Kitsap Peninsula. The original bridge at this location was the infamous "Galloping Gertie" that collapsed because of wind-induced flutter just four months after opening. There is an amazing film of the collapse that can be viewed on YouTube. 

Since we were driving to Seattle (not flying), it took a little planning to leave our truck some place and catch our UnCruise shuttle.  We parked at an off-site airport parking lot, were shuttled to the airport, picked up by an UnCruise driver at the airport and driven to the Crowne Royal Hotel for check in.  Whew!

We had a couple of hours to explore Seattle before boarding.  We walked a few blocks to the famous Pike Place Market.
The market opened August 17, 1907.

Around 5:30 the UnCruise shuttle arrived to take us to the boat.  We had a short, rainy walk to board.

Once on board we found our room where our luggage had already been delivered.  We were in Cabin 403.  Ours was one of only 4 large cabins on the top deck and well worth the extra cost. 

Our room is 403 on the Sundeck. 
The Wilderness Discoverer has 38 cabins, 76 guests, and 26 crew.  It is 176 feet in length and 39 feet wide. Built in 1992, it was renovated in 2011 with a cruising speed of 10 knots.

After checking out our room and grabbing our PFD (Personal Flotation Device), we headed to the lounge for a safety/abandon ship drill.
One size fits all?
We met the Captain (Keith) and were encouraged to visit the bridge any time, day or night.  So after stowing our PFD’s back in our room, we headed up to the bridge as the boat left the dock.
Our first hurdle was to maneuver through the Chittenden Locks where we were lowered twenty feet into the Salish Sea.
We shared the lock with another boat.
The locks serve three purposes:

1: To maintain the water level of the fresh water Lakes Washington and Lake Union at 20 to 22 feet above sea level.

2: To prevent the mixing of sea water from Puget Sound with the fresh water of the lakes.

3:  To move boats from the water level of the lakes to the water level of Puget Sound, and vice versa.

There are 2 locks.  We went through the large (80 x 825, 24.4 x 251.5 meter) lock.  They are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and were opened on July 4, 1917.

As we left the lights of Seattle behind, we traveled North, to Alaska.
 Seattle Skyline
Next time: Our journey continues.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Did You Sing Along?

Did you recognize the old Johnny Horton song?

Where the river is windin' big nuggets they're findin'
North to Alaska go north the rush is on

We've just got back from a couple of weeks in Alaska.
We'll be blogging again after we get through a few hundred pictures.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Way Up North ... sing along!

We're on vacation.
We'll be blogging again in a couple of weeks.
Stay tuned - it's gonna be good!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

It Took Six Years

We’ve hit the four corners (sort of).

West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, Lubec, Maine
Most Eastern point of the continental United States
June 15, 2011

Key West, Florida
Southern most point in the continental United States
January 16, 2015

Naalehu, Hawaii
(Ka Lae) Southernmost point in United States
October 4, 2013

Cape Flattery, Neah Bay, Washington
Furthest Northwest point in contiguous United States
May 10, 2017
Tatoosh Island viewed from Cape Flattery

We've been around!!


Monday, May 8, 2017

A Fun Time With Friends

Our friends Randy and Serene (who we met at Farragut State Park) drove all the way up to Sequim, Washington to visit with us for a few days.  We had a great time visiting, eating, and walking on the spit here at the refuge.

One day we went to the Olympic Game Farm which is just down the road from the Refuge. 

The farm is 84 acres with over 200 animals.  At the driving tour entrance Serene splurged on 2 loaves of wheat bread and was nice enough to share with us.  Wheat bread is the only food the public is allowed to feed the animals.

Our tour started at the prairie dog village.  These cuties were out and about.  They didn’t seem to be too interested in the bread but there were plenty of gulls flying around that would snatch a whole slice out of the air and take off with it!
Prairie dogs
Next stop - yaks and llamas.

While Mark and I were being skimpy with our bread, Randy was handing it out as fast as he could.  He had lots of takers. 

This llama got a little pushy and came right in the window! 

Apparently Randy wasn’t fast enough and our little llama friend started eyeing the back seat.
We made it through the llama area with all our fingers intact!

The Olympic Game Farm worked exclusively for Walt Disney Studios for 28 years, filming here at the farm and on the Olympic Peninsula.  A few movies and television series are  “Charlie the Lonesome Cougar”, “The Incredible Journey”, “White Wilderness” and “Grizzly Adams”, and several National Geographic documentaries.   

We passed by the “famous” waving bears.  They weren’t waving today. 

They were chilling out!
After the death of Walt Disney in 1965, the Disney Studios began to move away from the nature films.  In 1972, with the approval of the Disney Studios for using the Disney name, Olympic Game Farm, Inc. was opened to the public.  The founders, Lloyd and Catherine Beebe, retired from the filming industry and focused solely on caring for their animal actors, concentrating on offering “in need” captive bred animals a new and loving home.

There were many of these beautiful peacocks.  We could hear them males rattling their feathers as part of the courting ritual.

After making our way through most of the park we came to the last area, the bison area.  The brochure and signs warn “NO STOPPING WITH THE ELK OR BISON. DAMAGE MAY OCCUR. DO NOT FEED THEM AT THE ENTRANCES TO FIELDS. MOVE FAR INTO THE FIELD BEFORE  FEEDING. MOVE AT A SLOW PACE AT ALL TIMES. Stopping with the bison will result in damage to your vehicle and the vehicles behind you will be a scratching post.”

This bad boy did not read the sign “DO NOT FEED THEM AT THE ENTRANCES...”:
American Bison
Unfortunately, the people in front of us didn’t read the sign either:
While stopping for the car in front of us, the bison took full advantage.  Mark and I still had most of our loaf of bread and we started giving it out as fast as we could.

 Tongues tickle!
When they started getting so close all I could get in the picture was either an eyeball or a nostril, it was time to roll up the window.
It was a fun day, we laughed the whole trip!
The end.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Now You See It ... Now You Don’t

The refuge has two trails leading down to the spit.  The main trail is a beautiful, wide, 1/2 mile trail that meanders through giant Western Red Cedar and Douglas Firs. 

The other trail is a primitive trail that is 6/10 of a mile and winds through lush green forest.  Some places in this trail are single file walking only.  This trail tends to get very wet and muddy when it rains.

One of our jobs was to re-gravel and re-mulch the primitive trail.  Our first task was to spread gravel along the muddiest, torn-up places in the trail.  It would have been nice to gravel the entire trail but we didn’t have enough gravel to do that.
Teri loading gravel.
We have two narrow trailers that pull behind the ATV’s.  Mark and I spread about 4000 pounds of gravel in about 3 days. 
Mark scooping out gravel.
The newly graveled areas look great.
Light gray area is fresh gravel.
After the gravel, it was time to put the call out for some other volunteers to help spread mulch.

As far as we can tell, out of about 180 volunteers, there is only one other volunteer besides us that is federally certified to drive an ATV.  
Teri on ATV (doesn't it look like a tropical jungle?).

Our plan was to have Mark and me drive the ATV’s, have someone at the mulch pile, whom we would help load the trailers, and have at least two people on the trail spreading the mulch.  This plan worked perfect for 2 out of the 3 days it took to spread 50 cubic yards (35,000 pounds!) of mulch.  I won’t go into the one day everything fell apart.  As you know, it’s all about the help you get.

The whole circuit from loading the trailer at the mulch pile, driving to the trail, unloading (not spreading) and driving the full circle back to the mulch pile took about 17 minutes.  We figured it took approximate 10 hours with 2 ATV’s to finish the pile.

We were able to mulch half of the trail and are now awaiting another load of mulch.
Mark at the end of the mulch.
Now you see it:

Now you don’t:


Monday, May 1, 2017

185 Years

One of the new birds that we've seen here in the Pacific Northwest is the Marbled Murrelet. They are in the family of birds known as Alcids, which are sometimes considered "The Penguins of the North" because of their compact body shape, short wings, and feet that are set far back on their body. The big difference is that they fly!
Marbled Murrelets in Flight
The Marbled Murrelet presented one of the great mysteries of North American birding for nearly two centuries. They were first described in 1789, but their nests went undiscovered for 185 years. Other Alcids nest along the coast, in sandy burrows or on rocky cliffs. Some early drawings (including Audubon's) showed Marbled Murrelets nesting in this fashion. But decades of searching by ornithologists failed to locate a single nest.

Finally, in 1974, an arborist evaluating some old growth forest found a nest over a hundred feet in the air, sitting on a large mossy branch. It turns out that Marbled Murrelets fly up to 50 miles inland to place their nests on large horizontal branches of the oldest trees in the forest.
Marbled Murrelet pair
So the mystery was been solved, but this story may not have a happy ending. Logging and development of their forested nesting habitat has had a significant impact on the Marbled Murrelet population, and they are now listed as Threatened or Endangered. Conservation plans include limiting logging in old growth forest and are controversial to say the least.

We are thrilled to have seen these birds on our San Juan Islands trip, and hope that measures will be taken to assure their continued survival.