aug 14 Devil's Canyon

the turn around point in Devil's Canyon

We are on a 50-passenger jet boat up the Class VI rapids of Devil’s Canyon on the Susitna River in Alaska. Ahead of us is a 10-foot high waterfall at one of the narrowest points yet in the canyon. It’s loud. The roar of the jet boat is lost in the thrumming as the reddish-brown canyon walls squeeze one of the largest rivers on the continent and drop it off that ledge. Most conversation has stopped and we are all wondering, hoping, that the boat is going to stop here.

We were free to move about the boat until we reached Devil’s Canyon. Then the captain asked us to stay seated until we reached the turn-around point. We began rocking and rolling up the river as the canyon walls rose and closed around us. Then we reached this waterfall. The captain does stop and somehow he keeps the boat hovering at the bottom of that drop for more than half an hour. Once we realize that he really can hold the boat at the bottom of the waterfall, we take turns snapping photos at the front of the boat, laughing at the sheer power of the water.

Most of my experience of the Susitna has been on that matriarchal river – a mile-wide braided stretch more than 50 miles south of Devil’s Canyon. My small town sits near the confluence of three rivers – the Susitna, Chulitna, and Talkeetna – and is named after the last one.

Read the rest at The Nature Conservancy's Talk Blog ...

Devil's Canyon

21 august 2016 Rivers Without Waste

Last week we watched a short film called Voyagers Without Trace about a 1938 trip on the still-free-flowing Green and Colorado Rivers.  The French trio – 2 men and a woman – completed the first recorded kayak journey from Green River, Wyoming, to Lee’s Ferry, Arizona.  The film also follows a similar American trio of our time who follow the original journey, only now they must ‘portage’ around the Flaming Gorge dam and their take out is the upper end of Lake Powell.

In 1997 we were part of a quartet on the Green and Colorado Rivers, kayaking through Canyonlands National Park and taking out just below the confluence.  That June the days were hot and unrelentingly sunny. The current mostly carried us along and we often rafted together to enjoy the float and canyon scenery. That stretch doesn’t have any rapids but the Green carries a lot of water and we had a couple of unintended dunkings when we weren’t paying enough attention.

We didn’t notice any influence of the dams above or below us, but we suffered every evening from another change since 1938.  Invasive tamarisk lines much of the shore of the Green River today.  These thick plants have become mosquito haven.  Every evening as the sun dipped below the canyon walls, the bugs came out in droves along the shore.  The first evening we were unaware of what was to come and were so overwhelmed that we abandoned a pot of shrimp, boiled in beer, that had just finished cooking, to dive into our tents.  Eventually one of us snuck back out of our tents, clothed head to toe, to retrieve the food and deliver it to the tents.  Then we understood why when we got onto the river, another party was cutting their trip short, some still crying, over the mosquitos they had encountered.  We camped higher after that first night and our trip was memorable for the scenery and company.  

I’m currently re-reading Cadillac Desert, which was written 30 years ago, about how water in the western US has been moved, exploited, and over-allocated.  The book and film reminded me of the southwest rivers that we rafted or kayaked when we lived in Colorado.  We mostly boated sections that had survived the obsession of the Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and many state governments with damming rivers so that water wouldn’t be ‘wasted’ by flowing to the ocean.  Ironically, a significant portion of the water in these huge reservoirs evaporates without ever being used. We did kayak on Lake Powell once, near the beginning of the period of its falling water level.  We visited an archaeological site, which gave us some idea of the history and magnificence of Glen Canyon, which had been drowned by the dam of the same name.  (The film DamNation includes footage of the canyon taken by an interesting group of river runners before it was flooded.)

Re-reading Cadillac Desert reminds me of how lucky we are to now live in Alaska and be floating big wild rivers that are still flowing freely to the ocean.  Thankfully all the efforts to waste public money on large dams whose costs outweigh their benefits continue to fail here. Adventurers and regular people like us are still boating (or swimming!) the Susitna, Kenai, Yukon, and other big rivers for 10s to 100s of miles without encountering a single dam.  That never feels like a waste of water to me.
More photos of our 1997 trip on the Green and Colorado rivers are here:

2015 Year of the Move

Our year revolved around completing our house and shop project in Talkeetna, selling the house in Anchorage, and moving to Talkeetna. The sale and move happened in June, and the projects ... well, is a house ever really complete? Here are some highlights of the year ~

Technically we unpacked the last box in the house in October when Paul completed a shelving unit for the stereo and all the various music medium we own.  There are still boxes of books in the storage room that need a place to be.
By the end of September, all the siding and trim was on the house and grass seed was sprouting all around.  This photo was taken from the railroad tracks, looking over the swamp to our place on the ridge (house on left, shop/barn on right).

Biking and snorkeling on the Big Island of Hawaii in February has become almost an annual break for us from the Alaska winter.  For Alaskans, visiting Hawaii is like New Yorkers going to Florida to escape snow and cold.  With one flight, we can step into a warm, lush, humid tropical setting.

In mid-May I joined friends to bike the road into Denali National Park.  For a short period in the spring and fall,the road is closed to vehicles, providing a good mountain bike ride on gravel roads up and over passes.  Spring had not arrived yet - the rivers were still mostly ice covered and you can see the the plants had not leafed out yet.

In June, just 2 weeks after we moved, I visited Alaska's Emerald Isle - Kodiak - with  friends.  We drove to the ends of the few roads to wander on remote beaches and saw the famous Kodiak brown bear and the less-famous bison. 
This was a warm, dry summer -- great for checking out many of the local lakes for cooling off in the evening.

One half of my parents visited in August.  The warm weather continued and we installed the umbrella on the picnic table to shade dinners from the hot evening sun.

In August the Alaska Dirt Divas made the annual backcountry trip to a cabin near Eklutna Lake in Chugach State Park.  Biking on a regular basis with these friends is one of the things I'll miss about living in Anchorage.

We did a little camping.  Over the 4th of July weekend we rafted the Susitna River with friends.

Over Labor Day weekend we camped in Seward with friends.  While the guys fished, the women hiked with dogs.

In October I visited the other half of my parents in upstate NY.  The fall colors were gorgeous. More about that in my last post.

oct 15 falling in love all over again

A week in the Adirondacks of New York and I've fallen in love with my home state all over again.
an idyllic back yard

Mom and Jack consult a map at the fire tower on the top of Azure Mountain

view from the top of Azure Mountain

Higley Flow (a flow refers to an inundated area above a dam.  Higley is along the Raquette River, which has many dams)

Mom and Jack have an apple tree that was dropping some big delicious apples.  This was the biggest - one pound!

scenic North Country farm house