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

May Day 15 life on the ridge begins

My selection of today as our "first day living on the ridge in Talkeetna" is somewhat arbitrary (and it's not technically a ridge but more on that below).  Paul has been here in Talkeetna more than in Anchorage for the last 8 months.  I've been mostly in Anchorage and most of our stuff still resides in that house,  But all that will change soon.  Earlier this week we signed a contract to sell the Anchorage house, and the move north is finally feeling real.

So why did I pick May 1st?  For one, I am in Talkeetna today and woke up here this morning. And May Day is a celebration of spring, new life.  This will be a new phase of our life.  And lastly, this evening is the start of Talkeetna's annual Birdathon event.  We've got 24 hours starting at 6 pm to identify as many species of birds as we can.

For months I've looked forward to this weekend with the hopes that we'd spend the evening on the deck, observing birds in our new neighborhood and relaxing with friends.  On Saturday we'd ramble through the woods and along creek and lake shores, using the birding as an excuse to be outside much of the weekend.  The weekend would be a balance of house work and recreation, with the scales tipping towards play and relaxation.  The months of house remodel, shop building, and house selling -- mostly working indoors -- would be behind us.

And it almost is. A few details remain on this house, but we could move our stuff in tomorrow.  The Anchorage house is tidier and cleaner than ever and we found buyers who love it.

So that's why I'm calling May Day our first day of life on the ridge.

But it's not really a ridge. Though we've called it the Little Ridge  House since we bought it four years ago, and our friend and neighbor Chip calls this place Redtail Ridge for the hawks that he's observed.  Really it's the bluff on the edge of what used to be the broad floodplain of the Susitna River.  The Alaska Railroad acts as a dike between us and the river, so we're unlikely to ever see the river at the bottom of the slope.  Instead there's a small spring fed creek that meanders between some trees in a wetland field.  Beyond the track we see the birch-spruce forest, catch a glimpse of the river, and admire the foothills of the Alaska Range beyond.

It's not really a ridge, it's not really the first day, but it is the start of something new worth celebrating.

post script May 4: The weekend was exactly what I had hoped for.  Fabulous weather (see the photo above), a personal best of number of species seen, and tons of time outside hiking and hanging on the deck.  We even bushwhacked across the partially frozen swamp below our place, over the train tracks, along a couple of sloughs, over to the Susitna River (see the photo above again).  Then we were happily reminded that we'd been told about a trail to that same spot, which we took for a much easier (though longer) return to the house.  Along the way we added to our birding life list (ruffed grouse!) and saw the boreal chickadee that broke our previous Birdathon record.