Sierra Nevada Mountains, California

Sierra Nevada Mountains, California
Fall, 2016 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, California

My need to get out into the wilderness and see some fall colors and rambling streams led me this last week up to the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. I camped up in the Bishop Creek Recreation Area and loved every minute, well almost every minute. The biting wind and the freezing cold were a little difficult.
 The aspen are turning golden yellow and orange, and still fluttering their leaves in the breeze.
My campsite right on Bishop Creek. Had a campfire first thing in the morning and believe me it was cold!
 The morning sunrise was spectacular! I was the only one at my small campground that was up and about to see the sky change color.
 This little creek is the love of my life. She calls to me and I answer.
 In my exploring I found groves of golden aspen, barren mountains and blue sky.
There is a small lake at my campground where people flock to fish. At every lake I visited fishermen were gathered along the shore or out in their little wader boats fishing. Even in the strongest of bitter cold wind, there they were unwilling to leave their post.
One of the lakes I had never seen, North Lake in the Bishop Creek Recreation Area. Sublime beauty hidden away in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
I stood in the stream and balanced myself on several rocks in order to take this picture. That was a miracle in itself that I didn't fall in. As soon as I stepped back on the shore, I stepped in a squishy mud puddle and got my shoe all muddy and wet!
 How stunning it is up here. I camped at 8000-feet, and drove up to Lake Sabrina at over 9000-feet. Such beauty. Such majesty. Such glory.
 Clouds over the Sierra Nevada Mts. There was no snow, even though it looks that way, its just white mountains. There is such a variety of scenery here.
An early morning burst of light shining through a cloud at my campsite. 
South Lake in the Sabrina Basin. It was very, very cold, and people were still out fishing.
Out looking for wood, I wandered through this aspen grove, admiring the trees, color and shapes. Golden leaves littered the ground, thousands and thousands of leaves. Every time the wind blew, more leaves fluttered to the ground.
Up near North Lake, the scenery is totally different. Barren, red dirt, a few pine trees and lots of sagebrush. Quiet. Peaceful. Wonderful. Thank you Lord for being here with me.
What a gorgeous way to wake up in the morning. The Eastern Sierra Mountains with a dusting of snow and a covering of clouds. So beautiful. God be with you and yours.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Kenai Fjords National Park, Denali National Park and Wrangell St. Elias National Park in Alaska

On July 26, 2016, me and Gina packed up our suitcases, hopped on the plane and flew into Anchorage, Alaska. Visiting Alaska has been a dream of mine for many years. My first visit was aboard a cruise ship through Glacier Bay, and it was beautiful, but all I wanted to do was jump ship and explore. This time, I jumped the airplane and hit the ground running.
For three weeks we camped in rain, wind and very little sunshine. Our first stop was Bird Creek, in Chugach State Park. The creek runs into the ocean, and the salmon come up the creek from the salt water to spawn. People were catching fish all over the place. How I wished my son Isaac was there to catch his fair share of salmon.
At Bird Creek, I hiked up to the bridge, hopped over the tracks and walked down onto the beach. Such a romantic, emotional landscape. My senses were coming alive, more and more each day.
View from the bridge, where I saw many fishermen lined up along the shore. There is a certain etiquette in fishing up there. The Native Alaskans can fish anywhere and certain places are open just to them. They can use nets and fish wheels, which are all very interesting. All other fishermen have to use poles and follow all these complicated rules that I never did grasp.
In Kenai Fjords we camped at the coolest free campground near the Exit Glacier. Dozens of young people were there, some from Outward Bound, some tourists from Germany, others just tramping in Alaska. It was so alive with dreadlocks, body odor, ragged clothing, foreign languages, everybody cooking together in one place, and several families with lots of kids. 
Gina and I took the hike up to the Exit Glacier, a glacier that is rapidly melting! In the midst of the harsh elements this gorgeous purple flower was not afraid to bloom. 
The view up to the glacier was outstanding, wide open spaces, green mountains, tons of spruce trees, and the river that flowed from the glacier melt.
The Exit Glacier is made up of deeply compressed ice crystals that appear to be turquoise blue. The ice crystals absorb every color but blue, and as a result, we see the blue color in the ice.
That is the boat that caused me so much stress. We signed up to take a 6 hour boat cruise through Kenai Fjords National Park, and at the time it seemed like a good idea. When the morning arrived to head down to the harbor, I got so nervous and sick that I upchucked my breakfast. Even though I am terrified of certain things and get sick, I am bullheaded enough to do them anyways. Throughout the trip it was either raining, or I was hanging over the side of the boat, or trying to get pictures as we stormed through the water.  
Even though I was sick, I had fun......always. On the trip we saw two powerful glaciers, the Holgate Glacier and the Aialik Glacier. In the picture below,  I saw huge amounts of water gushing out from the glacier into the sea. It was intense.

Near the glacier, we found mama and baby mountain goat, grazing on the hillside. 
Our trip took us up and down Resurrection Bay, in and out of the fjords. Yes there was some rough know where that one goes, but in spite of the boat rocking, and my stomach rolling, I saw glaciers, see otters, puffins, whales, Bald Eagles, Bottlenose dolphins, seabirds, sea lions, and more. It was incredible. 
The highlight of my trip was seeing a humpback whale, swimming and eating and cavorting in the water. The guide told us to watch for the birds gathering because thats where the whales would be feeding. Huge amounts of fish swim together in what they call a bait ball, which attracts the whales. The whales feast, the birds feast and the fish swim for their lives. 
Last view of Ressurrection Bay, boats in the harbor and Seward's clouds.
In Seward, I found this old church, looking so quaint and pretty, a hotel built in 1916, and this funky little house surrounded by flowers. 

After Seward, we headed up to Anchorage, switched our tiny rental car for a big fat rental SUV, and headed up the George Parks Highway into Denali State Park. Moose signs were everywhere, but we only caught sight of two moose, throughout the entire trip. Enormous animals, even the females. 

It was at Denali State Park when I first started seeing mushrooms. I took a couple pictures for my sister Dorothy, as she is a mushroom freak, but then I turned into a mushroom freak and found dozens of unusual shrooms, and have yet to identify them!
This is one of the viewpoints for Denali Mountain. As you can see, Denali remains hidden behind a vast array of clouds. 
Much to Gina's delight, we stayed in a cabin for 3 nights up at Byers Lake, in Denali State Park. It was so crazy to see the lake in so many different lights. This one was my all time fave.
One day I took a walk around Byers Lake. At this point in the pic above, I was stopped dead in my tracks as the bridge over the creek that runs into the lake had been washed out. Refusing to be sidetracked, I bushwhacked through some very high grass, to try and find a place that was shallow enough to cross the creek. After finding a suitable place, I took off my shoes, flung them over my shoulders and walked into the creek. My shoes promptly fell into the water and my socks started drifting downstream. As I stooped to retrieve them, I looked up to see a giant black bear, which was actually cinnamon colored, running through the creek in the exact spot where the bridge had been washed out. Then he was gone. I started to freak, then just quietly turned back, put on my shoes and back tracked to the trail. Scary. Never saw the bear again.

We stopped at this fabulous cafe and had warm strawberry rhubarb crisp, fresh picked blueberry crisp and vanilla ice cream. Wow that was good. I snapped this photo of my wonderful friend Gina, who made it every step of the way with me, on our Alaska adventure.
The Ruth Glacier can be seen from a viewpoint along the George Parks Highway. The upper reaches of the glacier are three miles from Denali summit, which is again covered in clouds. The glacier formed a gorge that is nearly a mile wide and drops down 2000 feet. Most likely why they call it the Great Gorge!
At last we entered Denali National Park and set up camp in the rain, again. Only this time we stretched out a blue tarp over the table which kind of worked if you kept your head low.
Denali National Park has its own sled dogs that the rangers use to patrol the park in the winter time. We visited the kennels and petted the dogs, who then gave us a demonstration of how powerfully they run. It was awesome. 
Gina and I did some exploring on the Denali Park Road. For the first 18 miles or so, you can drive your car and stop and hike. After the Savage River, you have to turn back, or hop on the bus to the end of the park road. That would be me, cruising around the Denali Park Road in full hiking regalia.
Along the road we spotted so many caribou, their antlers covered in velvet. Both species of the caribou have antlers, however the males are far bigger. Of course. 
To my delight, I found creeks, rivers, lakes and waterfalls in abundance during my visit to Alaska. Even though rain clouds ominously cling to the mountains,  the mood they create is so amazing. 
The next afternoon, we hiked up the Mountain Vista Trailhead off of the Denali Park Road. 
The green bus that took us on a jolting, very long 8 hour ride down Denali Park Road. Wow, that was amazing. We stopped in several places to get out and hike around, and if you wanted to, you could stay longer and hop on the next bus.  During our trip, I saw bighorn sheep grazing on the mountain, caribou, grizzlies, a golden eagle soaring low along a river,  an arctic fox and lots of fabulous scenery. Everyone else on the bus saw the wolf, but he remained hidden from my eyes. 
The vast, open landscape made such an impression upon me. It overwhelmed me, to the point of almost needing to shut down my emotions in order to continue looking. 
In parts the mountains and valleys were a lush verdant green. Lots of rain does that. 
The clouds hung over the mountains like a soft blanket, some threatening rain.
One solitary grizzly, probably a male, was browsing in the tundra. The larger grizzlies on the coast are usually referred to as brown bears, and feed on a salmon rich diet, while the inland grizzlies tend to be smaller and feed on bulbs, roots, sedges, carrion and small animals. I also saw a female grizzly with two playful cubs crossing the valley. So amazing. 
At last, Denali revealed a part of herself, not the whole mountain, but definitely some of it. From the Eilison Visitor Center, you get a pretty good view of Denali, a tremendous sight. Even though she was partly veiled, I still felt indescribably happy. 
At the Eilison Visitor Center the skulls and antlers of two bull moose are displayed. The carcasses  were found out on the tundra, with antlers locked together, yet the bodies of both animals had been nearly picked clean by scavengers. The two moose had engaged in antler wrestling to prove which one would have the privilege of mating with the females. During the fight their antlers were locked together and remained that way through death. The savage brutality of the wilderness. As my brother-in-law Tom said, "Wilderness takes no prisoners."
A tiny flower about 2" high, growing in the arctic tundra near the Eilison Visitor Center. The tundra refers to vast areas of land that are frozen most of the year. Spring and summer seasons are short, and only a part of the ground thaws out, but never enough to allow trees to grow. Thus it is filled with a wide variety of low growing plants such as moss, sedges, heath and lichen. In Alaska you can walk just about anywhere, and when you walk in the tundra, it feels spongy under your feet. 
We stopped in Fairbanks, Alaska, to stay in a cabin at the Chena River.  Fairbanks was a pleasant surprise to me. We visited Alaska House, a fine art gallery displaying the work of Claire Fejes along with other Alaskan artists.  Modern buildings mixed in with the old, and flowers were everywhere. Nearby is North Pole, a strange conglomeration of Santa and Alaska. 
Our Chena River cabin had room for six people, and it was just me and Gina.  We had plenty of room to cook, stretch out in our bunks and sit by the fire in the old wood stove. 
Gina loves to fish, and she tried her rod out in the Chena River. Very peaceful setting.
The third National Park we visited was Wrangell St Elias National Park. In order to get there you had to cross over the Copper River and either backpack through the wild or drive down the McCarthy Road. Don't know which is harder. Bullet holes in all the signs made me just a teensy bit nervous. Stories of flat tires and getting stuck also made me nervous.  At one point all the rain had created a slide off the mountain, leaving tree roots exposed, rocks in the road, and mud everywhere. We continued on, watching the rain clouds advance.
It was nearly 7 pm as we drove into Wrangell St Elias National Park,  but because it is almost always daylight in the summer, it seemed like the afternoon.  
My goal is to visit all of Americas National Parks. There are 59 to be exact, and when I entered Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve, it brought my visits up to "50". Isn't that incredible? I have nine more to go, Lord willing and the creek don't rise!
The clouds and evening sunshine created such a pretty atmosphere. 
We walked out to Silver Lake and on our way back to the car, I turned my head and saw the last light of the day illuminating the trees. Shortly after that, we saw a black bear crossing the road and one very confused porcupine trying to claw his way up the hillside. 
We made it as far as the Kuskulana Bridge which spans 528 feet over the Copper River. The bridge was built in 1910 for the railroad, but is now used for cars. By then it was about 10:30pm, and because we were so tired, we turned around and found a free campground filled with Native Alaskans who start the party at 11pm! They all had ATV's and were driving in and out of the campground all through the night. So crazy. 
On our way out we stopped at the Copper River Bridge and watched the Native Alaskans catching salmon. About a dozen men were wading out in the water with these big nets. They would take the net and walk through that freezing water, then check for fish. The women would clean the fish and the  kids would run around all over the place. 
At last we found a beautiful quiet campground at Liberty Falls and rested up for two nights before heading to the airport. It was so fun to make fires, eat, explore the river and waterfalls.
"Fear not for I am with you; be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10
It is good to rest and be restored by the beauty, simplicity, awesome power and wildness of the natural world. Thank you Lord for creating such places.
On our way to the airport we camped near the Matanuska glacier, a sight to behold. 
Sitting in the airport, waiting for our plane to take us back to southern California, a warm bed, and a quiet place to reflect upon all that I saw, heard, felt and experienced while in Alaska. All throughout our trip, God was with us, protecting us, helping us find our way, and blessing us with such beauty. May the Lord bless you, and keep you safe from all harm. Susan Little

Copyright©2009 Susan Little, All rights reserved. Use of photos requires written permission.