Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Front Porch

One of the first projects on the unfinished cabin this summer was to build a front porch.  When we take the roof off soon to build a small wall and add insulation, we needed somewhere to set all the stuff from the inside of the cabin.

We put a sealant on it right away.
A few days ago Andrew washed the entire exterior of the cabin so we can re-seal the logs and re-do the chinking.  Other small projects going on here and there as well, when we find the time.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

My Summer Job

Well, I have my wonderful husband, Andrew, to thank for this job!  He went to Black Diamond, a local resort in Healy, looking for a restaurant position and the owner said, "No, but do you like horses?"  He said my wife does!  So, here I am, driving teams of draft horses giving covered wagon rides!
Dan and Dick, Percherons, with the wagon named Wells Fargo

Ernie and Randy, American Belgians, with the wagon named Bouncy

The night of the five wagons (the fifth team, Dan and Dick, are at another hitching post...bullies).  Horses taking a break at the Pavilion. 

Overall, the job is pretty cool.  Sometimes a bit stressful.  When a 2,000+ lb. animal doesn't want to do something, there's not a lot that can be done.  With that said, on a daily basis each horse team (team consists of two horses) and teamster (person who drives horses) goes on two tours.  The tours themselves are 5 miles round trip (heading west of town towards DNP..."into the wild") which takes about 2 1/2 to 3 hours all together.  It takes about 45 minutes to get to the furthest destination, the Pavilion, where guests sit down in a dining area which has no electricity or running water (it has a generator for lights when it starts to get dark and there are porta-pottys out back).  After they eat, we return to Black Diamond which takes about 45 minutes as well.  We do take different routes there and back with the exception of a short road connecting the two routes.  The resort offers 4 wagon rides a day, a breakfast ride, a lunch ride, and two dinner rides.

It takes about 45 minutes before and after the rides to take care of the teams.  When I arrive, I go get a team from the pasture and walk them (at the same time) over to the wagon yard to get geared up.  It takes about 15 to 20 minutes to do that because the two areas are a good half mile or more apart.  Once at the hitching post in the wagon yard, we brush them and clean their hooves, then put their gear on them.  All of that can be challenging depending on the horse.  The resort owns 15 horses (9 American Belgians and 6 Percherons), 4 of them are new this year and aren't being trained yet, so we have five working teams plus an extra horse (because his partner passed away last year of natural causes).  Most of the horses are very sweet and docile, but four of them are a handful.  They are not as easy going, a little more jumpy, often bratty and stubborn.  The largest horse, Ike, weighs 2,700 lbs. but he is not the tallest.  The tallest horse, Randy, is 19 1/2 hands high (a hand is about four inches).  So, after the horses are geared up and hooked to the wagon, we wait until we see the bus, that has picked up all the guests from the canyon area outside the park, drive by to head towards the resort.  By the time we get there, the people are standing there, watching the grand entrance of the horses and wagon!  At the Pavilion, the horses get unhooked from the wagon, put on the hitching post, head gear is taken off, and they are given carrots and water.  When we return from a trip, we immediately take their gear off (clean it) and brush them, check their hooves for rocks, and give them oats.  Then walk them back to the pasture.

With at least half the horses I can't even see the top of their hips when I am brushing them.  They are HUGE!  When putting their gear on, it is all connected, so you have to carry everything out on your shoulder at once....ackward and heavy.  With three of the horses I have to use a step stool to set the hames (curved metal bars that tighten around the collar and used to hook to the wagon's yoke) around their collar.  When you put their head gear on they are supposed to put their head down (if not without asking then when asked or told) and some are better than others with that.  When they don't put their head down I am on my tippy toes barely getting the job done.  I've been stepped on a couple of times, but no damage done.

Answers to common questions people have...the horses do stay in Alaska all winter.  They winter in Delta Junction which is about 100 miles southeast of Fairbanks.  Delta Junction is the only place in the interior of Alaska that can grow hay.  The horses grow several inches of thick hair during the winter to act as a natural blanket.  Right now, we give them (all 15) about 1200 lbs. of hay a day.  They do two tours a day for two or three days then have a day or two off.  There are two main pastures side by side and all teams but one stay together in the same pasture. The same teams always work together.  The only team that gets put in separate pastures, Dan and Dick, is because they are the dominant horses of the group and will gang up on other horses when together.  The horses don't seem to be bothered too much by moose (which is the most common wild animal we see...actually the only one so far).  It all depends on the situation.  There have not been any incidents while on the wagons (I have heard some horror stories though), but while walking them from one place to the other if they spot a moose, they might try to run away or charge it.  If one comes into the pasture (moose aren't very smart sometimes), they will chase it which normally breaks the one electric wire around the pasture.  Several times the horses have ended up on the golf course for different reasons.  That's never good.  One night after letting all the people off my wagon, the horse (Dan), that was perfectly calm, got spooked and in a split second broke a metal link on the chain connected to the wagon.  That noise really scared him and he was all over the place and not wanting to calm down.  It took three of us to get him unhooked from Dick and then our main teamster person had to walk him back to the wagon yard.  And about the wagons, the wagons have rubber tires (obviously), a hydraulic break, and shocks.  The break is for the down hill sections, so it doesn't push the horses down the hill.  The limit for wagons is 14 people.

Every day is an adventure!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Summer Harvest

This was a couple weeks ago, but I thought I would share our summer's delight!  This year is the first year we have been able to obtain an Alaska resident fishing and hunting license!  We have been pretty busy working this summer since we came off The Mountain, but Andrew was able to take advantage of fishing for salmon when the sockeyes made their way up the Copper River. He went down one day, fished all night, drove home the next afternoon, took a nap while I was at work, then when I got home we started processing the 24 fish at 11:30pm and finished up around 9:30 the next morning.  After cleaning up we had time to take a quick one hour nap before going into work for the day.  Out only gas money, a small charter fee and  about 40 hours of hard labor, we now have over 100 pounds of sockeye salmon in our freezer (which is anywhere between $10-$13 per pound right now)!!!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


 Spotted this stealthy lynx while driving home from dinner one night recently.  It was slowly creeping along at the edge of the woods off the Parks Highway.

We only got to see it for a few seconds before it disappeared into the forest.  The second one we've seen this summer.

Meet the Neighbors

Friendly neighborhood greetings! Cow moose have learned to give birth to their calves near humans because there are much less predators.  And, it's so fun for us to watch them grow!

Ok...I think momma moose is saying it's time for us to go!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Day in Denali

One of the last things I did with the family while they were here was go for a bus ride into the park.  Since they had a week to do it, we tried to choose the best weather day.  This summer has been pretty rainy so there actually wasn't a day without any chance of rain.  But this day turned out to be a really nice.  It rained in the morning but we left out on the bus around noon (after all the rain).  We ended up with partly cloudy skies and no rain!
This is a far away caribou crossing a snow patch.  However, the very first animal that we saw was a grizzly sleeping just above a snow patch like this one.  It was so far away that I didn't bother taking a picture.
Down the road a ways another caribou but closer to us.
Toklat River
Stopped for a break on Polychrome Pass.
Great views of the valley and  braided river beds.
Edward and Madison decided to take a short walk down the hill.

This is the most of "the big mountain" that we saw that day.  Actually the most they saw during their two weeks in Alaska I think.  Next time!  I overheard a lady say on the bus that day that she came to AK eleven times before she saw Denali.
Luke was impressed by the size and the weight of the caribou and moose antlers.  They probably weigh more than he does.  As you can tell he is struggling to hold them upright, but having fun trying!

Madison enjoyed them too! 
Our second bear sighting was a good one!  A sow with two spring cubs.  They were fairly far away, but at least they were moving around.  They actually seemed to be walking towards the road.  We watched them for a while but they were moving to slow for us to keep waiting on them to reach the road.

A little further away we saw this solo bear, maybe a boar???

Edward here...having a good time!  
We turned around at the Eielson Visitor Center making an eight hour round trip bus ride for the day.  It's exhausting looking for wildlife all day!
                               No "big mountain" in sight but other nice views of the Alaska Range.
The kids did so well on the bus.  They really enjoyed seeing the wildlife.  Madison especially!  I wish I would have captured her expressions and excitement on video when she saw some of the bears up close and personal.  It was too cute!

Three bull caribou grazing on the hillside.
Woooo hoooo!  Grizzly on the road!  The kids (and adults) were thrilled to see this! 
It walked right by the bus!
That bear has a big grin on its face!  Loving summertime!

Edward spotted this marmot laid out on a rocky knoll as we drove by!  That was a good spot!  And such a cool little critter too!
In the photo above, there is a grizzly below the snow patch in the middle of photo.  That is actually the first grizzly we saw earlier in the day that was sleeping above this snow patch.  It hadn't moved very far obviously.
 Literally a hundred yards down the road from that bear, we saw another grizzly on the road!
 As we were watching her through the windshield of the bus, Madison noticed two cubs directly out beside us in the bushes above the road.
 They were precious!  And a little unnerved by the three buses parked on the road by their mother.  They weren't quite sure what to do.

 At one point she scampered off the road and convinced them that it was ok to be down here.  Here they are coming onto the road.

 They wandered back and forth, from one side to the other.
 For a second, it seemed like she had a stand off with the bus.  Basically warning it that it better not try anything dumb around her cubs.

 Finally they walked off the road near our bus and began sauntering through the grass again.

 Adorable spring cubs in the middle of tundra wildflowers!

 Further away, the sow stopped to scratch her back on a spruce tree.

Talk about saving the best for last!  What a show!  Everyday in the park is a treat!  I'm glad I got to share it with some family again!  Thanks again for coming!