Tag Archives: Alaska

Gulkana Glacier. In a word: “Amazing”

There is just so much about this place to share. This is the place where we really felt like we had accomplished some of our goals for this trip. If we could choose just one place to spend an entire summer in Alaska, this would probably be it.

To begin with, while we were at our boondock site near Paxson and the Denali Highway, we explored north on the Richardson Hwy to Summit Lake to try to find a certain long suspension bridge over College Creek which provides access to Gulkana Glacier. Dan (remember Dan? The Audubon guy from our last post?) had told us about this legendary bridge. It sounded like just our kind of adventure.
We turned onto a gravel road and onto the outwash plain for the Gulkana River. The area is used for primitive camping and we scouted for a good site . It didn’t take us long to decide that, while our site in Paxson was good, this site would be spectacular!

Gulkana Camp

Gulkana Glacier Camp

We then drove out a long ways on this gravel road, until it deteriorated and looked more like a stream than a road. We found a good place to park the truck and hoofed it the rest of the way. We found the bridge without too much trouble (one minor detour – our mistake).
The bridge was “as advertised” … and awesome.

Crossing the Suspension Bridge

Crossing the Suspension Bridge

Looking Down Over the Creek

Looking Down Over the Creek

Ric at the End of the Bridge

Ric at the End of the Bridge

Crossing the bridge provides access to a path that leads to Gulkana Glacier. Gulkana is monitored very closely by the USGS. (It is currently receding about 0.4 meters each year.)  It’s rugged terrain has also served as a winter military training ground for decades, as well as a training ground for geology students, and a proving ground for Mars Rovers.

Gulkana Glacier

Gulkana Glacier

From a visual standpoint it is a lovely sight, with sweeping curves defined by its medial moraine stripes. It has a dramatic cliff on its left side, with deeply crevassed, overhanging ice. It was love at first sight.
This first day we determined that we would cross the bridge, and then just see how far we could go without any serious equipment. The trail was distinct after crossing the bridge, and took us over an overgrown, stabilized moraine to the creek flowing out of the glacier -a typical braided glacial creek with milky bluish white water, laden with rock flour. Here’s a short video of the walk up to the foot of the glacier:

As we approached the foot of the glacier, we could see that the creek would be formidable to cross, so we kept hiking along the right shoreline to the mouth of the creek, where it gushed from from a small cave beneath the glacier.
We spent a bit of time searching for an easy access to the ice, but got the impression (as we watched small avalanches of small rocks and pebbles sliding off the moraine) that it was probably not the safest place to hang around for very long. Many of those large boulders surrounding us had begun their journey higher up! We sat on a boulder and had a quick (very quick) lunch as we listened to the music of these little rock slides.
At the end of the day (really – at the end of the day), we were determined to find a reasonably safe way onto the glacier, however. But decided to give it some thought and try again another day, armed with a little more planning and our microspikes.

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Filed under Alaska Journal, Geology on the Rocks, Hike, Uncategorized

Birding and Blooming on the Denali Highway

On our last trek to Alaska, we somehow missed the Denali and Richardson Highways and the region called the “Interior”.
Yah. I know. I don’t know either.

Our plan this time is to spend more time in different regions, settling into an area and really exporing it for a week or two, rather than just cruising through and skimming the surface.
So, having by-passed this region last time, this time it was on our A-list. Good choice.We found a great boondock spot in Paxton on an old highway road alignment right near the junction of the Denali Highway and the Richardson Highway.

Paxton Boondock Camp

Paxton Boondock Camp

It had a wheeler road for hiking up to a higher elevation. A little muddy in spots, and a place where you really want to have that bear spray ready.

Ric Foot and a Bear Print

Ric Foot and a Bear Print

During our stay here we were richly rewarded with absolutely stunning scenery, beautiful wildflowers, glaciers and great birding all in one package.

Gulkana Glacier and Summit Lake

Gulkana Glacier and Summit Lake. Taken from the Denali Highway. Dimmed by Smoke from the Many Fires that Were Burning in Alaska – But Still Beautiful.

The Richardson Highway runs all the way from Fairbanks to Valdez. We accessed it from Delta Junction at the end of the Alaska Highway, and then headed southwest toward Paxson and the junction of the Denali Highway (Route 8). (If you were to follow the Denali Highway all the way, it would take you to the town of Cantwell, which is just a short distance from Denali National Park.)

Interior Alaska Map

Map of Interior Alaska Region

We found an excellent boondock site conveniently located near the Richardson/Denali Highway intersections. It was on an old section of hardtop that paralleled the highway, but was abandoned for a highway re-alignment. It was a bit mosquitoe-ey, but that is to be expected in Alaska, and besides, we are fairly used to dealing with mosquitoes from our time in Maine.

"Mosquitoes" at Delta Junction

“Mosquitoes” at Delta Junction

One of our first explorations out on the Denali bought us to a great roadside rest with interpretive signs. This one picture pretty much explains why the scenery is so spectacular…

Diagram of Alaska Range Geology

Diagram of Alaska Range Geology. Yep. That’ll do it.

This area is, of course, riddled with faults. You can’t just push mountains into the sky without some sort of payback. The Denali fault produced a 7.9 magnitude earthquake in 2002. It’s probably overdue. But we only think about that constantly.
At about 13 miles out on the Denali Highway we came to a BLM rest area. There was a hiking trail across the road so we decided to explore. The path quickly rose into alpine tundra. Luck was with us as we soon encountered another birder (named “Dan”) who was a board member of Audubon and did birding walks for members. He gave us a lot of his time and wonderful advice about what birds to look for in the area… plus some excellent tips on binoculars for birding. We really appreciate his taking time for us. It just turns out that this location (13-Mile Hill) is one of the primo birding hikes in this area.

Ric on 13-mile Hill

Ric on 13-mile Hill

We would come back to this trail again in a few days, and between the two hikes here, plus one at Landmark Gap, we managed to bag most of the birds he mentioned, including American Golden Plovers, Lapland Longspurs, and Arctic Warblers. (The Ptarmigan are a gimme in Alaska.) Thanks again, Dan!

American Golden Plover

American Golden Plover on 13-mile Hill.

Rock Ptarmigan?

I’m leaning toward “Rock Ptarmigan” for the ID. Please comment if you disagree!

We really hit the wildflower timing right on this trip. June and early July  are a good time to catch them in bloom. We have taken many photos, and are working to ID them using an excellent wildflower guide we recently purchased. We’re not always thrilled about every field guide we purchase, but this one is a good one:
Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers: Commonly Seen Along Highways and Byways

Book - Alaskan Wildflowers

Alaskan Wildflowers by Verna E. Pratt. I Love This Book!

One of Linda’s goals this trip is to create an album of Alaska flower reference photos for future botanical paintings. Here are a few highlights of the kazillion floral pics we taken. We’ll post the best of the rest in a Flikr album, and add to that as we go along. As always – feel free to correct us if we screw up an ID!

Mountain Avens (Dryas octopetala)

Mountain Avens (Dryas octopetala)

Pink Plume (Polygonum bistorta)

Pink Plume (Polygonum bistorta). An easily identified edible plant. Leaves may be eaten raw or cooked.

Nagoonberry (Rubus arcticus)

Nagoonberry (Rubus arcticus). Love that Name!

Here’s the link to Linda’s Alaska Flower album on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/34102695@N00/sets/72157656113830226

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Filed under Alaska Journal, Birding, Hike, Uncategorized