Saturday, December 21, 2013

Back on the runners...

Last fall I had surgery on my elbow to relocate a pinched nerve that was causing numbness and muscle atrophy in my hand (Making the grade 9/3/12). So this fall I went back to the Dr. for a checkup and found out that the effected nerve, like some malevolent worm, had wiggled back into the joint. So they wound up doing surgery again.
Since I had just started running the dogs on the sled (after switching over from the 4-wheeler), I hoped to get some help training while I healed up. Andy, ever the sweetheart, volunteered. While she'd run dogs before, it'd been awhile (Last dog run 5/12/12). But she started taking them out this past weekend and is planning to go out again tomorrow, to the chagrin of our neighbor who was looking forward to finally have the trails to himself for a while. So here's a few photos of Andy from the way back time:
On the runners and flying, with Barney in lead.

Out in the White Mountains, running with two teams.

A triumphant return home, a few years ago.

And finally a run this new year.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Trail Hazards…

The usual trail hazards were in abundance this past week when I got the old Ski Doo running and broke out the sled trail in the valley behind our cabin. There were several spruce trees down across the trail that had to be chain sawed and the usual rough spots required shoveling extra snow to smooth it out. But all things considered, it went surprisingly well and only took an hour or so to cover the three miles to the main trail.
What was unexpected was the dead moose lying there. Whether it just happened to die there or someone dumped it from the main trail (that part of the valley is well traveled by snow machines), it could certainly be a distraction to the dogs. As often happens, the carcass gets scavenged, a magnet for ravens, wolves, foxes, or feral dogs. In time, it likely will be dismembered and it's bones scattered along the trail (White Mtns. 3/4/10).
After it warmed up a bit (It was down to -30 earlier in the week), I took the dogs out on the sled for the first time this winter. I was a little concerned about passing the moose carcass. I could just imagine a pack of wolves hanging around there, snarling as we approached. But as we came around the turn to the main trail, there weren't any scavengers there. The dogs barely noticed it, they just trotted right on by. It turned out to be just another day, training the dogs in Alaska.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The best bar in...

There's a new movie out called the " The best bar in America". It's about a motorcycle trip through the west, apparently to write a book, but it's really about finding enlightenment.
Anyway, it reminded me of a trip I took with my buddy John back in the 70's when we rode our bikes from the midwest out to the Rocky Mtns.
We spent a month or so just cruising around the Colorado Rockies, riding our old British motorcycles from one small town to the next. We met a lot of interesting people and faced some adversities. But in hindsight, it was pretty much fun.
Check out the movie at:

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Autumn leaves...

Most years, the autumn leaves are long gone by the end of September. This year, while some of the trees have shed their leaves, others are still green or are in some shade of yellow/orange in early October.

It's hard to tell if this is really unusual (a sure sign of global warming?) or I'm just noticing something that doesn't mean much (like always). While they do keep records on when the leaves first appear in the spring; it's referred to as green-up and usually occurs in mid-May when the hills around town turn green, there's no record for fall.

I think they should note the date when the leaves finally lose their color and are mostly gone. Call it brown-down, the day in autumn when enough leaves have fallen that the hills turn brown.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

River magic...

As I posted earlier (Busted 6/13/10), several close calls on the Delta River at Black Rapids prompted Mike and I to find a better way to survey the river.
This year we finally got Richard (the doppler wizard) to bring down an acoustical doppler meter. These meters use a sonar-like application for depth and velocity, and GPS for position.
We had hoped to get a high flow measurement this summer. These are the most useful for determining flood discharge, but are the most difficult and dangerous to survey. Scheduling didn't work out any earlier, so we settled for surveying the comparatively lower flows that occur in the fall. The doppler worked great and we we able to survey multiple cross sections in less than half the time it previously took. Since we didn't have to stretch a cable across the river, it was also a lot safer.
The next day we surveyed the upper Delta River. Unfortunately, the doppler's control module failed, so we had to survey the traditional way (attaching the boat to a cable stretched across the river and using a mechanical meter to measure flow). Hopefully by next year, we'll be able to use the doppler at both sites.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

In addition...

Been planning to put an addition on the workshop for awhile, but something always seemed to get in the way. Finally got started on it this summer.
Figured it would only take a few weeks but it took a month just to frame it in and get the roof on.

Good thing, cause it snowed a couple of inches right after the roof was done. Timings everything I suppose.
Tomorrow I'll pick up the doors and then it'll be closed in before the snow sticks around for the rest of winter.
9/23/13. Got the doors on just before the second snow storm of the year. Hopefully this will soon melt off, as there's always lot's to do before winter settles in for good.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Too much hot air?

Until we had some rain a few days ago, we went over three weeks with no precipitation and near record warmth. What makes this unusual is that mid July to mid August is normally the wettest part of the year. According to the weather bureau, we'd expect to get, on the average, several inches of rain. So far, we've had less than half that much this year, so this could be one of the driest (and warmest) summers on record.
My theory is that it's caused by all the politicians bloviating about oil taxes. We were bombarded during the past legislature about how high taxes have reduced north slope oil activity and would be death of Alaska's cash cow unless significant reductions were made. Of course they ignored the fact that cheap oil shale in the lower forty-eight has made arctic oil exploration a marginal proposition. After the tax cut was passed (by a single vote in the state senate), a citizen's petition was started to repeal the law. This effort culminated successfully in late July amidst much political posturing on both sides as to the dire consequences of repeal. All this political rhetoric created so much hot air that rain clouds were diverted from Fairbanks and Anchorage, as both cities had a warmer and drier July than normal. Here's a weather bureau radar image during this time showing the storm clouds surrounding the now infamous Fairbanks hot air sucker hole.
But the real suckers are the ones who voted for these clowns. Too much hot air? Get rid of the lame politicians.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

It's all behind me now...

As the years go by, it seems harder to do stuff that was once so easy, you seldom thought about it. One thing that's become a problem is to simply turn my neck around to see what's behind me. The result is often backing the tractor into trees, dog houses, or whatever else is behind me. There's even a pile of cork screwed dog posts from my poorly executed backups while clearing snow from the yard.
I finally decided to install some mirrors on the tractor this winter after several near misses while plowing the road. The neighbors think the most prudent way to pass the tractor is to accelerate and see how fast they can whiz by. Obviously, there's no point in waiting until I actually see them and wave them on.
As usual, it took several months to plan and execute the plan. John Deere had nothing that would mount directly on the tractor, so had to weld up the mounting brackets, but now painted green with the mirrors installed, it almost looks like a factory job (at least from a distance).

Garden Update:  Andy thought the garden photo (Garden's in, 6/2/13) looked like some communal plot in the Gobi desert. I on the other hand thought it a rather artistic composition, as sunlight streamed through the white blossoms of the choke cherry, reflecting on the vibrant green and yellow of the JD tractor. Whatever. Here's a photo of the garden near the end of July:

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Hadn't gone blueberry picking in ages. Andy occasionally went, especially when I was working out at Nome Creek. But after our neighbors raved about how good the berries were in the valley behind the house, we figured it was time to go. We sure picked a great day to take a hike, as it was near 85° F, humid and real buggy. But we got several quarts of blueberries in a little over an hour of picking, so it worked out well. Along with the strawberries and raspberries from the garden, we should have enough berries for the winter.
More on the great blueberry season at:

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Fire and rain...

Like the James Taylor song says, "I've seen fire and I've seen rain". In this case, it was a wildfire started by the army in late June when they cleverly conducted a live fire exercise during very hot and dry (red flag) conditions. The fire prompted an evacuation order for portions of Chena Hot Springs Rd. Fortunately, several well timed rainstorms slowed the fire and allowed the state and federal fire service to contain the blaze.

Read about it here:
Some photos at:

Friday, July 5, 2013

Rotary roar...

For the first time in years, there was an air show in town. We  haven't been to one since they had a B-17 here quite awhile ago. Since we didn't have any plans for July 4, it seemed like a good time to go. The theme this year was a celebration of 100 years of aviation in Alaska, so most of the planes were from the 20's, 30's and 40's. And what a sound they made with their rotary engines as they did low fly-overs.
The Beech Staggerwing is a biplane from 30's, so called because the top wing is staggered back of the bottom wing. A very advanced plane for it's time, it did a most impressive fly by.
Another interesting plane was the 1929 Travel Air. While it didn't participate in the flying, it was an immaculate restoration that really gave an impression of what aviation was like in it's so called golden age.

The painting of father time on the cowling is a reminder of what happens in life; what was state of the art yesterday becomes a vintage antique tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Rollin' on a river...

Some friends of ours bought a used river boat last year, so now with a new engine installed, took a bunch of us out for a cruise. The Tanana River had been near flood stage earlier in the week, so there should have been plenty of water for getting down river. Unfortunately, being a glacier fed stream, the river is braided and the water is quite silty from the glacial runoff. Finding the main channel was problematic, as many of the gravel bars were still under water. After grounding a few times in the shallow water, we found the deeper channel and motored a fair ways downstream to an open gravel bar. Following a few beers and some beach games, we had an excellent meal with no bugs to ruin our little party. A good time was had by all.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

High water on the Delta...

Went down to Black Rapids to do some survey work on the Delta River. My friend Mike from Glenallen met me there (Busted...6/13/10). The river looked pretty high, due to the late breakup this year, so we decided to try the upstream survey first. The channel above Phelan Creek is a lot wider, so the water's less turbulent (fewer standing waves) to navigate. We had to find a new place to launch the boat, since the channel had shifted and filled in the old spot, but then we made it up to the gaging site, completed the survey and returned with no problems. Here's an older photo of the Delta R. upstream (as I cleverly forgot my camera).

The most interesting thing occurred afterwards when we were driving the highway towards Paxson. The headwaters of the Gulkana River were in flood stage and had washed out the bridge to the state's fish hatchery. What was normally a tranquil little stream was a raging river (Mike took these pictures).
The next day, the rivers continued to rise to the point that it wasn't safe to launch the boat, so we surveyed what we could from the shore and moved on; discretion being the better part of valor, we'll get'er done next time.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Garden's in...

After a cold April and early May foreshadowed another ice age, the weather took a radical turn so that the last week of May was one of the warmest on record. Not only did the snow disappear, the ground thawed enough to rototill this week and we started planting the garden.
Go figure, one week it's still winter and the next it's summer; you really never know what's going to happen with the weather up here.
More about the crazy May weather from the Alaska Climate Research Center:

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Haulin' in the wood...

As I've written earlier (Iron Dog, 4/19/09), when the dog runs are over, it's time to haul in fire wood. There's always more trees falling down along (or over) the dog trail, so this is the time of year to buck the trees up and haul the wood back. Usually it's a race to finish before all the snow disappears in late April.
But the interesting thing this year is how much snow is still around. While there's over two feet on the ground now, the photo from last year shows almost no snow at the same time a year ago.
Global warming? It could be we're headed for another ice age.
Updated May 10. It got up to 60°F yesterday, so that's a good sign, but there's still a foot and a half of snow on the ground. The weather forecast is for cooler with a chance of rain or snow tomorrow. Looks like we might not be planting the garden until July.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Flyin' off the handle...

My neighbor Bert's been planning to build a cabin near a remote airstrip in the foothills of the Alaska Range. Occasionally, he'd call and ask for help and I'd spend a little time over at his place or ride down the road with him to help stock pile the building materials. After he finished moving all the materials out to the cabin site by snow machine, he wanted to fly out to there, so asked if I would to go along . While I'd flown in small planes doing resource surveys years ago, it would be the first time out with Bert. He had completely rebuilt his plane, a Cessna 170, several years ago and it's in immaculate condition. It's set up with a ski conversion for winter flying, since the remote airstrip isn't plowed.
The trip over was uneventful and he made a fine landing on the snow covered runway. After a short time looking at his building site, he asked if I wanted to see anything in particular. Maybe a quick tour of the mountains nearby?
That certainly made the return flight interesting. We flew up a nearby creek, over a low divide and then down a river valley through several narrow canyons. Pretty spectacular.
Once out over the flats, he asked if I'd ever flown a plane. When I said I hadn't, he asked if I wanted to try.  He then gave me a quick lesson and let me take the controls. Terrified, well almost, but it was pretty amazing, after years of flying in small planes, I'd finally gotten the handle on how to fly one, even if only for a few minutes. Thanks Bert!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Last dog run?

April started out warm, but the last ten days or so have been about twenty degrees below normal. This has significantly extended the dog running season. Since we're no longer training the dogs for long trips, such as the White Mountains, the runs are shorter and more leisurely now. We stop a lot to switch dogs around, giving nearly everyone a chance to run up front. Even though it still feels cool out, temperatures near freezing can be pretty warm for these fuzzy guys, so they get longer breaks to roll around in the snow and cool off.  But inevitably the warm weather will return, melting the snowpack and ending the springtime dog runs.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Out to the White Mtns. and a new leader?...

When the weather turned bad at the end of March, blowing and drifting  a bunch of new snow, my friend Bill and I canceled our trip to Ramparts.
We decided to head out to the White Mtns. instead. There's a lot more traffic on those trails and the trailhead's a lot closer to town (White Mountains Trip 3/29/09). Everything went well until the second day. The Beaver Creek crossing, as often happens, was covered with overflow (aufeis). Barney and Spuds, normally very reliable (White Mtns. 4/10/10), freaked out and took us on a wild ride, zig zagging  over the ice covered channel. So the next day, when we had to return over that icy crossing, I thought I had it all planned how to cross. Well so much for planning as it went worse than the day before. While untangling the team out on the ice, I realized a leader change was in order, so put Jabba up with Barney. One of the two year olds we got a while back (Newbies 8/6/11), Jabba'd run up front a few times and seemed comfortable there. Well as soon as I got him hooked up front and lined out the team, they took off and went straight across the overflow with no problems. So he stayed up front for the rest of the run, over twenty miles out to the trailhead. I think we've got a new lead dog now.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Ides of March...
I’d always thought that the Ides of March was a time of troubles, as in “beware of the Ides of March.” But unlike Shakespeare’s play, where things didn't go too well for Julius Caesar, the Ides merely refer to the mid month of the old Roman calendar. According to Wikipedia, March was the first month of the year for the Romans, so they observed a holiday from the first of the month to the Ides. Far from being a bad time, the Ides of March (the 15th on our current calendar) was a Roman New Year’s eve party.
So here's an older post (with a photo of this years team) for the Ides of March in Alaska. Party on…

It was minus 15° F this morning and with the wind blowing, it certainly feels a lot colder. A good day to run dogs. Most of my dogs are large and fuzzy, not the sleek houndy/pointer crosses that you see wearing coats and booties at the race track. I wouldn't say my team is slow, but I round my run times to the nearest hour. This is also good weather for the musher with a hangover. I call it a medicinal dog run. Not that I get hangovers much, well maybe a few, but the cold air really does clear the head. (Originally posted on 3/16/09)

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Solo's retired...

Solo's one of the arboreal dogs. About eight years ago, we got three dogs from a woman musher who needed to cut down on dogs. She had so many that most of them were tied to trees. She talked about raising them to run the Iditarod, or maybe the Quest, I forget, but never had the time to actually train any of them. So Solo, who was about three, had never been in harness. That first winter was a struggle, teaching older dogs to run in the team, since we normally start training pups at 4-5 months. But by the time spring came around, Solo was becoming a decent sled dog. He eventually became a regular member of the team, but it wasn't until we got Polar that he found his real calling. Polar was a pound dog who was vetted by a local dog musher's rescue group. They posted on their web site that there was this great dog at the pound, a real hard worker who was just a little slow. So I took a chance and brought him home. He was a little shy, but I figured he'd come around and besides, he's a real hard worker. Well it turned out they were half right; he sure is slow. But he soon bonded with Solo, who had been aggressive towards all the other males, and they began to play together. Their play evolved into the extended skirmishes that we documented in the video (Dec 5, 2012). But as always happens, Solo got older and not too long after we made the video, he struggled to keep up with the team. Surprisingly, he also quit playing with Polar. We're not quite sure what the problem is, but other than no longer acting like a wild dog, he seems to be doing fine as a retired sled dog.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Global Warming on Ground Hog Day?
Well ground hog day’s come and gone and, at least for the lower 48 states, the prognosticating rodent predicted a mild winter. But for Alaska, where there are no ground hogs, we’d probably need to consult the hoary marmot. According to Wikipedia, the hoary marmot (Marmota caligata) is the largest North American ground squirrel. They live near tree line throughout much of Alaska and inhabit burrows where grasses, sedges, and Krummholz forest dominate. That’s about right then, since we’re surrounded by Krumhardt forest around here.
As far as six more weeks of winter, well the squirrel savants not saying much, but we’d likely have at least another two months of cold weather regardless. This winter has been on the average, cooler than normal, but has been dominated by large temperature swings. While we’ve had half a dozen cold snaps where it got down to minus thirty or colder, we’ve had almost as many warm spells where it got to twenty above or warmer. It even rained in January, the first time that’s happened in over fifty years.  For some perspective on the recent climate trends in Alaska, see: “The First Decade of the New Century: A Cooling Trend for Most of Alaska”, Alaska Climate Research Center of the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks. (

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hydro rear...

Several years ago I bought some of the components to convert the tractor's rear blade to  hydraulic operation. But I never seemed to get around to installing them until I mentioned it to our new neighbor Bert. He works as a mechanic and welder and told me to "just bring it over some time and we'll get'er done." A few weeks later I drove the tractor down to his garage with everything in the loader bucket. In a few hours, he had brackets welded to the rear blade and installed the hydraulic cylinder and controls, so all we needed were the hoses. The next day we went to town and ordered the hoses and fittings, installing them and adding hydraulic fluid as soon as we got back. Well as luck would have it, it didn't work. I had bought the wrong type of hydraulic control. Since I'd gotten it used on ebay, it couldn't be returned, so I had to order a new one. A week or so later, the new one arrived and we installed it on the tractor. Now I have this great hydraulic rear blade and a new driveway to plow. Thanks Bert!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year?...

It's always great to start the new year with a new year's eve party and this year was no exception. We had some friends over last night and except for a few who had trouble staying awake until midnight, a good time was had by all. But this morning, it was the usual sobering news of the so-called "fiscal cliff". In an attempt to reduce the deficit, congress had created a deadline for  automatic spending cuts and tax increases if a new budget wasn't passed by Jan 1. This evening they finally passed a compromise budget, but it's only in effect for two months and actually raises the deficit. What a clown show.