At this Stage of my life

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Geology 101

When you are driving 450-500 miles a day, you tend to fill in the hours with observations of the surounding environments and probably reading the information at the rest stops as they come along. That's where the mesa/butte/plateau debate started (scroll down to the beginning of these posts if you haven't read that scintillating discussion!)

So here's a few more additions to my new book, "Geologic formations observed driving from NJ to Alaska and back." Pictured to the left is a rock formation called a "Tor" (or a "High Tor" if you are Maxwell Anderson) (private joke to the dramaturgs among us). This is a volcanic formation, in this case above the Arctic Circle but visible elsewhere, where erosion has left dramatic rocks sticking up from the surrounding surface. They look really cool when they are completely surrounded by tundra or, in the plains states, grassy meadows.

The second picture is tundra, again above the Arctic Circle, and showing signs of impending autumn in the only way it can, since there are no trees. Tundra is an area of permafrost (i.e. permanent frost) so close to the surface that tree roots cannot take hold, so only shrubs, grasses, and sedges can grow.

A third formation, not pictured, was one I was totally unfamiliar with until we reached the rolling hills of Montana. I now understand why that state has the Spanish name for "mountain": it must have been extremely difficult for Lewis & Clark and future emigrants to cross this irregular terrain. I also maybe understand why they stopped their westward ho when, after going up and down these rolling hills, they saw the snowcapped peaks of the Rockies a few miles ahead. "Hey Ma, you know I was just thinking, we could probably settle right here, raise a few cattle or sheep - whaddaya think?"

OK, enough with the "rolling hills". Their proper names are Laccolith Domes: a rounded raised area, usually treeless, of about 50-100 feet in height. It's a Butte. When some of the rocks have been eroded, to reveal a ring of rocks about 1/3 of the way down the dome, it's known as a "Belted Butte".

Amazing what you learn when crossing this butte-T-full country. (Sorry, I could not resist.)

More wildlife

Couldn't forget these two sightings: Bald eagle flying overhead in Whitehorse, Yukon (after a few views in Alaska as well) and this close up of Mama Grizzly either teaching the cub how to fish or trying to keep it to herself, just outside of Haines, Alaska.
(If you haven't read the other posts about wildlife, continue below...)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Wild Life

Driving down the last few miles of the Alaska Highway, we were warned of various wildlife crossings ahead. Having seen these earlier on the trip, but no animals, we didn't reallly expect too much. But British Columbia was like Yellowstone for free. One of the unique signs was a picture of a bison. A woods bison, as opposed to the prairie bison one sees in North Dakota. And sure enough, there they were. They were not crossing the highway, but a large herd assembled at the side of the highway - bulls, cows, and a few calves; some just lazying in the sun, others at serious work nibbling the grass. A few miles later, at Muncho Lake, the terminal range of the Rockies (did you know the Rocky Mountains ended in British Columbia? Neither did I - somehow, I thought they just went up the spine of North America into the Arctic), a few Stone Sheep walked along the highway, licking the salts that remain on the roads from rain or winter plows. In addition, a little further down the mountain road, a single caribou glanced our way from roadside, but continued nibbling the grasses and sedges there. And then, finally, as we drove away from Fort Nelson, a black bear nosed its way out onto the highway, looking both ways and then, as we drove past him, ran across the road to berries or plant roots that always look better on the other side.
But no moose. Yet.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A real trip to an imaginary circle

North of Fairbanks, Alaska, the Dalton Highway stre4tches upwards to Prudhoe Bay, the beginning of the Alyeska, otherwise known as the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. We wouldn't get that far, but we planned to get a little north of the Arctic Circle, the imaginary line that separates the polar zone from the rest of the world.

The Dalton Highway - Alaska State Highway #11 - is largely unpaved. It's occasionally rocky, occasionally muddy, and occasionally actually paved or in the process of being paved. At one section, the by-now-familiar pilot car took us through one lane traffic. To reduce dust for the workers, a tanker sprays water on the road at various intervals. While not slippery, it does produce a fine mud mist, especially if you allow yourself to get a little too close to the vehicle in front of you, some of which were large oil tankers on their way to the Arctic. By the time we emerged onto "solid" road, my beautiful burgundy car was two-toned, with the bottom half a lovely mottled tan.

But before we knew it, we were at the Yukon River Bridge. We'd had fun following the Pipeline, as it sometimes got extremely close to the roadway and then disappear into the spruce trees. On hills, we could see the brown-gray road and the silver pipe ahead. In some spots, the pipeline went underground, under the road, and even under rivers. At the Yukon, it joined our bridge and stretched over the mighty river. At the other side, a Visitor Center welcomed us, for which we had to drive under the pipeline!

A few miles further took us to the strange land of Finger Mountain. Large piles of volcanic granite made formations - one like a 40-foot high pointer finger beckoning "come here" to those who drive up themountainside. Few trees grew on the tundra that surrounded the mountain. Small shrubs and blueberry bushes decorated the ground, some of them turning yellow and red in the sub-arctic autumn that was fast approaching. The story goes that the Fireweed plant keeps blooming to the top as the season progresses. When the tip-top blooms, winter is just around the corner. Many of the roadside plants were flowerless and it's "only" August.

And finally we reached the Arctic Circle. No, there's no line on the road at latitude 66 degrees, 33 minutes. But there is large plaque that proclaims we made it - a probable once in a lifetime crossing (well, 3 times actually, as we had to go back a few miles for our sleeping arrangements...and we had to come back this way!) It was kind of cool (literally and figuratively). We had set a goal and achieved it. No flat tires, no broken windows (yes, OK, a few scratches under that muddy exterior). But we'd reached it - "top of the world, Ma!" Now onto Coldfoot and Wiseman, the two towns above the circle that would provide us food and shelter for the next two days.

Friday, August 20, 2010

North to Alaska

The way to travel...Ferry from Washington state to Haines, Alaska. From there, drive the Haines Highway through part of British Columbia into the Yukon Territory.. (Pictured: our ferry M/V Columbia leaving port after dropping us off in Haines and a very welcoming sign.)
And onto the Alaska Highway. Built in 1942 to help get our troop equipment to Alaska to fight in the Aleutian Islands (Japan had landed on Attu), it has been rebuilt several times since (and they are still rebuilding parts of it - about 20 miles of it is dirt which we travel following a "pilot" vehicle to guide us safely through construction.). It runs from Dawson Creek in British Columbia to Fairbanks, Alaska. We're only doing a section of it on the way up, but we will drive the entire highway heading home.

Welcome to Alaska.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Northwest Passage

Wow - we're back on land and online!
Leaving San Francisco, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and left it and its fog behind to enjoy the fog of the Oregon coast, which burned off by noon most days to allow us a clear view of a rose garden in Eugene, cheering on the Eugene Emeralds in an A team baseball game (they won 3-1), stopping at a lighthouse or two and the fabulous Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria.
Up I-5 to beautiful Bellingham, Washington to catch the ferry on the Alaska Marine Highway. With no WiFi on water, we relaxed watching the Canadian coastal mountains and its many islands float by us.
We listened and learned about northwest flora and fauna from a naturalist (a Forest Ranger from Tongass National Forest); we saw a few seals frolicking, "ooohed" at a humpback whale breeching a few hundred yards from the boat, and then, as we arrived in Haines, Alaska, we were treated to a mama brown bear teaching her two cubs how to catch salmon. What a great way to travel!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Leaving one's heart in San Francisco

OK, so I should have planned an extra week beyond the conference in this fabulous "city by the bay". In addition to workshops on improvisation and theatre games, we managed to explore a little portion of Golden Gate Park (the Japanese Gardens and the Dahlia garden), bypassing the fairly expensive deYoung Museum, even though I would love to have seen the Impressionist exhibit; the Embarcadero (featuring a fabulous performance of "Peter Pan" combining live performance, puppetry, and CGI); Fisherman's Wharf and a sunset cruise that could not quite find the sun setting, but enjoyable nevertheless as we sailed past Alcatraz and under the fog-bound Golden Gate Bridge; and some shopping in Macy's, Bloomingdale's, and Nordstrom's. We finished up with a hike through The Presidio (a National Park at the base of the Golden Gate), stopping to visit the Disney Family Museum, an intensive exploration of the life, films, TV shows, and entertainment parks of Walt Disney which suggests it'll take 1 and 1/2 hours to explore, but you really need 2 days.
And tomorrow we head north, thinking that we do indeed need to come back, because a heart is a terrible thing to lose.