Pinnacle Peak, Arkansas or We Just Got Lucky!

Sometimes we RVers find ourselves in places we would not have otherwise considered as we travel down the road. On our way to Texas in October we had such an experience.

It was late in our travel day, we were heading down I430 around North Little Rock, AR. Shari was doing her usual great job with the Good Sam directory, trying to locate a campground on the fly. It was looking like we may need to travel the better part of another hour before we would reach a rest stop for the night. That was not what we would like to do considering the level of the sun.

As we rounded a curve with a sight- blocking rock wall on our right, I spied a brown sign indicating Maumelle Park, along with a camping sign. It was one of those “you only have seconds to make a decision” situations. I decided to take the exit!

Instead of finding one of those quiet country roads that so often lead to public parks, we were immediately dumped onto a four lane, five o’clock traffic street with a red light gleaming just at the end of the short off-ramp. This is something that the driver of a forty foot motorhome with a towed prefers to never encounter. After the almost nose dive, we proceeded into the traffic and traveled through several stop light intersections. With no indication of the distance to the park, I was soon frustratingly questioning the wisdom of my quick decision. Of course this concern always precipitates a version of that old CW song, “Give Me Forty Acres”, with none in sight! About the time this emotion was peaking, Shari calmly said “There is the sign to turn toward the park”.

We made the turn, but still were not thrilled. It was a narrow country road, not in the best of shape, but we figured there had to be a nugget at the end of this search. There was, but the excitement did not end there.

When we pulled up to the gate and entered the host office, we did our usual “Hi, we host at a park too”, attempting to immediately establish a friendly relationship, just in case we need it. After the typical “can we help you”, “we’re looking for a campsite” exchange, our now friendly hosts state “we are full”. It was FRIDAY at a public campground within an HOUR of a LARGE city, on a BEAUTIFUL October day! What were we thinking?

After the also typical “Aw gee, we are really tired, where is another campground close by?”, the lady host said to her husband host, “Say, has that man on site 130 left”? To which husband host said, “I don’t know but I’ll go check.” Well, the man had, and we had… a camp site. Sometimes you just get lucky!

We had happened upon Maumelle Corp of Engineer Recreation and Campground at the confluence of the Maumelle and Arkansas Rivers.. This is a very nice campground with many flat sites in and out of stately pine trees. The sites are solid blacktop with nice surrounding grass. The river is within easy walking distance of all the large sites, and the park was quiet, even with the weekend locals there for both camping and day use. But there was more!

We soon learned about Pinnacle Mountain State Park that is only 3.8 miles, literally “up the road” from this park. (Actually we had seen the sign pointing to Pinnacle when we turned into the campground. We had asked about it when we thought we had no site here, but there is no camping.) A brochure for the state park peaked our interest.

As stated in the Arkansas Mountain Parks web article, “Pinnacle Mountain, rising 1,011 feet above the Arkansas River, has been a natural landmark for centuries. Pinnacle Mountain is one of seven peaks of the Quachita (pronounced wash-i-ta) Mountains within this 2,356 acre park.” Scenic vistas overlook the Arkansas River, and there are a variety of hiking trails, one to five miles in length. Hikers can also access the 223 mile Ouachita National Recreation Trail at the Park. Our photos chronicle a hike on one of the trails.

Pinnacle Mountain State Park

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Visitors Center                                            This small lake was beautifully clear

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                                                                        Just plain beautiful

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Trail to overlook                                      Pinnacle Peak in far background            

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Kent really likes purple                              Shari really likes mushrooms

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First hike after dealing with IT Band Syndrome 3/4 of a mile over 700 foot vertical.

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You have been warned!

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Boulder field with yellow trail markers

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Taking a break in the shade                                Near the top and across the valley

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A special bit of sunshine                                  Thinking we are at the peaktraveling to Texas 137              traveling to Texas 138

Not really though                                             The real peak

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Speaks for itself

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Mark o’ the Top

 

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Wishing Crevice?                                                    Heading down

         traveling-to-Texas-148.jpg                                                   From whence we came

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                                                Sun going down too

This was a very enjoyable hike for both of us. Being together in this way is the fundamental purpose of our travels. It was a great day!

Note to Blog subscribers: My authoring tool Windows Live Writer is not performing properly and I have lost some of the past formatting flexibility. This has been frustrating. I may have to go to the WordPress on-line tools. This will require new learning and I don’t know how flexible it will be. Please stay tuned.

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Fort Scott, Kansas

I failed to mention in “Back to Blog” that Escapees CARE Center is in the Piney Woods area of Northeast Texas. As such, we knew that we needed to diverge from our normal I35 route from Minnesota to Texas on the south side of Kansas City. We knew that US 71 was the route through western Missouri that would bring us into Texas at Texarkana. However, our 2010 truck atlas did not indicate that 71 out of KC is now interstate. This caused us to choose I69 down the very east side of Kansas. Our good fortune was that this routed us through Fort Scott. This is a small city of just over 8,000 that sits about nine miles from the Missouri border. It is also the site of historic Fort Scott, operated by the National Park Service, and well worth a stop if anyone is traveling through that part of the country.

Fort Scott was established in 1842 and named after General Winfield Scott who was later to be Lincoln’s chief general during the Civil War. It was one of a north-south line of forts intended to manage the resettlement of the various Indian nations forced westward to “permanent” Indian Territory. However, as history tells us, the hunger for land soon resulted in expansion westward of settlers that was conducted under the guise of “Manifest Destiny” the US policy based on the belief that we had a God-given right to own the continent.

Thus, dragoons (soldiers trained to fight in both cavalry and infantry modes) worked out of Fort Scott to protect settlers as they moved as far west as New Mexico and California. During 1846-48, they also served in the Mexican American war, including Zachary Taylor’s march into Mexico City. By 1853 the “permanent” Indian Territory was no longer permanent, the Indians having been pushed ever westward to land so poor that settlers didn’t want it, and Fort Scott was closed. The fort became the basis of the town, with buildings becoming either a source of material or permanent structures. Soldiers barracks provided material for houses, while the senior officers quarters were turned into hotels.

In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act formally opened the land immediately west of Fort Scott to settlement and to ultimately become states. This act stated that the settlers could decide by popular vote whether their state would be “free or slave”, opening a violent period of five years which later became known as “Bleeding Kansas”. The violence occurred among pro-slavery, abolitionist, and “free staters”, those who didn’t care about slavery where it already existed, but objected to further expansion of it. By 1858 radical elements of the dispute had converged at Fort Scott, which had become a haven for “Border Ruffians”, extreme pro-slavery men. Abolitionists invaded the town and attempted to burn  the Western Hotel, headquarters of pro-slavery. During the ensuing fray, a marshal was accidentally shot when a stray bullet penetrated a window of the building across from the hotel.

During this time, soldiers periodically returned to Fort Scott to control the violence. By its end in 1859, nearly 60 people had died, and hundreds had been terrorized. Kansas entered the union as a free state in 1861. However, the violence seen there would ultimately engulf the entire nation. If you would like more detail, I recommend the NPS Fort Scott article on the internet.

Photos of Historic Fort Scott

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Visitors Center – originally enlisted barracks

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Powder magazine in center of compound away from buildings

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           Officers quarters                                               CO’s living room

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             CO’s formal dining                                           CO’s bedroom

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         Family bedroom                                             All beautiful black walnut!

 

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Left is original solid black walnut stair case and floor. Note the wear of over one hundred years.Right is original construction. This building was used as a private home just before restoration by NPS.

 

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                      Stable and barracks

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Bunks in barracks

Note who occupied that top left bunk! Never knew how old I am did you?

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Barracks interior                                            Dragoon uniforms L. enlisted R. officer

 

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Mess hall

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Laundress quarters

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Infirmary

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Bakery

The soldiers were assigned cooking and baking duty. Bread was a staple but obviously varied in quality according to skills. (Of course that baker on the right would have made excellent tasting bread!)

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Limber and 12 pound mountain howitzer      

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Guard house – well used!

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What did she do?

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Must have been fun! But then she can smile wherever she is!

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Now this is a different case entirely!

Hope you enjoyed this little tour!

Back to the Blog

I have not posted on this blog since April, 2013. I just couldn’t seem to get motivated. For the past several months I have thought about continuing, especially because we decided to tour the periphery of Texas this winter.

One impediment to blogging, as well as continuing to work on my memories writing, was having a convenient place for just sitting to write when I feel like it and to be able to simply stop when I want to. I now have that solved with cooperation from Shari. I share her computer work station! This solution to my problem has always been here, but it just had not occurred to me. Beyond that impediment, I realize that if you want to do something, you have to get started. So here I am.

Before we left Minnesota we took some photos from our summer place in Otsego along the Mississippi River. Since there will be far more verbiage in this post than I have ever done before, I’ll insert a few “home” photos here just for fun.

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Across the Mississippi Riverwood bay in late summer

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           Looking up the Mississippi

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 Down river

OK, so we wanted to do this Texas tour. However, since we did not volunteer at Oakwood Lakes State Park this fall,we decided to start by volunteering for November at the Escapees CARE Center. (We wanted to see some of Kent’s college football games.)  For those that do not know, Escapees is an RV club that also has a facility for RVers who become ill or are just no longer able to travel and need some assistance. Escapees CARE provides limited daily living assistance that allows these folks to continue living in their rig. For a flat monthly rate plus electric, this includes three dining hall meals per day, twice per week laundry, transportation to appointments and shopping, bi-weekly light house cleaning, professional nursing assistance for medications and any emergency issues, and social activities. There were around 50 to 60 residents during our tour.

There were five volunteer couples in November. Work was assigned in shifts of three days on and two days off. Day one consisted of a 24 hour responsibility to insure residents were secure, record their meal preferences and attendance, handle phone call outside normal staff hours, clean the dining hall after each meal, drive as requested, and open and secure the facility morning and evening respectively. This was a LONG day!

Day two required the 7:00AM turnover of facility keys and conditions to the oncoming 24 hour shift, and then moving to the kitchen to assist the cooks with breakfast. At completion around 9:00, we began washing and sanitizing dishes including any preparation kitchen ware. Then at the cook’s request we moved on to help prepare the noon meal, the largest of the day. Usually this shift had an hour or two break before returning to serve dinner and do the dishes. Usually by 2:30 or so we were free for the rest of the day.

Day three had the shortest hours. We reported to the dining hall around 3:30 to assist with any supper preparation and helped to serve the meal. After supper, we cleaned the preparation equipment and the dishes and often helped the cooks to clean up the kitchen.

Probably the most difficult part of this volunteer activity was learning the names and faces of all the residents. We had reference material and for the most part we had names down pat within several days. Fortunately, most residents are typical RVers. That is they are gregarious, happy people who enjoy socializing. Also, they experience the turnover of volunteers and while being appreciative of what we do, they try to help in any way they can.

When we first arrived and realized what was required, Shari wondered aloud whether we had “bitten off more than we could chew”. However, we fairly quickly learned the routine, became friends with the other volunteers and became comfortable with our role. Many of the residents wanted to know if we would return for another stint. We have not yet determined the answer to that question.

Believe it or not, we were so busy at CARE, that our photo girl Shari took nary a picture. We feel sad about that!

Springtime on the Trace

The Natchez Trace is a National Parkway, 440 miles of a beautiful ribbon of smooth, asphalt highway. That’s 440 miles on no stop signs, red lights, billboards, or trucks and a speed limit of 50 MPH, an RVers dream come true! Milepost zero is near Natchez, MS and milepost 440 is just southwest of Nashville. In between are a variety of historical and natural sites that make several days on the Trace a wonderful time.

The history is that of ancient Native Americans living, working, and trading through the hills and valleys of forest, cutting a path through use time over time. Their history was followed by “Kaintucks”, early settlers of Kentucky and Tennessee who floated wooden flat boats of furs, cash crops, livestock, and other commerce on the Tennessee, Ohio, and finally the Mississippi River south to the Gulf of Mexico. In and around Natchez they broke down their boats, sold the lumber and began to “trace” the path of those ancient peoples northward to their homes. General Andrew Jackson led troops down the Trace to the battle of New Orleans during the war of 1812. James Audubon, Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S, Grant, and Meriwether Lewis are other notables who traveled the Trace. Sadly, Lewis lost his life on the Natchez Trace in 1809 when he was carrying his report from his famous expedition to Washington D.C. Lewis was only 35 years old.

We traveled from Tupelo to Natchez in 2009 in the Fall. We are now traveling north from just west of Red Bay, AL on some beautiful spring days. If the story is not inviting enough, see if the following photos entice you to follow in those historical footsteps.

Typical windshield view

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Over the beautiful Tennessee River        On the north end.Trace, AL, TN 117           end of Trace & Nashville, Shawn 113

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A short drive over the old trace path

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Mustard fields off the Trace on U.S. Highway 64.

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At Sweetwater Branch we took a short hike to enjoy the beauty of Springtime. The leaves seemed to be popping out and the floor along the stream was strewn with a wide variety of flowers. The light was such that it was hard to get good photos of the spreading colors side by side. However, the close-ups speak for themselves.

Sweetwater Branch

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                                                     Very old American Beech

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The intensity of the spring green was striking.

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Flowers in profusion

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A Variety of fauna

Turkeys were everywhere and we saw up to four together.

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Geese were but a few.

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We saw these beautiful woodpeckers all around our campsite.

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Then there were smaller critters

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This bug is so small that we first thought it was a bottle fly. We were struck by the brilliant blue!

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We would not consider a nature trip complete without waterfalls. This is Jackson Falls at about mile post 405.

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Alas, all good trails must come to an end.

With some sense of sadness!

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Or Not!

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And then there are always those “hangers on” who just don’t want to go away!

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Mount Denali aka McKinley

(See the “story” at the end of this post)

The highlight of our Alaska trip was the multiple sightings of Mt. Denali in all its majesty. Only 20 to 30 percent (both numbers have been stated) of all the people that visit Denali National Park get the opportunity to see the mountain. This is true because the height and configuration of the mountain and its location relative to the Bering Sea to the west, and the lower plains to the east, result in cloud cover much of the time.

We were blessed with a beautifully sunny and warm day as we traveled out of Wasilla northward on Park Highway, giving us our first glimpse at the south viewing point. We also had clear weather the day that we took the bus tour into the park’s interior. We hope you enjoy the views that we share here.

 

 

Traveling Park Highway

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Early sightings…

 

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From the South Viewpoint

 

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Traveling on…

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First day in the Park…

 

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Second day in the Park…

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Another view of Denali… in quilt.

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A stroll in the Park…

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                                 Along a glacial stream…

 

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Flora in every post…

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Fauna too… The Ptarmigan Family

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                       Hangin’ out….

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Ranger’s winter retreat…. (still used)

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                                                                             And husky’s too…

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Old Glory

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Denali or McKinley? The story…

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        Traveling to Denali from Wascilla 101

Traveling to Denali from Wascilla 101

And so it goes …

Chena Hot Springs

Chena Hot Springs is a private resort about 60 miles north of Fairbanks. It is centered around natural hot springs that were discovered by early miners and became a site for rest, relaxation, and healing. The resort is open year round with tourists enjoying the springs on the oldest of Alaska days. A variety of activities are offered such as horse back riding, swimming and relaxing in an indoor pool, hot tubs and the natural spring pools, hiking, river raft trips, snowmobiling. One of the attractions we enjoyed is a year round ice “museum” housing sculptures and even four lodge rooms where all the gear to actually stay is provided. 

Here are some photos from our outing.

 

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  Main Lodge

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             Corral Area                                   Flowers Everywhere

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And cabbage…

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Massage Therapy

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Moose Clash                                 Individual Cabins

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  Hot Springs Pool

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Barb-B-Que of the mythical world…

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Modernized….

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The Ice Museum

The first year this was an actual ice structure but it did not hold up to summer heat. This structure is a double insulated building that is held at 20 degrees F. The interior is a another ice structure  with very artistic ice sculptures. They provide parkas at the entrance and after five years with little experience below freezing we NEEDED them. When we entered and the guide told us we would be inside for 40 minutes, Kent thought “What am I going to do for forty minutes?” When we had to leave, it was “already?”

Enjoy the photos.

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Unfortunately we could not get a good shot of the total interior because of the lighting. Hopefully, the photos will provide some sense of its size and volume.

The sculpture workshop.

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Interior

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Castle Tower

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With Knights Jousting in the Courtyard

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These carvings are done inside the ice globe.

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Aurora Ice Bar

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An appletini at 20 degrees… mmmmm good! just like Campbells

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In the chapel….

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On the way home…..

 

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Alaska Wildlife

Among the highlights of any Alaska trip is the opportunity to see animals in the wild. Those who enthusiastically talk of their encounters are among the fortunate. We actually had such an encounter, a cow moose and two calves peacefully grazing a lily pond. Oh! We were doing 60 miles per hour with no place to pull off the road even if we had slammed on the brakes. No photos of that one! And there has not been much more along the highways we have traveled. Therefore we chose to go to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (WACC) on Highway 1 south of Anchorage.

This organization takes in “orphaned” and wounded animals and either restores them to health and the wild, or cares for them for the rest of their life. This latter is most often the case when the animal is so young when brought there, that they have no wild skills to insure survival.

These are photos of Alaska animals in the Conservation Center.

Moose

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Note that these moose are still in “velvet”, the soft fuzzy tissue that remains until the horn is completely developed at which time it will be rubbed off against trees.

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Bison

These are Woods Bison, different from the plains bison of the lower 48. They run about 200 pounds heavier and have a different conformation from the plains bison, being somewhat more square at the shoulder hump and with a different cape.

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These “buffalo” are in a transformation enclosure and being prepared for release back to the wild.

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Brown Bear

We have yet to see a brown (grizzly) bear in the wild. The two in the AWCC were very small cubs recovered after a fire in which the mother was destroyed.

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   This fellow played with the moose thigh bone, looking just like a dog with a toy.

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“Where’d ‘e go, where’d ‘e go…”

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Lynx

There are a pair of lynx brought in as kittens after the mother was trapped and killed by the trapper before he realized she had the young ones.

Just look at the size of those paws! “Can you say snowshoes?”

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Flower break!

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OK back to the animals…

Caribou

The caribou are also “in velvet”…

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Time for dinner…                                                 The big guy….

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Reindeer

Reindeer are actually domesticated caribou.  (By the way “click ,click, click…” as in “Up on the housetop…” may be the hoofs, or… it may be the easily heard clicking sound made by the structure of their “ankles” as they walk.

How would you like to have these on your roof?

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The antlers were almost too big to be believed.

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Black Bear

Ok, so if you want to flee a black bear, why not climb a tree? 

Here’s why…

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We couldn’t get a good shot, but that tree is about thirty feet high!

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Black Tail Deer

These deer are smaller than the white tails more familiar to most of us. There was only one we could see.

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Hwy 1 Anchorage walkway, AWCC 245            Hwy 1 Anchorage walkway, AWCC 258

 

People Break!

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OK, back to the animals… (The real ones, Wise Guy!)

 

Musk Ox

Bull or cow…? Who knows, they both have those heavy helmeted horns.

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Babies

 

Moose and musk ox…

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These little guys were about the size of a small lap dog when they were born.

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“Aww… Ain’t he cute!”

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Me too!!

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On the way home we stopped by a bird refuge marsh for a board walk.

Bald Eagle

Not great, … too far, but he sat their too long to not take the shot!

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Arctic Terns

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Ducks

Blue Winged Teal (?)   Hwy 1 Anchorage walkway, AWCC 468

 

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“Sleepy time gal…”

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Geese

These geese are considerably smaller than the Canadians that we see in the lower 48.

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Hwy 1 Anchorage walkway, AWCC 565           Hwy 1 Anchorage walkway, AWCC 561

 

Hwy 1 Anchorage walkway, AWCC 566 

 

Salmon

We kept hoping to see salmon running upstream as so often shown. Here again it was not to be. The salmon were later than usual and the volume is down. We captured this image in a small stream running into the marsh from Cook Inlet. There were actually more in the stream but they were hard to capture without reflection from the water surface.

Hwy 1 Anchorage walkway, AWCC 546

 

The Way Home

It was a good day!

 Wood carvers & Anchorage, AK 130