Alaskan RED

A lifelong Alaskan learning about the world one backroad at a time

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The Day We Saw the Cherries

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating – as an Alaska girl, nothing impresses me more than seeing where food, produce specifically, comes from. In Juneau, with the exception of fresh seafood, most of our food is barged or flown in. Lately, there is more interest in vegetable gardening to supplement the veggies we can buy at the store, at least during our short growing season.

At our house, we divided our space into the front garden of flowers and shrubs and the back which houses our teeny greenhouse of tomatoes, raised beds of greens and root veggies, an herb garden, and tubs of potatoes. This year, we were thrilled with the apples ripening on our very small tree in the backyard. Hubby was concerned the bears might discover them but so far, they’ve not found their way.
All this to say that when we travel, I love finding local produce and products but true happiness is being able to wander through an orchard when the fruit is ripening. We are fortunate to have family friends with orchards in Omak, Washington, who let us stop by on our travels and take the time to explain the process of getting from tree to table. This year, we decided to housesit in the summer – a rare event for us as we prefer to be home fishing and tending our own gardens –so we made a point to include a visit our friends during cherry season. omak-cherry-orchards-8

Cherries are a precious commodity in Juneau. They are one of the more expensive fruits we buy and have a very limited season. It’s a happy day when we see our favorite, Rainier cherries, at the store. To see them growing on trees, to be able to pick and eat them right there was truly amazing.omak-cherry-orchards-48

Walking among the cherry trees was just as wonderful as walking through the apple and pear orchards – even if it was 95 degrees which is way too hot for a Juneau girl.  I love seeing the ladders that seem to beckon you to climb up and pick.


Some things I learned about cherries:

  • There are so many different kinds of cherries that never make it to our stores or even to the roadside markets – I love them all!
  • They use helicopters to dry the cherries after a rain. It’s a very dangerous job as the helicopter fly very low. You can imagine how very expensive it is for the orchard owner and of course, that cost is directly translated to the price of cherries in the market.
  • Cherries are placed into bins similar to those used for apples but much smaller and the bins are hauled by tractors, just like the apples are.


  • If you’re lucky, you have a guy with one of these trucks that backs right over the row of stacked cherry bins and picks them up all at once and off they go.

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  • The bruises on unpicked cherries can be caused by wind causing the fruit to bump into other. I know people who have ready access to cherries are put off by this but frankly, lifelong Alaskans are less picky about their produce. I had no problem picking that bruised fruit and popping it straight in my mouth.
  • A rain before harvest can cause the cherries to split at the stem; another blemish that makes them less marketable.
  • Bruised or blemished fruit could be made into juice, etc. but the cost of picking is so much more than the price they sell for so they are frequently left on the trees.

Neglected fruit makes me sad! So we quickly accepted the invitation and took our little bag to the orchards and rescued a few pounds for our trip up the AlCan Highway home.

Nothing beats a hot summer day spitting cherry pits out the window!  Now how am I going to get a cherry tree into the backyard?

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National Park Tour Part Two – Yosemite

I remember some years ago when I took the opportunity to drive through the redwoods in Northern California, a park employee recommended Yosemite as the premiere California park destination. I’ve always remembered that and so it made the short list of required stops for this road trip.

On our way south from an overnight in Alturas in northeast California, we came over a hill and got a surprise – Mono Lake with its white edges and tufas spread out below us. We stopped at the visitor center for a closer look and enjoyed the exhibits explaining how tufas are formed including a replica that was made to be touched. Tufas are created when underground spring water containing calcium leaches up and mixes with lake water containing carbonate and forms crystals which build hills over time.


After exploring the lake, we decide to stay in Lee Vining, a small town whose claim to fame is that they are the gateway to Yosemite and has hotel prices to prove it. The Lakeview Motel is clean and convenient but only the upper section has a view of Mono Lake from several miles away.  As its late in the season, some of the shops and restaurants are closed but we found a diner dinner and hit our pillows early.

After a walk for coffee in the morning, we begin the drive, climbing up to 9949 feet at the entrance to the park – Tioga Pass.  From there we drive into what turns out to be our favorite part, the rocky upper portion of the park with gnarled trees growing out of bare rock, smooth flows of rock topped with random boulders, and beautiful Tenaya Lake.


We continue on and drop down yet another twisty winding road to Yosemite Valley where we can look up at El Capitan and see Half Dome from the bottom.  It is pretty with a lovely creek running through boulders, but it is busy even on an offseason weekday so we don’t stop for our planned picnic here.  Instead, we climb back out of the valley and choose to return the way we came rather than drive out to the south through Mariposa or out the west entrance.  It is just as beautiful in reverse and we take time to check out a couple of campgrounds in anticipation of our next visit before stopping at Tenaya Lake for a picnic and a bit of wading. (It wasn’t that cold, honest!)  I’ve been itching to climb the rocks and we finally stop at one turnout where clambering over the rocks affords us a beautiful view of the valley.


All the way back out of the park, we talk about what we want to do during our next visit.

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National Park Tour Part One – Crater Lake

While we were driving through Oregon, we decided to drive through the south side of the Columbia Gorge and up through the Deschutes River valley. This twisting winding drive down one side of the river and up the other would have been really fun in a sports car! Returning to the river for some rafting and fishing are definitely on our list. We dropped down into Bend Oregon and passed through quickly, hoping to stop at the Lava Beds National Monument at sunset but we were greeted with locked gates – closed for the season. So on we went, hoping to find somewhere to stay along the road before the turn off to Crater Lake but nothing really presented itself – again, several things were closed for the season. On we went to Klamath Falls where we checked into a Shiloh just off the highway.

Up early the next morning, we drove back to the turnoff towards the Lake and crossed wide flats of cow country and a couple small settlements that included some small cottage type lodging options – wish we’d taken the chance to drive in here the night before. On we went towards the mountain in the distance until we finally left the flats and started driving up into the pine forest. We stopped to take a picture of a river canyon and were amazed by both the chill in the air and the pine scent it carried. Onward and upward and we came to the visitor center where we bought a National Park Passport and put the first stamp in it. Then came our first decision – do we drive the loop clockwise or counterclockwise. As the driver and photographer, I chose – counterclockwise so the morning sun would be behind us as we looked at the lake.

We stopped early on to walk up to a viewpoint and found that the elevation does take its toll on a couple of sea level dwellers – the air felt thin – but the view was well worth it and the forest was so peaceful.  While the star is the lake, the trees are equally amazing in their own ancient, twisted way.P1050550~2[1]

The view from the first overlook is a rock formation called Phantom Ship – it is possible to see it from other viewpoints as well so you really get a see its different sides.

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Back in the truck, we found the road to be very twisting, narrow and some areas of sheer dropoffs on the side,  but the views were well worth it. There are many viewpoints to see the incredible color of the lake and a few places to picnic, though none have a view of the lake.  However, there is only one place to get to the water and it is supposed to be a very steep dusty trail – we were going to try it but it was the only truly busy area outside of the the visitors centers so we skipped it.

At another viewpoint, you can see the crater wall and a rock formation called the Castle – it is a completely different color as the wall it perches on and reminds me of the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon.


While we were there, this little chipmunk came out to visit.  He was obviously used to people and seemed ready to run up my pant leg looking for a handout.  When I had nothing to offer, he ran up on the sign and posed for this perspective shot.


Back down the mountain, we stopped again to look over the river canyon and some interesting formations in the walls of the canyon – hollow spires of soil that looked like fairy temples.  We did not see those on the way up, pointing out that driving both directions around the lake would also have been a good idea.  I think a return trip will be on our list.



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Fall Comes to Canada

They talk about the colors in New England and they’re right – I’ve seen them and they are spectacular with red, yellow and gold. But a late September drive through the Yukon and British Columbia has its own beauty, lots of it! While it lacks much red, the golds and yellows are offset by the beautiful dark green of black spruce and accented by fluffy yellow larch – a deciduous conifer. P1050170~3And then there is the sheer magnitude – miles and miles of color. Add in the decided lack of other people, top it off with the wildlife which are more evident as they move to lower elevations with the cooler weather, and it’s not to be missed trip.

Wednesday’s drive began in Watson Lake, British Columbia – a popular stop on the Al-Can Highway. We had made the wise decision not to camp, a decision confirmed when we stepped out of the Big Horn Lodge to find ice on the truck. We headed south and it wasn’t long before we spotted sign (aka critter poop) along the roadside and soon we came upon a black bear though he moved off into the brush quickly.  Next up, we spotted a Wood Bison bull.  The British Columbia Wood Bison is endangered but we saw many throughout the day – singles, groups, adults,and youngsters. My favorite was a group with young ones lying flat out like tired teenagers. Further down the road we saw and heard two large Vs of migrating Sandhill Cranes – a sure sign of fall


A stop at Liard Hot Springs is required on this drive. Its a mostly natural sulphur spring,  accessed by a wood boardwalk through the bogs and forest. The park has built changing rooms and is working on a small day lodge to be finished this year. There are also upper pools but they were closed due to a problem bear. Because of the warmth, there is an amazing amount of plants not normally found here so even if you don’t take a dip, its worth the walk                                      .

image[1]After our Liard stretch, our next stop was Muncho Lake – a wonderful geologic area with alluvial plains and fans created by summer runoffs washing down the steep bare mountains. Muncho has areas of emerald to jade green, caused by the copper oxide in the rock and we pulled off on the shore for lunch overlooking the lake.

Continuing our drive after lunch, we saw two separate caribou, both of which were fairly unconcerned with us. In fact, one seemed quite interested for a bit, walking towards us and stopping to stare.image_2[1]

A bit further along, we slowed for Stone sheep ewes along the road. We also saw porcupines, swans swimming in the distance & mallards paddling in roadside ponds.

image_3[1]All in all, it was a wonderful wildlife day accompanied by awesome scenery!