Tag Archives: travel

The Great Porcupine Canoe Trip

4 Feb

By Carl Coon

It was mostly Bill who arranged the Great Porcupine Canoe Trip. The idea grew out of a game of one-up-man-ship between the Millers and the Coons. Careful readers of this account, if there be any, will recall a certain canoe trip on the Allagash River in Maine that the Millers and the Coons took in the summer of 1977. Each side wrongly assumed the other knew what it was doing but we survived. Bill retaliated with the canoe trip down the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson that we took in 1980. When Jane and I were elevated to our embassies in the subcontinent I one-upped Bill right back, with a trip through the Terai jungles on elephant back. That happened during our first Christmas season, and Bill took it as a major challenge. The Porcupine River trip in August of 1984 was his masterpiece, taking upwards of three years to prepare, and it ended the competition once and for all,  as it was clear we were never going to top it.

First, a word about the Millers. Jane had known Luree in Bombay back in the early ‘60’s, when Jane was assigned to our Bombay Consulate and Bill was too, as the press and information officer. The legendary Marilyn Silverstone was also there and the three women, Jane, Luree, and Marilyn formed an indissoluble bond, fastest of friends. Bill, as Luree’s spouse, was already attached to this triumvirate and I joined it when I married Jane.

The Alaska connection was mainly through Bill, born and raised in Fairbanks, but also through Luree’s uncle, who had been a legendary bush pilot in Alaska during the thirties. Also, Luree had spent a couple of years driving a truck around Alaska roads in the postwar period. Since marrying Bill, Luree had not only become a mother of three, but an accomplished writer, with several books to her credit. She frequently contributed travel articles to the Washington Post. She was one of the sharpest people I’ve known, as well as one of the most agreeable. They made a good couple; Bill was the more overtly adventurous, while Luree was more practical.

Valerie La Breche came along for the ride. She grew up with Luree in Seattle and had made a career out of travel, often hiring out as guide-counselor or such.

And then there was Bir, already well-known to readers of my essays and Autobiography. Cheerful, resourceful, Jane and I had reached the point we could hardly imagine undertaking a long camping trip without him. Plus, we were taking him home to Washington, DC anyway. His number had finally come up and my Embassy was able to give him a completely legal immigrant visa.

When we got to Anchorage Bir was there waiting for us, cheerful as ever and looking forward to a new adventure. It had occurred to us that he might have had a bit of trouble in Tokyo, given the fact the Japanese Red Army was shooting the place up at the time. No, he had sailed right through, big smile, no problem. He even had his kukri, the Nepali hillsman’s constant companion and the Gurkha soldier’s favorite weapon. What?? He says he never left the transit lounge but even so, you’d think somebody would have noticed before they let him bring his kukri on another flight. Anyway, we checked that up as one of the first serendipitous events of the trip. We were going to need a lot more good luck, as we shall see.

Bir and Jane and I flew from Anchorage to our rendezvous in Fairbanks where we joined the other three. Then we drove to our launching pad at Circle Hot Springs. That “pad”, the Circle Hot Springs Hotel, was one of the most unusual caravanserais I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen ‘em in more places than most. Bar straight out of Hollywood except that some of the patrons were for real; there was still some prospecting, and I actually saw one grizzled prospector come in and buy a round for everybody there, paid for with a little sack of newly scratched up gold.

Bedrooms furnished in plush velvet like a fancy bordello. And then a crazy swimming pool fed by hot springs so you could actually swim in it when the air temperature was twenty below (as we did on a later trip). Outside, behind the hotel, were acres of second-hand refrigerators and washing machines and similar junk waiting for buyers that I gather never appeared. The owner, a brother of Bill’s, was a bit of a nut about such equipment. I gather that Bill, the youngest of a family of nine(?) children, was considered one of the least eccentric, which explained quite a bit about the hotel, not to mention Bill himself.

Bill had arranged our flight to Old Crow with a couple of his old bush pilot friends. The first flight carried most of our gear. Then we all piled into a small seaplane with our two canoes strapped to the landing floats and, grossly overloaded, wobbled northeast and finally splashed down next to the beach beside Old Crow.

Jane describes a certain sinking feeling when our plane left us on the river bank with a small mountain of stuff including two kayaks yet to be assembled. I agree with Jane about the sinking feeling; I had one of my own, a sense of my god what have we gone and done? But there was no time for reflection, we had a lot to do and the day wasn’t getting any younger. Our first task was to assemble the two kayaks which had come knocked down in the first flight. Bill and Bir and I did that, with some difficulty, while Luree visited Old Crow to say hello to an Athabaskan Indian named Steven Frost, who had been a friend of her father’s. Then we packed our gear and boarded, two each in the canoes, and Bill and Luree had a kayak apiece.

We were able to get a few miles down the river that same day, since it was still early August and the days were still very long. Setting up camp and preparing supper was a breeze with Bir along and the rest of us enjoyed our well-earned tot of scotch.

We had a couple of peaceful days on the river, and then entered a canyon where the bluffs rose directly from the shore, leaving a dearth of campsites. It was getting late so we picked the best spot we could find, a narrow strip of beach, and set up camp.

I woke up early the next morning, stuck my head out of the tent, and found myself eyeball to eyeball with a large and healthy looking caribou, horns and all, looking back at me with a curiosity very much like my own. I suppose if I had asked him what he was doing there he could have replied that this was his turf and what the hell was I doing on it? Anyway, after we had each recovered from our initial surprise he ambled toward the river and I looked around.


There were hundreds of the brutes, lined up nose to tail in a column stretching from the water’s edge up a very steep trail to a high ridge where the early light outlined them, still nose to tail, in a line that ran along the ridge for as far as the eye could see.

I grabbed my camera and took a few snaps as the herd continued its stately pace into and across the river. The current was strong enough so they landed on the opposite shore well downstream from where they had started, but then I noticed an exception, a caribou swimming the wrong way, toward me. It struggled ashore near me and I noticed it was dripping blood. I looked across the river and saw the cause, a very large brown bear that was climbing back on the bank from the river, having evidently failed in an attack on the caribou standing in front of me. The bear looked at me, stood up on his hind legs, and barked. It sounded like a cannon, a staccato explosion that echoed up and down the canyon. People started piling out of their tents and the party was on.

Earlier on, Bill had assured Jane that grizzlies couldn’t swim, but that didn’t cut much ice when we saw the grizzly run downstream several hundred yards, then plow across the river like a motorboat. Bir, ever practical, started to build up a roaring fire. The ladies hit on the idea that noise could scare the brute off, and started banging pots and pans. I ducked back in my tent and readied my shotgun, a round of bird-shot up front with a round of double aught buckshot backing it up. I reflected that maybe I should have brought my .30 caliber hunting rifle, but then, I didn’t want to hurt the beast unless I had to, and this way I might scare him off.

That’s what happened. When the grizzly reached our bank he charged straight for us, growling and cussing at us and carrying on like a whole tribe of banshees. I never have been able to decide whether he intended to slaughter us or was just trying to scare us off, but if the latter he succeeded admirably. He may not have made his own mind up either, but when he heard my bird-shot whistling over his head he made a command decision, pivoted like a pro football quarterback, and beat it back to his point of entry on our bank, hardly slowing down at all. Without pausing he swam back to the other bank, and then tore up to the point where he’d started, across from me. After a few more barks he ran straight up the cliff-side behind him and disappeared. A few minutes later a slightly smaller grizzly with two half-grown cubs appeared on the opposite bank where he had been, and watched us in a fairly unfriendly way while we broke camp and hit the water.

I found the whole episode deeply satisfying. For the first and probably the only time I had won a protracted argument against Luree and Jane, not to mention Valerie. The subject was guns. From the beginning of our planning, I was determined to bring one along and they were determined I should not. Who did they think I thought I was, a poster boy for the gun lobby? Guns were immoral, hunting was immoral, just having a lethal weapon sullied the whole idea of pristine wilderness we sought. I persisted, they insisted, we were still arguing when we got on the river, and I still had my trusty old twelve gauge pump-action shotgun, barrel off so it would fit in my bag.

None of us joined the gun lobby but we all agreed that it was a good thing I had that infernal device with me. Furthermore I have the only photograph I ever took that Marilyn has considered up to her standards. I took it of the other five watching that big grizzly bug off back across the river. Marilyn likes pictures that show real people undergoing real emotions and when I took that snap my fellow travelers qualified

Jane had another notion about bears that Bill had encouraged, namely that they didn’t like the smell of mothballs, so if you wanted to protect your tent or campsite against their depredations the thing to do was put a ring of the smelly little objects around the protected area. After several more days of camping on the river that idea was discarded along with the bears can’t swim idea. We got up one morning to find very fresh grizzly tracks around our tent, within the magic mothball circle.

That morning also marked Valerie’s conversion on the subject of my snoring. I now use a respirator but in those days I allegedly made quite a racket at times when sleeping soundly. Valerie had her own little tent and for the first few days parked it as far from the one Jane and I used as possible, given the confines of the site. The morning new grizzly tracks appeared around our tent, similar ones appeared around hers, and from then on we clustered our tents in a tighter configuration, noise be damned.

About halfway down to Fort Yukon there’s an abandoned settlement called New Ramparts and we stopped there for a rest day. For the first (and only) time during our whole journey down the river, we met other humans. A large canoe with a small outboard put-putted around a bend and in it was Luree’s friend Steven Frost, with son, wife, and a freshly killed caribou.

It was a family outing and a kind of celebration, with son having made his first kill. Frost and son beached and with all of us watching, butchered the caribou. They did a beautiful job, quick and clean, and presented us with a sizable chunk of steaming fresh liver. To round out the menu they also gave us some bannock bread, a relatively imperishable local version of the staff of life that is very hard.

Bir, whose teeth leave much to be desired, pulled out his little metal skillet and some wheat flour and made some chappatis. Frost was fascinated and so was I. Here were individuals from very different cultures and places exchanging technological information about how you can make grain edible, with each technique probably dating back to the Neolithic. This kind of exchange must have occurred many times in the remote past, as one of the main ways culture gets diffused and civilization advanced. Remarkable, to see it happening here, under our eyes. And they each thought it was pretty remarkable too. It was a case of mutual admiration, as this picture suggests.

One of the advantages of canoeing down a big river is that usually you don’t have to worry about getting lost.  Just go with the flow. Tributaries sneak up behind you, and half the time you don’t even know they are there. This was true for us about 90% of the way down to Fort Yukon, but as we got close to our destination the Porcupine morphed into something like a delta, with a host of branches peeling off from the main stream, some of them big enough to pass as the main stream itself. It’s not too difficult if you are sitting at a desk looking at a map, but if you are facing a bunch of islands all looking alike, sitting in the front of a canoe with your wife the ambassador in the back, yelling at you to say which way do I go, dammit, right or left, and the current is rapidly taking you past the point of no return, it can get hairy.

I was the designated navigator. I would cheerfully have turned the job over to Bill but he was solo in a kayak. And we were supposed to rendezvous with Mary and Barry Morris, local representatives of the Alaska Commercial Company (successor to the Hudson Bay Company) at a very specific time at a very specific point in this delta or archipelago of little inlets and islets that our mighty Porcupine had morphed into. One false turn and we would have been up a creek, literally, or, even worse, downstream from our target. But we hit it without a false turn, and at just about the agreed hour. I felt as lucky as if I had won a national lottery. Serendipity squared. Jane sent an ardent prayer of thanks to Lord Ganesh. Our new hosts were almost as surprised as we were, as they had fully expected a long and quite possibly fruitless wait. They fit us and our gear into a large pickup and drove us back to civilization, or at least to one of its more remote outposts.

Our new hosts at Alaska Commercial were congenial and took good care of us. They had the travel bug themselves and after we went home they took their jeep and drove it around much of the world. We rested up for a day or two and flew home. End of an era.

And what an era it was! For three years Jane and I had been caught up in a social whirl in two overpopulated countries, especially Bangladesh, one of the most overpopulated of all. We were suffering from a surfeit of people. And then, like hardy Swedes rolling in the snow after steaming themselves in a sauna, we went cold turkey into wilderness, seeing nobody at all except for the one day we met Stephen Frost. It was shock treatment and it worked. On the ride back from our rendezvous to ACC headquarters we rode like Okies in the back of a pickup truck. The rest of the way home we were ordinary tourists like everyone else. Sic transit gloria mundi.

But we did have our memories, and Luree had a hell of a good travel story to write-up, which she did, and the Washington Post published it, which was a help later on persuading skeptical friends that it all really happened.

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Carl Coon recently died at age 91. He was a retired United States Ambassador, a composer, an author and essayist. This is an account of one of his life adventures. Carl lived with his wife Jane in Rappahannock County, Virginia overlooking a bend in a river.

Bruce’s Notes: Carl Coon was a good friend and one of my Personal History clients. We worked together on his Autobiography. The first volume – People of Earth: The First Forty, was published in October. We hope to have the second volume ready to publish later this year.

Bruce Summers is Personal Historian and Life Story Coach for Summoose Tales, +1.703.503.8834, summersbw@gmail.com. Bruce is a former direactor of the Association of Personal Historians. He is a founding member of the Life Story Professionals of the Greater Washington Area.

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Why are these rocks “Remarkable”?

24 Dec

June 21, 2018. Our guide said we were going to visit remarkable rocks…

This was part of the second day of a nature and hiking tour on Kangaroo Island, located off the South Coast of Australia a few hours bus and ferry ride from Adelaide in South Australia.

We had already seen my first wild kangaroos, my new favorite bird the Australian pelican, and walked around huge sea lions. I personally had some concerns when our path back off the beach to the steps was blocked by a large male sea lion. A mother and her cub were just a few steps to our right, and three other cubs were gamboling in the surf a few more steps to our left.  For some reason, I kept wondering why that other huge male sea lion we had passed earlier, was bleeding?

We also had become accomplished koala spotters, we stood about fifteen feet away from a mob of kangaroos, and about 20 feet away from a clutch of gray seals.

We had seen so many, many, remarkable sites, and flora and fauna so what would make rocks remarkable?

From a distance, they looked interesting, perhaps they were glacier rocks, rounded in an interesting way?

We parked among large shrubs and could not really see anything. We walked along the board walk, winding  our way towards “Remarkable Rocks”, but honestly, we were more interested in spotting unusual birds with our nature guide.

But then, we could see the rocks in the distance, and that was all we could look at.

As we walked closer, one of the rocks looked a bit like a huge animal, almost like an extinct form of an elephant.

In this photo wife is taking her first pictures of forms that were…

Fascinating…

Unique…

Beautiful…

Colorful…

Massive…

Magnificently carved…

And etched…

Colored…

Artfully…

Arranged…

Sculpted…

Draped…

Shaped…

“Remarkable!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

And if that was not remarkable enough, this one looked like a giant petrified egg shell from some 500 million year old creature who must have been a “Remarkable” artist.

In the distance we saw more remarkable rocks, but that will be a different trip.

        

We took one last photo, then start back to our van for our next stop on a “Remarkable” tour of Kangaroo Island.

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Bruce Summers, is a Professional Personal Historian and Life Story Writer for Summoose Tales, Summersbw@gmail.com.  He is a former global board member of the Association of Personal Historian and served as director, regions and chapters.  He is a founding member of the Life Story Professionals of the Greater Washington Area.

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Uluru Adventure

Travel

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Counting more blessings and saying Thank You.

30 Nov

Let’s go hiking for a week in February… My wife, as usual, had a great idea. Normally we would try a couple of day hikes in February, on the weekends, and if the weather was mild.

Blessing #1: We would be hiking in Southern Arizona, I had never been there, and it is quite a bit farther south than Northern Virginia.

Blessing #2: This was our first hiking Trip hosted by REI, so we would be hiking with a group, with trained guides.

Blessing #3: They would help us with transport of our luggage and would provide lodging and food… on the trail or otherwise.

Blessing #4: Another couple, two of our good friends, would also be taking the same hike with us:)

Blessing #5: One of my wife’s cousins lived just north of Phoenix and we could stay overnight with them on two separate nights; first between adventures, and then just before we flew home.

Blessing #6: We were going to be able to get in a couple of days of bonus hiking in Sedona, AZ.  We had driven there once, the landscape is spectacular, and we were looking forward to exploring the region around Sedona for a few days.

Mixed Blessing #1: we had to get up really, really early for our flight to Phoenix. But, we had gotten up early before, and it meant we would have more time to visit the old town in Scottsdale, AZ. We were overnighting there and meeting up with our REI Group the next day.

 

 

Mixed Blessing #2: Though the weather was temperate, we noticed large gobs of people all heading to some type of stadium. We asked a stranger on the street, where’s everyone going? It’s Opening Day of Spring Training for the Cactus League he said. We took a quick walk around Old Town to spot a potential restaurant for dinner, but then we were each bitten, or at least I was bitten, by the spontaneous bug. We saw a man standing along the street trying to sell a pair of “great” tickets to the Opening Day game. “It’s sold out,” he said, he may have mentioned that his wife was ill also.  It may have been a story, but we felt we could afford a pair of tickets and decided to head to the Park to watch a bit of Professional Baseball Spring Training.

Blessing #7: Even though it was not sold out, the crowd was large, for that size stadium, and in a great mood. We sat, down the first base line, a bit into right field. We had a great view.

Blessing #8: Yes they did have hot dogs, no it wasn’t Southwestern food, but it went down easy with a bit of mustard and sauerkraut along with a nice cold bottle of water.

Blessing #9: We saw a couple of home runs, some decent pitching, some decent hitting and fielding, and a few errors of course. It was a hoot.

Blessing #10: We had a yummy Southwestern dinner with our friends. We live in the same area, but we had not seen each other very recently to catch up on the news. It was a great shared evening.

 

Blessing #11: We hit the lottery with our tour guides.  One was rated the #1 or 2 guide in the whole system. The other would have been a #1 guide on any other trip.

Blessing #12: It had rained recently in Southern AZ and the Saguaro Cactus were magnificently tall, plump, and everywhere.

 

Blessing #13: You never know how a week-long hike in higher altitude, in a desert, and during winter will go. Will we be fit enough, we wondered.  How will we shake down with the rest of group. Despite a small miss-adventure crossing the 3rd of 12 streams; we both did great with the hiking as did our friends.  About half of our group stayed back at the 2/3rds point of the hike and then the rest of us, “the rabbits”, I reflected charged off at an enhanced pace to reach the destination waterfall.

 

Blessing #14: The hiking was a bit more challenging, but the view of the waterfall and the catchment pools, and the ducks swimming in the lower pool was magnificent.

Blessing #15: We stayed overnight in a downtown Tucson Hotel. We had a superb southwestern dinner, slept well, geared up, and had breakfast in an old western bar. We then headed out for another great day of hiking, then lunch and visited a great park filled with southwestern Flora Fauna.

 

Blessing #16: We learned a lot about Saguaro and other Cacti during the trip, we saw animals, scat, climbed mountain ridges, and saw spectacular views across wide vistas.

 

Blessing #17: We had another restful night. Then an early morning departure, a tour of a large, now defunct pit mine, a talk with a local Native American Guide, a nice long hike, and then lunch in the park at picnic tables.

  

Mixed Blessing #3: A highlight was our visit to the border fence between Arizona and Mexico. We were surprised to learn that the high fence disappears after going east for a mile or so.  The conditions are arid and dry, not forgiving. Twice during the next day and a half I spotted black painted jugs. These are usually filled with water for the hundreds of people who  attempt to cross this desert border each year.

 

Blessing # 18 and 19: We drove up a high ridge to take in an amazing view of setting sun looking across multiple mountain ridges and ranges. Then we ate a scrumptious picnic supper outside. A special opportunity was an open discussion with a Border Patrol Agent who answered our questions and discussed the challenges, for Border Patrol Agents, to both help people survive who crossed the border to escape bad conditions and sometime threats to their lives, while at the same time trying to discover, and thwart, bad actors who tried to smuggle drugs and even children to become slaves or worse across the border.  I had the pleasure of riding down the high ridge with him back to our lodging for the night. It was a blessing to talk with him and to learn more about the nuances of protecting our border that are experienced by individual agents.

 

Blessing #20: After one more great hike, and a picnic in the rough, we head back to Phoenix. We rented a car, fought through an hour of congested traffic, and then arrived at my cousin-in-law’s home. We had not met her husband. He was a gem. Even better, he was a rock hound, and around his home he had grapefruit and other citrus trees and…

Interim count: Needless to say we got to 20 Blessings and 3 Mixed Blessings and we had not even started our excursion to Sedona yet. We highly recommend a week of walking in the Winter and we are very thankful for our health and opportunities to walk, hike and explore.  We hope everyone has a great Holiday Season and that you take a few moments to count your blessings.

*********************************

Bruce Summers is a Personal Historian at Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com

He served as a global board member and director, regions and chapters for the Association of Personal Historians Bruce is a founding member of the Life Story Professionals of Greater Washington Area

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Counting blessings and saying Thank you.

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Uluru Adventure

10 Aug

Our hiking tour drove right past Uluru. We knew this was the plan, but still…

Uluru is a fantastic geological gem. I had seen many pictures from Uluru as it is now known. For many years it went by its Anglicized name Ayers Rock.

I thought we would climb Uluru.  I have read and ghost-written accounts of travelers climbing this Monolith.

The climb was on my bucket list for our Australian Adventure.  However, starting with our first day in Australia, we started hearing stories about not being able to climb Uluru, that this is the last year to climb, and that the mountain is sacred to local Aboriginal Peoples and they would prefer if no one climbed.

They are very sad whenever someone gets injured or dies climbing Uluru. The local Aboriginals co-own and manage the Uluru-Kata Tujuta National Park along with the Australian government.

Our hiking tour guide similarly told us why climbing Uluru is discouraged. Currently, less than 20% of visitors climbed the mountain.

We were planning on doing a base walk at Sunrise the next morning about 3/4th of the way around Uluru. I was really looking forward to this hike and being up close to this famous UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As planned we were going to tent camp nearby overnight our first night.

Before that though we had a hike planned for Kata Tujuta. (But that’s a different story).

This to be followed by watching the sunset on Uluru while we had some hors d’oeuvres and champagne at an overlook. The colors of Uluru are fantastic at Sunset with many different subtle shifts from orange, to rose, to red, and to purple.

Sunset at Uluru was spectacular.

We slept well, ate an early breakfast, and then headed out the next morning to start our base walk” of Uluru before sunrise.

It was still dark when we arrived at our starting location.

Uluru already had a dull reddish hue

As we started our walk the sky start to lighten

I shivered a bit as I walked. But I quickly forgot the chill as I stared up at the huge rock faces. Up close they were very pock-marked on the eastern side. They displayed huge interesting depressions and holes carved out by wind, water and extremes of hot and cold temperatures.

I continued to hike on, pausing often to take more pictures of the now rising sun and of the ever-changing rock faces.

 

   

Seemingly every minute they displayed a different color and nuanced shadows.

Finally as the sun rose over the eastern horizon it lit up the monolith..

Uluru glowed and I smiled. I suspected it would be an interesting morning as I continued my walk just feet away from one of the world’s most fascinating geological features.

****************************************

Bruce Summers, summersbw@gmail.com, is professional personal historian and life story writer. He also enjoys hiking, travel and photography (and the occasional fascinating geological wonder). I hope you enjoy this and other Summoose Tales. 

National Bison Range – Montana

30 Oct

Bison are huge…

We recently visited the National Bison Range in Montana with some very good friends

It is in a beautiful setting with jagged mountains as a back drop and rolling tall grassy hills

I was excited by the prospect of seeing Bison in the wild for the first time

I was also looking forward to seeing the many other animals who live on the Range.

I was very impressed by the display of hundreds of shed antlers on display near the Range’s Visitor Center

Living on the East Coast most of my life, I have seen white tail deer but seldom anything as large as a mule deer, much less an elk or Bison.

We were only a few hundred yards into the Range when we spotted our first wildlife

“Oh those are pronghorn (antelope)” shared out hosts.

Pronghorn were new to my life list of mammals! They were colorful, muscular and near the road.

In about a mile we spotted out first Bison downhill in the grasslands. My thinking… Wow!!

They were grazing in an amazingly beautiful setting.

This side of the range neighbors a lake and some beautiful ranch land.

Next we saw two or three pairs of mule deer (they grow about twice the size of white-tail deer).  I had seen then several times  before on trips to the western U.S. Each pair appeared to have a mother (doe) and fawn (perhaps 6 months to a year old).

We turned away from the lake and farm land and turned towards the rolling hills of grass and sometimes woods.

We saw a young mule deer (Buck)

We went around a few more bends and then saw two bull Bison very close to the road. We stopped the van, opened the windows and the sliding door to take a few shots, but they were only about 10 or 15 yards away. “Don’t startle them,” my host advised quietly. Bison are huge up close and could do significant damage to a car. One of the bulls, pawed up dust from its wallow and gave us the evil eye to ensure we were not getting any closer.  We respectfully kept our distance.

A few more long looping turns around high hills and we were looking through a bit of fence, we saw two more bull Bison grazing in the woods, but what really got our attention was the Black Bear, walking past them… very respectfully, perhaps they are old friends and neighbors. We got out, stayed on our side of the fence and snapped pictures of the black bear as he ambled up the hill and away from us. Wow!!!

We turned away from the woods and angled around a high hill so we had a view of the lake and farms again, now well below us.  We had climbed up several hundred feet in altitude.

We stopped for several minutes to watch another mule deer doe and likely a yearling grazing on the ridge above us.

But then, we were pleasantly surprised to see a huge mule deer buck with massive antlers rise out of the grass.

We heard him call, and then he trotted quickly up hill chasing the doe and yearling. My hosts, “Wow, that is the biggest mule deer we have ever seen!!”

We took one last look as he galloped over the ridge, we hoped to catch a glimpse of him again on the other side of the ridges, he was that impressive.

We did see another young mule deer buck with a small rack, but by this time we were not impressed, not after seeing the magnificent buck on the ridge.

We continued along spotting solitary or small groups of Bison and mule deer in the distance.

We came over the top of the ridge and started down. Turning to the north and a bit east.

We continued to see bison and another young mule deer buck.

We turned into a side lane and parked to observe two more Bison.

As we walked a few feet towards them though, we discovered a small herd of older mule deer bucks.

Many of these also had impressive racks, but none quite as impressive as the one we saw climb the ridge following his family.

By now we were about halfway through the Range and realized, looking at our map that we had a long way to go to reach the exit gate before it closed at sundown. So, we speeded up our traverse for the second half of our loop through the Range.

We stopped only briefly to take a few snaps of near-in deer, and hurried along, the sun was heading down. But suddenly, we look across the meadow and saw a good-sized herd of elk!!!!

Elk are impressive, large even from a distance and they are about twice the size of the mule deer, often over 700 pounds.  Elk were also a new addition to my life list of mammals seen in the wild:)

Equally impressive, in the distance, way beyond the elk, was a large herd of Bison, grazing at the base of the high hills to the south.  Up until now we had only see single or pairs of Bison, mostly males.  This must be the main herd with the females and the younger Bison.

We really needed to hurry now, the sun was behind the ridge. We spotted a lone mule deer up on the ridge enjoying the early evening moon glow.

We spotted our first white tail deer sipping water by a stream as we continued west towards the exit. We stopped briefly behind a line of cars and heard an elk bellowing in the distance.

We were definitely in the “gloaming” as we made the last turn before the road to the exit gate.

We had one last treat, a good-sized group of pronghorn crossed the road in front of us, then they looked back to wish us a safe journey home. What an amazing afternoon!!!


Bruce Summers is a blogger and Personal Historian, Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com, also former Regions and Chapters Chair of the Association of Personal Historians.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preamble – Train from Oslo to Bergen

31 Jul

We had no idea… The train trip from Oslo to Bergen, Norway was billed as “Spectacular”. We had a nice time touring around Oslo the day before, but, we were ready to get on our early morning train to ride across Norway to our Hurtigruten cruise ship at the famed Hanseatic League port on the western coast.

Oslo is an attractive modern city, with attractive sky-scrapers, with interesting windows.

Our whole family enjoys trains. We hauled our suitcases on board, stowed them out of way, and took our seats by large panoramic windows.

Starting out, everything was green, with trees and fields and gradually less houses.


We started our gradual climb.

There are lots of lakes, and rivers and gradually we started to see mountains.

 

The railroad crossings and station were a bit sleepy.

The scenery was interesting, but not yet “Spectacular”.

The hills continued to get higher, the rivers appeared to get wider.

It was a lovely.  Red and white farm houses and the hills reflected in the water.

We started to see more rapids in the rivers.

We kept climbing higher and higher.

The villages were built on hillier terrain.

We appeared to nearing the start of the higher hills.

Then came the lakes.

Each emerging from the end of an ancient glacial valley.

Suddenly, we started seeing mountains with snow.

And there was ice in the lakes.

The green hills transformed to gray and black, still speckled with snow.

The reflections on still, partially frozen lakes were amazing.

We continued to see more and more snow cover…

And, more and more ice.

It was the 28th of May…

 

But, the ice had not cleared from the lakes yet.

Now we could see Glaciers and Snowfields…

 

Flowing down into the lakes.

We stopped briefly in the next town and saw people getting off the train with Skis!

People in Oslo were walking around in shorts the day before…

But here, the rivers were frozen…

And, ski season, if not at its peak…

Was still going strong.

   

We saw small shacks out by the still frozen lakes.

Occasionally we would see a house.

The terrain was spectacular.

The wintry landscape was unexpected.

The arctic conditions reminded us that…

Summer was still coming…

To this region…

We saw the summer homes scattered around, hopefully…

But summer, still seemed a couple of months away.

Finally we crested the high point of our rail trek…

And, started down the west side of the mountains.

Though we still saw glaciers and massive snow fields…

The lakes were starting to melt again…

Forming raging streams…

Rushing rivers…

 

The hundreds of waterfalls and rapids…

Were spectacular as they continue their dramatic drops through winding valleys.

Then suddenly, we stopped in a town where we were greeted by a friendly Mountain Troll.

The streams leveled out…

And, formed lovely glacial lakes.

It was Spring again. Everything was green again. The Mountain Troll had performed some type of magic, calming the raging rivers, melting the snowfields, returning the Norway to its broad, beautiful lakes with scenic mountains in the far distance. It has been a surprising, spectacular, snowy, scenic trip over the mountains. Just a little way further, now, to Bergen, and more adventures.

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Blog by Bruce Summers, Summersbw@gmail.com, Personal Historian, Summoose Tales. Former Board Member, Regions and Chapters Director, Association of Personal Historians.

This Blog is part of a series:

Our Norwegian Cruise

See also:

Tromsø – Hike to the Cable Car via the Bridge

Tromsø – Hike to the Cable Car via the Bridge

12 Jun

First view of the Arctic Cathedral

We agreed ahead of time that instead of a paid “excursion” we would hike across the high harbor bridge, past the Arctic Cathedral to the Cable Car. We had 4 hours and 15 minutes to get off the boat get there, explore the mountain at the top of the Cable Car and get back. We planned to walk there and if needed take the # 26 bus back. Our friend Mary agreed to join our personal “excursion”.

Tromsø is our next stop

Tromsø is about 240 miles north of the Arctic Circle, so we had our thermals and layers ready. It was a nice day, our good weather continued to hold, it was cool but not frigid cold. I prepared my day pack, we filled the water bottles, rolled up and stuffed in the emergency rain coats. We reviewed maps and confirmed our bus route back with the ship’s activities staff.

  

First view of the Arctic Cathedral

It was a beautiful trip into the harbor. Snow capped mountains surrounded the perimeter as far as the eye could see, all around Tromsø, some near while others far and then much farther in the distance. The city of Tromsø is the largest in northern Norway, about 70,000 people. We passed quite a few ships coming into and later out of port. Freighters, excursion boats, fishing boats, cruise liners, sailboats – all a lovely cacophony.

A tall bridge about a mile long dominated the channel between the major island the mainland. We knew this was the bridge we had to cross to get to the cable car. We saw on the map that our ship would birth fairly near to it. On our starboard side we could see the cable car on the hill and the platform 1,300 hundred feet above us. We would need to cross the bridge to get to it.

There seemed to be four segments to our trip. Walk along the harbor, take the 15 minute walk across the high bridge, pass the Arctic Cathedral and make our way to the bottom entrance station to the cable car, then ride the car up to top entrance at an altitude of 421 meters above the harbor.

It was 2:15 PM when the MS Lofoten snugged into its berth. The gangplank was carefully placed by a forklift. The crew prepared to check us out, we all queued up, had our Ship ID Cards scanned, “goodbye” it signaled, and the five us gathered on the pier, cameras and cell phones out and ready to take photos; then we were off. It was always great to get off of the boat for a few hours of exploring each day.

My son, daughter, and I alternated fast walking and taking the lead through the harbor piers so we would each have a few seconds to stop, snap some photos, then fast walk again to keep up with fellow hikers. Snap, snap – harbor, fishing boats, rowing boat team, statues, interesting houses, businesses, signs in Norwegian, the harbor, freighters, and then the bridge.

Once we were on the bridge it was a fairly long steep climb. Again the three of us fast walked, then paused to take pictures – city skyline, ships, piers, the Arctic Cathedral, the far shore, the cable car, and the many snow-capped mountains in the distance.

We stayed on the right side of the bridge, designed and dedicated for foot traffic. We saw or passed walkers, strollers, and joggers going both ways. Cars, trucks and buses used the center lanes. Bikers made good use of the left designated bike lanes, again being frequently used both ways.

Above us and beside us were sea gulls, floating on the natural breezes but also on the breeze being generated by ships passing under us, and by the vehicle, bike and human foot traffic passing along the bridge. They floated slowly by, hovering on the breeze slightly above us, beside us, or just below us – seemingly happy and enjoying the day. Sometimes it was just one bird smiling, Other times it was three or four birds together wafting along on their own excursion beside the bridge a couple of hundred feet above the harbor.

The steady climb up the bridge went on and on, and then finally it peaked and we started down towards the Arctic Cathedral. The walk down seemed much faster now aided by gravity. Our strides seemed longer and views of our destination drew us on at a swift pace. As we made a slight curve to the right we now had a clear view of the lovely Arctic Cathedral. We paused, snapped a few photos and then continued our march.

As we came off the bridge, we paused to take a few snaps and to orient ourselves. Our maps did not show a clear path by foot, to the bottom of the cable car. We could see the cables up the hill in the distance and decided to follow the road signs for autos to the cable car. We paused to take a photo of a phone booth. It seemed a common sight at the various islands and towns we visited during the cruise, but phone booths are increasingly rare in the US, at least where we live.

The air was fresh, the temperature cool, but not cold, it was a great day for a hike. So we set off up the hill following the road signs, After a bit of a climb there was another road sign up the hill further, then we saw the anticipated sign to the right. Another sign said the equivalent of “keep going”, in Norwegian. As per our norm, various members of our crew paused to snap a new picture of a house, a sign, the city across the harbor, the bridge, the passing ships, or the mountains in the distance.

Finally there was the expected sign to turn left and up the hilly parking lot was the bottom entrance to the cable car and we smiled inwardly, three legs of our journey done. We walked up the hill, turning once or twice to snap the view. We bought our tickets, getting two discounts for students (college students count). Then we had about a 10 minute wait for the next cable car.

These of course were not like the San Francisco Cable Cars. The cars are gondola type cabins are suspended by cables and ascend fairly rapidly to the upper platform – only a four-minute ride. Our group was first in line so we secured the optimal places in the car to look down and backwards to take more photos of the view as we rose to our destination.

We arrived to a small snack area, that opened at the front to a large viewing platform with a 180 degree view of the city and harbor area across the channel. To the right was the bridge far below us. On a hill diagonally in line above it were the 2 or 3 ski jumps, now bare of snow, that I had seen on the city map. We could see the airport on the back half of the island that had been hidden by the central hill above Tromsø. We could see the high, jagged snow-capped peaks in the far distance across the water behind the island.

We could see many other islands and snowy mountains on all sides in the distance. It was a lovely panorama. We had our friend Mary take group shots of us with the town and the mountains and the landmark bridge behind us. There were even large table like chairs on the viewing platform where you could lounge, out of the wind and just soak up the Arctic sun.

Behind us were hills still fully covered with snow, We had seen one man carrying snow skis earlier on our hike to the cable car. It was the first of June, but still ski season for some. Just outside of the snack shop there was a snow drift about 6 feet high. We could see where the hiking trails started, most were still snow-covered of course.

Several of us walked over to a far viewing platform through about eight inches of snow. There was a somewhat beaten path where others had walked, but it was a might slippery at times. Luckily my feet stayed fairly dry. Again the view from the far platform was stunning and slightly different than from the viewing platform. You could see another 45% degrees around to south with a long view across water to the farther away rugged snow-capped mountains and islands in the distance. It was a lovely view, I smiled inwardly, enjoying being up on a snowy mountain on the northern coast of Norway with the sun shining on my face.

We walked carefully, again with a bit of slipping and sliding on the snowy path, less beaten, through less walked path through the snow. We all got hot chocolate at the snack shop. They actually had an additional cafeteria space with tables and chairs, the Fjellstua Cafe. If we ever go back in the summer for a mountain hike, I would definitely take advantage of this. I walked out on the viewing platform for one more look at the view. Came back in and enjoyed my cocoa. We made sure we queued up early to get the prime front view in the cable car going down. After a five-minute wait we were on our way – four minutes down to the lower station while snapping more photos of the view.

We decided we still had 90 minutes to get back to the ship. My family and I decided to walk back. Our friend decided to try the bus. Again, gravity made the walk down to the bridge must faster. We stopped to take some external photos of the famed Arctic Cathedral. We decided to save visiting this for another trip, hopefully. We enjoyed our fast 15 minute walk up and over the pedestrian side of the bridge. We passed more walkers, strollers, and joggers, cars, trucks, and floating sea gulls. We did not see Mary’s bus, but we did see other buses crossing the bridge regularly. The air and the view were again lovely and interesting.

Off the bridge, we strolled through the city a bit, glanced over at Pepe’s pizza – no, no, not this trip… We got back to our ship with plenty of time to spare. We walked around the dock area a bit, then watched freight, still being loaded onto the M.S. Lofoten continuously for the past three hours. This freight was headed for still further northern, smaller, more isolated towns and villages on our cruise path north.

The M.S. Lofoten is a working ship. It carries freight and passengers to and from towns that may have no roads, air, or train connections to other towns.

We took off our extra layers, stowed away our gear, day pack, water bottles and rain gear, and assimilated back into “cruise” mode. Dinner was in another hour and a half and there would be lots to see as we started the next leg of our journey. Let’s see, it will be Skjervøy next at 10:15 PM.

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Tromsø – Hike to the Cable Car via the Bridge is one of a series of blogs – Our Norwegian Cruise by Bruce Summers, summersbw@gmail.com  Bruce is a Personal Historian and founder of Summoose Tales.  He is a former board member, regions and chapters director of the Association of Personal Historians.

See also:

Preamble – Train from Oslo to Bergen

 

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