Gators, buzzards and longhorns.

December 1, 2015

This part of Texas is considered a coastal wetland with a diverse array of birds and animals. We have a few unusual ones to show you today!

Alligators are everywhere and mostly coexist with the humans in the park. On occasion, a path is closed because of alligator activity. Recently, a mom alligator and her two babies closed a popular trail for over a week. The gator in the picture below was spotted last week.

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Here we have a tree full of turkey buzzards, they seem to float on thermals around and around in circles almost never flapping their wings. We have seen big groups of buzzards circling around, maybe even up to about 50 birds.

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The longhorns are the iconic symbol of Texas and remind us of those movies of cattle drives up the Goodnight – Loving Trail.

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Merry Christmas – from our house to yours!

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Cliff and Cyndy

Let’s Take A Tour – sidebar

November 17, 2015

Picture driving south from Houston, America’s 5th largest metropolitan city with over 6.5 million people, traffic on I-69 is bumper-to-bumper and yet just 45 minutes later you feel like you are on a different planet. Welcome to Brazos Bend State Park!

As mentioned in our last blog, Brazos Bend State Park is a coastal wetland so buckle up and let’s take a tour in a little green gator.

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Oh by the way, that’s 40 Acre Lake on your left and one big Southern Life Oak with lots of Spanish Moss just in front of us.

 

 

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Another view of 40 Acre Lake with lots of lily pads (above) and tall grasses (below).

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You see signs everywhere about staying at least 30 ft. from an alligator. Ranger Jacob was asked what we should do if we see someone getting to close to a gator. He replied, “There’s no law against being stupid.”  Oh wait!  There’s one that I discovered only a few feet away. I was glad that I was driving my gator. I bet you’re confused. How can you stay away from a gator while riding a gator?  It hurts the brain just thinking about that.

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Just a few minutes later this guy showed up. Will I guess it could have been a girl but I wasn’t going to check. I was glad he/she was swimming in the opposite direction.

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Brazos Bend State Park is pretty diverse.  Look to your right and the view is a lot different.

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Just off of the main road into the park is a good example of a swamp. Swamps have trees where a marsh has grass. The green algae is an important food source for the fish and birds of the area. Algae is a living plant.

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Brazos Bend attracts more guests than any of the other Texas State Parks and to keep it running it takes quite a crew of committed staff and volunteers. You are lucky that someone was around to snap a couple of action pictures of one of their new volunteers. Yes that’s me on that Zero Turn lawn motor.  Better  give me lots of room, I’m no professional. 😉

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I’m helping to refurbish this fishing pier.  Why is it getting so hard to stand up after being on my knees?

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Bye you’ll,

Cliff

Texas!

November 7, 2015

Life challenges and changes are always right around the corner but this time they snuck up on us. While we were in Colorado, we took our trailer in for some warranty work and discovered that we had a “real problem” with the way our trailer had been welded. Several solutions were discussed and the complications with each solution were well, complicated so we landed on a different solution. Temporary welds and repairs were made allowing us to get on our way to Brazos Bend State Park in Texas. We will head to the Black Bayou in Louisiana Jan-March 2016 and when we finish there we will take our trailer back to the factory in Indiana where the welding repairs will be completed.

We are enjoying Texas and Brazos Bend State Park a bit south of Houston. Yup, it is hot and humid and we’ve had some rain but this is a totally different place than anywhere we’ve been. The park is one of the nicest we’ve seen, the staff friendly and lots of interesting work for the volunteers. Cliff is helping with maintenance projects and I am helping in the headquarters building.

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We are also reconnected with good friends Ed and Connie Allen – here is a picture of our trailers side by side. Makes it easy to share life when you have friends right next door!

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Texas wildlife  – we are hearing about the gators but have not seen any yet. Lots of small deer, birds and a couple of armadillo. The wild hogs are a problem in the park because they dig up the land. Next week the park is closed for deer hunting – I wonder if we will see this guy again?

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The park has lots of Southern Live Oak trees with Spanish Moss hanging from their branches.  Some of these trees are huge and the forest very dense around us.

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Today we are headed out to explore the local quilt shops. Cliff and Ed just love to accompany Connie and I to quilt shops. I think they are just hopeful that they will get lunch out of the deal!

Cliff and Cyndy

Colorado is Home!

October 15, 2015

No matter where we go, what sort of volunteer work we do, this area of Colorado will always be home. I’ve been trying to figure out what is it about Colorado that makes it home?

Colorado has beautiful mountains, no doubt about it. Colorado people hold onto their independence just like Alaskans or Idahoans. Colorado people pay more attention to diet and exercise and look fit. Those are some of the generic answers.  For me, I feel at home when we are driving and we don’t need to use the Garmin for directions. I don’t need to orient myself in the grocery store. The news comes on at the right time and I don’t need to search the channels to find the news. The real Broncos (not the ones that play for Boise State!) games are on local TV and we aren’t forced to watch the Seahawks games. A change in town is spotted – a new store has popped up or an old store went out of business or an entire indoor mall was leveled and a new outdoor mall is being built in the rubble. We note the change with interest and know that people behind the change are a part of the community and are seeking to improve the city of Longmont. We are enjoying our brief time “home.”

One of our chores for this visit was to dive into our storage shed and “find” a few missing items. Easier said than done! With a little help from son David and soon-to-be-daughter-in-law Christine we found almost everything on the list. We sold both of our houses and whittled our belongings down to what we thought was almost nothing. Well ha, we should have made a deeper cut, sold more, given more away, etc. as we are now left wondering why we kept so much stuff. Oh it is so hard for us spoiled Americans to part with our stuff!

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We are staying at St. Vrain State Park and the fall colors are still holding on and it is beautiful to the west. We notice the traffic noise from I25 and miss our quiet summer nights in Fairbanks. The weather is more summer like with near record temps in the upper 80’s. We are on the fast track with appointments, visiting with people, going to church, shopping to restock the trailer and getting ready for the next 6 month adventure in the southern states. Our apologies if we miss seeing you, we will be back in May for David and Christine’s wedding.

We caught this picture on the way our of St. Vrain State Park early one morning.

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Cliff and Cyndy

 

Idaho

September 29, 2015

We made our way through Canada in record time on this trip. We liked this marker for Mile “0” on the Alaska Highway that was right in the middle of the street in Dawson Creek.t01

The mountains around the Banff/Jasper area are impressive!

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Last year, we planned out each day of our trip and knew where we were going to stay each night. This year, we completely winged it and found ourselves driving through some long days and staying in different places. We crossed the border and found ourselves exhausted but pleased that we had pushed on so hard to get back to the lower 48.

We spent a few days in Coeur d’Alene just resting, cleaning the trailer and restocking the pantry. Last fall, we volunteered at Dworshak Dam in Orofino ID and that was our next stop. We visited with Penny and Virgil, super volunteers that return to Dworshak every summer and Rangers Deb and Starsky joined us around the campfire for wine and snacks. The wild turkeys still visit every night for their corn kernels and this year the deer have been stopping by each evening.

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Our next stop was McCall ID, once again a beautiful resort area that we get to enjoy. Friends Joan and Mel just built a new cabin (most would call it a big house!) and we got to see all that they had done and enjoy dinner with them. This is Payette Lake, right in the heart of McCall.

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Our next stop will be Boise to spend time with family. My mom is living in a memory care facility with my sister Deb and her husband Mike taking care of her. My brother Jim and his wife Jeanette are flying up from Denver to join us on this visit. We will stay in Boise until Sunday and then head for Salt Lake to party with Dava and Tom before we head across WY and home to Colorado!

Cliff and Cyndy

Beasts of the North

September 20, 2015

We are spending the night in Fort Nelson BC and surprising news, we have wifi! All kinds of prizes and accolades to the person who invents a wifi system for people like us – living in a 5th wheel trailer and moving around Alaska, Canada and the lower 48 states. We struggle with being so dependent upon wifi and cell coverage but it really does keep us connected to all of you! We have eliminated most snail mail so really, having good reliable, safe wifi is important!

We had a full day of driving through beautiful British Columbia. The forests are so dense with trees, the rivers wide with very cold looking rushing waters, and the animals seem to own the land as they are everywhere. We saw herds of bison along the road, a few black bears scurrying away from the road and a couple of caribou just standing beside the road.

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I am quite sure the caption here should be “Pay attention while driving!” We head out in the morning for Dawson Creek  – more beautiful scenery and more animals!

Cliff and Cyndy

Goodbye Alaska!

September 18, 2015

We love Alaska! We had another great summer exploring the interior of the state, well one tiny little bit of the interior of this huge state. There is nothing like this state – it is bigger than life, the play toys are bigger than they are in the lower 48 and the people here are living out their dreams and living off the land and the water. It seems that everyone hunts, fishes and has 2-3 home freezers full of meat and fish!

Cliff has done well with his physical therapy for getting his shoulder back in shape after having rotator cuff surgery. He will continue doing physical therapy until the end of the year so he still has work to do. We said goodbye to our friends at the Chena Flood Project, packed up the trailer and headed out on Friday morning. With snow in the forecast for Fairbanks for the weekend, we timed our departure just right.

Winter has arrived in Fairbanks. As we travelled south we found fall again and trees that still had their leaves in full fall colors.

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We also ran into into rain, snow, slush and the worst roads ever.

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It is hard to say goodbye to Alaska so we won’t, we will just say, see you next year!

Cliff and Cyndy

Labor Day Adventure

Labor Day, end of summer BBQ’s and thoughts start to turn to fall. Well for most of you in the lower 48 that is true but up here in Alaska, fall showed up in mid-August and Labor Day is just about the end of fall with winter close behind. The trees have already turned color and are losing their leaves; it is crisp at night and has been down into the 30’s. The Rangers tell us that fall lasts about 2 weeks here in Fairbanks but it is spectacular!

Jake and Cole took us on an adventure to celebrate Labor Day. We traveled north in our ATVs called Rangers to an observation lookout where we could see the floodway on one side and the river on the other. The Rangers are incredible little machines getting us up and down the trails and the human Rangers are just as incredible as they hop out and shove down trees, move logs out of the way and generally rearrange the forest for us to get through. It was quite the ride!

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The picture above is Jake, Cliff and Cole standing at the top of the mountain. The picture below is the view of the river right behind where they were standing.

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We continued our travels to North Pond, a favorite place to hang out or do a little fishing. We have enjoyed eating several rainbow trout that once lived here! The water was so quiet and we liked how that made for good tree reflections in the water.

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We came across this group of trees and with the sunlight pouring in it just looked beautiful.

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As we headed home we went over the top of the dam and caught a glimpse of the debris field. This is the wood that floated downriver during the flood event and with the dam gates down the debris backed up at the dam. Heavy equipment was brought in and they worked for 2 days to clear the debris. The wood will now be used for firewood and barriers around the project.

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What’s Up? Cliff is recovering from his shoulder surgery, going to physical therapy 3 times a week and doing his exercises 3 times a day at home. He is working on gaining strength but at the pace his doctors have set. He is behaving (mostly) but I do catch him at times putting too much angle on his arm when he lifts it. He meets with the surgeon on Sept. 17 and we expect he will be released. He will need to be careful but we should be able to start our trip home.

In the meantime, we are looking like tourists while visiting the Museum of the North, an antique car museum and a large animal research center. Still on our list is to visit the Santa Claus House so expect a full report when we do!

Cliff and Cyndy

An “Event” – The Chena Floods

Rain, rain, rain – we have had 2 weeks of rain and the Chena River started to rise. Everyone from the Corps to the mayor of Fairbanks is concerned about flooding and potential damage caused. The Corps Rangers have gone on 12 hour shifts with hourly checking of the water and the dam. Cyndy and I have been manning the office phones to answer questions. We are now getting to see the real purpose for the Chena Flood Control Project as we go through our first flood of the season. The Corps calls this situation an “Event.”

The picture below is of the dam in June, showing calm water and plenty of room for boats to pass through.

During normal river levels this is how the up stream side of the dam looks.

In 1967, Fairbanks experienced a flood that destroyed much of the city. Over 4,000 people had to be evacuated and much of the downtown was destroyed. To prevent another flood the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stepped in. The problem is that the Chena River flows through the heart of downtown Fairbanks so the Corps’ plan called for limiting the volume of water to pass through a dam located about 15 miles upstream and east of Fairbanks.

The river has risen 8 feet and the dam gates have been lowered, closing the river to boat traffic.

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One of the problems caused by the flooding is the amount of debris (trees, logs etc.) that is carried down the river. The large crane in the picture will be used to remove the debris.

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The blue screen door looking things are called “trash racks.”  In a severe event they would be lowered allowing the rangers to continue regulating the volume of water by raising or lowering the gates without debris getting caught under them.

 

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The numbers on the side of the dam indicate the actual river elevation (feet above sea level). June 1992 was the date of a severe event with water reaching almost 508′.

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Normal July-August river volume runs at 700-1,000 ft3/sec (cubic feet per second).  The Corps is mandated to only allow the river to get to 8,100  ft3/sec.  When the Chena reached that level Friday night, the gates were lowered. During the 1967 flood the River was running at 74,000 ft3/sec.

Water over 8,100′ in volume is diverted south to the Tanana River by the construction of an 8 mile long levee.  In this first picture you are looking south on top of the levee near the dam.  Our trailer is just behind us to the right.

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This picture was taken 2-3 miles further south on the levee.  At the southern most end of the levee there is a spillway where the flood water empties into the Tanana River.

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Although this event is only 10% of the 1967 flood, it demonstrates just how important this project is to the city of Fairbanks and it was exciting for us to watch the Corps go into action.

Cliff and Cyndy

 

North Pole, Alaska

Are you a believer? Santa Claus is real and lives at the North Pole, right? If you are struggling to believe, take a look at what we have found in this town and you might change your mind.

North Pole, AK is about 15 miles south-east of Fairbanks between Fort Wainwright Army Base and Eielson Air Force Base, which is why we hear the jets flying formations right over our heads most days. And for those that care, the actual North Pole is located about 1,700 miles further north.

The entire town gets into the Christmas spirit with their decorations.

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The street signs have some pretty Christmasy names.

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We spotted a local welding shop and a Catholic Church getting into the spirit.

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We like that the Post Office gets into the Christmas spirit and does not worry about being politically correct. However, they need a new paint job on their candy canes and Cliff offered to take up a collection for them but they declined.

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Of course Santa lives at the North Pole and his house and his gift shop get a lot of attention.

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This is where Santa keeps his reindeer and he lets the kids come in to pet them. We understand that the reindeer only fly on Christmas Eve.

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Were you convinced? Are you a believer? We certainly have changed our minds about Santa being real. And clearly he needs lots of visitors to come visit his town to generate income during the year to offset the cost of all of those gifts he brings on Christmas Eve.

Cliff and Cyndy