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Friday, September 16, 2011


The view of Denali from Willow


The day had cleared for the first time this week, blue sky, Mount Denali as a magnificent backdrop when I drove home with the kids. It's a wonder that there aren't a few accidents with people mesmerised by the scenery.

Horseshoe lake didn't result in the large catch we thought we might bag. Despite having all the local knowledge in our favour – night crawlers, corn and just the right jigs. Rain for the last week may have had something to do with it. Regardless it was magical. Brent and the children were out, a ripple making its presence across the lake and those magnificent mountains in the distance. If only I had my paints on me.

A couple of things we did see, one was a young muskrat swimming in the water and diving under every now and then. Brent and the kids saw a loon and its beautiful plummage, also diving. Then when everyone was out of the water and we had loaded the boat into the van, I noticed that Bradley had a leaf stuck just under his ankle and said stop, so that I could brush it off before he got in. Except that it didn't brush off, and if felt slippery, and it stuck in the one spot regardless of which direction I swished in. I quickly came to the conclusion that a leech had attached itself to his ankle. He said you could only feel it if you concentrated. So Brent burnt it off, and that was interesting in itself. The leech kind of melted barely leaving a mark on Bradley's ankle and then fell off, right into Brent's sandal and was quickly flicked out. A little bit of excitement for the evening.
Fishing on Horseshoe Lake, Alaska

Monday, September 12, 2011

Rain rain, go away!

There has been so much rain that the river is muddy coloured and despite our best efforts, the little side pond we have discovered was also brown, leaving us unable to discern which fish we would like to try and catch. Bradley is not interested in pulling in anything but a keeper, whereas Reagan just loves the thrill of hooking a big one and hauling it in, while the fish puts up a mean fight. It sure gets her squealing. She even had the cheek to tell Bradley he better get in the water to net that really difficult fish that just had other ideas about coming in. Of course he was quick to swat that idea away and let her know all about it. It sure is fun watching and listening to them, I am also very pleased at how capable they are taking care of fishing business.

We had a real lark late this afternoon. We have brought 2 bikes with us, which is fine except when we three decided to go collecting cranberries. So we doubled up, Reagan riding on the handle bars. Nice quiet country roads and lots of laughing from all of us. Bradley was keen to be doubled too, not sure how I would have handled that though. We quickly found a good patch of cranberries and I set about collecting while my two larked about squishing berries and laughing about the results – Bradley got a surprise cranberry face wash.

High bush cranberries

So now we have blueberry jam, raspberry jam, raspberry juice and now cranberries. We sure are spoilt, although I'm not sure how we would store much more.

Melon berries, good for fillers

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Gold in them hills!

A big day out, back in the car. It's drizzly and cold. The kind of winter weather you might expect in New Zealand or Oregon in the middle of winter. We are heading into the hills, to Hatchers Pass. Hatcher was the first person to look for gold/put in a claim. Later there was quite a gold mining industry that was built up on the mountain side.

We stopped on the way to cast a fishing line in the river, which was somewhat dirty, you never know though! Then grabbed the pans out of the car and had a go at panning for gold. Needless to say Brent will have to continue to work. Brent and the kids walked up the side of a couple of mountains into the icy stuff, I walked ¾ up one steep one and then we walked the mine.

The Hatcher valley opens up and looks down towards Palmer. The day was cold and bleak. The water that runs down the hillside would be freezing all the time. There was still snow on the tops surrounding the gold mine and it is the middle of summer. Trips into town would be a once a year event if you were lucky. I read one story where a lady hung her laundry outside expecting it to freeze dry and woke to find it covered in snow. Although the scenery was stunning with beautiful tarns, I am way too soft and would never have wished for a life there.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Second day fishing and Reagan was determined to have a go too. She had been complaining to me that she wasn't even allowed to hold the line let alone the net! Our girl got hold of that rod the next morning and boy she wasn't going to let go of it, even when she did hook a tree and the small branch had to be cut so that we could get our lure out.

Well talk about squeal. She hooked the grandaddy of all salmon, he must have been about 20 pounds and was a real fighter. It was fun to watch her, of course she was busy issuing orders at the same time to Bradley who was working the net. Reagan was very disappointed when we had her put him back. She was very keen on eating him, however once they are coloured like that one was, they have spawned and don't taste pleasant at all. We weren't willing to indulge her on this request.

Can you make out all the salmon in there? There is no substitute for polarised glasses!
Since we could actually see all the fish in this pool, Bradley was more picky about which one he would take, aiming for a nice sized, silver salmon. He hooked a nice five pound pink, full of eggs. We have kept some and will ask what people do with them. Otherwise they will go out.

Have also made another discovery – Alaskans use jars to drink out of. The family we stayed with used them, even at the swanky lodge they used them. Like agee jars, they are perfectly fine for drinking out of too. Here in our cabin they have glasses. I asked my family why that might be. The answer, the owners are from Michigan, they're not Alaskan.

The entire family are enjoying themselves. I am kept busy on the end of the camera and collecting berries, I've made some very tasty raspberry jam from the ones I collected. Brent is busy advising, organising and directing. Both children are the only fishers in the family and they are hooked. What fun, so far the verdict is that we'd be happy coming back here each summer.

We have brownie in the oven and then we are off to explore Big Lake and stop by Brent's work. Our fish is ready for dinner tonight, can't wait. Picked wild blueberries along the road side. I am in heaven. Raspberries, blueberries, what's next?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Willow Cabin

The cabin here in Willow is perfectly respectable. One large bedroom upstairs and the living area, kitchen and bathroom downstairs. They aren't nearly as flash as the two we previously stayed in, however they are perfectly livable.

Across the drive from us the owners run a RV campground. Not many staying there though, it's ok, just not as picturesque as other overnight spots. We are well away from them, with three identical cabins all around the same size as ours. The owners live in one and rent the other two out. We are on the outside.

Now to catch some very very large fish. We have arrived at the perfect fishing destination and spot. Next stop - the river! Apparently the sun must follow us. They have had a lot of light rain up until now, it has been light, but sufficient to dirty up the rivers.

First day fishing was at the Willow Park further down the road from us, hundreds of people – well it seemed like it. There were several large salmon that were pulled in. It was fun watching although we did tire of waiting for our turn.

I said hi to a couple of woman who were walking down near me and asked if they knew what the berries we were walking beside were. Being native Alaskans, they were happy to share. I loved it, tasting high bush cranberries and watermelon berries. Must say the cranberries were rather sour. These ladies also told me that rose hips were high in vitamin C, so very popular. Lucia had given Brent rose hip fruit leather, he had a cold and rose hips are some of the highest vitamin C you can get. These ladies further confirmed it. One of them was diabetic and she dehydrated and powder her rose hips to use as a tea.

Next stop Willow creek, just down from our cabin. You walk for about 5 minutes across the railway track and down the bank. Trains give you plenty of notice that they are coming, plus they toot their horn before they get to the track. We are perfectly safe.
Fishing below the train track

 You should see them, there must have been at least 50 salmon of different varieties in this one pool off to the side of the river. It was quite an incredible sight. Anyway, they are in different stages of spawning. The ones we are after are the pink and also the silver salmon. Bradley hooked a 20 pound pink that was all coloured up, so that went back.
There were loads of salmon in this little side pool

It was getting late and I had a loaf of bread in the oven, so returned home earlier than the others. I was just over the railroad track and heard a shot, like a gun shot. Thought shoot, there must have been a bear and they let the bear popper off. So I stopped and waited and listened. Nothing else, no squeals, no shouting. I continued on. About ¾ of an hour later they returned. Was it you guys who let off the shot? What shot? Don't know what you're talking about. We were talking to the owner that morning and he said that in the two years he had been here he hadn't even seen a bear. So it wasn't even my family, the sound must have travelled from up river somewhere.

When we left the pool there was one less salmon in there, Bradley kept a beautiful 5 pound pink, in good condition and especially tasty to eat. That was our breakfast for the next morning.

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