Daylight at this time of year in south central Alaska lasts from 5:30am to 10:30pm and we took full advantage of it on a day which featured crystal clear blue skies and perfect hiking temperatures. We returned to the Copper River Delta following the gravel “highway” to its end. Most of the wildlife in the delta is avian and our favorite encounter was with this pair of Trumpeter Swans which helped us appreciate why they are so named.
Changes in the Copper River water flow last August compromised the integrity of the footings of the bridge at mile 36 and the highway has been closed indefinitely blocking access to the remaining 12 miles of highway and access to the famous Million Dollar bridge and Child’s Glacier. Surrounded by mountain ranges on three sides the panoramic views at this very remote location are nothing shy of spectacular.
We returned to Cordova for lunch before starting a climb of Mount Eyak, a popular local ski area. Snow obscuring the path at higher elevations prevented us from reaching the top but the views of Prince William Sound from the vantage point we reached were breathtaking and well worth the steep ascent.
Cordova has three main roads which leave the town all of which dead end (access to the town is only by sea or air). Having thoroughly explored the Copper River Highway we decided to investigate the other two roads and got a treat when we arrived at Hartney Bay.
Here we could see hundreds of salmon acclimating to the fresh water in preparation for their spawning runs upstream. Seals would work in concert to coral the salmon for an easy meal while bears patiently awaited their arrival further inland.
Our destination today is the small (population 2,500) fishing village of Cordova located at the head of Orca Inlet on the east side of Prince William Sound. It is accessible only by air or water as there are no roads which connect it to the rest of Alaska. We will travel there by high speed ferry leaving from the deep port city of Whittier which we reach through the Whittier Tunnel, the longest (2.5 miles) combined car and rail tunnel in North America. The one way tunnel operates according to a schedule with four phases (east bound auto, west bound auto, east bound train, and west bound train). During the morning we visited the Portage Glacier once visible from the nearby Begich/Boggs Visitor Center where we learned about glaciers and the native wildlife of our 49th state.
The weather at this time of year is often overcast and rainy which made our 3 hour ferry transit less of the photo opportunity I had hoped for. I did, however, spot several sea otters happily floating on their backs.
Off the beaten path Cordova is dominated by the marina and the town is authentically Alaskan, absent the scores of tourist gift shops which dominate cruise boat destinations. People here work the sea. For two nights we will stay at the Lighthouse Inn (can you find it in the photo).
Jeanine spotted our first Bald Eagle as we made a late afternoon excursion into the Copper River Delta, an incredible wetland formed by six glacial river systems stretching across a 60-mile arc. The Delta is characterized by a myriad of shallow ponds, intertidal sloughs, braided glacial streams, sedge marshes, willow thickets, and stands of spruce and cottonwood. While in Alaska we hiked almost every day and this afternoon we kicked things off with a relatively easy climb of the Haystack Trail.
Since before we were married, Jeanine and I have shared a desire to visit Alaska. Today our journey and Alaskan safari commenced. Fourteen hours of elapsed travel time were rewarded with a spectacular first view of our destination as our flight approached Anchorage. The captain reported a cloud ceiling of 7000 feet. These peaks of the Chugach mountain range stood above the cotton like blanket hinting of the grandeur that lie below. After picking up our rental car (wisely upgraded to an all wheel drive Subaru Outback) we enjoyed a frozen yogurt treat before starting our drive along the Cook Inlet and down the Turnagain Arm. It took less than 15 minutes before Jeanine demonstrated her keen wildlife spotting abilities noticing this family of Dall Sheep high on the sheer rock cliffs which flank the road. Another 15 minutes of driving brought us to Girdwood and the Carriage House bed and breakfast where we spent our first evening in timber frame rustic comfort. Click on any image to see a larger version, click again to see even more.
As if to prepare us for our vacation to Alaska, the skies opened up today and it rained in waves of extreme downpours. Jeanine and I leave for Anchorage tomorrow where we will spend the next 11 days. Maya is at camp and Nicolai left for a week in Nicaragua early this morning leaving Kyle and his cousin Johnie to hold down the fort while we are away. At this time of year it typically rains every other day in the 49th state but that will not dampen our spirits as we embark on an adventure we have talked about since we first met. I will probably not be able to update the blog until we return. If we have access to Wi-Fi I may try and make text only entries adding photos when I get back.
I have often observed that Nala has the personality of a cat. Occasionally, however, she does demonstrate her canine roots. When I arrived at home today she was doing her best wolf imitation in response to the presence of a small mammal within her domain (the extent of her electric containment fence).
Despite a general call for water conservation this fire hydrant which I pass on my commute twice each day has been open and flowing freely for the last three. This evening I called the Bedford Police Department to make sure they were aware of the situation. I was informed that this was part of a scheduled hydrant flushing program. After three days it would seem to me that they could have flushed a water line that started in California. Very incongruous to drive past a sign calling for water conservation and then past this scene. Perhaps tomorrow I will move the water conservation sign in front of the hydrant to see if others share my dismay.
It would be safe to say that the birds have enjoyed more of our blackberries than our family this year. I must make a point of visiting the back yard more frequently to harvest these tasty little treats. Jeanine planted these bushes several years ago and they have been quite productive, evidenced by the number of happy birds in our neighborhood. My initial post incorrectly identified these as raspberries. Jeanine pointed out the error immediately.
Our boys have followed in the footsteps of their mother who enjoys socializing with friends while sharing food. This summer our kitchen has hosted dozens of meals prepared by one son or the other for their friends. We enjoy having them over and I am thrilled that our boys have turned into admirable cooks who share this gift with Jeanine.
Having been on vacation for a week, my first day back in the office was a busy one. Before I could blink twice the day was over and I was on my way home. Absent a picture for the day, I decided to explore the garden to see what I could find. This tiny moth was a cooperative subject as I moved in very close for this shot. I am already missing Maya who was dropped off at her summer camp in Vermont this weekend by her Aunt Susan. This is her third year at the Farm and Wilderness Camp which she has come to love.
The fastest human footspeed on record is 27.79 mph, seen during a 100 metres sprint (average speed between the 60th and the 80th meter) by Usain Bolt. During last week’s Schwan’s Soccer Tournament, Nicolai entered the speed tunnel to measure his sprint speed. He insists that his 24 mph speed reading was not properly calibrated and while he may be right, he was only 1 mph slower than the fastest able bodied runners using the same measuring system. He may not be able to sustain his speed over great distances but he can certainly close a short gap as fast as most of his peers.
This photograph cost me $42 and was worth every penny. It was taken yesterday in downtown Minneapolis and is one of my favorites from the entire vacation. Nico had the idea to do the handstand on the fish shaped bike rack. I decided on the low angle, flash lit composition with the open sky and power plant towers in the background. The fee was the result of a parking ticket which I earned while preoccupied with photography.
Our last day in Minneapolis was spent touring the campuses of Macalester College and the University of Minnesota. The former is likely too small and the later most definitely too large for Nico. Maya tagged along and seemed very interested in the whole process. Carleton appears to be a serious possibility in Nico’s mind so our college visits and interviews were not without a positive outcome. With a few hours to kill before our flight we enjoyed a superb lunch at a cheese shop just off campus (Jeanine would have loved this place and despite initial resistance from the kids both admitted that I had made a good dining choice – not something I have a great aptitude for). Later we visited the Stone Arch Bridge which offers great views of the city and I took time for photography while Nico and Maya hiked one of the river trails. Positioned between the 3rd Avenue Bridge and the I-35W Saint Anthony Falls Bridge, the Stone Arch Bridge was built in 1883 by railroad tycoon James J. Hill for his Great Northern Railway, and accessed the former passenger station located about a mile to the west, on the west bank of the river. The structure is now used as a pedestrian and bicycle bridge.
Nicolai bid his fellow teammates farewell after wrapping up their final clinic by mid afternoon. We spent the remainder of the day with the Calabrias. I helped Mark reconfigure his home theater wiring and installed a new AV Receiver. The new system was up and running in time to catch local news coverage of the amputee soccer clinics and the US National Team which is embedded below.
Minnesota AASA Clinic from Carl Calabria on Vimeo.
A second day of demonstrations and a clinic was covered by the local media today. The team gave several interviews and Nico was one of the featured players. Free clinics are offered to amputees who would like to learn how to play soccer. They are open to able bodied participants who would like to appreciate the challenges of competing on crutches. Kicking and dribbling skills are covered and participants also have an opportunity to play against members of the US National team. The event was a great success and hopefully the media coverage will lead to additional financial contributions to the AASA (American Amputee Soccer Association). Mark, Marie, Sophia, Rose and Rory arrived late in the afternoon to observe the tail end of the clinic, join us for dinner, and attend the NASL Minnesota Stars soccer match at the NSC Stadium. During halftime the US National Amputee Soccer team had an exhibition match against a local able bodied team (they were only allowed to play the ball with one leg). Nicolai was the first to score with a shot that careened through the legs of the keeper. The opponents responded with a nice goal of their own. With seconds remaining in the 12 minute match, Nico recognized that the goalie was far off his line and launched a full field shot that went over his head and secured the 2-1 win for team USA. Maya who was with us for the entire day was extremely helpful as the team videographer and the footage she captured will no doubt be used in the videos we are producing for the team.
My nephew Rory is a rising tennis star in Minnesota. With his long and powerful body he is an intimidating presence on the court. He plays with a great deal of intensity and hustle which only adds to the threat. Maya, Nico and I attended the last portion of a three hour training session and got to see him play in person for the first time. The mid ninety temperatures did not seem to diminish the level of play. Click on the photos for a higher resolution image.
In addition to visiting with family and working in a couple of college visits, Nico is here to represent the USA National Amputee Soccer team at the Schwan’s USA Cup. Billed as the greatest international youth soccer tournament in the Western Hemisphere, the week long event attracts more than 900 teams and 14,000 athletes from 22 countries to the National Sports Center, certified by the Guinness Book of Records as the largest soccer complex on earth. The team conducted demonstrations throughout the afternoon playing against able bodied players many of whom attempted to play using forearm crutches. There is no better way to introduce and build support for the sport of amputee soccer than inclusive events such as this. The evening featured an Olympic style opening ceremony with athletes entering the stadium by team and being treated to a fireworks display and live concert. The USA National Amputee Soccer team (only half the team was able to afford the travel and time off to attend) and coach were the last to enter before the Minnesota Stars (the state’s North American Soccer League team). They received a standing ovation from the estimated crowd of 30,000.
While in Minnesota, Nicolai is scheduled to make two college tours. Today we made the one hour drive to Northfield where Carleton College is located. After the info session and tour, Nico had his first college interview which he felt went extremely well. Carleton is a small undergraduate only school of 2000 students with a 9:1 ratio to teachers located on a 1000 acre campus surrounded by farmland. I would describe the defining characteristics as diversity, true liberal arts orientation, and intimacy (despite the size of the campus compared to the student body). The focus is centered on languages, the media arts, chemistry, and mathematics. We returned to the Calabria clan by 6pm and enjoyed a diner out where I captured my nieces being themselves.