Monthly Archives: October 2012

Winter is around here…somewhere

I had so hoped to get up to the Cabin last weekend, but birthdays and dog sitting duties got in the way.  Just as well.  The temperatures have taken a serious plunge into the single digits here in Anchorage and are almost certainly colder up in the mountains. 

Telephoto shot of one of the peaks across the valley from the Cabin – a month ago!

I don’t want to have to depend too much on an untested propane heater in those conditions.  Hopefully it will warm up a little in the next couple of weeks before we get too buried in snow for me to safely make the hike in.  I’ve been looking at snowshoes so that I can walk across the lake once it’s well frozen and has a little snow pack on it.

The extreme cold is somewhat unusual for this early in the season and may become a real problem here in the city.  The little snowfall we have gotten has mostly melted or evaporated (winter air is already deadly dry) so there isn’t any insulation to protect pipes from freezing.  Although I’m not crazy about driving on snowy roads after that first major snowfall, we really need it.

Besides, we manage the cold and endure the twenty hours of darkness by enjoying the beauty and fun of the snow.

 

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Iditarod Dreams

I recently came across a brand new blog by a teacher named Kurt who has dreams of coming to Alaska to take part in the Iditarod.  He doesn’t have his “donate” button up and running yet, but visit his blog at http://eagle4008.wordpress.com/  and be infected by his enthusiasm for learning about the Iditarod and using it in his classroom! 

In honor of Kurt’s dreams I thought I would tell about our trip to Nome several years ago and the great treat of seeing the last of the racers come in across the Bering Sea.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I have a friend, C., who is a musher.  Back then, she was a dreamer with a single husky and a lot of ideas, one of which was to volunteer during Iditarod to get a foot into the mushing world.  2005 was her second or third Iditarod volunteer experience and her first time working at the finish in Nome.  That same year, another friend’s husband was working in Nome for a big construction company and offered us a place to stay if we wanted to come to see the end of the race.  It was serendipitous.  We went.

Nome during Iditarod is an amazing and bustling little metropolis.  An official watcher is posted somewhere south of town and calls to signal the air raid siren to blow each time a musher is spotted on the final approach across the ice.  This gives spectators and officials time to gear up and get down to the finish line to welcome the teams in. 

Standing on the brakes as they approach the Burled Arch on Front Street

The apartment we were borrowing was one block from the sea, so each time the siren went off we jumped into our boots and trotted over to cheer and take pictures. 

When the siren sounded, we had about five minutes to get to this spot to see the mushers crossing the last bit of ice before heading up onto Front Street.

One of the local residents stepped out on their deck for each musher and rang a big cowbell to urge them on.  Understand that mushers don’t sit around waiting for daylight!  That siren and cowbell were apt to go at any hour of the day OR night!  It was a bit of a thrill to lie in bed and hear that another one was coming in, but I didn’t always opt to go out and try to see them in the dark.

Between mushers we wandered the town on foot.  The weather that year was fantastic, with sunshine and temps in the low 30’s(F) almost every day. 

Each dog got lots of love and personal attention from the musher, who had to be exhausted himself.

A well deserved rest!

D. checked in at race headquarters and decided to actually volunteer.  If you should be in Nome during Iditarod I recommend looking into the many volunteer opportunities.  They asked her to come in at 6am to help with some of the record keeping on the big boards that track the mushers.  By then most of them were either in Nome or had scratched, so there wasn’t much for her to do, but she really enjoyed being a part of the activity. 

The Bering Sea sometimes becomes an airstrip for the many small planes that are called into service during Iditarod

After her volunteer shift we took advantage of a special pancake breakfast ($10) where spectators like us got to sit alongside mushers and their handlers and families.  We got a chance to meet young Rachel Scdoris, the legally blind musher, who unfortunately had had to scratch due to sick dogs that year.  (She has completed the race twice since then!) 

The famous Burled Arch is actually stored in an alley the rest of the year

Each dog is carefully checked by officials while the musher waits under the Arch before they can go off to the dog yards for a rest.

As if we needed any icing on the cake, we then went to the mushers’ banquet that night. (I think the tickets were about $20.)  Predictably there were more than enough speeches and awards, but being a crowd of mushers and handlers and race volunteers, there wasn’t a great deal of formality!  We met DeeDee Jonrowe, a perennial favorite among the women mushers, and saw many more notables. 

The next summer, as an official Iditarod volunteer, D. was invited to the big picnic in Wasilla.

Our friend C. is going to Nome again next year…behind a team of dogs this time.  She officially qualified this spring (YAY!) and is taking time off work to train like crazy over the next four months.  I would love to go see her cross the finish line, but there is a serious lack of accommodations to be had in Nome so we’ll probably have to cheer her on from Anchorage.

C.’s team, with Spazzy who was apparently full of jumping beans!

I hope to be posting pictures or at least news of her crossing under the Burled Arch next spring!

 

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Somewhere, at the bottom of the lake…

My brother and I grew up in an era before backseat DVD players and handheld video games.  We also grew up with intelligent, creative parents who were always looking for ways to survive a long drive while boosting their children’s creativity.  As a result, road trips included the shoe box.  Inside the shoe box was a little pile of entertainment, carefully doled out so that it would last the entire 7-hour drive to the Cabin.  Mom usually included puzzle and coloring books, paper and crayons, and no more than one toy each.  Between the shoe box and the road trip games we played as a family, the drive was less hideous than you might think for an active little boy, a bratty adolescent sister and two patient parents.

One year the shoe box produced a little toy horse for me and a little brightly colored matchbox style truck for my brother.  Arriving at the lake, Dad lowered the boat from the top of the car and filled it with gear.  My brother was to ride with Dad while Mom and I hiked in on the trail. 

Can you see where this is going?

The wide gunwhales of the homemade boat were perfect for running a little truck up and down and making “vroom, vroom” noises in spite of repeated warnings by Dad.  Sure enough, a careless moment led to total disaster…the twinkling colors of the little truck were apparently visible for quite awhile as it sank to the bottom. 

(image courtesy of Wikimedia)

Children have to learn about loss, about not getting their way all the time, and about mistakes that can’t be undone.  My brother got all of those lessons in one fell swoop, luckily at the cost of only one small toy. 

We, of course, were entirely sympathetic as always!  (Children also have to learn about being teased and tortured by their loving family!)  No amount of crying convinced Dad that he should go swimming to try and find the truck.  No amount of sulking could get Mom to produce another equally desirable toy out of the shoe box.  One of us helpfully pointed out that the stickleback fishes would now have a toy to play with! 

Send more toys!

Somehow he wasn’t comforted by that notion at all.

Like the “Cream of Wheat Incident” this story is one that gets dragged out at every opportunity when we feel the need to further torture my now 40-something brother. 

Oh the joys of a family that never forgets!

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First, errrr, second snowfall

Saturday was our first real snow day.  A group of us went to lunch and one by one we each stared out the window and said some variation of “sure looks like it’s gonna snow…”  As if one of us saying it wasn’t enough to confirm what our eyes were seeing. 

The first of the flakes began drifting down as we headed home, but didn’t seem too serious. 

Time to say goodbye to the green backyard for awhile.

It’s a little more serious this time…

Another hour and it was clear that this was the real thing.  The puppy hadn’t seen snow before, but took it in his usual stride…what’s the big deal, it’s just white rain and hey, it’s tasty! 

Eating white rain…he hasn’t learned the fun of chasing snowballs yet

Surprisingly Mr. Chitters doesn’t mind the snow too much either.  He bounds across the yard, scaling  the fence to access the woods where the snow is less deep, and conducts his kitty business in the shadows just like any other day.  Then he comes inside and looks for a warm lap to dry his feet.

 As before, most of the snow is already gone (as of Tuesday), but it took longer this time and more is already coming down.

We will spend the next two weeks watching and worrying about snowfall for the trick-or-treaters on Halloween.  On one hand, a fresh blanket of snow greatly increases visibility for drivers dodging pint-sized pedestrians, but on the other hand it makes walking slick and makes costumes awkward at best.  Other winter areas may understand the dilemma…do we outfit our kids in costumes that fit and then hide them under the snowsuits?  Or do we put them into costumes two sizes too big in order to fit over their winter gear?  Or do we just get them a mask and a wand and call it good? 

Princess in a parka…, Scary Monster in a scarf… you get the idea. 

If I can get my act together and get those snow tires out of storage and on my car, I will be going up to the Cabin this coming weekend.  It’s been many years since I was there in winter and I’m really looking forward to it.

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A Day At The Top Of The World

Saturday in Deadhorse:

We had reservations on a tour through the camp so were up fairly early in order to take advantage of the showers at the Arctic Caribou Inn (our hotel/RV camp) before catching our bus.  Security is pretty strict there.  In order to get to the Arctic Ocean you have to go through the oil production areas, and that is by tour bus only.  In order to board the tour bus you have to sign in, present ID, watch the informational safety video and sit through a little lecture.  Heads are counted any time the group moves anywhere. 

The driver was friendly and the day was gorgeous.  The camp was not exciting to me, just a bunch of apparently random metal structures whose various purposes I’ve long since forgotten, but when we got to the Arctic Ocean, our driver let us get out and run down to dip our toes. 

The beach in Deadhorse. You can see more oil field production buildings in the distance

The family from Kentucky that we met in Coldfoot stripped to bathing suits and dunked all the way in!  They had totaled their car just outside of Deadhorse and a BP safety officer had had to rescue them the night before, but they were all in good spirits obviously!  Although the ambient temperature was in the high 60’s, the wind off the sea was chilly, so most of us opted for dipping rather than plunging.  (You can get a certificate for a Polar Bear Plunge or a Dip!) 

After our tour and our dip (another head count as we reboarded the bus), we returned to camp to pack up and start back down the road.  We hated to leave after such a short stay, but hey, it took us over two days to get here, so …

One of the girls decided to clear Winnie’s back window before we headed out. As dirty as it looks here, the mud of Atigun Pass later created a layer nearly an inch thick that hardened like cement. There were rocks embedded in it when we went to the car wash!

A brief stop at the Deadhorse general store (and souvenir shop!) and we were headed south…the only direction available!  The weather continued to hold until we approached the Brooks Range.  Fantastic clouds built up on the horizon and a drizzle made the approach to Atigun Pass muddy and slick. 

Weather on the horizon as we waited for the rest of the convoy to catch up

Winnie picked up a new rattle which we discovered was a dangling muffler.  At the top of the pass we decided we shouldn’t let it bounce all the way back to Anchorage, so I crawled under and wired it up with a piece of wire coat hanger, earning the fix-it queen title for the trip!  What made it exciting was not being able to turn Winnie off while I worked next to that hot muffler!  One of the ladies held it up in place with a big serving spoon while I fastened the wire.  Hey, whatever works…

(Our practice throughout the trip was to only shut Winnie off at night…she had to keep running even during our lunch stops for fear of not being able to get her going again!)

North side of Atigun Pass (I think)…again plenty of leisure time to shoot out the window as Winnie huffed and puffed her way to the top

The downhill run out of Atigun Pass was slick and spooky in the rain.  Winnie’s hips sashayed a bit, but she held the road.  The pop-up trailer was a little more sketchy, threatening at every turn to pull S.’s van off the road.  She was geared as low as she could go and crept down with as little braking as she could get away with and made it just fine.  At the bottom of the steepest part of the grade the road began drying out and we were in sunshine and blue skies again within a few miles.  (I can’t imagine driving that pass in an 18-wheeler…let alone on ice!!)

Fireweed as far as you can see. We had to stop again on the way south to get pictures of this incredible pink valley

We made it to Marian Creek Campground north of Coldfoot without further incident, pulling in at about midnight.  There we were finally able to celebrate in style.  Wine, champagne (for a Fourth of July toast) and beer flowed, along with a concoction known only as “coffee creamer.”  We got so silly that the only other group camped there came and politely asked us to party elsewhere!  Oops… We apologized and packed it in for the night.  In our defense, it was still broad daylight and we hadn’t really processed how late it was…not a good excuse I know. 

The TransAlaska Pipeline. It’s full of zigzags that I think are to help slow the flow oil and handle pipe expansion…don’t quote me on that!

Sunday we stopped at the Hot Spot Café between Coldfoot and the Yukon River camp.  There we ran into our neighbor and his girlfriend!  Alaska is the definition of “small world.”  After great hamburgers eaten outdoors in the sun, we continued on to Fairbanks, arriving at a decent hour for a change!  This time there were no adventures involved in finding the RV park.  We were a bit subdued after a rowdy night and a long trip. 

I had to stop on the way home and get a shot of Winnie with the Arctic Circle sign. My passenger never woke up…we were a tired bunch of ladies!

Monday morning was quiet.  Part of the group took off to visit Santa Land in North Pole while the rest of us bathed, chipped at the worst of the mud and dust in and on our rigs, and relaxed in the sun.  Our tourists returned and we pulled out of Fairbanks mid-day and made it back to Anchorage by about 10pm.  

As Winnie pulled into our cul-de-sac she started making a horrible clunking sound in the rear.  We stopped at the curb, jumping out in alarm…and then laughed.  After nearly 1600 miles, in the road construction in our own neighborhood she had picked up a huge rock between her dualies!  No matter…we were home.

Yet another shot of the pipeline…north of the Brooks Range I think

 Epilogue:  Like us, Winnie had a good time, but she was tired and dirty.  She refused to start a couple of days later when we got in her to go the carwash!  A neighbor helped us get her going and $30 worth of quarters later we had the last of the mud blasted off and drove her out to Palmer to get that new starter installed and the muffler more professionally fixed. 

For our first road trip, she did AWESOME! 

My dad repeatedly shakes his head in wonder at the trips we’ve made with this little rig that he had given up on!

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Days 2 & 3 – Deadhorse or Bust!

Surprisingly, we all woke up fairly early Thursday after our late night.  Of course, that did NOT mean we got on the road early!  Seven women, seven bladders and the availability of hot showers are not a good combination for maintaining any strict schedule.  (Not a complaint…just an observation.  I love the lack of a schedule on a vacation!) 

Eventually we did pull out, but just to cross the street to Fred Meyers to pick up a few things.  Another stop at an auto parts store to purchase a starter for Winnie and we were finally on the road a little after 1pm.  (Predictably there was no way to get Winnie’s starter fixed on a holiday weekend, so we just decided to have the parts on hand and keep our fingers crossed!) 

We passed the road to Livengood and the turn-off to Manley Hot Springs and began to feel like we were really on the Dalton Highway by mid afternoon.

The pipe itself is covered under that slanted metal sheet that is probably designed to shed snow

Crossing the Yukon River was a treat, the pipeline crossing alongside us just out of sight below the highway.  We pulled into the camp on the far side of river to gas up and make sandwiches for dinner.  There is a nice overlook and information center that was worth the walk.  At 80F the weather was almost miserably hot for driving so we welcomed every stop where we could get out of our rolling tin cans and away from the dust of the road!

Driving into the low angled midnight sun created a real visibility problem with the dust as we pushed on from the Yukon.  The billowing dust was like a thick fog, completely obscuring sight of the road…and the oncoming trucks!  We crept at a snails pace for many miles before the road turned enough to give us some relief.

The sight of this pink valley made us all gasp. The pictures don’t do it justice

One welcome break from the dust was a valley that we descended into that was solid magenta from fireweed.  A recent forest fire had blackened the spruce trees that you see poking up like spikes.  The fireweed blanketed all the nearby hills, identifying the spread of the fire that had preceded it.

It was close to midnight when we decided to call it quits for the day.  We had originally hoped to make it to Coldfoot, but the tense drive through the dust had left us all exhausted so we camped at the Arctic Circle pullout instead.  Once the pop-up was set up we pulled out camp chairs and enjoyed a beer in the glow of the midnight sun before going off to our respective beds.

 

No more sunsets until we come back through!

Friday morning was leisurely.  The pullout at the Arctic Circle attracted many visitors who shared stories of the road with us including a group of high-spirited young BLM volunteers.  We were to see them again several times along the road.  A middle aged couple on big touring motorcycles were on their way back from Deadhorse and reported that they had had heavy rain all the way up.  A family from Kentucky was woefully underprepared in their little rental sedan, but determined to go on to the end of the road.

We drove on into Coldfoot Camp where we lunched at a local café and toured the beautiful visitor’s center before heading on.  The road was well maintained and the views were incredible as we approached Atigun Pass. 

The long, low grade approach to Atigun Pass…see the pipeline in the distance? That Pipe is 8 feet in diameter by the way

Winnie’s climb to the top of that pass was epic.  The other two vehicles pulled aside so we could blow past as fast as we dared on the approach…we needed all the momentum we could get!  Less than halfway up she began bogging down and she crept up the last mile at 20 mph, but she made it! 

I wasn’t driving and at 20mph had plenty of leisure to snap pictures out the window as we climbed Atigun! Whew!

The weather continued to be beautiful and hot, so the shade and patches of snow at the top of the pass were a fun snowball fight break for us! 

The terrain on the north side of the Brooks Range is completely different from the south side.  We weren’t just above treeline in terms of altitude, we were above treeline latitudinally!  South of Atigun is thick with brush and the occasional tree.  North it’s all tundra.  As far as the eye can see and farther.

That’s Winnie up there at the head of the convoy today…the pipeline is marching along beside us

We counted down the Pump Stations as we approached Deadhorse.  At #2 we knew we had less than 100 miles to go and pushed on in spite of the late hour.  Winnie’s fuel light came on within sight of the camp, but she made it to the fuel station.  (We had five gallons of gas on the luggage rack, but the can was caked with dust and we hoped to not have to unstrap it!) 

Because of our concerns over gas, we didn’t stop with the other two vehicles who had spotted a herd of musk oxen far in the distance.  We did see a big bull caribou wandering through the camp as we were gassing up though!

This big guy came by our campsite for a visit! No, that’s not the Transalaska Pipeline behind him…just a utility pipe for the camp.

Our “RV park” was really the parking lot of the camp’s hotel.  The “hotel” was really a converted modular building that had been used as barracks in the early days of the pipeline building project. 

Yep, that’s our RV parking spot. The blue building in the background is the hotel. See why we didn’t want to have to access that gas can on the luggage rack? Ewww!

Whatever, we didn’t care.  We pulled into a slot under the electric lines and plugged in.  The camp is strictly dry – as in you face possible prosecution for bringing any alcohol in – so we had to celebrate our achievement very quietly. 

Welcome to Deadhorse, Alaska!

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Had to reblog this from “freshly pressed” today! Gonna make one next summer!

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Day 1 of a crazy trip

What a group of women we were on that trip to Prudhoe Bay.  The youngest of us was 39, the oldest 60-something.  We were comprised of two wives, four divorcee’s, one old maid (me!), four mothers, one grandmother, four nurses, two OR techs, and a health administrator.  We dubbed ourselves the Seven Sassy Sisters.

 As always, getting out of town was the biggest challenge.  We were taking advantage of the long July 4th weekend, adding that extra day to a couple of vacation days to allow for a total of 5-6 days on the road.  Two of the ladies had to work Wednesday, so they were packed and ready to go straight from work.  We agreed to meet up at a grocery store parking lot in Eagle River.  After everyone trooped in and out of the store for last minute items we finally hit the road.  A dinner stop at a Taco Bell in Wasilla ate up another hour! 

We stopped again at the Talkeetna cut off to use the truck-stop bathroom.  (Seven bladders…!)  There we had our first real hiccup.  Winnie wouldn’t start.  We knew tapping on the starter with a wrench sometimes worked (per Dad’s advice) so we dug out the tool bag, but then stood around wondering where the starter was and how to get to it!  Finally a pair of truckers came to our rescue and we were once again on the road, having had a lesson on where to tap!  By this time it was nearly 10pm, but the sun was still well above the horizon and we really wanted to make Fairbanks before stopping for the night so we pushed on. 

The TransAlaska Pipeline just north of Fairbanks.

Somehow Winnie ended up ahead of the pack without us knowing it.  (Did I mention seven bladders?)  We called S. to tell her that we were approaching Fairbanks and asked her to guide us in to the RV park.  S. thought she was in the lead – didn’t realize we had blown past her on one of her potty stops – so told us the exit was coming up soon when we had actually already passed it!   We were soon out of walkie talkie range and had to resort to cell phones.  We agreed to meet at the Fred Meyer grocery store.  D. accosted a young man for directions and talked him into leading us there.  (He looked a bit like a drug dealer but we weren’t picky by that time…it was nearly 2am!)  No one was there.  Luckily our new friend was willing to lead us across town to the OTHER Fred Meyer store (who knew there were two?) where we finally re-connected with our group and headed across the highway to River’s Edge RV Park. 

I’m sure we were a hit with the rest of the RV’ers as we cruised up and down the aisles looking for three slots together at nearly 3am.  Then there was the setting up of the pop-up and making sleeping arrangements for all.  As we unhitched the trailer, someone spotted a leather bag on the bumper…it was the tool bag we had used in Talkeetna!  It has now been officially named the Magnetic Tool Bag in honor of its journey from Talkeetna to Fairbanks balanced on the rear bumper of the pop-up trailer!

It was with some trepidation that we shut Winnie’s engine off.  We made a plan to try and get the starter fixed the next day and went to bed as the sun came up.  Tomorrow would go smoother with less highway traffic and no more cities to navigate!

 (sorry no pictures of this first day…I was a nervous wreck about Winnie not starting and my camera sat neglected through all the best scenery!)

 

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Prelude to a road trip…

I’ve been promising some road trip stories for awhile now and the onset of winter seems a good time to sit around the fire and tell tall tales, so pull up your chair, wrap your chilled fingers around that mug of coffee (is that Irish crème I smell in your mug?) and enjoy…

In the early 80’s my parents invested in a little Winnebago motorhome.  Let me further define “little.”  This is not a Minnie Winnie such as you see on the road or in RV lots all the time.  It’s much smaller.  In fact it’s actually a Micro 319RK according to my insurance guy.  Driving it is not far different from driving a small pickup…like Chevy Luv small…like sitting directly on the pavement with a small house bouncing along behind you…small.

Isn’t she cute? She fits in most regular parking spots at the grocery store!

 My folks drove it down the Alcan twice on extended shopping trips as they looked for a winter home.  By the end of the second trip the starter began acting up and after a few more years of travels around the state, Dad gave up and parked it.   

I soon started hinting that I wanted first option when he was ready to sell it.  Finally, after it sat for nearly 4 years, he said, “come get it if you still want it, otherwise I’m towing it to the dump.” 

So for my 45th birthday I got a motorhome! 

Winnie can go places some of the big rigs can’t easily go – This cleft in the rock is the only road to get to McCarthy

My roommate, D., and I drove to Nikiski to collect it.  Mom and Dad helped with some new tires and a new cabin battery as part of my birthday present and we drove it back to Anchorage with no problems.  After an oil change, D’s brother looked it over and did some small, mostly cosmetic, repairs but otherwise pronounced it sound.  As an “RV warming” gift he and his wife bought us a hitch rack for additional luggage space.

We were ready for our first motorhome road trip!

Winnie at the Arctic Circle

 Take a look at a good map of Alaska.  See that wiggly line that goes from the northernmost coastline all the way to the bottom of the state?  That is the TransAlaska Pipeline that carries oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez.  Following that pipe for most of its 800+ miles is a road known as the Haul Road or the Dalton Highway.  It has been featured on Ice Road Truckers in the last couple of years.  That was the road we decided to try on our first real outing!

(warning:  boys and girls…don’t try this at home!)

Map borrowed from Wikipedia…our route picked up the pipeline at Fairbanks and followed it all the way to Prudhoe Bay

(PS stands for Pump Station, Fairbanks close to PS8)

There were seven women altogether in three vehicles.  S. (my cabin neighbor) with two other ladies in her van and towing her popup camper, three of us in Winnie, and C. in her elderly Grand Cherokee.  We spent 5 days on the road together and there are WAY too many stories to tell in one post, never mind the thousands of photos I could share! 

Stay tuned…800 miles of mostly dirt road to come!

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Just a quick note to say…SNOW !!  The “S” word.  Termination Dust.  We woke up to a winter wonderland on Saturday morning.

September 29 snowfall picture borrowed from KTUU’s website

It’s a little early and it didn’t last long … I didn’t even get a shot of it in my own back yard before it melted … but it was a shock all the same.  Many yards still have small white patches in the shady corners.  My friend who has a cabin near mine said we didn’t get any snow at all up there, but it won’t be long!

I’ll post more of my own pictures later in the week.  Don’t worry, there’ll be plenty more snow!

 

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