Archive for the ‘travel’ Tag

Northern Adventures   12 comments

January 15, 2018 – Share a recent travel experience or anecdote.

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I heard recently that about 40% of Americans have never traveled outside of the United States and about 11% have never left the state they were born in. Wow! When you live in Alaska, which has no land connection to the contiguous 48-states, travel is sort of required to live.

The OP for this blog hop, however, says a recent travel experience. I flew down to Seattle a couple of months ago, but Seattle is just a gateway city for Alaska where my mother’s family happens to live. Kind of boring – Pike’s Market is only super exciting if you live in the vegetable-deprived northland, although I really do want to explore the Puget Sound area more thoroughly when I have time and a car and no relatives suggesting sights within Seattle’s urban environs. The west side of Puget Sound looks cool to me … a mystery that must be explored.

Alaska, however — most everybody thinks that’s sexy. So, digging back into our summer travels -we drove the Dalton Highway this summer.

I do say that living in Alaska is the adventure of a lifetime. Even our Sunday drives can be exciting. We realized that our son had never driven the Dalton, so we decided it was time. Brad has driven it many times as an electrician on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, but I hadn’t been above Yukon River Bridge for several years. Not a lot has changed since the days when we called it “the haul road” (because the Legislature took decades to name it), but memories fade and I was excited to renew an old acquaintance.

We got up early on Friday morning of the four-day weekend we had planned. It’s 400 miles one direction and this is not a road to be driven quickly, so we were prepared for it to take all four days. At 6:30 in the morning, the June air was crisp and clean and the sun was already up over the roofs to the east, having barely dipped below the horizon from midnight to 2 am the night before. It was sunny and the Jeep was packed. Really, all we had to do was put our toiletries kit and cooler in the car, let the dog and 18-year-old into the back seat and stop for breakfast. I always make a thermos and pack at least one meal before we go because there are not a lot of services outside of Fairbanks, but by tradition, we stop for mochas and something to eat on the way out of town. It’s like a final hurrah to civilization, even if we’re just taking the paved Parks Highway to Anchorage. We had filled up with gas the night before and Brad had checked all the tires, including the spare, and the fluids. We rubbed each other down with sunscreen in anticipation of the day and we made sure we had plenty of water and food. In case you’re wondering, our dog eats dry kibbles off the ground on road trips. As a final step, even though it was June, I checked 511 for the road conditions. You just never know with Alaska roads. A previously planned trip the year before had been canceled when the Dalton washed out at spring breakup.

The first 84 miles of the trip is technically not on the Dalton, which doesn’t start until you get to the mining community of Livengood. It’s a lovely drive on paved highway through alpine regions and we stopped in Livengood for an early lunch/late breakfast from the cooler at which point Brad decided he wanted a nap, so I became the driver with Keirnan shot-gun and the yellow Lab sitting on the floor in the backseat with her chin on Brad’s stomach.

Image result for image of yukon river bridgeThe highway parallels the pipeline for the most part. It’s one of the most isolated roads in the United States. There are only three towns along the corridor and fuel stops are few. The road is mostly gravel. Still, despite its remoteness, the Dalton carries a fair amount of truck traffic, about 160 trucks a day in summer and twice that in winter. Trucks have the right of way and I’m not about to argue with them about it. I signaled every truck that pulled up behind me to let them pass and pulled over whenever I could to make their lives easier.

I have seen the TAPS plenty of times and so has Keirnan, so we didn’t stop until we reached Yukon River Bridge. We went into the visitors center so Keirnan, who is a budding engineer could view the pipeline’s attachment to the bridge and I could use the port-a-pots. Goldeneyes took a dip in the river and Brad woke up. It was too early in the season to pick blueberries, but they were in full pink flower, scenting the air with their candy-like fragrance. We walked down the trail to the viewing deck to take some photos. Then we lost our minds at that point and decided to splurge on lunch at the Hot Spot Cafe. Great burgers, fresh salads, and homemade desserts. By this time, it was midday and we decided to let Keirnan drive since he has a learners permit and needs the practice.

Image result for image of finger mountain wayside alaskaIt’s boreal forest on both sides of the highway, some of which was devastated by forest fires in 2005 and 2006. There’s a lot of new-growth brush with charcoal trees standing above, like wicks in a tub candle. We saw a lot of scraggly black spruce, several moose, a fox, a lot of snowshoe hares, and a family of black bears. After a truck scared the daylights out of Keirnan, we pulled over at Finger Mountain Wayside and hiked the trail to the summit. We dawdled taking photographs and then we stopped and hiked to a small lake to fish for our 5-fish limit of arctic grayling. We stopped for the night (though it was pretty early) at the Arctic Circle. This is an undeveloped campground with a nearby viewing deck and picnic area. There’s no water, but there was an outhouse and trash containers.  We cooked the foil-wrapped grayling over a campfire with pan-fried potatoes on the side. Because this is bear country, we pitched our tent a good distance from where we ate and locked up all food in the car.

Related imageWe didn’t rush to get up in the morning. The sun never really went down, which isn’t a problem if you’re used to it. So we lazed about in the tent until the sun began to warm the air. Then we had eggs scrambled with cheese and thick slices of homemade bread slathered with butter and reloaded the Jeep for our second day of travel. We ate grapes during our morning drive.

We stopped at Gobblers Knob because Brad confessed he never had. I’d swear we stopped there once a long time ago, but he is apparently a victim of memory wipe. He had also never stopped (or more accurately, never gotten out of the truck) at the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center. It is such a quintessential tourist stop I just had to do it and we did learn about a fishing stream he hadn’t known about before.

Coldfoot was established as Slate Creek in 1898 by miners. In 1902 it was a toddling little town with two roadhouses, two stores, seven saloons, a gambling house and a post office. By 1912, it was a ghost town. The town revived for a short while during the 1970s during the TAPS construction and then faded. But in 1981, Iditarod musher, Dick Mackey set up a hamburger stand for truck drivers and now it’s an important stop along the highway, but since we’d blown our first day’s food budget at the Hot Spot, we just topped off with very expensive gas and ate sandwiches from the cooler instead. It’s on our return itinerary.

Image result for image of black jeep cherokee along dalton highwayWe stopped for photos and some short hikes along the way, finally pulling into Wiseman, which has about 20 people living in it these days. Most of Coldfoot’s buildings were sledged to Wiseman after the town died, so it’s still a lot of fun to poke around there. I do have some friends who live up in the mountains west of Wiseman, but the Jeep, which a great wilderness vehicle, is not a truly off-road one, so we decided not to attempt a visit. It would have taken us all the rest of the day to travel that far anyway.

We stopped at Sukakpak Mountain. Brad and I climbed it years ago and wanted to give Keirnan, an accomplished rock-climber a shot at it. I made dinner while they climbed and then Goldeneyes and I did a little bouldering while the fish simmered over a low fire. The mountain is an incredible limestone deposition of absolutely gorgeous marble.

Image result for galbraith lakeWe didn’t camp at Sukakpak because the mosquitos were a little heavy – marshy land surrounds the mountain — but also because it was still way too early to stop for the night. We continued northward to Atigun Pass, which is the Continental Divide of Northern Alaska, a narrow wind slot through the awe-inspiring Brooks Range.  Just south of there we passed the last tree on the Dalton Highway. That’s sort of a misnomer. North of there, the tundra doesn’t support tall trees, so trees you and I might know – birch and willow for example, only grow to knee height or so. The mountains to either side of the road are austere, beautiful in a lonely kind of way. Not far past Atigun, just at the start of the Arctic North Slope, is Galbraith Lake where another undeveloped campground with spectacular views of the Brooks Range awaited. We slept there. It was lovely ….

Sometimes during the night, the dog asked to come into the tent because she was afraid of dying of hypothermia. Keirnan had to towel ice off her fur before we could all go back to sleep. It was cold and rainy when we woke up the next morning. Not taking off our shorts and tank tops, we layered on our polar fleece and rain gear. We spent a good bit of the morning hiking around and didn’t leave until mid-morning.

The North Slope is a broad, mostly flat, treeless plain that tilts north from the Brooks to the Arctic Ocean. It’s a subtle place – a land of browns and tans and shifting shadows. Fog glittered around us when we woke up and then the sun peeked through the clouds, sending rainbows dancing.

Image result for galbraith lakeWe arrived at Franklin Bluffs by the Sagavanirktok River (we just call it the Sag). The east bank of the Sag is this rich yellow-tan-orange hue from heavy iron deposits. While I was utilizing nature for a natural activity, I spotted the young lady to my right. It’s not safe to interact with Arctic fox because rabies is endemic, but she was willing to pose for a photo.

Brad has been this way many times, so has more photos from more trips. Here are some of the sights he has seen along the Sag. Those are caribou, not reindeer and they were just a few feet off the highway when he snapped the photo.

Image result for sagavanirktok

But Keirnan got this picture while hiking away from our camp.

Related image

Yes, that’s a muskox. He was farther away than it seems. Keirnan has a telephoto. And we was also part of a herd of about five. No doubt there were more that Keirnan didn’t see.

By design we made Deadhorse in the early afternoon. You can go further north if you pay for a tour that will allow you to see the Arctic Ocean and we did – but I might want to use that tour of the oil fields some other time. The public road ends here. We had lunch at Brower’s Restaurant (the sweet tea was really good and we took soft serve ice cream with us).

And then we turned south and drove all the way to Coldfoot where we had two rooms rented for the night. The rooms are very pipeline man camp-ish and the only reason Brad wanted to stay there is that he can’t stand baby wipe baths for more than two nights. Keirnan and I have dry, curly hair, so it doesn’t bother us, but Brad likes to shower. The breakfast was GREAT and it was so lovely to wake up on the sunny side of the Brooks Range.

Related imageIt was now Monday morning and I needed to be back to work the next day, so we drove pretty steadily back south, taking turns behind the wheel, but stopping for photos from time to time and to get the dog wet. She is happiest when her fur is damp. We stopped at that fishing stream near the Interagency Visitors Center. It was a bust for fishing, but a pleasant place to picnic.

Technically, it’s not on the Dalton, but on the Elliott, but we stopped at Hilltop Restaurant and Truck Stop for dinner. Their pies are to die for – unfortunately, Brad and I are reaching the age where we do need to watch our calories. The sun was still above the trees to the west when we turned back onto the New Steese Highway for the last 10 miles to home.

“So what do you think, Keirnan?” I asked, as I was driving and he was my copilot (Brad having climbed into the back with the dog cuddled to his chest this time).

“The state just got bigger, Mom. I’m sort of use to the idea of it taking seven hours to drive to Anchorage and six hours to drive to Chitina (where we go salmon fishing), but now — wow.”

You can live in that state your whole life and never see all of it, which I guess is as good excuse as any for living here your whole life. I love to travel out and away, but there is something about the road untraveled in Alaska … I can just imagine what it must have been like for the early pioneers seeing it for the first time and smelling the blueberries in bloom and thinking “This is heaven.”

Heaven with the capacity to bite you on the bum anyway.

Posted January 15, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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She’s Got a Ticket to Ride   9 comments

If someone gave me a free ticket to anywhere in the world, where would I go?

Wow, that’a a huge question, because there are a lot of places I would like to go if money weren’t an impediment. So maybe I don’t even know. Go check out my fellow authors … see where they would go … and then come back and see if I’ve made a decision.

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Australia won the dice toss. Why? Because it’s about as far from where I am as you can get and it’s a free ticket, so get the most bang for the giver’s buck.

I have a friend who lives in Australia, so I would be able to visit real people, which is preferable to the tourist travel the other places might involve.

Posted October 10, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Interview with Sarah Butfield   5 comments

Today’s interview is with Sarah Jane Butfield, author of a lot of books. Welcome to the blog. Tell us something about yourself. 

Butfield Sarah SoloThanks for the invitation Lela, I am originally from rural Suffolk in East Anglia, UK. I was born in Ipswich, but we lived in small village called Stonham Aspal where I also attended primary school. We later moved back to Ipswich when I was in college studying my pre-nursing course. My nursing years were spent in Colchester, Essex and Liskeard in Cornwall. Later we lived in Australia and then France. I am a bit of a gypsy! After 28 years as a registered nurse working in all sorts of healthcare establishments I am now a full time author and freelance writer which makes me very happy and pays the bills. I am also a mentor to new and aspiring authors via my website and social media groups called Rukia Publishing, providing a range of free service to help author navigate the early days of book promotion. I am married, third time lucky with 4 children and 3 step children, all grown up and spreading their wings into the big wide world, but always finding time to skype or visit mum! I am also now a first time grandma which is so fulfilling. Baby Shane is eight months old and he lights up my world with his baby smiles and chuckles.

 

Butfield SarahAt what point did you know you wanted to be a writer?

At school I was absolutely rubbish at English, but I needed it for entry to the school of nursing so I had to persevere with it. In college I studied English literature and that really started my love of books.

 

Tell us about your writing process.

I like to write the first draft without editing, but I am really bad at sticking to my own rules because I am always afraid I will miss or forget that sudden editing thought by the second time around! I have my beta readers start reading from the first draft so that I can get chronology and facts correct as they are the best at spotting where I get carried away in my head and change timelines!

 

Bufield Glass Half FullWhat is your favourite genre … to read … to write?

My favourite to read at the moment is crime novels which is not usual for me but I received one as a gift and became hooked on the series. In my writing life I write memoirs and nonfiction but I love to read this genre too so it’s like a busman’s holiday!

 

What are you passionate about?

Healthy eating and enjoying food.

 

What is something you cannot live without?

My family and my dogs are the backbone to my life and I can’t imagine being without them in my life.

If I had to name an object/thing that I couldn’t live without it would be coffee!

 

Butfield Two DogsOh, coffee! So necessary for life! When you are not writing, what do you do?

I am terrible at leaving my writing alone, but as a new grandma to a beautiful grandson who is now 8 months old I spend as much time as possible with him because he changes so quickly and recently started crawling. Happy daysJ

 

Have you written any books that made a transformative effect on you? If so, in what way?

I think writing my first book Glass Half Full had a transformative effect because I never planned to be a nonfiction author but I had to download the story in my heart and the ripple effect on my life since I published it has been amazing.

 

Butfield FrugalIf someone who hasn’t read any of your books asked you to describe your writing, what would you say?

I write a combination of travel and nursing memoirs all based on my life and experiences. They are honest and revealing which opens me and my work up to criticism of my life choices, parenting methods and career choices, but it’s been my life and there was no road map issued so I found my own way as we all do.

The new author series I am currently publishing is aimed at aspiring and debut authors and it hopefully acts as a self help guide in which authors can find out what I tried, what worked, what didn’t and learn some of the tips I have picked up from networking with experienced self-published authors along the way.

 

Butfield Accidental AuthorDo you have a special place where you write?

I do now!  We recently made one of the bedrooms into an office. It overlooks our garden as I don’t like to see and hear traffic so this is ideal. It also keeps my notebooks, maps and research books in a more orderly fashion because until recently they took over the dining room and lounge!

 

Do you find yourself returning to any recurring themes within your writing and, if so, are you any closer to finding an answer?

It is a very cathartic exercise to write about your own life as you constantly revisit decisions, and pockets of memories from the past which you thought were well and truly buried. On a positive note that helps you to finally work through why you did what you did and what you learned from it!

 

Butfield Dogs

I’m going to drop you in a remote Alaska cabin for a month. It’s summer so you don’t have worry about freezing to death. I’ll supply the food and the mosquito spray. What do you do while you’re there and what do you bring with you? If you’re bringing books, what are they?

Wow, thanks I love to travel and visit new places so I will have a travel journal ready to record everything I see and experience, my camera and for a month I would need several good books on my kindle plus a couple of paperbacks because I love holding a book. The paperback books would include something from Bill Bryson, Cathy Glass and James Patterson and my kindle is my indie only zone, so packed with awesome indie titles from all genres!

 

Talk about your books individually.

Butfield AmateurGlass Half Full: Our Australian Adventure

Tells the story of a big life changing decision to move to Australia to escape a bitter ex-husband to try and build a new life. However, life events and Mother Nature decided to test us a little bit more with grief, illness in the form of TB, CRPS and PTSD topped off by losing our home and belongings in the Brisbane floods of 2011.

Two Dogs and A Suitcase: Clueless in Charente

In this book readers pick up the story as we arrive in France for another new start nearer to our grown up children. The highs and lows of living and trying to find work in a country where you don’t speak the language while dealing with the continuous stream of family dramas.

Our Frugal Summer in Charente: an Expats Kitchen Garden Journal

This is a light hearted spin-off from two dogs and deals directly with the actions we took to survive with little money in a house with no bathroom or kitchen. We converted piece of meadow into a vegetable garden and learned how to grow, eat, preserve and forage for survival. It’s a fun read where a clumsy expat woman (that’s me) who can burn water had to become a culinary goddess to keep her family fed. There were a few mishaps along the way, especially with the foraging of wild mushrooms, but it’s got recipes, gardening tips and funny stories about hens ducks and cooking disasters.

The Accidental Author and The Amateur Authorpreneur are books 1 & 2 in a new series aimed at aspiring or debut authors, but becoming increasingly popular with experienced authors experiencing the need to spread their wings and increase exposure in the world of social media.

 

Was it your intention to write a story with a message or a moral?

No, but I am glad that readers find my books inspirational and motivates them to follow their travel or writing dreams.

 

What do you want readers to think or feel after reading one of your books?

I don’t have any preconceived ideas of what readers might think or feel after reading the travel memoirs in particular. They document my personal and physical journey through periods in my life when a series of challenging life events tested us on many levels. Some will empathise with our journey, relate to some of the parenting issues we encounter. Some may just love to read about places they have never been or aspire to visit so everyone potentially thinks or feels something different from the process of reading our stories.

 

What influenced your decision to self-publish?

A single rejection and an inspirational indie author network on Authonomy and Facebook who gave me the confidence to tell my story. I haven’t looked back since. I love the autonomy of deciding my content the revision, covers etc.

 

Thank you so much for a great interview Lela and if you ever want to drop me in Alaska then I will get my books packed J

Sarah Jane

 

That cabin is supposed to be built this summer. In the meantime, people are always welcome to crash at our house.

So where to readers find you?

 

 Subscribe to my newsletter for updates, competitions and sneak previews – http://eepurl.com/0IuML

Sarah Jane’s blog and website:

http://sarahjanebutfield.wix.com/sarahjanebutfield
http://sarahjanebutfield-glass-half-full.blogspot.co.uk/
Follow Sarah Jane on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/SarahJanewrites
Stop by and say hello to Sarah Jane here on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorSarahJaneButfield
https://www.facebook.com/Twodogsandasuitcase
https://www.facebook.com/OurFrugalSummerinCharente
Support and networking for authors provided by Sarah Jane:
http://www.rukiapublishing.com/
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Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sarahjane.butfield.9

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Book trailer https://youtu.be/CHyqRtvpv_E

Author Website: http://sarahjanebutfield.wix.com/sarahjanebutfield

Author writing blog: http://sarahjanebutfield-glass-half-full.blogspot.co.uk/

Vacationing on the Extreme   4 comments

Do you like to read? Wouldn’t you like to know more about your favorite authors? Well you came to the right place! Join the MMB Open Book Blog Hop each Wednesday and they will tell all. Every week we’ll answer questions and after you’ve enjoyed the blog on this site we’ll direct you to another. So come back often for a thrilling ride! Tell your friends and feel free to ask us questions in the comment box.’

Topic: It’s the time of year for vacations (Holiday for our UK friends). Share your favorite vacation, your dream vacation or anything in between.

Hi, welcome to the blog. If you’re hopping over from Traci Wooden-Carlisle‘s blog, I’m sure she had a great story to tell. While you were there, did you check out her books? Thanks, Traci, for the introduction. If you’re joining midstream as it were, follow the link back to check out what she’s up to.

This week’s blog hop topic is dream vacations. I have all of the same dreams as anyone. I’d like to visit Switzerland, Iceland and Australia sometime, and take a cruise of the Caribbean. I want to drive east to west across the United States, both across the north and south and take time to savor the experience. I want to return to Hawaii, see the Big Island and Molakai, and return to Maui. I’d like to drive and hike the old logging areas of the Olympic Peninsula and visit Yosemite.

But the fact is … everybody has some version of those dream and I’m an Alaskan, so we already live an adventure. Most of the vacations we’ve enjoyed have been less than dreamlike during the actual event, but we remember parts of them with warm affection now, so they are all dream vacations in their own way.

A lifetime goal was finally filled last year when my son and I took the Alaska Marine Highway out the Aleutians. Lest you misunderstand me, AMHS is a ferry system that covers the south coastal area of Alaska, where there are no roads.

It’s a four day journey that carried us nearly 900 miles from Homer, where we embarked, to Unalaska, which is actually the start of the Aleutians.

The ferry Tustamena served as our transportation and campground as we took this journey, which our son (Kyle) says may be the safest camping he’s ever done. Normally we camp in the Alaska wilderness where we keep a gun tucked in the tent bag in case the wildlife attacks. While we saw seabirds, seals, whales and sea lions on our trip, we never once worried about a moose stomping the tent or a bear eating one of us while we were answering nature’s call.

Yes, we tent camped on the ferry. This is considered perfectly normal behavior on the week-long round trip as cabin space is limited and expensive. The Tustamena has showers, a lovely observation lounge where you can get in from the chill and food service … though we actually didn’t use that very often. We brought MRE’s (military-surplus meals-ready-to-eat) which use CO2 warmers. This novelty provided a great deal of entertainment for the tourists.

A part of the fun of the trip for Kyle was that he got to be the expert for the tourists who were also attempting to camp on the ferry. We are old hands at tent camping in high winds where rocky ground prevents staking the tent, so the Tustamena’s deck was not a problem for us. We know how to weight the corners with personal items and we brought along an air mattress (a luxury for us because the weight is not worth it when you’re hiking) to get us off the hard deck. Kyle spent a lot of time showing men twice his age (he was 15) how to “stake” their tents to the deck with duct tape. I’m sure they wondered why we didn’t do the same, but it was because we came prepared.

Although teenagers are great tent warmers, it was freaking cold outside the tent at night and one night the waves were up and we witnessed several of our fellow travelers break tent poles in the wind. For Kyle and I, it was all part of the fun. We brought winter sleeping bags and ours is a three-season wind-resistant tent. It was a luxury for us to roll out of the tent and be able to take hot showers, although the morning I had to take a dash through freezing rain to the shower, I wished we had a cabin. Nothing that a hot shower followed by some fresh coffee in the cantina didn’t cure. The kid even learned to appreciate coffee on this trip. Neither of us is prone to seasickness, though at one point on that stormy night I woke up thinking we were being sucked to the bottom of the deep blue sea.

We spent a day in Kodiak, because the ship stopped there for about eight hours, and we hiked with friends who live there. We then spent four days wandering the ship, taking photos of the passing landscape and talking to strangers about Alaska. We got off in Sand Point, Chignik and King Cove for short periods. I made a couple of new friends who I continue to converse with over Internet, and I learned a great deal about the King Cove to Cold Bay Road and why it essential this vehicle-capable trail be built.. The ocean trip was extremely relaxing, occasionally boring, but broken by periods of unique experience as seals swam alongside the ferry and whales breached no further away than our neighbor’s house in Fairbanks.

Neither of us knew what to expect of Unalaska or Amaknak (the island home to Dutch Harbor proper), but once we got there everywhere we went, we saw tangible reminders of Aleut history, Russian Orthodox culture and the tumultuous years of World War II, which opened door after door for reflection and education. We chose to stay overnight in Unalaska rather than continue with the AMHS for its turn-around, so we had time to explore.

The Unalaska/Port of Dutch Harbor Convention and Visitors Bureau has made a concerted effort in recent years to encourage extended exploration by visitors. Cruise ships have begun making ports of call. Originally settled centuries ago by the Aleut People who led a true subsistence lifestyle, the Aleutians are a harsh, beautiful land.  World War II shaped the future of Unalaska, at least in terms of infrastructure and topography. In 1940, the United States Navy appropriated Unalaska and Amaknak islands as a fortification against potential Japanese attack, which started June 3, 1942. While no actual battles were fought in the Dutch Harbor area, two days of bombing and an eventual presence of Japanese forces in Attu and Kiska at the western end of the chain kept up to 40,000 American soldiers, sailors and airmen stationed in Unalaska until the war ended. One of those sailors was my brother’s father, who was a photographer and so I had seen some black-and-white photos of his time stationed in the Aleutians.

The concrete and steel remnants of a world at war do not easily yield to time. Most of the gun turrets have been removed, but we saw evidence of them everywhere. Unlike sites of major battles or well-known commemorative memorials, little has been done to mitigate the eventual overgrowth of crowberry bushes, grasses and a variety of animal and bird life, which I found more affecting than what you see on the Mall in Washington DC.

The arrival of World War II meant the construction of roads, both in town and beyond, totaling 38 miles. Today, those same dirt roads lead to generally unmarked trails that, once explored, open a chapter of history that cannot be replicated in any classroom. It’s a fisherman’s paradise, but we had no way to preserve any fish we caught, so we didn’t fish.

Knowing we were going to want to hike, we had already secured a recreational land-use permit from the Ounalashka Corporation, land owners of nearly all of the Dutch Harbor area. It’s $6/individual or $10/family for day use. Corporation headquarters on Salmon Way also provides detailed hiking maps, berry-picking guidance and an excellent display of Aleut baskets, sculptures and art.

Trail options are plentiful even within the boundary of town, but we had limited time, so we hiked Bunker Hill on Amaknak, which was a wonderful place capture our first sense of the U.S. military’s attempt to establish itself as a protectorate. Accessed near the Small Boat Harbor, this old military road is closed to motorized vehicles, leaving a wide switchback trail that winds up and around the hill, past abandoned tunnels, bunkers and a concrete turret that overlooks town. Making our way back to town, we discovered a series of carefully dug trenches in geometric patterns, designed to prevent Japanese troops from advancing overland.

Mount Ballyhoo overlooked our journey each step of the way. Ballyhoo is the site of Fort Schwatka. Almost unseen by the casual observer, Fort Schwatka provided housing, medical care, offices, communications bunkers and a series of tunnels running back and forth through the hillsides. Like many military-themed hikes, Fort Schwatka feeds the imagination. Although this remote military installation provides proof of worldwide conflict in a different era, it’s also a reminder of the people stationed here — young, naive soldiers who may never have traveled before being dropped on this chilly northern equivalent of a desert island, watching and waiting for an enemy known for stealth and surprise. When the wind blows hard enough, whistling across the summit of Mount Ballyhoo, or clouds blow a misty breath across the open front of half-buried turrets, it’s easy to visualize and difficult to comprehend just what it must have been like when this was truly the end of the world.

Unalaska’s lush treeless hillsides begged us to hike the island’s steep, windy slopes. Most trails are old military access points. Others, like the Ugadaga Trail, are historical thoroughfares of the Aleut people. Camping is allowed in designated areas, provided a land-use permit has been obtained. A map of the area, provided by the Ounalashka Corporation, is a must, as many trailheads are only vaguely marked.

We only had the one day and night, so we didn’t bother to sleep since it was mostly daylight and we knew we could sleep on the ferry when we got back on), so our last hike in Unalaska was the Ugadaga Trail. Plunging 800 feet toward the opposite shoreline, this is a 1.5-mile hike tackled by families. It only took about two hours and the sun was nice enough to come out and make us hot as we hiked.

We saw fox, ground squirrels, nesting eagles, rock ptarmigan and so many types of wildflowers that I lost track. We also encountered a lot of wet, slippery conditions and other hikers who were alarmed that they couldn’t get cell phone or Internet in many parts of Unalaska. We had locked our electronics in the trunk of the car in Homer so were not really concerned with the loss of connectivity. We brought MREs, water and layers of warm, weatherproof clothing. We also stopped for breakfast at Amelia’s.

The best part of this trip was that Kyle and I spent an entire week together, enjoying each other’s company. We played a lot of cribbage and took some great photos, met some interesting people and got to see a part of Alaska that even most Alaskans never see. Brad (husband) and Brianne (daughter) were unable to join us for this journey, so we will probably go back, at least to Kodiak, but I’m also curious to explore King Cove and Cold Bay. This is not a trip for everyone. It pays to have experience in shoulder season camping and stomachs not easily upset by rolling waves, but it is definitely something that’s been on my life list since I was in college and the State first opened the route there.

So now that you’ve been way off the beaten track with me, you should go on and see Stephany Tullis‘s vacation stories and perhaps take some time to check out her inspirational books.

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