As I mentioned in the wrap-up post we made it to Vancouver, and I had started feeling better but not well enough to be traipsing about Vancouver and cramming in all of the sight-seeing as possible. We weren’t in the country long when Chris mentioned that he still wanted to try to eat at the Old Spaghetti Factory in the Gastown portion of Vancouver. There is a trolley in the middle of the building and Chris thought Forest would enjoy sitting in it, so I gave the restaurant a call to see about reserving a table for dinner, which they did. My stomach wasn’t in the mood for much else besides Sprite and ice cubes in water so I didn’t know if I would eat.
Our hotel was a Days Inn near the airport, nothing fancy, but it was a much nicer upgrade to the Motel 6 we’d stayed in the night before in Seattle. Honestly, I could have slept the late afternoon and evening away and not gone anywhere but I managed to muster up some energy to drive into Vancouver.
Before dinner we had enough time to drive through Stanley Park. Initially I thought I’d have enough energy to get out and walk but it became clear that all I wanted to do was sit. So, we drove the perimeter road around the park and then stopped at the Hollow Tree for a few photos before piling back into the car. The park itself was very busy with so many people out enjoying the late summer air.
We ate at the Old Spaghetti Factory where I sipped a few bits of minestrone soup while Chris and Forest went the more traditional Italian food route. I so wish I had been feeling better to have enjoyed that restaurant more. Afterwards we dipped into a tourist shop to get a few souvenirs of our brief stay in Canada and then walked down to the steam clock to check it out. Forest was having some meltdowns because he just wanted to go back to the hotel and chill (as did I) but I was also enticed by the opportunities for street photography in Vancouver. However, I was not up for street photography at all. Chris had thought we might try to do the suspension bridge in North Vancouver after dinner but there was no way I was going to be able to stay awake for that, so we called it an early evening and went back to the hotel to rest.
The next morning we packed up and needed to do a few errands before we returned our rental car and caught the shuttle at the airport to the cruise terminal. One of my requirements when in Vancouver was to go by a Tim Hortons to at least get a coffee. We managed to make it our breakfast destination and I somehow had an appetite to eat a doughnut and parts of a bagel. Having spent a lot of time getting to know some Canadian friends online over the last almost 20 years, I knew Tim Hortons was one of those places I just had to visit. It’s nothing spectacular, basically a fancier Dunkin’ Doughnuts/Starbucks combination, but it was a Very Canadian Thing and I wanted to visit!
After breakfast we found a Walmart where we wanted to procure a few snacks for the ship for Forest in addition to some t-shirts for him after we decided we might not have packed enough. I’d packed more long sleeved tees but the weather was nice in Vancouver, surely he would want more t-shirts! Haha, he didn’t wear any that we bought because the temps changed as we moved north! But the snacks we did need, as we weren’t sure how much Forest would eat on the ship, being a picky eater and all. So, we found a Walmart in North Richmond and it turned out to be a triple decker–a parking garage on the bottom, and then a first and second floors once you went up the escalator. Very urban! I also saw the most giant tub of Cheez Whiz I’ve ever seen there! It was out in the middle of the main aisle, you know where they try to promote sales and such, so I wondered if this was a ‘thing’ in Canada. I can’t remember the last time I even ate Cheez Whiz on purpose—the 80s?
Then we drove over to the airport and returned the car. After we walked into one of the terminals, we kind of looked around lost until we saw an employee and asked them where we needed to go to check in with the cruise agency. He led us through a glass door and into the area where people are normally exiting from the terminals and then to a series of cruise desks. This was one more nerve wracking thing–hoping that the cruise company had everything in order and we were on their list. Of course we were, but after the hoops and changes we’d gone through the previous days, everything was worrying. She took our checked bags and they were going to be sent separately from us and we’d find them in our rooms later that afternoon. With our carry-ons we went outside to wait for the tour bus to pick us up.
Once the bus arrived we settled in for another stop along the way to get guests in the domestic side of the airport and then we were off through the streets of Vancouver once again. The bus operator was nice enough to point out sights and give a bit of a tour along the way. Since I had started feeling better that morning and because of the tidbits of information, I was feeling nostalgic for leaving Vancouver so soon! We would have to come back here at some point in the future.
After 30-45 minutes we finally arrived at the cruise terminal where we followed a series of signs and lots of terminal personnel guiding guests to their ships. We were boarding the Norwegian Jewel but there was also a Disney boat in port, too, and Forest was hoping that was our boat! We had looked at Disney cruises but they are significantly more expensive!
Finally we arrived in a giant reception room with various lines cordoned off depending on what your state room class and other such items. One personnel worker saw Forest with us and shimmied us into a very short line that I think was labeled for guests with special needs. Our tickets weren’t labeled for any such thing but she had the insight to know that the winding line we were about to get into with our soon to be 5 year old was not going to be a good line to get into. We were very thankful for her or we’d have been standing in the other line for, I dunno, 30-45 minutes at least.
There were a few brief moments of “OMG the damn birth certificate” again as we checked in. The attendant helping us disappeared for a bit, I think to get secondary verification of the birth certificate and comparing our passports to the birth certificate and such, but finally we were on our way to the next line to stand in.
This time it was to clear US Customs. The line was shorter because we’d basically jumped ahead of everyone else after checking in with the cruise agents. The border agent there even joked about making it difficult for him with the birth certificate because he couldn’t just scan all three passports and had to actually review things a bit more, but it went fairly easily and then we were ‘back in the US’ for all intents and purposes. I had wondered how they were going to handle this, if we were going to have to go through customs in Ketchikan, but this way it made it easy on everyone once we’d arrived in Alaska.
Once on the ship we were greeted by crew to sanitize our hands with hand sanitizer. This was a near constant thing, with automatic dispensers at every restaurant and actual crew saying “Washy, washy!” at the entrance to the buffet, and personally squirting sanitizer into your hands! They didn’t want any chances of a virus breaking out on the ship!
and up to the outside decks to check out the play spaces for Forest. We even signed him up for the kid’s club so that he could go there and play with other kids but when it came down to actually getting him to go, he wasn’t having it!
I zoomed and cropped so you could see closer—it turns out this is Mt. Baker which is in the US in the northern Cascades. I think it may be about the same distance as Seattle is to Rainier or maybe a little bit further–I’m just eyeballing on a map–if you want some perspective on how far away this is.
And then we were off, headed for the Inside Passage!
For the first time in two years I’m crocheting again. The last time I crocheted I was attempting to make a cardigan type thing but it ended up going south about halfway through. Someday I’ll frog all of that yarn. After that I lost interest in crochet. But with the change in seasons I’m becoming interested in one of my favorite hobbies once again. This time I dug into my grandmother’s yarn stash and dug out some crochet thread to make the Amma Granny Square Top. I’ve since finished one granny square and almost halfway through the second. After that it should be fairly easy in joining and finishing with the sleeves and trim, then washing and blocking before I share it here. Maybe by the end of the week I’ll have a FO (finished object).
I just finished watching The Spanish Princess on Starz after doing a Downton Abbey binge ahead of the movie (which was so good!), so I’m in need of some series to binge while I crochet…do share!
Some cast track prints Chris made in Alaska finally arrived about a week after we returned. He was able to cast a bear, moose, probably wolves (after measuring, they appear to be) and some bird tracks for our friend Eliana.
Forest turned 5 which meant getting a library card! I still primarily pick out all of his books, though he does go through and find some he likes, but mostly he makes a beeline for the toys at the back corner. I do need to start making space for daytime reading as we tend to relegate it to bedtime.
And this summarizes forest at 5: a dinosaur addict! We finally got around to taking our annual photos in Sam Houston NF this weekend and after some cajoling and bribing he managed to wear his dino shirt my parents got him (he’s not a fan of non-cozy shirts–he would live in t-shirts and underwear– but after he put it on he said it was “itchy and cozy!” which seem to contradict each other but *I dunno*! He’s an itchy kid in general so I don’t think they had anything to do with each other…) we spent about twenty minutes taking photos and I managed to snap a few with his dinos. He also loves when the beautyberries are fruiting because they are “alligator food”. This translates back to the years in which he managed to be carried in his backpack carrier and would grab handfuls of them as we walked along to throw into the creeks we hiked by!
That’s the bit of creative life going on around here at the moment!
Every time I see coneflowers I am drawn to them. They are one of the long-standing bloomers in a garden and are tough plants and yet I cannot grow them at home unless they are inside our edible garden. You see, the deer love them, too. When we moved in to the house my mom divided some of hers to give to me and now those plants are long gone. I think we may have tried once or twice more before finally giving up on our chances of growing coneflowers out in the open. I am finally growing some inside the edible garden and they delight me every time I go in there.
These particular flowers were growing in the pollinator garden at Pedernales Falls State Park, between the two bird blinds. The garden is one of those quintessential Hill Country type gardens, with raised beds perimetered with stone. Inside the beds are plantings of a variety of tough, drought tolerant native perennials. Sometimes you’ll find well-behaved and climate adapted non-natives in one of these pollinator gardens.
Happy Friday, friends!
Over the 4th of July weekend we headed for the Hill Country and did some swimming in the Pedernales River at Pedernales Falls State Park. After a few hours of that in the morning we opted to drive over to the bird blind and sit there while we ate our lunch.
Black-chinned hummingbirds, Archilochus alexandri, zipped from feeder to feeder and then to the small tree and shrub branches to rest. Luckily the glass in the bird blind was fairly clean so it allowed for some fairly clear photos of the birds.
Then a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Dryobates scalaris, made an appearance and it took me a few tries to get a photo because after it appeared Forest decided he was restless and wanted to wander the pollinator garden between the two bird blinds.
A few butterflies were flying, including this Gray Hairstreak, Strymon melinus. One of the bird blinds had a butterfly poster of the Hill Country and mentioned an oak hairstreak, Satyrium favonius. I’d hoped that’s what this was when I took the photo but nope. I have a couple of other hairstreak photos, too, that I somehow missed when editing so I’ll have to check those out to be sure.
So, I’m not sure if this is just a black-crested titmouse that hasn’t developed a crest yet or a stray tufted titmouse just outside of its range. iNaturalist has the tufted pretty much ending in the city area of Austin, so it is feasible this could be a stray. The black-crested’s starts in the Austin area and goes west, so there’s some range overlap. I’m really leaning towards it being a black-crested though, but any wise birder who wants to ‘chirp’ in is more than welcome to!
And I’ll close out with a few more shots of the black-chinned hummingbirds!
I’ve come to really appreciate the milkweed vine species, particularly the more common one in my area, anglepod, aka: Gonolobus suberosus. It grows freely in our yard and in the garden and even gets colonized by oleander aphids like other milkweed species do.
Out in the Texas Hill Country, the pearl milkvine, Matelea reticulata, is more common and a delight to see when hiking in the limestone hills. Endemic to Texas and Mexico, you won’t find this species too far east of I-35, though the USDA Plants Database has one county in east Texas listed that the species is supposedly found–who knows!? iNaturalist only shows central and west Texas and Mexico sightings.
While it is in the milkweed family, theorhetically the milkweed butterflies could use this as a host plant. Some comments on a few blogs I read while trying to do some research (not a ton of info is out there about this species) for this post suggest there is anecdotal evidence of queens and milkweed tussock moth caterpillars using the plant. I’ve never seen them use my anglepod vine but I suspect if it was that or nothing else, they’d go for it!
Nature Watch Austin has a post showing a variety of milkweed vines in the Hill Country area.
My photos are from Pedernales Falls State Park back over the July 4th weekend.
Beluga whales—something that was definitely not on my agenda of things I anticipated seeing while in Alaska. Humpback whales, porpoises, sea otters, sea lions, seals, possibly orcas—those were all things that were on our radar and for the most part we came across all of them. The orcas were the only things in that list we didn’t see.
When we disembarked our ship in Seward we opted to take the scenic Alaska Rail to the Anchorage airport where we would pick up a rental car. Instead of taking the highway between Seward and Anchorage via buses, the railway would be more scenic and offer up chances to sip coffee and have breakfast while scouting for wildlife. And that will be a separate post eventually, it was a fantastic trip and I’d do it again!
When we finally emerged from the forest and began our journey paralleling the Turnagain Arm, a branch of the north end of the Cook Inlet, it had been an overcast morning and then sun was finally poking through the sky. I happened to be looking out at the Arm and saw something white and bobbing in the water. We’d just seen a bunch of small icebergs the day before as we’d cruised by the Hubbard Glacier and I had that on my mind. But that ‘ice’ went under the water and surfaced again and I thought my tired eyes (we had gotten up at 5:00 that morning) were seeing things. I casually mentioned to Chris that I had seen something white in the water and when I saw it again I pointed it out to him.
After he saw it he exclaimed “Beluga!” After it sunk in I peered closer and we started noticing several belugas in the inlet as we chugged along the tracks. I had my 75-300mm lens on already for wildlife back in the forested areas so I did my best to shakily take a few “OMG! THOSE ARE BELUGAS!” photos, which are obviously nothing to write home about but OMG I SAW BELUGAS!
I knew belugas were an arctic species and had no clue they would be this far south, and after looking into their range, this is really the furthest south they go and the Cook Inlet area is both in their summer and winter range area. What a total surprise and bonus species to see on this trip!
After we pointed the beluga out to our server/guide in our train car, he noted that yes belugas were in the Turnagain Arm but were usually further towards the mouth of the inlet and not this far back. And come to find out later there’s an area called Beluga Point where you can go and watch them.
We went back the last day we were in Alaska but unfortunately during the morning the tide was out and most of the Arm was a mud flat (Turnagain Arm has some extreme tides, come to find out) and after we tried looking again when the tide came back in after lunch we didn’t have any luck finding belugas. *sigh*
Being a marine biology major, most of my friends in college had their favorite marine mammal species. My friend Stephanie has always loved belugas and so I texted her after I saw them to let her know. It’s one of those funny things that you associate with someone and it is kind of hard not to associate belugas with her because she uses them in her email handles.
Someday I’d love to see them again and be able to watch them for a few hours. What an amazing and unexpected experience we had to get a few glimpses on our way to Anchorage!
*Note*: The other day I mentioned WordPress’ horrible ‘block’ writing system. There’s a plug-in to revert it back to Classic Editor: here. I used the first option and it has worked perfectly!
I’ve decided to write up posts from Alaska in whatever order I feel like. It felt limiting to try to process photos in order and write them in sequence and so I’ll be sharing as I find inspiration.
My first inspiration was from our last day in Alaska and finally getting some good photos of a black-billed magpie. I know my Mountain West readers are like “Um, Misti, these are super common over here!” and to that I’d reply that we don’t have them in Texas! Range maps look like a straggler or two might show up in the far north of the Texas Panhandle but that’s about it. I do recall seeing them when I’ve visited Colorado and Montana but honestly, I’d kind of forgotten about them.
Even in Alaska they weren’t super common but we did see them a few times. Mostly Chris seemed to be noticing them and I finally caught glimpses of a couple. On our last day in Alaska we spent the day around the Turnagain Arm area and the southern end of the Chugach State Park, poking around the trails there.
We’d stopped at the Bird Creek trail, finding it terribly steep, eroded, and not well marked and managed to find a way to ditch off to a bike trail that paralleled the road to gain some access to the creek. The creek itself was very muddy and we opted not to get completely messy before our flight left Anchorage, and instead we just peered out into the creek for a few minutes from the bike path.
Chris noticed the magpie and I stealthily followed it around from the metal staircase that led down to the creek. The colors of the bird are gorgeous, something you might not glimpse as they are flying away, but up close those blues, greens, and tinges of purples really stand out. This particular bird was picking on the bones of a dead fish while I watched it and then hopped over to the bushes to see what else it could scarf over there.
I’ve always loved the corvid family, the jays in particular of course, but I enjoy listening to the sound of crows cawing when I’m out in the yard or in an ’empty’ forest out on the trail. I wouldn’t be upset if the magpies decided to extend their range into Texas so I could see them more often!
I didn’t mean to leave everyone hanging after the last post but honestly, it was going to be too hard to try to write every day and get a post up here every few days. I don’t know how hikers or other travelers do it on a daily basis, trying to compress everything they are doing into the day and writing it up, editing photos, and getting it out into the world. I suppose if you consider it like an ‘office hours’ type situation, but this was vacation and that wasn’t happening.
(On a more annoying note, I updated my WordPress platform and I am hating the post editor now. Such a small writing block and if anyone wants to gripe with me, please do! I may see if I can revert back to an older version.)
So, where did we go? Well, the grand adventure started in Seattle because of poor planning on our part and then onward to Vancouver where we spent one night instead of two nights. Our original plan was to head up to Squamish to hike and sightsee instead of staying in Vancouver proper, but the lack of time forced us to eat the cost of one night at the hotel and then cancel the following night and find a different hotel out near the Vancouver airport.
Vancouver was our jumping off spot for an Alaskan cruise on the Norwegian Jewel. Aside from a honeymoon Caribbean Cruise and then a summer school at sea program on a converted naval ship (two completely different experiences if you can’t tell) the summer between high school and college, we’ve not really been ‘cruise people’. Ideally I would loved to have sat on a Caribbean island beach for a week or two but Chris needs more activity than that and I wasn’t sure how much enjoying we’d do with Forest at this age. We initially checked out a southern Caribbean cruise but some of the countries/islands we were visiting I wasn’t sure would be kid friendly enough for us and we started eyeing Alaskan cruises.
Chris’ dad and step-mom are seasoned cruise veterans and have taken at least one cruise if not more a year the last 10-15 years, though they are slowing down on that front now, so they had some input as to what ships would be more kid friendly than others.
From Vancouver we sailed the Inside Passage to our first port of Ketchikan. We didn’t have any tours scheduled for this town so we did our own thing, first taking a taxi straight to Carlanna Lake a few miles up to do some early morning hiking. It was a great way to start our trip in Alaska! A taxi back into town let us walk around town to see the salmon migrating back upstream to spawn and die, and do some sightseeing in this small coastal town.
Further up the IP, we stopped at Juneau for whale watching and a trip to the Mendenhall Glacier. Next was our final port of Skagway, where we had a long day in that town with a trip on the White Pass Railroad, which meant dipping quickly back into Canada, a lot of strolling around this even tinier town, and a hike along some trails on a point on the outskirts of town.
The following two days were spent traveling to see glaciers, first into Glacier Bay National Park, where park service employees boarded the ship and gave the ship a tour and presentation via the ship’s intercom system. The following day we had a few hours at the Hubbard Glacier, which I think is actually in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
Overall the entire cruise had nearly perfect weather, sunny and mild, except the last day which turned cloudy and a bit rougher on the seas on our way to Seward.
From Seward we took the scenic Alaska Railroad to Anchorage, a five hour journey that paralleled the road for a short bit before detouring into a scenic roadless area for a good while. We had plans to stay in Anchorage just for one night. Coincidentally our friend Eliana was in Alaska as well. She and her husband Marc had been working on and off all summer in Alaska and Marc was working in the remote island in NW Alaska and she happened to be doing some work in Eagle River just north of Anchorage. We met up for dinner on Monday evening and Eliana mentioned that her field work to Izembek NWR was delayed until the weekend and she thought she could tag along on our journey north to Denali National Park.
So, for the next few days we added a member to our party! On the 3rd, Forest’s birthday, we drove a few hours north to Denali National Park where we had a small cabin for two nights outside the park. We did a few small things in the park on the 3rd, hiking the Savage River, looking for wildlife from the road, and on the 4th we took the transit bus out to the Eielson Visitor Center. There was no view from Denali that day—our clear weather days were not around any longer, and well, when dealing with a 20,000′ tall mountain you never know what weather you will get! The park was gorgeous, though!
Our last day in the Denali area we drove down the gravel Denali Highway so Chris could fish in some of the streams that crossed it and the rest of us did some poking around in the woods to take photographs. We dropped Eliana back off that evening and we drove down to the Turnagain Arm south of Anchorage to stay at a cozy motel there for our final night in Alaska.
We tried to pack what we could into our day on Friday, hiking, looking for beluga whales, one last hurrah at an ice cream store in Anchorage, and then boarded our overnight flight for Houston via Atlanta. Yesterday we were completely zombies around here and Forest was probably one of the worst he’s been tantrum related, in maybe ever, due to the poor sleep and his decision not to take a nap because he was so high on all of the new toys for his birthday that were awaiting him when we returned home.
We’re waking up late this morning and will slowly unpack, clean up, and give some watering attention to the yard—I don’t think it rained while we were gone and some of our trees looked rather stressed. A hummingbird just swooped by the salvia so migration season is in full swing. It will take several more days to adjust to being home again and transition back into work and school. Another day in Alaska would have been nice but I’m glad we had this extra time to adjust before moving back into ‘real life’.
Here are some photos from my phone—some of you have already seen them—and as I process the ones from my camera (I think there’s going to be around 2500) I’ll start the process of sharing more detailed posts.
This is a mola mola, aka: ocean sunfish! It was a complete and total surprise for us to see and we were so ecstatic! We ended up seeing about 4 during that first full day at sea in the Inside Passage!
Just a quick update because I’m not going to be able to write like I had intended—the app isn’t working right. We did get to our destination and then onward. I’ll update again when we return to Summer—for now we are going to continue enjoying early autumn!
More in a week or so.
We arrived at the Motel 6 at around 3:30 am after landing and sitting on the runway for about 20 minutes because of a backup in Seattle.
While waiting for our luggage I’d begun feeling poorly again. I’d felt bad since the day before when our flight issues had occurred but I’d chalked it up to nerves. It had settled later that day and I had felt better when we left Houston. But as we settled in for what meager sleep we could get that night I knew I wasn’t doing well at all.
Morning came and we slept in as long as possible but our bodies were still on central time. We had all gotten little if no sleep on the plane and I think the only person who slept extra well at the motel was Forest.
You know that feeling when you aren’t sure if you are extra hungry or if you are going to be sick? Well, that was me. Stomach grumbling and I was hungry but it wasn’t long before my body said SICK!!!!
Luckily, if there is a luckily, we had woken up several hours before we had to be at the car rental at the airport. I had time to expel my guts and rest and thankfully there was kid tv available so Forest could be distracted.
Chris fetches Sprite for me to drink and ice for me to chew and I alternated between sipping and heading to the bathroom. Eventually I told chris to take the shuttle to the airport by himself and come back to pick us up so I had more time to rest.
By the time he got back I felt semi-well enough to get in the car for our drive to Vancouver. We planned a stop to the Safeway to get supplies, snacks and something I could barf into should the need arise.
I should preface all of this with going back to last week. Early in the week Forest and I both had some tummy ailments but it seemed to pass and then on Thursday I picked Forest up from school and his cheeks were bright pink. We’d gone to the beach that previous Sunday but it seemed far too late for a sunburn to appear. A quick google of “pink cheeks in children” automatically resulted in 5th disease.
5th disease is a human parvovirus that in kids presents first as a rash on the face and later moves to the other parts of the body. By the time the rash appears you aren’t contagious any longer. I’d mentioned it to daycare too the next day but they hadn’t noticed anyone else with it. And in kids there’s not much to do but let it takes its course over 1-3 weeks.
By the time Saturday rolled around it had faded from his face somewhat and started appearing on his arms which to me sealed the deal. Otherwise he had no complaints.
In adults, if you catch it later in life it can be worse, mostly presenting as stomach issues and possibly joint pain towards the end. My guess was I had the adult version. Good times.
Leaving Seattle was slow on I-5. I remembered that traffic was horrible here when we came in 2012, too. Forest pointed out the people “camping” along the side of the highway and we had to explain what homeless people were and why they couldn’t afford to live in a house. Houston has a few encampments and Austin has even more since real estate has skyrocketed there, but it hasn’t been so blatantly visible to him before this.
It was slow going until we got north of Seattle and still not super fast between the smaller suburbs up until we got close to the Skagit Valley. I had started feeling alright after we left town and worked up a bit but soon began feeling bad again. We stopped at two gas stations which conveniently only had port o potties and I wasn’t going to hurl in those. I eyed nearby bushes with desire but we moved on down the road and managed to find a decent gas station with a bathroom. Outside a farm trailer was loaded with fresh corn from the valley for sale. If we weren’t traveling it would been a great stop to pick up some for home!
One last hurl before the border, I told myself. I didn’t want to show up asking Canada to let me in as I was barfing. Thankfully my stomach settled once again and despite one moment later that evening I thought I wouldn’t make it, that’s the last time that happened.
I had been mentally keeping track of when/if Forest had gone pee—he tends to not go first thing in the morning and then forget after a while. I’d thought he hadn’t gone so we asked and sure enough he hadn’t—it was 2pm. The highway had a wait time for the border of about 40 minutes and we found the last roadside rest area and pulled over.
Everyone’s bladders empty, we headed the last few miles to the border.