Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I Seen A Dorkus! Really, I did!

Dave and I have been house-sitting a nice little cabin in the woods for some friends who have been out of town.  It is a lovely, 6000 square foot home complete with sauna and hot tub.  But, after 3 days of rain and working on lecture PPTs over 4th of July weekend, we needed to get out! So, we decided to head out the Steese Highway and check out the birds. It's 62F at 9:45am and we stopped at one of the conveniently located coffee kiosks and ordered 2 Blueberry Scones, a latte and a Peach/banana smoothy to go!  The Steese Highway (Alaska Route 6) travels for 162 miles northeast from Fairbanks to Circle, a small Native community on the Yukon River. Most of the highway passes through a combination of quaking aspen, balsam poplar, and black and white spruce forest, but, the coolest part about the drive is that it also crosses a high pass at Eagle Summit (about mile 100) that gives easy access to alpine tundra.  According to the ABA, A Birder's Guide to Alaska, this tundra is a convenient place to look for nesting Surfbird (which would be a life bird for both Dave and me).  At about mile 20, the road climbs over Cleary Summit, and the vista's are breathtaking!

After Cleary Summit, the highway descends into the Chatanika River valley where a huge area of forest was burned during the 2004 Boundary fire.  For miles and miles we drove and could see burnt tree trunks to our south and east.  It looked like razor stubble on a dark haired man.  At mile 29.5 is the entrance to the Univeristy of Alaska Poker Flat Research Range rocket launch facility designed to study the aurora borealis.  It was sort of "Sci-Fi" to be driving along in the winding forest, and then out of nowhere you see a bunch of satellite dishes and ominous looking outer-space widgets!  Grandpa Paul would have loved it!  Total nerd-dom.  Farther along the highway, you can see where the forest has begun to regrow.

At mile 60, we pulled down a track because our new friend, Ken Philip, THE butterfly guy in Alaska, who is totally cool (more about him later), told us that we might be able to get some unique butterflies.

There are some small beautiful copper butterflies here called Lycaena dorcas.  That is pronounced "Lie seen a dorkus".  I was so excited to get out and hike around and hopefully spot this butterfly, and to my great surprise, "I seen a dorkus"!!!

LOL!!!  I just can't get that name out of my head, so now I call my self  and everyone else "Ycaena dorcas" - "I seen a dorkus"!   hahahahaha!!!!!  My handsome dorcus husband did get a White Admiral and a Sulfur and a Blue (not sure which species yet).  Very cool!  I of course, did not catch any butterflies - I'm about as coordinated as a bull in a china shop!  We also got great looks at Bohemian Waxwings and a Lincoln's Sparrow. But, what really fascinates me are the flowers!  As the forest begins to regenerate, you find the most beautiful and delicate flowers tucked in with the darkest scarred remains of burnt tree trunks.

I saw this purple flower, and have searched every flower, nature and plant guide we have and still can't identify it!

At mile 107, we reached the pull-off for Eagle Summit.  Now we hike.  Eagle Summit is supposed to be a great place for summer wildflowers and the closest alpine tundra to Fairbanks.  We heard and saw a baby American Pipit

fussing at us as soon as we got out of the truck.  It's a bit cooler here at 3687ft (53F at 11:54am and a strong, cool wind blowing).  Our goal for the day is to find nesting Surfbirds.  About 1/2 mile up the hillside of Eagle Summit, we take cover on the lee side in a scree (I would call it a rockslide area), because a quick summer shower has begun to dump rain on us.  The rain quickly passes, though, and as I climb back out from behind the rocks and turn around to look out over the valley, we see the most amazing rainbow!

For one of the first times in my life, I was moved beyond words.  I was in awe - at peace - calm - unimportant.  Dave was up and off searching for mushrooms, butterflies, or whatever.....but I didn't want to move one inch.  The spot was mesmerizing.  As far as the eye could see, there was tundra ablaze with purple flowers and cloud shadows drifting across mountain and valley.

We pulled out our PB&J and ate our lunch, just "be-ing" on the tundra.  This has to be my favorite place in Alaska.  The ground is a squishy carpet of moss, lichens, mushrooms, and tiny, itsy bitsy, tundra flowers and fruits. 

 I could spend all day, every day here, just exploring.  People travel the world to see rare birds, or butterflies, or big mammals like polar bears, and tigers, but look closer.  Look down at the tundra.  It is absolutely beautiful.

Like these tiny blue Alpine Forget-me-nots.

Or, these Dwarf Blueberry flowers...

The place is a feast for the senses.  We decided to leave our scree slope and hike the rest of the way to the top of Eagle Summit.  Dave took the east slope.....  

and I took the west, and we agreed to meet at the top!

Walking on tundra is not easy.  It's like walking on bowling balls that are surrounded by water or mushy spongy moss.  It gives your legs and butt a work out, that's for sure.  Plus, you can't climb very fast, because your heart is pounding!!  See the speck way off in the distance on the horizon in this next photo?  That's Dave.

Here he is zoomed in as far as my camera would go...

We searched the Dwarf Willow for signs of Willow Ptarmigan, but to no avail.  No Surfbirds either.

But, again, the tundra wildflowers were spectacular!

And...... I found the coolest mushroom!!!

It was starting to get late, and we needed to get back to the cabin and pack up our things and head home.  The owners, Gary and Beth  were coming home the next day.  So, we began our downward climb, and ran across the only tree on Eagle Summit.  We were above tree line!

As we headed back toward Fairbanks on the Steese, we ran into Ken Philip, out collecting butterflies at about mile 75.  He tries to go out every day, and has only covered a small fraction of the state in 30 years.  This place is huge!!!!  We stopped at the Chatanika Lodge for dinner of pork tenderloin and halibut,

and stapled a dollar to the wall.  This place is a trip!  I can totally see us hanging out here if we ever moved up here permanently.  The dining room we were in had over 85 dollars stuck to the walls, and that was piddly. 

The other rooms of the lodge are wallpapered with paper money from people all over the world. 

We took this next photo for our families.  We find it particularly amusing.

Our excursion to the tundra was over, and now it was time to get ready for classes in the morning.

1 comment:

send flower china said...

Really like your photos and i hope that u have enjoy your adventure..