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.