Girl Meets Bulgaria

Musings of an American expat in Bulgaria (with detours in Utah and Alaska)


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Alaska 2012: Going Out with a Bang

This has been the craziest week I have ever had in Alaska.

So many things have gone wrong that I can’t even keep track of them anymore!

Here’s a short list of the insanity that has permeated my last week in the 49th state:

  • Multiple power outages, including one that lasted nearly 7 hours (during which we also had no water at the lodge, or in the entire canyon for that matter). 1,000+ guests with no access to flushing toilets is BAD!
  • Crazy weather–High winds were the cause of the major power outage, but we also experienced snow at the higher elevations, rain, and even some sunshine; all just in the past week.
  • A shooting about 25 miles north of where I live (the Troopers shot and killed a man who had shot another man)
  • Some horrible cases of fraud against many of my co-workers (not going to go into more on that)
  • The biggest, and most inconvenient issue… Flooding/extremely high river levels–Many of the river systems in the interior of Alaska, and even as far south as Seward, experienced the highest water levels on record this week. The flooding of the Talkeetna River, and breach of the local levee, caused the small town of Talkeetna to be evacuated.

The Nenana River–which runs right through the heart of Denali and Healy–was a sight to behold. The normally slow-moving, glacier-fed river turned into a roiling, opaque, screaming mass of water overnight. I have never seen anything like it. There were entire pine trees being swept downstream at highway speeds.

By early Friday afternoon, it was clear that the river was doing some major damage. An entire portion of the Parks Highway (the only road linking Anchorage and Fairbanks) was being eaten away by the river. With each passing hour, the river grew ever higher and wider and eroded more and more of the embankment. By about 7:00p on Friday night, it was clear that the road was in serious trouble. I got the call to head back to the lodge (about a 15 minute drive from where I live) with an overnight bag–I would be spending the night at the hotel in case the road was closed.

That one night turned into two. Two scary, frustrating, and bizarre nights, to be sure. I was never worried for my safety or the safety of our lodge guests. My biggest concern was how I would be able to get back to my room in Healy, pack my bags, clean, and catch my transportation to Anchorage on Tuesday if the road were closed.

We all woke up this morning still not knowing if we had a functioning road or not or whether we would be spending a third night in-house. The Alaska Department of Transportation has been working around the clock to fix the road, and as of this evening when I was headed back to Healy (yep, didn’t have to spend another night at the lodge), everything seemed to be stabilized. Luckily, the river levels have started to go down and the DOT was able to drop large boulders and dirt onto the embankment to strengthen the road.

It has been truly amazing to see our company jump into action and solve problems and situations one after another. It certainly has taught us all some lessons and it was nothing if not exciting.

After all this, however, I am more than ready for the season to be over. I fly out of Anchorage late Tuesday night bound for Los Angeles. I’ll only be spending one night there (to apply for my Bulgarian visa) before heading back to Utah for a month-long visit with my family and friends.

It’s been a summer to remember!

Here are some photos I snapped of the highway before the crews started repair work:

I’m looking forward to sleeping in, going to a few movies, eating my favorite foods, and spending time with all my peeps before going back to Bulgaria in early November.

I hope you continue to follow my adventures!

W.

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Savage River | Last Trip for 2012

There are many different shuttle bus options within Denali National Park.

Most, however, require quite the time commitment. We’re talking 12+ hours to go the full 92 miles out to Kantishna, with shorter journeys out to Wonder Lake or the Eielson Visitor Center taking 8+ hours.

Most of the time, I simply do not have it in me to sit on a bus for that long–even with the beautiful scenery surrounding me to pass the time.

Sure, I take at least 2-3 long trips into the park each season (OK, I only did 1 this summer, but who is counting?), however, the majority of my bus jaunts into the park are out to Savage River.

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Wordless Wednesday: Winter Comes to Denali National Park

*WW Linky below*

On Monday I took what was probably my last trip into Denali National Park for this season.

Snow has been falling in the park and on the mountain peaks for the past few days now.

And while the stunning fall colors are starting to fade, the bright white snow contrasts against them beautifully.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see any wildlife, but I was treated to Mt. McKinley in all its glory (the mountain is only visible about 30% of the year).

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A Sobering Reminder

Toklat River–NPS photo

Early this morning I got an email at work with a press release from the National Park Service in Denali:

Denali Park, AK: Denali National Park and Preserve officials confirm that a solo backpacker was killed by a grizzly bear along the Toklat River the afternoon of Friday, August 24.A wallet with probable identification of the victim was found near the kill site, and NPS rangers are working to make positive confirmation and notify next of kin.

Friday afternoon, three dayhikers first discovered an abandoned backpack along the Toklat River approximately 3 miles south of the Toklat River Rest Area.Upon further investigation, they saw evidence of a violent struggle, including torn clothing and blood.They immediately hiked back to the Rest Area and notified the NPS staff of the findings at approximately 5:30 pm.

Park rangers launched a helicopter and a fixed wing aircraft from park headquarters at 8:00 pm.Searchers on the aircraft located the scene at 8:35 pm.At least one grizzly bear was still at the site, although there may have been multiple bears.The bear(s) moved away when the helicopter approached and landed.Two rangers on board the helicopter got out and confirmed the location of the victim’s remains.

Initial evidence indicates that the attack occurred proximate to the river’s open braided gravel bar, although the bear subsequently dragged the remains to a more secluded, brushy cache site.After conducting an initial surveillance of the site, the rangers determined that the recovery of the remains would need to wait until daylight due to the presence of bears and the waning light.

Park officials believe that there are no other registered backpackers in the immediate vicinity.An emergency closure has been put in place, prohibiting all backcountry hiking and camping in that backcountry unit until further notice.

Park rangers will return to the incident scene on Saturday morning, August 25, to secure the site, recover the remains, and attempt to locate the predatory bear.Wildlife biologists estimate that roughly 12 grizzly bears have been residing in the vicinity of the kill site this summer.

This incident is the first known bear mauling fatality recorded in Denali National Park and Preserve. All backpackers in the park receive mandatory ‘Bear Aware’ training prior to receiving a backcountry permit, including a 30-minute safety video, a safety briefing from the backcountry ranger staff, and all backpackers are required to carry a Bear Resistant Food Container (BRFC). (http://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/bearsafety.htm).

More details on this fatal incident will be released as the investigation continues.

An update from this evening is here.

(More details: The hiker was far too close to the bear; taking photos for at least 8 minutes from no more than 50 yards away. Park Rangers still haven’t been able to recover the body, and a suspect bear was shot and killed.)

Denali National Park is an amazing place filled with incredible wildlife. This incident should not put people off from visiting the park and venturing into the back country. What it should do is serve as a reminder that these are wild animals, in a rugged and unforgiving environment,  and no photo is worth losing your life over.

Not only did a person lose their life for simply being careless, but a bear had to lose its life over following its natural instincts.

My heart goes out to the family and friends of the hiker.

W.

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Tourist For a Day

It was all I could do to drag myself out of bed today. The past few days at work have been absolutely crazy.

I definitely needed a day in the great outdoors to get my mind off of things.

I couldn’t think of a better way to do this than by playing the part of tourist in Denali National Park for the afternoon.

…albeit a younger, less persnickety type (cruise tourists can be…a handful–hence the crazy week at work).

After sleeping in a bit, I got up, packed a day bag and caught a shuttle bus into the park.

After a drive out to Savage River (pics to come tomorrow), I stopped by the park Visitor’s Center. I haven’t been inside the VC since 2008, when I spent hours per week there as part of my shift. I ordered some lunch–the “Polychrome” panini and an Alaskan Summer–at the Morino Grille, found a nice spot on the deck, and devoured more of my current read, Good Time Girls.

*book review post coming up. it’s a GOOD one!

After lunch I caught the last few minutes of Heartbeats of Denali, the park movie. I’ve seen it at least a good 50 times. It never gets old.

Next up was a walk along some nearby trails.

My camera has been lonely the past month or so; it was high time I gave it a workout!

It’ll be another week or so until the fall colors are out in full force, but they were pretty darn lovely today.

Some fresh air, sunshine, and amazing scenery was just what I needed to recharge and refocus.

One. More. Month.

Gotta run now. There is laundry to be done and a beer to be enjoyed.

W.

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