Sunday, October 17, 2021

Pandemic Diaries - Year 2, Road Trip to Arizona Part I

17 October 2021


As I said in our previous blog post, we left Bellingham, WA, and headed to Tucson, AZ for our winter stay.  We left on September 15, and had a nice seventeen day road trip before arriving in Tucson on October 1.


Yes, it's possible to drive the 2000 or so miles in fewer than seventeen days.  It's possible to drive the distance on a more direct route than the one we took.  


But we enjoy road trips.  The journey is as important as the destination.  And sometimes, things happen or a place looks inviting, and so we might stay a day or two just to do something special, or to spend some time in that inviting town.


So our route was not the most direct way to travel from Bellingham to Tucson.  Nor did we push ourselves to drive 500 miles a day.  We had a leisurely road trip, explored a few new places, and explored a few old friendly locales.

This blog is just the quick overview, and I'll write several subsequent blogs once I finish editing the hundreds of photos I took along the way.  But we have maps - I kept track of each stop, calculated the distance driven, and drew lines on each map so I could share our route and how far we drove each day.  (Yes, my lines are in rainbow color sequence.  It makes it easy to see how far we drove each day.)

Day 1 – Bellingham to Yakima, WA – 225 miles


Day 2 – We stayed in Yakima for a day to go through our storage unit one more time, and to spend some time with my brother and his family.


Day 3 – Yakima to St. Regis, MT – 327 miles


Just a quick drive through the Idaho panhandle, then on to Montana.


Day 4 – St. Regis to Missoula, MT – 72 miles


We made it a short drive and spent one night in Missoula so I could spend the afternoon visiting what was the National Bison Range, which is now privately owned by the Native American nations that reside in the Flathead Lake area.


Day 5 – Missoula to West Yellowstone – 264 miles   


 We encountered snow in West Yellowstone when we arrived, and it snowed off and on all night!  BRRR!


Day 6 – West Yellowstone, MT to Daniel Junction, WY – 233 miles

We drove through Yellowstone on a different route than we did last summer, and encountered a blizzard driving over some of the mountains in the park!!  We hoped to stay in Jackson, but prices of hotels were insane, so we drive through the middle of nowhere and found a great little motel in Daniel Junction.  Plus we saw a moose just standing in someone's yard, eating some grasses or leaves or something!  Wow, a huge moose!!!


Day 7 – Daniel Junction to Evanston, WY – 155 miles


Day 8 – Stay in Evanston, WY


Day 9 – Evanston to Beaver, UT – 255 miles


Day 10 – Beaver to Hurricane, UT – 92.6 miles

Including a drive through Kolob Canyon


Day 11 – Hurricane to Panguitch, UT – 108 miles


Drove through Zion N.P., spent the night just outside Bryce Canyon


Day 12 – Panguitch to Kanab, UT – 77.7 miles


Day 13 – Kanab to Jacob Lake, AZ – 37 miles


Plus drive to Grand Canyon Lodge on North Rim, and back – 43.6 miles each way - Total of 124.2 miles for the day


Day 14 – Jacob Lake to Tuba City, AZ – 110 miles

              In Hopi Nation land


Day 15 – Tuba City to Camp Verde, AZ – 133 miles


Day 16 – Stay in Camp Verde at our favorite casino hotel there.


Day 17 – Camp Verde to Tucson! – 204 miles


Total:  2,293.3 miles







Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Pandemic Diaries - Year 2, August Part V

 October 6, 2021

We left our hero and heroine (Richard and Phebe) travelling through Alaska while cruising those frozen waters.  Then life got busy, and I didn't make it to posting the end of the cruise, nor what was happening next in our lives.

My apologies.  Life often gets in the way of doing things like writing this blog.

In reality, we're now in Tucson, Arizona.  No, we're not exploring all the states that begin with the letter A.  We are, however, finding creative ways to travel within the US during these pandemic years.  We've rented a little house in Tucson for seven months, and will winter over here.  We drove from Bellingham, WA, to Tucson, and of course managed to have adventures along the way.

But those are other stories to tell, and other blogs to write.  So, let's return to our hero and heroine, and finish their exciting cruise through the inside passage, in and around the Alaskan panhandle.


Our last port of call was Ketchikan.  Ketchikan is just barely smaller in population than Sitka, but Sitka is more spread out geographically.  So Ketchikan feels more densely populated, and more city-like.  Sitka had more of a town feel.


I didn't have a plan, nor did I sign up for a tour or excursion.  I just wandered around downtown Ketchikan, seeing the buildings, the art, and even a few animals.

Ketchikan is located at the southern entrance to the inside passage, meaning the waterway in and among the various islands of the panhandle.  It makes for tricky navigating, but it also is smoother sailing that out in the ocean - especially in any kind of stormy weather.

As with many Alaskan port towns and cities, Ketchikan built up around the fishing and canning industries.  Many of the waste cans around the city today are designed to look like the original cans of salmon produced here, with the old labels printed on the waste cans.  Occasional walls boast a replica canned salmon label as well.


In one park, the wood benches were designed to look like ocean creatures: diving dolphins, whales and their tales.  I even saw a bus painted with frolicking fish!!!  Yes, we definitely were in the land of ocean animals!  But seriously, it does make sense - the economy was based on the industries that developed around the environment.  This environment is rich in ocean fish, especially salmon and halibut.  Well, and king crab.  Salmon was easily canned, and the demand for it grew.  So indigenous art as well as the art of the people who moved here revolved around that environment and the industries.  Fish, fishing.  It's pretty basic.

I walked around the dock area, looking at various boats.  Nothing very exciting.  The most exciting were two Tlingit figurines atop tall posts - one, I think, is Frog, based on the body.  Yes, it doesn't have a frog mouth given that it has all those teeth.  But the Frog clan is important, and the body of this animal looked more like a frog or toad than anything else.

The other is either Raven or Eagle, and I tend to mix them up unless I see them together.  I think Eagle's beak usually is more curved at the end, so that would mean this is more likely Raven.  And carrying a fake gem stone seems more like something Raven would do, rather than Eagle.  Eagle isn't distracted by shiny baubles.


Speaking of the environment shaping the art of a region, have you seen the Alaskan flag?  Yes, that's the Big Dipper on it!  Or Ursa Major, the Bear, depending on which  name you prefer.  (And the North Star, Polaris, is also included.)  Given that Alaska is known for its bears, plus the northernmost US state, this makes perfect sense.  Definitely a great state flag design!


I encountered a variety of totem poles as I wandered.  This first totem pole is the Chief Kyan Totem Pole, and the following information is from the info placard posted next to the totem pole.

"Totem poles are carved to honor deceased ancestors, record history, social events, and oral tradition.  They were never worshipped as religious objects.

"The totem is the second replication of the Chief Kyan Totem Pole.  The original pole was carved in Ketchikan in the early part of the century and stood in Barney Way until the late 1920s, when it was moved to the Pioneer Hall.  In 1964, the aged pole was removed and replicated for the first time.  The second replication was commissioned by the City of Ketchikan, to Tlingit master carver Israel Shotridge, who is a  member of the Tongass Tribe.  The pole was carved during the summer of 1992, with the assistance of apprentice Edwin DeWitt.  Rededication and poleraising was on July 3, 1993.

"The figures on the pole represent the Crane, the Thunderbird, and the Brown Bear.  The original pole belonged to Tongass Tlingit Chief George Kyan whose Brown Bean crest can be seen on the pole.  Chief Kyan's Tlingit name was Yaansein.  He was of the Wolf clan and was a member of the Tantakwaan tribe."


I try to always get a photo of the full totem pole, and then close up photos of the different components of the pole, so we can see each totem or animal figure in greater detail. 

The Chief Johnson Totem Pole was the second one I encountered, and it was interesting because it was extra long due to a long long pole holding up the bird on the top.  And this totem pole is 55 feet tall!!!  (About 18 meters!)  The info sign said that this "undecorated space is a symbol of the lofty habitat and high regard in which the crest [Kajuk, the fabled bird] is held. 

The sign repeats the information that totem poles are carved to honor deceased ancestors, record history and oral tradition, and mark social events.  That they were never worshipped as religious objects.

The sign goes on to say:

"This totem, carved by Israel Shotridge and raised in 1989, is a replica of the Chief Johnson, or Kajuk, Totem Pole raised in this general location in 1901 for the Ganaxadi Tlingit of the Raven moiety of the Tanta Dwan (Tongass) group.  The original memorial pole stood until 1982.

"Except for Kajuk atop the pole, the figures symbolize a single story about Raven.  Fog Women is identified with the summer salmon run when fog lies at the mouth of the streams.  She produces all salmon and causes them to return to the creeks of their birth."

Note:  Kajuk, the figure on the very top, is a fabled bird.

After those two totem poles, I continued in my wandering and met a young raven who was standing along the shore.  I think this is where Creek Street flows out to the sea water, and my raven friend was drinking the fresh water (which often floats on top of sea water close to shore).  

Creek Street.  Somewhere as Ketchikan grew, raised wood sidewalks or boardwalks were built along the banks of the Ketchikan Creek, and Creek Street was born.  This actually was originally the red light district of Ketchikan, and you can visit some of the old historic brothels - not being used in their original format, no, now a historic tourist place to explore.  There are also art galleries and shops, and it's fun to walk along the boardwalks.  

There were even a few seals (or sea lions?) playing in the creek!  (One has visible ears, one does not, and I never remember which is which.)

If you don't see the seals/sea lions in the photos below, look for dark little faces in the dark water.  There were three of them swimming and diving in there!

There's a walkway down to the creek, and at the base is the sculpture "Yeltatzie Salmon" by Terry Pyles.  This sculpture was named in honor of Haida Native carver Jones Yeltatzie (1900-1976).  Yeltatzie carved a wood salmon sculpture that was originally located on this same site, but this piece created in his honor has replaced that salmon.

The last totem pole I encountered is "Raven Stealing the Sun."  This totem pole was commissioned by the City of Ketchikan, and "honors the Tongass Tlingit people who historically inhabited the local area.  Dempsey Bob and Stanley Bevan designed and carved the pole which was raised in 1983.

"The totem tells of Raven who desigred the sun, moon, and stars owned by a powerful chief.  Raven changed form, appearing as the Chief's grandson, and cried until his grandfather gave him the boxes containing the heavenly bodies.  Then Raven, with his trickery, opened the boxes, bringing stars, moon, and sun to the Earth."

Isn't that a great story?  I love traditional myths and oral traditions that explain how the world and our universe were formed.  Raven seems so integral to the Tlingit stories of human origins.  Maybe these are explained by the was ravens often seem to keep an eye on humans, likely just hoping for food, but in some ways seeming to be our protectors.


The bottom figure is the chief who originally owned the sun, moon, and stars.


The baby's face sitting above the chief's head suggests the chief's Raven-ness (at least according to the info sign).


Above the baby's face is the chief's daughter.


Above the daughter is the sun.


And on the top of the totem pole is Raven, the trickster. 

Of course, there is much more to see in Ketchikan - people went out to fish, or do more whale watching cruises, or even to a bear rescue sanctuary.  Other people went to sled dog summer camp, where the huskies stay in shape by pulling sleds on wheels.  (That excursion includes time playing with the sled dog puppies, which was very tempting.  I mean, seriously, can you imagine an afternoon spent playing with baby huskies?  How adorable is that!)

But I had fun exploring the old section of downtown Ketchikan, meeting some seals, and communing with my own young Raven.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Pandemic Diaries - Year 2, August Part IV

18 August, Day 5 – Sitka


I think Sitka was my favorite port call on our Alaskan trip.  Not so much that Sitka was fabulous, though it is an interesting town, with an interesting history. 


But in Sitka, I went on an art excursion offered by the cruise ship.  They don’t have very many art-making trips, so I was really excited to do this.  And my art event was glass making, one of those art forms I’ve never worked with, but always wanted to try!


Sitka, located on the outer side (ocean side) of Baranof Island, was originally inhabited by the Tlingit people.  Then the Russians came across the Bering Sea and settled in various coastal parts of what is now Alaska.  Sitka was a really important port and became the headquarters of the Russian-American Trading Company in the early 1800s.  The big industries at the time were furs (sea otters and seals) as well as fishing.  (Sitka is the 6th largest fishing production site in the US to this day.)


In 1867, the Alaska Territory was purchased by the US, and the transfer ceremony took place in Sitka.  The Russians left after that, but much of their culture remains, including the Cathedral of St. Michael, which can be seen in the center of Sitka.  (The original church burned down in 1996, but the current re-built church is supposed to be an exact replica.  The artwork and icons were saved from the fire, and are now housed in the new church.)


Sitka, the center of this cultural confluence, became a center for visual arts and crafts.  One of the art forms that is big here is glass work.  Our tour guide and instructor, Michelle, met our group at the dock, introduced herself, and herded us over to a van to take us to her glass studio.  On the way, she gave us an abbreviated history of Sitka, and a little about her background.  Her mother is Tlingit and her father European, and she’s been working in glass ever since she was a pre-teen!


We got to her studio, sat around a table, and were given protective goggles to wear.  She talked about some of the science of glass making, which was fascinating.  (Some of this I already knew from working in clay – the glazes we make are essentially powdered glass mixed with chemicals that create the colors when fired in the kiln.)


So, like glaze, glass is based in silica (also known as silicon dioxide, which is basically tiny particles of quartz crystals).  Colored glass is made by adding chemicals – and the chemicals form different colors depending on the heat at which the glass is melted.  Some chemicals mix to make other colors, other chemicals don’t mix and that is how designs can be made in glass.  That’s a simplified explanation, but it covers the basics. 


The important thing to remember is that we would be working with molten glass, meaning it is heated to a liquid state.  Again, more science:  liquids bead up – it’s the whole surface tension thing, the liquid molecules stack together to a certain thickness.  That’s why you can fill a glass of water to the top and see the water kind of bulge above the top.  Each liquid will always bead up to its own thickness, depending on how fluid or viscous the liquid is.  Glass beads up to a thickness of 6 mm, which is pretty thick for a liquid. 


Why is this important?  Because we were going to make glass canes, long thin sticks made from two colors of molten glass that we would twist together.  And the molten glass would try to keep from being pulled and twisted into a cane.  That molten glass would try to pull back on itself and remain in a liquid blob inside the furnace.  So we’d need to use steady strength to pull and twist to form our canes.


Interesting, right?  Who knew that glass took strength to pull?  It breaks so easily and seems so fragile, but it turns out to be pretty tough!


Canes are used in Venetian glass, especially in Murano glass.  That’s how those little flowers, millefiori, and made and put inside objects.  So we were participating in part of the history of fine glass making!


The melted glass was in three furnaces high on the wall, inside the furnaces in terra cotta flowerpots.  That surface tension keeps the molten glass from flowing out the hole in the bottom, and a plug is put in while the glass is melting.  We had our choice of three different color combinations:  glacier blue and red, creamy white and green, or clear and black. 


With three furnaces, each at a different temperature for the colors within, that meant three people could pull a cane at the same time.  Each person was suited up with their goggles on, heavy leather apron, and leather gloves.  And each “student” had a professional glass person to assist, mostly to remind us what to do and make sure we didn’t hurt ourselves


Michelle made glass wands with a bubble, and we were to hold the bubble – the glass conducts heat, but the air in that bubble would dissipate the heat, so as long as we held the bubble with our gloved hands we wouldn’t burn ourselves.   And the temperatures of our furnaces were all in the 1800 to 2000 F range, depending on the colors.


Michelle would take a torch (presumably oxyacetalene) and use that to heat the glass wand.  Then she’d reach overhead and attach the wand to the molten glass, making sure it was liquid glass stuck to the wand.  She'd leave the wand attached and let the wand and glass kind of set, prior to our group having a chance to pull the cane of glass.  It was odd to see the wand just hanging there!  And after pulling the cane, we'd again just leave it hanging a bit, I guess so the glass cane could cool prior to have it cut from the molten glass still in the furnace.

It was fascinating!  Some people twisted quickly, some more slowly, all the while pulling gently but firmly on the wand.  One person experimented with turning for a while in one direction, then turning in the other, making a unique design in her cane.


My turn came, and I opted for the glacier blue and red.  This really was harder than it looked – the glass would pull the wand and cane back up into the furnace if I didn’t keep enough pressure pulling it down while twisting.  And when it pulls up, it makes a thinner section of cane when you pull it back down.  It really is kind of like a moderate tug of war with the glass to get it to form a cane!


I made an extra long cane.  We had the option of having our cane cut to maybe 8 or 10 inch sections, and Michelle explained how to use a sanding block under water to round the ends to make stir sticks.


But I decided I wanted my canes made into coasters – I talked to Michelle, and said I’d like a darker version of the glacier blue (which is a very pale aqua, and transparent) for the base, with lines of the cane melted into them.  And that I liked the uneven thicker ends of the cane that form where it attaches to the wand, and then where it ends before it’s cut off.  She said she could cut those ends into murrine, the little bits of cane cut into short lengths like beads and then embedded in glass objects vertically, so you can look down and see the design inside the glass cane.  (Millefiori paperweights are made with various colored murrines.). We talked a bit, and she said she can make it look like beach glass – I think she totally saw my vision.  SO EXCITING!  She’ll work on this when the season ends in October, so I should be getting my package in December or January.


When we all finished, we walked over to an art cooperative, and looked around.  I ended up wandering a bit around Sitka, taking photos of the cathedral, looking into a few shops.


If you want to see samples of Michelle’s glass work, here’s her facebook page:  And here is her website:


One of the things about cruising is that the food is included in the price.  When I lived in the Virgin Islands, we always laughed at the cruise ship passengers who would rush back to the ship for lunch, rather than staying in town and trying local food.  I decided to not be that kind of passenger, so I went to a variety of different eating spots while in Alaska.  And in Sitka, it seemed reasonable to eat something Russian.


I passed a little pelmeni cafĂ© – pelmeni are similar to pirogi and piroshki, but the filling is usually not precooked before being wrapped in dough, and never a sweet filling.  And yes, they are similar to tortellini, or wontons, or kreplach, depending on your ethnic heritage.  These pelmeni were stuffed either with beef, or potato.  I asked for a mix, meaning some of each.  Toppings included hot sauce, cilantro, curry sauce – I went with my Russian/Polish heritage and asked for just sour cream.  Mmmm, delicious and great to warm me back up after my wandering!


That was my day in Sitka!  It was cold and drizzly, as were all our days in Alaska – but we were warm and cozy with those furnaces going.  And the artistic side of my soul was so happy to have learned how to make something new and different in the world of art!