September 21, 2017

Blueberry picking, in the Alaskan wild

Late August means berry season in Alaska. We decided to try our hand at blueberry picking, at Alyeska Resort's annual Blueberry Festival.

The festival was set to have entertainment, food stalls and a beer garden, but first things first, the blueberries. We hiked up this hill (which is a ski run in the wintertime) and crossed the field into the forest.

You know what I'm thinking. Bears.

Bears really like blueberries. I think we actually brought the bear spray though, first time ever!

I wasn't exactly sure what we were looking for initially, as I'd never seen a blueberry bush in the wild.

But then we spotted some. Ahhh, blueberries. 

So, we started picking. It is a very painstaking process. No wonder berries are so expensive. We literally picked them one at a time.

As I picked, I wondered why a bear would even bother. Such slow going.

But, wow(!), the scenery was amazingly lush, green and tranquil.

I think Ella had equal numbers make it to her mouth as her bucket!

We even found a few raspberries for good measure.

I loved the velvety feel of the forest moss, and we even saw mushrooms growing right out of the trees!

After picking our fill, we decided to join in the festivities.

(One thing you will never escape in Alaska is mud. I'd like to say I've resolved myself to this fact, but I'm not there yet!)

All that hard work made us hungry, so we made a quick stop at the Tater Pig.

The what? The Tater Pig, a baked potato loaded with sausage and every other fixin' you could imagine.

It really hit the spot!

The view was pretty spectacular, as well. You don't get too many days like this in a rain forest!

We didn't try the blueberry beer (I'll give a report next time),

but we did watch these kids go head-to-head in the blueberry pie-eating contest. Ella has added this to her bucket list for next year.

For those not quite as adventurous, there were also many blueberry delicacies available for purchase. Whew!

Our bounty.

And what do you do with blueberries? Make muffins, of course!

All in all, a beautiful day. And after all of that outdoor-ing, I almost feel like we are turning into a real hunter-gatherer family, living off the land. I hardly recognize myself!

September 12, 2017

The Pink Salmon Festival- Valdez, Alaska

Valdez, Alaska, (pronounced Val-deez by the locals...don't ask me why) is a tiny fishing town on the south central edge of Alaska. 

Roads are tricky around here. Though Anchorage and Valdez appear close on the map, the only road available goes around the huge Chugak mountain range. We drove a little over five hours and passed about two towns. Last Frontier indeed!

The drive was long but beautiful. I lost track of how many glaciers we saw.

It is estimated that 10-15 million pink salmon return to the Prince William Sound every year, making Valdez an important commercial fishing port. The salmon are big business for this tiny town, so we decided to join them for the Pink Salmon Festival this year.

The festival was complete with a carnival,

and some interesting games!

The salmon toss consisted of throwing plastic fish into a bucket of varying distances, for points.

But the salmon run entailed running a race carrying an actual salmon. A real one. 

The girls were all for this!

The girls did well, despite being newcomers. The fish were harder to handle than they anticipated, next year!

The other component of the festival was a pink salmon cook-off. We enjoyed talking to each of the chefs about their creation. This lady was making salmon dumplings that looked fabulous.

And yet another was whipping up blackened salmon pizza.

This chef was the winner two years running and made some sort of poached salmon? Not sure why the expression, only that every Alaskan we talked to almost apologized for the pink salmon. It is known as the least desirable breed taste-wise, and is mostly used for canning. He assured us you would never serve pinks in a restaurant! But I'm learning that Alaskans are VERY discerning about their salmon.

One look at this dog, and I thought I was back in Japan for a second!

After the awards were presented for the best use of salmon, we joined the town for a free fish-fry, of you guessed it- pink salmon! 

There was actually quite a spread; hamburgers, hot dogs, salmon, macaroni salad, potato salad, chips, cookies, etc. And the people were so nice too! The population of Valdez is about 4,000, so there really was a small-town feel.

After we had our fill, we decided to try our hand at catching our own pinks.

Eva caught the first fish....

TWICE! But he wasn't a keeper.

Actually, the fisherman of the day was- ME!!! I must admit, pulling a salmon out of the icy waters of the Prince William Sound was a pretty thrilling experience. Now that's a sentence I never thought I'd say!

Luckily, Matt dealt with the yucky parts. Whew!

Back in town, we watched a fishing charter unload. Though Valdez is famous for pink salmon, look at the size of those halibut!

Simply amazing!

And this guy was cleaning all of those fish just as swiftly as could be.

(***As an odd side note- we probably saw 25 big bunnies on the ten minute walk to the hotel.)

The next morning, Ella wasn't feeling well, so I stayed at the hotel with her while Eva and Matt went fishing again. This little gal kept Matt super busy. She caught FIVE pink salmon, one right after another.

Way to go, Eva!

(***side note- Only in Alaska will a large Golden Eagle swoop down and begin eating discarded fish guts right next to your fishing spot.)

The fish cleaning house was right on the dock and was pretty convenient. Matt got all of our fish filleted and bagged for the trip home.

I think it looks pretty good, but what do I know?

I enjoyed sitting on the dock with some hot tea, watching the fishing boats and kayakers.

The water around here is always a beautiful turquoise blue from all the glacier silt. The silt is also what makes these waters so fertile.

And one last waterfall selfie to break up the long ride home.

FYI- we thought our pink salmon was definitely as good as anything we've had in the Lower 48. Like I've said, Alaskans can be very particular about their salmon. Give us time. 

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