Photo Day Off

Dwarf dogwood, a low-growing plant

My Sunday off was spent around Brooks Camp, photographing most any bear I came across, several duck families, and wildflowers. I didn’t see any fish jumping the falls but I didn’t spend all day there. The outcrop of Talkeetna Formation mudstone along the beach, with its fossils leaves and petrified wood, is mostly underwater now – snowmelt and rain have contributed to the rising lake and river levels in the Naknek drainage. Could this changing water level also be some sign to the salmon that it might be getting time to move upriver?

There is some serious photographic equipment starting to be schlepped around Brooks Camp, and it doesn’t belong to me. I have a nice point-and-shoot Canon and use a tripod when I can, but I think my shoulder would start to hurt real soon if I had to tote around what some of these folks are toting.

Composition is everything, as far as I’m concerned, no matter how expensive your camera is.

Mallard with chicks in the tall grass

Just in case you were wondering if bears know how to swim…

Fuzzy photo of red-breasted merganser with chicks – they are not easy to photograph clearly beacuse they won’t stay still!

River otters on visitor center porch (now we know where that smell inside the VC is coming from)

Starflower (maybe)

For the past week the sockeye salmon have been gathering at the mouth of Brooks River in Naknek Lake. This has surprised me – the fact that they are still in the lake and haven’t moved upriver yet after a full week. Yes, there have been a few scattered fish that have indeed moved up the river to jump for their lives up Brooks Falls, but the majority of them appear to still be in the lake.

What are they waiting for? This is the question on many people’s minds, but it probably will never be answered with much certainty. For although we study the salmon, and know what they do and more or less when they do it, we cannot ask them why they do it. Why do they return to their exact spawning grounds? How do they know how to get there? What senses do sockeye salmon possess to enable them to move across thousands of miles of ocean, to return to that one singular body of fresh water, that tributary of a stream that is a tributary of a river, which is the exact right place to spawn and then die? Is it the temperature of the water? The freshness or salinity? The angle of the sun? The earth’s electromagnetic field? Is there some acuteness of the sea’s odor present for them to follow? How do they know? Just how many sockeye salmon are out there in Naknek Lake, anyway?

Greater Yellowlegs looking for dinner

For the past couple of days I have been stationed at either “the corner” or the lower river platform. Both these places afford an excellent location from which to view the river, bears, birdlife, and fish. Jumping salmon have been seen in the lake since they arrived there, but today I watched as particularly large splashes of fish moved ever so slowly further and further upstream, away from the lake and up the mouth of the river. It took what seemed to be one large splash all day to go perhaps 35 yards. Was it the same fish all this time? I do not know. I was told that the salmon prefer to move during the darker hours of the day when the sun isn’t present to cast shadows. I don’t know if this is true, but if it is, today would have been a great time to move since it was raining a good part of the day.

There are a few more brown bears that have recently returned to Brooks River, too. Not 40 or 50 yet but maybe 6 or 8 are making their presence known; they are looking for what they know must get here, what must ultimately serve to nourish them in order for them to withstand the long Alaska winter that will inevitably come. When the salmon are finally in Brooks River by the tens of thousands, moving ceaselessly upstream to whatever pocket of river or lake gravels they are destined to find, only then will the bears fully enter the scene.

We are all waiting for the salmon.

Some people are beating the bears at their own game and are already having freshly-caught Brooks River salmon for dinner – caught with the “thump and retain” method (no catch-and-release for these anglers), boned and filleted and pan-fried with a fine blend of herbs and spices. What was flown in from Anchorage was definitely not the fish but the box wine – the perfect accompaniment for a cheerful evening with co-workers. My compliments to chef Imes and his spice shelf.

There has got to be a way to get some shipped to MY FAVORITE TRAVEL AGENT by the end of the summer.

Early morning on Naknek Lake

tundra A treeless, level or gently undulating plain characteristic of arctic and subarctic regions. It usually has a marshy surface which supports a growth of mosses, lichens, and numerous low shrubs and is underlain by a dark, mucky soil and permafrost.

Having been in Alaska for all of two months now (and barely even that, since I arrived in Anchorage on April 26), I have found that it is best to accept graciously what is offered and run with it, especially where the weather is concerned. If, for instance, you set out for a day hike or backpack or canoe trip and it’s raining while you are putting your gear together, you still go. High winds would be the most delaying factor in any water endeavor, but rain… well, rain is a given and is definitely part of the package here in the 49th state. You just deal with it and savor the fact that you are here in the first place. You plan a hike for your day off from work with a couple of co-workers, thinking that it will probably be just cloudy at best and that the views you look forward to seeing will most likely be at least partially if not totally obscured by a low-hanging ceiling of gray drizzly dampness. In Alaska, there are no guarantees that everything will go as you’d hoped and that you will have perfect weather. If you wait for it to stop raining you could be waiting for a long time. We are not in Utah anymore, Toto.

But every so often you luck out. The volcano gods and goddesses shine their light on you and offer to you what you had no right to even begin to hope for or especially to expect – a clear, nearly cloudless sunshine-bright Sunday on which to see unnamed mountains you might not have known existed, beyond what you might have ever hoped to see, on the day before the summer solstice in southwest Alaska.

On the road to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes is a long low bread loaf-shape of a mountain called Solstice Ridge. I thought how appropriately named this hike would be for my Sunday off on June 20th. As mountains go, the ridge line is not really that high, somewhere around 3000 feet above sea level. Brooks Camp is around 40-60 feet above sea level and the “trailhead” (I am being very kind here – actually it would be merely where we parked the car) is around 1000 feet. Many of the low mountains in Katmai have been so scoured by the passage of the glaciers that they take on this bread-loaf appearance, their previous jaggedness all but disappeared, eventually becoming a tundra environment.

The ridge-top looked attainable, and folks said it was one of the easier hikes in the area. There would be no trail, of course (Katmai has so few maintained trails in all of its nearly 5 million acres) and we would need to pick and choose our own ascent route “on the fly” in order to attain the ridgeline. How difficult could that be?

So with Jeanette driving the Excursion and Jacqui contributing such iPod favorites as Iron & Wine, Animal Collective, and Zap Mama, we left the mosquitoes at the maintenance shed and headed down the 23-mile road past the three river crossings and onto the VTTS. It was a gorgeous morning – first of all we had the day off, second of all it was not raining, and third of all it wasn’t even cloudy! We could not believe our luck. There was hardly a cloud in the sky as we drove out of the spruce forest and into the open tundra.

Mt. Katmai from VTTS road

And then it appeared on the distant horizon – the jagged peak of Mt. Katmai, its caldera hidden beneath its serrated rim. People can go years without seeing Mt. Katmai since it is most often obscured by clouds. How fortunate we were! I of course had to stop the car, compose my photos, and drink in the scene. This absolutely made up for all those lost pix on my now-defunct external hard drive.

We parked the car and trundled off across the tundra for maybe a mile towards Solstice Ridge. Our plan was to avoid the alder as much as possible (worse than manzanita and scrub oak!) and switch-back our way up one side to the top. Before long we also had to avoid a bear that we noticed was toodling down the creek in our direction. Oh fine! We made a course correction and soon (very!) we were pointing our little heads straight up the side of the ridge.

Jeanette and Jacqui before the ascent

Two hours into the hike and I was cussing a blue streak, ready to give up and go home. The mosquitoes weren’t even bothering me – I was that busy cussing. The tundra grasses were a total disaster – knee deep in the good places, sunk up to my thighs in many a hidden hole, there was no sure footing whatever, it was soggy, mushy, horrible, I was doing hand over hand (in grass of all things!) towards the top, and I never did find my rhythm. To look at that ridge from the bottom, I would never have known it would be that miserable. I sure know it now.

But I made it! I could not quit! With sheer determination (and not wanting to go back where the bear was) I pulled myself up that soggy, mushy, bleeping alder and grass of a slope to where Jacqui and Jeanette had been waiting for me (not THAT long, actually). Woo Hoo!!!

On top at last

And then it really WAS a piece of cake.

Lunch view of Dumpling Mtn.

The views were forever. We hooted and hollered our way for probably 2 miles or more along that wide ridge, soaking up every snow-covered mountain peak and glacial u-shaped valley we saw. Griggs, Katmai, Trident, Mageik, and Martin (complete with its steam plume) were all there waiting for our arrival on Solstice. We could see past the Ukak to the Savonoski River.
The VTTS was the ashen thread holding it all in place. Jacqui and Jeanette warbled a sweet Happy Birthday! We took pictures of each other jumping into the air. The backdrop for our lunch break was Dumpling Mountain, the Iliak Arm, and Naknek Lake far off in the distance. We could not believe it. We felt so honored to be in that time and place. This is what I came to Alaska for.

Would I do it again?

For those views?

In a minute.

I got through my first Katmai evening program earlier this week, and I think it went pretty well particularly since I spent a lot of my free time working on it (as interpreters often do) and even though I really was stressing over it (as I usually do). We had also been given occasional paid “project time” in which to put together this program and two other activities to present every week or so over the course of the season. We are responsible for the evening program on a topic of our own choice, a cultural walk (to a reconstructed 700-year-old Eskimo habitation site), and the tour to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. On the Valley tour we do a short talk at each of two stops along the 23-mile drive, and then another short talk at the Three Forks visitor center. Plus we chatter interpretively along as we hike down into the Valley and to Ukak Falls.

We were encouraged to come up with our own themes but could get help as needed. When it came time to do an outline for my evening program on Novarupta (the 1912 volcanic eruption for which Katmai is famous), mine was so all over the geologic map it was insane. And this was just the outline! I of course want to talk about everything that has anything to do directly or indirectly with the explosion of Novarupta and the collapse of Mt. Katmai caldera. The Wallace Line, anyone?

So finally (after some serious input from someone at Katmai who is really good at “crafting themes”) I was able to whittle it down to four talking points. After this, the rest was fairly easy. But to get to that “easy” point I had become so stressed with the whole process (Who, me? Stressed?) that I was JUST NOT HAVING ANY FUN.
So I said to myself “Self – you need to chillax. “

There they were again – those friendly voices in my head were telling me that my programs were fine, they were put together at last, and I wouldn’t need to be spending anymore of my free time on them. I GOTTA LIVE, AND HIKE, AND GO OUT IN A CANOE, AND DO CROSSWORD PUZZLES, AND LOB MORE PUMICE INTO NAKNEK LAKE!!!

The salmon are almost here!!! OMG!!! Any day now!!!
I can hear them swimming up through the Naknek River from Bristol Bay right now. Soon it is going to be so cool and it is going to be so crazy – potentially thousands of salmon, 300 visitors, and 25-30 brown bears every day, all trying to be in the same place at the same time during the month of July – the two-mile stretch of water called Brooks River in Katmai National Park on the Alaska Peninsula.

If the phone in the office worked I would call MY FAVORITE TRAVEL AGENT the minute I see a fish.
Everyone I have talked with says it is going to be amazing.
I can’t believe I’m here.

Bridge across Brooks River with Lower River Viewing Platform

Harlequin Duck at Brooks Falls

June 17 is MY FAVORITE TRAVEL AGENT’S birthday.
Happy Birthday, Big Bro!!!
Sure do wish you could be here!

Anglers at mouth of Brooks River

Access to the internet is improving but continues to be limited here at Katmai. I get up at 5:30 a.m. to use the computer for an hour or so before 7:00. If I write a bit at least every other night and save it on my laptop, I should be able to post something at least twice a week. I am so sorry about not being able to include photos right now. Hopefully soon I can manage one or two into the blog. Hang in there!

I would like to take this opportunity to thank MY FAVORITE TRAVEL AGENT and MY FAVORITE CRAFTS AND RECIPE GURU for all their support recently. The care packages are superb! It looks like my post-Katmai travel plans to visit the Kenai Peninsula are taking shape. And I have rediscovered an old friend – crocheting. I used to enjoy crocheting many years ago but it just sort of got lost in the passing of time. So when I mentioned a few blogs ago that I was having a bit of difficulty finding something to do in my free time (besides reading and lobbing pumice into Naknek Lake, of course) not only did I get a box of yarn but I also got a selection of crochet hooks, patterns, scissors, and measuring tape all in a handy carrying case!

But there is something else that keeps me busy now – swatting mosquitoes. Everything they say about the Alaska state bird is true.

As of Monday my external hard drive is officially toast. That means, among other things, that I have lost all my Word blog text that I had saved and all the Alaska photos I had taken up until a few days ago. I was putting it all on the drive so I could save space on my laptop. Well, I won’t be doing THAT again anytime soon.
This is not as horrible a situation as it might seem, though. I did get all of the text and many of the photos posted on the blog before the Katmai internet/Nina’s external hard drive double fiasco occurred. Plus, it is still early in the season and I can take lots more pictures! The salmon haven’t even started arriving yet, nor have the bears. And there is still a lot of pumice that remains to be lobbed into Naknek lake.

Plus, I can always go back to the Glacier Brew House in Anchorage on my way back to Utah and have halibut for lunch and take another picture of it.

I do honestly regret losing my original 138 photos of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, however. That is truly a sad loss. I will be able to get back there, but it won’t be the same as that hike down the Ukak Falls trail for the first time. There won’t be another first time waking up early the next morning to photograph Mt. Katmai peeking through thick shreds of cloud in the distance above Knife Creek Glacier or the amazement of seeing four lenticular clouds layered one on top of another like giant flattened marshmallows contoured above Mt. Mageik.

What freaked me out about losing all the info on the hard drive was that I was unsure if all my thin section photos and other data from SUU had been lost forever. Thankfully none of it was lost – it was all just hiding, safely tucked away in a folder, out of the way, ready for me to find it if I really needed to. Whew! I would surely have been one unhappy rock-hounding puppy dog if I had lost the results of all that work I had done on the Beaver Dam Mountains. That is my enduring treasure, evidence of how hard I worked to get my geology degree.

I had a very nice Sunday and Monday off, though. Early Saturday evening I took a walk to the falls platform with a couple of rangers and we saw a lovely harlequin duck out on the rocks in the river. What a beauty! I don’t think I had ever seen one before.
Later Saturday night I went over to the bar at Brooks Lodge and had a couple of brewskies that were definitely not your 3.2% alcohol Utah-grade beverage. It was a birthday celebration for a fellow park ranger who turned 26 (Am I really old enough to be most everyone’s mother here?). The lodge is a nice cozy place – a small sitting area with a half circle of comfortable chairs facing the bar, a few barstools, a pleasant bartender, and more chairs surrounding a roaring fire in the fireplace to keep back the chill. I chillaxed, enjoying the company and atmosphere and of course the beer served in my Brooks Lodge Katmai NP souvenir glass.

Sunday I slept a bit late and then washed clothes, easing out of my cheerfully mild hangover as the morning and then afternoon wore on. I took a walk back to the falls platform later in the evening, this time ready with my camera in case the harlequin duck was back. And he was! I perched my elbows on the railing and snapped photo after photo (which I am happy to say are on my laptop in a new blog folder). I was even able to get some video of the duck clambering up onto a rock in the middle of the fast-moving water. So dang cute!

But then – the rotten scoundrel of a glaucous gull swooped down and knocked the harlequin duck off the rock and takes its place! I thought that was extremely unmannerly of the gull. The little duck must have wondered “Hey! What’s the big idea here?” as it paddled about in the water for a minute and then flew off upstream. Stupid gull.

Monday I put the finishing touches on my “Geology of Novarupta” illustrated talk that I am scheduled to give Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m. I have sort of figured out the Mac. I have sort of figured out Apple Keynote. I can do what I need to do and be done with it.

Plus, I am not the only person today who asked the question “What is it with these Mac people, anyway?”

When you have a minute, check this out: type in “banded pumice” in Google search and see what comes up. I was researching banded pumice today and found my blog post on the second page! It must have come up because I had inserted “banded pumice” into the key words at the bottom of the post a couple of weeks ago.

Woo Hoo!!!

We have been having quite a bit of trouble lately with our internet service here in the Alaska bush that is Katmai. The bandwidth is often exceeded by the many people that use the computers, and that slows the whole system down to less-than-dial-up speeds. The infrastructure needs repairing, which means going up on top of Dumpling Mountain to repair the tower that got nearly destroyed in high winds this past winter. Plus, the involvement of the federal government, which is known to move at glacial speeds anyway, only slows down the entire maintenance process even more. In addition to all that, the external hard drive on which I keep all my previous blog posts and pix has decided to quit on me. Lucky I have a handful of extra thumb drives to start fresh. Today.

So, that is the reason why it has been nearly a week since my last blog post. Don’t despair! We shall endure.

I have been working on my evening program for the past couple of weeks, and wasn’t making much progress. My topic is geology. Of course it is!!! There is so much to tell people! But hey – they don’t want to hear it all (I can’t imagine WHY they don’t, but clearly they don’t). They want to hear about two or three things that they might possibly remember, and see some nice pictures, and be done with it.

The thing is, park interpreters are supposed to interpret park resources in a meaningful way for visitors, not just spout off 45 minutes of facts in the hope of visitors finding their own significance in all of the mish-mash. This is not an easy task. We have to come up with “themes” and “subthemes” and “goals” and “objectives” that we hope each visitor will find important to them personally. Well, of course we never know if these goals are ever reached – the visitor leaves and then who knows what happens with their experience? But as someone near and dear once said many times over – It’s what we do. We try to follow the outline, and leave out a whole lot of interesting (well, to me, anyway) stuff.

So the next time you go to hear some park ranger talk for 45 minutes on, say, the mating habits of the collared lizard or how big-eared bats utilize echolocation to avoid a cave wall or why the Navajo sandstone is almost pure quartz, remember how much effort that ranger put into it so you could find meaning. Right on!

We are beginning to see many more visitors now, both human and otherwise. The salmon haven’t quite arrived yet but the bears are creeping and sneaking in, looking for an early treat. It’s mating season for Ursus arctos and you had better get out of their way.

We have begun staffing one of the viewing platforms already, and “the corner,” which is along the high-people-volume pathway across the river and to the falls platform (where every single visitor wants to get that perfect photo-op of the salmon jumping into the bear’s mouth).

Right now there are quite a few anglers angling about in the 2-mile length of Brooks River, catching and releasing trout and dolly varden (both are fish, for the uninitiated). Not being of the angler persuasion myself, yesterday while staffing the lower platform I decided to chat up one chap in chest-high waders and a funny hat. Politely I inquired as to just what the attraction might be, concerning just catching fish to let them go. So he tells me “It’s all about tricking the fish.” I said “That’s it? You’re playing mind games with a fish?” He kind of laughed and replied “Yeah, pretty much. Kind of goofy when you think about it.”

I’m getting paid to go back out to the VTTS Friday 6/11. I have assembled a nice outline of geologic talking-points for each stop on the 23-mile drive, for the Three Forks visitor center, and along the 3-mile round-trip hike. I hope I don’t lose anyone along the way.

Glaciers and volcanoes. Woo Hoo!!!

Finding something to do to amuse myself in my off time can be a bit of a challenge here at Brooks Camp. I do have books to read and the occasional Netflix flick to watch on my laptop. Friday night I watched “Harold and Maude” which was made in 1971 when I was 19 but I had never seen it before. Great flick and the Cat Stevens soundtrack brought back hippie memories of my freshman year at the University of South Florida (Hi Barb!). Whatever happened to the guy who played Harold?

Other people at Brooks Camp often stay up late and play games and cards but that’s not really my gig. For fun, I can often be found checking the weather station for the day’s high and low temperatures and times of sunset and sunrise. But since that takes a total of, oh, maybe three minutes, I still must search out something to do to fill that void between dinner and going to bed when it is still light outside. And I’m not talking 8:30 p.m., either. This is the Land of the Midnight Sun, after all. Now at least I know what to expect when I finally get to Iceland. And btw – what latitude in the southern hemisphere is New Zealand?

I can’t really stay on the computer for hours, either. We have limited bandwidth out here in the Alaska bush and must share between at least 14 people the 2 Macs that have internet access. No big deal, though. I manage.

So I walk. No surprise here to those who know me! I walk around camp. I walk to the beach. I walk along the beach and back to camp. I walk to the bridge across Brooks River. I walk in the woods on the road to Lake Brooks and back – 2 miles round trip but watch out for the bears along the way. I saw a lynx one time. I walk in the woods on the trail to the falls platforms – same distance, same bears. I see a lot of spruce grouse, camouflaging themselves by not moving.

Spruce Grouse

I might be walking around and happen to look at my watch and it reads 10:30 p.m. OMG!!! It’s broad daylight out here! I’ve got to go to bed!

Saturday on my day off I went on a nice 3 mile round-trip hike up Dumpling Mountain with a group of visitors from Elderhostel. These people stopped so much and walked so slow it made me look good! We went up to the first overlook and on the way down I showed them where there is a bear den. It was drizzling rain and no wind when we started out around 9:30 this morning. When we were coming down off the mountain at 1:00 p.m. the winds had picked up to a strong breeze. By 5:00 p.m. the wind was blowing one-foot whitecaps on Naknek Lake. You just never know what the weather will do around here. I now believe that Alaska must have invented the phrase “If you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes and it will change!”

Iliak Arm from Dumpling Mountain

Back to the subject of things to do at Brooks Camp. My favorite pastime lately has been lobbing pieces of pumice into the lake and watching them float. Now, you may think BORING, that this is no big deal, but it is! Lobbing pumice is totally exciting! Pumice is really “frothy magma” when it is ejected explosively from a volcano and cools within seconds. This magma (melted rock that is underground) was once full of gas, and the pumice rock still has a bunch of tiny holes or vesicles in it, and it is really light weight. There have been tests done on pumice and some of it has been found to still float after a year and a half in the water. That’s amazing!

There is a bunch of pumice all over the beach here and it’s all most likely from the 1912 eruption of Novarupta volcano. We got pink pumice. We got white pumice. We got brown, orange, yellow, white and gray pumice. And most exciting of all – hold on to your hats, folks – we have banded pumice. Woo Hoo!!! Banded pumice gets igneous geology-types all worked up. It is a combination of several different types of magmas – mainly rhyolite, andesite, and dacite, depending on how much silica is involved – and geologists have been working for years to figure out just how those magmas were mixed underground before they erupted in the 1912 volcano for which Katmai is so famous.

Banded Pumice

Glaciers retreated from this particular area of the Alaska Peninsula around 10,000 years ago, leaving us as evidence of their presence what are referred to as “glacial erratics.” These are often boulder-sized rocks that were carried along by the glacial ice as it advanced and moved far from their mountains of origin, and dropped wherever the glacier melted. Granite boulders of varying sizes can be seen on the shores of Naknek Lake, having been carried there from the Aleutian Range, many miles distant.

Glacial erratics

There is also a nice outcrop along the beach of fossilized leaves and petrified wood from the early Jurassic (198-177 million years ago) Talkeetna Formation. This rock formation, which includes shallow marine (ocean) sedimentary rocks, was once part of a volcanic arc much as the Aleutian subduction zone is today (where the Pacific plate is diving or subducting beneath the North American plate along southern Alaska and the Aleutian Islands). The rock outcrops can be traced for over 900 miles, from Katmai north to Cook Inlet near Anchorage, then east through the Talkeetna Mountains and on to the Copper River basin.

Leaf fossil in mudstone

Sunday I am going back to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes for the day. The tours are run by Brooks Lodge but a park ranger goes along as interpretive guide on each tour. The owner of the Lodge told us that since the tour isn’t full (so early in the season) anyone from the Park who wanted to go was welcome. Of course I immediately volunteered! It is my day off and I’m not the guide, so I don’t have to go in uniform but can relax and enjoy the geology. It is a pretty cool date, too – June 6, 2010 is the 98th anniversary of the explosion of Novarupta.


Today, after so many months, the interpretive staff had their first day in uniform at Brooks Camp. At last! There certainly has been a lot of water passed by under my bridge to get to this moment in time.

I was talking about this phenomenon with a few of the other interpreters and some bear techs over the course of the day as I roamed the bear-viewing platforms and walked the trails. I thought back to when I had first applied for the job – was it November 2009? I am not even sure what month it was because I had applied for so many Parks jobs (at least 100 by my count) that they all ran into one another. I didn’t even know exactly where Katmai was, much less what the job really entailed. All I knew was that it was in Alaska, and that if I got offered a job in Alaska, I would find a way to get there.

So sometime during the second week of March I got an email from Katmai National Park and Preserve asking if I was interested and available to work from May1 through September 21, 2010. OMG! Where is Katmai? What did I apply for? I had no idea of the geology of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes or of the occurrence of the brown bears until I looked them up. I responded that I was indeed interested and available and so a phone interview was arranged for a few days later. Amazingly, a little birdie told only me that I would get the job and would be going to Alaska. My sister and brother, though, were a bit more skeptical and said something that had to do with not counting chickens.

With the help of my Human Resources Guru Jeani, I wrote out answers to the questions I figured might be asked in the interview, keeping in mind the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA’s) that the federal government is so keen on people having if they desire employment. Pam from Cedar Breaks NM via Grand Canyon NP gave me a great referral. I got an email the same day I interviewed, offering me a job. I was on my way to Alaska for 5 months.

Meanwhile I had taken a critical hire job at Glen Canyon NRA for a month, from mid-March through mid-April. I had not applied there and don’t hold any burning desire to work at recreation areas, but they needed someone in a pinch and, since I wasn’t doing anything for a month and needed the money (Am I really 57 years old??? When will I ever settle down???), I threw my uniforms and bicycle into my car and drove 180 miles to Page, AZ. Although everyone was very nice and extremely helpful to such a short-timer as I was ( I did get to go on a ½-day float trip down the Colorado River From Glen Canyon Dam to Lee’s Ferry), it was a less-than-inspiring Visitor Use Assistant job and I would go nuts doing it 8 hours a day. At this stage of the game I don’t need to be applying for any GS-4 jobs. There is simply no need for me to start THAT far down the federal employment food chain. GS-5 is low enough.

When I returned to Central I had 2 weeks to get organized and pack before I left for Alaska. What craziness! I had to pack food, clothing, bedding, and who knows what else. I bought fleece. I bought leather hiking boots for work. I bought scent-free shampoo and conditioner. I bought canned chicken and tuna and a box of cookies. I bought spicy mustard and horseradish mayonnaise and salt and pepper and cumin and coriander and granola and dehydrated soups. I bought all new rain gear. I bought 2 packages of AAA and 3 packages of AA rechargeable batteries. I bought, borrowed, begged, and scrounged every possible thing I thought I would need for 5 months in the roadless Alaska bush, all the while realizing that I would probably not need it all, at least not all at one time and especially not all at the beginning. I downloaded music onto my laptop (not enough, it has turned out). And I packed, and I packed, and I packed. And I re-packed. I packed and unpacked and re-packed more than once the two (matching!) suitcases that Jeani had paid $15 for at the Catholic thrift store in St. George. I dragged them to the airport to find out their empty weight – 23 pounds of suitcase! I weighed my sleeping bag. I finally put Jeani’s bathroom scale into the hall and left it there, weighing each suitcase each time I added an item. I packed boxes to ship – Glossary of Geology, Sibley’s Guide to Birds, paperback mysteries, 2 books by Simon Winchester, along with whatever else would fit – raisins, laundry soap, 8 clothespins, Costco-sized bags of M&Ms, battery charger, flip-flops for the shower, towels and washcloth, headlamp, uniforms of pants, shirts, belt, vest, jacket, boots, ball cap, and flat hat (the last of which I don’t need at Katmai and ended up sending home), every stitch of underwear, nearly every pair of socks I own. I bought a spare pair of glasses which were not ready by the time I left but which, when shipped to me by Jeani, turned out to be the wrong prescription in the left eye and which I will need to exchange when I return to Utah in September but will do in a pinch if I need them. I made trips to the post office almost every other day and took serious advantage of their “if it fits it ships” program, stuffing those large-sized boxes until every possible square centimeter was filled (and the tradition persists, with my ongoing “Purveyor of Fine Junk Food, Esq.” packages from Utah). I schlepped my 17-inch laptop through 4 airports.

I did not bring any blue jeans.

And My Travel Agent would not let me sneak my New Balance sneakers into Alaska
I won’t even mention what I purchased and re-packed in Anchorage. Why do you think I stayed there four days?

And so here I find myself today, after that month at Glen Canyon, the two weeks in Central, those four days in Anchorage, plus three weeks in King Salmon and one week in Brooks Camp. These hectic weeks of learning and inspiration have all led up to this one day, this FIRST DAY on which the visitor facilities at Katmai National Park and Preserve on the Alaska Peninsula are finally open. Our four-week orientation is over. We have been given our radios, our spare batteries, our battery chargers, our call numbers, our buffalo badges, our name tags, our bear spray, our backpacks, our mailboxes, and our keys.

Ladies and Gentlemen – It’s Show Time! Let the salmon arrive!

Katherine Hanson

Hey there, I'm Katherine Hanson, the curator of, a site dedicated to uncovering the hidden gems of the USA. With a passion for exploration and a love for discovering the beauty in every corner of this vast country, I'm on a mission to share the best cities, national parks, historic landmarks, and entertainment hotspots that the USA has to offer. From towering mountains to bustling cities, there's so much to see and experience. Join me as I embark on adventures and uncover the wonders that make America truly remarkable.
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