After nearly a year of “becoming Alaskan,” we are back in the Eastern Time Zone and, honestly, not exactly sure how to settle back into life in the lower 48. Things seem fast, and hot, and crowded. Where there always this many people on the east coast? But maybe we are just missing Alaska, and having a hard time saying good-bye, and, maybe, that is okay. For now.
But in the spirit of remembering, yet moving forward, this weekend we did what always makes us happy…we set off for the woods.
Luckily, our new town, Carlisle, PA, is surrounded by a handful of state parks that make the outdoors a short 30-40 minutes away. The Appalachian Trail stretches through our new “backyard,” and it is finally getting cool enough to enjoy being outside without loosing half your weight in sweat.
Yesterday, we drove through the country, up into the hills, to Colonel Denning State Park. The 273-acre park is small, cute, and, for the most part, quiet. We hiked the short Flat Rock Trail (2.5 miles one-way) to Flat Rock, a scenic ledge overlooking the Cumberland Valley.
The view was clear and crisp. I loved the patchwork of farm land linked by thin lines of trees like a living quilt, and the soft arch of the hills mirrored on the other side of the valley. Three hawks played in the breeze, dipping and crossing like paper air planes caught on a current of air.
It reminded me that there is always a new place to explore.
The Road Trip Continues… Alaska to Pennsylvania
The Icefields Parkway is possibly one of the prettiest stretches of road I have ever driven on. And after a year in Alaska, that is saying a lot. The road is approximately 140 miles long and passes through Jasper National Park, Lake Louise, and Banff National Park. It cuts directly through the mountains like some kind of insane scenery-driven roller coaster. Jaw dropping.
Below are a few of my favorite spots along this amazing scenic highway:
The sheer amount of water rushing and twisting over and under rock makes this place special. The first part of the falls is the most dramatic, a giant plunge into a smoothed out bowl of churning white water. The spray here was so intense we were covered in tiny droplets that blinked in the sun like Christmas lights.
After the initial drop, the falls cut through a deep canyon, crashing into the walls in violent bursts. I loved the curved face of the canyon walls, smoothed by time and water.
A bonus, in the early morning light, the mist created several rainbows that hung over the water like brightly colored ribbon.
This waterfall was unique in the way it stretched out across the rock face like tree roots, bending and splitting and reaching towards the clear, deep pool. And it did this again and again in a series of falls and pools, feeding into one another. A woven wall of water.
The icefield, one of the largest accumulations of ice and snow south of the Arctic Circle, feeds 8 glaciers and gets up to 275 inches of snow fall per year. From the highway you can see it sitting on top of the mountains like a massive layer of icing, thick-white. I am always amazed to see reminders, like this, of how the world used to look, covered in endless layers of white.
Pouring, like over flow from a full sink, Athabascan Glacier slides down the side of a mountain to form a horseshoe-shaped tongue. At the toe (the lowest end of a glacier), the snow is dirty and dripping, but above it on the walls of the mountain you can see hanging glacier, glinting blue, and the cracks of an icefall.
We also liked the year markers indicating the ghost of what was once the toe of the glacier. The 2000 marker is almost 100 yards from where the toe now sits. Hard to believe how fast it is receding.
Hiking Wilcox Pass Trail
This trail cuts above treeline quickly, offering views of the Athabascan Glacier and the Columbia Icefield beyond it. We crossed over graying snow and thin, cold streams running clear and slick across the rocky bottom. But my favorite part was when the trail swung up and over a rocky hill into the pass. Here the alpine meadow, spotted with gray boulders, stretches out into a canvas of green. It felt like the setting for a fairy tale.
The Weeping Wall
This spot is right along the highway. You turn a corner and bam: a giant wall of rock with long thin vertical lines of water cresting over the knife sharp edge of the cliff and sprinkling towards the ground. It is so big that everything looks small. The water looks quiet and wispy, but I am positive that it is all much bolder and more intense than it looks.
The color of this lake is like a dream or maybe straight out of Neverland. I am almost surprised we didn’t see Peter and Wendy drifting by. So pretty.
The Road Trip Continues… Alaska to Pennsylvania
After traveling for several days through the Yukon and British Columbia, we finally arrived in Alberta where we took our first two day stop at Jasper National Park. Talk about pretty. The Canadian Rockies are something to marvel at- towering jagged peaks of sheer rock. The area is snaked by rushing blue-green rivers and some of the prettiest lakes I have ever seen.
We were welcomed to the park by several packs of goats who are a car-stopping attraction in this area. Literally. They walk out in front of cars as if they own the road and don’t seem to mind when they block both lanes of traffic as they walk back and forth. Too funny.
Our other animal highlight in Jasper: a huge male elk! His velvet rack was impressive as he stood stoically on the side of a back road.
But my favorite part of the park during these first two days was our hike on the Sulphur Skyline Trail. It was an intense uphill climb, over 2,000 feet of elevation gain, but the views made it worth every lung-burning minute.
On the final shelf before the peak, we walked through a field of alpine wildflowers. It reminded me of pastel polka-dots scattered across green paper. So cute.
The wind picked up as we began the final ascent to the summit, a series of tight switchbacks up a rock/gravel knoll that would lead us to the treeless, boulder-topped peak. Lucky for us we hit the summit as the other group was going down so we had it to ourselves. A moment alone with the mountains.
The view…wow. It felt as if we had been dropped into the jaws of a shark, rows of razor sharp mountains piercing the blue sky in every direction. Wind pushed in fierce gusts that sucked my jacket tight to my skin. I never wanted to come down.
Lucas and I have been vigilantly monitoring the snow plowing progress at Denali National Park for the last few weeks, and this weekend, we got our break. On Saturday, the park road was opened to the public up to mile 29 for the first time since the fall. Saying we were excited is perhaps an understatement.
Denali has quickly become one of my favorite places in Alaska. I could happily explore this massive park every weekend and never get tired of it. There is just so much to see.
For this excursion, we decided to drive the road out to mile 29, Teklanika, and then continue to hike deeper into the park via the road. Less than five minutes into our drive, we were chatting, and looking out at the snow covered peaks wishing to see a moose. And bam. A moose, snacking a few yards off the road in the woods. It was a good sign for the day ahead.
The drive itself is always beautiful. Denali is one of those places you can never quite capture in a picture because it surrounds you. Full mountain immersion. It is like being lifted into another world, quiet, still snowy-white at this time of year. The peaks look like they have been draped in yards and yards of white silk. And these kind of views stretch in every direction.
We also got super lucky on Saturday. The clear-sky day revealed the mountain. Denali (McKinley). It peaked out early, within ten miles of the winter visitor center, and we craned our necks to watch it as it appeared and disappeared behind corners all the way out to Teklanika. I am always amazed at how huge it is. It stands in the sky like a giant, even when it is hundreds of miles away.
After a leisurely drive, taking pictures, getting out to walk a little on the hard-packed, wind-swept snow, we made it to the “road closed” sign and continued on foot. The next section of the road, out to Igloo Mountain, is sandwiched by mountains and crosses a few rivers, little and big. The first river, the biggest we crossed, had several open patches of water. The deep blue water appeared from under the snow and ice, swept across the riverbed rocks, and disappeared just as quickly under more ice. Signs of spring.
At Igloo Mountain we decided to hike, off the road, into the snow a little bit. A side trip. At first the snow was hard-packed and wind-swept like what we had walked on earlier. But at the top of the first rise we found ourselves on the tundra, covered in thick patches of icy, wet snow, and we started to sink. First to our ankles, then knees, and then up to our thighs. We struggled to move forward. It was like walking in silly putty. I even spent some time crawling across the snow to help distribute my weight. I wish we had a video. It was comically ridiculous. We gave up less than a half mile from the road. We were missing the snow shoes we left in our car. But we both like a little adventure, and it was one of my favorite parts of the day.
On the way back, the light was beautiful. Soft against the blue sky, and the Denali, the mountain, continued to dance along the horizon. And the icing on the cake, we saw another moose, laying down in the snow, on our way out. Back to back moose sightings. Oh, Denali. I am already dreaming about our trip back this summer.
As I mentioned before, I am trying to bake at least once a week since we arrived in Alaska. I not only love the way it makes our apartment smell and having fresh good bread to eat, but I also like the challenge and the feeling of accomplishment that baking provides. It is one more way Alaska is reminding me how people used to live. I love the stories my Gram and my Mom tell about my great-grandmother in the kitchen. She had eight children and was one of those people that cooked without recipes. I wish I could sneak into her kitchen now and absorb her knowledge. It amazes me when people can cook by feel, and I hope someday I am that comfortable and confident in my own abilities. But I do feel lucky that I get to bake because I like it, rather than because I have to.
My baking education is a mix of my time eating good bread while working for The Bread Bakers Guild of America, reading, and watching videos online. This is by no means a full education, but I feel like I get better each time I bake. This week I wanted to make baguettes. I have made baguettes once before. Our kitchen here is small. The oven is not as large as a normal home oven, and I am limited in equipment to one large bowl, one small baking sheet, and one loaf pan. No mixer. I have for the last several years been playing around with the no knead baking method made popular in 2006 by Jim Lahey in a New York Times Article. I have been working from the recipe found on Breadtopia, a website dedicated to home baking. Over the course of time my version has changed a little from what is presented on this site; it was a great jumping off point though. But for baguettes, I needed more than a recipe. I needed to know how to best shape and bake as well. I found what I was looking for in a you tube clip of Julia Child and Raymond Calvel, both culinary/baking rock stars. The clip also provides a recipe which I did not use, instead I stuck with my no knead version. I did use the methods for shaping, resting, and baking that begin about 12 minutes into the clip. If you can picture someone, hands covered in flour, hunched over a laptop watching this video then bouncing back to the counter to pat and shape dough, then back to the laptop, you can get an idea of what my Tuesday looked like. Overall, the bread was yummy and didn’t look to bad. At the end of the day seeing the two demi baguettes sitting on my counter felt pretty great. Below you will find the recipe and video if you want to give it a whirl!
No Knead Bread
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I prefer King Arthur Flour)
* You can also use whole wheat flour but you will need to add a little more water.
1 packet active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 cups warm water
First, mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl, I usually use a wooden spoon but any utensil will work. Then add the water. Mix with the spoon until ingredients start to clump, lightly knead the dough in the bowl until it sticks together as a unit. The dough should be smooth but not sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic (I use a plastic grocery sack and tie it.) Let the dough sit at room temperature for 18 hours (longer if it is cool in your house).
After it has proofed for 18 hours, the dough will have expanded, the surface will be sticky and have small holes (this is good). Use your hand (well floured) to scoop the dough onto the well floured counter. Once on the counter, sprinkle the dough with flour and gentle pat. Then fold the dough in thirds, like a brochure. Finally fold it in half, like a hotdog bun. Let the dough rest on the counter for 15 minutes. Use a new bowl, or clean the same large bowl, and lightly flour the inside using your hand to spread it up the sides of the bowl. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let it sit at room temperature for 2 hours.
After two hours, preheat your oven to 450 degrees. This is when you will want to reference the you tube video clip. I will also provide a brief overview, but it is definitely worth watching the video.
Place the dough on a well floured counter. Cut the dough in half (this is different than the video, she cuts hers in thirds, but I recommend half). Take one of the dough pieces and pat it down. Then fold the bottom and the top in, again like a brochure, patting after each fold. Seal the seam by pressing along the edge of the dough with the palm of your hand. Then, down the center create a small trough using the side of your hand (almost like a karate chop). Finally fold the dough in half (along the trough) and seal the seam again with the palm of your hand. Now it is time to roll it out. Start with your hands in the middle of the dough and roll towards the outside. Make sure you don’t make it too big to fit on your baking sheet or pizza stone. Lay the dough on a floured canvas or towel for the final rest, until it doubles in size, about 2 hours.
After the rest, roll the dough onto a baking sheet so the bottom side is now facing up. You are ready for the final steps, to score and bake the bread. To score use a straight razor to make 3 or 4 (depending on the size of the baguette) horizontal cuts on the bread. You want to make quick cuts. After it has been scored, spray or coat the bread with water. Then place it in the bottom of the oven. If you have a spray bottle, spray the bread at minute 2, 4, and 6. At minute 6, you will also want to move the bread to the middle oven rack where it will remain for the rest of the bake. Bake the bread for a total of 25 minutes. I usually leave the bread in for an additional 5 minutes with with oven turned off. When the bread comes out tap the bottom, it should sound hollow, this means it is done. And enjoy!
The literary journal, Passages North, launched a new website last week that features my short story, “Floating Away from the Moon.” The story was published in the winter issue of the journal and is part of my short story collection. To read the story visit: http://passagesnorth.com/current-issue/issue-32/floating-away-from-the-moon/