Non est vivere sed valere vita est


Small feathers are aflight! Visitors from exotic lands are singing their hearts out in celebration of breeding on tussocks of tundra! And mosquitos are out in force, ready to feed all our newly-arrived and newly-hatched winged friends! Yes, it’s birding season once again on the Denali Highway. A favorite time of year (but then, what is not?) Binoculars are permanently attached to the chests of many of our guests these weeks, with hopes that that particular rustle in the bushes, that plaintive soprano three-note ballad is THE bird that they have traveled thousands, sometimes many thousands, of miles to see. The Denali Highway is one of the premier birding destinations in North America during the breeding season, and while many accomplished, experienced, and sometimes, admittedly,  slightly obsessive birding enthusiasts do descend on our land, the novice can also feel comfortable spotting new avian amigos, both large and small. There is something unique, something magical, something storybook-esque I feel when watching our human visitors, from far away, trouncing down our Alaskan trails, searching assiduously for other visitors, from far away. Both are temporary, passing strangers-in-the-night in the perpetual sunlight of June.

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Welcome to summer!


Here’s our beautiful Gulkana River with a newly found lovey rock. We are rockhounds here in Paxson; one of our favorite activities is to walk up and down the riverbank discovering uniquely shaped rocks, like this heart, or beautiful rocks with stunning white lines, criss-crosses, etc. On almost every dog walk, I come home with a pocket containing at least one new rock to add to our collection. River rocks line our balconies, dress up our windowsills, and get added to flower vases. I’m planning a giant outdoor mosaic work with some. Well, this picture says it all: We LOVE our home in Paxson and on the Denali Highway; and we hope you will love it too! Welcome to another beautiful Alaska summer!

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We’re still here! Just busy, as ever…

Wow. Started thinking about, or I should say, remembering this blog a few weeks ago. So I got on it today and saw with a shock that our last entry was 2012! Oh my. I hadn’t realized time had been flying along for so long!

With the best of intentions, I can say that I do hope to contribute to this blog more often, as we used to do. I enjoyed it…just that the living of life got in the way!

We’re greatly looking forward to this coming summer! Reservations are coming in quite strong, so we expect this to be a fantastic 2015, full of interesting guests and new friends from all over the world.

For those planning on driving the Denali Highway, here’s a sneak preview of some of the stupendous scenery you’ll be encountering. This is one of our favorite spots on the road:IMG_3564

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Scenic Sunday: You choose

Low-angle sun at 30 below zero can provide some beautiful shots, giving you a nice feeling for what it is like on the compound now:

Midwinter sun at high noon over Denali Highway Cabins at 30 below

Here, for contrast, are some photos taken in a different month:


At this time of year, with solstice still over three weeks out, I know which season I would choose…..



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Bird’s Day Thursday: No Turkeys Here

Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers from the USofA. As today is Bird’s Day Thursday, it’s natural to consider that avian symbol of this feast day, the turkey.

Turkeys don’t reach anywhere close to Alaska, however. Another member of the order is, however, the State Bird – the willow ptarmigan. Common to abundant in our tundra; we easily can find these large grouses as close as a few minutes away, as soon as we’re out of the taiga spruce and into tundra vegetation. On one occasion, a few Decembers ago, we had some ptarmigan show up on Swan Lake, but I don’t expect that to recur.
Here is a courtship pair in mid-May. Neither bird has completed the transition from wearing full-white winter plumage to the wonderfully cryptic summer feathering.May 14 willow ptarmigan
Here, another mid-May cock, on the left, is actively stalking a hen on the right.May 16 williow ptarmigan
By mid-October, the birds have regained their full-white feathering, other than some minuscule color near the eye.
October 19 willow ptarmigan

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Tuesday’s Tundra and Taiga: Tundra & Taiga Together

Overview of the Paxson region

Here we very definitely are showing both tundra and taiga. This is from one of our favorite sites; it provides a magnificent overview of where we live. We are looking almost directly north to the Alaska Range; the defile is Isabel’s Pass, through which pass migrating birds and mammals, early human inhabitants of Alaska, gold miners on their way from Valdez to the 40-mile country and later to Fairbanks, Alaska’s first road: the Richardson Highway, and since the 1970s, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

On the top right of the photo you can see a small amount of the Gulkana Glacier, which used to drain into Summit Lake, the prominent water feature below it and Isabel Pass; in recent history, however, its outflow has swept north to drain through Isabel Pass and north into the Yukon drainage.

The straight stretch of asphalt in the right foreground is the Richardson Highway. The sinuous trace that leads left out of the taiga spruce into the tundra shrubbery is the Denali Highway.

The small lake at the photo’s left edge is Swan Lake (also known as Mud Lake but we don’t use that ignominious term here); the meandering river in the left foreground is the Gulkana River, which has originated in Summit Lake and descended through the canyon along which runs the Richardson, also carving out the gravel bank shadowed here but still very noticeable at the top of where one can see the Richardson.

This photo is from early September; it demonstrates the red hues that dwarf arctic birch, remnant fireweed, and bearberry, blueberry and other ericaceae impart to the tundra. In the taiga we have white spruce, black spruce and golden-hued cottonwoods (balsam poplar). This scene shows why we adore this time of year – it is a glorious spectacle of golds, reds and greens, with the greatest chances of fine weather. No mosquitoes, lots of spawning salmon and the terrestrial animals all are focused on fattening up for the half-year fast that is just around the corner.

All of Paxson is nestled in the crook of road at the junction of the two highways, directly below the gravel bluff. The Paxson Inn & Lodge, once the gem of the Richardson but woebegotten these many, many years, commands the corner itself. Our compound is hidden along the river to the north and west of the lodge and directly below the bluff. The DOT maintenance yard, our neighbor to the north, is marked by the presence of the cone-holding telecommunications tower. Angling between the two highways and marked by a stretch of low golden shrubbery – willows and cottonwood – is the airstrip. The small white feature on the right-hand side of the Richardson is the AT&T facility which occasionally sees use by workers maintaining remote antennae in this region. And that’s the whole “town”!

Elevations: we are just below 3,000′; Summit Lake and Isabel Pass just above 3,000. The peaks shown rise to the 9,000′ level and the high peaks of this part of the Alaska Range – Mts. Deborah, Hess and Hayes – are just off to the left and top out at over 13,000′.

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Scenic Sunday: Waiting for the warmth…

A forgotten Adirondack chair on the deck of Isabel’s Cottage. It’s going to have a long wait!

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Side-tracked Saturday: just slightly misspelled

A headline from the front page of today’s New York Times:

In China, ‘Audi’ Means ‘Big Shot’

Always count on the Times to make it clear for those of you who hadn’t been in the know……

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Tuesday’s Tundra & Taiga: Do you feel lucky? Well, do you?

Abandon all hope of getting rescued, ye who enter here…..

Two sets of these signs, this one and on the other side of the road, go up here in Paxson each October.  A matching set appears at the other end of the Denali Highway, in Cantwell. The last winter fatalities on our road occurred over a dozen years ago as the culmination of a series of Very Bad Decisions. Three crosses at mile 43 remind travelers that There But For the Retention of a Few Still-Synapsing Brain Cells Go I.

There are a number of circumstances that make the possibility of big problems on our road even more precarious this winter. First is the altered hunting regulations, which are encouraging significantly more caribou-seekers here than has been the case for decades. Second is that those mile-42 stalwarts, Alan and Susie Echols of Maclaren River Lodge, have folded their tents and gone to balmier climes….like Fairbanks….until at least the beginning of February.  Alan has been responsible for many, many rescues over the past decade – AK State Troopers have been more than happy to pass on to him the burden of rescues.

Not this winter.

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Monday’s Back At The Ranch: Website Wobblies

Not that anyone already reading this blog often needs to look at our website – usually, it’s website readers who learn of the blog, thus the flow proceeds in that direction – but today’s post is mostly to state that our venerable site, looking for the most part as it has for about ten years, is in the shop for a complete frame-off rebuild.


As posted last week.


NEW, however, is that the extant site is, momentarily, gone from view. It will be back! With any luck, that will be before you’re even reading this post. Thus, long before the new site is active, the old site will act as seat-warmer.

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