UAF has many traditions, I’m sure, but the one best-known by the bulk of the student body is Starvation Gulch. Starvation Gulch occurs on a Saturday at the end of September every year, and involves a great deal of fire.
Six bonfires are constructed to one side of the Taku parking lot by different teams. They have to be within certain dimensions, include no spray paint, and follow a few other rules which are in place for safety reasons. The fire fighters light them on fire over the course of about 15 minutes, starting at one end, and the team whose flame burns highest gets to take the trophy home and display it proudly until next year.
Clubs and departments are given the opportunity to sell things at booths set up in the middle of the parking lot by the bus station. I helped out with the Japan-Alaska Club’s booth this time, since I’m trying to be an active participant in their activities this year. We got together on Friday at the club president’s house to prepare the food. 440 gyoza made, three bags of chicken sliced into strips and boiled slightly for yakitori, and two batches of mochi made using the microwave. We had Dragonball Z on in the background while we worked; having a Japanese movie playing with no English subtitles proved too distracting, since the president and/or I had to explain what was going on to everyone else.
At the event last night, we warmed the finished gyoza over a grill as it was ordered. The chicken was cooked over the grill as well, having soaked up a home-made marinade all day. The mochi could be grilled if people wanted it. Everything was served on sticks. Business was steady the whole time. Even accounting for the fact that we always had a few people hovering while their food cooked, we had one of the busiest booths.
We stayed open after everyone else had gone. We were the only ones who stayed open long enough that the event staff could get something to eat. They ended up having to lift our canopy over our heads and move it so they could take it down. The event staff left and we elected to cook the rest of our supplies. We ate a few; some club members paid for some of the leftovers; and we gave quite a bit of food to the firefighters who were going to be there all night watching the smoldering flames. They were glad for that, since they hadn’t considered midnight hunger before their shift started. It turned out that one of the firefighters had grown up in Japan, so she was especially happy about the gyoza.
We had our fire a bit warm on the second grill, which was great for cooking times but less so for keeping the skewers intact, in spite of the fact we were keeping them submerged in salt water. Winston, one of the Japanese exchange students, was eating some of the night-end yakitori when his skewer broke off right above his hand and his delicious (if over-salted) chicken plunged into the dirt. “Shit!” he exclaimed (he’s great with slang), and we all turned to look. After a moment’s pause, we all cried, “NOOOOOOOO!” Our communal melodramatic lamentation lasted long enough to demolish the three-second rule, and Winston’s yakitori was laid to rest on the hot coals.
Winston is not his real name, of course. It’s a nickname he adopted for use here, and intends to keep using on his return to Japan. He’s a lot of fun to be around. He has a good sense of humor, and is great to talk to. He’ll be leaving before too much longer, but I intend to hang out with him some more before he returns to Japan.
All in all, this is the most fun I’ve had at Starvation Gulch. Much more fun that just showing up to stare at the bonfires. I didn’t get to see the fire jugglers, though I hear that one of them managed to catch her hair on fire this year. If I weren’t graduating in spring, I would totally help run the booth again.
Ash and Patti offered to bring me and my stuff up to Fairbanks because they’d been considering a trip up to Chena Hot Springs anyway. I found the idea quite pleasing — not only is Patti’s car much younger and in much better shape than Dad’s car (he’d offered to drive me up, as well), spending the night at Chena with Ash and Patti sounded like great fun.
And it was. The road trip up was considerably less exciting than the one we took to Juneau, of course. Not only have all three of us previously traveled this road on numerous occasions, none of us are particularly fond of Fairbanks and Ash turned out not to be in the mood for a road trip anyway.
This is the first time any of us have been to Chena when grass was visible. Usually we go in winter, when the place is blanketed in snow and the only green is on the pine trees. When we decided to take our first break from the hot springs, we explored the grounds.
The pools they allow guests to bathe in are all constructed. The water is pumped in from a few dozen feet away. The pool pictured above is the hottest one — hot enough that they fence it off and tell you to stay away.
This doesn’t bother me, though. With the strange… stuff… floating in the natural pools, I’m kinda glad they pump it in. I assume the stuff isn’t toxic — after all, it would probably make the water toxic if it were — but it’s creepy. The idea of touching the stuff is unappealing, though the random log floating in one pool was interesting.
When we wandered outside some of the normal touristy areas, we got to see some of the workings of the place. There were pipes and tubing scattered about, some half buried or wrapped in insulation. The tubes pictured above are running to their ice museum, a year-round attraction they keep up but to which I’ve never gone. The building is made of ice, and they use hot water from the springs to keep it cool. They have an explanation about how it works in one of the main buildings, but I’ve forgotten the details. It’s pretty cool, though.
Would you like to see their pump in action?
They also grow vegetables in a fenced-off area near the source pools. (This picture was taken with my camera held over the fence.) They sell some of their vegetables in one of the main buildings. I’ve heard since the school year started that their vegetables are quite delicious, but I did not buy any.
There are also a number of rusty things laying about and gradually being overcome by plants. Some have obviously been set into place for display, but others seem to be kind of lying where they were left.
We availed ourselves of the hot springs again after wandering around, then went to bed. We went straight into the hot springs again as soon as they opened in the morning; we were the first ones there, with no one else showing up until we were about ready to leave.
We hit up Sourdough Sam’s Cafe for breakfast, then drove to campus. Since I arrived on the same day as all the freshmen, there were volunteers standing around to help carry stuff inside, so my stuff got brought in in record time. One fellow, who speaks English as his second language, accidentally sent a few of my boxes to the right room number in the wrong building, but aside from that hitch, it was the fastest I’ve ever settled into the dorms. I had everything unpacked and put away that same day, since I wasn’t fatigued from carrying everything in.
Of course, I moved to a different room less than a week later to secure myself a good roommate. I’ve met quite a few nice people in the elevators.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the locals in Juneau directed me to a nearby abandoned mine a short walk away from downtown. The walk was uphill, but pleasantly so, and getting there was well worth the trek. The place is sweet. Daryl and Mike told me later on the ferry ride back to Haines that when this mine was closed down, it was bombarded by fire from battleships in the harbor. To this day, there’s a lot of crumbled concrete and piles of sheet metal and other scraps laying about.
I had difficulty getting crisp shots in general, and of a giant cog in the ruins in particular. You can see it in the photo below (you may have to click to view the full size version), inside the structure on the right-hand side. I really wanted a good picture of that, but I was unwilling to scrabble up the scrap — especially in the rain — to do so.
This structure was a hop and a skip up the mountain from the main path. There was a branching path leading up to it, which had an interesting plant about halfway up. I say “interesting” because I realized, once my foot was hovering in the air above it, that it was not a plant. It appeared to be cut-off steel cables sticking out of the ground.
The only picture of this plant that came out well enough to be worth keeping is this one. Seen from the side as you go up the path, it blends in well with that grass to look like some unfamiliar, grassy plant.
Farther up the main path was a rock slide, followed by another structure of grander scale.
Unfortunately, there was trash by both structures. Bums had left clothing, book bags, and other crap by the first structure, while the larger structure had some pretty intensive graffiti on parts of it. In front of the larger structure, pretty much right on the trail, was what looked to be a popular spot for bonfires and beer.
And, as is becoming common here, more pictures are up on Flickr.
Downtown Juneau is tourist country. It’s as bad as Hawaii in that respect — you step off the cruise ship to face narrow streets overloaded with tiny shops catering to people with money to burn. It thins out a bit as you get away from the docks, but there’s still a tattoo parlor right around the corner from another tattoo parlor and two or three places serving gelato and coffee within five minutes of each other.
Don’t get me wrong; I love downtown Juneau. One of my favorite things about downtown Juneau was the coverings over the sidewalks. Color and care varied from building to building, but they all served to keep the tourists nice and dry.
A quick look up the mountain revealed clouds that looked like they were walking through the trees. They were never still.
The coolest part of downtown was the docks themselves. I didn’t go up to the rail and get any pictures of the water because there was a yellow line and a bunch of signs proclaiming that crossing it was a breach of security. Even though I was well away from the single cruise ship at port, there was someone patrolling, so I restrained myself.
I liked the effect of the moss at the bottom of the barrels. It was clinging to the fixtures attaching the barrels to the dock. It balanced out the foliage on top. I wonder how long the barrels have been there.
The last day we were in Juneau, Kyle was giving wedding guests free zip line tours. I am over the weight limit the company imposes, so I spent the morning walking around the downtown Juneau area. You win some, you lose some — I hadn’t gotten the chance to take my camera for a walk the day before, so I was glad of the opportunity to do so, even though the rain made photography interesting. In retrospect, I’m glad I was unable to take the zip line tour. I may be unwilling to go on dangerous urbex excursions to the top of condemned and half-fallen-apart buildings, but exploring active urban areas and standing outside the dangerous ones is entirely up my alley.
Speaking of alleys, check out this one:
That’s right, folks, it has a street sign and a mailbox. And if you look up the alley itself, all you see is a staircase going straight up the mountain side.
About halfway up on the right-hand side is the door to someone’s residence — hence the mail box and the street sign. I climbed this crazy alley staircase, and about 3/4 of the way up I came across a local standing on his porch smoking a cigarette. His house was just across a walkway intersecting the staircase to run horizontally across the mountain, providing access to a row of houses built there. When I asked him if the staircase was the only access to these houses, he laughed and told me that if I kept going up, I’d reach a road running along the other side of them. It was he who told me that there are several staircases labeled as streets in Juneau, to provide physical addresses for the occasional house stuck between streets on the mountain side.
He also told me that when I reached the street at the top, I could turn left and the street would eventually wind back around to downtown. If I went right, I’d hit a dead end at a trail leading up to an abandoned mine. The mine is cool enough for its own post; I’m officially no longer sure when I’ll run out of Juneau material. Right now, I’m inclined to say this is the second to last… but that would make it the third or fourth time in a row that I’ve said that, so I’ll just move on to pictures taken when I headed left.
I believe this was spray-painted by the people living at the dead end, since there’s really no good way to turn around there. Under my feet when I took this picture was a patch of gravel suitable for turning around just fine. I wonder how many people actually heed the graffiti.
This residential area was high enough above downtown for me to take this lovely shot.
One thing I like about Juneau is the mixture of new and ruined buildings. Right next to the parking area from which I took the above picture was an abandoned building with broken windows all over and some crazy fire damage on the other side.
Farther along the street was a beautiful wall standing in ruins on the uphill side of the street.
Beautiful in its own way, Juneau is far from what most Americans consider the ideal living environment. Throughout the residential area, I saw signs of people making the best of the cramped, rainy environment in which they live. From brightly colored houses to tiny gardens, the non-tourist areas of Juneau have a cozy character that I doubt most visitors take the time to notice.
Juneau may be dreary, but its inhabitants know how to play, whether you fancy skateboard parks or playgrounds.
I saw this from the road within 15 minutes of our arrival in Juneau. I visited it with Bob and Shannon; it’s part of the playground for an elementary school. If I were a giant, I would make it my attack die!
Another playground visible from the main road is called Project Playground. The whole place is nine kinds of fun.
Lots of things to climb, structures painted with different themes, some nifty obstacle course type stuff. The ground is coated with chunks of rubber-like stuff, as if someone tore up the red floor of a multipurpose room and used the chunks on the playground. Pleasant to run on, pleasant to fall on, and visually attractive. The ground retained good traction in spite of the rain, and I was able to go barefoot on it without discomfort.
There were plaques all over the place honoring the donors that made the park possible. I got no pictures of those, but I did get pictures of the awesome signs that were posted.
As this is already too long, downtown Juneau will have to wait. I knew this wasn’t going to be second-to-last. Le sigh. More pictures of Juneau proper — including downtown Juneau — can be found in this album on Flickr.
Ash, Patti, and I got into Haines near midnight. We’d spent all day driving across Canada, and since Patti had slept poorly for the previous few nights, she was tired and wanted to get a hotel room. We drove around for a bit, trying to find the best deal in town, and discovered that there was only one deal in town. We literally got the last vacant room in Haines.
We found it at Hotel Halsingland. In the middle of the night, it looked like the setting of a horror movie — the buildings reminded me of the houses you see in the deep south in movies set during the civil war, but they were a little worn down and the main building had a huge neon sign on it proclaiming it a hotel. It wasn’t flickering, but it was enough to give Patti a horror movie vibe. I was instantly enthralled by the place; it obviously had character, and the buildings were fascinating beneath the occasionally peeling paint.
The room we got had only one bed; I slept on the floor with some extra bedding the front desk attendant brought us. I slept by the radiator in the corner, hoping to be warm there, but the back door right next to it was sealed poorly at the bottom, so my plan failed.
That back door led to a small room with a set of shelves and another door leading outside. We could have gone out that way if we’d wanted to, I think, but we didn’t try; there’s no way we could have locked it behind us, anyway.
I took all my pictures in the morning, after Ash and I got breakfast for ourselves and breakfast and coffee for Patti. Ash went to check out of the hotel, and came back with a business card printed on a super thin sheet of wood and a pamphlet about the history of the hotel. Haines, it turns out, was originally called Fort Seward. It was established to defend against possible invasion from Canada. After the fort was decommissioned, many veterans and their families elected to stay and established a civilian town called Haines. Hotel Halsingland is in three of the buildings that housed soldiers and their families. It looked like the other buildings are in use as apartments.
Ash, Patti, and I had some free time after breakfast and before Kyle’s wedding started. That was when we checked out RainTree Quilting. After I’d bored Ash & Patti with a lengthy visit to a quilt shop, we still had time to blow, so I suggested we go look for some Geocaches for Ash. He likes to Geocache whenever he goes to a new place, and we hadn’t gotten any done the day before.
The first Geocache we attempted to find seemed to have been purged by muggles in the few days since it had last been found. It was supposed to have been some where in or around the barrels holding up the sign for a park.
Once Ash had spent half an hour combing over an area roughly 6’x3’x5′ in size only to conclude that muggles had eliminated the cache, we moved on to a second one, closer to the wedding site and up a trail. I ended up lagging behind to take pictures of the vegetation while Ash and Patti went along to find the cache. Most of my pictures turned out blurry in spite of how good they looked on my camera’s LCD. These are some of the ones I kept.
One thing I found interesting about Juneau’s vegetation was that the leaves all seemed to grow in sheets, of sorts. This is the first time I’ve seen natural foliage that reminded me of 3D graphics like you’d see in a video game — like a texture painted on a bunch of 2D planes overlapping each other in 3D space to give an illusion of depth when viewed from the right angle.
It was common to see trees whose lower halves or lower 2/3 were devoid of leaves, though old branches remained attached. Someone told me that there are two main reasons for that. One is that tall, straight trees like this are perfect for bears to climb, so letting the lower branches die and break off is a defense against bears. The second reason is that there’s little sunlight, being a rainforest and all, so having leaves lower on the trees is inefficient.
Farther down the path was Lake Auke. It had water lillies growing on top of it. That was a pleasant surprise; the last time I saw water lillies in person was when I was seven going on eight, when my family was zig-zagging across the country to visit everyone we knew on our way to Alaska.
The path itself led to this bridge of sorts going right across one corner of the lake. That was as far as I got, personally, because I spent a lot of time taking pictures of the lillies.