A Visit to Alpine Park


Last fall I was on the hunt for a unique location for a styled photo shoot when I discovered the Alpine Historical Park in nearby Sutton.  Since I’d never been there before I decided to arrive extra early to check out all the displays before my model came for the shoot.  Not only where the exhibits interesting to someone who loves rusty ‘old’ things but they definitely told a story of the area’s progress over the past century.

The prominent exhibit are these concrete forms, which are the remains of the foundation for a coal wash plant originally built for the US Navy during the 20’s for nearby projects.  In it’s heyday, the plant processed 25 tons of coal an hour! In front of the wash plant was this coal car train and track from a nearby mine.

Along with a variety of antique construction machinery, which had been used for local improvements and left behind when they were no longer worth hauling away.


This old boiler furnace caught my attention with its massive size.  It must have been a full-time job to keep it running!  The double doors at the back were so big they looked like the nose of a steam locomotive.

There was also a smaller boiler on display that was just as rusty and interesting.

There were several historical buildings nearby that had been relocated to this site for preservation including a mine bunk house, a post office, a church and homes of significance in the region.

Built in 1948, this small building was Sutton’s first post office. Grace Boulter, who became the postmaster in 1951, started part-time and earned 56 cents a day. Grace remembers this old building saying “The place was so small around Christmas time; I would have to take a couple bags of parcel post and lock them in my car at night, because there was not enough room to leave it in the post office.” In those days, mail was delivered by train; it was thrown from a railroad car as the train passed the office on its way to Jonesville Mine.

Inside the post office there was an old Coleman heater, oil tank and postal boxes used by Boulter and her customers.

The Mary Geist House was built in the 1960’s as a guest house but was moved to the park in 1990 to house the Old Timer’s Hall of Fame-honoring the residents of Sutton who were involved with the coal mining industry and development of Sutton. It houses plaques of the inductees and a collection of fossils and petrified wood found in the mining area.

Built in 1917, the Lucas House, served as a residence for coal miners at the Chickaloon Coal Mine. Sometime after the abandonment of the mines, it was moved to Palmer where it became the Lucas home in 1943. Donated by the Lucas family in 1989, the first floor has since been renovated to accommodate Alpine Historical Society (AHS) records in addition to serving as a meeting room for the board.The Hitchcock Cabin houses Athabascan Dene’ cultural displays and serves as a meeting place for cultural workshops.  This wall tent house is similar to those used by the military and early explorers who settled the area.  In fact most of Anchorage started as a collection of such tents.  This Athabascan Winter Lodge was built in 2005, thanks to a collaboration between AHS and the Chickaloon Native Village. It illustrates a traditional native house design, commonly used prior to Russian and Euro-American contact.  It holds examples of local medicinal plants and animal hides, that were used by local natives.  There are also items donated lLate Native Dene Elder, Kathryn “Katie” Wade along with bunks and a mock central fire pit that would have been used as a sweat lodge.  A recorded Athabascan Dene’ story, singing and drumming can be heard within the walls. This display of petrified wood brought back memories of my family’s trip to the petrified forest when I was a child.  I had never thought about petrified wood being in Alaska but considering the state’s geological history it made perfect sense that there would be some. Apparently the petrified forests found in Alaska are some of the largest and best preserved! This is the spirit house of Ahtna Indian John Goodlataw, who was born in 1870 and died in 1935.  These structures are a combination of traditional Native beliefs and Russian Orthodox religion.  Native tradition says that a person must be buried with their head upriver and a blanket placed over the grave to keep them warm.

The visitor center for the park was in a log building had information about activities in the area and a small historic display of earlier life in Sutton. The other portion of the house serves as a private residence for the park’s caretaker.  There is a welcome sign next to the visitor center with information about the park.

In front of the visitor center is a large shovel arm used in the construction of the Glenn Highway which seems dwarfed by the Chugach mountains that border the town to the south.  Although upon closer inspection I realized just how massive it actually was.

One of my favorite buildings was the Powder House. Built in 1921 this structure housed explosives for coal mining and the Glenn Highway construction.This unique planter made great use of pieces from the old conveyor belts from the machinery.After I’d explored all the exhibits I headed back to the wash plant to prepare for my shoot.  It was the perfect spooky look for the Halloween style we had planned.The shoot went perfectly and the super talented model really made my artistic vision come to life.  She also did her own makeup in the sugar skull theme!  Here’s a few of my favorite images from the shoot.Sutton2Sutton3Sutton4Sutton5If you happen to travel through Sutton and have a little free time I highly recommend stopping off at the Alpine Historical Park to take a walk back through the history of the region.

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A Flower Farm Tour

It’s been a super busy couple of weeks with a full schedule of photography shoots for clients and projects, so I haven’t been doing much DIY.  But I did make time to enjoy a tour of a local flower farm this past weekend, since I skipped the Willow garden tours this year.  I’ve followed All Dahlia’d Up, which is run by Misty Vanderweele, for a while now, so I was excited when I heard she was offering tours of her farm this summer.

I purchased my tour ticket as a birthday present to myself and I’m sure glad I did.  When we arrived at the farm we were greeted in the driveway so we could sign in and got our name tags.  Once the tour began we were escorted to the backyard where this pretty table set-up greeted us.

It was the perfect garden party spread!  The table was right in Misty’s backyard and was situated next to her original dahlia garden, which now also has a row of sweet pea.  I noticed she had a purple door on her house, just like mine – and I’m totally loving those purple chairs too!  Perhaps the ones I have by the greenhouse need a new coat of paint! 😉

The group was led to the back area of the yard, past another larger garden to where the property opens to her father-in-law’s crop fields and an amazing view of Pioneer Peak.  She uses this area to host small wedding ceremonies during the summer.

She gave us a bit of history about how she started the farm after her son’s passing due to Muscular dystrophy and how he was the inspiration for the farm.  He had brought her home a feeble dahlia plant one year for Mother’s Day courtesy of a class project.  She wasn’t sure it would even survive, but it did and it produced lovely purple blooms, which is her favorite color.  The farm idea took off when she gave a local bride a bouquet of flowers one summer and soon had multiple requests for more.  She did a bit of research and realized that flower farming was indeed a ‘thing’ and decided to run with it.  six years later she has a well-known thriving Alaska Grown business that shares her joy with others near and far.

After the quick presentation we walked across the road to her newest flower patch, located in one of her father-in-law’s fields.  It was a little hike, but it was well worth it.  Here she explained the various types of flowers she grows for bouquets and arrangements.  She chooses flowers that bloom continuously all summer so she can cut from them multiple times.

She turned us loose in the flower patch for a few minutes to take in all the varieties she’s growing.  Some of the most recognizable were bachelor buttons, sweet pea, dianthus, poppies and snap dragons.

She also had a few veggies growing in the back corner of the garden including pumpkins and these pretty flowering kale.

These huge poppy pods were a big hit with several of us on the tour.  They looked like something right out of a Dr. Seuss story, but produced one of the prettiest poppies I’ve seen in a long time.

This pink sunflower was also a favorite of the tour guests.  I’d never seen one this color but really liked the variation.

My favorite area of the garden was the sweet pea row.  I’m considering doing something like this around our bee hive area next summer.  It would provide a nice screen to disguise the hive and provide a bit of wind block, plus I could cut flowers from it for arrangements.  And I’m pretty sure the bees would like it too.  I’m not sure I’d do this variety of colors but it was fun to see all the varieties together.

The view of Pioneer Peak was fantastic from this spot too.  It’d certainly give me an extra reason to be in the garden all day!

We trekked back across the road to the gardens in her yard where she clipped several blooming dahlias for us to use in arrangements.  There were all types of varieties and colors, including some unique spikey ones!

On the side of the larger garden she’s created a sweet pea tunnel, which we got to walk through and squeezed in to do a group picture.  She had a local photographer on the tour taking photos, so I’ll share a link to those when she posts them.

Next we went to the prep tent where we created individual arrangements using the dahlia’s she had cut as the centerpiece.  We had a variety of snap dragons, sweet peas, white dill and stock to add to our bouquets.

I decided to use a variety of purple and pink tones to create a monochromatic backdrop for my pink and white dahlia.  And I chose a seat that had more purple blooms to add to the arrangement.

Once everyone placed their arrangements on the table it really came to life.  Everyone had fun getting pictures of their arrangements and their neighbors!

We wrapped up the tour with a yummy dinner of Alaska grown produce, and local salmon.  I didn’t get any pictures of the food because I was quite hungry and too busy chatting with the ladies seated around me at the table – but I’ll tell you that it was all very delicious!

I’m so glad that I decided to take the tour.  I got to learn a bit more about this local business and the woman who leads it.  Plus I got to take home a beautiful arrangement of local blooms with a full belly, plus a yummy truffle that I saved to enjoy the next day.  If you get a chance to enjoy the tour I highly recommend it!

The Palmer Garden & Art Faire

This past weekend I got to enjoy the Palmer Museum Garden & Art Faire.  This is the third year I’ve gone to the faire (check out the first visit here) and always enjoy it.  The forecast didn’t look great, but the day turned out beautiful and just perfect for this type of event.  There were vendors, live music and instructional classes throughout the day.

I had planned to attend a couple of the classes offered but my schedule didn’t work out.  While browsing the vendors I noticed that Lakeside Forge was instructing a couple of workers.  I’m not sure if they had signed up or if this was part of his display, but they sure looked like they were learning a lot!

The Hubs met me at the Faire on his way to run some errands and we got some lunch from the food vendors.  Because there was another event going on in town there wasn’t as much selection as years past, but we enjoyed the BBQ pork & noodles we got from Momma Rav’s.  While we waited in line, I was eyeing the cool truck next door which was built on an old International truck!  We also sampled a couple of the Rhubarb Rumble entries at the vendor booths while we browsed.  Although we didn’t make it out to all the locations around town with recipes for sampling, our favorite was the rhubarb strawberry salsa with cinnamon chips.

After the Hubs went off to run his errands I checked out a few more of the activities at the fair.  There was a group of painters capturing this lovely scene full of peonies.  Some took the abstract route, while others created a portrait.  As a photographer, it was fun to see the differences these creatives had in their visions of the same set up.

Next, I took in some of the history of downtown Palmer.  The city was started as a farming colony as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal program during the 30’s.  Inside the museum they were playing a documentary that showcased what life was like as the colony was built through interviews of those who were there.  I’m so grateful for those brave families who left everything they knew behind to start over in Alaska.  They were the foot hold for the wonderful community we love today.

The museum also had displays of life in Alaska during those times.  One display featured the history of the Matanuska Maid, a local icon and mascot of sorts for the local dairy & creamery.  They also had displays of the native cultures in the region and the mining history of the surrounding ranges.

They also had displays about the daily life of the pioneers including the giant cabbages they could grow due to the long hours of sunlight and the typical household items they used, including dresses made from flour sacks.  Nothing went to waste due to the limited resources and minimal funds available.

There were also displays about the difficulties the pioneers faced in creating the farms out of the Alaskan wilderness.  Not all of Roosevelt’s plans worked in Alaska and many had to be altered to fit the unique circumstances encountered here.

I spotted these pretty glass emblems in the window of the gift shop area and immediately fell in love with them.  I had something similar with the Norfolk Mermaid on it from when I lived on the East Coast.  There were several designs to pick from, but I think I like the iconic water tower the best.  I decided to think on it some and come back to get one in a few weeks.

This enamelware pot was right near the entrance and drew my eye instantly.  I loved the simple charm of the rusty bucket and the faux lavender was the perfect touch to finish it off.  If it had been for sale it would be in my home right now!

I also toured the exhibition garden next to the museum.  I’ve been to this garden many times and always love seeing how things grow here so I can compare how they will do in our yard which is just a few miles away.

The new truck statue between the museum and the garden looked great with the new plantings starting to fill in.  I’m excited to see how they decorate it for Colony Christmas this winter!

There were also several antique tractors on display outside the museum.  I’ve seen a few of these before in local parades, but it was fun to get up close and see some of their details.  The vintage lawn mower was tucked in between a couple of the big tractors and caught my eye with it’s unique design.

I also learned about a new project some local veterans are spearheading.  They are fundraising to purchase the fuselage of an old cargo plane and turn it into a traveling Alaska and military art gallery, performance venue, and museum.  Learn more about this unique project at their website: www.rollingboxcar.com.

While I didn’t find any garden art that called my name this time around, I did come home with this lovely peony bouquet to brighten our dining room. We also bought two of the mason jar strawberry lemonades I had the first year to enjoy at home.

It was the perfect mid-summer event to celebrate the community, local growers and the season.  I look forward to seeing what they plan for next year’s event!

My New Garden Bell

With all the other yard projects we’ve been working on the Hubs finally got my upcycled propane tank garden bell installed!  This was my first purchase at the Junk Bonanza show in Portland 2 years ago and it had to stay at my Mother-In-Law’s house until we made a trip with the trailer because it was so heavy.

I wasn’t sure exactly where I’d hang it but when we ended up with an ‘extra’ footer while constructing the new deck the Hubs suggested we make it into an arbor for the bell.  I was totally game and knew it would look great there.

He worked out the footings for the other side and put in a cross bar at the top last season before winter arrived.  We picked up from there this season, hanging the bell with the chain it came with and building a box around the base to act as a planter for a clematis I needed a trellis for.

Once the planter box was constructed I filled it with dirt and transplanted the clematis, then covered the dirt with wood chip mulch to reduce weeds.  I’ve been slowly training the clematis branches up the two posts.  Eventually it will cover the entire structure and frame the bell beautifully.

I also had the Hubs install the coordinating bird bath on a hook off to the side.  That way I can fill it when I water on dry days.  Now I just have to let it grow and enjoy the pretty rusty patina as I  wait for the blooms to show!  And work on incorporating the planter box into the rock landscape I have planned for around the deck. 😉

Expanding the Egg Table

The Hubs picked up a fancy new smoker a few months back and has been using it pretty regularly, so he decided to incorporate it into his existing egg table.  He had originally sealed the whole table with Thompsons water seal but that didn’t seem to be holding up too well to Alaska’s winters so he knew he was going to have to sand it down and refinish it this season anyway.

He built a new section to wrap around the smoker that matched the style of the original table and attached it with his Kreg tool.  I was working on other projects while he was doing this stage so I didn’t get any pictures of it but you can figure out the setup from the finished images in this post. He cut a small hole in the side to access the wood chip drawer on the smoker.

We decided to go with outdoor deck paint for the refinish and chose a dark grey that should hide dirt and any minor damage it might get outside.  The Hubs said it went on like tar so it should provide a pretty good barrier to the elements.

The new extended size is a perfect fit for the smaller rug we had from last season and makes stepping out from the house to grill a bit comfier.  The new expanded top gives him plenty of room to prep things before they go into either the grill or the smoker and is the perfect spot for my big cast iron lantern and piggy planter.

Once it was all painted, he added the bottle opener we picked up forever ago to the side, which is conveniently located right next to our new dining set.   And with the herbs growing nearby he can pluck some to add to his culinary masterpieces.

I’ve also found that it works well as an impromptu potting bench when I’m prepping pots for the deck.  Good thing he’s ok with sharing every now and then! 🙂

Iditarod 2018 Willow Restart

Despite living just a half hour away for the past several years, I had never been to the Willow restart of the Iditarod.  But after attending the ceremonial start the day before to work a tent for my full-time employer I was excited to see the action in a more natural setting.  The Hubs and I arrived super early to set up before the crowds arrived and were greeted with single digit temps and freezing fog.  Luckily, the fog burned off and the sun came out to create a wonderful Alaskan winter day!

The restart takes place on a frozen lake, so the area is wide open.  I took a break from working our tent – which you can see off to the right of the start line in the picture above to enjoy the festivities and get some photos.  As you can see it was there was a BIG crowd.  It’s basically an Alaskan tailgate party in the middle of winter.

The view from the hill where the lake’s shoreline is, allowed us to see the mushers as they headed down the beginning of the trail lined with supporters.  The crowds continued across the massive lake and into the trees beyond.  Many also have cabins on the surrounding lakes, which the trail crosses and would go out to cheer on the mushers as they go by in those areas too.  This vantage point also gave us a good look at the musher’s lot where the teams were preparing for their turn at the start line.

I headed down to the corner of the mushers’ lot to watch the behind the scenes action and had the perfect view to see the teams up close as they approached the staging lane for the start line.  One by one, the teams lined up as the event staff directed them through the process.

Then the next stop was the start line, where the teams would leave every two minutes.  This time they no longer had an Iditarider or drag sled like they did at the ceremonial start so the sleds are lighter  and it takes all of the handlers to keep the teams from heading straight out onto the trail as they approach the starting line.

I was able to get several great shots of the mushers too.  Their smiles show just how much they love this sport and their teams.  Some led their teams in and others managed the sled while their handlers directed the dogs, but they were all excited.

Once they were in the shoot it was time to focus on the final preparations, check their dogs and enjoy last moments with family before they begin the 1,049 mile trek to Nome over the next several days.

The dogs were just as excited to head out as they had been the day before.  We all swore they knew how to count as they bolted off the line each time the countdown ended for the next team heading out.

Although the crowd on the other side of the starting line was wall-to-wall I was able to squeeze in toward the end to get a few shots of the final mushers as they headed out.

Several stopped to give their dogs a final motivation for the race ahead and thank them for their part on the team.

Many had final hugs and handshakes from family and supporters, while others gave quick interviews or posed for a photo with fans before the final countdown began.

And of course there were several high fives with their handlers as they headed out on this epic journey.

Then it was down to the last musher, who wore a ‘cat in the hat’ hat in celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday.  He paused to honor his team getting down on their level and bowing to them.

Then he was off on the “Last Great Race” with a big thumbs up and snow already gathering around his feet.

It will take the teams approximately 8-9 days to complete the entire route.  You can check out each musher’s current standings and location on the Iditarod’s website.  I wish them all a safe and successful race!

Iditarod 2018 Ceremonial Start

The 2018 Iditarod began this past weekend and I got to be right in the midst of it!  Known as “The Last Great Race” it celebrates the teams who organized during the 1925 diphtheria epidemic to rush serum to Nome to save lives.

The company I work for is a sponsor and had a tent near the starting line where we were doing give aways.  The area we were in required an access badge and when I was able to take breaks from working at the tent I could go into the ‘chute’ where the teams were staged right behind the start line.   The teams would line up on the street to await their turn to begin the race.

Several of the mushers led their teams in from the front, rather than riding in on the sled.

Then they’d check over their team and equipment to ensure everything was as it should be.

And a few would stop to have conversations with their dogs, pose for photos for fans and enjoy the moment with their family members who were nearby to cheer them on.

Each team had a group of handlers to help guide the dogs into position.  Sled dogs are born and trained to run, so they are VERY high energy and once they are in the harness they have a single mind focus.  It takes several people to keep them in position as they move up through the staging lanes.  It’s also helpful to signal down the line in all the celebration so the mushers or helpers on the sled know when to set the brake and release it as the line moves.

Many of these handlers have worked with the mushers for months prior to the race and know the dogs personally.  That familiarity can be a calming aspect for the dogs as they anticipate the start of the race.

And of course a few rubs while they wait are always welcome too!

And some just want a hug before they hit the course. 🙂  One of the mushers is a correctional officer when not running the trail and several of his handlers had a fun message on the back of their gear that said “You think your job is tough?  Correctional officers run the Iditarod to relax.”

The anticipation gets heavy and the dogs get louder with excitement as the iconic start line comes into view.  At this point of the race every musher has an Iditarider on their sled.  Usually this person has won the opportunity to ride the ceremonial start in a contest or charity auction.  The money raised is used to offset expenses of the race and provides each musher who finishes the race after the top 20 – who receive cash prize winnings – with $1,049 to help get their teams home.

There is also a secondary sled, or “drag sled” behind each team’s main sled.  This extra sled is meant to slow down the dogs because they are so excited to run and the course is lined with spectators and this helps keep everyone safe.  Each sled is configured differently based on how that musher likes to carry on the trail.  The dogs are so ready to run that they literally jump up and down while waiting for their turn at the starting line.

And often look back at the sled as if to say “Why aren’t we going?!”

While the dogs may not enjoy the waiting it does provide a perfect opportunity to get some closeup shots of them and their expressions.  Each has their own unique coloring and personalities.  Some are young and just waiting on the signal to go, while others are veterans and have a calm but alert stance.

Some were so eager to get going that they were jumping over each other to trade sides because they couldn’t move forward!

And some were providing a touch of reassurance to their team mate.

And then the announcer would say it’s time and they would be off!  The musher waves to the fans, with their Iditarider aboard for a once in a lifetime experience and the dogs do what they love to do.

The teams run 11 miles through Anchorage for the ceremonial start with fans along many stretches of those trails to cheer them on.  The next day, they restart the race in Willow, about an hour and a half away.  This is when they begin the full trek to Nome and their race times officially start.  I got to go to that portion of the race as well and will share that tomorrow!  In the meantime, visit the Iditarod website to learn more about the race and the mushers competing this year.