Friday, November 20, 2009

Mat Su Valley

Yesterday the New York Times did a small travel feature on the Matanuska-Susitna Valley in Alaska. (The Mat-Su Valley or just, the Valley, for short.) It made me think of home and also made me realize that while I've talked about Alaska in the context of my adventures and of Sarah Palin, I've never talked about growing up and the natural beauty and history that surrounded me. (Or what a GREAT travel spot Palmer Alaska is!)
Pioneer Peak
Pioneer Peak is the iconic view in the Valley. It's on the edge of the hay flats. These fields, filled with dead trees, are a constant reminder of the 1964 Good Friday earthquake. The quake, a 9.2 on the richter scale, caused these fields to drop over 10 feet (if I remember correctly) and killed all the trees. So fields turned into bogs. (If you're interested in natural disasters and don't know about this quake, you should check this out. Lots of people don't know about it, but it's absolutely fascinating.)

With two of my favorite Alaskans, Daniel and Jeanette, in the Church of a Thousand Trees
In Alaska, we went to the Presbyterian church in Palmer. The church itself was founded in 1937 by the colonists of Palmer (who at the time were still living in the WINTER). The church is made of logs and while other similar churches in the community have since been replaced, this congregation has decided to keep the original sanctuary. It's a very nice sanctuary and I've sung approximately 120 Sunday services from the choir loft. I also used to play tag throughout the church.

Our first Alaskan house
When we first moved to Alaska we lived across the street from my dad's office in a small neighborhood of other people who also worked with dad. Our house faced Pioneer Peak (here hidden by the house and clouds). On the other side of the house is a HUGE garden and play set. Our first summer we were out playing on the play set with other families while our parents worked in the garden. Eventually one parent looked at a watch. OOPS! It was 11pm. (I was 4, my brother was 1...we probably went to bed around 7 at that time.) That's what happens when the sun sets at midnight or later.

Our real Alaskan house
It took a while, but my parents finally found the house they were looking for. Picture windows that looked over the mountains, a trout stream in the back yard, lots of sunlight, etc. There was also this excellent sledding hill (doesn't look intimidating from this angle) that was much less cool once these people moved in at the bottom and built their stupid suburban fence.

Finger Lake Campground
This campground is less than one mile from the house. The lake is a 10 minute walk from the house. We used to come here and skate after school in the winters. In the summer, we'd canoe out to the island in the left hand corner and jump into the lake from the rope swing. OK, Anthony would jump in. I'd wuss out and not jump in. I think we may have also had bonfires out their and roasted hot dogs.

Little Su
Alaska has lots of glaciers. Glaciers melt. This means that there is lots of melting glacier water that needs to go somewhere. Usually this means glacial rivers and streams. The Little Su or Little Susitna River is a glacial river that comes from some glacier up by Hatcher's pass. It's small, but characteristically, it's silty and incredibly cold. On a REALLY hot day when we were young, my best friend and I used to get her mom to drive us up to this look out to go "wading." As much as you can wade around boulders when the water is 40 degrees. When Ben and I went it wasn't nearly warm enough to stick our toes in, so we settled for dipping our hand in to check the temperature.

Hatcher's Pass
If you read the New York Times article, you read about the Independence Mine State Historic Park. (I used to have a t-shirt from there...I was that cool!) Independence Mine is located within the larger Hatcher's Pass area. Hatcher's Pass encompasses the blob of mountains to the North of Palmer. There's one road to get up there and, come early to mid-July, when the snow melts, you can drive all the way to Willow.
Old Glenn Highway
There is something somewhat magical about living in a place where this road used to be a "major highway." Driving was a big part of our lives in Alaska. Emailing Simon yesterday, this is how I described it: We didn't live in a town, we lived between towns. We ran errands in Wasilla. We went to church in Palmer. Dad worked in Palmer. I went to school between the two towns. In that way, I also don't feel that I really associated that closely with either town. When Wasilla came on the national stage, that's how I labeled myself because it was an easy box to fit in. It gave people an image. My parents did the opposite. They spent last year being from Palmer so that they weren't associated with the same images. Either way, we spent huge amounts of time in the car. Piano lessons, band, sports, concerts, errands, library, work, bookstore, meetings, coffeeshops...all these required 5 to 60 minutes in the car, depending on whether they were at school or as far away as Anchorage. But time in the car isn't so bad when you have views like this. (It wasn't nearly as nice on winter days with 40 mph winds and blowing snow...)

The Butte
This was one of the only hikes, as a child, that my mom could get us to willingly go on. Even then, I think we only successfully made it up once or twice. (The hike is 1.5 hours, max...) At the base is the Reindeer Farm. We never went there.

Moose food
Moose are a part of daily life in the Mat-Su Valley. Primarily this is in the winter, but this picture is a reminder that even in summer the moose are always around, looking for snacks. Here, we'd gone to visit a friend and she'd had moose in her yard that morning (June 30). The green stalks in the forefront had been covered with leaves the day before. Probably the equivalent of a couple of M&Ms to a full grown moose, but a treat, none the less.
If you are visiting Alaska, I'd encourage you to take some time and explore the Mat-Su Valley. There is much more that I haven't talked about here that is just as gorgeous, or more so, and can fit any style of travel, from backpacking to resort. It was a great place to grow up and I'm sad to not be able to call it home anymore. If you visit, say hi from me, I miss it.

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