Stickle-ventures in Alaska
I am lucky enough to have spent the past week in Alaska (and lucky enough to be spending one more week here!). I have explored the stunning lakes, mountains, wildlife, glaciers, and much more with a great crew from the stickleback lab at Clark. My time here started off with adventures to a number of lakes to drop traps so that we could make collections and do crosses in the lab here at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. We had varying degrees of trapping success across lakes (Cheney Lake is driving us mad; where are all the stickleback?!?), but got to explore different views of beautiful Alaska. Several lakes, namely Kings (pictured) and Falk, among others, have the most gorgeous views of mountains and I could imagine myself living beside them and waking up to a postcard view. But only in the summer as the darkness and cold in the winter is much less appealing.
In the free moments between trapping and crossing, we like to go exploring. One stop along the way to and from Wasilla (where several of our sampling lakes are located) allowed us the opportunity to meet Harmony, the wolf. Miguel is on the hunt for handmade masks, so when we spotted a shop on the side of the road, decorated in ornately carved figures, we decided to take a look. As we approached we saw a very wolf-looking dog leashed to a tree outside the shop. There were no masks to be found, but Audrey asked the owner about this dog on our way out and he replied with ‘That’s no dog. That’s a wolf!’ To our excitement he let us pet this beautiful creature and oh what a sweetheart she was! After a nice backrub from Audrey and me (Miguel had to wait because she is wary of men), Harmony rolled onto her back so we could scratch her belly. Then Miguel came over and introduced himself to her and she was just delighted to have three people petting her. We wave to her every time we pass by, now.
On a girls’ day out to the field, Dani, Audrey and I took another detour, this time up to Hatcher Pass. First, we gazed out along the rocky path of the Little Susitna River (pictured) and then made our way up the pass where we stopped to take in the breathtaking views of the mountains and valley surrounding us. We made our way to the top where we explored Independence Mine State Historical Park, an abandoned gold mine. It turned out to be a fantastic day of moose sightings (see Audrey’s P.S. moose post), stickleback trapping and detouring.
Adventures continued the next day when Lauren, a former Clark stickleback lab member, joined Dani, Audrey and me for a trip to the Portage Glacier in the town of Whittier. When we arrived at the visitor’s center, I was astounded to see several icebergs floating in the nearby glacier lake. I don’t think they were quite as large as the iceberg that took out the Titanic, but they were pretty cool nonetheless! We then ventured into the creepy one lane, miles long mountain tunnel that took us into Whittier and closer to the glacier. After a brief exploration of the tiny town and much hypothesizing about the extremely large and sketchy abandoned Buckner Building not far off in the distance, we made our way to the hiking path. The path was a fairly steep, one-mile trek to one of the most breathtaking places I have ever seen. In one direction was the Portage Glacier, a grand piece of ice to say the least, and in the other an amazing view of the Prince William Sound and the mountains that line it. We spent a lot of time at the top investigating the wild flowers and many paths, each of which provided a different, but equally incredible view. We ended the day with a delicious home cooked meal of stickle-tillas (or open faced quesadillas to non-stickleback folk). Turned out to be quite an epic day of adventuring and I am very much looking forward to the adventures to be had in the coming week when Miguel and I will be focusing on collections for his Ph.D. research.