Field of sunflowers, north of Sacramento

My husband & I headed for Sacramento to see his folks and decided to take the scenic route home, turning an otherwise long tedious drive into a mini vacation.  Returning north on Hwy 97 we planned to stop at all the landmarks I remembered from my childhood family vacations driving from Southern California to visit relatives in the Pacific Northwest.

Mt. Shasta

Our family always traveled on Highway 97 and thrilled at many landmarks along our route.  We’d usually spend the night in Redding or Red Bluff, the halfway point – wow have those towns grown up & turned into big cities!    Doris was the last California city heading north and my mom loved Doris Day.  We’d  scream with delight as we reached her.  The Klamath River felt so much larger and longer when I was 9, 10 and 11 than it did this week.  It was exhilarating to see many white cranes and a couple of bald eagles along the river.

Crater Lake

Mom never stopped at Crater Lake because she wanted to reach her sister’s house (where we stayed) in South Central Washington by nightfall. Crater Lake was a ‘definite destination’ on this trip with my husband and it did not disappoint.  The lake was majestically beautiful and a stop I’d strongly recommend, with breathtaking views in every direction.

Vista from Crater Lake

Most of my childhood Highway 97 memories are a blurry monotony of pine forest seen from the back seat, eyes wide open watching for deer.  It was oh so lovely for my husband to stop at my every whim.

Heron at Grass Lake

There was one stop however that my sister and I could not, would not miss if we had anything to say about it.  Just beyond Crater Lake sat a destination that no kid of that era, driving along Highway 97 could resist.  We’d start working on Mom to stop there as soon as we piled into the car in the morning.  She rarely wanted to stop, but it was the only way she could get two road weary, whiny, needling kids to give her peace for the duration of our yearly trek.  Thunderbeast Park. 

My husband was primed and ready to stop, pay the entrance fee and maybe even spend ‘quality time’ in the tourist trap gift shop that I remember so fondly as a pre-teen.  Alas Thunderbeast Park is gone!  Replaced with a chrome shop for trucks!  There’s one lonely decrepit  Thunderbeast left along the highway beckoning truckers with the chrome shop sign.  I was very disappointed to say the least.

Compelled to find out what happened when we got home, I began my internet search.  The only information I could find, other than personal blogs just like mine asking what happened was this post on RoadsideAmerica.com:

Roadside America says Thunderbeast Park, built in 1962 closed sometime before 1996 when they visited.

I also found a bit of information about the cement beasts and their creator, Ernie Nelson (who also built Prehistoric Gardens on the Oregon Coast in 1953) here:

Littlest Sister at Thunderbeast Park, 1974

Then I searched my old photo albums and to my dismay, even though I remember many photos taken there, could only find these two taken when my two sisters and I drove back to California on our own in 1974.  Sheesh, was I old enough to drive that far?  With no adult supervision?!!

1974, one of the beasts and me

I’ve had a fun summer and hope you  have too, but it’s time to get back to work with fresh summer inspiration…

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I must be in a summer daze.  Home from Alaska where I taught at Half Moon Creek Gallery, I managed to unpack and catch up with mail and messages but that’s about all I’ve been able to muster.  Oh I pulled a couple of weeds and straightened my studio and even sorted through the hundreds of pictures I took.  Yes, hundreds.  As in over 1000!  Once again, it was the trip of a lifetime.  Here are a few highlights:

I was in Palmer teaching my ‘Powderology‘ workshop and once again Half Moon Creek provided amazing and talented students for me.

Is it any wonder I love teaching there?  In addition to a large, well lit, well equipped space, they indulge my every whim!

Student samples getting loaded into one kiln.  Two additional kilns to load.

One morning we left for class early to enjoy the scenery and found this moose browsing along the old Glen Highway.  I was so excited that he posed for me as long as he did before turning and ambling down the highway!  No doubt students thought I was crazy, showing them my moose photos!

Day three of Powderology class found everyone hard at work trying to get as much as they could out of our last day together.  I think they all came away very satisfied.  They produced wonderful samples, expanded their repertoire, and are heading in new directions.

We had a few days between week-end workshops, so headed to the Matanuska Glacier.  We realized too late that we were on the wrong highway, so just enjoyed our drive and lunched at the Wildflower Cafe in Talkeetna instead.

The following day, determined to touch a glacier, we stopped at Exit Glacier on our way to Seward.

Following a trail in the rain, I had the whole place to myself.

The glacier is huge & surprising colorful on such a gray rainy day.

For perspective, can you see the hikers at the base of Exit Glacier?

The road was flooded when we drove in to the glacier, but going back out, it was worse!

Our wildlife cruise was cancelled due to high seas, so when offered a 4 hour tour of Resurrection Bay we took it, determined to make the most of our time in Seward.  It poured, and while most passengers stayed below guess where I was?!  Yes, getting soaked on deck looking for whales.   See them?

The whales were so far away and the bay so rough that all my photos are too blurry to share, but we found this bank of Sea Lions!

At the end of 4 hours I was soaked inside my rain gear.  My camera viewer was so foggy I could hardly see the image, so wasn’t sure I’d captured these sea otters.  You know I wouldn’t have missed it and had a fabulous day in spite of weather and cancellations.

Since we now had extra time, I was thrilled that we’d stop to take Alyeska Tram up to the top!  Alas, it was closed due to high winds.  We put it on our list for next year.  Yep, looks like I’ll be back.

A good night’s rest and we were off the next day to Denali National Park.  Overcast, but no rain!

Along the Alaskan highways fireweed blends bright pink into the landscape.

From our lodge perched high above Nenana Canyon, this is the road to Denali National Park.

Nestled into our bus tour at Denali we searched the scenic vistas for the ‘Big Five’ wildlife we hoped to see.  Bears, wolves, caribou, Dahl sheep and moose.

Dahl sheep were the first of the big five, but from afar they were mere flecks of white on a green field.

We spotted two groups of Caribou – Yay, checked off 2 of the big five.  Concealed in a bus we were too far away from the majestic animals to get much detail.

Around a corner and over a bridge we came upon the highlight of our trip.  An argument between a bear and a wolf over a caribou carcass.  There was a young grizzly and a second wolf also trying to get close but the older grizzly would have no guests at this meal.  Numbers 3 & 4 of our big five located together!  Park officials thought the wolves had killed the caribou two days earlier and the grizzly had claimed it.

A compilation of the younger grizzly trying to run the wolves off.  You didn’t think I’d post all 300 shots did you?

All in all, we saw 10 grizzlies including this last one at the edge of the road, eating berries!  We also saw #5 of the big five, a moose, but since I already showed you my shot taken earlier in the week I’ll refrain from posting another.  No rain, but guess what…it snowed!  We didn’t get a glimpse of the mountain, but we were so thrilled with our time in Denali National Park.  An incredible experience.

Back at Half Moon Creek for my next class, with several returning and a few new students learning how to Build a Better Pocket.  This, after all, was the reason for my trip to Alaska!!

Loading the kilns with student work…..

Our last day together we pulled out some excellent pockets from the kilns.  I heard great reviews with smiles all around.  Another fabulous group of students that I hate to leave.  I do hope you’ll all keep in touch!

Amazing isn’t adequate to describe the talent, generosity, and imaginations I met while teaching for Half Moon Creek!  Go there if you have an opportunity, it’s an amazing studio, gallery, and resource center.  Thanks again for another wonderful time!

Our last day snow graced the higher elevations.  Snow on Aug 8th?   I learned it’s called ‘Termination Dust’, terminating the summer season.  I can’t wait to go back!

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