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Travelogue - 09/20/04                                                                                                                               Links to all Travelogue pages


I hiked up a gravel road half a mile from my beach and encountered a moose grazing in tall grass. She saw me, too, and we stood staring at each other for several minutes. I was ready to turn and run if she charged me, and she was apparently undecided. I kept a respectful hundred yards from her, snapping a few photos. She concluded I wasn't a threat, and after a while sauntered across the road, disappearing into the woods.


I waited a few minutes to be sure she'd gone, made some noise to be extra sure, then continued cautiously up the narrow road. I was scouting for a way into the mountain forest that flanks my beach. There's a glacier up there I can see from my campsite, and at least one prodigious waterfall below it that I'd spotted through binoculars from the Fourth of July Creek riverbed. 

Shortly after seeing the moose, I came upon a much more startling sight. The narrow gravel road ended abruptly and across a shallow ravine was a great, shiny, new-looking prison. The modern complex seemed completely alien to its natural surroundings, like a fallen spaceship. Layers of tall, gleaming steel fences topped by thick coils of razor wire enclosed several rectangular, two- and three-story buildings with gray facades and few windows. In between and around these structures were patches of open ground, small fields, some of them partitioned with more fences and wire. 

I'd had no idea there was a prison barely a mile from where I'd been living these past weeks. At first it looked empty. I didn't see anyone at all, but there were at least a dozen cars parked in an adjacent lot at the far corner. I pulled out my binoculars and scanned the eerie scene more closely. There, way in the back through the multiple layers of fencing and wire, I saw men walking in a sort of courtyard, strolling, some alone, others in pairs and threes making conversational hand gestures. Inmates enjoying their exercise period.

Soaring above all this was the watchtower, its tinted windows staring blankly like the eyes of some deadly predator. The entire complex was encircled by two concentric roadways with a row of mowed grass bordering each inside and out, a clear field of fire. 

A patrol pickup truck came racing towards me along the outer perimeter road, braking across the ravine from where I stood. Without getting out, a burly, uniformed guard with a flat top haircut and a square jaw barked in a sharp, military voice, "Sir, what are you doing here, sir?"

I laid on my most non-threatening, easy going, not-too-bright Southern drawl and replied, "Well, I was just out hikin' and came down this here road and saw that," pointing to the prison. "I was kind of surprised. Didn't know there was anything back here."

"Sir, this is a maximum security prison and we don't appreciate visitors. I'll have to ask you to move along, sir."

"Sure," I said," no problem. What's this place called anyway?"

"Spring Creek Correctional Facility, sir." He didn't seem inclined to elaborate.

"Yeah, well, thanks. Ya'll have a nice day," and I turned and walked back the way I'd come. Glancing over my shoulder I saw the guard was sitting in his truck staring after me, and I'm sure he continued staring until I was out of sight. I imagined someone in the guard tower would take it from there, tracking me through powerful binoculars to be sure I didn't double back, which I didn't.

Sometimes I think I must have been imprisoned in some previous lifetime. The idea of being locked up like that - caged in, shut off, ordered around, virtually buried alive - spooks me to the bone. I can't imagine, don't want to imagine such a fate. No doubt most of the inmates I saw through the layers of steel fencing deserve to be where they are, need to be there so the rest of us can live with some semblance of security and peace of mind. Still, I always find jails disturbing to contemplate.

The weather remained balmy and sunny, perfect for hiking, but the prison had cast a shadow on the day and my mood never quite recovered from it. I made a half-hearted effort to work my way up Fourth of July Creek towards the glacier from which it emerges, but that prison watchtower remained visible above the trees. After a while, I turned around and headed home.

As this summer ends I find my wanderlust has, for the moment, been sated. Rather than continuing to explore and hike the Kenai forests, I have been content this past month to live quietly on the same beach on Resurrection Bay. I get into town at least twice a week for supplies and wi-fi. Out here I write, read, fuss with digital photographs, and work on the RV. I have a long list of things I want to do before storing this camper for the winter. I'd like to come back to a clean, dry, ready-to-roll vehicle next spring. The work list keeps me busy on & off.

I have compounded and waxed the entire exterior, giving it a layer of protection from the elements. I scrubbed the rubberized roof and re-caulked all the seams to ensure there is no leaking while I'm gone. Many of the Walkabout's lockers and their contents were coated with dust from my travels, some heavily. I have cleaned that up, re-packing at the same time. Meanwhile, I've secured safe storage for the RV in Anchorage, arranged for my insurance to switch to a lower rate the day after I put it away, and even found a warm place to leave my guitars and aloe plant. Mundane accomplishments, to be sure, but necessary. Nevertheless, there remains much more to do. Because I'm still living aboard, most things need to be done within the last week, like cleaning out the refrigerator and winterizing the camper's pressure water system. Some, such as final engine and generator oil changes, must wait until the last day. 

By all accounts the warm, dry, sunny weather that prevailed throughout Alaska this summer was abnormal. I'm lucky to have been here this year to experience it. That seems to be over now. It has rained almost steadily these past three days. When the mist clears enough to reveal the higher mountainsides I see it has been snowing up there, maybe a thousand or fifteen hundred feet above my sea level campsite. Temperatures drop into the high 30's at night now, and barely reach 50 during the daytime. Summer's over, dude. Time to leave Alaska to it's long, dark winter.

Next Entry: 09/30/04


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