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Flightseeing over Alaska with Rust's Flying Services
Rust's Flying Services adds a new dimension to Alaska.
We were scheduled to fly out of Lake Hood, the world's busiest floatplane base, for a flightseeing tour of Alaska's tundra, a couple of glaciers, and their milky lakes. When we arrived at the lake, Rust's Flying Service told us our flight was fine and would take off in about a half-hour.
The group headed to Denali to see Mt. McKinley didn't get such good news — their air tour was canceled.
It seems that the clouds surrounding the highest mountain peak in North America wouldn't permit the viewing of the mountain and would make travel into Denali dangerous. Those passengers were offered a lower-priced tour towards tundra and glaciers or money back.
Together with Captain Peter, we clambered into our Cessna floatplane, got our safety briefing, buckled the seat belts, put on our headsets, turned the engine over with a roar, floated away from the dock, and took off over Anchorage.
A flight over anywhere is fun for most people, but the commentary and stories that Peter peppered the experience with made this flight even more enjoyable. On the way to take-off, he told us about this airport's problem with birds.
Bird Control in Anchorage's Lake Hope
An island in the middle of Lake Hood was home to a flock of birds and a resting place for migrating birds that caused significant problems for take-offs and landings in Anchorage. Peter told a fascinating story about one of the attempts to eradicate the problem — with pigs. It was an excellent start to the flight.
U.S. Department of Agriculture has specialists whose job it is to make sure animals aren't welcome near the Anchorage airport. They shoot firecrackers and screamers, set up dummy animals, and pester the occasional wayward runway-wandering moose with paintballs. They, of course, do everyday things like putting up fences and try to make the area unappealing to fowl by keeping grass short or drying out ponds.
One novel approach involved pigs. They discovered that pigs would scare away the birds, so they imported a group of pigs to the bird-filled island to deal with the problem. As Peter tells the story, "No one knew that pigs could swim." He continued, "They managed to swim back to the mainland almost as quickly as they got them onto the island."
"So," Peter said, "The specialists put Invisible Fence collars on the pigs, and the pigs stayed on the island."
Everything went well for a while, but then animal rights folk decided to come out to feed the pigs rather than allow them to forage for themselves. Peter noted, "The pigs got lazy and stopped scaring the birds away when they didn't have to work for their food and spent all their time eating and sleeping."
So much for that idea. Peter figures the pigs were turned into bacon, chops, and a ham or two when the plan failed.
Over the Tundra
After take-off, we turned to the north, flying over Anchorage with views to the skyline, Elmendorf Air Force base, and the Chugach Mountains to the east. The plane climbed over Cook Inlet and turned to the west and then southwest paralleling the inlet's northern coast. Tundra stretched as far as the eye could see.
"If you were down there," Peter noted, "you'd have to be in hip boots. It is almost impassable when it isn't frozen."
He told a story about how, during the winter, snowplows create roads through the region that are only passable when they are frozen. He pointed out a school bus mired in mud.
"That driver cut it too close and broke through the icy road cover and sunk into the mud." Peter intoned. "He won't get that school bus out till next winter when the ground freezes again."
"Look over there," as he pointed to the north. "See those straight lines through the tundra. They were made by the U.S. Navy when they were searching for oil up here. They would bulldoze a straight line, then blow up dynamite to see if they could find oil way back in the '50s and '60s. The tundra still hasn't recovered."
Of course, his attitude toward the tundra is not the all-but-sacred one favored by environmentalists. To him, tundra is an over-abundant resource. He scoffs matter-of-factly, "We have so much tundra up here it is amazing — it is almost beyond conception."
He directs our gaze straight ahead to the looming ridgeline. "That's the sleeping lady," he says. "Years ago, her husband-to-be headed off to fight the invaders from the north and said he would come back to get her when he had ended the war between the tribes," he tells us as he points out her head and feet. "She fell asleep waiting for him to end the war and is still sleeping."
Lake Beluga and the mingling of the waters
The Rust's Flying Service airplane droned towards Lake Beluga, Triumvirate and Capps Glaciers. Peter assured us that Mount Spurr and Redoubt Volcano rise majestically in the distance. We could see them if it weren't for the clouds.
We learned that the milky turquoise colors of the lake and the rivers were caused by rock being scraped off the mountains by the glaciers. Peter said, "That's the sign of a glacier-fed stream and lake." He pointed below to a river that he said was called Cold Creek.
"That's a lake-fed river. See how clear it is. Look at how its crystal-clear water runs into the cloudy Lake Beluga and mixes with the milky waters. There were more words of wisdom and more stories related by Captain Peter — why the bits of ice in glaciers are cobalt blue, why bears are so hard to see, the difference between brown bears and grizzly bears, where to search for moose, and from where the mud at the base of the glaciers comes.
After about an hour, we turned back toward Anchorage, landed on Lake Beluga but decided not to deplane. We took off again and landed back on Lake Hood.
It was a morning to remember.
Contact Rust's Flying Service — Anchorage International Airport, P.O.Box 190867, 4525 Enstrom Circle, Anchorage, 99502; www.flyrusts.com
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: 907-243-1595.