Thursday, October 18, 2018

God's Beauty Products

Have you noticed all the ads appearing on Facebook about celebrities who are quitting their careers to sell an anti-aging face cream? The before and after photos show a remarkable difference, but I wonder if the cream is really what it's cracked up to be.

My Grandma Personeus never wore makeup, but she had a such a beautiful complexion that many people asked her what products she used. In spite of a rugged missionary life in Alaska for 65 years, she had flawless skin well into her old age (she lived to be 96), but her beauty came from the inside out.
Grandma & Grandpa Personeus, missionaries to Alaska 1917-1982, in their seventies
I read about another elderly woman whose complexion belied her age. She was asked what brand of beauty aids she used. With a sparkle of youth in her eyes, she said it was probably God's own brand.

She went on to elaborate. "I use for my lips, truth; for my voice, kindness; for my eyes, compassion; for my hands, charity; for my figure, uprightness; for my heart, love; for any who do not like me, prayer."

We won't find these beauty aids advertised on television or the Internet, nor will we find them on the counters of our favorite stores. No one will provide them for us in colorful, expensive packaging.

No, we will have to look into God's Word to find the beauty of the Lord: "Don't be concerned about the outward beauty that depends on fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should be known for the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God" (1 Peter 3:3-4, NLT).

That doesn't mean that we shouldn't do our best to look our best, but our emphasis needs to be on our inward beauty.

God's beauty comes from the inside out. We can put makeup on our faces, but only God's beauty can give us that inner glow. And it is only by having the beauty of Jesus shining out of our lives that the works of our hands will be established for us.

No matter how ugly our lives have become, it is never too late to go to God's beauty salon. Jesus came "to give [us] beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness" (Isaiah 61:3, NKJV).

He will give us a makeover from the inside out that will last for eternity. And the price is right. He will give us His makeover. It's free--but it's not cheep! It cost Him His precious blood on the cross of Calvary.

Let's go to Jesus for cleansing and allow His beauty to shine through us.

You can read the Personeuses' story in my book, Frontiers of Faith, available through my website,

Other books by AnnaLee Conti:

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Unknown Titanic of the West Coast

One hundred years ago, on October 25, 1918, the Canadian Pacific Steamship Princess Sophia wrecked on Vanderbilt Reef in Lynn Canal near Juneau, Alaska, with no survivors. 

The sinking of the Princess Sophia is called the "Unknown Titanic of the West Coast." Why?

News of the worst maritime disaster ever in the Pacific Northwest was soon eclipsed by the worldwide Spanish influenza pandemic and the Armistice that concluded “the war to end all wars,” World War I on November 11, 1918. Few people even remember the disaster "that took down the North."

Vanderbilt Reef in Lynn Canal north of Juneau
Lynn Canal is an 84-mile stretch of coastline that is never wider than 10 miles across. This narrow passage channels winds upwards of 70-80 knots and stirs the williwaw winds, violent gusts of cold wind blowing seaward off of the surrounding glacier-filled mountains. These winds, narrow passages, and intense weather conditions make this the most treacherous stretch of the 900-knot voyage from Vancouver to Skagway. 

Almost in the middle of the already narrow fjord, Vanderbilt Reef is a rocky outcrop of an underwater mountain. Hidden just below the surface at high tide, it is visible at low tide just above the surface. 

The balloon marks location of Vanderbilt Reef  Courtesy Google Maps

The Princess Sophia was built in 1911 and entered service in 1912 as one of several passenger, mail, and freight steamers built for the Canadian Pacific Steamship Line that operated along the coast of British Columbia from Vancouver and Victoria up the Inside Passage to Skagway, Alaska. These coastal-class ships were known as “pocket liners,” not the luxurious ocean liners of the time, but smaller. Yet they offered a fair degree of comfort for passengers, especially in first class.

On October 23, the 245-foot ship, loaded with 353 passengers and crew, left Skagway, Alaska, at close to midnight, about 3 hours behind schedule. Soon after leaving, the ship ran into a blinding snowstorm in the narrow Lynn Canal.  

Princess Sophia stuck on Vanderbilt Reef Oct. 24, 1918
Courtesy Alaska State Library Historical Collection
Somehow, Sophia drifted off course in the snowstorm and rammed straight onto Vanderbilt Reef at full speed in the early hours of October 24. She sent a message by "wireless" to Juneau for help.

The enormity of the situation was not immediately obvious, and the passengers settled in to wait for refloating or rescue. First fishing boats, and then a U.S. Lighthouse Service tender arrived to help. With strong winds blowing down Lynn Canal, the captain of Sophia chose not to launch lifeboats into the rough seas thinking it more dangerous than remaining on board..
Another such grounding on another Lynn Canal reef a few years earlier had ended uneventfully when the passengers were transferred to a different vessel and the ship was refloated. Also likely on his mind was a recent sinking in Canadian waters in which lifeboats were launched prematurely, drowning all their occupants, while those who remained aboard were rescued.

Princess Sophia just hours after striking Vanderbilt Reef
Courtesy Alaska State Library Writer and Pond Collection

At high tide on the 24th, the Sophia was too stuck to float free. At the time, the Sophia's faulty barometer was rising, and it appeared that better weather may have been on the way. Instead, the weather deteriorated, and the rescue boats were unable to approach the jagged reef pounded by waves. Soon, they were forced to seek shelter behind a nearby island. 

It was blowing like crazy. The tide was rising. The bow of the Sophia was stuck on the reef, but the force of the wind and waves spun the vessel almost completely around and washed her off the reef. Dragging across the rock ripped out the ship's bottom, so when she reached deeper water near the navigation buoy, she sank sometime between 5:30 and 6:00 p.m. on October 25, 1918, taking all passengers and crew down with her. The only survivor was an oil-soaked dog.

Based on the evidence, this process seems to have taken about an hour. On board, Sophia's passengers knew they were in great danger. They donned life vests and wrote final letters to family. 

Sophia's wireless operator pleaded for help. "For God's sake, hurry, the water is in my room," was one of the last messages received by the Cedar, the lighthouse tender that lay sheltered behind a nearby island.

At that point, Cedar risked wrecking herself as she ventured out into the snowy night, but in the days before radar, it had no hope of getting near the Sophia. In those conditions, foghorns provided the only navigation method. The vessel crews listened for the echos of their own foghorns from the steep sides of Lynn Canal, while on board the Cedar they listened for the foghorn of a nearby lighthouse they could not see, despite its nearness.

The rising water in Sophia caused a boiler to explode, spilling thick bunker fuel into the water while those aboard attempted to launch lifeboats and reach shore. The pounding seas combined with congealing oil in the icy waters made that impossible. Everybody suffocated or drowned in the icy waters or died of exposure. 

With the Cedar unable to get near the Sophia due to the dangerous gale-force winds, there were no witnesses to the doomed vessel's final hours. In the morning, rescuers were able to finally make their way back to the Sophia. All that remained was 40 feet of her forward cargo mast. 

Princess Sophia's foremast was all that was visible on October 26, 1918.
This photo is taken from the reef. Cedar stands by near the reef.
Courtesy Winter & Pond Collection State of Alaska Digital Archives
A few letters survived in victims’ clothing. Here is one written by John R. “Jack” Maskell, found on his body and reprinted in papers of the day:

Shipwrecked off coast of Alaska

S.S. Princess Sophia

October 24, 1918

My own dear sweetheart,

I am writing this my dear girl while the boat is in grave danger. We struck a rock last night which threw many from their berths, women rushed out in their night attire, some were crying, some too weak to move, but the lifeboats were swung out in all readiness but owing to the storm would be madness to launch until there was no hope for the ship. Surrounding ships were notified by wireless and in three hours the first steamer came, but cannot get near owing to the storm raging and the reef which we are on. There are now seven ships near. When the tide went down, two-thirds of the boat was high and dry. We are expecting the lights to go out at any minute, also the fires. The boat might go to pieces, for the force of the waves are terrible, making awful noises on the side of the boat, which has quite a list to port. No one is allowed to sleep, but believe me dear Dorrie it might have been much worse. Just hear there is a big steamer coming. We struck the reef in a terrible snowstorm. There is a big buoy near marking the danger but the captain was to port instead [of] to starboard of [the] buoy. I made my will this morning, leaving everything to you, my own true love and I want you to give £100 to my dear Mother, £100 to my dear Dad, £100 to dear wee Jack, and the balance of my estate (about £300) to you, Dorrie dear. The Eagle Lodge will take care of my remains.

In danger at Sea.

Princess Sophia

24th October 1918

To whom it may concern:

Should anything happen [to] me notify, notify Eagle Lodge, Dawson. My insurance, finances, and property, I leave to my wife (who was to be) Miss Dorothy Burgess, 37 Smart St., Longsight, Manchester, England

The disaster has been referred to as the shipwreck that “took the North down with it.” Of the nearly 250 northerners on board, one-eighth of the non-Native population of the entire Yukon at that time, none survived. Entire families were obliterated. 

Government leaders and prominent businessmen from Alaska and the Yukon, colorful prospectors from the Klondike Gold Rush, and the crews of twelve Yukon River steamers, including three captains, went down with her. The city of Dawson, with a population of less than 8,000 in 1918, lost 175 citizens in a single stroke.

Beacon on Vanderbilt Reef Courtesy NOAA
Only after the sinking of the Princess Sophia did the US government finally put up a lighted beacon on Vanderbilt Reef. 

The historic sinking of the Princess Sophia plays a significant role in my recent book, Beside Still Waters, Book Three of my Alaskan Waters Trilogy.  My account of the infamous loss was drawn from newspaper headlines and is faithful to the historical data. It is available in paperback and eBook at my website: and on Amazon, Barnes & Noble,  iTunes, etc. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Down Memory Lane Conclusion

Arriving in Valdez, we drove around to find the church we had been married in 51 years before. As we pulled up in front of it on Eklutna Street, a young man exited the parsonage next door with a dog. 

"Are you the pastor?" I asked.

"No, I'm his son. My parents are away for a few weeks."

We chatted a few minutes. We asked if we could see inside, but he didn't have the keys, so he offered to take our photo standing at the curb in front of the church sign attached to a frame holding the bell from belfry of the original Assemblies of God church in the old town of Valdez. After the 1964 Earthquake, the entire town had had to be moved five miles away to a safer location, and the old town was demolished. (To read more about this, go to

On our wedding day inside Valdez Assembly of God in 1967

Valdez Assembly of God c. 1967 when my father was pastor

Valdez Assembly of God summer of 2018. The entry has been remodeled and the building repainted.
We ate lunch (fish and chips) and drove around taking more photos of the mountains surrounding Valdez before checking in at our hotel.

Arch over the road into Valdez

The next morning we ate breakfast in the hotel. The dining room was decorated with trophies of moose, Dall sheep, and other Alaskan animals.

Clouds had rolled in overnight. We headed back to Anchorage via the Glenn Highway.

Nelchina Glacier from the Glenn Highway

Gunsight Mountain (named for the notch in the flat top where the cloud sits above it)

Lion's Head (in center of photo where roadway rises)

We ate lunch at Sheep Mountain Lodge where I petted a grizzly!
From Sheep Mountain, the road narrowed as we wound our way through the Chugach Mountains. Traffic became heavier too, making it difficult to stop to take more photos as we drove past Matanuska Glacier, which I hiked on in 1957 when I was 11 years old and attending Victory Bible Camp. We continued along the Matanuska River a few miles farther, where we past the entrance to the camp.

From the mountains, we entered the Matanuska Valley famous for its gigantic cabbages and pumpkins. Due to the long hours of sunlight just below the Arctic Circle, vegetables and flowers grow to an enormous size--if the moose don't eat them first!

We stayed in Anchorage over the weekend, making day excursion to Eagle River on Saturday, and Wasilla on Monday to visit several friends from high school.

On Tuesday, we reluctantly said goodbye to Alaska and flew to Seattle to rent a car and visit friends and family in Washington and Oregon.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Down Memory Lane 6

The next morning, after a breakfast of sourdough pancakes, we headed on down the Richardson 115 miles to Valdez, where we got married 51 years before. The rain had stopped, the sky was blue, but clouds still lingered over the high mountains to the east--the Wrangell-St. Elias Range, which boasts 9 of North America's 16 highest peaks.

12,010 ft. Mt. Drum from the Glenn Highway Courtesy
Mt. Drum, the westernmost Wrangell volcano is 12,010 feet high, yet it dominates the local landscape more than the much higher volcanoes. Mt. Wrangell (14,163 feet), Mt. Sanford (16,237), and Mt. Blackburn (16,391) are all visible from the Richardson Highway as we proceed south but are farther away. We stopped to take photos. One shot was not sufficient to take in that entire string of peaks in the Wrangell-St, Elias Range to the east.

The Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is by far the largest of our national parks—almost six times the size of Yellowstone. Four major mountain ranges converge here: the volcanic Wrangell Mountains, the Alaska Range, which boasts of Denali, at 20,310 feet, the highest peak in North America, the southern Chugach Range, and the St. Elias—the tallest coastal mountains in the world.

 The St. Elias Range merges with the Wrangells in the heart of the park. Together, they contain 9 of the 16 highest peaks in the United States, 4 of them above 16,000 feet, including Mt. St. Elias, the second highest peak in North America, which soars from the Gulf of Alaska to 18,008 feet. There are more than 150 glaciers in the park. One of them, the Malaspina, is larger than Rhode Island.

At the park's Visitors Center along the Copper River, which forms the western boundary of the park,  we saw displays about the Ahtna (an Athabaskan tribe of Native Americans of Alaska) and their subsistence way of living. Many signs along the road indicated areas of hunting and fishing reserved for the Ahtna. 
Another shot of the Wrangell-St. Elias Range
The drive from Glennallen to Valdez is one of the most scenic highways in Alaska. Here are more of the photos we took. As we climbed into Thompson Pass, Worthington Glacier can be seen just ahead. Today, it is much smaller than it was 51 years ago. Then, we could actually walk from the parking area right onto the ice. Now, it has retreated so far that it requires a difficult hike to reach the lower tip of the glacier.

Worthington Glacier

Worthington Glacier has two arms.

Thompson Passa 2,805 foot-high gap in the Chugach Mountains northeast of Valdez, is the snowiest place in Alaska with an average annual snowfall that exceeds 700 inches. The 24-hour record is 90 inches! On December 7, 2017, an incredible 10 inches of snow piled up in one hour--around 1.7 inches every 10 minutes. This is an absolutely incredible snowfall rate. The furious storm dropped another 5 inches in 30 minutes, for a remarkable 15 inches in an hour and a half. In the end, 40 inches of heavy wet snow accumulated in 12 hours. Snow patches still remained when we drove through on July 12.

Thompson Pass in December 2017 after record snowfall.

Note poles along the roadway guide snow removal

Razor-sharp peaks surround the pass.

After descending from the pass, we entered Keystone Canyon3-mile-long gorge near Valdez. At an elevation of 307 feet, its walls are almost perpendicular. It connects the upper and lower valleys of Lowe River. The old tunnel we remember from all our previous trips has been blocked off and the roadway rerouted around it. I'll close with these photographs of Bridal Veil Falls and Horsetail Falls. Next week, I'll complete this summer's trip into Valdez and back to Anchorage.

The Lowe River which flows through Keystone Canyon

Entering Keystone Canyon
Horsetail Falls

Bridal Veil Falls

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Down Memory Lane 5

As we said goodbye to our wonderful hosts, the Bakers, in Fairbanks, we headed south in a light rain down the Richardson Highway, which brought back many memories. This was the road we traveled to Valdez to get married 51 years ago. We noted many changes in the route itself. Many of the deep curves had been eliminated. Back then the trip from Fairbanks to Valdez was close to 500 miles; now it is only 362 miles.

After driving past North Pole, Alaska (not the actual North Pole), home of radio station KJNP and Santa Claus House, where you can celebrate Christmas year-round and drive on streets such as Santa Claus Lane and St. Nicholas Drive, we came to Eielson Air Force Base, where Bob graduated from high school in 1962. His father had been the base engineer there.

Along the way south, we pulled off to view a section of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline that often parallels the Richardson Highway through the Alaska and Chugach Mountain Ranges to Valdez. (To read about the amazing construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, click here.)

A section of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline that runs 800 miles from the Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean to the Port of Valdez. To protect the pipeline from  permafrost, some 420 miles of the 800-mile-long pipeline is elevated on 78,000 vertical support members such as you can see here. 

 A few miles farther down the Richardson, we came to the Birch Lake Military Recreation (USAF) Camp, where Bob got his first job after graduation. Here, he made rounds in a skiff each night--more like twilight with sunrise at around 2 a.m.--and dreamed about his future.

We continued on into the Alaska Range through Delta Junction (at Delta Junction, the Alaska Highway joins the Richardson Highway). From there, we continued on toward Summit Lake and Paxson. Here are some scenes along the way. 

Summit Lake

While it was raining on us, it was snowing on the mountaintops in mid-July!

During his first year at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Bob took a course in surveying. That summer (1963), he got a job as a surveyor with the Alaska highway department in Paxson, the turnoff to the Denali Highway. This photo shows the first lodge he lived in. Now it has collapsed and is moldering into the ground. The current Paxson Lodge on the other side of the highway, where we stayed overnight in 2003, was closed in 2013 and remains closed.

Ruins of the first Paxson Lodge

As we turned onto the Denali Highway, we spotted a cow moose with her calf and quickly snapped a couple of photos. It was raining, so we did not get out of the car, merely opened the window.

The cow soon became aware of our presence and assumed a protective mode.

Bob at Gulkana River in 1963 
We crossed the Gulkana River but didn't stop to take a picture. We already had several photos taken on that bridge years ago, including this one of Bob taken before we met. The river bed contained a lot of jade, which Bob once compared to my eyes in a poetic love letter.

The last time we were there, the river had been teeming with very red and ragged salmon that had fought their way hundreds of miles upstream to spawn and die.

We drove as far as the Tangle Lakes, where Bob and his father had gone on a fishing trip while Bob was in high school. Along the way, Bob pointed out a lake he triangulated and benchmarks he had placed while surveying this road so many years previously. In spite of the rain, the mosquitoes attacked immediately whenever Bob got out of the car to take photos. The first 21 miles of Denali Highway on this end are paved. When we came to the end of the pavement, we turned around and headed back to the Richardson Highway.

The Tangle Lakes from the Denali Highway

Tundra and a mountain Bob climbed while on the trip with his father during high school. It was higher than it looks!

From Paxson, we continued south to Glennallen, where we would spend the night. Here are more scenes along the way,

After a long day of driving and sightseeing, we checked into the Caribou Hotel, a rustic but comfortable inn in Glennallen near the junction of the Richardson with the Glenn Highway.

Next week, I'll share the spectacular drive to Valdez.

In the meantime, if you'd like to read more about Alaska, check out my books at