Week Five: June 13 - 19 ( Clam Gulch, Ninilchik, Anchor Pt, Homer)
Jun 19, 2012
|Day 1, after a few housekeeping chores, we took a nice drive south to visit coastal towns between us and Homer.
The first was the tiny town of Clam Gulch, known for razor clams found by digging on their beach at low tide. Bag limit is 60 clams. Tides at 4 - 5 feet are optimum and April is their best month. Just need good gloves since clams are sharp (hence the name "razor"), a bucket, and a digging tool...plus high boots since mud is everywhere!
Next town down the road was Ninilchik Village, pop.
I don't know how hardy their senior citizens are, but when we saw their fragile meeting place...it was see-through with flimsy plastic windows and card tables and chairs.... we wondered how they survived their activities in the dead of winter! Then we learned that they have a newer, nicer one in town. We'll call this one their summer home!
(For followers of blogger, Keri Riley, the "Backwoods Mom" who lives in Ninilchik, this is where she shuttles 8 kids around, fighting off moose, mosquitos and middle age. Her husband is an ice road trucker...that’s right, just like the show...and is gone from their lives six months of the year. So more often than not she says she's edgy, tired, and going it alone. She buys toilet paper and cereal by the case and hasn't had as TV channel in 8 years. Her blog is called "Backwoods Mom" which you might wish to follow at her site or on Facebook. Can't believe we were actually in the town in which she lives & didn't know it. Our daughter, Kim, found it amazing since she is a regular follower of Keri's blog.)
Ninilchik is best known for two events: the celebration of the opening of fishing season over Memorial Day and the Kenai Peninsula Fair in August.
Their waters are well known for saltwater King, salmon fishing and record halibut...which includes a 466-lb. UNofficial world record sport-caught halibut, caught on a 25 pound test line. Todd was impressed.
With its Russian past, there remains a lovely church sitting majestically above the little town.
We met the interim pastor/seminarian who cares for the flock at this little chapel named, 'Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord Russian Orthodox Church.' He told us that in '08, they literally lifted the church up off its foundation with gas balloons, inserted the new flooring, and gently set it back down again. He proudly presides over three services a week for the 30 members.
The cemetery, with its unique crosses, is quite a site.
The road continued on to Anchor Point, named after the loss of an anchor off the point by Capt. Cook, explorer. We noticed boats along the road beside a steep boarding ramp with tide markers on the wall. This town is noted for its excellent king and silver salmon, steelhead and rainbow.
Tractors help launch and pull out fishing boats on Cook Inlet. This assistance has revolutionized sport fish access to Cook Inlet by allowing boats to launch at just about any tide.
On the north shore of pretty Kachemak Bay, we came upon Homer. The town was named for local prospector Homer Pennock. Coal mining, the railroad, and gold seekers gave Homer its start but today, the Homer Spit...a road along a long narrow bar of gravel...is what draws people there.
At end of the Spit is the site of a major dock facility with deep water to accommodate cruise ships. The city proudly calls itself the "Halibut fishing capital of the world!"
We enjoyed a delicious home-made seafood chowder at a lovely restaurant overlooking the harbor.
We sat there watching a steady stream of fishing vessels of every shape and size go in and out of the harbor.
We headed back north to Soldotna to enjoy dinner at a famous restaurant called Klondike Sal's. We could see why locals loved this place...very Alaskan with photos of moose, bears and snow...along with providing generous portions of food. (The diner was formerly part of a bowling alley called the Sky Bowl. In the 1960's, Anthiny Bordenelli set a world record by playing 1008 consecutive games in under 4 days!) A great way to end the day.
Day 2 dawned as a sunny one. I had my nail appointment and Todd played golf. He lost a few balls among the gorgeous trees but not to any bears or moose!
In the afternoon, we visited the Soldotna Homestead Museum, set amid the lodgepole pines and dedicated to the city's Historical Society's use.
Among the preserved log cabins was a delightful school house filled with original artifacts...desk, fabric blackboard, stove and lanterns. No electricity back then.
In the museum were various exhibits of early life in Soldatna and the Kenai. We learned that back in 1947, the land was settled post WW II with land grants for servicemen. The only requirement was they had to live one winter (7 months) in a cabin they built on their land. These were hardy souls for their land was only accessible by boat or on foot.
We are ending our day at sundown at 11:33 p.m. (Sun will be up soon enough...4:36 a.m.!)
On Day 3, after a nice breakfast in Therapy, we headed out on a sunny day for the Seward Highway.
The drive took us along winding roads amid the Chugach Mountains. When we would look straight up at their shrouded peaks, their majesty made us feel small and in awe.
All the trees along the road were popping out after winter dormancy. Robert Frost wrote a lovely poem about the first leaves of spring: "Nature's first green is gold." We have seen such "gold" almost like an eternal spring all along the highway.
We stopped at a roadside pull-out to make lunch and watch the mountain stream outside our window roar past almost like a river.
Today is the first day of salmon fishing season so we are surrounded by fellow RV'ers and trucks pulling boats. Most streams with access had plenty of wade fishermen.
We arrived in quaint Seward mid afternoon and checked into the Air Force Recreation Camp north of town. We will be here for three days to explore this lovely port city.
Day 4 we awakened to a perfect weather day for seeing Seward - sunny and 62.
Located on beautiful Resurrection Bay, Seward was an important transportation hub for Alaska's mining exploration, fishing and trapping. It was established in 1903 by railroad surveyors. The city was named for William Seward, U.S. Secretary of State, who was instrumental in arranging the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867 for what amounted to two cents an acre! Quite a bargain.
We drove around town and admired the neat and tidy homes and businesses...except for maybe one!
We headed for Exit Glacier, a three-mile-long wonder of ice descending 2500 feet from the Harding Icefield above. The blue inside is a gift from the glacier because it absorbs all the other colors of the spectrum except blue, which is reflected back to our eyes. The glacier gets 70 - 100 inches of fresh snow each winter. Because more snow melts than falls, the glacier continues to recede as it has done since the 1800's. Snow is light - 90% air. But 100 inches each year when compacted becomes a heavy glacier over time.
After walking about two miles, we were surprised how close we could get to the glacier. It was very cold at that spot, I can assure you!
We spent our afternoon driving around the marina, the raised fish cleaning stand, and the downtown. We noticed many huge murals covering walls in the downtown with lovely paintings of wildlife.
On one wall we learned about the Mount Marathon Race - an annual 4th of July challenge. Born of a bar bet that you could climb up Marathon Mountain and back down in under an hour, it was quite the test since the mountain is 3022 feet nearly straight up. Descent is so steep that it's part run, part jump and part slide. Begun in 1915, the fastest race time we learned of was 43 min, 23 sec. Entries fill up months in advance. Told Todd it's too bad we wouldn't be here over the 4th to run it. Ha!
We stopped in at the Seward Museum where we saw exhibits of the founding days of Seward's history.
There were also photos and artifacts from the 1964 earthquake. In just over 4 minutes, the 9.2 magnitude quake struck, forever changing the community. Tsunamis, fires and a 1-mile stretch of waterfront collapsing into the sea combined to cause millions of dollars of damage. Gone were the town's docks, canneries, fuel tank farms and scores of homes. Thankfully there were only 12 deaths locally.
We learned some interesting history about the Iditarod. The Iditarod Trail begins at "Mile 0" right here in Seward and the Sled Dog Race runs each March from Willow to Nome. We saw lots of photos of the race winners over the years, most particularly of a musher who won the race in '04. Both his son and dad had also competed so the family now trains huskies at their homestead.
Our last meal of the day was at a busy downtown restaurant that proclaimed it made the best pizza in all of Alaska. We weren't disappointed.
Then we closed out the evening with a fire and some s'mores.
Day 5, Father's Day, was a special one.
We headed down to Seward's bay area to visit Alaska's only public aquarium and wildlife rescue center. Called Alaska SeaLife Center, the $56 million dollar facility was 70% funded through the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Settlement.
What a beautiful building set right along Resurrection Bay. We learned about sealife from the very small to the large. We also read a couple amazing statistics...Russia and Alaska are only 53 miles apart. And Alaska has 45,000 miles of coastline, (to include that of its numerous islands.)
The facility created natural habitats from which we could easily view all manner of fish, sea lions, otters, salmon and puffins.
We especially enjoyed seeing the sea lions and seals having a great time just a glass pane away.
The children near us were beyond excited.
We loved the underwater and above water encounters with ducks and puffins. They are so charismatic and unusual...you think maybe someone wound them up, they just can'y be real.
The displays about the amazing life cycle of the salmon were fascinating.
Briefly, salmon begin their lives in fresh water streams where they hatch from eggs. After they fatten up, a time period up to three years, they head out to sea... IF they can successfully dodge predators, both animal and man. After another 1 - 2 years, they return to the very same stream of their birth, homeward bound. They never eat again. Upon laying (or fertilizing) eggs, they immediately die. This completes the remarkable journey and life cycle.
Another enjoyable spot in the sea life center was the chance to touch and interact with living creatures that live below the water line.
It was fun to touch starfish, sea urchins and anemones, to name a few.
We returned to Therapy and cooked steaks out over the open fire. I went to bed at midnight, marveling at the continuing daylight outside our window.
Day 6 we were up and back on the Seward Highway, this time headed on a return trip to Anchorage. It's the only way to exit the Kenai Peninsula so it gives us another change to do things in the big city.
We made great time and enjoyed gorgeous scenery as the day was sunny and mountains once again showed off their snow.
We arrived at Elmendorf AFB Family Camp and settled into a lovely spot amid the trees. Todd was here for his two week summer camp as an AF Reservist over 20 years ago. The base is huge, like a giant city. He noticed a lot of change and growth.
We did those necessary RV chores like grocery shopping, cleaning "house," and laundry. We are glad to be here and will cook out once again and prepare to visit one or two of Anchorage's great museums tomorrow.
(Now for your Alaska trivia of the day...Alaskans have shared with us that they think of themselves as having really only two seasons, summer and winter. Since nearly 24 hours of daylight produces a rapid growing season, things green up almost overnight, hence summer is upon them. But by end of August/first week of Sept, colder temps and increased darkness signal the trees it's time to turn color and drop their leaves, which also happens quickly.)
Day 7 found us downtown Anchorage enjoying all the gorgeous flowers. Numerous hanging baskets transform the core of the downtown.
Thematic colorful arrangements highlighted the beds in front of the well-maintained park at the front of the museum.
The gigantic Anchorage Museum is one of the most visited attractions. It features permanent displays of Alaska's cultural heritage. The 80,000 square foot expansion, finished in 2010, showcases traveling world-class exhibits. Today's was all about life, past and present, in the interior of the Arctic Circle.
One entire floor is the Alaska Gallery which presented Alaska's Native Cultures Aleut, Eskimo, and Indian. Also there were displays about Russians, New England whalers, the Gold Rush, WWII and Alaska today.
We decided to spend what little time we had left at the Anchorage Museum of Natural History. A small museum, it gave us a review of Alaska's dinosaurs and other fossils illustrating the creatures that roamed this region in the distant past.
Our day concluded with a lovely dinner at Romano's Italian Restaurant with our friends, Sue and Mike Hale. We made a point of telling them this evening that this is the farthest we have ever driven to see good friends!