Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Why we came to Alaska

We came to Alaska for the cooler weather, to see the wildlife and the scenery…
We took our time coming up through British Columbia, because we heard that June was a very wet month in Alaska, and the weather would be better in July and August.

It feels like it rained most of July.

We spent four days at small park called “Scenic View”, high above Cook’s Inlet. We know there is a good view. 

We got a short glimpse of it the day we arrived.

The top of one of the volcanos peaked out above the fog bank over the water for a few hours

This is the cliff at the back edge of Scenic View RV park. There was no beach access from the park, but we could have gone down another way. The curved beach is Clam Gulch. 

On Thursday we continued our journey by driving about 25 miles north to Soldotna. As I checked into the Best Western King Salmon Motel and RV Park, I mentioned how we had spent several days overlooking the Inlet, without seeing it.  The clerk said “Well, you won’t have that problem here.  We don’t have a view.”

Which was true. The RV spots in Soldotna were, like  many Alaskan RV parks, in a large parking lot, with gravel spots and just a bit of grass here and there between the rigs.

But, the sun did finally come out for a few days. We took advantage of the nicer weather by packing some lunch sandwiches and driving out to Captain Cook State Recreation Area,  the northern-most accessible park on the Kenai Peninsula. 

Can you have a Mackerel sky in Salmon country?

I had considered spending a few nights at the Discovery Campground in the Captain Cook SRA, but didn't trust the sunny weather to hold for the rest of the week. So we drove the Jeep up, and  enjoyed the fresh air and sunshine as we picnicked on a bluff overlooking the water that wasn't there. 

It reminded us of our time at the Bay of Fundy last year. The tide was out. Way out! We could not see any open water beyond the mud flats. Across the inlet we could see the snow capped mountain range that we had missed seeing at Scenic View.

While in Soldotna, Craig had time to replace the broken latch on our big bay door.

Days later, as we both looked at this picture, we did not know what Craig was doing. I think he dropped a screw or something in the grass! 
As you can see it is a full pass-through bay, that has doors on either side. Ever since the accident, if we needed something from this side, Craig would have to unpack it and crawl through from the other side. Needless to say, this was no fun. We had ordered a new latch by mail, a few weeks ago, but we waited for the weather to clear before doing the job. 

Our next stop was in Coopers Landing, just 45 miles up the road.
With the nicer weather, we were looking for some outdoor fun.  

The Kenai River rafting trips offered by Alaska Wildland Adventures sounded good. Unfortunately we were not able to get seats on their seven hour River Canyon trip, but were able to get onto the shorter "casual 2-hour Scenic Float".

I wasn't sure what we were getting into when we donned the rain gear they provided.

It did turn out to be a bit of "overkill" for the gentle ride we took down the Kenai River.

Each raft carried twelve passengers and one guide. He controlled the oars and told us about the river and the wildlife in the area.

Rivers and lakes that are fed by melting glaciers have an opaque blue to jade coloring. This is caused by the light refraction on the suspension of fine rock dust in the water. Near the source glacier the water is cloudy.

The river was running quite quickly. Not exactly white water, but a bit bouncy at times. Our sister raft was way ahead of us here.

This rock cliff was colored by patches of orange lichen. It grows where there is a lot of nitrogen. Eagles like to sit on the top of it, and nitrogen from their droppings seeps through the cracks of the rock. 

Speaking of eagles, they, along with a few ducks, were the only wildlife we saw. But we enjoyed every one.

The adult eagle had part of a salmon. The juvenile behind her was also tearing into the red flesh of the fish. The magpie was waiting for leftovers.

Eagles do not get their characteristic white head and white tail until they reach maturity at age four or five. This guy seemed to be working on his grooming. If you look carefully, you can see one of his feathers floating down below him.

And, of course, we saw many of them flying above the river looking for fish.  Based on the number we saw in the trees, they were having a good day of it.

All in all, it was a very pleasant day. I have never rafted before, and maybe next time we will be able to ride some rapids.

We came to Alaska for the cooler weather, to see the wildlife and the scenery…  We are not disappointed.

Monday, July 17, 2017

At Home in Homer

[From Craig] Well, I guess we have come as far west as we can in Alaska,  based on this sign at our current campground:

Most of our fellow campers here are fisher-people, and some just drop in to use the fish-cleaning facilities.  But they have to take their byproducts down to the beach for natural recycling:

We spent most of a week at Kyllonen's RV Park in Anchor Point, about 17 miles north of Homer. I tried to get reservations in Homer at one of the few places that had full hookups, but had no luck. One told me they had a caravan coming in, another was just full, and the last was closed. We could have gotten a dry camp spot, but Craig would rather have hookups.

Kyllonen's is small, and typical of the independent places we have seen in Alaskan Kenai peninsula. Nice owner-operators and good for fishermen. It is after all, all about the fish! 

There is a boat launch at the beach at the end of the road.  
One of the afternoons we were there, we took a short walk on the beach. The tide was out, and the water was quite far away.

Tractors are used to haul the fishing boats to the water. None were being launched when we were there, but there were dozens of empty boat trailers lined up above the high water mark, and tractor prints in the sand.

These tracks were fun to see.

Were they coming or going?

There must be a kelp forest out there somewhere.

The beach is on the eastern side of Cooks Inlet. When it was clear, we could see a mountain range across the water that includes a couple of volcanoes.

Giant Hogweed with Mount Iliamna in the distance
When I took this picture, I hoped to capture both the flowering weed and the volcano. It worked, and I got a bit of the water as well.

We drove down to Homer several times. One of those days the fog was heavy over the water, with the mountains in the distance above.
It was so beautiful.

We did not find Homer interesting nor attractive. We did go out on the "Spit", a small gravely island connected by a causeway to the mainland. It is a major RV parking area. Hundreds of RVs, big and small crowd into the parking lots. Only a small number of the spots have any hook-ups. Most are dry and squashed together. 

There are several clumps of tourist shops, restaurants, and fishing charter offices. We went for a fish dinner on Saturday. I must say the halibut we ate was v ery good, but it was very expensive and the portions were small.

We also went to the Homer Farmer's Market. It featured the usual cast of handicrafts, jams, and flowers, with a few farmers thrown in. Large leafy things were plentiful. The kale, chard, lettuce, and spinach were wonderful. Several kinds of spring onions and garlic were also available. 

We bought some of the largest oyster mushrooms we had ever seen and used them to make one of our favorite dishes, Rigatoni Casanova the next night.   

Something fun happened on the first day we were here. Craig was outside and I was putting things in order in the Alfa, the he called to me "One of your blog followers is out here, come and meet her."

Cynthia of Ease On Down the Road was also at Kyllonen's. We have never met before. She said she has followed my blog for a long time, and recognized the duct taped front end!  We chatted for a while, and now I will be following her down the road as well.

I love it when we meet friends we have never met before! 

We left Kyllonen's on Sunday and went north about 30 miles to Scenic View RVIt is another small, peaceful place. It is not listed in the 2017 Mile Post because there was a change of ownership. I found it in "Alaskan Camping" which I have found to be an excellent resource.

We will be slowly migrating north through the Kenai Peninsula for a while.  Suggestions for things to see and do are welcome!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Another COOL Week in Alaska

On a daily basis as we enjoy the cool weather and beautiful scenery of Alaska, I say to myself "Yes, this is why we came here for the summer!"

After a fun couple of days in Valdez, Deidre continued her vacation in a rented cabin 15 miles north of Seward. Considering it had no electricity, water or bathroom, it was quite nice and the four of them were quite comfortable.

We had planned on going to Seward a week or so later, so with a shift in plans we booked a few days at an RV park that I thought would quite close to where she was going to be.  It was indeed! In fact the RV park managed the rental cabins and we were virtually in the same place.

They took one day to drive there, but since the driving distance was about 350 miles, we decided to take two days, stopping at Slide Mountain RV Park on the way. We could have done the drive in one day, but I am still a little cautious since the accident, and prefer to minimize the stress.

One aspect of being retired I consider an advantage, is the time to go slowly and enjoy doing nothing other than just living. On the other hand, our daughter and family were on vacation and wanted to pack in as much as possible. On our second day of driving, they went on a fishing trip and caught lots of salmon.  

Before they arrived back, we went over to the cabin to get a fire going in the deck fire place. It overlooked the lake and was a good place to relax. 

We also built one in the cabin itself. The nights do get cool, and the little wood stove made it nice and cozy. 

Andrew grilled some fresh salmon both evenings we were there. They also gave us enough for several meals, and shipped the rest back to their home in San Diego.

same youngster, photo from web

On the second day, we again went our separate ways during the day. 

They went on a sea kayaking trip, and Craig and I went into town to explore and visit the Alaska Sealife Center. Craig liked the Giant Octopus the best. It was all scrunched up along one edge of a large tank.

I enjoyed watching the orphaned walrus cub. He was in a pool with his handler learning practicing how to get on and off a slab of floating plastic. A skill he will need to climb onto floating ice. We were able to observe through a second story window overlooking the pool.

It was raining when they got back from kayaking, but working together we got a fire going, salmon grilling, and side dishes ready to share. I think my grandsons were looking forward to sleeping up in the overhead loft.

Our last day together, Sunday July 9th, came too soon. It was our daughter's 50th birthday. 

They had reservations for their last night in Alaska at the Hotel Alyeska, and dinner plans at the restaurant at the top of the tram.

Once again, this shows how mother and daughter sometimes think alike. A stop at the Alyeska was also in my plans. It is quite a beautiful place, and the ride up the tram is fun.

The Alyeska allows  overnight RV parking in their day-use lot 51 weeks of the year. Unfortunately this was the one weekend they did not, because there was a big festival going on in the town of Girdwood, which includes the resort.

I am glad I had double-checked the RV information the week before. It would have been unfortunate for us to arrive, expecting to dry camp there and be turned away. Instead we left the Alfa at the RV park near Seward and followed them in the Jeep. This made for a late drive home again, but with the all-night dusk it was not a problem.

Until we almost hit a moose!

This is not the moose we almost hit. We saw this one up close at the 
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, before we went to the Alyeska.

We do take the moose warnings seriously, especially since when driving the Alfa out of Valdez last week, when a full size moose just walked casually across the road in front of us. We were far enough away that just braking slowed us enough to miss her. But the adrenaline did flow.

At one in the morning it is as dark as it gets, especially when both sides of the road are densely wooded. I was driving a little under the speed limit, with my brights on, when suddenly there was a moose on the pavement, ahead of us. Fortunately he or she was going in the same direction as we were, ran alongside for a few paces, then ran off the road.  If the moose had gone across the road, we would have hit it. 

Hundreds of moose are killed on the roads of Alaska each year, and the vehicles that hit them do not fare well.

Speaking of moose, we saw several at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, which we visited with Deidre and family.

They have a large moose barn where five young male moose live. They were all rescued as calves when their mothers were either killed or abandoned them. 

We all enjoyed seeing this porcupine.  He was really fat. He was rescued after his mom was killed on a road. He had lived as a house pet for a couple of years, actually sleeping with the family children. It was interesting to see one, alive, after having only seen road kills in the past.

This young black bear also lost his mom at a young age. The mother had grown to be a problem bear in the Valdez area, constantly raiding garbage cans and staying in town. She was put down, and he was brought here.

Their grizzly bears have a large enclosure.

There is a large, sturdy deck that overlooks the area so people can watch the bears in a somewhat natural setting.

The bears also seem to enjoy watching the people. The public cannot feed them, but the bear hope for handouts anyway.

So ... where are we now?

On Monday we drove up and around the Kenai Peninsula to a park just north of Homer. (See the map above)

But this post is already way too long!  I'll catch up some more in the next post.  

Monday, July 10, 2017

Valdez, Cruise to Meares Glacier

On Wednesday July 5, Deidre, Andrew, Jeremy, and Dylan joined us on the Stan Stephens Meares Glacier Cruise.

The sky was overcast, but the water was quite calm.

The boat had both indoor and outdoor areas and proved to be quite comfortable, which was good because it was an eight hour cruise! 

Chris, our captain, gave a running narrative that was very informative and enjoyable. It didn't sound "canned," nor did he repeat himself very often, although I'm sure he has said the same things many, many times.

As we left Valdez we passed several boats purse-seining for salmon. Before commercial fishing is allowed, a certain amount of salmon must be caught for "cost recovery" for the hatcheries. They do this with nets that they set in a circle and then draw up like a bag. When the small boats are full they go over to a larger "tender" boat, and deposit their fish for credit.

Not far from the fishing we passed a couple of "rafts" of sea otters. We did get closer than the above image suggests, but none of our pictures were in focus. We also saw numerous single otters just floating in the open water.

Once past the Narrows, we put on some speed and headed out into the Valdez Arm.

The shoreline scenery was  amazing. 

There are 616 officially named Glaciers in Alaska, but an estimated 100,000 or more that do not have names. It seemed to me every high mountain pass was filled with snow and ice (in July!).

image from the web

The next creatures we spotted were a pod of Dall's Porpoises. They raced alongside the boats like their dolphin cousins. They can swim at speeds up to 35 miles per hour!

The captain keep a sharp eye out for wildlife.

Whenever he spotted something he slowed down and got as close as he could without disturbing the creature.

The three pictures to left are all of the same humpback whale. We watched him for several diving cycles.

We passed the inlet that led to the Columbia Glacier, but did not go in. In addition to a lot of smaller ice, we saw this large blue floater. The fishing boat was not far behind it, giving scale to the image.

Here is a different view. I doubt it qualifies as an iceberg.

Our cruise destination was the Meares Glacier. 

But before we arrived we were joined by this pair of Orcas.

Not long after, the rest of the pod was spotted a little farther away. Part of that group was a female following two younger orca. The captain turned the boat toward them and the female breached. We didn't know if it was a warning to the boat, or a signal to them to get moving, but we turned away and they swam on.

By the time we reached the Meares, the gloom had cleared and the sky was blue. The waters were still enough to show some great refections.

The Meares Glacier is hundreds of feet high and about one mile wide where it comes into the inlet and "calves" ice.  

This is a close-up of the top layer of ice on the face. Each spire is huge.

The next two pictures were taken as a large piece of ice fell off the face. The top of the fall is marked with a white > on the first picture:

We stayed at the glacier for a nice long time. Sometimes on tours they rush from one thing to another, but I think everyone was satisfied. 

Lunch and later a soup snack was included. It wasn't great, but it did fill our tummies.

As we cruised back toward Valdez we enjoyed more interesting scenery.

It's amazing how plants can take over even a small island.

This was along Point Bullhead where we saw many birds including puffins.

OK I cheated. We did see these puffins, and these are my pictures, but these birds were at the Seward Aquarium. The puffin pictures from our boat ride were not very clear.

The last critters we saw were:

Steller Sea Lions, also near Point Bullhead. These are all immature. The breeding grounds are further out to sea on a different island.

By the time we were almost back, everyone in our family was a bit tired from all the fresh air.

Dylan found a place downstairs to take a nap, and the rest were suffering from electronic deprivation. Craig is reviewing the pictures he had taken.

All in all it was a wonderful day, and I will be giving Stan Stephens a nice review.