Monday, July 30, 2012

Kenai, Soldotna & Homer

Thur, July 19th - Wed, July 25th
We spent the 16th thru the 18th in Anchorage, but we will have to come back through Anchorage on our way back, as there is only one road in or out of the Kenai Penninsula. So I will talk about Anchorage when we come back through.  This is a view of Turnagain Arm a few miles south of Anchorage.  There is a little eating place along the way here called the Turnagain Arm Pit.  Clever, but not very appealing sounding. 
This is Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood in the Chugach National Forest, maybe fifty miles south of Anchorage.  They get 600 inches of show per year, that's 50 feet.  Boy, am I glad I don't have to shovel sidewalks there, but I bet the skiiing is great. 
This is a major pet peeve of mine, how we are messing up the world we live in with our trash.
Littering is a $1,000.00 fine here, and I don't think that's enough.  Everywhere you go here there are signs, if you pack it in, pack it out, including your used toilet paper.  That might be a little extreme, but really, how hard is it to wait until you get home or at least to the next trash can, to throw out your pop can or bottle.  And used diapers, just don't get me started.  Come on Moms, give the earth a break! 

We turned at Portage and spent the night at Williwaw USFS Campground between Portage and Whittier.  We plan to stay there again on our way back to Anchorage and take the tunnel over to Whittier that is shared with the train in fifteen minute intervals.  We hiked the Trail of Blue Ice to Byron Glacier about two and a half miles from our campground.  We met some kids our our way back carrying sleds and saucers coming to play on the glacier.  What fun, sledding in the summer.  

Note the poles along the road in this area to let the snow plows know where the edge of the road is.  There should be some excellent skiing at that resort if they get that much snow, but it might be a challenge to get there. 

We took a side trip over to Hope and stopped here for a short hike.  It was a narrow little ledge looking straight down over the river far below.  A little un-nerving to say the least. 

This was someone's home with a little artsy shop in their yard.  The downtown has a store and bar and a campground with about ten spots right next to the Turnagain Arm on the opposite side from Anchorage.  There probably wasn't more than a hundred people, but a few artists had galleries out of their homes.  All the homes were old log cabin types.  A really cute little town, like a step back in time to the 1800s. 

This is in Soldotna where the salmon run is in full swing.  They have wonderful boardwalks and tons of stairways that go right down into the water.  Every creek has different rules as to what kind of fishing is allowed, and the limits for each variety of fish change all the time based on whether the numbers in the current run are up or down. So the limit may be raised or lowered from what it was two weeks ago and you have to keep checking on it. 

This guy was just cleaning them right on the steps as he caught them.  There was a guy right next to the step with a little folding plastic table, cleaning fish as fast as he could, and so far had a big cooler half full of fillets.The rivers and creeks are just lined with fishermen (and women) up and down both sides.

These guys had an RV park right behind them and a row of fish cleaning ramps.  They just cleaned their fish and washed the guts right back into the river. 

And these people in Kenai.... well it's like a rock concert gone bad.  Only the residents are allowed to net them and they turn out in droves.  They mean business.  There's a big cliff overlooking the beach, but that's not stopping anybody.  There are people lined up and down both sides out in the water about up to their armpits, holding out big nets about four feet across, some with handles twenty feet long or more.

There are cars parked everywhere on the beaches and all over town, and tents on both sides just far enough back so the tide won't reach them.  They haul their supplies down to the beach in any kind of conveyance they can find, wagons, appliance dollies, sleds and any kind of cart.  

They clean their fish right at the edge of the water, so you can tell where the tide has been, because there are rows of fish guts wherever the last tide stopped.  People clean them on their cooler tops or they have folding tables.  The cleverest thing I saw was that several people had brought ironing boards.  They are perfect.  Light weight to carry, holes on the top so the juices can drain away and tall enough so you don't have to bend over.

The tide goes out a long way at low tide, so this guy is pulling his cooler on a sled over the mud flats to get down to water's edge again.  The sleds work really good for dragging your cooler of fish back up the steep hill when you're done. 

We did a quick little drive through the small town of Nikiski just north of Kenai before heading south.  They have a LNG plant and petro chemical industry and oil docks serving off-shore drilling rigs there.  We spent the night at Clam Gulch State Recreation Area on the hill just above this beach.  We trekked down the steep trail to check out the beach and we found that people appeared to be living here permanently and some places looked long since abandoned, but I'm not sure they were.  Some had big fish nets out in the bay. 
One guy appeared to have a smoker and was smoking his catch, I assume.  If you look close, you can see the outhouse (with no door) between these two places.  You know what they say....Old fishermen never die, they just get a little dingy.

Finally, we have arrived in Homer, the quaint drinking village with a fishing problem, where they say,"We're here because we're not all there."  A bumper sticker I saw here said, "One by one, the penguins steal my sanity."  They don't actually have penguins here, but I liked it anyway. 

Our first view of the Homer Spit in the far left corner, where we will be camping in the city campground.  It doesn't look very big, but it is actually four and a half miles long.  Homer was named for Homer Pennock, a con artist who convinced a crew of fifty men and one woman to come here for the gold.  After a couple years they gave up and left for the Klondike. 

Exploring the Spit after we set up camp.  This is the infamous Salty Dog Saloon where the Salty Girls sell trinkets in the gift shop. 

Out back at Buttwhackers, this family had just come in from a day of halibut fishing.  The biggest one is 129 pounds.  You would think the kid would look a little happier, but they couldn't get a smile out of him for the picture.  Their guide threatened to photo shop him and put it on you tube.  Halibut begin life with eyes on opposite sides.  As they develop, the left eue migrates to the right side to prepare them for life as a bottom fish.  They lay on the left or white side, so both eyes face up on the camouflaged side to sneak up on their prey.   

This is the Seafarer's Memorial for all those lost at sea.  It seemed appropriate that the little girl was waving to the boats and there was a bell to ring.  At the base of the statue, there were clam shells at his feet that people had put pennies and pearls in. 

My brother told me to be sure and have some King Crab Legs while we are here, so we stopped over to check out this all-you-can-eat sign on the Crab Shack.  $109 for king crab or $59 for snow crab.  Or if you just want a pound, $28 for king and $17 for snow.  I guess you'll have to float us a loan, Gary, if we're going to be eating here.  They've got all-you-can-eat Chinese down the street for $14.  That's more in our retiree budget. 
This is the Homer Small Boat Harbor just a couple hundred yards from where we are camped. 

These are a pair of sand hill cranes and their two colts.  We went on a ranger-guided walk through the Beluga Slough Trail near the Visitors Center. 

We continued along the boardwalk to go to the old downtown area. 

Home sweet home that we passed as we were walking the trail.  Note the decorative door on the fish house or smoke house or whatever that little shed is, probably a man cave. 

Another view of the Homer Spit from higher up in the hills. 
Zooming in for a better look.  The rounded part toward the end is the harbor.  We are camped in the bay-shaped area next to the harbor, toward the center of the spit. 

We took a little dock tour to look at and learn about creatures that attach themselves to the dock.  These is two anemones.  We saw jelly fish, star fish, sea urchins, clams, oysters, barnacles, etc.  Did you know they commercially fish sea urchins?  Has anyone ever eaten them or seen them on a menu?  I didn't even know the prickly little things were edible. 
This is a pink anemone that appears to be trying to eat a jelly fish, or perhaps the jelly fish just got tangled up there. 
This picture was hanging at the end of one of the docks.  It said it was taken in 1956 and the halibut was 12 feet long and estimated to be 1,000 pounds.  I did read somewhere that the largest officially recorded one was 600 pounds.  How on earth do you get a fish like that in the boat, or do you just tow it to shore?  Fishing in Alaska was a $515 million industry in 1983.  Thirty years later with the health and fitness craze to eat more fish, and especially salmon, I can't imagine how much it is worth now.   
Leaving Homer on a little cruise across Kachemak Bay to Halibut Cove.  Land on the right is Lands End Hotel and Resort at the end of Homer Spit.  The boat in the distance is one of the Alaska Marine Ferries heading out. 
On our cruise over to Halibut Cove we circled Gull Island to look at the birds.  There were kittiwakes, horned and tufted puffins, cornorants and glaucous winged gulls. 
These are common murres.  They resemble penguins from a distance, but are not closely related.  They do not make nests.  They just lay one egg directly on a rock shelf and it is weighted, so it won't roll off.  Think "weebles wobble, but they won't fall down". 
Enjoying a beautiful day out on the water. 
An oyster boat.  There are fifteen oyster farms in Kachemak Bay, three in the Halibut Cove area.  The water is too cold for them to reproduce, so they have to ship in the spat every year.  I don't really know what that means, so that will give me something to look up later, when I have time. 
You can't see it, but there was a bald eagle sitting right at the top of the bare tree on this point of land, as we rounded the corner. 
A couple of kayakers also enjoying the day.  I wonder how cold it is sitting in those little plastic boats in that extremely cold water. 
Ah, there's the entrance to Halibut Cove and we'll soon be having lunch. 
Their brand new lighthouse is up on the hill and there is an archway in that point of land where the kayakers can paddle thru when it is high tide. 
We are just about to dock and our restaurant is right at the top of the ramp, with our waiter anxiously waiting for us.  I was daring and ordered the combination plate with pickled salmon, smoked salmon spread, halibut ceviche, shrimp poke, and some kind of sushi.  I liked it all except for the pickled salmon, which was very sour, like bad dill pickles, and kind of tough to chew.  John had the buffalo burger and, of course, he had to ask if they raised them here themselves.   
This young man lives here. He and his girl friend had just gone out fishing about fifteen minutes before we arrived.  They came back just after we arrived.  He was so excited.  He caught this 38 pound king salmon and didn't even have a net to get it in the boat.  He was just like a little kid.  He said it was the biggest fish he had ever caught. 
After lunch we walked the boardwalks all around their little seaside village and hiked up in the hills to their cemetery. 
Incredibly beautiful views.  This is the lighthouse from above. 
Another kayaker.  You can see the hill at Homer on the right side in the distance, but probably not the spit, as it would just be a hair of land sticking out from the hill. 
Arriving back at the restaurant to catch our boat, the Danny J, back to Homer. 
One last view as we leave Halibut Cove.  

Arriving back at the Homer Harbor, we were told that this ship was brought in special as a processing station, to help out, because the salmon run here has been so big. 

The next day we went for a guided nature walk at the Wynn Nature Center up in the hills.  Our guide identified all kinds of flowers and plants for us and told us which ones were poisonous or harmful to your skin.  Others she had us smelling and tasting and telling us their food or medicinal uses. 

We were walking through the woods when we saw a moose up ahead coming down the trail right toward us.  The young lady guiding us said the moose would probably turn off on another trail just ahead of us.  "But if she doesn't, just stand out of the way and let her pass by.  If she lays her ears back or appears to get agitated, just get behind a tree."  Lucky for us, she just turned off at the trail right in front of us.  Then she heard another couple coming up the trail behind and got spooked and took off running. 

This is just before she turned down another trail.  Moose are the largest member of the deer family with males 6 to 7 feet tall weighing 1,600 to 1,800 pounds and females 1,300 pounds.  Willow is their favorite food, willows shrubs.  They eat up to 30 pounds of willow branches per day in the winter and the bushes they have chewed off are very obvious as you walk through the woods. 

After we left there, we took another side road, to explore another trail and we were rewarded with more fields of wildflowers and great views of Grewingk Glacier across Kachemak Bay. In Oct, 1967 a huge landslide collapsed into the lake below Grewingk Glacier.  It carried enough mountainside to fill 11 million dump trucks, a wedge of earth 2,000 feet tall, a half mile wide and more than 600 feet deep.  A forceful wave roared across the glacial flats knocking down trees and tumbling icebergs.  Grewingk has retreated three and one half miles inland, is about thirteen miles long and covers thirty square miles.  It was first mapped in 1880.          

You can never cross the ocean, unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.  A saying I saw somewhere that I liked.  We will be spending the next few days in Seward, heading back toward Anchorage on Monday or Tuesday, last day of July.  I can't believe how fast this summer has gone.  We have been up north almost two months already.  
Wishing you smooth sailing,