Kenai Peninsula

We traveled south from Anchorage, along the Seward Highway, a very scenic and winding coastal road. It was clear from the traffic heading south that the Kenai Peninsula is Alaska’s vacation playground in the summer.

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Because of all of the errands we ran in Anchorage, we didn’t arrive into Seward until late in the afternoon. The camping in Seward is all along the coast, but all of the waterfront spots appeared to be taken. However, as we pulled into the Seward Waterfront Park, a guy came up to the Roamer and said that his buddy has just called and his RV died on the road so we could have the spot he was saving for him, right on the waterfront – nice.

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Later we found out that the earthquake and tsunami that leveled Vadez in 1964 also destroyed Seward. Therefore, the homes and town buildings are up off the water on the side of the hill. The oceanfront RV parking is effectively the tsunami breakwater. It felt good knowing the Roamer would be the first line of defense against the next natural disaster – lol.

Seward was, and probably still is the main gateway to the interior of Alaska if you are traveling by ship or train. It is the sea railhead of the Alaskan Railroad. It also was the starting point of the original Iditarod, the dogsled team that carried the medicine 938 miles to Nome. A plaque next to our campsite marks the spot.

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The other race that Seward is known for is the Mount Marathon race, the second oldest foot race in the US, behind the Boston Marathon. Mount Marathon is named after the mountain, Mount Marathon, and has nothing to do with a 26.2 mile race. In fact, it is only a 3 mile race, straight up to the top and down the face of Mount Marathon. As with most races it started as a bar bet for the best time between two guys who had the job of climbing the mountain daily to look for arriving ships, which has now grown to the race it is today. It’s run July 4th if there are any takers out there – medics provided.

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Seward is also considered the mural capital of Alaska, where colorful murals are on several of the downtown buildings.

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They also have the Seward Brewery Company, which we had to try. They had some very good beers, but they unfortunately don’t distribute outside of Seward. The menu there has some really interesting options, but we only tried their lamb fries; shredded lamb over fries with gravy and cheese curds. Eating healthy.

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We booked a six-hour ship tour of the Kenai Fjords National Park that leaves from Seward and travels west to the park’s glacial fjords out of Seward’s little harbor.

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We saw otters (floating below), Orcas, harbor seals, humpback whales and a lot of birds during the tour. One of the big male Orcas flew out of the water and executed a spectacular Fosbury flop type breech, but I was so in awe I forgot I had a camera in my hands. I’m not sure how those photographers get those amazing shots.

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We also saw the huge Aialik and Bear Glaciers that extend down to the sea from the Harding Ice Field. The ice field that covers the top of the mountain range in the NP is 700 square miles in area. Many glaciers radiate out and down through the mountains to the sea from this field.

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The tour gets pretty close to the relatively fast moving Aialik Glacier, with its 400 foot wall of ice that calves off very frequently. We sat there for about 30 minutes and you could hear the ice frequently popping as chunks of the face fell into the water. The glacier moves nearly 4 feet a day, while another glacier we visited moved 8 feet a month. The Root Glacier we walked on was pretty stationary with relatively smooth ice compared to this glacier. This glacier was so jagged, with huge canvases, that I doubt you could even traverse the top.

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The water around the ship was pretty dense with glacial ice. It was open water and then solid ice. It’s easy to see how ships quickly get stuck in icy waters.

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The fjords and islands in the area are also beautiful. Solid rock appears to magically turn into trees at the top. What are the tree roots holding onto?

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On the way out of Seward we hiked to Exit Glacier, another glacial arm off the Harding Ice Field. All of the glaciers are receding, and they have been for a few hundred years. It makes me wonder how far back you would have to go to get to a point where the glaciers were growing.

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We then made our way to the other side of the Kenai Peninsula, and the town of Soldotna. It has two breweries we wanted to visit, but only one served food and it was lunchtime. We sampled the St Elias Brewery. Both the beer and the food were very good. We ended up visiting it a second time as we made our way back up to Anchorage from Homer. It was a rainy day on our way back north and their soup hit the spot.

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Going south from Soldotna, we made our way to Ninilchik to camp at the Alaskan Angler RV Resort. Not only do they offer a campsite, but also charter halibut fishing that I did not want to miss while in Alaska. Pam decided that she would not risk another day at sea. Halibut fishing is not good for those who might get seasick. The fishing is done from an anchored boat that is constantly rocking. However, the day was perfect for fishing. The wind was down, the water was relatively smooth (still probably not smooth enough for Pam as one guy in our group did get a little green while we were out there). Halibut fishing is done around low tide so the water is as shallow as it will get (where they have 30-foot tides here) and there is very little tide current in the water.

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I pulled in two nice fish for the day, actually three, but one I had to release. The new fishing rules allow you to keep just two fish, and one has to be 29 inches or less. I luckily caught a 29-incher and one just over 3 feet for over 20 pounds of vacuum-packed one pound halibut fillets. These were the fish from our boat. No need to point out my fish, I’ll tell the story of their size as the circumstances require – lol.

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We traded some of the fillets with our camp neighbors, who went salmon fishing for the day, which is also huge on this side of the peninsula. We now have salmon and halibut for the ride home, and probably even after we get home. We ate halibut that night, a nice fillet along with the halibut cheeks as an appetizer. The cheek meat is best fried up in a little butter and is just like a fresh scallop.

The cost of the charter, camp spot, and fishing license were more than covered by the current price of halibut and the amount I caught. Pam has not bought into that line of rationale yet. If she does I could see owning a place on the peninsula and a halibut boat in our future.

Now that the salmon are running, you can see the salmon in the rivers. This one was roughly 2 feet long. The Kenai River is well known for its salmon and the river has a beautiful powder blue hue.

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From Ninilchik, we headed south to Homer and the spit that sticks out into the ocean. It’s the small sliver of land off to the left.

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We stopped at the Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge, located at the base of the spit, for a nice ranger-led hike along the tidewater marsh. It was kind of funny that one of the big draws for the hike was the chance to see 2 sandhill cranes. It made both Pam and I think of earlier this year when we saw several hundred together at their winter home in southeastern Arizona. The fireweed flower in the foreground is their season indicator. The flowers bloom from bottom to top and once they reach the top, like these, it means six weeks of good weather left.

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It was a great talk and led to discussing the bears that live and feed in the area. We’ve been somewhat amused by some of the bear warnings at the trailheads. There is the normal – make noise and don’t surprise the bear, and if it’s a brown bear stand your ground, talk calmly to the bear and play dead if it attacks. Too bad screaming like a little kid and running like a crazed person is not the recommended advice. The one warning that caught us both by surprise was at a recent trailhead – fight back if the bear begins to eat you. Really! So play dead first so the 1000 pound bear is now on top of you and then fight back once he begins to crush your bones. Better advice may be to carry a next-of-kin notification card because your day is probably not going to end well if it has gotten to that point.

The Homer Spit reminded us of many small, crowded vacation spots in the number of people and the shops along the main drag. The unique Homer Spit difference is the huge glacier-capped mountains that surround the spit.

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We camped at the end of the spit at the Homer Spit Campground. We walked along the beach and stopped in one of the boardwalk places for some great cod fish and chips. We also stopped in the Salty Dawg Saloon, which has signed dollar bills all over everything in the saloon.

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We added our “P&D Earthroamer Adventures” signed dollar next to the mug shots of Steve McQueen, and Gene Ferguson’s ID that has his address as “a van down by the river”.

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From Homer we made our way back to Anchorage, stopping at a local meat processing business on the way. We picked up some caribou and reindeer meat to better balance the quantity of fish in the freezer. Their customers, or suppliers, must also include many of the local hunters.

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We also stopped into to Millennium Hotel, now renamed as The Lakefront Hotel. The place was decorated tastefully with just about every known mammal. We enjoyed an afternoon beverage as we looked over the boat-plane lake and airport of Anchorage.

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As with all great plans, they always become obsolete. Our boundary waters canoe trip with friends later this month was postponed until next year so we outlined a new route out of Alaska and down through Canada. We’ll now be heading towards northeastern Alaska and see what’s up there.

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