Anchorage

The big city, at least by Alaska standards.  We weren’t particularly looking forward to this stop, but there were things we wanted to do here.  People complained about all the campgrounds in the area, so we had to get creative to find a place we could enjoy and still be close enough to the city sights.  Eagle River Campground in the Chugach State Park served as a great home base and had great sights all its own.

Another Strategic Stop

This is a short driving day, so we take it slow and stop for the sights.

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Taking a photo and lunch break by one of the countless glacier-fed rivers.  Met a guy from St. Augustine at this stop – only an hour or so from DeLand.

Eagle River is also a dry camping spot, meaning no services.  There is a dump station and you can get potable water, limited to 20 gallons.  To make this work, we drove past Eagle River to a park in Palmer, AK so we could again power up the batteries, fill the water tank, dump the waste tanks and do our laundry.  

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Jackson approves of this spot since he gets his very own patch of grass and immediately rolls around in it.  

I had a funny encounter in the laundry room here.  I’m swapping from washers to dryers and a couple comes in to start their laundry.  They are speaking German to each other and say hello to me.  I offer an extra dryer sheet and we finally resort to hand gestures so they understand what I’ve just given them.  After starting a load, the husband asks how long the washers run.  They do speak English, but not terribly confidently.  So I think hard and finally answer in German.  Wunderbar, he exclaims!  They were delighted that I tried to speak their language, even if it was only numbers.

This stop is also good for another Mexican meal, a superb Thai place, and two runs to Wal-Mart.  Mexican is my favorite and Asian is Pat’s so we’re both happy, and the pantry is restocked as well.

Eagle River

We had to back-track to Eagle River, but it was worth it to score the woodsy spot with only a short walk to the river.  Here we are in Eagle River, AK and I can’t help but think of my friend Sue in Eagle River, WI.  Close yet so far.  

DSC00139DSC00138Eagle River with a natural log jam.  We heard about these in Talkeetna from our river guide.  Apparently you can clear them and they pile right back up.  Meant to be there.  This was quite a rushing, powerful river.  There is a caution spot for canoes and kayaks to get out and portage their boats around these raging rapids.  

The hiking here is great so no travel to the trails required.  We do, however, have to be mindful of bears.  There was a bear attack at this location early in the season.  The caution is to keep all food inside vehicles and even be mindful of perfumes and toothpaste.  This quote on the “Be Bear Aware” sign-board was so appropriate.

“A pine needle fell in the forest.  The eagle saw it, the deer heard it and the bear smelled it”.  – Native American Proverb

There were no bears to report, but an eagle flew overhead to make this stay authentic.

Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

Riding bikes was also on the list of things we wanted to do, but our own bikes were in such bad shape that we gave them away prior to starting the epic journey.  Ever since, we’ve been on the look-out for a place with great trails and rentals.  The Tony Knowles Trail connects to the city’s huge trail system, and is known as one of the top two scenic rides in the country.  I do believe we’ve found our biking spot.  After a stop at Pablo’s Bicycle Rentals, we’re outfitted with comfy cruisers and off we go.

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This turned out to be my favorite shot of Anchorage from the trail.  And a gorgeous trail it was.

A few more water views.  Looking out at the Knik Arm from the trail.

Streams wind their way from inland to the marsh and beyond, making lazy perfect curves.

The complete trail is 11 miles one-way, but the rental guy said most people get to the Point and turn around.  That’s only about a 5 mile ride.  To get the full enjoyment, he said we should do the whole thing.  The gauntlet has been thrown down my friends.  Pat kept asking when I wanted to turn around.  We’re going all the way I said.  In the end we biked a total of 18 miles and it was so worth it.  I had to walk the bike up two hills, but I give Pat credit for making it to the top of all of them without stopping.  He married the “older” woman you know, so I get a pass.

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On a clear day, you can see Denali from one of the viewpoints.  It was a bright beautiful day, but not clear enough for the High One.  We did enjoy the fragrance of the wild roses along one section of the trail.  Intoxicating!

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One spot in the trail skirts the end of the runway at the Anchorage airport.  The planes literally take off and fly right over your head.

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Caution – watch for children… and husbands!  It was like a siren song for Pat.  You know how he feels about ice cream, so there was no way we were making it past this truck without stopping.

Alaska Native Heritage Center

Alaska is an interesting mix of cultures and people from all over the world.  You hear lots of languages from German, French, Native American dialects, Japanese, and Russian to name a few.  We wanted to learn about the Native Americans who first lived in Alaska, so we headed off to the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

I’ve got a story to tell first about getting there.  It seems like that’s when the best stuff happens.  Anyway, we’re driving on a 6-lane highway, biggest since we’ve left the lower 48, and are just taking our exit when Pat shouts “Moose”!  Sure enough a cow moose has just exited the forest to the right of our car at a full out run with baby moose right behind her.  I slam on the brakes and she goes diagonally across the 3 lanes of the exit ramp.  She’s zigging and zagging with the baby jumping around as well.  Hand to mouth gasping, heart in my throat, we watch her make it across the ramp, then across 3 lanes of 65 mph Southbound traffic, then across the median, followed by the 3 lanes Northbound.  She’s obviously terrified, baby is too, and I’m sure we’re going to witness a horror.  It all ended well as she and baby made it to the woods on the other side.  We’ve been seeing those signs warning of moose on the roads and noting the statistic of how many have been hit and killed.  It was hard to believe that you could hit one so easily, but now we know firsthand how it can happen.  Whew!  So on to the museum.  Hard to top that adrenaline rush.  

The different Alaskan Native cultures are fascinating.  They have different dialects and some can understand each other and some can’t.  Each group depends upon different food sources depending on their locations as you might expect.  The coastal cultures live by their catch on the sea, while inland cultures are dependent on the four-legged creatures for survival.  

We learned about the Athabascans in Fairbanks, and they have river camps for salmon fishing.  The Eyak, Tlingit (prounounced clink-it), Haida & Tsimshian are in the Southeast.  We stayed at a Tlingit campground in Hazelton, BC.  It turns out that our best Native culture lessons were in Barrow talking with the Inupiaq tour guides.  This group of Eskimos lives off the seasonal whale hunts and still follow traditional methods for killing them.  

We did not meet any Unangax & Alutiiq, since they are in the Aleutian Islands and also tied to sea creatures for survival.  We met some Yup’ik & Cup’ik Native Americans at the center and I got a necklace and earrings from one of the ladies.  These folks live on the Western side of the state and also on St. Lawrence Island.  The St. Lawrence clan is only about 35 miles from Russia and has many family ties still there.  That makes them far closer to that country than to the mainland of Alaska, which is about 250 miles away.  Can you imagine making the trip to Russian in a canoe?  

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Here’s a shot of one of the house entrances.  Many locations like Barrow, are in the tundra and have very little wood.  Their houses are made from the tundra, while others have a wood frame.  The most interesting thing we learned was that the ladies fashion window coverings from seal and whale intestine.  The strips are sewn tightly together to make a panel that is translucent to let light through, but still remains water-tight.  They made raincoats of sorts from the same intestines.  It seems they wasted nothing.

Although the cultures were different in so many ways, they share Ten Universal Values.

  • Show Respect To Others – Each person has a special gift
  • Share What You Have – Giving makes you richer
  • Know Who You Are – You are a reflection on your family
  • Accept What Life Brings – You cannot control many things
  • Have Patience – Some things cannot be rushed
  • Live Carefully – What you do will come back to you
  • Take Care Of Others – You cannot live without them
  • Pray For Guidance – Many things are not known
  • See Connections – All things are related

Taken from the Alaska Native Knowledge Network and words we can all live by.

Other Thoughts

We had another Asian meal in Eagle River and I thought Pat was being a real sport using the chopsticks.  He never does that.  He then brought to my attention that there were no other utensils.  Pretty authentic place and we watched what appeared to be a Korean cooking show while we dined.  Tempura carrots?  Yes, please!  Deep-fried anything is pretty yummy.

My observations regarding Alaskans.  The drivers don’t tend to tailgate or speed, except maybe in the big cities.  Otherwise deliberate in their driving and also in their speech.  Not a slow Southern drawl, but unhurried.  A nice change of pace.

I leave you with a few more pictures from the Tony Knowles Coast Trail.

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And Jackson enjoying a stick and the cool mud by the Eagle River.

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Off next to Valdez.  See you on the way!

 

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Prospecting

For this post we’re still at our happy place – Williwaw Campground in the Chugach National Forest.  But we had so much to report that I had to break this post into two parts.  Too many good pictures, and I just had a hard time choosing.

Gold Fever, Baby!

Pat had panning for gold on his list of things to do in Alaska.  But not your run of the mill panning, in a trough, salted with gold for the tourists.  Oh, no.  We’re going prospectin’ like real miners.  Crow Creek Mine in Girdwood seemed just the ticket.  This historic site from 1896 has the original buildings from the mining camp that produced 700 ounces of gold per month as late as the 1940s.  That’s $1,000,000 per month!  It is believed that half the original deposit of gold still exists here, and people still prospect successfully.  One tourist years back found a chunk of gold the size of a chicken egg.    

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Here’s Pat with the tools of the trade.  They give you a pan, salted bag for practice, and a shovel.  I put Pat in charge of the shovel.

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Crow Creek, Pat searching out that promising digging spot, and the high creek bank.

We took our trainer’s advice to dig by a big rock above the current streambed.  Pat heaved out a big dirt chunk and plopped some in my pan and some in his.  Instructions are as follows:

  • Rinse your pile of dirt until the water runs clear
  • Pick out rocks bigger than your fingernail
  • Add more water and shake, shake, shake (gold drops to the bottom)
  • Then gently swirl the rest of the dirt to the bottom of the tilted pan leaving the gold at the top

Easy, right?  Well, the washing part took flat forever!  So much clay.  Just when you thought you had it cleaned up, you grabbed what appeared to be a rock bigger than your fingernail only to crush another chunk of clay.  And then washing starts all over.  After about 30 minutes of this we realize we’d just starve to death if we had to make a living this way.  Way too labor intensive and the bugs were rabid that day.  No, we did not strike it rich, and as I read recently, failure IS an option.

The old buildings and abandoned miner’s items were left just as they were back in the day.  Old trucks, oil lamps and stoves were scattered about the grounds.

 

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The only wildlife we saw were the ducks, but earlier that day, a black bear ran out of the woods and swiped a kid’s backpack.  They were in the process of putting bear spray in strategic places when we browsed in the gift shop.  They young man who worked there said a bear broke into a local woman’s house and they shot it in her kitchen!  Lots of bear activity this year.

And the flowers.  We keep marveling at the brilliant colors.

These flowers were amazing.  Hot pink bulbs that opened into purple blooms that looked like cupcake frosting.

More beauties and berries

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 Mt. Alyeska with the ski lift, and our view at lunch before the big panning expedition.  This is the top spot for winter skiing in Alaska.  This whole area, including Portage Valley is in what’s called a sub-arctic rainforest.  For some reason we equated rainforest with hot.  Not so, just has to do with the amount of precipitation.  Oh so lush and green.  We met some locals who told us it doesn’t really “rain” here.  For the most part, we’d agree.  It’s just damp as though the clouds breathed on you with a little weeping mist for good measure.   

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

So if we can’t see all the big wildlife along the roadsides, we figure we’ll just visit a place that rescues and takes care of them.  The Wildlife Conservation Center is between Girdwood and our Williwaw campground.  An easy stop, so we spend a few hours here after panning for gold.

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I am fascinated by the Muskox, an Artic species.  They have the warmest fur of any animal in the long part of their coat that hangs down from their bellies.  The Eskimos use it to make warm clothing.  These beasts wander the tundra and the male has a roar similar to a lion.  

One of the big boys decided to eat right by the fence and I got close enough to smell him.  Imagine some really, really bad body odor.  He didn’t appreciate the gawking that close, or my comments about his personal hygiene.

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We’ve only seen cow moose so far, so this bull was really grand with his antlers and chin “belt” hanging down.  

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These reindeer have lost all that scruffy fur now that it is warm.  The earlier ones we saw still had bits of winter coat and looked a little mangy.  Mangy or not, there is something about a reindeer that makes you smile.  You saw them, you smiled.

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Meet JT.  He was chilling out laying in a hole in the dirt.  He’d pop his head up occasionally when a small child would cry out thinking,  “I can eat that in two bites”.  This guy showed off his brown bear foot pad and claws as he lay there like he was taking a bath.

More of my raven obsession.  

Random Stuff I Forgot

There’s a bird that makes a call just like a referee’s whistle.  The first time we heard it was in Seward and I honestly thought some kid was blowing a whistle.  But it kept on and on into the night, or twilight I should say.  Pat went outside at one point to confirm that it was some sort of wildlife.  We learned at the Kenai Wildlife Refuge that it’s the Varied Thrush that makes that whistle.  If you ever hear one you’ll know just what I mean.  Time out!

Fun to see how others do this camping thing on land and on sea  Not your run-of-the-mill Winnebago.  No, this is a “Sea bago”.  If we ever down-size, maybe we’ll just truck camp.  This takes the tiny house phenomenon to a whole new level.  

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And poor old Poop.  We did manage to take him out for a photo op in Homer, but I forgot to include him in that post.  He’d get to go out more, but if you ever wake that thing up, he won’t shut up with his sneezing and laughing and talking.  Pat has threatened to take his batteries out.  

So that’s it for the Chugach National Forest & Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.  We’re headed next to Anchorage.  See you on the way!

 

Portage Valley

If this doesn’t end up being our favorite area in Alaska, I’ll be surprised.  The misty mountains, glaciers you can reach out and touch, and the most peaceful, woodsy campground.  This area had all our favorite things about Alaska in one place.

Williwaw Campground – Chugach National Forest

We stayed here for one night on our way to Seward and vowed to return.  It was just too peaceful and beautiful to count this area as “done” with just an overnight.  The last time we made reservations and lucked out with the prettiest of views.  We’re learning the ways of Alaska State Park camping.  This time decided we could score a spot without reservations if we arrived early in the day on Friday before the weekenders showed up.  The plan worked like a charm and we had our pick of sites before the campground filled up completely.  This campground has no services except a hand pump for potable water and bear-proof garbage cans, requiring some planning on our part.

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Here we are in our secluded spot trying our best to blend in.

The Strategic Stop

To get to Williwaw, we knew we needed an in-between stop.  One, because we are weenies and didn’t want to drive that far in one day, and two, because we needed to charge batteries, fill our water tank and dump our waste tanks in preparation for no services.

Why not an RV park run by a cruise ship wilderness lodge?  Sounded resort-like.  We’d not had anything remotely approaching resort quality in quite some time, and although not our usual style, had its appeal right about now.  Suffice it to say, we got what we needed out of the stop, but the RV park seemed to have a little different standard than the lodge up the hill.  Maybe it was the distinct sewer smell from the three lidded pipes next to our site, or the pair of underwear in the road…  Anyhoo, only for the night and we had a grand little hike to see the rushing emerald green water of the Russian River.

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Cooper Landing is the place on the Russian River and some kind of fishing mecca.  People are mad for this spot and fish crazy.  We just loved the color of the water.

This is also the 3rd day this whole trip that we were able to wear shorts!  It got to 80 degrees and we actually liked it.  View from the lodge and whoa buddy!  How’s that for a burl?!

Ahhh, Williwaw

I think this place is a favorite because it is so lush and green.  Portage Valley isn’t extremely wide so you have all that forest and you are right at the foot of the mountains.  They tower over you on both sides, and the clouds come oozing over the top on the misty days.  Misty and moisty turned out to be the weather most days, but we like the stillness and the campsites with lots of privacy.  Our first night finds us unwinding from the crazy fishing crowds at the last stop, and quite a bit of traffic as well on a windy road with some pretty tight turns.  We’re even able to eat our freshly caught rockfish.  Ahhh, relaxing.  So much so we’re thinking we need to stay an extra night.  We’re good on batteries with short generator runs for 2 days easy.  We’re set for 3 nights, so why not 4?

That all sounded swell until the inverter started alarming when the refrigerator wanted to turn on.  This is bad, very bad and not even 2 days in.  We’ll lose all our nice cold and frozen foods – including that tasty frozen halibut!  We consider throwing in the towel and moving on, but first start by turning off the fridge in the night.  Is it the refrigerator?  One too many frost heaves jiggling its brains?  Is it our big pricey batteries we picked up last year to support the new fridge?  In the end, Pat cleaned the contacts on the batteries, and lo and behold, problem solved.  Everything, and I mean everything is so completely dusty and dirty from the gravel roads.  It is embarrassing how the car and motorhome look, so no surprise the contacts picked up dirt as well.  We’re just glad it was that simple.  So 4 nights it is!

Whittier

Whittier is a town that used to be reachable only by plain or boat, but now is connected by road on the Portage Glacier Highway via the Portage Tunnel.  A single-lane tunnel shared with the railroad system.  So here’s how it works.  You queue up for your 30 minute time to go through the tunnel – to Whittier from Portage on the half-hour, back to Portage from Whittier on the hour.  All road traffic halts when trains come through.  Wild system and a wild drive indeed.  We read about this and just had to make the trip to Whittier just to say we navigated this tunnel.  It’s 2.5 miles long, making it the second-longest highway tunnel and longest combined highway & rail tunnel in North America.

The first train went through in 1943.  Not a lot different looking in 2017!  Dark inside and the railroad tracks try to take control as you drive.  This is a 10 and 2 stretch of road for sure!  Glad we only took Bitsy.

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A little perspective for you.  We’re queued up waiting for our return trip and going through that mountain.

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Not a bad view as we wait for our turn in the tunnel

There is something about a derelict building that intrigues me.  Haunting in a way, making you think about what was, what is, and the passage of time.  Whittier is home to two big structures that were leftovers from the Army back in the 50s.  One building looks a little like a boxy hotel and houses most of the 200ish residents of the town.  The other, left to ruin after only a few years of use.

I give you the Buckner Building.  Built to house all Army operations in Whittier under one roof.  Left for dead and such a stark contrast to the beauty around it.

That last picture is from our vantage point on Horse Tail Falls trail.

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We chose this trail rather than the tamer looking trail down the hill, and before long encountered this locked gate with a sign you see taped to the metal gate.  It tells about the black bear seen at the viewing platform, but that was a whole week ago we rationalize.

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Then we get to this sign….

I’m thinking of that Alfred Lord Tennyson poem….”Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die”.  So onward hiked the Iversons!

 

You recall the name of this trail is Horse Tail Falls.  We hike on wooden platforms you see in the top pic and through thick brush and even sections where you can’t see where you are placing your feet.  All the while singing hymns and talking loudly to ward off the bears, in anticipation of that gorgeous waterfall we know will be at the top.  Nah, only the one you see Pat looking at.  But the ravines, delicate water droplets on the leaves and the misty mountains do reward our efforts.

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And finally, the port town of Whittier below.

We were a little jumpy given our bear encounter at an earlier stop and recent sighting documented on the note at the **locked** gate.  People said we needed bear spray.  We didn’t have any, so Pat picked up a rock to carry.  He asked if it was big enough.  NO!  So he picks up a bigger one.  He also finds a nice piece of wood that looks like a pistol.  We discuss this.  Of course bears will think that is a gun and be scared.

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We round a corner and my heart nearly stops.  Looked like a bear to me, but just a fierce stump.  Not to worry.  Pat whips out his wood gun and we’re all good.

A few more pics from a fantastic day.

Byron Glacier

Another day, another hike and this time with Jackson.  We head to the Portage and Byron Glaciers.

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Portage Glacier is a little out of view due to receding, but Byron is out in plain view from this vantage point on the highway.  The day before was brilliant and sunny.  If I’ve learned one thing on this trip it is to take the shot right away.  Going back for a picture later never works out.  Either weather changes or you just don’t happen that way again.  A lot like life.  Anyway, this glacier is accessible by a relatively short, easy trail.

We all love the snow at the foot of the Byron.  Keep in mind folks that this is July 16th and we’re sporting 3-layer fashion – and hats!

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J Dog loved the snow.  Rolled in it, romped in it, ate it!

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Everything is on such a massive scale.  I have to get some people in the shots so you can tell how big everything is.

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And the backwards looking shot to see how far we’ve come.  See those teensy people?  That’s at the base of the glacier and where we were standing for the dog shots.

Odds & Ends

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I am struck by irreverent things.  As promised, this trashcan at the door of the restaurant in Whittier is indeed filled with sand.

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In the Whittier shipyard.  The container says “proud to be liven high wild and free”.  Art galleries in unexpected places.

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Evermore

I’ve found that I enjoy strolling the harbors and reading the boat names.  So many possibilities.

Next up – Prospecting and then on to Anchorage.  See you on the way!

 

 

Homer Part 2 – Eagles & Halibuts & Whales, Oh My!

Homer was action-packed, so here’s part 2.  Lots of wildlife to report, and happy to say we got our moose photo.  More on that later.  I’ll start with the eagles and our Anchor Point outing.

Anchor Point

Back up the road just a bit is a nice little town with some great views.  We had a rainy day and decided to spend it on a car ride to see a few things.  Anchor Point boasts the Westernmost point in the North American highway system.  There are roads further West, but they don’t connect to anything else.

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I got my sign picture, but the rain is managing to get through the trees and drip down the back of my head and neck.

From this spot we walked over to the park signs and covered benches to get out of the rain.  That’s when a young couple came up with their binoculars and asked if we saw the eagles on the beach.  Really?  Where?  And this gets me back out in the rain to snap some pictures.  I read a quote that bald eagles are like pigeons up here.  Very true, but they are still pretty awesome to see.

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This is the fellow that first attracted all the attention.

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Then more start swooping in, and next thing you know, there are at least five on the beach.  And they are squabbling over the dead fish.  The seagulls are staying out of it, but hoping for scraps.  Definitely worth a little rain down the back of my neck.

And on the way back down the Westernmost road……..

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….the elusive Moose!  A cow and she wasn’t too sure about us.  I saw her, slammed on the brakes, and backed up to get the picture.  Actually Pat made me get off the road a bit and turned on the flashers for me.  I see how tourists get so excited and do dumb things on the roadways to see the wildlife.  I give him credit for keeping us as safe as my driving would allow and for taking the picture for me out the car window.

Our campground host told us about an art gallery in Anchor Point and that seemed like the perfect rainy day activity.  Norman Lowell is an Alaskan resident artist and has been since 1958.  He paints all the surrounding scenery in oil and has some magnificent pieces on display in his gallery.

My shots do not do them justice.  He’s able to capture the many moods of the mountains, glaciers and on the water.  Mr. Lowell also has some of his journal notes framed and on the walls with his paintings.  I particularly like this one.

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This trip and this state have certainly been a mixed bag of weather.  I always say I like a good grumpy day and especially enjoy the cloud shrouded mountains.  And just when IS the sea wetter or more full of mystery than with the mist upon her face?

Some of Norman Lowell’s works were gigantic and took up whole walls.  His system is to sketch and paint smaller versions of the sights he chooses, before creating the bigger than life version.  He uses traditional brushes of course, but also palette knives and for a few even admitted to using his wife’s spatula.  We had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Lowell and I mentioned the spatula I’d read about.  He noted that it had just the right amount of flexibility and he’s not sure his wife ever got it back.  Not sure she wanted it back, I suggested.  He’s now legally blind, but continues to paint with a complex rigging of over-sized lights around his canvases.  This stop was a very unexpected delight in a place I’d never even heard of before this trip.

Seldovia

Before arriving in Homer, we were able to make a date with our friends Cheryl & David to take the ferry to Seldovia.  So, on a cloudy Sunday, we boarded the boat for the 45 minute ride over to the city only accessible by boat or air.  It is a very sleepy waterfront town, but full of colorful flowers and wood carvings.

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You know why Pat is looking so cheerful, right?  Yep, he’s got those bunny ears behind my head.  Naughty.

 

Seldovia is home to lots of fishing boats, another Russian Orthodox church, Ravens – real and carved, plus this carving of a deep sea angler fish.  The town was once bigger and busier than Homer.  That is until the Good Friday earthquake of 1964 dropped the coastline by four feet, flooding most everything.  In the end, it had to be rebuilt and by that time, Homer had a road connecting it to the rest of the mainland.  So now Homer is the hot ticket and Seldovia is the quiet, less frequented spot.

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Couldn’t resist riding the giant salmon carving.  Photo credit goes to our friend David from Texas.  Pat and Cheryl are in the background checking out some other carvings.

Seldovia coastline views.  Pat and I climbed up the hillside with a rope assist to capture these.  Actually you needed the rope more to get down.

Flowers, flowers and more flowers.  I’m enjoying the blooms so much and all the bright colors.  They had flowers planted in old boots all along the boardwalk.  So creative.

Halibut Charter

We booked a full day halibut charter with Captain Mike on his boat, Wild Thing, after hearing how much fun some random travelers had.  We met them at the Ninilchik church overlook, and since the man and his 13 year old grandson had such a good time, we were hooked.  No pun intended.

Our day was sunny and clear and gave us a great view of all four active volcanoes across Cook Inlet.  We’d not seem them so clearly before that.  Of course Captain Mike booked it for about an hour and a half – 50 miles total – to get to a fishing spot.  While we motored on, the radio traffic was funny.  Fishermen all saying good morning and “where are you headed”.  My favorite response was “somewhere”.  No divulging the secret halibut hole!

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Iliamna is the prettiest of the four volcanoes in my opinion.  Looks a little like Denali on the water.

Rules for this day – you can keep two halibut each.  The first one can be as big as you can catch, but the second one has to be under 28 inches.  We are rocking and rolling on the open water, not too far from a rocky island and the fishing begins.

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Pat is working it!

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Here’s my big daddy – 40 pounds or so.  I could hardly hold it up after reeling it in.  They do some fighting on the way in!  Also sporting my four layer fashion and trying to avoid the blood.

Here’s my little one and my surprise of the day.  I caught a China Rock Fish.  It was so bright orange and beautiful when I first reeled it in.  The spines along the back made it look like a little dragon.  Pat caught a black one.  We got to keep them, too.  In the end we caught nine halibut between us and the two rock fish.  I was working another nibble, but we all got our limit and they made me reel it in so we could head back.

There were six people on our charter and one of the couples was from Canada.  Really nice, and they ended up giving most of their halibut to the rest of us since they couldn’t ship it home.  They took the cheeks – the “gold” as the locals say – and had a local restaurant scheduled to prepare them for their dinner.  The rest of us got the benefit of even more fish!  We kept the rock fish and three pounds of halibut for our little RV freezer and shipped 46 pounds of halibut to Pat’s mom and my sister.  Let the fish fries begin!  We actually had two of the rock fish fillets for dinner and they were delicious, and oh so fresh.

But our excitement is not over.  We are rocking and rolling and motoring back when the captain spots a pod of killer whales.  He maneuvers to get in their path.

There are at least six of them and they are surfacing and slapping their tales on the water.

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They ended up right off the end of the boat and scared our poor deck hand who was filleting our fish.  I joked to Pat before this trip that I needed to see a whale breach.  Yeah right.  Well, one of those whales did a breach right in front of the boat, rolled and gave us a great belly shot.  No picture of that, but a super memory and I got my whale breach.

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We noticed our deck hand, Trevor, checking the stomach contents of the bigger fish.  Why, we asked.  He says you never know what you’ll find since these bottom feeders eat interesting things.  Turns out that my big daddy halibut ate three crabs whole.  Amazing!

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The sea gulls became very attentive and followed us to get the scraps that Trevor tossed into our wake.

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A few more gull pics because I like them.

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A few views as we entered the harbor.  Such a great day!  My arms are tired, but I understand why people love to fish like this.  Such a thrill to feel those big fish yank on the line and realize you got ’em!

A big thank you to our new friends Steve & Julie from Oklahoma City.  They were camped next to us and offered to take Jackson out a few times so it wouldn’t be such a long day alone for him.  As usual, just what we needed, just when we needed it.

I’ve now washed all the fishy clothes and jackets and we’ve moved on.  Stay tuned for more stops on the Kenai Peninsula and the final few weeks in Alaska.  See you on the way!

Homer Part 1 – Food, Views & The Dentist

Next stop – Homer!  Another beautiful coastal Alaskan town and one we think we might actually be able to live in.  It has enough amenities like the lower 48, with the Alaskan beauty and charm we’ve gotten used to.  This town appeals to most everyone and we understand why after our week-long stay.

Food

I’m going to cover food first since it comes up three times a day no matter where you are.  The campground recommended a few spots, including a steakhouse, and we’ve got a hankering for steak.  They noted that it was Alaska and not as swanky as the lower 48 places.  Maybe not in the decor department, but AJ’s Oldtown Steakhouse & Tavern had fantastic food and the ambiance to go with it.

We’re counting this meal as our celebratory ‘going full-time RVing’ dinner.  It has only taken us six months to find the perfect meal!  Anyway, food was good, but so was Johnny B on the piano.  Loved, loved the music.  And the wait staff – so good.  One waiter walked around the restaurant introducing 5-week-old baby Scarlett to the other diners so Mom and family could actually eat their dinner hot out of the kitchen.

And the place we went for lunch and dinner (on different days of course).  Alice’s Champagne Palace.  Kind of a dive bar look on the inside, with champagne actually on the menu, and delicious food.  Best hamburgers we’ve eaten besides the ones that Pat makes, plus skinny fries close to the ones we loved at the Greek place back in good ‘ole DeLand.  The burger was so good that Pat had it again for dinner and I sampled the Rock Fish.  Good on all fronts.

Finally on the food scene, we had Finn’s Pizza on the Homer Spit.  Closest we’ve ever come to our favorite margherita pizza also in DeLand (Angelina’s for those who know the place).  It was a bit different, but just as good and served on the back porch overlooking Kachemak Bay and glaciers.  Doesn’t get any better than that.

Can you tell we love to eat out?  Well we do, and this trip has tested us.  You can eat out alright, but a lot of places are extremely expensive and not so good.  Homer was still expensive, but oh so good.

Views

Our camp host recommended we head up to Skyline Drive for some grand views of the area.  Definitely worth the drive.

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The town of Homer is on the mainland, but the Spit is the place for the marina, touristy shops and restaurants.  We learned that a spit, as far as land masses go, is a “narrow coastal land formation that is tied to the coast at one end”.  This according to Britannica.com.  And you thought Britannica died with the mound of encyclopedias from your childhood.  Anyhoo, it is also a deposition sandbar in most cases and usually where there are strong in and out currents.  This place has quite the tide and the water rises and falls as much as 28 feet.  Definitely enough action to build up a land mass.

This shot was taken on our drive and with what I thought were Queen Anne’s Lace in the foreground.  Turns out those big white flowers are Cow Parsnip and they have a photosensitive chemical that can cause a rash and blisters if you are sensitive to it.  Our camp host had a nasty set of scabs to show for his contact.  Glad we know and are now steering clear on our hikes.

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The town of Homer with Cook Inlet going on forever in the background.

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Glaciers in view from Homer across Kachemak Bay.

 

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One more new word for us – Fen.  This picture doesn’t look terribly exciting, but showcases a local fen, or wetland made from a buildup of peat.  Water continually flows through a fen and moose particularly love them.  We were hopeful, but alas, no moose today.  Just the mushy fen.

Our outing without Jackson was a drive further East of town to the Eveline State Recreation Site and home of a lovely Alpine trail.  We’ve noted that the treeline seems to be at a much lower elevation the further North we go.  Thus, we don’t have to go too high to get stunning views and feel as those we are in an Alpine meadow.

I’m hearing that Sound of Music song again….

We also strolled around at sea level on the spit and enjoyed the harbor sights.

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Ships of all shapes & sizes, and smooth stones washed up on the beach.

And the view out the front window of the motorhome.  Caught sight of this one evening as we were cooking dinner and I flew outside with my camera.

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Zoomed in of course, but perfect cinder cone of Mt. Augustine across Cook Inlet.  Another active volcano.

Bishop’s Beach

This is also Jackson’s trip of a lifetime, so we try to find good places for him to visit.  Since dog-friendly beaches are rare, we were happy to learn of Bishop’s Beach.  Dogs are welcome and run free!

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Lots of good smells here and my goodness, the view.

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Our campground is at the top of those rocky cliffs in the distance.

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Tracks – dog, man and the tide

Normally we don’t let Jackson off leash since he is a lulu brain and we’re pretty sure he’d take off for parts unknown.  Since we were off to ourselves at this point and it was a loooong way anywhere, we decided to give him a moment of freedom.

That is one happy dog!  He came back to us twice and then was done in for the day.

The Dentist

This was also my dental cleaning stop with a good story behind it.  I went for my checkup in January and asked my DeLand dentist if he would share x-rays with other dentists as we traveled so I could keep up with cleanings.  Of course.  He knows I’m going to Alaska and says if I’m going to be in Homer in July when I’m due for cleaning again, I can go see Dr. Richardson’s son.  That would be Dr. Richardson, my childhood dentist, who used to own the DeLand practice.  Not only did Dr. Richardson take care of my teeth, he took care of my parents, Cecil & Eloise, as well.  So believe it or not, I go to see his son, also Dr. Richardson, in Homer, in July.  Small world indeed.

Coming soon….Homer Part 2 – Eagles, Halibuts & Whales, Oh My!  See you on the way!

Soldotna for the 4th of July

We left Seward on July 3rd and made our way to Soldotna, right on the Kenai River.  Figured this would be a lower key place to spend the holiday and it was exactly that.  Mostly very enthusiastic salmon fishermen and a few other travelers like us to round out the campground.

Social Time

Klondike RV Park hosted a cook-out for the 4th and everyone was invited.  We just had to bring a dish to share.  I need to come up with a go-to potluck dish.  This time I threw together a pasta salad with what we had on hand.  Not my best work, but ok to share with people I’ll likely never see again.

The campground, like all the others, was nicely decorated with beautiful flowers.  The hanging pot by the office had a red, white & blue theme that sent me back to the RV for the camera.

No idea what kind they are, but very patriotic.

We enjoyed pulled pork sandwiches, all the fixings and tons of side dishes from fellow campers.  Next to me sat a gal from New Zealand and across from us an avid fishing couple from Chicago.  They shared some funny travel stories and gave us some advice on places to see and stay.  The lady from Chicago was in the same spot last year and said it was like a family gathering and I’d have to agree.

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This place also had an herb garden and invited guests to help themselves.  Best part here – NO fireworks, so no need to drug poor Jackson.  Honestly it doesn’t get dark anyway, so I can see why they don’t shoot them off.

Soldotna Civilization

This stop provided us with a few things we needed including a haircut for me and Mexican food.  Oh how we’ve missed good Mexican food – any Mexican food for that matter.  Since leaving the lower 48, that is the one food option we’ve not seen very much of.  In fact, our last great Mexican meal was in Salt Lake City.  Seems you can get Asian cuisine and curry about anywhere, but no Mexican.

There was also a market day during the week and we enjoyed kettle corn, Girl Scout cookies and some shopping from local vendor booths.  All right by the Kenai River so Jackson could come along and we could watch the fishing from the river bank.

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Kenai River – supposedly lots of salmon, but we still have yet to see any.

Skilak Lake Drive

Back up the road we read about an 18 mile gravel road with spectacular views along Skilak Lake.  Also supposed to have good opportunities to see wildlife.  We’re still on the hunt for the elusive moose photo, so off we go.  Good long car ride for Jackson, too.

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Skilak Lake was pretty as were the overlook views…

In the distance is the Skilak glacier flood plain and the snow-capped mountains providing the promised stunning views.

We didn’t see that elusive moose, but we did see a beaver close to the road cutting down a tree.  He had a very sleek, shiny brown coat.  Good sized fellow, too, but headed into the woods when we stopped for a better look.

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Dogs are not allowed on the wildlife refuge trails, so we took Jackson walking along part of the miles of ski trails on the edge of town.  This spot would be awesome in the winter for snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing.

With Jackson worn out from his hike, we set off on the trails at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge visitor’s center.  This is a huge nesting ground for quite a few birds.  In fact, over a hundred species use the wetlands and tundra during spring and fall migrations according to the visitor’s center.

My picture shows a bunch swooping around and out on the water.  Noisy bunch.  Also, the trail through the wooded area is lined with a fern-like plants that we’ve just learned are called “horse tail”.  They were everywhere and do live up to their name.  On this part of the trail we saw an unidentified large bird that took flight as we approached.  The ranger thinks it was likely an immature eagle.  Finally a picture of the snow-capped mountains framed by the trees.  Never get tired of this view!

Ninilchik

I was narrating our drive from Soldotna to Homer and read about the Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord Russian Orthodox Church.  According to the Milepost, it is one of the most popular tourist sites on the Kenai Peninsula.  Well, with a rousing endorsement like that I decided we had to see it.  Unfortunately the Milepost also said that bigger vehicles couldn’t turn around on the road.  But fortunately there is a Ninilchik River Scenic overlook just up the road, so we stopped, unhooked Bitsy and headed back for a look-see.

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You can’t go inside, but the outside is very interesting with the characteristic onion-domes on top and the three-barred crosses.  I read up on these crosses and the top bar is the title bar – “King of the Jews” or similar phrase, the second bar is where Jesus’ hands were nailed and the angled 3rd bar is for His feet.

Ninilchik was actually founded by a variety of cultures.  Many were Russian immigrants who married local native Aleuts.  The town was to be a retirement community since the Russian settlers could return to Russian, but their native Alaskan family members could not.  Fishing and trapping was important as was the building of the Sterling Highway through the town.

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The church yard

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Looking across Cook Inlet to the Aleutian Mountain Range

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Wildflowers in focus with Mt. Redoubt in view.  This active volcano erupted as recently as 2009 and still steams today.

Musings

So I’ve been most recently sporting what I’m calling 4-layer fashion.  By 4-layer, I mean 4 layers of clothing on most days & outings.  This consists of a favorite long-sleeved t-shirt, (The B-Ham one is popping up most of all) covered by a favorite sweatshirt (the one from the Strataca Salt Mine in Kansas), then my Gator fleece jacket, and finally my very fine rain jacket.  Paid handsomely for this jacket and waterproof pants in Denver and have not regretted the purchase a bit.  I cannot believe that it’s mid-July and that is still the best combo.  The outer two layers are visible in a few upcoming photo shoots.

Pat says that he would have sprung for something a little more interesting in the jacket department if he’d knows that ALL the pictures of him would be in said jacket.  It’s a grey hoodie from Walmart.  Yep, stylin’.

Next stop is Homer and boy is that packed with good stuff.  I may have to split that into more than one post.  See you on the way!

 

Seward & The Grizzly Encounter

Next destination is Seward and we have one of the few advanced reservations due to the 4th of July holiday weekend.  Seward has the biggest blowout celebration in the state and we wanted to be prepared.  Fortunately we stayed a ways outside the city to avoid the crowds, and had the most beautiful commute into town.

Getting There

We last left you in Talkeetna where we were dazzled by Denali.  Well, driving to the Kenai Peninsula is equally stunning.  At least on a clear day.  We had rain and clouds, but the mountains in the mist were pretty nice, too.  For our driving day, we did see one moose off the road, or perhaps moose backside is a better description.

Also had a chance to note the prospering businesses along the way.  Drive-through coffee/espresso shops seem to be hugely popular, followed by gas/convenience stores and then hardware stores.  Campground, B&Bs, lodges, and restaurants seem to make it with varying success.  Lots of big closed signs and places that just never opened for the season.  We’ve pulled into several places to find the place not only closed, but seemingly abandoned.

The drive took us through Anchorage and the most populated place we’ll see in Alaska.  No one seems to like camping there, though, so we keep on going.  Our overnight was at Williwaw National Forest Campground.  It’s first come, first served, so we made an online reservation to be safe.  No need, but we ended up with the prime view.  Misty mountains with a glacier just out of sight.

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This place was so pretty and is in the perfect spot for us to explore a few other places on our return.  We’ll stay here again and enjoy the solitude.  This is my Christmas tree spot.  I see them everywhere!

Renfro’s Lakeside Retreat

Our Seward home base is at Renfro’s and about 19 miles outside of Seward.  Gorgeous drive, so we don’t mind a bit.  First order of business is to drive to town to pick up our month’s worth of mail.  I joke that maybe there will be a check in it.  Pat poo-poo’s that notion.  And guess what?  There’s a check in it!  Usually is it totally junk, even after a month of accumulation.  We don’t miss mail everyday at all and once a month seems to be just enough.

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The lake is just a short walk from our campsite and we do it everyday.  Jackson, the creature of habit, makes a routine wherever he can.  We must go to the lake, take a drink, then wander back through the woods.

The surrounding state parks are great for more hiking with Jax and seeing the lovely woods.  The surrounding glacier-fed rivers all have the emerald green water rushing by.  Other pictures are of Kenai Lake, interesting growth on the tree and Alaska’s state flower – the Forget-Me-Not.  These flowers are so delicate and about the size of your pinky fingernail.  I was delighted to find them in a shady spot near Ptarmigan Creek.

Exit Glacier

Seward is surrounded by glaciers in the Kenai Fjords National Park, and the easy one to see up close and personal is Exit Glacier.  After wearing Jackson out on the trails, we set off to get our National Park stamp and view the glacier.

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The park entrance sign with a glimpse of the top of Exit Glacier.  It only gets better from here.

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The roadside distance shot from outside the park to give you some perspective.

Hiking the trail, a few blue ice shots and us posing.

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And the turnaround shot to see how far we’ve come.  The size of the ice is intimidating.

So we were bad tourists and walked right on by the “trail closed” sign promising fines and potential death from falls.  But Mom, everyone was doing it!  We got a tongue lashing from one of the rangers on our descent and we decided no response was the best one.  At least we didn’t get under the tons of ice hanging there like the guy who took our picture.  See him under there?

Saddle Up

Daddy took me for horseback riding lessons as a kid and ever since, I’ve enjoyed a good horseback outing now and then.  Pat and I even went on a trail ride on our honeymoon.  Pat’s horse was most uncooperative and he’s sworn off horses ever since.  That’s why I go solo.  This jaunt was with Bardy’s Trail Rides in Seward and they were picked as one of the top 10 rides in the country.  An aspen, birch and poplar forest, multiple stream crossings, and then the clearing at Resurrection Bay.  I gasped when we came out into the clearing on the Bay.  Mountains meet wildflower covered clearing.  And every stump and piece of driftwood was occupied by an eagle, or so it seemed.  Spectacular.

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Me and my naughty horse Sequoia, who I think purposely tried to rub me off on all the bushes along the way.  Wanted to be lead horse and didn’t like taking direction.

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The mountains, the mist, the cruise ship, the bay, the driftwood.  Just so picturesque.

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Sequoia eating all he can of the blooming pea plants at the bay.

My trail guide and her spunky little dog who herded us the whole way….

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And a few shots credited to Breanna, our guide, since I was hanging onto Sequoia for dear life….

Crossing one of the many streams, wild irises, and the majestic bald eagle.

And I’m looking fondly at Mr. Big, right up until he swooped down into the stream and snatched up a baby duck.

Kenai Fjords Cruise

We thought we’d go on a Friday, but when we arrived, were told that the seas were rough and the captain could opt to shorten the trip.  I was bound and determined to see the Chiswell Islands out in open water, so we postponed until the next day.  Sounds like a good thing, since all the kids camping next to us could talk about was how many times they threw up.  That’s probably the thing they’ll be talking about for years to come.

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Holgate glacier from a distance and up close.  Notice the boat for scale.

Toothy chunks of ice at the top of the glacier.  And that big crack in the ice?  That whole piece calved off as we watched.  Sounded like a crack of thunder.  Impressive.

We saw quite a bit of wildlife – sea lions, sea otters, whales, porpoises and my favorite – puffins!  Pat remarked that they seem to really work at that flying thing.  The gulls are gliding around effortlessly and the poor puffins are flapping like mad.

I swear that fatty sea lion scaled a sheer wall right before our eyes.  Look close at the sea lion pile and I think one is cheesing for me.  And puffins!  They look like penguins wearing fake beaks.

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Some Chiswell Island views.  Love the chunky rock islands in the water.

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My sailboat montage.

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A few more cruise favorites.  Loved this ride.  It was rough in the open ocean, but I stood outside holding on to a rail loving the waves.  Misty, rainy, and beautiful.

Grizzly!

So our campground owner comes around one afternoon to show us pictures of a grizzly turning over trash cans and walking right beside our motorhome.  One of the hosts took the shots and apparently was yelling at the bear to scare him away.  Turns out we’re inside the motorhome the whole time oblivious to the unfolding drama.  We’re disappointed, because we would have loved to see a grizzly from the safety of Lucy.

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 The pic from the campground host’s cell phone.  We’re right inside!

Time for Jackson’s evening walk and we go down to the lake as is his custom.  He doesn’t want a drink and in fact, wants to go right back – no meandering.  As we get about halfway back in the woods, Pat says “there he is”.  He also puts a firm hand on my shoulder since he must have known my “oh my God, let’s run” instinct would kick in.  The juvenile grizzly, about 300 pounds-ish, is watching us and likely has been well before we saw him.  We try to act natural and keep strolling and he finally bounds away in the opposite direction.  So NOW we’ve seen the bear and don’t care to see one that close again.  Scary.  Jackson never made a sound so either he didn’t see the bear or he knew the score.

Moose Pass

I know this is getting long, but just one more thing.   We have discovered that Pat looooooves fudge.  A very close second to ice cream it seems.  We made two different stops at the Moose Drop-In, located in Moose Pass, for fudge purchases.  Also saw Morris the talking moose.  They even have “bear scat” fudge here.  Has a few chunks in it as you might imagine.

I’ll leave you with two more pics – favorites I couldn’t leave out.

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The lupines are in full bloom and this patch was in front of the Bear Pass fire station.

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Through the looking glass…..

Next stop – Soldotna.  See you on the way!