Soldotna to Homer, AK
Sunday, July 28, 2013
Overcast, then clearing, mid 60s
We took time for breakfast, a leisurely shower and grocery shopping before getting on the road about 11:45.
Our first stop was at a fish counting station, this one at the Kasilof River State Recreation Site. The state takes great care to ensure that enough salmon manage to migrate upstream to sustain the fish population. That means regulating both the sport and commercial fisheries. On this river, spawning fish are counted using a sophisticated sonar installation. Since there are several species migrating up the river they also have a fish wheel in place to sample each day’s run so they can count each species. As with all the area’s rivers, this one was fast and a beautiful turquoise blue.
On this drive the Sterling Highway follows the shoreline of Cook inlet. And from this shore you can see several active volcanoes along the Aleutian Arc including Mt Augustine, Mt Iliamna, Mt Redoubt and Mt Spurr. The air was very hazy during the drive so, although we could see them, they didn’t photograph very well.
The picturesque village of Ninilchik began as a hunting and fishing lodging area used by Dena’ina Athabaskans. Today it boasts several old dovetailed log homes, a small Russian Orthodox church and a secure harbor stuffed with fishing boats that we saw at low tide.
On the other side of the creek on which the village sits is the Deep Creek State Recreation Area. It overlooks the beach on Cook Inlet. It is known for the private service on the site that uses large, logging-industry skidders to launch boats from trailers right off the beach. (Space restrictions and the huge tidal range precludes the use of conventional launching ramps.) This is a unique operation as far as we know. We talked to the owner. He uses old log skidders because the electronic controls on new ones fail quickly in the saltwater environment. He charges $63 to launch and recover a boat. He’s got four skidders and is pretty busy.
Approaching Homer you descend a long hill. Homer Spit is in the distance, separating Katchemak Bay from Cook Inlet. The spit stretches out toward mountains and glaciers on the other side of the Bay. Beautiful from a distance, the spit is quite commercial and very windy. We decided to camp on the spit, itself, opting to stay at the high-priced but very nice Heritage RV Park. Our site was directly on the beach of Katchemak Bay. The fact that our friends, Kay & Bill were at this campground helped cement the deal.
We celebrated our arrival with an extended happy hour. Did we dine? We hardly remember!
Monday, July 29, 2013
Clear & Breezy, mid 70s
One of the many things to do in Homer is to take a tour boat across the bay to Seldonia. There are several vendors to choose from. We chose Rainbow Tour’s slow boat rather than one of the high-speed passenger ferries. Passing Gull Rock at slow speed we were able to identify a multitude of birds that use this small island as a rookery. Bird species that we saw included common murres (seagulls), kittiwakes, cormorants, and puffins. I’m sure I missed a few. It’s clear there are lots of birds in the area because the noise is intense and the smell; well imagine the damp dumps of 20,000 or so fish-eating birds. Also along the way we also saw sea otters grooming their fur and porpoises as we entered the harbor.
Seldonia is a quaint small town with a beautiful harbor. Many of the homes are built on pilings at the water’s edge. The tide was fairly low during our visit and the houses were quite picturesque. Fishing is one source of income but tourism is clearly important. There were a couple of decent, but slow, restaurants (we chose Perry’s) and a number of gift shops. A combination coffee bar and bookstore was probably the neatest shop. A ferry visits the town but the usual ramp to load/unload cars is missing. Instead, those vehicles are driven onto a large pallet and moved on or off the ferry using a crane.
Returning to Homer that evening, we had dinner on the beach with Bill & Kay. We even had a campfire. Bill Stine made a Moroccan chicken dish and the other Bill provided a wonderful spinach salad. “What’s for desert?” you ask. Toasted marshmallows of course!
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Sunny, breezy, start cool but warmed up
It was yet another beautiful day. What better to do, then, but some work on the computer and the laundry?
A word about the weather: Alaskans are having a record year for high temperatures and sunshine this summer. We know it can’t last but Alaska in the sunshine is pretty nice. Normally it would be cloudy and misty at many of the venues we’ve visited. Lucky us!
Lunch, today, was at Alibi. This popular bar offers a lunchtime center next to the bar. We had the delicious halibut tacos recommended by Bill & Kay. The were served on soft corn tortillas so Sandy could partake. Afterwards we walked the beach at the end of the spit, watching the rod & reel fishermen try their luck. The array of gift shops and galleries on the spit was next up. There were some pretty nice ones.
We’d stopped by the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies before lunch. This non-profit group runs a number of tours for visitors. We were reluctant to pay the high prices for many of these tours but we decided to at least do the free Bog Walk at the Carl E Wynn Nature Center. We were joined by four others on the naturalist-lead walk through a sphagnum moss bog. The emphasis was on identifying a long list of plants and learning which onew you could eat, what their medicinal properties were, which ones might make you sick and how certain ones might kill you. If stranded in such a bog Bill would certainly die of either poison or starvation!
At the suggestion of the other bog walk participants we had dinner at Alice’s Champagne Palace. Such a deal! The $10 “Burger and a Beer” special was the best meal bargain we’ve had in Alaska! The burger was excellent and the beer was a good, local brew. (Bill drank Sandy’s beer in case you were wondering.)