7.02.2012

Alaska Road Trip: Day 12

We woke up to sunny blue skies and drove over to Karen Hornaday Park. I took my jacket off for the first time since we got to Alaska. 


The park is perfectly situated on the hillside and offers the most picturesque views of the Lower Cook Inlet. 


I watched the kids play while Steve did a major repacking job on the trailer. Another prospective buyer had called and asked if we could stop in Clam Gulch and show him and his wife our trailer on our way home.

I was sad to leave Homer because there were so many things we hadn't been able to fit into our three-day trip. We could have easily spent three weeks in Homer. (I hope we can, someday.)

My biggest regret in Homer is that we didn't go fishing. Homer is known as the "Halibut Fishing Capital of the World" (at first a self-proclaimed title, but according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, they do hold the record for the most commercial caught halibut since 1995). And yes, we are into checking out claims. 

We had planned to go fishing at the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon (known as the Fishing Hole), which is located right on the Homer Spit. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game stocks the hole with king and silver salmon, and the fishing hole is popular among locals and visitors. (You can rent gear across the street at the Sport Shed.) On our walk down the spit, we did see some local fishermen bring in their catches for the day and get them cleaned up. Mostly halibut, and they were huge! But we just ran out of time and never made it over to the Fishing Hole. I think that puts us a short list of shameful people who have traveled to Alaska without going fishing. 

Our neighbor, Wayne Bradshaw, prepared this great list of things to do in Homer. I met him for the first time a couple weeks before our trip, and he gave me lots of helpful tips about driving to Alaska. Wayne is from Homer and knows his stuff, so maybe this information will be useful to someone else. 

Kachemak Bay State Park:  This is a park across the bay from Homer with a number of great hikes.  The simplest and basic hike is drop off at the Glacier Spit trail head.  Its about 2.5 miles up to the Glacier Lake (you see the large glacier ice field but don't get that close). Then heading down you take the Saddle Trail (1.5 miles) for pick up.  I recommend you take 4-5 hours so you don't have to be rushed and have lunch. http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/kbay/kbaytrs.htm You will need a water taxi service to get over to the state park.  I recommend BAY ROAMERS (http://halibutcovealaska.com/kachemak-bay-water-taxi.htm).  The owners Tami and Carl Jones are personal friends and go above and beyond to help visitors.

Halibut Cove Alaska:  Is an artist community across the bay with three art gallery's and a restaurant.  I recommend going on the 5pm departure on Thursday nights.  Its locals night and you can take the boat for 17.50 a person but you are required to have dinner at the restaurant.  They will tell you that someone has to be local to Alaska...but if you are with someone from Alaska you shouldn't have a problem. http://www.halibut-cove-alaska.com/ferry.htm

Tide Pooling:  This is a great activity for all ages.  The best place to go is to hike down the Diamond Creek Trail.  Its an easy two mile hike down to the beach.  At low tide there are a number of rocks and small tide pools that capture an assortment of small sea life.  (baby
crabs, halibut, octopus, salmon, and star fish).  You park across the street at Diamond Ridge Road (its about 8 miles out of town...just ask anyone where the road is located).  You also have to go on a negative low tide (http://www.protides.com/alaska/2452/2012/06/).  Basically you want to go on a Negative tide.  The tide changes every six hours and you can head down about an hour before low tide hits.  That gives you about two hours to really do some great tide pooling.  It might be a good idea to stop at the Islands and Oceans visitor center first before taking the hike.  They can point out what to look for while tide pooling (http://www.islandsandocean.org/visit/index.html)

Halibut Fishing: I recommend a 1/2 day fishing charter with Alaska Coastal Marine.  You get the experience without breaking the bank. ACM is the best shop in town to do a 1/2 day. (http://www.alaskacoastalmarine.com/)

Wildlife Tour:  There are a number of ways to get on the water.  If you just want a wildlife tour then I recommend Carl with Bay Excursions (http://www.xyz.net/~bay/Wildlife%20Tours.html).  He knows everything there is to know about the wildlife in Kachemak Bay.  You can also get a great wildlife tour on the boat ride over to Seldovia with Alaska Coastal Marine (http://alaskacoastalmarine.com/kachemak_bay_tours.htm) (http://www.seldoviachamber.org/)  Seldovia originally was a russian fishing village.  Today its just a remote community but for $45 a person you get a two hour wildlife tour and a stop in Seldovia.

Art:  Homer is really known for the high concentration of artists that live in the area.   If you only go to one art gallery I would recommend Norman Lowell.  He has an impressive art gallery, gardens and his old homestead cabin all open for touring.
http://normanlowellgallery.net/#permanent

Yes, we will go back to Homer again someday.

Our stop in Clam Gulch was successful. We left with $500 in earnest money from an older semi-retired couple to purchase our trailer and made arrangements to complete the transaction on Monday.

We drove from Clam Gulch to Soldotna to pick up Abi and Ellie from Erica Malouf's friend's house. It was another successful stop. We drove away with the girls and a plate of cookies, still warm from the oven.

Then we were on to Seward. The drive, which was well over two hours with the trailer, took us through some beautiful scenery. We watched the clock closely because we (Rachel, Lucy, and Steve) had reservations to go sea kayaking at Miller's Landing. (Another Groupon purchase.) Steve's favorite place that we drove through was a tiny town called Cooper Landing. Our guidebook says red salmon is so plentiful in the Russian River that anglers stand shoulder to shoulder, waiting turns for a spot, called "combat fishing". Steve mentioned something about going back there someday if he ever has a midlife crisis. 

When we were about fifteen minutes away from Seward, we got a call from Miller's Landing saying that they had cancelled the kayaking trip because of the weather. I told them we were from out of state and that it was our only day in Seward, so they offered to put us on the list for the 7:00 pm departure, which they said may or may not actually take place, depending on water conditions. 

We were a little hesitant about the later trip because that wouldn't have put us back to Anchorage until almost 2:00 am. . . and we had extra kids with us. By this time, we were pretty close to Miller's Landing, so Steve said he wanted to go check it out. He walked in without being greeted and chalked it up as a bunch of young college-aged kids who were eager to get off work and go play for the weekend. 

Five minutes after Steve walked out of their door, Miller's Landing called back to say the 7:00 pm sea kayaking tour had been canceled. Yes, it was a little windy. (It always is.) Yes, it worked out since Steve wasn't too impressed with the staff. And yes, I was disappointed since we had scheduled our trip around sea kayaking in Seward. But there certainly weren't whitecaps on the water, as they claimed. Another Groupon fail. . . at least Groupon has good customer service and refunded our purchase. And the Groupon gave us a reason to go to Seward, so I am glad for that. 

Seward lies at the head of Resurrection Bay and is the northernmost stop for many Alaskan cruises. The majority of travelers who drive to Seward use it as a base for day trips to Kenai Fjords National Park, most of which is reached only by air or water. In addition to sea kayaking, Seward is also a popular place for summertime snow mushing. There was a Groupon deal for Godwin Glacier Dog Sled Tours, which  takes you by helicopter to to a glacier above Seward, lets you meet the dogs, takes you for a dog sled ride, and even lets you drive the sled. We deliberated purchasing for Steve and Adam (Godwin Glacier Dog Sled Tours is a very reputable company), but just couldn't fit it in. 

We decided to spend a few hours in Seward and then drive back to Anchorage. Our guidebook listed the Alaska SeaLife Center as Seward's one must-see attraction, but I still wasn't able to talk Steve into going. The aquarium was built with government money won from Exxon after the 1989 oil spill, but they charge a hefty admission fee ($20 adults, $10 children), and they were about to close. I probably should have tried to talk them into letting us in for 30 minutes for a discounted price, but we opted to spend our time outside. Because that's what you do when it's not raining in Alaska. 

We started out with a walk on the Iditarod Trail.

 

The Iditarod Trail is 1,150 miles long and was first mapped and marked in 1908 by the Alaska Road Commission. The Seward-to-Nome Trail, as it was originally named, was used during the winter by dog mushers as the only reliable way to move large sleds of freight, including mail, medicine, and supplies associated with the gold rush, across the frozen landscape. 


A few decades later, air mail replaced the dog sled team, and the trail was no longer used. In 1973, Joe Redington, Sr. reopened the routes and created the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to draw attention to the role dogs played in Alaska's history. The annual race, held in March, is Alaska's most popular sporting event. Mushers and dogs cover the distance from Anchorage to Nome, in about nine to fifteen days. 



This is Matt and Erica's daughter, Ellie. I think there might be a picture of one of James and Dona's kids as a young child with this same facial expression.



We didn't get very far very fast. It was too fun to stop and watch the seals and sea otters in the water. 


The backdrop was stunning. I wish we would have posed for a family picture. 


There is no shortage of nice playgrounds in Alaska. We stopped and played at the recently renovated Seward Park Playground:


And slid on our bums down the ramps at the skate park: 


Adam had so much fun that he refused to leave: 


We didn't get very far before he changed his mind:


Then we drove over to see Exit Glacier, which is the only part of Kenai Fjords National Park accessible by road. The visitor center was closed and Steve didn't think we were up for a 2 hour "moderately strenuous" hike. (Yes, I try to talk him into everything.) So I just got out by myself to take some pictures. Exit Glacier is actually one of  the Harding Icefield's smaller glaciers, but it is easily accessible and the most visited. The Edge of the Glacier Trail takes you to a wall of blue ice that offers the most dramatic close up view of the Glacier. 


If you want to see some amazing photos that put these pictures to shame, check out this iPhone/iPad app by National Geographic. It's free!

2 comments:

Kayli said...

What a beautiful place!! I love that the kids are all in colorful, bright sweaters and jackets. It makes the pictures so fun. And I love the picture of everyone on the dogsled.

I have a friend who lives in Alaska and between her pictures on Facebook and your posts, I'm starting to have real yearnings to run off to Alaska. Switzerland is pretty, but not wild, you know?

Rachel said...

This trip looks absolutely amazing. I have loved all of your posts. I can't believe you bought a new car right before you left. I can't believe you took all of your bikes. I can't believe you sold your trailer mid-trip. It is all very fascinating, not to mention all you saw and did. Can't wait for Day 13 -- Lucy's Baptism!