Landing in Homer, Alaska, our final stop on the Alaskan Marine Highway System, we were impressed with the town’s coastal beauty. From the ferry, we spotted the Lands End (our lodging for the night) at the end of the Homer Spit, a five-mile narrow extension of land out into the Kachemak Bay.
The spit is packed with other hotels as well as campgrounds and restaurants. Our cab driver who took us to the car rental, said that his grandfather was a homesteader in Homer. In the 1940s, his grandfather cut apart three large oil drums and welded the pieces together to form a tiny house that he set into a hill side. A refrigerator door served as the front door. His grandfather’s nickname was “Stinky.”
Homer was our starting point for a car trip to Seward, east and south of Homer on the Sterling Highway. The highway is a well-maintained blacktop surface with several pull offs for scenic viewing and picture taking. It cut through several small towns which were clusters of houses, cabins, and stores–Anchor Point, Happy Valley, Ninilchik, Clam Gulch, and Kasilof. Many of the homes in this region are cabin-style; many of the businesses support the lifestyle of this region: charter boat services, fireplace stores, coffee shops, campgrounds, communication towers, lodges and cabins, charter fishing services, custom made knives, logging equipment, and motor repair shops. An ad for Adams Fabrication playing on the radio as we drove, said, “Are you ready for moose season? We can build your winch.” The high peaks of the Chugach Mountain peaks loomed to our east as we reached Soldotna (population 4,200) and began the eastward leg of our journey. We stopped for lunch in Soldatna; outside, high school cheerleaders were holding signs to advertise their fundraising car wash. Unfortunately for their fundraiser, there was a light rain falling at the time.
The Kenai Peninsula is in the National Wildlife Refuge and its scenery is spectacular! Sitka spruce, cottonwoods and alders cover the mountainsides and lavender fireweed skirt the roadsides. Occasional signs informed us of the current fire risks; a cut-out of Smokey the Bear sat on top of the signs that read, “Danger low today.” Another sign we saw urged, “Give Moose a Brake–914 killed this year. As we headed east on Sterling Highway (Highway 1), we traversed winding mountain roads that ascended in elevation. Mountain streams were filled with fishermen and rafters, and many people were walking towards the numerous trailheads for hiking. A small sign along the roadside caught our attention: “Fish Viewing.” We parked, hiked a short distance to a clear mountain stream and saw firsthand hundreds of salmon spawning. The east-west section of the Sterling Highway goes through Serling, Hestons Lodge, and Cooper Landing. A few miles east of Cooper Landing, we turned south through Lakeview, Divide, and Woodrow, before reaching Seward.
After checking into the Seward Windsong Lodge, we drove a couple miles to downtown Seward where we stopped at the visitor’s center, an ice cream shop, and a wildlife cruise office to make a reservation for the evening wildlife boat tour of Resurrection Bay in the Kenai Fjords. At six p.m., we boarded the Northwest Star (owned by Major Marine Company) for a four-hour evening wild life boat tour. (The sun doesn’t set in Alaska until about 10:30 p.m. in mid-August, so there’s plenty of light for viewing and photo shooting). The crew on board the boat served us a salmon/prime rib dinner as the boat captain drove us out into Resurrection Bay. A National Park Ranger was aboard to narrate the excursion, explaining wildlife, ocean behavior, and the history and culture of the area. We saw a pair of nesting bald eagles in the mountains surrounding the bay; the ranger explained that the area mountains were created from a collision of plates; later, glaciers formed the mountains as they look today. He defined the term “fjord,” which is a Norwegian word meaning “a glacier-carved valley filled with water.” On the tour, we saw several ice fields and glaciers. Other wildlife we viewed on Resurrection Bay, included kittiwakes (white head, gray body, living in colonies along the cliffs); puffins (the black and yellow tufted puffin and the black and white horned puffin) floating on the ocean; sea otters floating on their backs on the ocean surface; sea lions lounging on a large, rocky outcropping; and a humpback whale. The ranger aboard explained that the waves crashing against the cliffs created upwellings; the wave action brought up deeper ocean life for the benefit of the surface feeding animals.
Back at the Seward boat dock after the tour, we ran into RG and his brother Jim (we’d previously met RG on the ferry) and he told us he’d accomplished his goal of driving his Toyota FJ Cruiser to the Arctic Circle for a picture. The round trip took him ten hours; he hopes to be the first FJ Cruiser owner to have his picture taken at the Arctic Circle.
The Seward Windsong Lodge is actually a series of smaller lodges, each with eight rooms. The lodges are tucked into the woods at the base of the Chugach Mountains. We stayed in the Rosemary lodge unit. From our lodge, we traveled eight miles west on Herman Leirer Road to the Kenai Fjords National Park where we hiked 3.5 miles along the Exit Glacier Edge Viewing Trail to see the Exit Glacier fed by the Harding Ice Field. The park headquarters displayed a relief map showing the forty glaciers fed by the Harding Ice Field. The hiking trail was nice–it was made of crushed volcanic rock and wound around the mountain, ascending gradually. We met dozens of hikers from all over the world who came to see the bluish glacier with its deep crevasses. We saw its melted snow flowing down the mountain side into streams.
Leaving Seward enroute to Anchorage, we once again took the Sterling Highway–this time north through Woodrow, Divide, Lake View, Moose Pass, and Potter. The highway skirted the coastline at the foot of the Chugach and provided extremely scenic vistas.Tomorrow, we hop a plane to Seattle, then spend a couple of days there before returning to Des Moines. Would we like to visit Alaska again? Absolutely! The state has so much to offer: its abundant wildlife, rich cultural history, scenic vistas, and welcoming residents. It’s a frontier that requires repeated visits.