Subj: 80. Where are we?
Date: Saturday, June 1, 2002 8:39:02 PM
We left Whitehorse late this morning and continued our drive to Alaska. No, we aren't in Alaska yet but it's only about 100 miles away. We should get there tomorrow. We are now camped in the Canadian Wilderness at a Wilderness Resort. We are at the edge of one of the largest lakes in the Yukon and also at the edge of one of Canada's National Parks. Part of that park are ice fields that feed some of the glaciers on the coast.
We enjoyed our stay in Whitehorse. It's an interesting town. There are fairly modern buildings among log cabins. In fact, there is actually a three-story log cabin. You can't tour it because it is used as an apartment building. We have no idea what the interior looks like.
We also visited the local Wal-Mart for a few items, including the Harry Potter video. In Canada, it's called Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone, in the states it's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Interesting difference.
We visited the SS Klondike, one of the paddle wheel steamboats that would take men and supplies down the Yukon River to Dawson City and return with ore from the mines. The trip from Whitehorse to Dawson took a day and a half; the return trip (against the current) would take about 6 days. It was an interesting tour.
Finally, last night we celebrated someone's birthday a day late, and went to the Fractured Follies, a local professional vaudeville production. It was great. Of course there is audience participation. Early in the show Adrienne was asked where she was from. She responded with Ridgecrest California. From then on, Ridgecrest was mentioned in many of the individual acts in the show. It was really great.
It seems like we are always saying this, but the drive today was beautiful even if the road wasn't. Part of the way we had views of the mountains that were just magnificent. We stopped at the visitor center in Haines Junction. It is actually a visitor center for the Kluane National Park. That's the park we drove by today and the mountains at its edge are really wonderful.
I mentioned the drive today wasn't the best. It was fine from Whitehorse to Haines Junction. After that it started to deteriorate. There were several areas of road construction, that seems to be a way of life here. Apparently, they are slowly rebuilding and replacing parts of the original Alaska Highway. We have no idea when they finish. Remember, in this part of the world, they can only work on the road 4 or 5 months per year. The rest of the time the ground is frozen.
We also encountered our first real frost heaves. These are areas where the frozen ground has made little hills in the pavement. They are hard to see but if you drive over them too fast they really bounce the RV. The solution is to just take it easy and drive slow. We aren't really in any hurry anyway.
Now, where are we? We are west of Kluane Lake at Kluane Wilderness Village. Again, this is really beautiful country.
In the Yukon Territory
Subj: 81. Where are we?
Date: Sunday, June 2, 2002 5:21:14 PM
We are in a town that, like many along the Alaska Highway, had its beginnings as a construction camp on the Alcan Highway in 1942. In 1942 a construction camp spring up as part of the straightening and improvements projects on the Alcan Highway. This one was originally called Tokyo Camp, but patriotism shortened the name. This is the major overland point of entry to Alaska. This is the only town in Alaska that the highway traveler has to pass through twice-once arriving in the state and once leaving.
Although we only drove about 200 miles today, it was a long day. The first 100 miles in western Yukon made the second 100 miles in eastern Alaska nice. In the Yukon we hit a lot of road construction, often driving 10 to 20 miles an hour. Although there was some road construction in Alaska, it was nothing like the last 100 miles in Canada. However, we just slowed down, admired the scenery, watched the road carefully, and took our time.
After we left Kluane (klu-wa-nee) Wilderness Resort we did see a moose. We stopped to take pictures but he was camera shy. He decided that walking in the woods was better than having his picture taken.
After crossing the international border and entering into Alaska, we had great views of the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge is home to moose, black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, coyotes, beaver, red fox, lynx, caribou and 190 different birds. The birds include Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles as well as Trumpeter and Tundra Swans.
Now for a series of trick questions. What states in the United States are the furthermost north, south, east, and west? Hawaii is the state that is the furthermost south. But Alaska is the state that is the furthermost north, west, and east! North and west do make sense but what about east? How can that be? The long explanation is that the earth is divided up into hemispheres, or half spheres (a sphere is a round shaped object like a ball). The obvious choice for dividing the earth into Northern and Southern Hemispheres is the Equator, which is half way between the North Pole and the South Pole. However, dividing the earth into east and west is not so obvious, there are no East Pole or West Pole. In the 17th Century, England established the 0 longitude (imaginary lines around the earth that intersect at both poles) at Greenwich England. Everything west of Greenwich England to a point on the other side of the earth is considered west. Everything east of Greenwich England to a point on the other side of the world is considered east. Well, a small portion of Alaska is east of the 180 Th. longitude. So Alaska is the state that is furthermost east.
We haven't had E-mail hook ups for a while, so if you haven't heard from us, you know why. Also, We haven't had cell phone service since we left Fort Nelson, finally we do have service here, but it seems to be weak.
Now, where are we? We are at the crossroads of Alaska, the Town of Tok.
Subj: 82. Where are we?
Date: Monday, June 3, 2002 7:05:45 PM
We left Tok this morning and finished our drive on the Alaska Highway and continued driving to our current location. We are in the heart of Alaska's Great Interior country. The town is a service and supply point for the Interior and Arctic industrial activities. The city also played a key role during construction of the Trans-Alaska pipeline in the 1970s. We are in Alaska's second largest city.
The drive today was a pleasure. After leaving Tok, the Alaska Highway is smooth, reasonably wide (although it's still two lanes), and has nice scenery. Even the areas with frost heaves weren't too bad, especially after the last part of the Alaska Highway in the Yukon.
We stopped at Delta Junction early this afternoon to document our success in driving the Alaska Highway from start to finish. Officially the Alaska Highway is 1422 miles, although the actual distance is now about 1390 miles from Dawson Creek to Delta Junction. The difference is explained by rerouting the original road to eliminate steep grades and reduce the number of curves. As we've mentioned before, most of the Alaska Highway is easy to drive; however, the last few hundred miles in Canada are tough. That's where most of the construction is being done and it's still narrow and curvy in parts. Still, in retrospect, it wasn't all that bad. What do you expect us to say, we have to drive it again when we go south.
Where are we? We are in Fairbanks, Alaska.
PS Did you know there are two ending points for the Alaska Highway?
The beginning is in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Canada, but there are
two ends. The official end is in Delta Junction Alaska. When the Alaska
Highway was built, there was already a road between Fairbanks and Delta
Junction. So the official end is in Delta Junction. However, Fairbanks
is also supposed to have a monument for the end of the Alaska Highway.
This morning we headed south from Fairbanks. We didn't drive very far and the road was certainly reasonable for this terrain. We are now camped in the shadow of the largest mountain in North America. Unfortunately, it is so tall that it creates its own weather and has been shrouded in clouds so we haven't actually seen it. By the way, it's also in a National Park.
We only spent one day and two nights in Fairbanks, but we may go back. Yesterday we stopped by the Fairbanks visitor center to get information on the area. At the visitor center there is another monument claiming that Fairbanks is the "official" end of the Alaska Highway. We'll just let Fairbanks and Delta Junction fight this one out. We have pictures of both monuments. However, we received certificates in Delta Junction with the "Official End of the Alaska Highway." You can read about this dispute in our last Where are we?
Then we went to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Museum. This is a must see in Fairbanks. They have a lot of displays about various aspects of Alaska from the various tribes of Native Americans, to several different gold rushes in Alaska, to other minerals, to the building of the Alaska Highway. One of the many things we learned was that the US Government interred some of the Aleuts (native people living in the Western Aleutian Islands) during World War II. We knew about the Japanese-Americans being interred but not the Aleuts. This is the first museum we've been to that had a very good audio tour. Most of the audio tours use a cassette or CD and you have to start and stop the audio as well as follow the tour exactly. Here they used digital audio players. Certain displays have audio numbers, you enter the number on your player and it provides audio for that particular display. It was really good and well worth the extra three bucks.
After the museum we went to Alaskaland. Although it's called a theme park, it's not what you normally think of when you heard the term theme park. It is apparently owned by the City of Fairbanks. There is no fee to get in. There are some attractions where a fee is charged but, in general, it's a local playground with some gold rush period shops and attractions, local history museums, and displays. It was actually quite nice and interesting.
For dinner we went to the Salmon Bake at Alaskaland. This was a very good, all you can eat feast of salad, beans, bread, grilled salmon, deep fried halibut, and deep fried cod. Then there was coffee with cake and blueberries for desert.
While we were enjoying our dinner, our cell phone rang. It was some friends (Rob and Karen Spencer, whose children went to the Day Care Center that Adrienne used to run) from Ridgecrest who now live in the North Pole! Oops, that requires an explanation. North Pole is the name of a town about 15 miles outside of Fairbanks. Yes, there is a big Santa Clause house there and a gift shop. In fact a lot of the letters that are written to Santa Claus end up at the North Pole Post Office. Anyway, after dinner we drove to North Pole and met these friends. They were obligated to help at a Vacation Bible School at a local church so our visit was way too short.
(For Tina Swinford and the Burchells-The Spencer's look great, are enjoying Alaska and Karen loves her house on the Chena River and enjoys being able to fish right outside her back door. Eric is in the Marines and is doing quite well in his job and moving up. Jared is tall and just as cute as ever! Rob has a good job building environmental shelters; they are needed for equipment during the -40 degree winters. Unfortunately, our visit was much too short.)
The past couple of days we have learned what Alaska Mosquitoes are like. There's a bumper sticker that says, "There is not a single mosquito in Alaska, They are all married and have lots of children." We think that's probably true. The favorite perfume in Alaska as well as the favorite After-Shave Lotion is at least 25% DEET. (DEET is a bug repellent, and it works but you have to use it liberally.) The good news is that we have been told that the mosquitoes are not a problem after dark. The bad news is that sunset is about 12:30 AM (that's after midnight) and sunrise is about 3:00 AM. As a result, it never really gets dark!
Now, where are we? We are just outside of the main entrance to Denali National Park.
We now need to explain something. In 1917 Mount McKinley National Park was established. In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act enlarged the boundary by 4 million acres and redesignated the park as Denali National Park and Preserve. At that time, the Alaska Board of Geographic Names changed the name of Mount McKinley to Denali, a native term that means the "High One." However, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names still shows the mountain as McKinley. That's got to be either politics or the bureaucracy in action (or lack there of).
PS - We forget to mention about our crossing the border from Canada
back into the United States (Alaska). First, they asked us for proof of
citizenship (we both have passports), our driver's licenses (we both have
Texas drivers licenses), and what we are bringing into the US from Canada
(only some gifts for the grandchildren). Then they appeared to check our
driver's licenses on a computer, most likely some sort of criminal check,
or check against an FBI database. Then, they told us welcome back. It only
took a few minutes.
Subj: 84. Where are we?
Date: Friday, June 7, 2002 4:16:14 PM
We left the Denali area this morning and made a leisurely drive south. We are now in an area of Alaska that is supposed to be known for salmon fishing, and wildlife. A few miles down the road is where the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race starts in March. This is probably the most famous of the dog sled races, it actually starts in Anchorage, restarts here the following day, and ends in Nome after a couple of weeks. We had hoped to go fishing here but the salmon runs have just started and the fish haven't come this far yet.
Denali National Park and Wildlife Preserve is a bit different from what we've experienced in other National Parks. Before we go on, understand we aren't saying it's good or bad, just different. There is only one road into the park. Just inside the park is the visitor center which has the usual gift shop, a short slide presentation about the park, information on the park, a counter to get back country permits, and another counter to make reservations for a shuttle bus. Although the road in the park goes about 89 miles into the park, private vehicles are only allowed on the first 15 miles of the road. Beyond that you either have to be on one of the buses, or have special permission. Also, beyond mile 15 the road goes from asphalt to gravel. We took the shuttle bus to the Toklat River at mile 53. Remember, this was a shuttle bus, not a sightseeing tour. However, depending on the driver, there may be some descriptions of the area as well as stops for wildlife viewing. Fortunately, we had a nice, talkative driver.
Several places along the route you can get views of Mount McKinley, if the mountain weather cooperates, which it usually doesn't. We managed to get the most typical views of the mountain, smaller mountains in the foreground and clouds shrouding Mount McKinley (also known as Denali). From what we've been told, only Mount McKinley is visible only about 20 percent of the time. We were in the area a total of three days and only saw the clouds. However, the pictures we've seen of the Mountain on clear days suggest that it is an awe-inspiring sight.
On our shuttle bus trip, we did see wildlife. We saw moose, caribou, Dall Sheep, a Golden Eagle, and birds. We may have also seen a grizzly bear but it was so far away, we aren't sure.
Denali National Park itself is interesting. We started in an evergreen forest (Taiga) at the visitor center and in a few miles we were above the tree line in the tundra. Taiga (ti-ga) is a Russian word for northern evergreen forest, describes the scant tree growth with white and black spruce and stands of deciduous trees. The tree line is at about 2700 feet. Above the tree line is the tundra. Tundra is a fascinating world of dwarfed shrubs and miniaturized wildflowers adapted to a short growing season. The trip was really interesting.
We ought to talk a little more about the mosquitoes. Alaska has 27 species of mosquitoes! They are often referred to as the State Bird! That's a joke but the ones we've seen are pretty big. They range from big, slow moving ones (which we have seen plenty of) to the small, zippy, aggressive ones that come out later. From what we've read in the paper, the stores are selling out of mosquito repellent as soon as they receive it. So, if your coming to Alaska during mosquito season (which is probably anytime the weather stays above freezing), bring your own mosquito repellent, the stores may be sold out.
Where are we? We are in the Mat-Su Borough of Alaska just north of a town called Wasilla. In Alaska, a Borough is like a county in most of the Lower 48 (that's the rest of the US except for Hawaii).
We've mentioned before and have to mention again how much we like small, family owned and operated campgrounds. The one we are in now (Mat-Su RV Park) was just purchased by a retired US sailor and his wife. They are really great people, very friendly, and really make our stay enjoyable. We wish them lots of success in their campground. If you're in this area looking for a great campground with nice people, be sure to stop here.
Subj: 85. Where are we?
Date: Saturday, June 8, 2002 7:37:53 PM
We left the Mat-Su RV Park late this morning and headed south again. We learned that Mat-Su is short for the Matanuska Valley, a valley near the Alaska Range of mountains where farmers grow huge vegetables like 70-pound cabbages. We are now in Alaska's largest city. Like many states, the largest city in this state is not the state capitol. Alaska's state capitol Is Juneau and we are not planning on visiting. Visitors to Juneau have to arrive either by airplane or by boat; there are no roads into the town. Where we are is accessible by road, which is good since our motorhome doesn't fly and probably won't float. This city is home to almost half of the residents of Alaska, yet it is not a really large city. We can say this is really a beautiful city with mountains in the background and right on the water, an arm of the Pacific Ocean called the Cook Inlet. The city is nicknamed the "City of Flowers." Along the downtown streets are parks with blooming flowers, planters with flowers, and even the street lamps have baskets of flowers hanging from them. It's very pretty.
Although we've been in Alaska for almost a week now, because of our current location, we finally feel like we are in Alaska. It's not the weather; it's cool and generally cloudy. It's not the long daylight hours, in fact, since we've moved south from Fairbanks the daylight is about an hour less (but it still stays light almost all the time). Maybe it's because we associate this city with Alaska more than the other places we've been. Maybe it's because we visited "Earthquake Park" kind of a memorial to the Good Friday Alaska Earthquake that was centered near here in 1964. We aren't really sure why, but, for some reason, we now feel like we are really in our 49th state.
Where are we? We are in Anchorage Alaska (The City of Flowers) and plan to be here for several days.
In Anchorage, Alaska.
Subj: 86. Where are we?
Date: Wednesday, June 12, 2002 6:05:57 PM
We left Anchorage today (Wednesday, June 12) and headed south. Although we only drove about 130 miles, the scenery has changed significantly. We are now in a small town named for a New York politician who was a state senator of New York, a governor of New York, a US Senator representing New York, a was the US Secretary of State under both Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. He also is the individual responsible for negotiating the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. By the way, the US paid $7,200,000 for Alaska! This town was established in 1903 as the southern terminus of the Alaska Central Railroad. The current population is about 2500 people. We are at sea level and as we write this, we are watching the sea otters on Resurrection Bay right outside our windshield. This town is also a port of call for a lot of the Alaska Cruise Ships.
We enjoyed Anchorage. Although the locals sometimes refer to Anchorage as "Los Anchorage", it really bears no resemblance to the other LA (Los Angeles). Anchorage is much smaller, only about 250,000 to 300,000 people. It has no freeways except entering and leaving town, but then it doesn't need them. Rush hour traffic can be heavy but it's still nothing like other cities we've visited. All in all, Anchorage is a really nice city.
We were amazed by all the flowers in Anchorage. Everywhere you looked there were flowers, in gardens, in window boxes, in parks, and even in baskets hanging from street light poles.
When we first arrived on Saturday, we took a quick tour of the city and stopped by the Saturday Market in downtown. This is like almost any other flea market but most of the fare had its roots in Alaska culture. There were all sorts of Alaskan artwork and crafts, fishing gear, and clothing. Of course there was also the typical food booths, but some of them were selling grilled or smoked salmon.
During our stay we spent some time at Ship's Creek. This creek runs right by downtown Anchorage and right now is filled with fishermen trying to catch King Salmon (also called Chinook). The creek is about 100 feet wide with several channels between sandbars. People were fishing from the bank, the sandbars, as well as in the creek itself (with waders of course). We did see one guy catch a 30-pound King. Within minutes he landed it, killed it, cleaned it, and headed back to his truck to put it on ice. We saw several other large salmon but only saw one being caught.
While staying in Anchorage we decided to take a sightseeing trip to Portage Glacier, about 50 miles away. The drive was beautiful. The highway follows the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet almost all the way to Portage. Then a turn east and another 6 miles or so and you're at the Begich Boggs Visitor Center. In front of the parking area is Portage Lake, a small lake that is filled with icebergs! From the parking area you can see Burns Glacier. To see Portage Glacier you have to drive about a mile further east, or take a boat tour. Of course, along the road to the visitor center you pass by several other small glaciers.
Today we took that same drive but continued pass Portage to our current location. Even though we had driven the first 50 miles two days ago. It was a different drive today. We keep thinking that what we've seen so far has been beautiful, and it has. But, every time we go somewhere different, we think the views are even more magnificent than what we've seen before. There's the wildlife. When we drove to Portage the first time, we saw lots of Dall Sheep on the steep slopes. It's a wonder how they can navigate those steep cliffs. Today we not only saw Dall Sheep, but also watched a moose cause a "moose jam." The moose was wandering around a marsh on the East side of the road, then, when the road was clear, crossed the road to the West side. Lots of cars stopped to watch the moose causing the moose jam.
The scenery on that highway is incredible. Imagine driving down a valley lined with tall snow capped mountains. Then add a very wide (maybe a mile or so) river down the center. You are driving down one side of the river. The river is mostly gray (because of the silt from the Glaciers). On the side of the river might be mud flats if the tide is out. Now, the mountains are the deep green of spruce forest splashed with light green of aspen and other deciduous trees and shrubs. Be sure to add wispy clouds covering the tops of the mountains. That's the sight you have for many miles and it is really beautiful, even with a gray sky.
Much of the land near this arm of the Cook Inlet fell several feet during the 1964 earthquake. That part of the land is now covered with grasses and the long dead skeletons of trees that were killed when their roots were buried in salt water.
After passing through Portage, we were now on a Peninsula, a piece of land nearly surrounded by water but is connected to a larger piece of land by a small strip of land called an isthmus. Once we reached the peninsula, we started driving through mountain valleys with lots of rivers, waterfalls, and lakes. There was even snow in the trees on the side of the road! Again, this was totally different scenery but still beautiful.
Now, where are we? We are in Seward Alaska on the Kenai Peninsula and even with the clouds, it is simply beautiful. The politician was William Seward and to some people Alaska was referred to as Seward's Icebox. Those same people referred to the purchase of Alaska as Seward's Folly.
on the Kenai Peninsula
It's been a while since we sent one of these emails because we spent an entire week in Seward. Today (Wednesday) we left Seward and continued our travels. We didn't travel too far, only about 50 or 60 miles before we decided to stop and spend a few days. We are now in a small, unincorporated community known for fresh water fishing. The town is home to only about 425 residents but covers about 6 miles of the Sterling Highway. The community is located on the beautiful Kenai River and is very close to the Russian River; both of which are known for their Salmon, Dolly Varden, and Rainbow Trout.
We thoroughly enjoyed Seward. When we arrived in Seward, we checked out the post office just to make sure they accepted General Delivery mail. They did, so we called to have our mail forwarded. On Thursday, we just drove around the town, used an Internet cafe to send our E-mail. We also made arrangements for Larry to go fishing for halibut.
Friday, Larry took his halibut fishing charter right from the campground. Adrienne decided to stay and explore more of Seward. The halibut charter had six paying fishermen on board plus the captain who also fished. The deck hand was too busy helping people to land halibut to fish. Everyone who fished caught halibut. Larry caught about a 20 pound halibut. We pretty much maxed out on halibut on the charter, the limit is two halibut per person and the people on the boat caught a total of 13. One of the halibuts was a 100 pound monster (they have caught halibut weighting over 300 pounds here). Frankly, halibut, even the big ones, aren't that much fun. You fish on the bottom and when you feel something on your line, you just haul it in. The halibut doesn't really fight. It may make a few runs but nothing really serious. Plus, it's a lot of work to catch a 100-pound fish. It was more fun when they quit fishing for halibut and started fishing for sea bass. What they call sea bass here is really a rock fish. They weigh about 5 to 8 pounds, and do put up a bit of a fight. The limit is six per person and our boat caught a total of 42 (that's seven times six). The charter included filleting the fish. We have already eaten some of the sea bass and tonight we will have some halibut. Our extra freezer is now full of frozen fish, probably about 25 to 30 pounds worth.
The nicest thing about the charter was the scenery. (Here we go again.) We left Resurrection Bay, went past the Bear Glacier, past a Sea Lion Colony to the area we fished, which was the West side of Granite Island. We saw sea lions of course, plus bald eagles, humpback whales, porpoises, and lots of other wildlife. It was really beautiful. A plus was that the weather was also nice and sunny.
While Larry fished, Adrienne explored more of Seward. One of here favorite places was the Alaska SeaLife Center. This is an aquarium and marine laboratory. Although the planning for it started in the 1960s, it wasn't until the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 that the lack of a reliable database on the animals affected by the oil spill was apparent. The Alaska SeaLife Center facility was built partially by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Settlement. It is a very worthwhile place to visit if you're in Seward. It may be small but they do have excellent displays.
One of the most interesting things at the Alaska SeaLife Center is the display and water tank for the seabirds. Some of the seabirds actually fly underwater. They use their wings to propel themselves underwater and only use their web feet for steering. It's really something to see them "fly" underwater. Larry visited the Alaska SeaLife Center on Tuesday while Adrienne was getting a hair cut. Both of them quickly decided that the Puffin was their favorite bird. The Puffin is relatively small, only about 12 inches tall, is black with a white head and chest, and has a large, bright red, yellow and orange beak. It can barely fly and, if it has been feeding, may not be able to fly. However, it can dive several hundred feet underwater to catch fish. When it starts to dive, it looks like it is trying to fly but then ducks its head and dives. They are really fascinating.
On Saturday, and again on Sunday, we drove to the Exit Glacier. It's only a few miles from Seward and is the only part of Kenai Fjords National Park (pronounced F'yords) you can reach by driving. On Saturday we visited the Glacier on our own. We hiked to the moraine at the bottom of the glacier. On Sunday, we participated in a Ranger walk at the Glacier and, with the Ranger, hiked up to an overlook. The ice is really something. It was a fascinating hike, especially with the Ranger describing various things about the area. There is also a trail that you can hike up to the Harding Ice Field, the largest ice field completely in the United States.
We also visited the Seward Library to see a film on the 1964 Alaska Earthquake. Both of us remember hearing about the earthquake and the Tsunami afterwards but this was the first time we had seen movies. It really devastated the area and virtually destroyed the town of Seward. Seward has been rebuilt but was also moved to more stable ground. We understand that Valdez, which was also destroyed by the earthquake, was actually moved about four miles away from the original town afterward.
Monday, we took a sighting cruise to see more of Kenai Fjords National Park. They covered a lot of the area that Larry saw on his fishing trip plus more. We did visit the Holgate Glacier, riding the boat to within a few hundred yards of the Glacier itself. The cruise had a Park Ranger on board who narrated the trip, told us what we were seeing, provided lots of facts and insights to the area, and identified many of the animals we saw. It was a good trip. The trip included a very good baked salmon and prime rib lunch.
Now, Where are we? We are in Cooper's Landing, on the Kenai Peninsula. It's different scenery, green mountains and fast running rivers, than Seward (only about 50 miles away by road) but we are still enjoying it. We've already made reservations for a fishing raft trip and hope to catch some Sockeye Salmon. We've also seen examples of "Combat Fishing." That's where people are standing shoulder to shoulder fishing in the river for salmon.
on the Kenai Peninsula
We moved today from Cooper Landing to a town that was homesteaded in 1947. World War II veterans were among the first homesteaders; they were given a 90-day preference right in choosing and filing for land. This area is rich with opportunities for year-round recreation-hiking, fishing, camping, canoeing, and ice fishing are favored activities. Nearby, the Kenai River yields record catches of salmon and rainbow trout. The record King Salmon is just over 97 pounds and the record Rainbow Trout is just over 19 pounds! It is a relatively large town with a population of almost 4,000. It's nice to be able to load up at a real supermarket instead of the poorly stocked stores of Cooper Landing. We now have 6 TV channels instead of one. We have not had satellite since Quesnel, British Columbia.
We only drove about 50 miles today but again, they were beautiful miles. After driving beside the Kenai River for a while, you are just in rolling hills and woods. Then, after cresting a hill, you see a snow covered mountain peak in the distance (probably one of the Volcanos on the West side of Cooks Inlet). The blue sky, the snow capped mountain peak, with the lush multi shades of green from the forest in the foreground is really impressive. A few miles further from that sight, we managed to be the first vehicle for a moose jam. Larry saw the moose just off the right side of the road, slowed down, and sure enough, he ran across the road right in front of us. Unfortunately, the camera was on the couch, not on Adrienne's lap where it usually is when we drive.
However, we did enjoy Cooper Landing. We were camped at the Princess Lodge and RV Resort, owned by Princess Cruises. When we arrived on Wednesday, we drove down to the Alaska River Company to make reservations for salmon fishing. We couldn't do it until Friday but that gave us a chance to give both the RV and the truck a decent wash job. They both needed it. It also gave Larry a chance to use the windshield repair kit on another star on the windshield. Like all the RV parks we've been in, we met some great people, this time including a couple from New Zealand who had be on a ship cruise and were now on a land tour. They were really nice and were very interested in our travels.
After cleaning up the motorhome, we drove around the area and discovered the Russian River. This is where the salmon fishing was. Fishing for salmon (Sockeye Salmon this time) is sometimes referred to as "combat fishing." It's tough to describe but we will try. Imagine a very fast moving river that is about 100 feet wide. Now imagine a group of fishermen all wearing either waders or hip boots standing in the river about 20 feet from the river banks and about 5 feet apart all fishing for salmon in 38 degree water. The river is about knee deep. Now when someone hooks a salmon, the salmon runs. It may run up river, down river, across the river, or all three. It will also jump out of the water and turn flips. It really looks strange.
Friday was our fishing trip. We started just across the river from the campground, but we had to drive about 6 or 7 miles to get there. After being outfitted with hip boots, we got in an inflatable raft and drifted down the Kenai River. There were four of us on the raft, Larry, Adrienne, a man from Florida, and Dave, our guide. We drifted for almost and hour enjoying the beautiful scenery and the eagles. Then we beached the raft and hiked about 100 yards to the Russian River. After a few quick lessons in the technique of salmon fishing, we started.
We need to describe the technique to help you understand the fishing experience. Salmon, when they swim upstream to spawn, do not eat, so they don't swallow your hook. Also, the Alaska fishing regulations prohibit snagging fish in fresh water, plus you can only fish with single hook artificial lures, no bait is permitted. Apparently when salmon are swimming upstream to spawn, they continuously open and close their mouths when then are swimming. Your fishing line has a sinker on it about two feet up from the fly. These flies are huge compared to the flies you normally consider in fly-fishing. It's 3/8s of an inch between the point of the hook and the shank. You cast your fly up stream and let it flow down stream with the current. Then you pull it in and repeat the process. You think you feel the rocks on the stream bed as your sinker is pulled downstream. Wrong, it's actually salmon hitting your line and pushing it aside. So if you feel the rocks, yank on the rod, and about 10 percent of the time you will have a fish. Then the fun really begins as you fight the fish, when hooked, the salmon will do all sorts of things to get rid of the hook, it will dive, go upstream, downstream, jump, do flips in the air, all the time pulling on your line. Finally, if your lucky, it's netted and you have a fish. It's a strange way to fish but it is fun, especially when you have a fish on the line.
First of all, it's difficult to walk with your hip boots on. It reminded Larry of walking with ski boots on, awkward. Now, you go into the cold river, and yes, the river is cold and immediately you realize that you should have worn heavy wool sock and maybe some long underwear. The river bottom is full of rocks so you are also walking on rocks. Close to the shore, there is very little current, but after 10 or 15 feet, you are in the fast moving water. With cold feet now you have to adjust your balance so the current doesn't knock you over. We did see more than one person who did not adequately adjust their balance for the current and the obvious happened, they got soaking wet. Oh yes, while you are standing there fishing, trying to keep your cold legs and feet steady against the current, you continuously feel rocks the size of golf balls driven by the current hit your feet.
We brought home five Sockeye Salmon (the limit is three per person per day). Three of the fish belonged to Larry. The other two were graciously donated from Dave for Adrienne. (I could not seem to get the hang of it. I was too busy watching everyone else, getting out of the way from other fisherman, fighting for dear life that I would not fall in the river or get hooked, and hoping my toes did not have frost bite since my hip boots were leaking! My hip boots had wrinkles-they were taller than my legs, so put your imagination to work and just view this picture and the fish that splashed all around including this fast moving river. I was soaked! But I did not fall in! I did have 4 opportunities to bring a fish in after Dave or Larry caught it, but I'm the one where the big ones escaped and the guy next to me caught! Yes, I had fun anyway!) Our five salmon came to about 20 pounds of fresh salmon fillets. Yes, we've already had two meals of salmon and still have a lot left.
Saturday we saw some other sights near Cooper Landing. We toured the Kenaitze Footprints Heritage Site. It's a Cultural Heritage Site of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe. The guided tour was presented by two teenage Indians (one was an Eskimo the other a Ute) and they did an excellent job. The site, right on the Kenai River, is where archeologists have discovered the foundations of a Kenaitze Indian Village. The two guides explained various artifacts as well as a number of facts about how the Indians lived.
We also stopped by the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge visitor center and learned more about the area.
Where are we? We are still on the Kenai Peninsula but now we are close to Cooks Inlet. We are in the town of Soldotna. Hopefully fishing with dry and warm feet.
on the Kenai Peninsula
We left Soldotna today and traveled south with the Cook Inlet on our right. We are now in a small town, a quaint, old Russian village, testifying to Alaska's Russian Heritage. Over the Memorial Day weekend, this small town is referred to as "Alaska's third largest city" because thousands of Alaskans arrive for the fishing. This area is well known for saltwater king salmon and record halibut fishing. This area is also known for Razor Clams. Tomorrow, we hope to go clamming.
Soldotna was an interesting place to spend a few days. We drove around Soldotna and they do have shopping, a Big Fred Myers as well as a Safeway. They have built "fish walks" along some of the Kenai River banks to enable fishermen to fish without damaging the banks of the river. The fishwalks is like a steel and concrete pier but they run parallel to the river rather than going out into the river. We didn't fish (the fishing regulations are very confusing and change almost daily).
We also drove out to Captain Cook State Park, about 40 miles north of Soldotna. The views are glorious but would have been better if the clouds weren't around. We also spent some time exploring the City of Kenai. What is now the City of Kenai was a Dena'ina Native community. The Dena'ina people fished, hunted, trapped, farmed, and traded with neighboring tribes here. In 1791, it became the second permanent settlement established by the Russians in Alaska when a fortified post called Fort St. Nicholas was built near here by Russian fur traders. Of course we had to visit Old Town Kenai and take pictures of the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church. We also did some shopping at the local Super KMart and the Three Bears store which purchased most of its merchandise from Costco in Anchorage.
Yesterday, we headed south to the end of the Sterling Highway. Since we will be going that way again in the RV in a few days, we'll postpone that description until later. But, driving around yesterday we saw two moose, once just after we left Soldotna and once coming back into town. It may have been the same moose, we aren't sure.
Where are we? We are at the Alaskan Angler RV Resort in Ninilchik Alaska.
On the Kenai Peninsula.
Subj: 90. Where are we?
Date: Sunday, June 30, 2002 12:41:56 PM
It's the last day of June and we've moved. We left Ninilchik and headed south. We drove less than an hour so we didn't go very far. We are now in a small maritime community on the shores of Kachemak Bay. It's at the Southwest end of the Kenai Peninsula where Cook Inlet meets the Gulf of Alaska. Even though we are only 105 miles as the crow flies from Anchorage, it's obvious that the 240 miles of road didn't follow the crow's flight plan. This town is also the self proclaimed "Halibut Capitol of the World."
We spent four nights in Ninilchik. That's three full days of enjoying the area. Ninilchik, as we said, was an old Russian settlement and the Russian Orthodox Church is beautiful. Imagine a small settlement of mostly old wooden buildings with brown and gray weathered boards. Put this little settlement in a small U-shaped river valley. There are steep, green velvet hills surrounding this little valley. On the North hill, overlooking the town, place a beautiful Russian Orthodox Church complete with white siding, green trim, and gold tower domes. It's a really beautiful setting.
Two of the days we were in Ninilchik we spent digging for razor clams. We rented clam shovels, buckets, and hip boots. This is an activity that the Grandkids would love. You have to dig in the sand and mud to reach the clams, and of course you get very dirty. You have to clam during extremely low tides. Fortunately, we were there during the 6 days of minus tides, which are ideal for digging clams. The first day we only managed to find 3 clams, there is really a trick to getting them. We learned that the surf had been rough for a few days so the clams had buried themselves about 18 inches below the surface. Normally they are within about six inches. Since everyone was having problems getting clams, and no one we talked to was anywhere close to their daily limit of 45 clams, we didn't feel too bad. Adrienne cleaned the clams and Larry made a simple clam sauce to put over spaghetti for dinner. It was great.
The clam sauce inspired us to go clam digging a second time. This time we were more successful and came home with about a dozen clams. After cleaning them, we froze the clam meat for later use. We need to mention that a dozen clams doesn't sound like many, but these are not the typical clams you find in seafood restaurants, these clams are somewhat oval in shape and measure 4 to 6 inches across. A dozen clams provided us with about 12 ounces of clam meat.
Digging for clams is a lot of work, especially when they are deep. We were tired after the first day but the clam sauce was so good, we had to try again. The second day we traded one of the shovels for a "clam gun." The "clam gun" is a 4-inch diameter tube with a Tee shaped handle. It is completely hollow. On the "tee handle" there is a hole. You push the tube into the sand over one of the depressions made by the clam. Once you get the gun down as far as it will go, you put your finger over the hole and pull it up. This brings up a cylinder of sand and mud that will hopefully have a clam in it. It usually required two or three of these sand and mud cores to find the clam. By Saturday we were too tired to try for more clams so we just relaxed in the RV Park.
The drive from Ninilchik was something else. It was an easy drive and only about 40 miles. Most of the way you are driving in rolling hills through spruce forest with some open meadows. Everything is a beautiful green. Then you come to a fairly long hill. At the bottom of the hill there is a sign that says viewpoint-2miles. This is unusual since most of the viewpoint signs indicate that they are 1000 or 1500 feet away. Then you pull into the viewpoint, which is almost like a park. The viewpoint is about 300 feet above the bay and Cook Inlet. In all directions you see snow covered volcanic peaks, many with at least six glaciers. With this in the background, the blue waters of Kachemak Bay below, and green vegetation in the foreground, it is really a wonderful sight. It's probably a good thing that there is a viewpoint. Otherwise you would come down the hill into the town with your mouth open just gawking at the scenery rather than watching the road.
Where are we? We are at the Ocean View RV Park in Homer Alaska. Right now we plan on being here for 8 days. We decided it would be wise to stay in one place over the forth of July.
In Homer Alaska.