Anchorage → Seward, AK

WEEK 4
July 22 thru 
July 28, 2019

 

Day 22 / July 22, 2019
Anchorage → Whittier → Seward, AK

With Anchorage in our rearview mirror, we started on our trek towards Seward. Our first stop was Potter Marsh, a short distance outside of Anchorage.

Potter Marsh was created by the Alaska Railroad when the roadbed for the railroad created a levy that holds back the three streams that flow into what is now the marsh. It is known as the “unintentional creation” of Anchorage’s most popular wildlife haven.

A 1,550 feet wooden boardwalk meanders through the marsh, across watery openings and sedges. Walking through the marsh on the boardwalk is a perfect way to view the habitat of a wide variety of Birds, as well as Muskrats, Moose, and spawning Chinook, Coho or Humpback Salmon.

Alaska attracts about 80% of the total population of trumpeter swans who winter along the coast of the Pacific Northwest and summer in Alaska.  Potter Marsh is a stopover place for the trumpeter swans on their way to remote nesting areas in Alaska.

for the Birds
Sign at Potter Marsh

It’s a beautiful spot and well worth stopping by for a short photo opportunity or to spend a long, leisurely time walking through the marsh on the approximately one-third-mile long boardwalk.

From there we continued on the Seward Highway, with its magnificent mountains, glaciers, waterfalls and wildflowers until we reached the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. The AWCC is Alaska’s most popular visitor attraction. The sanctuary has wood bison, lynx, porcupine, coyote, fox, elk, Sitka black-tailed deer, caribou, bull elk, brown bear, black bear, muskox, porcupine, moose, reindeer and wolf pack. You can either drive or walk around the conservation center. Each type of animal is enclosed in a large area, separated from animals of other species.

When we got there we parked Ollie over by the hoards of tour busses and walked to see and photograph the animals. The muskox was my favorite, especially the biggest one who was standing in the water trough. I don’t know if he was trying to make himself look bigger, cool himself off, or get a better view of the situation, but he looked pretty stately. By noon we were hungry and rather than eat expensive food in the restaurant, we got into Ollie and had our own lunch, then went back for a few more photos. The animals we had not yet seen were on the far side of the Conservation Center, so we drove and stopped, drove and stopped, and Jim was able to get some great photos. We would definitely go back again.

Back on the Seward Highway, we turned off toward the Portage Glacier Spur, which was another spectacular drive with water, mountains, train tracks (and a train) just at the edge of the water, and glaciers – some shrouded in fog and others bright and shiny in the sun. Everything is so beautiful it’s hard to find the words to describe it.

We drove on to Whittier, a trip that required us to go through a 2.5-mile tunnel – the longest highway tunnel in North America. It is a one-way tunnel that accommodates cars and trains in both directions, on a half-hour schedule. The trip takes approximately ten minutes, but for me it seemed like much longer (I have claustrophobia and this is a very narrow and long tunnel).  When we were paying the toll (in the direction of Whittier only; no payment on the way back), I said to the toll taker that he had a wonderful view. He pointed out that the view was nice but the wind was so strong that they have to tie their dumpster down with straps attached to huge rocks to keep it from blowing over. We didn’t stay long in Whittier; there isn’t a lot there. And I wanted to get the return trip through the tunnel over with. We listened to an audio book while we drove, and it helped keep me from obsessing about a mountain over my head.

dumpster tie down
Dumpster tied dow so it won’t blow away

The drive from Whittier to Seward was about 90 miles. We stopped along he road and called to see about getting overnight accommodations. It’s a very busy time of year, so we were at first unsuccessful, but another campground host told us about a new KOA campground. Jim called and we were able to get in for two nights. Mountains in a beautiful setting surround it, and the road the campground is on continues to Exit Glacier. Two problems about the location: 1) There is a sled dog kennel next door and when one starts barking, the rest follow. It’s a good thing Ollie is well insulated because they didn’t disturb my sleep. 2) The ground is ALL rocks, with NO landscaping. Not the best play surface for kids. It feels a bit harsh. But we’re not little kids, so it works for us.

At 10:00 last night Jim went out to take a picture of the tree on the edge of the campground that has an eagle’s nest in it with two eaglets. Think about that. We are at a place where we can photograph an eagle’s nest, and we can take a picture of it at night.

Eaglets
Eaglets at our campground in Seward at 10 PM

Going to bed when it’s light out and then getting up when it’s light out is a strange thing. We have yet to see darkness in Alaska. ME

Day 23 / July 23, 2019
Seward, AK

The only places where you can get WiFi here in the campground are the office/store and the laundry room. Since we didn’t need to do laundry today, after breakfast we went and sat on the front porch at a little bistro table. The weather was cool and very foggy, but not so cold that sitting outdoors was uncomfortable. We talked to a fellow camper who has been here at this campground since it opened on July 1. He and his wife are full-time RV’ers and they tend to go someplace and sit a spell. Dick was talking about the eagle family in the tree and how the parents’ attention to the eaglets has changed over the past three weeks. Since the parents aren’t around much any more, he figures they may be about to send them out on their own. And soon after he said that, the mother eagle returned to the nest, settled in, and she is still there at 8:30 p.m.

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Mama eagle in the PM

What started out as a very foggy morning turned into a constant rain in the afternoon. It’s actually a perfect book-reading afternoon, but we didn’t want to waste the little bit of time we have here in Seward, so we went out exploring. Driving through the streets of the town, checking all of the businesses and looking at the variety of homes available to the locals (2,800 permanent residents).

Jim suggested taking the road to its end, which turned into a grand adventure. Once you start on the road, you are committed for many miles, because the road is only about a car and a half in width and there is no place to turn around. It meanders around the bottom of a mountain, right up against it, with the other side a drop-off into Resurrection Bay. They warn you about “avalanche areas,” and with the pile of rocks/boulders at the bottom, only feet from the roadbed, it’s apparent they aren’t kidding. Once we were beyond the somewhat treacherous part of the road we continued on. At the end there are all manner of small, interesting businesses: tour guides and rental equipment for canoeing, kayaking and fishing; campgrounds at the water’s edge, and very small rooms for backpackers to find respite from the weather.

We took a turn into Lowell Point State Recreation Park where we discovered a forest of trees heavily laden with moss. Some were so thick they made me think of moose antlers.

On the way home we went to the grocery store, came back to Ollie, had some popcorn and did some writing. This evening we went out to Chinook’s Restaurant. I had salmon poke as an appetizer and maple sriracha glazed salmon on a bed of vegetable fried rice with sliced Brussels sprouts and apple coleslaw. Yum! Jim had crab bisque and then decided the steak sounded good and was $11 less than the halibut. He regretted his choice, even though there was nothing wrong with the steak. If you’re in Texas you need a steak, but when you’re in Alaska you need to eat halibut (or salmon, or crab . . .). It was great having a “date” night. This is the first time we have gone out for dinner since we left home three weeks ago. We have gone for a few lunches, but mostly we are being frugal with our food expenditures.

While we waited for our food Jim went outside to the dock and took a video of a large catch of halibut being cleaned.  Hope you enjoy it.

We got back after dinner and could see the female eagle sitting next to the nest. Jim got out the 100:400 mm lens and got some good pictures. It’s been another great day. ME

Day 24 / July 24 2019
Seward, AK

When we left the campground this morning it was very foggy and only 55 F.  Although not the best weather for viewing and photographing glaciers, we took our chance and drove down to the end of the road our campground is on and went to see Exit Glacier.  Along the road there are numerous turn-outs where you can stop and see the beautiful landscape and catch your first view of Exit Glacier.

We drove to the end of the road and went into the Information Center at The Kenai Fjords National Park, which tells you more general information about glaciers than you would have thought existed, as well as specific facts about Exit Glacier. Kenai Fjords National Park contains the Harding Icefield, one of the largest ice fields in the United States.

After our glacier tour, we went into Seward and did a little shopping for things such as a bucket to soak my weary feet in. It’s a lovely little town and their True Value Hardware store has just about anything you could want.

This was to be our last night in Seward and we sat in Ollie playing cribbage and looking out the window at the eagle and her babies, hoping we’d be there when she taught them to fly.  No such luck. ME

Eaglet

Day 25 / July 25, 2019
Seward → Anchor Point → Homer, AK

My intention when we left Seward was to listen to our latest book and enjoy the scenery.  Unfortunately, I was lulled to sleep and missed almost the entire trip, including a couple of hours of the book we’ve been listening to.  However, when we arrived in Anchor Point, I was so pleased to see we were on a bluff overlooking the ocean, and the views were stunning.  At the horizon there were mountains, with several unmistakable volcanoes.  The absolutely best campsite view of our trip.

After getting set up, we drove the 15 miles into Homer, stopping at a wayside viewing area just before arriving in Homer.  This is what greeted us:

Homer is where Quelise, her cousin Jenessa, and J’s SO Trevor were staying.  Q had made the trip to Alaska a few years ago, and Homer was her very favorite place, so we were interested to see if it lived up to her hype for us too.  Check out the pictures below and you will see why she fell in love – and we did too.

In fact, I felt such a longing to live in Homer that when we drove up to Skyline Drive and found a piece of property for sale by owner (1.4 acres), we called to get information on perhaps purchasing it and building a home on the site.  When I say it is breathtaking, you can see from the images of Homer just how true that statement is.  At first Jim was talking to me about how we could do it, but as time went on, he reminded me that we are 70 and 72 years old and it’s not easy to relocate and make a new life for yourself when you are older, and this would be an enormous step.  At least I want to return here as often as possible.

All the pink flowers you see in pictures are fireweed, which grow everywhere this time of year.  “Fireweed is a tall plant with thin, long leaves that grow off of a tall central stalk. It often reaches 5-6 ft tall and the top fourth is covered in quarter-sized, pink flowers. Its name comes from its ability to mass produce on recently burned-over areas. Fireweed requires lots of sunlight to grow so once larger species take this away the plant dies. However, its seeds stay in the soil and are viable for years so the next time a fire burns over the area and sunlight is restored to the forest floor, fireweed appears once again.”  alaska.org/advice/fireweed

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In the early evening we drove out to the “Spit,” which we both feel is a tourist area without a lot of charm.  The prevalent theory for the Spit’s origin is that it is the remains of an ancient glacial moraine, constantly re-shaped by ocean currents. Two archaeological finds, one near the base and one about three-fourths of the way out, reveal that the Spit was used by humans long before written history. Now it’s used to sell trinkets and seafood in nautical-themed buildings.

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The Spit in Homer, AK juts out into the Kachemak Bay

Not wanting to eat at a place called “spit,” we found A. J.’s Steakhouse in Homer.  The owner walked around and stopped at each table for quite a long time, chatting with the diners, who were mostly locals.  Two nights before Jim had ordered steak in a seafood restaurant, so this time he ordered halibut in a steak house.  A.J’s was the winner.

Upon recommendation by Q, we also went to Two Sisters Bakery and got sticky buns, which she had said were the best ever, and we can definitely attest to that fact too.  It made me moan!  ME

Sticky Bun
Two Sisters’ Sticky Bun

Day 26 / July 26, 2019
Anchor Point → Homer → Anchor Point, AK

Standing at the edge of the campground overlooking the ocean inlet and the mountains on the opposite shore, there was no denying this was the best view we’ve ever had while camping. If interested, check out the campsite’s website or Facebook page.

www.whiskeypointalaska.com
fb.me/whiskeypointak

Jim and I drove into Homer to visit the Pratt Museum, which features science, art and culture of the Kachemak Bay.

The first exhibit I was drawn into was the All-Alaska Biennial featuring contemporary work by Alaska artists; I always love to look at the art of an area. The Biennial was a continuation of the museum’s All-Alaska Juried and Earth, Fire & Fibre exhibitions, which began more than 30 years ago to encourage new works by Alaskan artists. This year the competition included submissions from 161 artists.

While I was viewing the art, Jim was looking at the other exhibits, primarily a visual and written study of historic and contemporary life around Kachemak Bay. He also enjoyed their large collection of whale skeletons, and a seabird cam, which allows visitors to control the camera in order to hear and see close-ups of a variety of birds in their rookery.

In the afternoon we went back to our campground so that we could enjoy the view while we sat for awhile and put our feet up. In the evening we joined Quelise, Jenessa and Trevor at the Kannery for dinner. It was nice to meet Trevor, since I have been hearing about him for a number of years. The three had arrived in Alaska on Monday and were spending a week at Whalesong Cottage in Homer, a great place with a fantastic view they had found on Bookings.com. After a week there, Jenessa and Trevor were going home to the Bay Area and Q was staying to spend a second week with us in Ollie. ME

Day 27 / July 27, 2019
Anchor Point → Homer → Anchor Point, AK

Jim and I went exploring in the morning, and on our way to visit the Russian community of Nikolaevsk, we saw a moose, which is a great way to start an adventure.

In 1968, a group of Russians immigrated to Alaska for religious freedom. They built a community around their church, which is now a rather old and well-used building. A new, larger church is currently under construction right next door. A sign on the old church says they welcome picture taking, but would appreciate a donation. We happily took them up on their offer.

Next we tried to visit a Russian café that had an “Open” sign on the front, but also a note on the door that said if we wanted service, we should go knock on Nina’s door, which was the house across the street with a second-story balcony. We decided we didn’t need to disturb Nina just to look around, so we went on to our next destination.

The Norman Lowell Art Gallery is along the Sterling Highway, just outside of Anchor Point. Norman and his wife Libby donated his gallery, permanent collection, and the grounds of their homestead to the Norman Lowell Art Gallery Foundation. This philanthropic foundation is dedicated to continuing Norman’s work, relieving the suffering of the poor and oppressed around the world.

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The Foundation is run by the Lowell family. Twenty-five percent of the proceeds from the sale of merchandise are used to make viewing the collection free to the public, and to maintain the collection, building and grounds. The remaining 75% is given to charities around the world, chosen by Lowell and his wife Libby, to assist those in need.

http://normanlowellgallery.net

All of the paintings on the walls were done by Norman. Other works of art, mostly carvings and other sculptures, are by other Alaskan artists. In addition to the gallery itself, if you are lucky you may be invited to see the original homestead. We were able to see the Lowells’ first one-room cabin, which is located near the beautiful home designed by Norman and built by the entire family. The grounds have many beautiful flowers, and a large greenhouse is full of fruit trees. Check out the sign on the door as you enter the Lowell family complex:

We drove into Homer for lunch, which we thought we would get from Two Sisters Bakery; however, they didn’t have any sticky buns left, so we set out to find another bakery a local had said had even better sticky buns than Two Sisters. We went to a second bakery, but they don’t make sticky buns, so we had lunch there. After lunch I looked on GPS and found one more bakery in town. Success! They had two left, so I got them to take back home to Ollie. When we tried them, they were good, but definitely no substitute for Two Sisters.

Although it was raining at the time, we decided to go to the Farmers’ Market in Homer, which closed at 3:00 pm, giving us about an hour to see what the locals had to sell. There were a lot of greens and some tomatoes; however, most of the market had trinkets, shirts, jewelry, and other tourist items. We could have had reindeer sausage, but having just finished lunch, we moved on and ran into Quelise, Jenessa and Trevor. We shared our big umbrella with them for a little while and made plans to have dinner with them again that night and to meet them for dinner and then go to Windsong so we could see where Q had been staying and to pick up her things to move in to Ollie for a week.

Wasabi was a nice restaurant with fairly high prices. We ordered a combination of fish dinners and sushi. Every time we asked for any changes or additions to our meal, the waitress said she would have to ask the chef, but thought he wouldn’t want to make any changes; he seemed to be a bit cranky. And they close at 9:00 pm on a Saturday night. What’s up with that? ME

Day 28 / July 28, 2019
Anchor Point, AK → Seward, AK

We had dinner for the second time with Quelise, Jenessa, and Trevor in Homer at Wasabi’s on July 27th. We had planned on picking up Q-Ball on the morning of the 28th but we had a change in plans.

Q wanted to go to Seward and take the Kenai Fjord/Glacier Dinner Boat Tour and that would mean driving from Anchor Point north of Homer and spending a night in Seward after the boat tour. So after dinner at Wasabi’s we went to the B&B Q, J, & T were staying in to get her luggage.

6:00 AM Rise & Shine at Anchor Point to get an early start on the drive to Seward. We stopped for gas in Soldotna, and again at the beautiful lake at the intersection of the Sterling and Seward Highways. The natural beauty in this state is awe inspiring in many places and in many ways. But this spot by the calm lake with ducks, gulls, mountains, trees, clouds and sky is an exceptional place of beauty. After about 40 minutes soaking in nature we were off to Seward and the KOA for a fourth night below the eagles’ nest.

The Kenai Fjord/Glacier Boat Tour

Our boat was the Aialik and our tour started at 3:00 PM. We had to check in an hour early so we were sitting on the dock waiting for a while. During the wait we met a family. Grandpa & Grandma were originally from Alabama but now lived for 12 years in Talkeetna which is between Anchorage and Denali. Their daughter, son in law and grand-daughter were visiting from Alabama. The grand-daughter Juliann made friends with everyone.

Fjords

Fjords are deep channels carved out of the bed rock by the glaciers. The glaciers in this area at one point went 20 miles out into the ocean. When they receded they left these beautiful formations and water features.

The Aialik cruised at 26 – 29 knots, which may not sound fast, but if you are standing on the front rail it is amazing. The up and down of the waves, the wind and the other folks next to you make this fun but challenging.

What We Saw On the Cruise

Right out of the harbor we saw 3 sea otters mostly on their backs eating something. But also rolling around playing with each other. Next was the Bald Eagle on a pipe railing on what I believe was a mooring place for coal cargo ships. The mooring had about 10 pilings and a large mushroom shaped mooring post to which ropes are tied. I got several good shots of this eagle but he/she was hunkered down, hunched over in the wind . . . not majestic.

Next we passed a small charter fishing boat (The Huntress) with about 10 customers all with lines in the water. A Bald Eagle flew along the cliffs and into a nest. We rounded a rugged corner to see a terminal moraine with a glacier on the other side. Then there were 3 small islands, rock on the bottom and trees on the top. 2 were 40-50 feet in diameter and the larger one was maybe 100 feet in diameter. We saw many more such small islands as the trip progressed.

There were many sea birds here, mostly sea gulls and cormorants. Later the captain announced that he saw a boat ahead stopped in the water and they reported seeing Fin Whales spouting in the distance. He explained that Fins have an underwater time of up to 10 minutes, so he cut the engine and we floated until we saw spouting in the distance. I got a few not too good pictures of the spouts and a couple fins as the whales went below again. When they started spouting a second time I got good pictures of the fins. By the way, Fin Whales are the second largest animal on earth behind the Blue Whale.

Then came the Crested Puffins. Crested Puffins have an orange beak and feathers that curl from the top of their head to the side and back behind the head, which curl like a ram’s horn. You need to see a picture to get a clear understanding. Puffins are cute sea birds. In flight they are easy to distinguish from other birds due to their unique wing flapping.

A Stellar Sea Lion rookery was on sun-soaked rocks where we saw many baby Sea Lions along with the adults enjoying the sun. There were no barks like we have heard from the Sea Lions in SF Bay. Next we came to a Sea Gull rookery. Now I have never cared about Sea Gulls, but when you see the little puffball babies under or next to an adult . . . they are so cute. And the parent birds are retching up food to feed the hungry puff balls.

Then came the Horned Puffins on the rock cliffs. The Horned Puffins have a mostly yellow beak with just a touch or red or orange on the tip. They are also cute sitting in nooks in the rooks of the cliffs. Also there are many different wild flowers visible along these cliffs.

We started heading for the glaciers but on the way we saw a bunch of Seals basking on the rocks. According to the captain these seals cannot climb up onto the rocks like the Sea Lions. Instead they rest on the rocks as the tide goes out and stay until the tide comes in again.

Seals

As we approached one of the glaciers I was taking plenty of pictures because there was a large island between us and the glacier. What came to pass was the Aialik went around behind the island and right up to within ¼ mile of the glacier. You could hear what sounded like gun shots but were the glacier cracking as it slid into the ocean. We also could see some calving. But the calving was not spectacular like what I have seen on videos. This calving was small slushy hunks breaking off and splashing into the ocean. We did see a seal floating on one of the larger chunks of ice in the distance. I did notice that much of the floating ice was stratified with clear lines. I assume this is because as the glacier formed some of the ice is denser than other layers.

As we returned to Seward we saw several other glaciers. One had 2 racing stripes curving down the top. The stripes were caused by the glacier rubbing up against a mountain side on the way to the sea. We stopped a couple times more on the way back in to see whales spouting, but they did not appear. We did see a few Jelly Fish float by under the water.

When we exited the Aialik we were treated to an Otter eating the remnant of a cleaned Halibut, rolling over and over as chunks were bitten and eaten. I took a couple pictures and a couple videos. JMS

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Otter eating on halibut carcass

The single best adventure of our Alaska trip! ME

End of Week 4