Lots of pictures in this post. Put above set in wrong spot but don’t know how to move them. Rest if pics at end of writing.
So our last posting left off as we arrived at Cooper Landing, between Talkeetna and Homer. This was, again, a small RV park nestled in between towering peaks and the Kenai River on the Kenai Peninsula. It was a single road with back-in sites on either side…about 30 sites in all, with only 30 amp electric service, meaning we had to run our generators for the clothes dryer to work. (full electric svc is 50 amp, but 2 legs, meaning it really provides 100 amp of total service.) Since we were on the bottom of a steep mountain side, there was a very nice lodge with restaurant and bar just up the hill from us. We found a path up the hill through the woods as a shortcut….quite steep but much shorter than following the road with switchbacks…made us earn our drinks once we reached the bar. This was a ‘Princess Cruise Line’ property so very nice. This is where buses of cruise passengers would stop for a night or 2 while in route from Seward or Anchorage to Denali. We were just fortunate to have access to it from our adjacent RV park. It had a nice deck overlooking the beautiful mountains and river below while eagles frequently soared by.
Coopers Landing provided one of our many adventurous excursions. We drove about an hour close to the town of Soldotna where we boarded sea planes in the morning for about a 35 min flight to grassy islands on a glacier-fed lake where we stepped from the floats of the plane directly onto 4-person powered skiffs each with our guide. From there we enjoyed another 30 min ride to a spot near the edge of the lake and a mountain stream of run-off snow melt. As we approached, our guide said there were some bears entering the water up ahead to do their own salmon fishing. There were a few other boats there as we came near and anchored among them as 2 bears swam between our boats. (see pics below). It was an amazing scene. The bears would periodically stick their heads under the water to look for fish and try to catch them in their mouths. Finally one of the bears came up with a salmon in his mouth. He swam to shore and disappeared into the woods to dine in private. Then it was our turn. Our guide set a treble hook and small sinker on our lines and told us to just cast towards shore and slowly reel in the line with a jerk of the pole every few seconds. Sure enough…BAM! The poles bent way over as an aggressive fight ensued. It was all we could muster to hold the pole and try to reel in close to the boat as the guide waited with a net. Over the next 2 hours the 4 of us caught our limit of sockeye salmon from 2 different locations. It was an incredible experience. If only we could have seen under the water at what must have been hundreds of swarming fish. Our ‘jerk’ of the line merely snagged the fish since they were not interested in biting our lines….but that’s how they do it up here. Since we had about 5 hours of fishing to do we then just did some sightseeing of more stunning views in all directions. Our guide took us into a small protective cove where we were wondering why he was anchoring. But then he pulled out a portable gas grill, filleted one of the salmon, added some spices, wrapped it in tin foil, and cooked it right there on the side of the boat. Wow! The only way to eat fresher fish was to be one of those bears who enjoyed his catch within seconds of reaching shore with his prize. Our guide then filleted all our fish right there on the boat and bagged them for us. We met our seaplane back at the grassy knoll on the lake and stepped back into the plane. The ride back was equally impressive as our pilot skimmed the tops of jagged cliffs, zig-zagged through towering peaks beside us, and flew over a glacier in the middle of those peaks. What a day! Back at the RV park we then had to individually wrap each fillet in plastic and lay them out in our refer-freezer for overnight freezing. (Of course our RV has a separate freezer underneath, but we preserve that as our wine cellar! )
During our stay at C Landing, other adventures included a 5-mile hike to a mountain waterfall at a nearby state park, and a ‘wine float’ down the river for a 2 hour drift/ride while enjoying our own wine and still being amazed by our postcard beauty all around us. It was an amazing 3 days at Cooper Landing.
Then we were back on the road to Homer, a 4 hour drive, as we passed through Anchorage which is the largest city in Alaska. It was just another city as our Caravan organizers did not waste any of our time to even stop there. The beautiful ride through more towering peaks matched the scenery we were now accustomed to, but never tired of. Our path took a circuitous route beside Turnagain Arm, a long stretch of water off of Cook Bay by Anchorage. It was the only flat area for any road to be built to get to Homer. As we neared Homer, we paralleled Cook Inlet which connects the Gulf Of Alaska to Anchorage to the delight of cruise ships. Scenic overlooks abounded along the route.
So we arrived in Homer to beautiful sunshine and another picturesque setting. We drove through the small town of Homer to reach ‘Homer Spit’ which was a narrow peninsula (maybe 500 ft wide) about 3 miles long out into the middle of Kachemak Bay. We pulled into our bay-front RV site with a surreal view out our windshield, for our week-long stay. The next day, in groups of 5, we loaded onto small planes with balloon tires for our 1 hour flight to the island and Katmai National Park where we landed on rock beaches. We were all told we could not bring any food with us and to not have eaten fish the night prior. This was our bear-viewing trip, perhaps our most anticipated excursion. These trips are planned at low tides so we had access to the draining flatlands where we all donned hip waders. The pilot had pointed out numerous bears, pretty much the only inhabitants of the island, as we circled to land. Out of the plane our pilots/guides told us to stay fairly close to him and if he said ‘huddle’ we were all to immediately squeeze into as tight a group as possible, since a smaller sight to the grizzlies was less intimidating/threatening….and grizzlies take threats seriously. Our guide was packing flares, bear spray, pop-guns, and real guns…we all WANTED to stay near him. As we walked over the draining flats which were surrounded by mountains and rocky cliffs, occasionally sinking in the mud to our knees and needing help to pull out, we saw bears in the distance. Our 3 groups spread out but stayed within 100 yds or so of each other. As we rounded a bluff, our guide pointed out a large bear asleep on a ledge with his huge paw draped over the edge as he slept, yet surveyed the vast flatlands beneath him, including our 3 groups. As we walked towards the other bears on the ground, they kept their distance from us at about 150 yards. Having passed the bluff with the sleeping bear, our guide noted that he was no longer sleeping and began his descent to the flats. Our guide led us to a grassy knoll about 5 ft above the wetlands, and said we’d wait there. In a flash, that bear had descended the rock and suddenly on our level, walking slowly towards us. The guide said as long as we kept close together with no sudden movements or noise, the bear would simply graze on the grass and pass us. At one point the bear was about 20 yds from us and in between our group and another. He/she was HUGE and estimated at 6-700 lbs by our guide. Hearts racing, we all got incredible pictures and were very appreciative that the bears on this island do not recognize humans as a food source…thus the reason we were not to bring food with us nor have the aroma of fish coming through our pores from the prior night’s meal. As the large bear continued grazing as he slowly walked by us, another had been walking up the shallow waterway in a fishing mode. We watched as he stared into the shallow water and occasionally stomping a paw into the water. Finally we realized the stomping paw was to trap a flounder onto the bottom with his foot as he bent down and took the fish in his mouth. He then gently walked out of the water onto the rocky delta to enjoy his catch. We could see and hear him crunching the fish in his mouth and stripping the meat and skin from the bones, but everything was eventually consumed, bones and all. He looked very satisfied. We made our way back to the planes after our 3-4 mile walk on these draining flats, having witnessed, up close, these incredible creatures. It was awesome, to say the least. The remaining days in Homer included a local winery tour made with local berries, rhubarb, and some grapes. Interesting but not stellar for our palates.
Cindy hosted one of her famous seafood spreads for hors d’oeuvres one night with her signature sesame-seared tuna, grilled scallops & shrimp with Alex as sous chef and grill master, for our whole group. We also did a helicopter tour of an active volcano, landing on it’s shoreline while we had lunch and watched sea otters, seals, and eagles. The pilot wanted to land on the top but a small cap/cloud cover prevented it. He then wanted to land on a tiny ledge about half way up this 1500 ft lava-created mound, but winds were too strong, which we were just as happy to bypass.
Other activities included a hour-long ferry ride to a private island where we dined at a restaurant in it’s interior harbor….. great food, lousy service which took up our entire 3 hour visit instead of being able to visit the few local art shops and souvenir stores. Another adventure was taking a water taxi across the bay to another National Park island where we did a 6 mile hike to a glacier and it’s lake. The temperature dropped about 15 degrees as we neared the lake and saw floating icebergs which had broken off the glacier. The ‘spit’ was filled with marinas, gift shops, restaurants, bars, shops, etc at which we enjoyed eating, drinking, shopping throughout our stay. One final note on Homer…..this was not a cruise ship stop but there was a large tanker/freighter out in the middle of the bay. We initially thought there must be a pipeline for oil for its cargo. But we eventually learned that the sole purpose of this huge ship was to be on standby for an immediate response to any oil spill which may occur. In other words, this was an insurance requirement after the Exxon-Valdez disaster. There are several of these large ships throughout the Gulf of Alaska positioned exclusively for this purpose….just in case!
We departed Homer on the June 22nd for our next destination of Seward, Alaska, about a 3 hour drive, arriving at a KOA RV park, the only national chain we have encountered during our Alaska caravan trip. It was about 3 miles from town, nestled again between incredible towering mountains all around. Our caravan Wagon Master had scheduled a full week of activities once again. The first morning we had to arise at 4:30 am and be at our fishing boat by 6 am. 18 of us were welcomed by the 3-person crew of the 50 ft Tenacious, a beautiful and recently restored fishing boat with a heated cabin where a dozen of us at a time could congregate, 2 heads, a lower section with a couple bunks if so inclined, and full walk-around deck. The guy/girl crew were amazing as they prepped all our lines during the 3 1/2 hour trip to the fishing grounds. As soon as we arrived and were anchored, the Captain gave the all clear to drop our lines with 3-pound weights 150 ft to the bottom. Within minutes our first ‘hit’ occurred and we were all instructed to pull up our lines while the hit line was slowly reeled up, revealing about a 45 lb halibut….quite the excitement and sight to see. Next was a 25 pounder, then a 55 pounder. Interspersed were catches of rockfish king salmon, and ‘yellow-eyes’ which were bright orange with …you guessed it, yellow eyes. Kinda looked like clown fish but were beautiful to see. After a couple hours we all caught our limit of 2 halibuts apiece….1 needing to be less than 28 inches, so several had to be thrown back. We then headed for another spot towards the end of the day where the the Captain said we had 20 minutes to each catch 3 cod fish. We thought he was kidding until we dropped our lines and Bam, Bam, Bam….it was like catching fish in a barrel at a carnival, but these were 5-8 lb fish. It was amazing, and yes…..we all had our limit of 3 fish each within about 30 minutes due to tangled lines. So we headed back with poop-load of fish as our mates filleted them all during the ride back…they were truly amazing. Cindy and I yielded about 32 lbs of fillets. We kept 7 lbs and shipped 25 back home in frozen vacuum sealed packets. It was a looooong day of about 13 hours…we were all exhausted. Other activities included a 6-hr glacier and wildlife boat tour as we watched the glacier up close with occasional calving and ice slides into the water. We saw humpback whales, orcas, seals, sea lions, eagles, sea otters, and numerous exotic birds along the way on stone cliffs. We even witnessed the ‘bubble netting’ of fish performed by teamwork of the humpback whales…an amazing sight and marvel of the intelligence of these beautiful mammals. We’ll leave that description to tell you in person next we meet…remind us to do so. Then we had a behind-the-scenes tour of the Alaska Wildlife Rescue Center and aquarium which was fun and informative. Our last day in Seward was another highlight as we loaded onto a helicopter for the 15 min ride onto another glacier where a dog-mushing camp was awaiting us. Our 110 lb musher, Kaitlyn, seated us on a 3-seat sled with 11 dogs hooked up and ready. Once seated, Kaitlyn walked to the front of the dogs as they jumped to attention barking, howling, and filled with excitement to begin their run…a truely amazing and inspiring sight and experience. We were driven around for about 5 miles on the open glacier, stopping occasionally for pics and being introduced to each dog. Then we returned to camp for the puppy visit with 6, 7-week old Alaskan Huskies…so cute! The ride on the chopper for the flight back through the towering cliffs to the airport from whence we came. We walked around the streets of Seaward, dining at several places during the week, drinking at a few more, and filled with memories of a great visit. The last 2 nights we ate dinner at a lodge/restaurant we had passed by all week……it was one of the best places we enjoyed during our trip, including a full bar and good wine selection.
So tomorrow, June28, we pack up our wagons and head for Palmer/Wasilla for 4-5 days of down time and just doing whatever we want…no planned activities. We’ll look forward to revealing our finds and adventures on our next blog update…whenever that may be. Some other tidbits:
- Pictures we include with each blog are posted in groups. When you click on an individual picture to make it bigger you can then scroll through all the pics in that group. But you’ll only get those pics. You need to notice when the pics begin to repeat then click on another pic in the next grouping to begin scrolling again. Confusing, I know.
- When looking at blog and want to see the full description for each heading, you need to click on the Bold printed heading to reveal the full posting for that entry. Initially you only see each Bold heading and an abbreviated description.
- If you want to be automatically alerted to new postings, you need to click on the ‘FOLLOW’ tab which will then send you an email as new entries are published.
- It always amazes me that East of the Mississippi where land is limited and expensive, most RV parks are large with large individual sites with lots of room between each. However, West of the Miss where land is relatively inexpensive and plentiful, they pile you in like sardines and you can almost reach out and touch your neighbors on each side. i just don’t get it.
- Earlier I said I saw the biggest truck I had even seen, with 30 wheels. I’ve now seen bigger ones which are that same 30 wheeler, but also trailering another equal-size trailer with 20 more wheels….so a 50 WHEELER. Damn!
- As we were were exploring and driving through some back streets of Seaward, I had to suddenly hit the brakes as 2 moose darted out from between houses right in front of us, hopping house fences as they worked their way through the neighborhood. (see below pics)
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