We retired Dec ‘10 and spent a year traveling the western part of the United States in a 1974 Airstream. We were looking for a place to settle down, but 23,000 miles later decided that America was too large to see in only 12 months. We parked the Airstream and upgraded to a 40 ft American Eagle Motorhome. Our one-year travel timeline is now open-ended, as we have travel plans for the next two years worked out. We hope you enjoy following along as we travel this marvelous country of ours.
It has been over 3 months and the time has flown! We'll be leaving Alaska soon, but we’re
taking many good memories with us.
When I left off my tale of our adventures we were about to
leave Anchorage in search of a place to fish. A couple of nights before we left, we met up for dinner with
a cousin of Heinz’s on his dad’s side.
She and her husband were doing a whirlwind tour of the state and this
was their last night before flying back to Michigan. We all agreed that Alaska is a magical place and we’d love
to come back.
Kathleen, me, and Heinz
Then it was off to Willow Creek for Heinz and I. Around 40 miles north of Anchorage, the
silver salmon were in the creek and so was Heinz in short order. We spent around a week splitting our
time between Willow and Montana Creeks.
Heinz fished and pulled in several nice-sized silver salmons.
for a morning’s “work”.
Especially when a fillet is this big!
While Heinz was off doing his manly thing, I played the role
of the gatherer and found that the high-bush cranberries were ripe.So I picked berries, in between doing a
pounds of wild cranberries…
on the stove…
…make great cranberry syrup on your morning pancakes!
As far as the photography, I toddled around, having fun
trying out a new set of magnifying filters, a 50mm fixed lens, and practicing
with the manual controls.Took
some pretty good photos, if I say so myself.
Mushrooms make great models, very cooperative at holding still…
the wind is blowing.
The leaves were
beginning to turn, guess summer is almost over.
Then I rounded a turn in the path and found this little guy taking a
stroll towards me.Didn’t spot
mom, but I figured it was a good time to head for home.
We also came to realize that fishing in Alaska is not all
about the fish.Here it is truly a
family affair.It was nice to see
families out enjoying themselves, fishing together, and stocking up the family
freezer for winter.
Hey Dad, I
think I’ve got one! What to you
mean my line won’t reach the fish and doesn’t even have a hook?
Now watch me;
it’s all in the balance.Yes,
that’s her pink and purple tackle box
in the background.
I’ve heard of
starting them young, but really. That IS a fishing
pole in her hand!
Now this is truly a family affair, five kids, two
parents, one coffee thermos,
and when he was done, 4 fishing poles.
In short order our time on the creeks was over and it was
back to Anchorage once again.But
this time it was to pick up guests.Heinz’s cousin Norbert and his girlfriend, Marion, flew over to spend 3
weeks with us and see Alaska.And
boy, did we see it - well, the south central portion of it anyway.
I would like to thank Norbert, Marion, and Heinz for their
photographic contributions to this blog entry.Between the four of us I think we got some pretty nice shots
of Alaska.I hope you like the
upcoming virtual journey.
Marion and Norbert on arrival, the sign says it all.
After a good night’s sleep, we left Anchorage headed for the
town of Homer and destinations in between along the Kenai Peninsula.The little town of Hope, 96 miles
south, seemed like a great first stop.Hope, a former gold-mining town with a current population of 148, is
located on the northern end of the Kenai Peninsula, on the south shore of the
Turnagain Arm of Cook’s Inlet.
After the discovery of gold in Six Mile Creek in 1895, more
than 3,000 stampeders headed for the area. By 1897 there was a thriving
commercial center with stores, hotels, social halls, community councils, a post
office, a school and of course, saloons.But Hope’s heyday was short.In 1898, news of the gold rush in Canada’s Yukon arrived and most of the
miners packed up and headed for the Klondike.There is still a school located in Hope with a total of 14
students, grades 1-12.These days
the school district and local retail businesses catering to the tourists and
weekend fishermen provide the only employment in town producing a median income
of $24,432 per family.
There are still original buildings in town, a small, but
nice historic museum, fishing or gold panning in Six Mile Creek if you are so
inclined, and hiking trails leading into the Chugach National Forest.
and Bar in Hope.
This was the second
school building in Hope and now houses the town library.
this in the museum - Flying Manual,
circa 1938, complete with instructions for building your own Hickman Baby
in the museum were these tobacco boxes used by miners to indicate boundaries of
their claims.They were nailed to
a tree at each corner of the claim with copies of the location notice inside so
everyone would know an area was already staked.
Heinz had been telling Norbert for weeks about the great the
fishing is here in Alaska and had him all ready to head out for salmon.So our next stop along the Kenai
Peninsula was the Russian River.Norbert
had never fished before, so we got him a license, rented some hip boots, and
Heinz schooled him up.The ferry
didn’t start running until 0700, but the boys had a plan.Since the ferry did not start as early
as they wanted, we were to all get up at 0500, be dressed and ready to leave by
0530, Marion and I would drive them 2 miles down the road to a spot they could
wade across the river and be in place by 0630 at the latest, gaining themselves
all of 30 minutes or so fishing time – 30 minutes.R-i-g-h-t,
lessons the night before.
As with most “the best of plans” it didn’t go as planned. Let me put it this way - we did get up at 0500; we did get dressed and were ready to leave
by 0530; we did start breakfast right
away; but then we sat around drinking coffee/tea and talking until 0645 (a pattern
that would repeat itself throughout the trip).After that morning our mantra (when discussing what time to
get up) quickly became – “5 AM, because we OWN 5 AM!”
We got to the ferry promptly at 0700, got in line to
purchase tickets when they opened, and along with several others, waited, and
waited, and waited.At 0800,
someone finally let someone else know that no one was at the ticket
office.Soon a car roared up, a
third person knocked on one trailer to wake up the fourth person, who came out
five minutes later, to walk to yet another trailer to wake up the fifth person,
who came to open the booth and get the ball (ferry) rolling (ferrying).
A lot of life
is about timing, and we were there on Sunday morning, and the ferry operators appear
to have had a pretty good Saturday night.So, we were up by 0500, and finally on the river by 0830 – and the whole
trip was only about 200 yards (heavy sigh).
head out, but NOT at 0530!
on the ferry, eager to catch his first salmon.
Second lesson –
this one on the river.
Concentrating on Heinz’s instructions.
caught the first fish, but Norbert quickly mastered the fine art of netting them.
And that was one ugly fish.At this stage of a pink salmon’s life (red body and green
head/tail, and VERY large teeth) they are no longer very good to eat.They are about to or have already,
spawned and are dying.So back into
the water he went.
I’m not sure, but I think I heard Norbert repeating the rules in his sleep that night.
After fishing all day, the boys caught three or four played-out
salmon and one Dolly Varden (a type of trout), and came home soaked – Norbert
from his hip boots filling up with water when he got out a little too deep, and
Heinz from straight out falling into the river.The guys acknowledged that with the results they were
getting - it was time to move on.The
next morning we hitched up, and drove further south towards Homer.
Along the way we stopped in Soldatna to visit the Homestead
Museum, see a couple of sights, and hike the Seven Lakes Trail (which only goes
by 5 lakes - go figure) in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.We had beautiful weather, an amazing
place to hike, great company, and mosquitoes, lots and lots of mosquitoes.Luckily most of them were attracted to
Norbert, so as long as you stayed at least 4 feet away from him, you had no
fearless leader and the group’s designated “mosquito sacrifice”.
During the day
Norbert decided to do his best Vladimir Putin impression and went for a swim,
actually more of a quick dip - that water was cold.
right Norbert, stay a few feet away and keep your little buzzing friends with
the day view of Engineer Lake.
Next was a brief visit to Nikolaevsk, a small village just outside
of Anchor Bay.Anchor Bay is the
westernmost town in the U.S. accessible by auto – a visit a check-off on your
list of Alaska “must-do’s” –
because there really is not much else to see or do there. But I digress.
of Our Lord Church, Nikolaevsk, AK.
Russian Orthodox Cemetery
church also has a cemetery adjoining it dedicated to veterans of the armed
The cemeteries were
moving and dignified places as the fog moved in.
Arriving in Homer, we quickly set up camp, and took
ourselves down to the shops on the Spit.There we booked an afternoon flight-seeing tour to watch the bears on Katmai
Island, and a water taxi to take us across the bay to hike in Kachemak State
Park.Happy with our plans for the
next two days we wandered through the shops and fixed a leisurely dinner while
watching the sunset.
Shops along the Homer Spit.
Marion kicking back and waiting for the call to dinner.
cook just gets NO respect.
But the sunset was
worth the wait.
We were up and moving the next morning after 0500 (remember
- we OWN that time, but nothing said we had to use it).Breakfast time had quickly become a
time full of dreams and schemes (requiring early rising and… well, ACTION,) but
somehow we almost always managed to eat, drink, and talk our way to 8:00, 9:00,
10:00… or beyond.
On this day, our first stop was the Ocean and Islands
Visitor Center (around noon) where they had a special exhibit of wildlife
photography.Marion (also a
photography enthusiast) and I spent a bit of time drooling over the photos and
trying to figure out how they were done.Following that we went up Skyline Drive to eat lunch and enjoy the
scenery.Unfortunately a large
part of the scenery was an enormous fog bank moving in from the Pacific.Sigh, our previously scheduled bear flight-seeing
trip had to be cancelled and rebooked for the next day, pushing our hike in Kachemak
out another day as well.
Homer and the Spit from Skyline Drive.All that white across the middle is not glare or a bad photograph
- it’s fog, lots and lots of fog, and the reason our bear-viewing flight was
We filled up the rest of the day driving around town,
wandering through galleries, and generally relaxing.The next afternoon some fog moved in again, but the pilots at
Alaska Bear Adventures said that it was safe to
fly, and the bear-viewing flight was on. The flight over to Katmai Island was amazing and well worth
the cost - even if we hadn’t seen any bears.
Imagine taking off in a small plane seating six, including
the pilot.Think of flying over
blue green water, green mountains, white snow, and white and blue glaciers, and
lakes in the tops of volcanic calderas, then landing on a thin strip of sandy
beach and seeing a bear sitting by the water with a salmon in its mouth.Though the following photos will give
you an inkling of what we saw and experienced, there is no way that photos can
do justice to the spectacular sights.
trying out his “Alaskan sneakers”.
The rest of us suited
up and ready to go.
mountains along the Alaskan coastline.
Glacier stream emptying into the Shelikof
Majestic is the only
word that came to mind.
glacier by air.
What a view!
Glacial lake in
a volcanic caldera.
Close enough to
reach out and touch – at times it looked as if we might
not clear the next ridge.
To get a really good feel for what our flight over the glacier was like, check out this 1-minute video that Norbert shot.
River running from the
mountains to the ocean.
Our landing strip.
Bear with salmon.
Heinz was looking through the binoculars when the bear started charging
towards us.He freaked until he
realized she was after a fish, not him.
Mom chasing down dinner for
Heading off to
look for a better fishing spot.
Heinz and the pilot helping
me drag my feet out of the mud. This was not simple beach sand we were trekking
sighed when helping me up from my knees, but I had the last laugh when he sat
down in the mud!
the way back to Homer.None of us
could quite get those grins off our faces.From L to R: Marion, Pieter (a Swede who also flew in our
plane), me, Heinz, and kneeling, Norbert.
The sunset on the flight
poor guy who had to clean out our plane - Heinz’s seat.
Teresa will kill me
if I get that much mud on the car seat!Careful, Marion, this
is a G-rated blog.
Day four in Homer and we hopped on a water taxi and rode
across the bay to Kachemak Bay State Park and the Glacier Lake Trail.This popular hike crosses flat terrain
before winding through stands of cottonwood and spruce.Along the way the trail intersects with
the Grewingk Glacier Trail.We took
the Grewingk Trail for around a mile just to ride the Grewingk Creek Tram.The tram is a hand-operated cable car
crossing the creek.
The Grewingk Creek Tram
Norbert helping bring the tram
to our side of the creek.
Content with our achievement, we doubled back to the Glacier
Lake Trail and continued on our way to the broad, open beaches of Grewingk
Glacier Lake.Beautiful and
peaceful, this is a wonderful place to stop, eat lunch, and relax for a
Relaxing over lunch at Grenwingk Glacier.
berries along the path.Nice to
look at, but not to eat.
Marion playing wood nymph.
Hiking back to the beach for our
ride to Homer.
Too, our taxi, picking us up at the end of the day.
Too soon it was time to travel north out of Homer. We headed for the town of Palmer, and
the AlaskaState Fair. In 1935 the U.S. government offered homesteads in the
Matanuska Valley. A farming colony
was established with the intent of opening up Alaska, providing food to the
military in case of war, and giving families a fresh start. A total of 203 families from Michigan,
Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma were selected. Four years later, only 40% of those original colonists still
During their first year, the colonists constructed homes,
cleared fields, and started a town.By July 1936, they were ready for a celebration.The Matanuska Valley Fair Association
was formed and they held a four-day fair in September.The fair coincided with the opening of
the Knik River Bridge, which linked the city of Anchorage and the Valley by
road for the first time.This,
combined with the railroad, meant that people from all over the state could
attend the fair.That year’s
events included the crowning of the Fair Queen, a baby show, boxing matches,
horse races, dances, a rodeo, and hundreds of agricultural entries, including
giant cabbages, carrots, peas, and other vegetables.Annual fairs have been held in Palmer ever since.
The giant cabbage contest tradition began in 1941, when the
manager of the Alaska Railroad offered a $25 prize for the largest
cabbage.Max Sherrod of the
Matanuska Valley took the prize with a 23 pounder.By 2012, Palmer farmer Scott Robb set a new record for the
world’s heaviest cabbage at 138.25 pounds.Two new state records were set at the 2013 Fair: Dale
Marshall of Anchorage with an 89.25-inch-long gourd, and Kathleen Plouview of
Wasilla with a sunflower with a head width of 20 inches.
Pony ride at the fair.
lb. cabbage.This year’s Grand
Prize went to one at 117.95 lbs.
71.4 lb. rutabaga
How about almost 5 lbs. of carrot?
beautiful salmon, but who drank all the Crown Royal?
would have gotten my vote.
years of State Fair entries and a lifetime entrant number.
A budding "Alice" proudly holding the stuffed cat she made.
I’ve got lots more to tell you about, but will leave that
for my next (and probably last) posting from Alaska.Soon, I promise - I’ve already started it!Now, now, don’t whine Bert - it isn’t
So I’ll leave you with some of our friends of the day.
Jellyfish out of his
element (sorry, some puns are just too obvious to pass up).
The Daytona Speedway of
sand snails.These little guys can
really get some speed up.
that missed the tide.
Spruce Grouse along
the 7 Rivers Trail.
Marion’s friend – she
decided that seeing real bears from a bit more distance would be just fine.
browsing through a front yard in Homer.
Pups for sale napping
in the bed of a pickup.Who can
resist these little guys?