Sunday, July 6, 2014

Glaciers and Salmon and Bears - Oh My!!!

Somebody pinch me, because I am sure I must be dreaming!  I hope all of you get to make to Alaska one day, because it is like living inside a Discovery Channel documentary, but with ALL your senses.  The sights, the scale of immensity, the smells in the air, the rush of cool air coming off a glacier, the feel of the sun on your face at 11 o'clock at night - every moment here I want to cry with the overwhelming-ness of it all.  When we left Valdez, I was sure that nothing could be prettier, and then we drove to Anchorage.  The Chugach Mountains are the most stunning view I never even imagined existed.  Every turn held more goose-bump scenery and the hundred or so pictures I took don't begin to do it justice.

The Alaska Pipeline follows the road for quite a distance
leaving Valdez

 Sheep Mountain - the tour books assure us that
there are lots of Dall Sheep to see on this mountain.
Guess they took a day off - we didn't see any

We did however, stop at the Sheep Mountain Lodge, where Noel had some delicious Reindeer Sausage and I had a fresh salmon sandwich.  The food was great, the service good and best of all, the prices, for the first time since leaving the lower 48, were reasonable!  A highly recommended stop!

 These are the kind of shells you find in Alaska!

The mountain ranges here are incredible!

We drove from Valdez to Palmer in one day and stayed at a cute campground called Mountainview Campground.  Just before reaching Palmer, there is a Musk Ox farm.  Musk ox are native to the far north in Alaska, but here they raise them for their Quivet - their fur that is softer than cashmere and warmer than wool.  I guess its a very labor intensive process (they do NOT have to kill the animal to get it), and its desirability keeps the price of the yarn around $90 an ounce.  I was feeling up all the $300 scarves - its VERY soft!  Funny looking creatures aren't they?  And they are very playful and animated.

Also while in Palmer, Alaska we stopped at the visitors center, where we learned that Palmer is quite an agricultural area, and they had a nice vegetable and flower garden next to the visitors center. 21+ hours of sunshine does a plant good!

Also in Palmer, we stopped at the Farmer Market, held in the old train depot (sound familiar Dayton peeps?), where I purchased some salve made from violet leaf, plantain and calendula.  I bought it for my dry hands (my fingers have those painful dry skin splits in them).  Since it is also was touted as "anti-inflammatory" I put some on the toe I have such painful arthritis in.  I think its helping!  Geez now I wish I had bought a bigger container.

So anyway, we left Palmer and went into Anchorage.  There seems to be a lot of poverty in Anchorage and we saw a large number of homeless people sleeping in boxes and tents throughout the area where we stayed.  We stayed at Ship Creek campground.  Nice folks and decent campground, but its right on the train track, in an industrial area and near the air force base with overhead fighter jets practicing, so it was really noisy.  I wouldn't recommend it.

While in Anchorage, we checked out Ozark Antiques, a store blending old and new.  It was quite cute and funky and right up my alley.  I wanted one of everything!

We also went to the Anchorage Botanical Gardens - which had some really interesting and unusual flowers - some were familiar, like bleeding hearts and peonies, and some new, like BLUE poppies!

We also took a walk along the bike path through Earthquake Park, which told the history of the big 1964 earthquake.  It had a nice view of Anchorage from the path -

From Anchorage, we drove down to Homer, which is on the end of the Kenai Peninsula.  The drive was once again amazing, as we followed the edge of the mountains along the Cook Inlet.  

 This plant grows everywhere.  Its called Cow Parsley and looks
like giant Queen Anne's Lace.  It smells nice too

 Oh, yea, just another of the hundred or more eagles we've
seen!  I can't help but take pictures of each and every one!

Glacier Ahead!

We found a great campground (Bay Crest) despite the fact that it was July 4th weekend and every place was packed.  The view from the RV was unforgettable!  I spent several hours just gazing out the window and reading my book with my feet up. Ahhhhhh- heavenly!

"Sunset" in Homer.  This was taken at 11:15 PM!  It's still 
hard for me to get used to that.  I use a towel to block
light from the door, stuff a cushion into the skylight/vent
and use a sleep mask in order to get to sleep!

The other two couples with us stayed down in Homer Spit - the thin strip of land at the very tip of the peninsula. That's "Homer Spit" off in the distance in the water.

Down on "the spit" as we locals call it (LOL), we walked on the beach, peeked in some of the stores, checked out the dock, and the men were most interested in "the hole".  The fishing hole is an opening in the rocks that fills in at high tide to make a small pond and the salmon fishing is supposed to be really good there.  The following morning the men got up early (4:30 am!) and tried their hand at fishing.  While others were catching them one, two, three (obviously locals that knew what they were doing), our guys came home empty handed.  Guess salmon is not what's for dinner.

Walking the beach on the Homer Spit

One of the docks in Homer

The old lighthouse is now a bar called "Salty Dog"

Funny name!

Darlene and I met for lunch and walked around the docks at low tide to see all the starfish and critters.  I love me some starfish!!

anemones, sea cucumbers and oysters

Love the colorful starfish.  And they are big!

Some people we met in Homer had told us about a great campground and flight-seeing/fishing trip in Ninilchik, a town about 35 miles north of Homer.  It sure pays to talk to strangers, because this stop has been a winner!  We are staying at "Country Boy" campground and the owner Chuck is a wealth of information, we had a nice community dinner at the campground, and booked tours for the next day.

We took a side trip from Ninilchik to see the Norman Lowell gallery.  It was like an art museum, and his work is incredible.  Check his art work out at

I had looked into flightseeing trips for bears and to view glaciers, and they were all cost-prohibitive.  Through "Talon Air", we were able to take a sea plane out of Soldotna, over the Cook Inlet, through the mountains, over a glacier and land in a lake somewhere in the middle of nowhere. The view of the glaciers were humbling and more beautiful than I have words for.

 A glacier came into view

 Flying close to the ice fields

 Glacier view

 The color melting glacial ice is in-describable!

Our shadow

 From there we transferred to a duck boat (a flat bottom oversized canoe with an engine), where we went out into some wetland areas bordering the trees and immediately saw a grizzly bear mama with three first year cubs!!  AMAZING!  We saw them approaching, and two of the cubs just played and wrestled and frolicked.  The other cub (a little girl, I'm sure!) followed her mama like a good little girl.  As they came out to the water's edge, our guide moved the boat around so we could get a little closer.  The bears didn't seem to pay any attention to us, until suddenly mama stood up, smelled the air, smelled us, and gave the word to the cubs - lets go babies!  The cubs kept standing up, looking at us, then ducking behind mama.  Then they'd stand up, look again, oops - still there! - then duck down again.  It was SOOO cute!  I'm not even posting my best bear pictures so you can be surprised when you see them blown up and in my living room when I get home!  I'm gonna need a lot of wall space after this trip! LOL

Here they come!

 "I smell bug spray! Humans! Let's go kiddos"

 Two of the cubs are actually leaning on mama with
their front legs.

 "Look bubby! Humans!"

 "Yep, they're still there!"

 I'm coming mom!

 Wrestling bear cubs!  It was just like a NatGeo documentary!

Then we spent several hours fishing for salmon.  The sockeye salmon are in their spawning stage and not eating, so you have to basically snag them in the mouth to legally catch them.  Its kind of a "cast and jerk the hook through the water".  Carl ended up catching two and Darlene one.  Since the fishing was slow, our guide took us over to where the salmon are about at the end stage of spawning, which means they've layed  their eggs and are turning red as they die.  But once they are at that stage, the meat is no good to eat, but they still put up a fight to catch.  So Alice caught one, and the guide snagged one that he let me pull in, but we had to throw them back.  Let the bears eat them!

 He put up a good fight! 

Pulling him in was surprisingly hard!  I thought after
that big halibut I caught salmon fishing would be a piece of cake.
That or I just have no upper body strength, which is likely the case.

Carl kissing his fish!

Darlene caught one, but she wouldn't touch it!

A group of happy campers!

Noel didn't come with us on this trip, so it was just the 5 of
us and our guide on the boat.

While we were fishing a two year old grizzly bear cub came down to try his hand at fishing.  He didn't have any luck either, but it sure was fun to watch him.  He didn't seem bothered at all by the 6 or 7 boats of people around.  He seems kind of skinny, but our guide said he's a second year cub, which means its his first summer alone, and he'll fatten up with the king salmon start to run.

 Poor little guy had about as much luck fishing
as I did.  No edible salmon for either of us

After several hours of fishing in the beautiful weather, 72 degrees, sunny and warm, the plane came back for us.  On the way back we flew over a beach full of seals (the pilot banked the plane hard so the left side of the plane could see them too - wheeeeee!), and a few moose, to land back safe and sound on Mickey Lake. What an unforgettable experience.  


beth cole barrineau said...

Anna... I'm in awe. Just amazing. I can't even imagine. I love love love reading your blog and don't want you to go home :)
You really have a great knack for this. Really enjoyed them all but this one is amazing. xo

Amy Schubert said...

Wonderful Blog - I am really learning a lot through your travels! Thank you for sharing this trip.

Amy Schubert