Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula
Our “bearfooting” continued in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula- home to Cooper Landing, Seward, Homer, Soldotna and Kenai which make up 45% of the state’s population. This south central, Gulf coast peninsula is comprised of high mountains and broad river valleys. The climate is maritime- rain & fog with mild temperature fluctuations. This variable terrain and climate provide an outstanding habitat for a wide assortment of plants and animals. Our digital cameras really got a workout!
Cooper Landing is a thickly forested wilderness community on the startling blue Kenai River. We were fortunate and camped at the Kenai Princess Campground which provided us with all the services of their Lodge! We were truly pampered during our stay there. Hiking above the river was a feast for the eyes as the spruce, birch, alder and aspen densely populate the river’s banks along with wildflowers. Surrounding the Lodge were gorgeous plantings of wildflowers and annuals. Training our binoculars to the mountains revealed Dall sheep and Mountain goats- although truth be told, they appeared as moving white dots, but we were assured by the staff that is what we were viewing.
Seward is framed by the Kenai Mountains on one side and Resurrection Bay on the other making it a picturesque seaport. Our not to miss experiences in Seward were the Exit Glacier & the Alaska Sea Life Center.
Named by explorers because of its suitable “exit” from the Harding Ice Fields, Exit Glacier is a fabulous example of how our climate has changed. Driving up to Exit Glacier in the Kenai Fjords National Park, signs are posted to show how far the glacier has retreated in the last few hundred years. The most drastic retreat has been in the last 75 years. The rangers at this wonderful park were very informative and maintain an amazing 1.5 mile uphill, trail to the very edge of the glacier.
Something wonderful did come out of the Valdez oil spill- the Alaska Sea Life Center, a $56 million marine life and rehabilitation center that is the only cold- water marine science facility in the western hemisphere. Many of their resident animals are temporary, as the Center rescues abandoned, sick or injured animals from all over the coast of Alaska. Large aquariums display the many aquatic cold water habitants of Alaska’s waters, and a 21-foot deep exhibit with tall windows allows us humans to marvel at the speed and grace of puffins and other seabirds as well as rehabilitating harbor seals as they dive and glide underwater.
On our departure from Seward, we got our opportunity to see some Trumpeter Swans again. This time we stopped and were able to capture their beauty and grace. John was even able to get a photo of their mating dance!
Homer is affectionately known as, “the quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem.” And, although they had enough pubs & fishing boats to live up to that name, it is also an artists’ colony with 8 galleries. While there, we dined at a delightful, organic restaurant, the Sourdough Express Restaurant & Bakery. Not only were the seafood cakes and Kodiak brownies delicious, the owner and staff were so welcoming that they made our dinner there memorable.
Exploring the overlook above the Kachemak Bay in Homer, we discovered the Wynn Nature Center, a non-profit dedicated to preserving the Bay’s natural habitat and to educating people to appreciate the native plants and wildlife. Comprised of about 26 acres, we spent a wonderful couple of hours wandering their trails, marveling at the preserved beauty of this coastal region.
Homer was also home to the largest number of seaplanes we have seen in Alaska. On the clearest day, we ventured down to the lake to watch them take off and land. One friendly pilot let Joy take his picture with his pride and joy.
While in Homer, we found ourselves camping next to a couple from Port Charlotte, FL. -talk about a small world. Karl & Annette were enjoying their second trip to Alaska in an RV and generously shared some great tips and information with us.
Soldotna & Kenai
On the western Kenai Peninsula, Soldotna & Kenai stretch along the Sterling Highway and the Kenai River. There are numerous unobstructed views of Mount Redoubt across the Cook Inlet. While we couldn’t see Russia from this coast, we did get to see a few of the historic buildings left by the Russians!
These towns get extremely busy during fishing season. We found ourselves here at the beginning of the Red Salmon run. Dipping for “Reds” with huge nets is an activity limited to Alaskan residents. This is considered “subsistence fishing” vs “recreational fishing.” It was quite the spectacle as we watched the residents dip netting off of the beach while the drift netters and the recreational boaters floated by at the mouth of the Kenai all vying for the salmon.
One gregarious Alaskan, Carolyn, told us how the state government uses sonar to record the number of Reds coming up the river- the day before they recorded over 250,000! She also shared the card each resident is required to turn in recording their catch at the end of the Run. The head of the household is permitted to keep 25 fish and 10 additional fish for each dependent. The Run varies day to day and usually lasts between 7 to 10 days
As a welcome gift to Soldotna, we were graciously given two canned jars of red salmon from Karen Dorcas, a local resident artist, who Joy became acquainted with while they were both participating in an online jewelry making class! Thanks to Karen’s local knowledge, we were able to easily access the beaches, parks, fishing walks, historical sites and even the local Cariboo herd in Kenai. Thank you, Karen!