On the Road on the Kenai Peninsula

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May 31st 2017
Published: August 14th 2017
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Wednesday, we picked up our rental car in preparation for our drive around the Kenai Peninsula. The car rental place was a very tiny "off brand" outfit that was pretty difficult to find. After passing the address at least once, we texted him from the hotel courtesy van and finally located him standing by the curb at an unmarked commercial driveway. His office was around the back of the building, in a small camper/mobile home that he apparently lived in. The price was right and the vehicle turned out to be fine, though an older and very basic model.

Before leaving Anchorage, we drove to the Alaska Native Medical Center, which has some incredible displays of Native American art. We spent quite a while there and were treated to a variety of art displays.

Our first destination for the Kenai leg of the trip was Homer, a small town at the end of the peninsula. As you might expect, there is some substantial Russian in some of the small towns on Kenai. It was a beautiful day for a drive, so we stopped for a picnic lunch at a wayside park. It was quiet and peaceful spot to stop. When back on the road again, we saw our first "real" moose of the trip, a mother and her calf, off in the distance standing in a field by the road. They were too far to get a good photo, but no doubt, there they were! What beautiful views of Alaska as we drove south!

In Homer, we stayed 3 nights at The Ocean Shores Motel. It's a small place with just a couple rows of motel buildings. Fortunately (or due to good planning) the "second" row of units (where we stayed) has a clear view of the water and mountains (though the first row is in the foreground!). The photo is somewhat marred by the presence of a huge tour bus parked behind the motel, but the sunsets were priceless! The room has a large picture window looking out on the water and mountains, as well as a small balcony, so the presence of some distractions in the foreground was minor.

After settling into our room, we drove out to Homer Spit, which has a lot of touristy shops and restaurants, as well as a stony beach and some art galleries. While there, we visited the Seafarer's Memorial, a monument to those lost at sea in pursuit of their livelihood. We walked the pier area and checked out the location of our departure for the kayaking trip for the following morning.

One thing that's difficult to get used to is the "midnight sun." In addition to your body trying to figure out what just happened when you crossed into the 4th different time zone, it's not even dark when it should be! After dinner, even a relatively late dinner, you head back to the motel, and it's as bright as you'd expect at about 4 pm! In fact, it's still nearly full light (maybe a bit towards "dusk") at 11:30 pm. Fortunately, the motels all have excellent room darkening shades!

Thursday morning, we were up early for our full-day kayak trip. After breakfast, we headed back to the Spit and made our way to the water-taxi owned by St. Augustine's Kayak and Tours. We boarded the taxi and were ferried to the dock where the racks of kayaks awaited us in Peterson Bay. Our guide, Tom, was very helpful and instructive, as well as being an expert on the local wildlife. He arranged the trip so we would be going with the tides as much as possible, which I appreciated! We had a very small group, just my cousin and me, and Cedric, a new friend from New York. We paddled from the kayak base through Peterson Bay, and portaged across a small isthmus; actually, Tom portaged while we enjoyed the scenery! From the other side, we paddled along the peninsula and out to Gull Island, which was the highlight of the trip for me.

Gull Island is a large, craggy rock formation that crops up sharply from the water. It was covered with (you can guess...) gulls. They nest all over the surface in the small hollows and on tiny shelves. As we approached, the gulls on one entire side of the island just FLUSHED off the side in a single spectacular motion. Tom pointed out the Bald Eagle that had just landed on a metal frame constructed on the top of the island. He said the eagle's arrival is what had started the exodus. Paddling closer, we could see gulls were still covering the surface of the rocks. As we paddled around the island, gulls started to return (even though the eagle had not left), making even more of a racket than when they left. Tom said the increased squawking and cries were a result of the returning gulls fighting over whose nest was whose! Apparently they don't always go back to the nest they left!

While paddling around Gull Island, we also saw some Puffins, though we didn't get close enough to really get a good view of them. There was also a huge number of Murres, who floated along as a long "raft" of birds, who dove together to fish, then took off low over the water. They were SO FAST, I was afraid one of them would fly right into me!

When we got back to the Spit, we returned to Ocean Shores before dinner. There was a sandy path that went from the motel parking lot all the way down to the beach, and about one-third of the way down, there was a picnic table where we set up our "cocktail hour." While relaxing and discussing the day's activities, a Bald Eagle flew directly overhead; it was so close it was easy to see it's majesty and beauty. He was too fast for me and my camera, though! But before we left, either he circled around again, or we had a few more fly-bys. Perhaps we were on a direct flight line for the eagles hunting for dinner! Drat! Missed them all!

Friday, we split up for the morning. My cousin went to sketch, and I took myself off for a hike. It was a beautiful hike on a clear day with blue skies. I hiked for a couple hours, mostly uphill one way and downhill on the way back! My FitBit recorded about 80 floors on that hike! When I came down and drove back to town, I was surprised to see that there was fog covering the water. Much of he mountains across the water had been obscured by the fog, with only a small amount of a few peaks visible.There were no clouds up where I was! As the fog lifted, it was one of the weirdest things I've ever seen. The fog burned off both at water level, AND across the top of the fog, leaving a relatively narrow band of fog hanging over the water.

Saturday morning, we planned to leave for Seward, but first wanted to hit the Farmers' Market. It was surprisingly large, including the expected produce, bakery items, honey, soaps, candles, herbs, along with some artisans showing their wares.

On the way north, we stopped at a Russian Orthodox Church, The Holy Assumption Orthodox Church, which provided the region's first access to public health; the priests there were instrumental in Small Pox vaccinations. The original church was built in 1894 and is believed to be one of the oldest standing Orthodox churches in Alaska; they still hold services there. The church was a bit difficult to locate, but when we did, we found it on a beautiful bluff overlooking the water, with a cemetery surrounded by a white picket fence.


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