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Published: June 28th 2016
Tuesday, June 28, 2016.
Episode 4: Wildlife spotting and beer tasting on the Kenai Peninsula.
If you drive three hours South of Anchorage, you come to the wonderful Kenai Peninsula.
This place basically showcases all of Alaska in one hit – glaciers, snow-capped mountains, terrestrial and marine wildlife, forests, national parks and quaint towns. It is a “must-see” for a first time Alaskan visitor who has the time. In a hire car, we drove down here to take it all in, stopping at the towns of Seward on one side of the peninsula, and then Homer on the other. There is a massive icefield in the middle that spawns numerous glaciers and much of it is protected as the Kenai Fjords National Park. This is best seen from the water, and we did a full-day boat tour of the region, out of Seward. We were blown away by all the wildlife sightings – breaching humpback whales, a pod of orcas, a fin whale, black and white Dall’s porpoises zig-zagging across the ship’s bow, cute sea otters floating on their backs, harbor seals floating on iceflows, sea lions, and numerous cool seabirds such as puffins. And the boat also
gets up close and personal to some awesome glaciers (much closer than a large cruise ship can). We loved this trip so much that we did a shortened version again a few days later!
Fishing is big business in the Kenai Peninsula, with salmon and halibut being the main targets. Halibuts are like fucking huge flounder and we watched some fishing charters hanging up their prizes in Seward harbor one afternoon – check out the picture below. Massive fish. Also, right now, the salmon are “running” – returning from the sea to spawn in Alaskan rivers. Good news, I thought, as this will mean the bears will be attracted , making them more visible.
Over dinner at a pizza place in Homer, Ross and I were discussing salmon and how central the fishing industry is to the Alaskan lifestyle. I said to Ross:
“Salmon are amazing. They hatch in fresh water, then migrate out to sea, undergoing dramatic physiological changes to cope with a change from life in freshwater to life in sea water. Then, after a few years at sea, they use their internal GPS to return to the exact same river that they hatched in,
where they spawn. This involves another major physiological change as they move back into fresh water. Their whole body must change how it regulates salt and water balance. Its all about osmolarity. You know about osmolarity, right?”
“Os McLarity,” said Ross. “Yes, of course. I went to school with him. Came from a single parent family. His mother was a hooker.”
The town of Homer is right at the end of the Kenai Peninsula. It has a famous pub called the Salty Dawg, that Brent Hardy recommended. It is a small, cavernous place with dollar bills stuck on absolutely everything inside (see pics below). It also had some filthy versions of nursery rhymes scrawling across wooden beams that decorum prevents me from sharing here. We’ll let the relevant folks know when we get back (you know who you are!).
Homer is an art-farty sort of place, with many residents that appear to be drop outs from mainstream society. It seemed to have more than its fair share of loopys – at least, we thought so. We were having a quick breakfast at McDonalds before hitting the road one morning and suddenly felt the need to
gulp our food and bolt out- because we became so unnerved by a weird acting, odd-looking dude who left his day pack and mobile phone on a table and then vanished! This is America, and memories of Orlando lingered. However, Homer boasts also some fine local ales, and we spent one afternoon tasting these at a local brewery. Hic.
We saw a number of wild moose on the Kenai Peninsula. First two individual females browsing by the side of the road, and, later, a large male emerging from the woods. Very impressive, and clearly rather common here in Alaska. They are VERY large animals. On one segment of the highway, a large sign indicated that it was a moose casualty area, and that caution was needed while driving so as to not hit a moose. Pity that this part of the highway also featured the only over-taking lane for miles around.
The other thing I wanted to do on the Kenai Peninsula was observe and photograph some bald eagles in the wild. I had photographed one on a pier, but not quite what I wanted. We learned that the beach at Anchor Point was the place to go.
This proved very true. The beach was littered with them – perched on some dead drift wood staring out to sea, or gliding majestically above us, or standing resolutely at the water’s edge waiting for some fishermen to return and throw some scraps. They were awesome, and, as a bird-fanatic, a wonderful sight for me.
OK, next stop, Denali National Park in the central part of Alaska.
Hope all is well, and love to all.
Craig (and Ross).
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