Skip to comments.(Vanity) My Trip to Alaska, Part IV: The Kitty Goes to Kenai
Posted on 07/20/2006 9:48:34 PM PDT by grey_whiskers
Summer in Alaska, Part IV : The Kitty Goes to Kenai
More tales of the feline explorer, grey_whiskers, and her human consorts: myself, my wife, the Cubs (our teenagers), and Auntie Em, on vacation in Alaska.
For Part I, click here.
For Part II, click here.
For Part III, click here.
As I mentioned in Part III, one of the most beautiful ways to travel in Alaska is by train. Unfortunately, the Alaska Railway is biased against fur-bearers (no doubt wishing to avoid the shredding of their upholstery), so our group split up for travels within the Kenai peninsula. I drove the veteran Jeep Grand Cherokee rental, accompanied by grey_whiskers, prowling at my side; and the rest of the group got to ride on the Alaska Railway.
We actually did not go directly from Denali National Park to the Kenai area, but spent the night in Anchorage, and went on our way in the morning. Early in the morning. There were security checks similar to the airlines, and passengers were required to be at the train station in Anchorage at 5:45 AM. I dropped off the rest of the clan at the train station, and after a quick stop for coffee, grey_whiskers and I were on our way.
[NOTE: I now interrupt the narratives flow, in order to talk about one of the sights near Anchorage, which did not fit in the earlier installments.]
Just South of Anchorage, and extending quite a long way as you travel down the Kenai Peninsula, is the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet. It is an arm of the Pacific Ocean which reaches almost all the way to metropolitan Anchorage. It is famous for its tidal bore, which does NOT live up to its name. The tidal bore is simply an area of the Turnagain Arm which has large fluctuations in its tides. On the order of *thirty* feet. You can go out quite away at low tidewarning notices say not to get caught on the mudflats, lest you drown. We braved the low tide, but did not spend too long a time. The interesting thing to me was the rivulets of water (runoff? springs? who knows?) which carved little Grand Canyons in the mud on their way to the main body of water, only to be obliterated by the incoming tide. And the large heaps of rock which looked impregnable at low tide, only had their top foot or two poking out of the sound at high tide. There are roadside pulloffs with parking at various places along the Turnagain arm, going South, for maybe 60 miles or so on the way to Kenai.
Now to our regularly scheduled program
The Alaska Railway trip going to Kenai is among the most beautiful anywhere. The tracks roughly parallel the road, going along the Turnagain Arm, and with the Chugach Mountains (I think; but theyre still awe-inspiring) in front of you and on either side. The day our crew went, the train wasnt crowded; so they got to linger in the breakfast car, with its large windows and cupola presenting an uninterrupted view. Much better than driving, where you have to look out for other cars and keep the car on the road.
Coming into Seward, our destination, I had time to kill, so I walked around town. We did not stop at the Alaska SeaLife Center (on the far end of town), although I hear it is beautiful. The town has a central area, with a mini-boardwalk. A number of day cruise companies are there, as well as a dock for the cruise ships and local fishing vessels, both sport and commercial. There is a diner/souvenir shop/bike shop I wish we had stopped in, but we didnt have time. Most of the bikes (IIRC) are Mongoose and Kona mountain bikes. The center of town is a cluster of restaurants (including an ice cream shop / coffee shop, yum), and a hardware store which supplies a bit of everything from PVC piping to camping supplies to body suits. Kind of a last resort for the tourists who have forgotten something.
We had a tour at noon, and the train arrived late, so I had some anxious moments. Our tour was to last (no, not THREE hours, Gilligan) but seven. We took Major Marine Tours who had a Park Ranger or somesuch narrating on the wildlife. The Cubs of course loved the tripmy daughter spent the entire time on the front of the top deck, getting as much ocean air and wind as humanly possible. In addition to the wildlife, there was a buffet lunch of salmon and/or prime rib, with salad, soft drinks, and coffee. My wife and I should have taken Dramamine, as we got mildly seasick on the way backnothing severe, just the cradle-your-head-in-your-arms variety.
The trip was very good, in terms of wildlife. For those of you who havent taken one of these cruises, what happens is this: most people line the sides of the deck, looking outwards. Someone will spot something, and point or call out. The operators of the ship (quite experienced in genuine wildlife identification as well as false alarms) will take a look. If it is genuine, they will generally slow the ship and steer in its direction. We saw several ottersreportedly they eat 20% of their body weight in a daya bunch of sea lions on one of the islands, and four different whales expressed their view of cruise ships by mooning us. For the whale, you look for the spout first, then wait for them to surface. Remember, the spout is exhaling, so you know they have to come up soon to breathe in. Oh, yes, there were a lot of puffins aboutthey are small birds with bright orange type beaks who live on the ocean as well. The funny part about them is that they like fish. Too much, in fact. Often one will see a puffin flapping frantically in an attempt to become airborne but not achieving clearance: they weigh too much to take off, from all the fish theyve eaten. So they then have to wait a couple of hours and, well get rid of the meal, before taking off again. The tour also had a couple of tidbits of local trivia, such as describing the effects of the Good Friday 1964 Earthquake on the town (tsunami), or pointing out a State Prison on the opposite side of the bay. (No escaping *there* in the winter!) The far point of the trip was a visit to one of the glaciers on the ocean, where we sat broadside to the glacier for half an hour, waiting for one of those majestic tsunami-ettes when an iceberg the size of the Titanic breaks off, the way it always does on TV. This is called calving, but we didnt even see a single calf; in fact, we barely even saw a splash. You win some, you lose some.
But the real excitement in Seward happens on July 4: the Seward Marathon. According to local tradition, in the early 1900s one settler bet another that he could not get to the top of Mt. Marathon (about 3000 feet) and back down in an hour. The bet was accepted, but lost; and eventually it became a local tradition, and today it attracts competitors from other states. During the Marathon, the towns population swells from some 5000 to 20 or 30 thousand; we did not want to fight the crowds, so we left before the Marathon. By the way, the Marathon is an important event in Seward. While we were there, the entire staff at the Safeway (yes, Safeway, the grocery store--with a Starbucks) was wearing their Marathon t-shirts. By the way, the prices in Safeway were about the same as in the more expensive parts of Phoenix. I dont know how they do it.
Besides the race, there is the Resurrection Roadhousean Inn and fairly high-end restaurant, paneled in wood, the lodge look. It is named for the Resurrection Bay, with an old Russian fishing story behind it, I am told. While we were there we also ran across a group of tourists participating in a Backroads Adventure Vacationhike, bike, kayak. (The tours are quite good, but I dont yet have *that* kind of money, about $2000 to $2400 per person for a week or so, plus airfare.) Nonetheless, it reassured me that the place we had chosen on our own to visit, and to eat at, catered to *that* kind of crowdobviously we had picked the best place in town.
One other thing, speaking of Resurrection Roadhouse, is that if you go another eight miles or so along the road it is on, you come to the Exit Glacier, part of Kenai Fjords National Parkthis is one of a number of large glaciers all of which branch off of the Harding Ice Field, which is an expanse of some fifty square miles of ice. The Exit Glacier got its name since it afforded a relatively easy exit for those seeking to get off of the ice field entirely. We took one of the trails from the Ranger Station to the end of the glacier, whose meltwater forms one of the rushing rivers going into the town of Seward. There is also a guided hike up to the top of the glacier, climbing 3500 feet in three and a half miles (it takes eight hours). The interesting thing about the glacier was the blue color of the ice at the bottom and within the crevassesthe latter are the cracks formed in the glacier as the ice on the top slides unevenly over the ice at the bottom.
The other memorable event of Seward was taking a short boat ride to Fox Islandyou can also rent an overnight room on Fox Island, and they have modern lodging and a four-star chef. We did not do that. Instead, we opted for a four-hour kayak tour around the shores of the island. The kayaks are two-person seagoing kayaks, with rudders and storage for some of your gear. I might recommend, by the way, that if you are going to ride a two-person kayak, beware of the dreaded Im a teenager and I dont want to be caught in the same hemisphere with you syndrome. It becomes even worse when the kayaking company requires one parent to be matched with each of their offspring. On the other hand, I shudder to think just where the Cubs might have paddled to on their own if left unsupervised. Barrow? Kamchatka? Nonetheless, the kayaking was a great experience, we had a very close encounter with another otter as well as least five full minutes unobstructed view of a pair of bald eagles.
With our memory tanks charged, we prepared for the last leg of our trip.
Next and final episode: From Homer to Home.
You could be a travel guide. Your narrative is wonderful. I am so glad you had such good experiences. I did almost have a heart attack when you said you went out on the flats....several years ago, just out from Girdwood, a newlywed couple went out, she got stuck and hours and hours and hours of trying to get her out were met with failure as the tide overtook all, and the rescuers had to give up.
But if I had gone on the flats, I wouldn't be posting :-)
Maybe I closed my eyes. LOL! I'll go back and pay attention to that part. You write really well, so descriptive. Thanks.
My first Navy tour (USS O'CALLAHAN FF-1051) went through a month and a half May & June through all the Southern Port towns of Alaska.
We had a motor being rewound in Kenai. When we hit Seward, the Coast Guard let us borrow a van to drive from Seward back to Kenai to pick it up.
Probably the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.