It is hard to believe that the month of June has already come and gone. We’ve settled into a comfortable routine with our duties as school grounds hosts. We take turns with the Monroes (also parked at the high school), walking the grounds in the evenings, checking to make sure all the doors are locked and windows closed. We were afraid we would get bored, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Having friends nearby makes a world of difference. We rotate fixing dinner for all of us three nights a week. Karen and Galen (parked at the middle school), members of the San Antonio Riverpickers, are patiently teaching Donna and us to play the mountain dulcimer, so we’ve had several music sessions. But don’t rush out to the music store – we’re not quite ready for recording a CD yet! Reading also keeps us occupied, as did the one and only puzzle we’ve had time to put together. We are taking advantage of the nearby bike and walking path that can take us either into Kenai or Soldotna.
With almost 20 hours of daylight, we have lots of hours to do anything that may appeal to us. As a matter of fact, time has often gotten away from us. We may be sitting reading a book, thinking the day is still young, when actually it’s almost 11 pm and the sun is still visible in the sky. We have yet to see it fully dark here. At best, it gets to be twilight for a couple of hours before the sun pops up again around 3 am. Luckily, our day/night shades are doing a good job of darkening the RV so we can sleep.
Larry has temporarily re-joined the ranks of the employed, getting a seasonal job at Home Depot here in Kenai. After a week of intensive training, he works primarily in the lumber department but can be called to work in electrical. Because we have no plans to travel on weekends, he will be working Fridays, Saturdays, and Sunday afternoons. His paycheck will help offset the higher fuel costs when we leave here mid-August. Another plus is that he can pick up a job at any other Home Depot should we be in an area long enough to do so. Perhaps he’s found a third career – NOT!
A little information about our home for the summer…Kenai is the largest city (population 7,000) on the Kenai Peninsula. Located where the Kenai River meets Cook Inlet, Kenai offers many opportunities to appreciate wildlife, art, recreation and the area’s history. Its “Native inhabitants, the Dena’ina, a tribe of Athabascan Indians, and later the Russians and Americans, all made the mouth of the Kenai River the center of their presence” here. Kenai has been dubbed the “oil capital of Alaska” when oil was discovered in 1957. Kenai’s economy was originally based on oil and gas production as well as commercial fishing but tourism also plays an important role now.
In addition to wonderful views of the Kenai River and Cook Inlet, there are miles of sandy beaches, two mountain ranges and three active volcanoes (Mounts Spurr, Redoubt and Iliamna, all located approximately 50 miles across the inlet). Mt. Redoubt plays hide and seek – we’ve nicknamed it the disappearing mountain. We were here several days before it made a very dramatic appearance as we rounded a bend on the main road. How spectacular to see this over 10,000’ snow-capped volcanic mountain just seem to pop up. On clear days, it is highly visible. On other days, clouds camouflage its location. It last erupted December 1989 through April 1990. We have recently noticed steam coming from Mt. Iliamna…exciting to see but hopefully that’s all we’ll see while we are here.
The area is great for wildlife viewing. How neat to see moose trotting just across our ‘front yard’, including the one that Shelley barked at and spooked, as it was ambling near the parking lot entrance. We’ve also seen caribou, (in addition to some stragglers, we’ve also seen a herd of about 27 adults and 6 young ones), several other moose, including a mother and baby, and lots of bald eagles. One eagle recently swooped close to Shelley as we were walking through one of the neighborhoods, eyeing her as a potential meal, but it wisely flew off, probably when it realized she was way too big to carry off.
Some of the tourist-y things we’ve done:
The oldest buildings in south central Alaska are located here, at Old Town Kenai, just a short distance from the Kenai Visitors & Culture Center, where we picked up a walking tour map. Old Town contains buildings occupied by a mix of Alaska Natives, Russians and Americans, used for homes as well as businesses. Subsistence fishers, hunters and gatherers, fur traders, religious teachers, cannery workers, homesteaders, and oil explorers all resided here. The confluence of cultures continues today.
The Russian influence is seen in the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church, built in 1894 and one of the oldest standing Orthodox churches in Alaska. Services are still regularly held in this National Historic Landmark. A Russian Orthodox priest was present when we visited the church and allowed us to look inside. He told us the church has about 13 parishioners, with occasional visiting guests. Nearby is the Chapel of St. Nicholas, built in 1906, as a tribute to the first missionary in the area, Father Nikolai.
Scout Park is a scenic overlook where the Kenai River and Cook Inlet meet and is located in Old Town. This park, also named Beluga Lookout, is where we hope to spot beluga whale pods as they feed on salmon, once the salmon are actively running (mid-July). The beluga whale is the only all white whale. We’ve been whale watching there a few times in the hopes the belugas might be in earlier than July but have been rewarded instead with eagles and harbor seals, as well as thousands of seagulls. One evening, while watching the sunset from the bluff, we saw the mountain range to the east tinged in pink – an aaahhh moment.
On Saturdays during the summer, a farmers market is held in the parking lot of the Kenai Visitors & Cultural Center. No fresh produce yet but it’s still early. Nearby is the Burger Bus, a converted school bus that serves very tasty and generous portions of burgers, halibut sandwiches, other sandwiches and fries. We’ve enjoyed lunch at the outdoor picnic tables.
One Monday, Karen and Galen chose Captain Cook State Recreation Area, about 25 miles from Kenai, to serve their weekly meal to our gang. We grilled sausages over a campfire, finishing off the meal with S’mores. From the bluff at the picnic area, there is a spectacular view of Cook Inlet and on clear days, you can see the oil and gas platforms. The beach below the bluff is scattered with various types of rocks and pebbles – a geologist’s dream. The tide was out but it isn’t safe to walk on what looks like wet sand but is actually glacial silt. Some sections act similar to quicksand. Warnings are posted about walking out on the mudflats.
The Kenai River Festival was held in Kenai one weekend. Several of the booths were set up with children in mind but one that interested everyone was the Bird Learning Center in Anchorage, a rehab facility for injured birds. On display was a great horned owl that was fascinated with birds flying overhead, and a gray owl with the most beautiful face.
After dropping Shelley off for doggie daycare at a nearby kennel, we all headed off towards Homer one day. We stopped at several of the pull outs where we got some beautiful views of both Mounts Redoubt and Iliamna. One memorable stop was at Anchor Point, about 20 miles this side of Homer. Located there is the sign marking the most westerly point on the North American continent that is accessible by a continuous road system. Anchor Point is also the location of a private boat launch service, done by tractors. They actually enter the water to either offload or reload a boat on its trailer, going out several hundred feet into the inlet. This method has revolutionized sport-fish access to Cook Inlet by allowing boats to launch at just about any tide, rather than waiting for high tide. (We later found out there is a $40 fee to launch from this area – fishing must be pretty good to justify the extra cost.) We walked the beach while there and observed over a dozen bald eagles and lots of seagulls snacking on some rather large fish.
Homer (population 3,950), nicknamed the Halibut Fishing Capital of the World, is a small maritime community on the shores of Kachemak Bay, located at the southwest end of the Kenai Peninsula. Homer’s major industry is commercial fishing, but tourism is an important supplement. Jutting out for nearly five miles from its shore is the Homer Spit, a long, narrow bar of gravel, which continues to be a center of activity for the town. After the 1964 Good Friday earthquake, the Spit sank 4 to 6 feet and several buildings were relocated to higher ground. The Spit is the site of a major dock facility for commercial and private boats and is homeport to the Alaska Marine Highway ferry MV Tustumena and U.S. Coast Guard vessels. We lunched on halibut fish and chips (natch!) on the outside deck of El Pescador, watching some of the smaller boats go in and out of the harbor below. We then walked up and down part of the Spit, checking out the local stores. Located at the end is the Seafarers Memorial, dedicated to those who have lost their lives at sea. Just across the street from the memorial, a bald eagle was perched on a power pole, waiting for scraps from a nearby fish processing plant. What a pose!
One of the best bargains to be found in Homer is the Alaska Islands & Ocean Visitor Center, an interpretive educational and research facility opened in 2003 and with free admission – what a deal! You enter into a two-story glass lobby that faces Kachemak Bay. Around the corner is a room that recreates the sounds and smells of a bird rookery – it is so realistic that you think you’ve walked outside. Outdoors, a short trail and boardwalk lead down to Bishops Beach, with plenty of opportunities to spot shore birds nearby.
One afternoon we listened to a short concert put on by Hobo Jim, Alaska’s State Balladeer. He has been an Alaskan resident for over 30 years, having done commercial fishing part of that time. His songs reflect the love of the sea, fishing, and the beauty of the state. He has also written the song that will be part of the 2006 Artic Games being held in the Kenai Peninsula. We had read about Hobo Jim in Peter Jenkins’ book, Looking for Alaska, and were delighted to learn that he performs in the area often.
The Kenai Senior Center organized a hike to see the falls on the Russian River, about 60 miles from Kenai. We followed behind in our truck as they already had a van full of enthusiastic hikers. The scenery on and around the trail was gorgeous. We spotted a couple of either mountain goats or Dall sheep on a mountainside. We all kept a sharp lookout for bears as a mother and three cubs were reported to be in the area. At the falls, we spotted hundreds of salmon, jumping upstream to return to the place in which they were spawned – an awesome sight! You admire both their strength and stamina.
On the way back, we stopped for lunch at the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge in Cooper Landing, overlooking the Kenai River. The lodge is built out of cedar with several chairs located on a huge porch, inviting one to sit down and enjoy the scenery. It was like being in a picture postcard.
One Sunday afternoon, we took a short drive to see the village of Ninilchik. Ninilchik and nearby Clam Gulch are known for the abundance of razor clams that can be harvested when the tides are at their lowest. We’ve heard it is tedious work but worth the effort. Ninilchik is also the site of Holy Transfiguration Russian Orthodox Church, built in 1900, overlooking Cook Inlet. Our good fortune was to be able to tour the church itself with Marion, our tour guide and docent. The church has just recently been allowed to be open to the public, in addition to the days on which services are conducted, as long as the tours aren’t commercialized. Marion gave us a history of the church, explained some of the icons, and the symbolism of the Orthodox cross. We wandered through the church cemetery afterwards, noting that several deaths were fishermen that had perished at sea.
Earlier during the month, George and Sherry, fulltimers who are hosting at the Pillars, an Alaska State Park boat launch facility about five miles south of Kenai, stopped by one afternoon to introduce themselves and learn more about the school ground hosting program. We chatted awhile and agreed to go visit them soon. One sunny afternoon, we drove to the Pillars – what a beautiful park right on the Kenai River. We spotted bald eagles and several species of waterfowls and saw lots of fish jumping. We learned that the Kenai River flows at the rate of 4-5 mph, and watching it, you can believe that speed. They’ve offered to take us on a scenic boat tour of the river and we hope to be able to do that in the future.
Our plans for July: more day trips plus an extended trip to Seward, on the opposite side of the Kenai Peninsula and located on Resurrection Bay.