Friday, June 28, 2013

Rain Rain Go Away

For the first time on this trip, rain has impacted my activities – mostly cooking – in a way that leaves me wet and cold.  Woke up this morning to rain pounding on the roof of the car, and remembered I had opened the windows a bit last night for some fresh air. I had to quickly find the keys, start up the car (from the back seat) and put the windows up! A bit of a trick when you are my age and state of fitness! So I snuggled back down in the quilts and decided to see if I could wait it out.  Sure enough, about 45 minutes later the pounding on the roof had subsided.  Let's get the tea made at least, I thought. Then I can deal with whatever comes my way. I managed a whole breakfast, although it was drizzling, and I had to eat in the car.  But it cleared up, and I was on my way.

I had plans for two activities today: the Seward Sea Life Center, and hiking to Exit Glacier (a part of the park that you can reach on foot). But it was only 8 AM, and who knew what time the Sea Life center opened. I got to the parking lot, and looked up toward the building and saw an "Open" sign.  Sure enough, the center opened at 8 AM. Of course, I had seen a cruise ship in the harbor, and I know businesses open as soon as the ship pulls in, including the aquarium. I think I was their first customer of the day!  But it meant that I had the place pretty much to myself for a while at least. Being a rainy, foggy day, I assumed (correctly) that they would be busy in a little while.

I've enjoyed tidepooling for many years, ever since we lived in Hawaii in the '80's, and this was like being in heaven to me. All the stuff I would be searching for in the tidepools was here, and you could actually touch some of it. There were urchins and sea stars and anemones and sea cucumbers and sunflower stars, and some of them were babies and some were huge. I did it all! Then I went around and checked out all the other exhibits.

On the cruise yesterday, we spent some time at a rookery where we all tried to photograph the birds flying around. I got a lot of useless photographs; but this Sea Life Center had a bird room with nesting birds of the species we had seen yesterday, plus a few others. I saw Tufted Puffins and Horned Puffins up close and personal, Oystercatchers,  Eider Ducks, Harlequin Ducks and red legged Kittiwakes and I took photos of them all. Lots of photos….but I'm only including a few here!

Red Legged Kittiwakes

Horned Puffins

Eider Duck

Tufted Puffin

One of the exhibits was an octopus (named Lulu) who had laid eggs that had just begun to hatch. They were in the aquarium with her. She will die soon, but her little ones will live on. They were amazing to see. At first I thought there was some kind of debris in the tank – sort of like cottonwood bits floating in the air—but it turned out they were the little octopi. You could see them propelling themselves around, and see that they really were octopi if you got up close to them. Drew – it took me back to you in 5th grade when Mr. Alt had an octopus in an aquarium in your classroom and she laid eggs…do you remember that?


Lulu's progeny
After 3 or 4 delightful hours, I moved on to find some lunch (halibut fish and chips, yummy) and Exit Glacier. But as I was driving through Seward , I noticed murals painted on some of the walls, and when I looked it up in the Milepost, it mentioned that there were quite a few of them. Short delay for Exit Glacier – I had to find the murals!  They were quite a find; some were historic, like the one commemorating the original start of the Iditarod, some were fun (like this one called Table Games and Senior Prom), but all were great to see.

Table Games and Senior Prom

I finally got to Exit Glacier at about 3 PM, and it wasn't really raining, just kind of wet.  Seattlites will know what I mean! The hike was short (only a mile) and the trail was very level and well maintained, but it was good to get out and walk a bit. Even the mosquitos mostly stayed home, because it was cold. It was strange to see how much and how rapidly the glacier has retreated, and the stream coming out of the base was high and fast.  Not sure what that means….

Back to the campground for dinner, and it started raining again.  Oh well, my grill is covered, so I got the salmon and sweet corn ready, put them on the grill, and when they were done, ran for the car and shelter to eat.

Now it's into the van for the rest of the evening, and tomorrow, I'm off again. I don't know where…perhaps back to Anchorage for another day or so, or maybe on to Palmer and Tok and the Top of the World.  We'll see what tomorrow brings!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Cruisin' Kind of Day

 Note: if you click on the photos they will get bigger and you can see the wildlife a little better.

Seward has a lot to offer, but early in the morning I talked to the couple camped next to me, and they told me about a wonderful cruise they had taken the day before, and what they saw. I thought to myself that I might do that tomorrow, but on the way into town, I realized that today was a perfect day for cruising (sunny and clear), so I went to find out if I could get on one. I could!  It left at 11 AM (it was now 10) and it included lunch, so I didn't have to scrounge something to take with me! Somehow, the idea of being in the Kenai Fjords National Park and not seeing the Kenai Fjords just didn't make sense!

I love how the islands get lighter as they get farther away.
What a trip!  We saw sea otters, humpback whales, Orca whales, porpoises, Puffins, kittiwakes, murres (the last 3 are birds), stellar sea lions (although we were too far away for my pictures to look like more than a bunch of meal worms!!), and a fabulous humpback whale and cub at the end, after the battery on my camera quit L. The mama whale was teaching her baby about some of the maneuvers they can do, and it was amazing to watch them. There was a ranger on board who was very knowledgeable about all kinds of marine animal behavior. He had worked at the Sea Life center for 7 years, after retiring as a school principal. I guess this was his third life – park ranger!

Three sea otters.

Humpback Whale


Orca, one of a pod of about 19 who were all swimming around us

Puffin in the upper center of the photo if you click to enlarge it.

Not sure if these are gulls or kittiwakes
We cruised out of Resurrection Bay to the Holgate glacier. This one was quite different from the Columbia glacier that we saw out of Valdez. There was very little ice in the sea, and we were able to get quite close to the face of the glacier. 
Holgate Glacier

The jagged teeth at the top of the glacier make you realize that it's not a smooth highway!

I guess there was some sea ice – the crew netted some and used it for these margaritas!  The ice in them lasted for a very long time!!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Homer to Seward

A Driving Day

Woke up in Homer this morning and couldn't help feeling a bit sad – I realized that I'm on the way home side of this trip.  Homer was the last place on the outbound trip, the rest is inbound, and even though there is another month left…oh well, let's make the most of it!

One of the things I read about in the Homer Visitors Guide was a scenic drive over a road called Skyline Drive.  Oh, my, was it worthwhile. The road takes you up to the top of the hills above Homer and meanders along the ridge. From here you could see the glaciers on the other side of Kachemak Bay, the whole Homer Spit, and much of the bay itself. I'm so glad I took the time to do this – it was so well worth it. I'm not sure, though, if I would like to live here in the winter!  The narrow curvy roads could be treacherous when it is snowy and icy!

It's amazing how much different a road looks when you are going the other way (and there's not much traffic).  ON the way down to Homer I never saw this construction out in the water – I'm not sure what it was, but I don't think it was an oil platform.  It was quite interesting to see this in juxtaposition with Mount Redoubt – an active volcano!

A roadside sign pointed to "old Kenai Village" and that sounded interesting, so I made a sharp left and went exploring. This part of the peninsula was settled by Russians, including this homestead (now a museum, not open today). I ended up on Kalifornsky Beach – wonder where that name came from??  I was hoping for some tidepool kinds of critters, but no such luck. But I wonder who made these tracks?  Gulls perhaps? The beach was at the end of Cannery Road – and at the end was an abandoned cannery, at least it looked abandoned.

A little further along, the road wound beside the Kenai River, which is the most beautiful color of blue-green.  Not all the photographs caught the color, but I hope some of them did, because it was quite amazing. The roadside pulloffs were all full of cars, because it's salmon season, and people are fishing all along the river.

I pulled into Seward in the late afternoon, found a campground, and went exploring. One of the attractions is Exit Glacier.  The mouth of the glacier is quite near the road, and I'll go back there tomorrow and hike as far as I can (hopefully to the mouth, but we'll see…)

The weather here is almost as nice as it was in Homer, and I still haven't used bug spray (not for 3 days now!).  Tomorrow is a full day, and I'm excited to see what sights it holds! Closing with a sign seen in Soldotna outside a building supply store -- I really got a kick out of it!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Road to Homer

With Anchorage in my rear view mirror, I headed down the Kenai Peninsula, undecided about whether to go to Homer first, or Seward. Seward wasn't as far, but if I went to Homer first, I wouldn't be backtracking. But maybe Seward's campgrounds will be full this coming weekend, so I should go there first. Such indecision….not my normal style!  OK, so it's Homer first.  Jane (my sister) said that is where she fell in love with sea otters – they were playing in the ocean and she sat for several hours watching them. Hope I find some sea otters!

The drive down from Anchorage was beautiful as you would expect in Alaska, but even more so. First stop was Potter Marsh, a haven for migratory birds. I'm not much of a birder, but it was fun to walk the boardwalk there and watch these geese.  I stood for a while watching a territorial dispute between two families of geese that was fascinating.  Boy, can they be aggressive!

Love the reflection of sky and mountains in the water!

A bit further on, there was a viewpoint near Girdwood where they said you could sometimes see beluga whales. None today, but watching the current move in the bay was very impressive. It's fast water, as fast as a river flowing.  Perhaps the tide was going out, but I was surprised to see how fast it was going.

There is a wildlife refuge on the peninsula where the animals are separated by fences – this refuge keeps animals that have been injured, or have been saved from being put down for other reasons (one because his mother was a "garbage bear" that had to be euthanized).  It was kind of neat to see these animals up close, but still be safe. I really loved watching the buffalo rubbing himself on the tree. You could almost hear the sigh of relief when he lifted his head and walked away!

By the time I left the preserve it was getting late (almost 2 PM and I hadn't eaten lunch yet, so I pulled over for a quick picnic (cheese, crackers and part of a raw veggie tray that I have been munching on for several meals, and a few Rainier cherries for dessert – yum) then beat feet for Homer, because it was still 150 miles away and these are miles on a winding two lane road.  So here I am ensconced in my campground, and what a view I have.  Imagine eating several meals a day looking at this…. And there are no mosquitos, and I will definitely need two quilts tonight! (I actually needed my hoodie, too, part way through the night!!) Good sleeping weather…