I started this trip report when I returned this summer but it was so big and overwhelming, and I was so busy with other trips, I am only finishing it now.
I have returned from my big trip kicking around on the Kenai Peninsula. I took my friend Morgan and we had a great time. I had been planning this trip for a couple of years. I wanted to go last year but that didn’t pan out.
We ended up getting a late start out of town. After all, it was our vacation so no need to get up early. We left at 2:00 pm with the only goal to make it to the other side of Anchorage before stopping for the night. It’s about 350 miles to Anchorage from Fairbanks. We knew we would be stopping here and there on our way so knew it would take a bit longer. But days seem long when the daylight doesn’t leave. Our first stop was at the Alaska Veterans Memorial.
The Alaska Veterans Memorial is an outdoor memorial grove in Denali State Park in Interior Alaska. The memorial honors Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Alaska National Guard, and Merchant Marine veterans from Alaska, as well as specific Alaskans who were awarded the Medal of Honor. There are also small memorials to the passengers and crew of military plane crashes in Alaska. The site was selected because of the scenic beauty of the area and its location between Alaska’s two largest cities. On a clear day visitors can see Denali from just outside the memorial. It is 147 miles (237 km) from Anchorage and 214 miles (344 km) from Fairbanks, on a hill above the Byers Lake campground. The main memorial alcove was constructed in 1983, Governor Bill Sheffield, himself a veteran, dedicated the site in 1984.
I thought of my dad, who was in the Navy, while taking this picture.
The main alcove of the memorial consists of five 20-foot (6.1 m) upright concrete slabs, each with a large star cut through the upper section and a description of a branch of the Armed Forces history in Alaska inscribed on the lower section. An inscribed plaque at the entrance honors the Alaska National Guard and the unpaid volunteers of the Alaska Territorial Guard, which filled in for the National Guard when it was mobilized during World War Two.
The sculpture at the front of the alcove depicts two members of the Territorial Guard watching for threats with binoculars.
- Mt. Foraker with Denali in the background. I know most of you know it as Mt. McKinley, but I even forget that it is named that. To us, it is simply Denali.
Talkeetna is the town that the show “Northern Exposure” was based on. It’s a lovely little town but frankly is too touristy for me now.
Talkeetna is known as the base for expeditions to climb Denali. There is a base camp at 7,000′ and that is where most of the climbing expeditions start.
By the time we found a spot to camp that night, it was 2 am. We found a spot and threw up the little tents, crawled in and slept. Down in this part of the state it DOES get dark at night. So we had no idea until the next morning what a pretty place it was. Even though the ceiling was low, it was beautiful. I could hear a water fall and after only a moment or two of exploring, found it right next to our tents. We spent a while walking up and down the river, communing with nature, looking for rocks to make Inukshuk with, but these rocks were too round. Inukshuk need angular rocks.
The next day we left the main highway and made a side trip to Hope, Alaska to visit a friend of mine. He gave us intel on a cool place to go, so we went. After all, we are on vacation and can make spontaneous side trips. We have no schedule to keep, no clock to attend.
Sourdough from Wilderness Survival Forum.
Coming from the sub arctic desert that is the Fairbanks area, this lush green was so peaceful and beautiful to my soul.
Our side trip was up near Resurrection Pass Trail. The Resurrection Pass Trail was part of a route used by early gold miners to get from Resurrection Bay near Seward, AK, to mining claims along Turnagain Arm.
There were lots of pretty scenes at the end of Turnagain Arm. I’m really enjoying learning all the manual settings on my new camera from my friend Jan.
During a stop in a town (Sterling? Soldotna?), there were some buskers out playing in the parking lot of the McDonalds we had stopped at. I only had a buck in cash but threw in my pack of cigarettes. They played a special song for me then. I love buskers. Most of the time they are pretty interesting. I also know how very intimidating it can be playing in front of people.
Next stop was Cooper Landing and Russian River Falls. This area is famous for “bears eating salmon” pictures. Luckily, we didn’t get any of those. It was still about a week before the salmon would make it this far inland. We did have to sign a document at the campgrounds saying that we were warned of a bear breaching a tent the night before. Turns out it was at the tent site next to ours. Lovely!
Russian River Falls.
It might have only been 5 miles but it slightly kicked our butts!
We didn’t bring our guns but did wear bear spray. After hiking, we treated ourselves to a beer and a “wearing of the boa!” The boas are only broken out on special, celebratory occasions.
Then it’s on to cooking dinner over the campfire. We had some nice steaks and veggies.
Mushrooms, fresh green beans, and onion.
This was probably the most satisfying meal of the trip! I have a propane burner for making coffee first thing in the morning, but I prefer to cook on an actual fire. I can cook on a burner at home.
After dinner I played the fiddle for a bit. I got applause from a few nearby camps. That was pretty neat. I’m still at the stage where I get very nervous playing in front of others but apparently if they are not actually in camp, my brain doesn’t recognize they are there hahaha.
The next morning we had bannock and real butter for breakfast.
Don’t worry, I didn’t LEAVE them on the fire like that.
Next stop was the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Ninilchick, AK.
Ninilchik Alaska Russian Orthodox Church
The Transfiguration of Our Lord Russian Orthodox Church is the most photographed building in Ninilchik. Its services began in 1846 with the arrival of lay missionary Grigorii Kvasnikoff. This present building was designed by local architect Aleksei Oskolkoff and dedicated in 1901. Ninilchik was settled around the turn of the 19th century by creoles, Russians, Aleuts, and Indians. They were retired hunters and trappers that wanted to find a homeland of their own. Some of their great grandchildren still reside here to this day. Ninilchik is a popular tourist attraction located at the mouth of the Ninilchik river, famous for its fishing and the beaches are known for their clams at low tide. The Russian Orthodox Church was built on the hill above the village.
Along with the Russian graves in the cemetery, there was also an American Legion cemetery. All were covered in wild flowers.
We finally make our way down towards the bottom of the peninsula. We stopped at the first beach we could access. There were several eagles there.
Eagle and Mt. Redoubt. This is the volcano that erupted a few years ago.
One of these is still young enough to have a brown head.
There were also tractors taking boats out of the water. It was a really neat operation to watch. The tractor would hook up to the correct trailer that were lined up higher on the beach, back it way out into the water, then the boat would pull up onto it. Awesome sauce.
First view of the Homer Spit. It goes about 5 miles out into the water.
Our friends, Susan and Steve were already in Homer on their own adventure.
I had originally wanted to camp on the beach on the spit. But after arriving and checking it out, I noticed a couple of things. There were lots of tents down on the beach and only one porta potty towards one end. I do not care to camp in anyone’s cat box. Besides, it’s very rocky. I do go on trips with the sole purpose of roughing it. This was not one of them though.
So we ended up in sweet grassy tent spot in the RV park Susan and Steve were staying in. The lure of showers also contributed to my choice.
The famous Salty Dog Saloon.
A jelly fish I saw on the beach.
These pictures are from when I walked the whole spit. This was the ocean side. The other side was a lot calmer as it was protected.
From the Shore
by Carl Sandberg
A lone gray bird,
Alone in the shadows and grandeurs and tumults
Of night and the sea
And the stars and storms.
Out over the darkness it wavers and hovers,
Out into the gloom it swings and batters,
Out into the wind and the rain and the vast,
Out into the pit of a great black world,
Where fogs are at battle, sky-driven, sea-blown,
Love of mist and rapture of flight,
Glories of chance and hazards of death
On its eager and palpitant wings.
Out into the deep of the great dark world,
Beyond the long borders where foam and drift
Of the sundering waves are lost and gone
On the tides that plunge and rear and crumble.
View of the spit from “my” beach. There’s an eagle on that stump.
Susan and Steve. Beach walking really is for couples in love.
A little beach visiting with Susan, Steve, and Moe. I played a bit on my fiddle a bit and Susan took a picture of me.
Sitting on the shore, watching the moon rise as the night comes upon me, contemplative, happy, satisfied. Funny how my feelings could have so easily gone in the opposite direction.
Out on the spit there is the Seafarer’s Memorial. It feels to be a very meaningful place.
One time when we were sleeping in the big tent, Moe was snoring so I threw my bra at her. I had told her turn over a few times but she didn’t hear me and the bra was handy lol. Heck I thought it was a much better option then throwing anything else I had nearby, a shoe or my gun. So this morning I woke up to find her sleeping in the chair. Guess she was doing her own communing with nature. Really, I didn’t run her out of the tent. I promise!
Sleeping under the moon light.
Wakey wakey! Time for coffee.
About half an hour out of Homer, out East End Road, the Eveline Trail State Recreation Park provides spectacular panoramas of Kachemak Bay and the surrounding rugged mountains and glaciers.
In June and July, lupine adorns the hillside, offering a bounty of purple flowers. In July and August, the lupine fades and the fireweed bursts, covering the fields with hot pink buds on tall, leaning stems.
Also scattered throughout the area during the summer months are meadows of pushki, wild geranium, paintbrush, monk’s hood, columbine, chocolate lilies, forget-me-nots, valerian blossoms, watermelon berries and tall-stemmed larkspur.
One can not go to the coast without eating seafood. Clams with blue cheese and bacon. Mmm, bacon.
I was really looking forward to our trip through the Whittier Tunnel as I have long been in love with its history. It’s actual name is the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel.
“This route didn’t become a reality until World War II. The main advantages of using Whittier as a rail port was that it was a shorter voyage, reduced exposure of ships to Japanese submarines, reduced the risk of Japanese bombing the port facilities because of the bad weather, and avoided the steep railroad grades required to traverse the Kenai Mountains.
In 1941, the U.S. Army began construction of the railroad spur from Whittier to Portage. This line became Alaska’s main supply link for the war effort. Anton Anderson, an Army engineer, headed up the construction. The tunnel currently bears his name.”
So basically, it was our secret port that the Japanese didn’t know about.
First dual mode rail/vehicular tunnel.
Longest dual mode tunnel in the United States.
We were the first in line. We had to wait for the green light. But we had gorgeous views for our wait so I didn’t mind one bit.
Portage Glacier and Portage Lake
So basically, you are driving on the railroad tracks.
This is the view from town.
One unique feature of Whittier is that most people live in a large apartment building, a carry over from Whittier’s history of a military base where all housing was barracks. The first building is Begich Tower. The second, dilapidated building is the Buckner Building, once a city under one roof.
This is a river right behind town coming directly off of the glacier. It was cold just standing nearby.
There are only a few roads out of Whittier and they don’t go far. But we followed one to its end and after a bit of a hike over a hill, we found this beautiful spot.
Well this is getting quite long and I still want to tell you about my visit to my friend Lulu’s cabin so let’s move on.
Lulu and I have been friends since the summer of 2004, my first summer in Alaska. I found her rocking down the house at the Howling Dog Saloon outside of Fairbanks, in Fox, Alaska. Unfortunately, she rarely plays in Fairbanks anymore but I was able to get my LuLu fix while down south.
Bug dope and mosquito coils are a must.
Isn’t this just the cutest cabin you’ve ever seen? It even has running water and a toilet. The one below is the one Moe and I got to stay in. It did not have the running water and toilet but there was a bathroom house in a separate building. Nice little women’s only commune…
Lulu had one of her students sing too. That was pretty special.
Photo by Moe.
Next was a visit to the Iditarod’s Headquarters in Wasilla. The Iditarod is one of the two 1000 mile dog sled races we have every year. I work for the other one, the Yukon Quest.
The Last Great Race
Reddington pups getting socialized,
Photo by Moe.
The famous, Susan Butcher.
“December 26, 1954 – August 5, 2006) was an American dogmusher, noteworthy as the second woman to win the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in 1986, the second four-time winner in 1990, and the first to win four out of five sequential years. She is commemorated in Alaska by the Susan Butcher Day.”
Eagle overlooking the blue waters.
The last trip of The Rust Princess…
And that my friends, was my biggest trip this summer. Over 1600 miles, 11 days, irreplaceable scenery. I love this state.