Our drive from Seward to Homer took us back over the Kenai Mountain Range, through the interior of and then along the western coast of the Kenai Peninsula. Along the way we passed through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which has some great rivers for rafting and fishing, tons of lakes and campgrounds and serves as a major outdoor playground for Alaskans and visitors alike given its proximity to Anchorage. While the drive wasn’t as eye-popping as some of our others, it was pretty and given the generally milder climate, it’s easy to see why everyone loves the Kenai Peninsula.
One highlight of the drive was when we stopped at Deep Creek State Recreation Area on the western coast just a little north of Homer. The creek that winds down to the Cook Inlet is really pretty. It’s also a popular spot to launch fishing boats. Perhaps it’s because of all the fish cleaning that there are so many Bald Eagles in the area. Conrad counted 24 hanging out by the creek and many more were flying around the vicinity. They are so majestic and some of them were so BIG, it was a real treat to see so many of them in one place.
Another highlight was a viewpoint just before you drop into Homer. Much of the highway on the West Coast of the Kenai is inland a bit, so you don’t see many views of the water. But just before you get to Homer the whole skyline opens up with an eye-popping view of the town in the foreground, Cook Inlet to the west, Katchemak Bay to the south and gorgeous mountains on three sides.
Homer is one of the most desirable places to live in Alaska and consequently, has the highest real estate prices in the state. It has one of the nicest climates in Alaska averaging only 28 inches of precipitation a year, rarely getting below zero in the winter and averaging 65 in the summer. It’s just BEAUTIFUL - the town is at sea level but there are bluffs and hills all around that provide unending views of either Cook Inlet and the northern tip of the Pacific Ring of Fire (active volcanos) or Katchemak Bay and the Kenai Mountains. There is a vibrant art scene, lots of great dining options and all that water to play on or fish in. And then there is the Spit, the 2nd longest terminal glacial moraine in the world jutting 4.5 miles out into Katchemak Bay. Home to a huge boat harbor housing private, charter and commercial fishing boats, including those made famous by the show ‘The Deadliest Catch’. The Spit also has several RV Parks, a lodge at the very end and your typical touristy shops and food options near the harbor. Although several people told us you must camp out on the Spit, our research of the RV Parks showed them as gravel parking lots charging enormous amounts of money, so we decided to stay in a park in town before heading out to our friends parents place in nearby Fritz Creek.
Despite the still expensive cost, it was a good call to stay in the town RV Park, we had a great view, a patch of grass for Lola and a beach just across the street for our walking pleasure. It was a beautiful day when we arrived and with the forecast calling for rain the next couple of days, we got setup, broke out the bikes and took the bike path out to the end of the Spit. What a joy it was to finally make use of our bikes in such a lovely and unique place. We managed to find a seafood restaurant that was open and would serve us outside, had a cold beer, steamers and some fish and chips while we watched all the harbor activity. So many favorite things all in one place! Once back at the campground, we got a nice fire going, watched Bald Eagles flying around and got some entertainment watching folks on the beach. Including that one stupid guy who thought he could take his two-wheel drive car out for a spin on the sand and promptly got stuck, then really dug himself in good before going to find a friend to tow him out. We learned later that more than a few cars have been taken out to sea by the fast, incoming tide on that beach.
The next day was rainy, so we did some housekeeping and laundry before heading out just north of town to Diamond Ridge where we meet up with Ursula and Danya whom we met on the road in Kitwanga. They were making tracks up to their summer home in Alaska and we wound up camping in the same places three nights in a row. They are Alaska snowbirds whose winter home is in Montana. Yes, we thought that was a strange wintering spot as well, but when you inherit a home in Montana and it’s a place you love to be, then that’s where you wind up. They are a very lovely couple whom we enjoyed getting to know a bit more as we visited in their beautiful home which overlooks the northern tip of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Depending on the time of year, they get to watch the sunset over Iliamna and Redoubt Volcanos. They also enjoy a lot of wildlife including a pair of resident cranes who take a great deal of interest in everything that goes on around the property.
The following day we found an excellent outdoor breakfast place where Conrad indulged in his favorite corned beef hash with real corned beef, not that canned stuff. It was such a nice place we wound up eating there a couple more times. After that, we headed out to Fritz Creek, which is about 15 minutes due east of Homer to stay a few days with Paul and Peg Parsons. They are the parents of a friend of ours and lived 40 years in Pioneer before deciding to move to Alaska. Turns out they both grew up in Saratoga, not far from where our old house was. They spent 6 months traveling all around Alaska before deciding on Homer, then they spent a good deal of time trying to find just the right piece of land to build their home on. And what a special place it is, the view from their great room and deck is just breathtaking and their home, which they built themselves is absolutely stunning. They were so warm and welcoming, we very quickly felt right at home.
Paul took us out halibut fishing the next day on his boat, the Ashlee Sue, which he keeps in a slip on the Spit. So, in addition to a great day of fishing, we also had a nice tour of the harbor. The ride out to Cook Inlet was spectacular, calm seas and gorgeous mountains all around, plus we saw so many Sea Otters, it was a bit surreal. Paul mentioned that Sea Otters are not native to the area and since they were introduced after the Valdez oil spill, they have taken over the Katchemak Bay. No matter how cute they are, it’s never nice to see another man-made ecological imbalance.
Halibut is a bottom dwelling fish, to catch them you need a running tide so you can anchor and put out (what I’ll just call) a chum holder off the bow of the boat. The tide will move the scent of the chum behind the boat and in theory, draw the Halibut towards your line which uses a circular hook, a hunk of bait fish and some butt juice (for more scent). On a private boat, each person can catch 2 Halibut of any size, so we were looking to put 6 in the fish hold. Perhaps it won’t surprise most of you that the fisherman’s daughter caught most of the fish. Unfortunately, they were almost all cod, which we released because we didn’t have any ice to keep them from going foul and Paul’s opinion was that they were not much better than a fish sandwich at McDonalds. I did catch the only 2 Halibut of the day, although I did turn over my reel after a bit to Conrad on the second one because my arm was getting tired after catching all those damn cod. We coined a new phrase that day: Don’t be a Cod! The day was topped off with Halibut on the grill which was such a rare treat for us to have a fish that had been swimming earlier that day cooked up that evening. The rest of the Halibut was frozen for us to enjoy during the remainder of our trip.
The next day, I went on what was supposed to be a bear-viewing trip of a lifetime out to Lake Clark National Park which is across Cook Inlet from Homer. Lake Clark and Katmai National Parks are home to the highest population of Brown bears in Alaska. Brown bears are the same species as Grizzley, but they are distinguished by their extra-large size, which they achieve from living in areas where there is an abundance of food, especially salmon. According to the tour companies’ website and what we were told in our pre-flight safety talk, we would be getting really, really close to bears in their natural habitat. They can run these tours and get close to the bears because these bears don’t consider humans as a source of food and as long as you don’t stray off on your own or run away from them, we are pretty much just part of the landscape and the bears ignore the group. Well, as been typical for this trip, it didn’t exactly go as planned. Turns out there has been a major drought in the area which means there wasn’t much of the main food source for this time of year, sedge grass. Not much food, means not many bears around, not many bears means you won’t get very close to them. The closest we got was ¼ mile to one bear, the other 3 were just dots on the horizon, despite us walking for several miles trying to find more bears. It was a huge and very expensive disappointment. What made it worse was that the tour company knows about the drought and that there aren’t many bears around, yet they don’t tell the customer. They just take your money and continue to let you believe you are going to have this amazing experience when they know they can’t deliver on it and when you complain, they can’t even be bothered to respond. Do not ever use Smokey Bay tours in Homer Alaska! The only nice thing about the tour was the flight over and back, but I never would have taken it had I known about the drought and the lack of bears.
That evening, Paul and Peg were working a dinner at their Elks Lodge and invited us to come and check out their lodge. They are very active in their Lodge and have spent a lot of their time to improve some of the facilities and to change the ‘house’ side from a money-loser to a money-maker. Located on the water in Homer, of course it has a stunning view and we had an excellent rib-eye dinner with salad and dessert for a whopping $24/person. Paul can’t speak highly enough of all the advantages of Elks Lodges and while we found it all very interesting, it's certainly not something we’d think of joining in Jackson!
We spent our final day in Homer taking care of a bunch of life’s necessities then joined Paul and Peg at the Elks Lodge again where they had a fantastic piano-playing musician. It was a rare treat to hear live music. He played a lot of honky-tonk and reminded me a bit of listening to Ray and Bernie play at Tall Timbers Marina when I was a kid, but unfortunately he didn’t know Lucille. It was a wonderful way to end an awesome stay in a lovely town.