Monthly Archives: June 2014

Exploring Homer, AK

Well, we awoke on the Homer Spit on the beach. Awesome. What’s more awesome? Eagles on the beach. Super awesome! We saw a juvenile that we took a bunch of pictures of right on the edge of the water, before one of the kind beach photographers with us let us know that there were some adult eagles down the beach. So, we slowly made our way down the beach where we saw THREE adult bald eagles. So awesome!! We took A LOT of pictures and spent almost two hours on the beach. Here are a few pics:

 

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After our picture fest, we got ready to go and headed into breakfast at the Sourdough Express– a restaurant that we had read about in an article discussing delicious sourdough pancakes. It is also well known for its efforts to locally source most to all of its ingredients (including meats from sustainable local sources). Pretty awesome! We ate a delicious meal (including reindeer sausage! Sorry, Vixen) and then decided to check out the rest of the sites around Homer. By the way, I’ll note here that I’m not sure Reindeer sausage is for everyone… it has a very particular flavor (and is smoky). Reminds me of venison. Anyway, I digress.

 

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We headed up into the mountains to check out the skyline drive that promised to provide us with some beautiful views of Homer, the Spit and the Mountains. We made our way up through the obviously wealthy area of Homer and took a short jaunt over to another Russian Orthodox Church first [All Saints of America; information below]. This time, there were people there (the last Russian Orthodox church we were on our own). Here, we met a woman (Sharon) who told us that we were welcome to go in and look around and that the Father would be down to show us around. True to their word, a few minutes later he did come down and chatted with us for a bit about the church. He and his wife travel from another town every so often to have church services here… pretty cool. It’s a small little church with gorgeous decoration.

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From the church, we headed next to the Carl E. Wynn Nature Center just up the road. The visitor center was closed at the time we arrived, so we just grabbed a trail map and headed out for a walk. We didn’t see any Moose to our dismay, but the trails were well-maintained, the views were great, and then area in general is a great little spot. I highly recommend it if you find yourself in the area!

 

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After the nature center stop, we moved on and drove along Skyline drive, stopping here and there for a picture stop because of the sweeping views of Homer and the mountains and volcanoes. We made our way across and back down to the visitor center where we parked and let my mom go in and gather her beloved brochures. Andrew and I also hopped out and said we were going for a short walk. The truth was, we had researched and called a bakery in Homer called, “Two Sisters Bakery” while we were in Seward to order a Birthday Cake for my parents (Today’s the big day. Yep, both of them). We made our way down to the bakery and were immediately happy with our decision. The inside is a cool little wooden bakery and restaurant with a huge display of baked goods and food for people to try out. Andrew ordered a cinnamon roll and we paid for/picked up the cake (chocolate cake, caramel filling, cream cheese frosting). They had decorated it beautifully—especially considering how small of a cake it was… with a blue Happy Birthday and a row of fresh flowers. The cake was so delicious. Highly recommend if you are in the area and want a bite to eat or want to order a cake.

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After cake and sandwiches in the RV, we tried to make our way to Homer Meadery only to discover that the Meadery shutdown and is no longer functioning. So, we headed off to the Homer Brewing Company, a large brown building seemingly in the middle of nowhere. My dad, Andrew and I went in and order a few tasters of beer—basically small 4oz. glasses, $2/glass. They had EIGHT beers on tap—very impressive! The inside of the brewery was pretty cool- one side had the brewery itself with all the equipment on display to see. The other side of the brewery was the “taproom” of sorts. They had a few tables and some merchandise and a small bar. After we tried out our samplers, we decided on a beer that we all liked and had him fill up our Seward Brewery Growler [don’t forget to visit our tip for microbrewery drinking while traveling- purchase a growler at the first brewery and just refill as you go]. We also picked up a pint glass to add to our collection (We opted for the Abbey Ale to fill our growler).

 

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After the brewery, we headed uphill to the Bear Creek Winery (following the Homer Fermentation Trail). There are only 11 wineries in Alaska and 1 of them happens to be in Homer. Interestingly enough, they do not grow grapes here. Instead the source them and make the wine here… they had quite a few wines available to try. The idea here is that you pay $___ for 6-8 samples of wine (you choose which wines you want). They have pure fruit wines, chardonnays, zins, ports, and even one ice wine, although sadly, they did not have the ice wine when we were there. My dad and I each made our list of wine and the ladies working the wine brought out halibut spread on crackers and cheese for palette clearing. The wines were awesome! The fruit wines blew me away—they had a Pomegranate wine made with Pom and Grape and it was phenomenal! They even had a mead that we made sure to try (and bought a bottle of for the road). It was a great top and the folks are super nice!

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Back in Homer “downtown” we stopped by a few gift shops and also “The Cool Juicy Bus”, an old school bus that was turned into a smoothie café. The girl working at the bus was really friendly and had a huge menu of smoothie mixes and fruits as well as add-ins such as flax and hemp and proteins, as well as soy/almond/coconut and other non-dairy/dairy milks. We chatted with her a bit and learned that originally, her mother and father owned the bus and drove around and up to Alaska (noting that her mother was a bit of a gypsy). She decided to set-up the smoothie and bus and the rest is history. Two other people came up while we were waiting. Both Homer-ites and both knew the woman who owned the bus… and they chatted with us. Everyone is so nice here!

 

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My mom had heard from the Visitor Center that there was a really cool authentic Russian Café about 40 minutes out of Homer. So, she called and asked about availability and then we were off. We made our way to the town of Nikolaevsk. The “town” wasn’t really much to see- a small run-down area with a few small buildings and houses. The Russian Café [Samovar Cafe] was located near the end of one of the roads. A small building with a wide-open parking lot; no other cars. We parked and slowly made our way to the front door. It’s really hard to adequately describe what awaited us on the inside of the building. Today, as I type this over a week after that experience, I’m still not 100% convinced that it actually happened and/or was real. The café has a small outdoor area that is covered from the rain. The inside is a small room that is jam-packed with just about every Russian trinket you can think of from teas and traditional spoons to nesting doll sets. In front of us was a small bar “area” with 6 stools and behind the bar was Nina. Nina the Russian; dressed to the nines in traditional Russian clothing. She greeted us with a great big smile and welcome. What followed I can’t be sure… there was some VERY quick speaking with a heavy accent and discussing the options of meals, food, and “experiences”. This culminated with the four of us sitting at the bar for the “Russian Experience”. We were not allowed to speak to Nina while she was “cooking” and we were not allowed to ask questions. She gave us booklets and pamphlets of information on her, on Russian, and on the café.

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We were to receive several courses each coming just as quickly as the next. We started with borscht- a traditional soup that was very similar to vegetable soup (heavy on the tomato) with a small squirt of sour cream. With this, each couple also received a plate with a slice of Rye bread and a traditional Russian Pierogi. The Russian pirogi is more of a potato bread- a soft roll stuffed with a mashed potato substance. Both breads are served cold but were very delicious when dipped in the borscht. The perogi may have been my favorite part of the meal J.

 

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Next, the four of us received a mixed combination platter- essentially a sampler. It had sausage on it, sauerkraut with craisins, small meatball dumplings (looked like your more western-style perogi), and pickles. For dessert we were each served a cup of tea and a tall dish with cream puffs, whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and a cherry. After dinner, Nina dressed us in traditional Russian garb and took pictures of us by a giant nesting doll. Then, just like that, we were thanked and ushered out the door.

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The experience was cool. It really was… and it was unlike anything we’ve ever done. Was it authentic Russian? I’m not sure because I’ve never been to Russia, but my sense is “no”. Here’s why: the sausage she served us was microwaved and cut off of a giant plastic-packaged sausage. The dessert simply looked like cream puffs from Costco with Hershey’s syrup and Ready-whip. I wouldn’t classify those things as “Traditional Russian” but perhaps I just don’t know Russia.

The food was delicious, don’t get me wrong and as I said, the experience was fun and unique. The café was lauded online by various travel and news companies including National Geographic and folks on Trip Advisor loved it. To me, though, it seemed to much like a push to get money and take advantage of the customers. There were signs everywhere when you walked in—taking 4 photos cost money, taking more cost more; to sit at the bar instead of outside under the awning cost money, the plate that we split four ways was about $25 (to me it was not worth that amount). The bread was something like $2/slice. Microwaved sausage just makes me really sad. The kraut, the borscht, the perogi, and the tea were my highlights of the meal. While it was fun dressing up—it wasn’t necessary. It just seemed really staged. In the end for four people, we spent well over $100 for 4 cups of tea, 4 cups of borscht, 2 slices of bread, 2 perogis, 3 desserts, and a plate with 1 cup of kraut, 4 slices of pickle, some meatball dumplings, and a couple slices of sausage.

Additionally, on the phone, Nina had told us that we better bring “green paper” (aka cash) with us. She insisted on it, despite the fact that the front door said she accepted both Visa and MasterCard. Now, I totally understand businesses (especially tiny ones like the one she had) not wanting to pay the fees to charge credit cards, but it just seemed weird because we were even given the option of using a credit card (and realistically, we probably would have ended up spending more).

So all of that being said, would I do it again? Probably not. Am I glad we did it? Sure. Why not? I’m all about new experiences and branching out… I’m just not sure I’d rate it as highly on the “must do” in/near Homer, AK as the others.

After dinner, we piled back into the camper wondering what just happened. We made our way back to the Homer Spit and our campground via a bumpy gravel road, complete with beautiful views and another friendly eagle. Then we hit the hay.

 

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Not a bad way for parents to spend their Birthday, eh?

 

Homer Resources:

  1. Campground: Homer Spit Campground Information (showers: $1- unlimited time)
  2. The Fresh Sourdough Express: Website; Trip Advisor Reviews; Facebook Reviews
  3. Skyline Drive: Information (the drive is located between East and West Hill Drives)
  4. All Saints of America Russian Orthodox Church: Church Website (located off of Skyline Drive) 
  5. Carl E. Wynn Nature Center: Website Information; Trip Advisor Reviews
  6. Two Sisters Bakery: Website
  7. Homer Brewing Company: Website
  8. Bear Creek Winery and Lodging: Website
  9. The Juicy Bus: Website Information
  10. Samovar [Russian Café] in Nikolaevsk, Alaska: Nina’s Main Website; Webpage on Russian Cafe “Samovar”

 
Google Map Showing Our Path and Stops for the Day (excluding the Russian Cafe):

Google Map Showing Route from Visitor Center in downtown Homer to Russian Cafe [Samovar] and return to Homer Spit Campground *Note- these directions use the gravel road. To take main roads, take Sterling Highway 1 out of town (north) and then in Anchor Point, make a right on North Fork. This will be the SECOND right turn for North Fork Road that you see when leaving Homer. The first North Fork Road is the gravel Road. Once you turn on North Fork, follow the road all the way to Nikolaevsk. You’ll see a painted sign on a building reading “Cafe”. You can turn left at this building [follow the arrow] and it will take you down and around to the Samovar Cafe.:

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Categories: Alaska, Hikes, Microbrews, Restaurants | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Hike and a Drive to Homer, AK

This morning, we decided to take a hike in the Russian River Campground where we were staying before heading south towards Homer. We packed up early and drove towards the trailhead. Unfortunately (or fortunately for most people) you cannot park RVs at the trailhead. So instead, we dropped my parents off at the trailhead and then went in a search of a lot where we could leave the RV. Our campground site itself was pretty far back so we wanted to find a place closer to avoid having to walk the extra 1 mile or so to get back to the RV after the hike (we were in the last of about 3 or 4 campground areas in Russian River). We did find the Pink Campground Overflow lot that allowed RV parking fairly close to the trailhead (fyi, it’s right by the Pink Campground). We parked the RV and then made our way back to the trailhead (we had told my parents to start without us and we’d catch up).

 

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The hike was about 2 miles out and 2 miles back. It was up and down and through the woods—very pretty. Along the way there were some pretty wood bridges and off-shoot trails to cabins. We continued along to the end where there were two large wooden viewing platforms. From here you could look down on the river where there was a fish bridge to help the Salmon move upstream. There were a ton of fish and every few minutes you would see one jump out of the water on an attempt to get further upstream. In another week or so, sport fishermen will be invading the campground … and even more likely, bears will be invading Russian River. Apparently at the height of the fish movement upstream, bears can be seen in the river eating fish. Unfortunately (fortunately?) we had no such bear luck. Andrew and I did take a short shoot-off trail from the viewpoints down a fishing trail where we found a fresh salmon carcass. Our guess is that it was a bear—but again, no bear sightings here!

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We had a short snack stopover before heading back up the trail towards the RV. We pulled out of the campground ready for new adventure and to check out the south. We drove to Homer via Sodoltna where we made a stopover at a grocery store (Fred Meyer) for supplies and goods… after a brief stop, we headed onward down the coast, stopping for cool viewpoints and vistas and of course, moose!

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Yeah, I know. You can’t see it in this picture. But it’s there, I swear!

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Another stop that we made on our travels down the Kenai Peninsula was at a Russian Orthodox Church in the town of Ninilchik. It was slated in the book as one of the most visited tourist attractions because of the church and the views. We were slightly skeptical, but we decided to check it out anyway; if it’s the most visited, chances are that it is for a reason. :0) We turned down a gravel road and drove along until we saw the onion-like domes painted in gold. There on a small hill was a little Russian-style (you can tell because of the onion-shaped domes and the crosses) Orthodox Church. There was a small graveyard in front, giant mountains in the back, and a small Russian fishing village at the bottom of the cliffs in front of the water. Awesome.

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We walked around the church property a bit and took a look at the graveyard- some crosses were worn-down and battered with no headstones marking lives lost, while others indicated burials from this February. It was a pretty little graveyard right on top of the hill. Out of respect, we tried not to take any photos of an individual grave and rather focused on the entire graveyard for its intricate burial set-up. Crosses (two horizontal lines at the top and one line on a slight angle at the bottom) adorned every grave as did small fences that contained everything from flowers to books to pictures. We were also able to walk into the church itself- very small but just as intricately decorated with pictures and paintings, candles, large religious hats (sorry don’t know the name of them), and small benches and pamphlets.

 

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Outside, you can look down over the cliffs towards the small Russian fishing village of Ninilchik. This are is now considered to be “old town”. The “new” Ninilchik is located a little bit away from this area. Boats and houses located directly on the water- a pretty cool little place.

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Then we traveled on to Homer. Homer is in the southwest corner of the Kenai Peninsula. We opted to stay in a campground on the Homer Spit- a skinny piece of land that juts out into the water. A sort of peninsula on the peninsula so to speak. We pulled into our campground (Homer Spit Campground) and set-up shop directly on the beach- looking out at the water with snow-capped mountains and volcanoes behind it. Awesomely beautiful spot! Tonight we grilled up some chicken on the mini portable propane grill that we rented through the RV company. Grilling on the beach… is there anything greater? We also enjoyed some of our Seward Brewery Growler Beer. Yum!

 

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Ah yes, and the showers. First showers of the trip were pretty awesome. Pay $1 at the office, they buzz you in, you can take an untimed, hot shower. It was awesome and wonderful and everything you would expect a shower to be after a few days of now shower, including a cold and rainy boat trip! Another great day!

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Categories: Alaska, Hikes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Marathon Mountain and Other Seward Things (then Russian River Campground)

After a night of soup and grilled cheese in the camper (and de-thawing and warming up from our boat trip), Andrew and I packed up our day packs with cameras, layers, and snacks for a morning hike. We woke up at 4AM, got dressed, grabbed our gear and headed out. Our destination: Mount Marathon (or at least part of it). We had plans to do some other things in Seward today, but we really wanted to hike at least part of the famed Mount Marathon.

Let me step back. Mount Marathon is located pretty much in downtown Seward. Its apex is 3,022 feet above sea level. As the story goes (and like so many things), some guys were in a bar in Seward talking about how it would be impossible to get to the top of the mountain and back down in an hour. One guy claimed it wasn’t impossible and so, Mount Marathon was born. While he did not make the 60 minute time limit, he did create a tradition in Seward that still lives on today. Every year on the 4th of July, people from all over the world come to Seward to run a slippery, rocky, dangerous, and ridiculously unsafe route straight up Mount Marathon and back down. Every year, a whole handful of runners are injured. One year, a runner was event lost (and as a result, certain safety rules were added). Still, these crazy thrill-seekers come out and make their way up and down… for the glory and the pride, regardless of the probability of broken bones. Interestingly enough, there is a hospital located at the start of the racing route (coincidence, I think not). The race itself is about 3.1 miles from start to finish with average uphill speeds of 2mph and average downhill speeds of 12mph. Here’s a picture of the top of the mountain from somewhere along the trail that we took- see the line that goes basically straight up and down? That’s the up-route. The down route is that curved line that coming in from the right.

 

Runners Trail (3.1 miles)

Runners Trail (3.1 miles)

While hiking this straight up and down route seems tantalizing, we put aside our dare-devil tendencies and instead set our eyes on the Jeep Trail— an old rock road that goes up to the town’s water supply. From there, you can jump on the Sheffield Waterfall trail that supposedly has a more gradual incline around the mountain, past the Sheffield Waterfall, into the Marathon Bowl, and up the spine of Mount Marathon to its peak. As I mentioned earlier, we had other things planned for the day, including a drive to another campground out of Seward and towards Homer. For this reason, our goal was to make it to the tree line if possible before we needed to turn around. Here. Here’s the map at the trailhead (I added the yellow arrows to show the general route we would have taken to go all the way up).

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As mentioned in a previous post, we were camping in the state campground directly on the water (close to the harbor) because of our boat trip and its early departure. From this point, the Jeep Trail Head of Mount Marathon is a little less than 1 mile walk a little towards downtown Seward. You simply leave the state campground and walk to the main straight and make a left. You walk down to Jefferson Street and make a right. You walk straight down Jefferson until you hit the trail head (about 3 blocks). Not too shabby. At the trail head you will find a sign and simple map posted that shows a variety of trails going up and around Mount Marathon (posted above). Tip- we took a picture of the map with our cell phones so we’d have a reference just in caseI’ll note here that a lot of the references I found online prior to this trip stated that the trail was really hard to follow. It was definitely questionable in some areas on which way you were supposed to go, but generally speaking you could find your way. We did end up using the map once or twice.

After taking the obligatory “before hiking” photo, we started up the Jeep Trail. Think baseball, softball, and basketball-sized rocks covering a 45 degree-angled trail. That’s basically what we were hiking up. It was rough and tiring but because of the steepness of the trail, we made more ground at a faster clip than what we had anticipated. As you climb further up the mountain, the rocks yield to a more typical tree needle and dirt path, still on a fairly hefty incline. You get a chance to see just how enormous the trees really are and there are a few places were stumps of fallen trees remain and those stumps are at least 7 feet tall. We got some great pictures through the forest. We were also hiking completely alone; it was awesome.

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We continued on and much to our surprise, we reached the tree line in less time than we thought, so we could continue on the trail that wound around the mountain. Ah relief at last we thought, but to no avail. The trail continues its grueling up-hill path (admittedly with a few reprieves here and there). In a few places I was even crawling up because of how slippery and steep the trail became at points— which is crazy considering the trail we were on is the easy trail in comparison with the running route. At one point we did hike off the trail a bit and up a small hill to a clearing in the trees where we had a beautiful view of the water, mountains, and our campground. We really lucked out with the weather on this day.

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We continued on, approaching our time turn-around deadline, being passed by one other person who was hiking with his dog and just booking it. It was quite obvious that he hikes this mountain fairly often, telling us the shortest way to the top and what not. We continued on and started climbing another steep portion towards the Marathon Bowl (after both a snow and two minor stream crossings) until we could again see Seward below us. From here, we were shocked to see that we also had full service on our cell phones. We checked in with my parents who were around the camper and actually pulled out their binoculars and could see us waving way up on the mountain. After a brief chat with them, we also called Andrew’s parents to check in and say hello. We were able to FaceTime with them— on a mountain. How crazy is that?! I know I know, who makes a cell phone call while on a hike, but admit it- if you’re going to check in with your parents and say hello, that’s a pretty sweet place to do it- especially since we could show them the scenery.

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After the call, we decided to head back down the mountain. We didn’t make it to the waterfall, but we did make it much further than we had planned. We will definitely do this hike again sometime so we can get to the peak. We made it back down in one piece and walked back down to the harbor to grab some breakfast from a local restaurant called, “The Bakery”. We dined on breakfast burritos with eggs, cheese, pico de gallo, and reindeer bacon (at least we think it was—definitely wasn’t regular bacon). After breakfast, we stopped by the Kenai Fjords National Park Visitor Center (on the harbor) and then we headed back to the RV, packed up shop and headed into downtown Seward. My parents dropped Andrew and I a few blocks from the Sea Life Center where we strolled down the main street, looking at giant murals and paintings on the walls of the buildings in town. We also made an obligatory awesome coffee stop at Resurrection Coffee Company, an old church that had been turned into a coffee shop. We ordered our coffees and browsed around the awesome insides- covered with arts and crafts created by local artists. We purchased a small carved twisty piece of birch wood that has a tag stating it was handmade in Seward, AK. I think it will make a most excellent Christmas Tree Ornament.

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One of many murals in downtown Seward.

One of many murals in downtown Seward.

After coffee, we walked down to the Seward Sea Life Center and paid our general admission dues so that we could go in and see the sights and exhibits (we did not opt to do any behind the scenes tours). The Sea Life Center is actually pretty cool- it consists of two floors with the lower floor boasting a large gift shop and the upstairs boasting exhibits, hands on exhibits, and of course, the Sea Life! They have areas and tanks with sea birds (including puffins!), stellar sea lions, harbor seals, and sea otters. You can watch from inside or you can walk outside and look at the animals. While it’s super cool to see the animals up close, you can’t help but feel really bad for them considering how small and cramped their quarters are… on our boat tour, we saw these magnificent creatures in all their glory- free to move and go wherever they want at any time. Here, a giant mammoth stellar sea lion is stuck in a tank that only allows him to swim in a circle. Pretty sad when you think about it.

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The displays at the center included information on how the different species of animals are doing since the latest oil spill, hands on games that teach about over-fishing, and videos and signs about the importance of our oceans and protecting them. The day we were there, they also had some kids coloring and other activities going on as well as a raffle contest. My mom entered and one a bag with some Sea Life Center items.

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After our trip around the Sea Life Center, we walked the pretty much 1-block distance to the Seward Brewery, where we purchased a glass growler and had it filled with Rockfish Red beer. Since we were in a hurry to get on our way to a glacier and then on to our campground for the night, we didn’t stay and have samplers or food—but the place looked really cool and you can look through a large glass window when you walk in the door to see their brewing set-up. We will definitely be coming back here next time!

On our way out of town, we stopped by the Smoke Shack to pick up lunch—an old railroad car converted into a BBQ restaurant. We went in and ordered food to go and we were welcome to sit down and they brought us water while we waited- great hospitality and delicious food! We ended up with pulled pork sandwiches (mine was a bit different- made with jalapenos and maple syrup, yes please). They also had a selection of about 6 different sauces from orange-jalapeno (not as spicy as you think!) to a vinegar sweet and sour to chipotle ranch. Everything was delicious and the sandwiches were huge! We also got an appetizer of Cajun brie- basically think melted brie, tomatoes, jalapenos, and onion with some chipotle seasoning and served up with crostini. Perfecto!!! Definitely check this place out!

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From Seward, we drove a bit up the road to Exit Glacier; still a portion of the Kenai Fjords National Park. Here you can take a trail that goes right up next to the glacier. At one point you could touch the glacier and even walk on it, but it has receded and become unstable, so now you can just walk up next to it (still pretty awesome). Additionally, you can backpack up past the glacier to the Harding Ice Field where all of the Kenai Fjords Glaciers stem from. You can camp up their and do further exploration and hiking (put it on the list for next time).

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After Exit Glacier, we finished our drive to Russian River Campground, about ½ the way to Homer (located on the opposite side of the Kenai Peninsula from Seward). We set up shop and made dinner. A wonderfully awesome day!

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Resources and Tips for the Traveler:

  1. Take a picture of the trail map before starting a hike (especially with Mount Marathon—some off-shoots of the trail that aren’t clearly marked)
  2. Take snacks on your hike—you may not be hungry when you start hiking, but you will be (string cheese is light and delicious)
  3. Seward Sea Life Center– Probably not necessary if you did the boat tour into Kenai Fjords NP and saw a lot of wildlife, but it is still interesting to see the animals up close and to check out the exhibits and demos (Cost: $20; discount for military and AAA)
  4. Smoke Shack (Trip advisor link; no website)- great lunch stop on the way out of town (Address: 411 Port Avenue, Seward).
  5. Marathon Campground on the Water (for RVs) (Cost: $15/night or $30 with hook-ups; they do check to make sure you registered; Check out the Seward City campground website for more information: http://www.cityofseward.us/index.aspx?NID=864)
  6. Kenai Fjords NP Visitor Center (Seward Address: 1212 4th Avenue, Seward)
  7. Bakery on the Harbor (Trip advisor link; no website)- great for breakfast and coffee before the boat! (Address: 1210 4th Avenue, Seward)
  8. Seward Brewery (We paid $25.68 for a Glass Growler filled with beer; Address: 139 4th Avenue, Seward ); Buy a growler and have it filled; then you can stop at other breweries along the way and just refill the growler!
  9. Exit Glacier (Cost: None Address: Turn onto Exit Glacier Road at Milepost 3 of the Seward Highway. Continue 8.4 miles and you will end up in the parking lot ); Cool hike! After you walk up to the glacier, take the trail that goes out to the glacier view point—it’s a great vantage point of the riverbed and the entire glacier and definitely worth it! Also, if you have more time, you can hike up to the Harding Icefield where this glacier (and many others) originate. You can also camp up there! We will be doing that next time!

*Note- be sure to say hi to the guy in the Exit Glacier Visitor Center! He’s a character and super-friendly!

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Day#2: Kenai Fjords National Park Boat Trip (Seward)

On day #2 of the trip, I woke up super early… as in 3:45AM. I actually spent about 2 hours catching up on a few blog posts from our recent Indonesia trip. I worked out of the passenger seat in the front of the RV, gazing out at mountains, water, bald eagles, and a sea otter! The rest of the crew stirred around 6:00AM. We set to work cooking up some scrambled egg and cheese sandwiches for breakfast and made sure our cameras were loaded up with fresh batteries and blank memory cards. We gathered layers and filled water bottles, and headed into town to The Bakery (where the French dip sandwiches we ate last night came from) to meet up with our boat crew. Around 8AM, we met up with eight other people and then met up with one of our two crew members/guides/boat captains for the day. We were headed out on a small group wildlife and glacier boat tour through the Alaska Saltwater Lodge (you don’t have to stay at the lodge to go on the excursion).

We were led down to the boat dock where we boarded the Stellar Sunrise, one of the company’s two small boats (maximum of 15 people). The boat was great- seats in the back, in the front and inside. The inside also had heat, coffee, hot chocolate, and tea. Blueberry Muffins were also served when we first took off. Wanting to have the best view on the boat and loving previous experiences of being upfront in all the action, once we made it through the safety instructions and overview talk, we high-tailed it to the front of the boat.

 

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We grabbed seats right below the captain’s window. There was a very light on and off drizzle but nothing too bad. Oh how naïve we were… The tour was awesome. We learned that our two boat crew members spend summers in Alaska and winters in Hawaii. They provide tours in both locations and love it. They were well versed and explained that most of the boats in the harbor and going out in search of wildlife will radio to one another when they see something so others can partake in it. Pretty cool system.  The idea was that we would boat a few hours out until we reached a calving glacier. We would park in front of the glacier for lunch and then head back to Seward. We ended up eating a bit before reaching the glacier because of all the wildlife we saw and how much time we spent following and learning about the different animals on our way. Lunch consisted of turkey sandwiches, a bag of chips, soda, and a cookie.

We had hoped for sun but it didn’t work out quite as we hoped… it rained on and off all day and it was SO COLD. And WET. But, to be fair, we did that to ourselves. It was on principle. We were trying to be the diehards staying upfront, however with 8 foot swells bringing seawater overboard and rain water running off the boat roof and down our backs, it made it quite difficult. We were literally wet from head to toe, inside and out. We almost made it too. But at some point, we just had to take a break and sit inside in the warmth (where everyone else was). Even with the rain and the cold weather, it was awesome!!! My advice if you are planning on taking this or a similar tour in Seward/other areas of Alaska: wear rain pants or at least bring them with you just in case. A poncho or a rain jacket is also a must. Gloves and waterproof shoes are very very helpful. Also, make sure you either have a hood on your jacket or wear a hat.

As I mentioned earlier, even with the cold and wet, the tour was still phenomenal and Andrew and I both agree that we wouldn’t have traded it for the world. You travel out into Kenai Fjords National Park, into a few little coves and up into a few inlets around Resurrection Bay before heading out into the Gulf of Alaska. Because the water is a bit rough and you get tossed around a bit, there is also a little passage that is extremely calm where the boat slows down and/or stops so folks can use the restroom.

The calving glacier that we went out to view was Holgate Glacier, one of about 30 that are found in Kenai Fjords National Park. A massive glacier located on an ice-infested portion of water. Our boat pulled up into the icy waters and actually pulled a large chunk of glacier ice from the water onboard. She explained how the clearness or opacity indicate how cold the ice is and how long it will take to melt. We added some of the chunk sample to our cooler (not that it needed it because things were already quite chilly). We sat for about 30 minutes or so watching this gigantic glacier. Every once in a while we would hear what sounded like crashing thunder and then we would see a portion of the glacier collapse and crumble down into the ocean. The pictures below show the glacier from our viewpoint, still over ½ mile away from the glacier itself.

 

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I mentioned earlier in this post that we saw a lot of wildlife on the trip. We sure did. Here’s a list of what we saw:

–       Orca Whales

–       Humpback Whale

–       Eagles

–       Sea Otters

–       Dall’s Porpoise (look like miniature Orca Whales)

–       Harbor Seals

–       Stellar Sea Lions

–       Grey Porpoises

–       Puffins

 

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When we add this list to our Day#1 list, we total 10 types of animals on the trip so far. Not too shabby!

 

When we arrived back to the harbor in Seward, we were frozen to the bone. But still, we couldn’t resist stopping for a photo or two with the statues in town first. Afterwards, we headed back to our RV, changed into warm, dry clothes, and then dined on RV-made grilled cheese and Ramen. Andrew and I also spent some time packing breakfast and snacks and loading up our packs for tomorrow morning—we have a long day planned that starts at 4AM.

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Resources:

1. Alaskan Saltwater Lodge Small Group Wildlife Boat Tour: http://www.alaskasaltwaterlodge.com/alaska_whale_watching.htm (Cost: $259 including tax and fees; $216.43 if booked online)
Highly recommend taking advantage of the small group boat tour- maximum of 15 people means minimized number of heads and arms in your way while trying to see and/or take pictures :0). Plus, the tour guides are fantastic. Remember that you get coffee, tea, water, soda, an onboard restroom, maximized guide-visitor ratio, comfy seats, heat and outdoor space, snacks, and lunch (sandwich, chips and cookie)! Let them know if you’re a vegetarian beforehand!
Tips for the Traveler Going on the Boat Tour:

  1. Rain Jacket/Poncho (A MUST)
  2. Camera (A MUST) Bonus points for an SLR camera with a decent zooming capability. Double bonus for ISO)
  3. Hood or Hat of Some Kind (A MUST)
  4. Waterproof Shoes
  5. Gloves (Nice to have- it can get really chilly) *Note- if you forget your gloves, you can contact the owner of the boat tour and she’ll actually lend you some gloves for the trip*
  6. Rain Pants (Nice to have- all I’m saying is that if you get caught in rain, you will really really want to have them)
  7. Sunglasses (Nice to have- especially if you’re sitting outside; can block the sun and the wind!)
  8. Dramamine (A MUST if you are prone to sea-sickness; they actually ask people who are prone to it to take the medication when we are just starting the trip to avoid and unpleasant trip). *Note we did have one person get sick on our boat- she just high-tailed it for the end of the boat, did her business, and moved on. I’m not sure the majority of people on our boat even knew)
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Day#1: Seward

After our successful stop at Safeway to stock up on goods, we headed down the highway towards Seward. We read and followed a Milepost along the way. The Milepost in a giant magazine that provides information based on the mile markers you are passing—it includes campgrounds, rest stops, scenic views, things to do and see, warnings about bear/moose areas, etc.

For lunch, we simply pulled into a turn off on the side of the road. It was located right on Turnagain Arm, a sort of inlet of water. Surrounded by water and giant snow capped mountains on one side and rock cliffs on the other side, it was a pretty cool place for a lunch break! All together, our lunch consisted of chicken, salads and a sandwich. Yum!

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We continued on and stopped off at Bird Point; a scenic area where you can walk on a really nice boardwalk up and towards the water. There were great look out spots and some of those giant magnifying lens things (great description right?! Think giant metal binoculars…) so you could take a closer look at the water and surrounding area. We were on the look out for Beluga Whales, the only all-white whale that is sometimes found in Turnagain Arm because it feeds on two types of fish that live there. Bird Point also had statues of the Beluga Whales embedded in the cement at the end of the parking lot. They were designed in a way to replicate what you would see when spotting them in the water swimming. Pretty genius if you ask me. We didn’t see any Belugas, but we did take an excellent walk, get an excellent panoramic view of Turnagain Arm (waterbody) and we saw a lot of birds, including a carefullys spotted bald eagle by my dad.

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After bird point, we continued on our southward travels making stops along the way to snap pictures of the snow-capped mountains and beautiful inlet. We also stopped at one point on the highway where a spring exits the cliffs on the side of the road through a long cylindrical pipe. We filled up our water bottles and cups and enjoyed a nice cup of ice-cold water.

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A short distance later on Seward Highway found us taking photos of a large Moose just hanging out on the side of the Highway. First Moose sighting of the trip! Our last stop on our way into Seward was at the Bear Creek Weir. We drove down a small gravel road and rounded a corner — passing a small Weird on the left. We almost missed it completely… and almost skipped it when we turned around, but we pulled over just in time to check it out anyway… because why not? We got out of the RV and headed over to the little bridge. Looking over the side, I stated, “no fish.” Then I amended it “oh there’s a fish” which then became “there are fish everywhere”. The salmon were there en mass and they blended in that it took a few moments to see how many there were!  On the other side of the bridge, we were able to see the fish trying to jump and swim upstream We also walked over to the small Weir building there were there were two people working. They said “hi” but didn’t offer much more than that— we saw the capture a few salmon with a net and place them in another area in the building- not sure what they were doing with those fish, but it was still interesting to see. It was a great little stop!

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After our Salmon stop, we continued on our drive to Seward, stopping at many of the pull offs because it was just
gorgeous. There is no way to adequately put into words what it is like to be driving down a highway with cliffs on one side and a giant body of water surrounded by snow-capped mountains on the other. It is genuinely indescribable. I’m including some photos below but even they don’t do it justice. Do yourself a favor and go there yourself so you can experience it!

 

 

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We arrived in Seward and pulled down into a waterside campground. We parked looking out at the water and snow-capped mountains. The sun was still shining (doesn’t get dark until about 11PM in early June). My mom disappeared to go see where we needed to meet the next morning and when she returned, Andrew and I were pretty much ready to collapse from the long day (our flight left DC at 6AM). She returned with a French Dip Sandwich and Fries from the small Bakery by the harbor where we were to meet with our boat crew the next morning. After eating sandwiches and figuring out our wake up call time, we headed to bed. All the shades were drawn on the RV and eye masks were used to help block out the bright sunlight.

 

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All in all day#1 of the trip was a HUGE success; beautiful vistas, wildlife, good eats, big mountains, waterfront campgrounds, and cozy towns.

 

Wildlife List:

Moose
Eagle

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Flying from DC to Anchorage, AK

First things first. Sorry for not posting over the last two weeks. We were traveling around Alaska and wifi was at a minimum. I still need to finish up the Indo trip and add the Alaska posts. Working on that now! Enjoy :0)

 

This morning we woke up at 3AM and gathered our bags, scrambled some eggs for breakfast burritos, and hopped into a taxi to take us to the airport. We’re going to Alaska! Our flight was on Delta; I’d found a decent deal through Amex Travel—plus if I book through Amex with my Amex, I get 3x the miles. So, why not? We were flying from Reagan National Airport to Minneapolis, MN and from Minneapolis, MN to Anchorage, AK. There we would call Great Alaskan Holidays (RV Company) for a ride, we’d watch a video on driving the RV and then we’d meet up with my parents and head onto the great outdoors for two weeks of adventure, sight-seeing, hiking, and “bonding time” (hopefully not too much- I mean there are four of us living and traveling in an RV).

The flights weren’t too bad. While they in no way compared to our most recent International flight (seat size, plane size, bathrooms size, or snack service-wise), they still weren’t too bad. Our first leg was about 2 hours. We received drink and snack service twice. Drinks included the usual coca cola beverages and juices (including coffee, tea and water) and our choice of snacks between cookies (2 biscoff graham cracker type cookies), a small bag of pretzels or a small bag of peanuts. To be honest, we weren’t even expecting the snacks, so that was a nice surprise.  The plane was completely full at 6AM so we were pretty packed in… sleep was not comfortable.

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Our layover in MN was about an hour or so and the gate was only a few stops from our arrival gate. So, we exited the plane, took some time to stretch and use the restroom, and moved on…

Our flight from Minneapolis, MN to Anchorage, AK was a little over 5 hours. The plane was again full. We boarded the plane and took our appropriate window and middle seats. As the plane filled up, a woman came and asked if we were in seat 25D. We both said no because that was the aisle seat next to us. She then said well 25D is the window seat. Luckily the woman behind us piped up and said “no it’s not. It’s the aisle seat”. The woman said OK and sat down. The first flight attendant that came by was asked if there were any open window seats. At this point I was going to offer her the window seat, but figured I’d wait until she found out if there were any available seats, which we doubted there were since the flight was full. Well wouldn’t you know, about 10 minutes later, the flight attendant came back and told her there was one more window seat available in the back. So, the woman moved, we got three seats/a row to ourselves, and the comfort level went way up!

On this flight we were given drink and snack service a few times and in addition, the flight attendants would also walk around offering water to folks in between main drink service times. The plane had large TVs hanging over the center aisle every few feet for people to watch what was playing (our first flight did not have TVs). This flight showed the movie, “Veronica Mars” and then showed a series of three TV episodes… from 3 different shows (How I Met Your Mother, About a Boy, and then a third show about a little girl ends up traveling with a convict- not sure what the name was- hadn’t seen it before and only watched bits and pieces on the flight). You could use your own headphones or purchase a set for $2 (no cash; credit cards only).

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We arrived in Anchorage about 10 minutes early. The airport is a really nice one that has had some definite updates. Moving from plane to baggage and out of the airport was extremely seamless (I had almost forgotten what it’s like to fly domestic and not have to purchase a Visa, get cash out, or go through customs). We called up Great Alaskan Holidays and told them we had arrived and about 15 minutes later, a maroon van showed up, loaded up our bags, and off we went.

Our driver was extremely friendly and turns out he was born in Alexandria, VA (where we live), lived in PG County for a while, then moved to Texas, and eventually moved to Alaska (first Fairbanks, now Anchorage). He is a welder by trade and moved to Alaska as a result of the recession. He had family living in Alaska who told him that the state hadn’t been hit by the recession. So, he moved to Fairbanks and worked for a Gold Open Pit Mine there as a welder. He said the benefits were amazing and the pay was 6 figures, but the work was boring. After a little while in Fairbanks (which he does not like at all, by the way), he found himself down in Anchorage. His girlfriend, a basketball player on some professional level, is an Alaskan and loves it more than anything, so he’s sticking around.

After watching 15 minutes of a video about how to drive the RV, Andrew had his license scanned, he signed a form, we met up with my parents, and we were on our way. First stop: Safeway Grocery Store. We stocked up on some fruit, vegetables, sandwich fixings, and some chicken to grill. We grabbed lunch and then headed towards Seward… but that’s for another post.

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