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North to Alaska - Live!

by Kathy 12. July 2011 22:29

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Happy in Homer


The small town of Homer was the perfect place for us to relax and enjoy a “vacation” from our travels.

We stayed in a campground near the very end of Homer Spit, a skinny 4 1/2 mile stretch of rocky soil that sticks out into the bay, with a small harbor.

Here is a view of the spit from a distance:

We knew this was going to be a great town when a moose ran across the road as we were entering the main business district:

Driving onto the spit:

The setting at the end of the spit was spectacular, and there was plenty of beach and open spaces for the kids to enjoy.

Sebastian:

Genevieve:

Ben and the kids playing catch:

At low tide, our beach doubled in size.  Here are Genevieve and Ben along the water’s edge:

The spit had a paved bike path that allowed us to leisurely explore its length.

There were many RV parks along the spit, like small cities of white:

The views from the spit were undoubtedly lovely, but the main draw for visitors here was the fishing. The vast majority of people come here to charter a fishing boat out of the harbor.

In addition to the RV clusters and fishing boats, the spit had some stretches of tourist shops, ticket offices, and restaurants. One of the most famous tourist stops on the spit was the Salty Dawg Saloon, which had been built as a cabin in 1897 and whose lighthouse tower was constructed in the late 1900’s to cover a water storage tank:

There were very few residents living on the spit. One of the most colorful homes was a converted boat, nestled among other wooden boats along the side of the road:


We ventured away from the spit to visit the Pratt Museum.

Far more than a “museum,” it really should be called an exploratorium, with its amazing array of exhibits on sea life, bears, the oil spill, local artists, the spruce beetle, and other topics involving natural history. The spaces within had an intimate feeling, and everything was thoughtfully presented. This was not a place that we wanted to zip through quickly, as there were many “hidden treasures,” such as a set of drawers that contained a series of wings and feet from sea birds.

Genevieve and I also walked the museum's Forest Trail, a short loop through the woods.

There was a sign at the entrance warning that bear and moose had been seen on the trail this summer. With a bit of eagerness mixed with lots of caution, we scanned the bushes around us as we walked, hoping to see some furry shapes.

Genevieve, on the trail:

Along the path was an art exhibit called “Facing the Elements,” with works that were intended to withstand the outdoor weather changes. Some pieces were simple in design and execution, while others were more complex.  Here are some of our favorites:





Off of the trail was a small labyrinth, which was fun to walk.

The most memorable artwork, however, was a piece called “Wishing Well” by Christina Whiting:

According to a written description about the artwork, we were supposed to think about what we “would like to bring into our life,” then write that on a stone and place it gently inside the wooden bucket. Genevieve and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows—what should we wish for? Continuing happiness, love, and health? Yes, indeed. Hmmmm.  We thought a smiley face summed up our wishes.

Then a mischievous grin came over Genevieve’s face. She found a stone on the ground and borrowed my ball point pen (not the best, but it was all we had) and started carefully making the thickest marks she could. The end result:

“Let’s see a bear”!  

Ahh, yes--we had not yet seen a bear in Alaska, although we had seen been searching for one since we spied the grizzly in Canada several weeks ago.

Carefully placing our stone into the well, our light-hearted wish was made—with the verbal caveat of “from a safe distance, and please let us not be between a mama bear and her cubs when this wish comes true”!

Later, we sought out a good trail for some mountain biking and found the Homestead Trail in the hills above Homer. Our goal was to ride 4.2 miles from the trailhead to the reservoir, and then back:

Let’s just say that the trail was not well marked. Within ten minutes, we had reached a dead end at someone’s backyard—which had a moose in it!


We were elated! Oh, the wonderful things you can find when you lose your way.

Continuing on a bumpy two-track, we still had hopes of reaching the reservoir:

We eventually encountered a nice gravel road:

And then a dirt road that had lots of roots:

We got off our bikes and pushed our way through some overgrown, brambly sections:

Eventually, we gave up hope of ever finding the reservoir, although we were thoroughly enjoying our rollicking ride. On our way back, however, we found it . . . far off in the distance. Can you see it in the photo below?

It’s that silvery patch to the left of the tall tree:

What a hoot! We had a few moments of head-scratching--wondering, “How were we supposed to end up way down there?!”  (Ben thinks that we should have taken an overgrown single track that he spied somewhere near the moose . . . but we will never know for sure.)

Another wonderful surprise near the end of the ride was a small group of sandhill cranes—tall, elegant birds with a splash of color above their beaks:


We watched the birds (and they watched us back!) for a very long time. When we finally breached their comfort zone, however, they rose into the air, with impressive wing spans of at least six feet! Their loud honking cries could be heard long after they disappeared over the treetops.

We saw some more amazing wildlife on an all-day hiking tour with the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, a non-profit organization that focuses on environmental education. First, we took a boat—the Seabird—across the Kachemak Bay:

Along the way, we circled around Gull Island, a natural sanctuary for about eight different types of birds.

There were many gulls:


As well as some cormorants:

Floating in the water were some "common murre":

And we were thrilled to see the distinct orange beaks of some puffins:

All of a sudden, a sea of white bodies rose from the island:

Then we saw the cause—they had been swept by a fierce-looking bald eagle, seeking some tasty eggs no doubt:

We unloaded from the boat onto a floating raft that we pulled to the base of some stairs using a rope. Genevieve and Sebastian immediately volunteered to pull:

The stairs this morning had water covering the lower rungs:

We learned that the difference between high and low tides can be a whopping 28 feet! The water fluctuation could clearly be seen at the end of the day when we reboarded the raft, shown below from vantage point of the high-and-dry stairs:

This tide fluctuation exposed many sea creatures as the water receded, and one of the highlights of this tour was exploring the tide pools along a smaller body of water called China Poot Bay. By carefully lifting up rocks and peeking into crevices, we found an abundance of life. Here is our guide Patrick, leading Sebastian and Genevieve though the tide pool area:

We found many sea stars. Here are some “true stars”:



The “leather star” had skin that felt like smooth leather, as well as a garlicky smell in its “armpits”, emitted as a defense mechanism:


The brittle star was indeed breakable—it shed a leg despite our delicate handling:


Sea urchins were plentiful:

The sea anemones were beautiful with their waving fronds:


Sometimes the anemones were closed up into a tight ball:

Sebastian was drawn to the crabs and their pinchers. Here is a "black-clawed cancer crab":

A hermit crab:

The "decorator crab" is so-named because it camouflages itself with bits and pieces from its surroundings:

We could see the arm of a red octopus hiding in its den:

The wriggly “gunnel fish” resembled an eel and had coloring that made it difficult to spot:

A maroon-colored “sea cucumber”:

The “silky sea cucumber” was almost see-through:

We learned to tell the age of a clam by counting the rings on its shell—this one was about 25 years old:

The “scale worm” did indeed look like it had scales covering its back:

In addition to all the live things on the beach, Genevieve and Sebastian were excited to find this large patch of seaweed, which resembled a decorative cape:

On our tour, we also hiked through the forest area (slapping away a frenzy of mosquitoes) and learned about different plants and rock formations.

Another family was with us today—John and Nicole and their two young kids, Torin and Noel. Because the trails were steep, they carted their kids in backpack carriers. Coming up the trail is Nicole carrying Noel, followed by Sebastian, Ben, and John carrying Torin:

We picnicked on the very tip of Moosehead Point, shown in the photo below:

Looking out toward Homer and Gull Island:

As I was snapping a photo of the view, I happened to catch a raven flying by carrying a stolen egg in its beak:

The lunchtime entertainment was watching the playful antics of sea otters and their babies in the turquoise water below.




Later that day, we found bear tracks on the beach, but no actual bears:

Although our wish to “see a bear” never came true during our four days in Homer, we were far from disappointed. We had definitely created some special memories here. And to paraphrase a famous quote by Garrison Keillor, some luck lies in not getting what you wished for but what you actually have, which was what you would have wished for had you known.

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Comments (2) -

7/14/2011 1:30:24 PM #

Donnie W. jennings

Hi Kathy!

Looks like y'all had a wonderful time in Homer!  That was Sheryl's favorite place on our trip to Alaska.  I am in Texas and will be headed north Friday.  Looking forward to more updated.

Donnie

Donnie W. jennings United States | Reply

7/15/2011 12:19:07 AM #

Kathy

Hi, Donnie!  I can definitely see why Sheryl liked Homer so much.  Good luck with your journey north.  We'll be thinking of you!  Kathy

Kathy United States | Reply

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