Alaska-Part 7-Homer and Kenai and Bears, Oh My!

To Alaska Part 7: Homer and Kenai and Bears, Oh My!

Day 37

During this phase of the trip we explored two more parts of the Kenai Peninsula, often called “Alaska’s Playground” because of all the outdoor activities and opportunities that exist. And we took our second flight (this time out of Homer to see BEARS!). Today we departed Seward, missing most of the rain until shortly before our arrival in Homer at the very bottom of the Kenai Peninsula.

Driving past Moose Pass, Cooper Landing (lots of fishermen in the rivers), and Kenai/Soldotna (lots of shopping centers and gas stations), we then headed south along the west coast of the Kenai Peninsula, spotting trumpeter swans and a mama moose with her two calves (sorry, no pictures).

This giant waterwheel in Moose Pass is the 3rd generation, built in 2003. It's still used to turn a lathe to sharpen tools.
Along the Kenai River

We knew we were staying on the Homer Spit, but none of us really had an accurate picture of what that meant. We’ve seen plenty of sandbars, but the Homer Spit is a giant 4-1/2-mile-long sandbar (and ¼-mile wide) at the very end of the peninsula where Kachemak Bay splits off from Cook Inlet. It was either formed by tidal swells and currents or by retreating glaciers (those are the two prominent theories). According to Wikipedia, the Spit has the longest road into ocean waters in the world (as distinct from long bridges, I guess).

A portion of the Homer Spit
The view from our campsite on the Homer Spit
First meal in Homer--at Captain Pattie's
I don't have Allyn's selfie technique. It took two photos to get everyone in.

When the clouds cleared and we could see across Cook Inlet to the mountains of Lake Clark National Park and Katmai National Park, I thought I would never get tired of staring at these beautiful peaks.

Kachemak Bay
June and Chaco on the beach

Kachemak Bay is also known for the Kilcher family on Alaska: The Last Frontier, a reality TV show featuring Jewel’s family. Their home is not quite as remote as it’s made out to be on the TV program, but the area is every bit as beautiful as you’ve seen on TV.

Another view of Kachemak Bay
Allyn, Judy and Tom, plus Luna and Blazer, on the beach

Day 38
Today was supposed to be our flight to see bears in either Lake Clark or Katmai National Park, but we got a call saying the weather was not good and we would have to postpone for a few days. We were disappointed, but didn’t really want to fly in the middle of a rainstorm. With our free day, we took care of chores in the RV and walked along the beautiful beach, enjoying both high and low tides.

Ron and Tom had a great lunch at Fresh Catch Café.  Judy and Allyn explored the area around Homer, driving into the area made famous by the Kilchers and Alaska: The Last Frontier

Allyn's picture of a view of Kachemak Bay from up high (and at low tide).

We had a beautiful evening walk on the beach. This location is gorgeous when the clouds clear.

Hank and Blazer enjoy the beach.
Judy, Ron, and Chaco enjoy the view
Allyn pretends to be a crab (or just crabby!)..
An untouched photo of the gorgeous Arctic lupine along the Homer Spit

Day 39
Today we got to see friends that Hank grew up with in Pasadena! They now live in the Phoenix area and were visiting family and friends in Alaska. What are the odds that we would be in the same town on the same day? We enjoyed a wonderful lunch at Swell Taco with John and Sue, plus their friends Trish and Mark (whose daughter works at Swell Taco, where the food is yummy!).

Sunrise over Kachemak Bay
Swell Tacos were swell!
So fun to see John and Sue!

We then drove up to Anchor Point (Anchor River State Recreation Area) because we had heard that they use tractors to launch fishing boats into Cook Inlet there. We were too late to see that event today, but Tom, Ron, and June got to witness it. Anchor Point is the most westerly point on the U.S. Highway System, and we made it there!

Tom captured these images of tractors taking boats into Cook Inlet.

We all got to see the more than a dozen bald eagles on the beach that were decimating a carcass. Not sure what they were eating, but something quite big. We were able to get within 50 feet of some of the eagles because they were way more interested in eating than in us! A thrill for sure.

Bald eagle and friends enjoy lunch.
On the beach with the bald eagles
Really cool rain clouds over the mountains on the west side of Cook Inlet

We then stopped at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, which includes the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, part of the national park system. After exploring the exhibits and watching a movie (plus getting my national park passport stamp), we walked the Beluga Slough Trail, a short, easy trail through the marshlands.

Native Alaskan raingear made from animal intestines--ingenious!
Another gorgeous view--this time from the Beluga Slough Trail in Homer.

We were thrilled to encounter a female moose having her early dinner, and as we safely photographed her from the boardwalk, we texted Judy and Allyn, who quickly came down from the visitor center to watch the moose as well. We love these wildlife sightings!

Mmm! Dinner tastes good!
Enjoying dinner after a day of exploration
Where's Allyn?

Day 40
Today marked the halfway point of our trip, since we are traveling To Alaska and Back in 80 Days! We can hardly believe it. Today was also an RV-driving day for us, as we backtracked on the Sterling Highway from Homer up to the Kenai/Soldotna area.

On the way, we stopped for a couple of scenic overlooks to view Mt. Iliamna, Mt. Redoubt (a volcano that last erupted in 1989) and other gorgeous mountains that are part of the Aleutian Range and are within Lake Clark National Park.

Mt. Redoubt shines today!

We also observed a sea otter, more bald eagles and some beautiful wildflowers at this scenic overlook.

A sea otter in Cook Inlet
A beautiful flower (rice root?) at our scenic overlook.

Our campground (Diamond M Ranch) is near the Kenai River and they have a viewing deck for spotting the caribou herds that sometimes graze near the river. No sightings yet, but we’ll keep trying. We did however spot a couple of rabbits and the animals on Mattie’s Farm, which is part of the campground where we’re staying.

Ron's drone picture: Our campground has a few squares where 4 RVs share a common area. Fun for hanging out with our Alaska 7 group.
One of several friendly goats at our campground

Day 41
Another sunny day! We haven’t had very many, so we had to get out and explore a bit. We stopped by the Kenai River Viewing Platform (no caribou), and then headed up to the Captain Cook State Recreation Area to look for animals and views—saw some pretty views, but not too many animals (though Tom, June, and Ron spotted a moose and her calf).

Overlooking the Kenai River Flats
Ron, June and the dogs at Captain Cook

We also explored Historic Downtown Kenai, with its beautiful views of the mouth of the Kenai River and its Russian Orthodox church and chapel. The Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church is a National Historic Landmark, built in 1894 to replace its predecessor that was built in 1849. They still hold church services in this lovely building. The St. Nicholas Chapel is a wonderful example of both the architectural style of the Russian Orthodox church and the frontier realities of building in Alaska in the 19th century.

Where the Kenai River empties into Cook Inlet
The view across Cook Inlet
Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church in Kenai
St. Nicholas Chapel

In Soldotna, we visited the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center and did a short hike to Headquarters Lake to see if we could spot trumpeter swans or a moose that was in the area. None made an appearance, but the mosquitoes did!

Where's Allyn? Where's Hank?

We ended the day with a fantastic meal at Addie Camp, enjoying dinner in a restored train car up on the hill.

At Addie Camp
The train car where we ate
Where's Allyn?

Day 42
Today was supposed to be our rescheduled flight to see bears in either Lake Clark or Katmai National Park, but on the drive down to Homer (after getting up at 5:00 a.m.), we got a call saying the weather was not good (again!) and we would have to cancel.

So, we stopped off in the coastal town of Ninilchik, and in the pouring rain took pictures of the Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord Chapel, a Russian Orthodox church built in 1901 to replace the original built in 1846. You might remember that the U.S. bought Alaska from Russia in 1867, and much of the area we are currently in was inhabited and somewhat settled by Russian fur traders and sailors. In fact, our campground is located on Kalifornsky Beach Road! How is that for a combination of a Russian name and a great place for visitors from California?

Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord Chapel
A plaque near the church in Ninilchik

Day 43
Today we got to watch a local Alaskan fishing event called dipnetting. During a few weeks in the summer, Alaska residents use large round nets to fish for salmon. While there is a quota, they can often catch enough salmon in a few days to keep their family well-fed through the winter. The annual event began yesterday, and we were privileged to watch hundreds of participants at the mouth of the Kasilof River.

Dipnets are large and circular with a long handle.
Once the salmon is caught in the net, the netholder removes the fish from the net and places it in an ice chest (or begins to filet it).
Dipnetting is a family affair. Families camp out on the beach and the kids either participate in dipnetting tasks or play games with each other.

Day 44
This day finally arrived! After two cancellations due to weather, we were rescheduled for our flight to see bears in Lake Clark National Park. We had to drive back down to Homer (almost 90 miles each way), so we explored a couple of stops on the way to our 2:30 bear-viewing appointment.

At Clam Gulch State Recreation Area, we found beautiful rock formations.

At Deep Creek State Recreation Area, we found beautiful views and more eagles!

Mt. Redoubt in the clouds
A juvenile bald eagle eats lunch in the river.
An adult bald eagle gives Hank the eye.

Back in Homer, we enjoyed another fabulous lunch at Swell Taco and drove up to Kilcher Road, so we could see the area above Homer for ourselves.

Judy and Allyn at Swell Taco
A view of the Homer Spit from above the town

Then on to the main event!

After checking in and weighing in at K Bay Air/Alaska Bear Adventures, we got fitted for hip waders, received a safety briefing, and were introduced to our pilot and bear guide Bill. Judy, Allyn, Hank, and I, plus one other person were tucked into a single-engine Cessna 206 for the one-hour ride across Cook Inlet to Lake Clark National Park, our 53rd national park (out of 63!).

All decked out in our hip-waders
Ready to board our plane
On the plane--a little nervous, we admit!

The flight probably could have taken half that time, but the pilot gave us a beautiful flightseeing experience over the Kenai Peninsula, the waters of Cook Inlet, and the northern part of Lake Clark National Park, including several glaciers, before we landed. 

Lake Clark National Park and Preserve is about 100 miles southwest of Anchorage and became a national park in 1980. It includes streams and lakes essential to the Bristol Bay salmon fishery, including the lake for which the park is named, Lake Clark. The park includes rainforests along the coast of Cook Inlet, tundra, glaciers, lakes, rivers that salmon use, and two volcanoes, Mount Redoubt and Mount Iliamna.

Flying over the lush Kenai Peninsula
Where Cook Inlet meets the coastline of Lake Clark National Park
The views from the plane were stunning!
One of the many glaciers in Lake Clark National Park
And another glacier!

And where did we land? On the beach at Chinitna Bay, a known bear-viewing site. We gathered our packs and headed off to see some coastal brown bears (a.k.a. grizzly bears). After a 10-minute walk, we rounded a corner and in a beautiful lush meadow, we saw about 15 bears, moms and cubs, casually munching on the sedge grass. We watched in silence, so fascinated to see so many bears who were so completely uninterested in us.

Known here as coastal brown bears, these bears are the same species as grizzlies and Kodiak bears. What distinguishes them from each other is their geographic location, diet and size. Kodiaks are the biggest (feasting primarily on salmon), coastal brown bears are next in size, with a mixed diet of sedge grass, salmon, and clams, and inland bears (grizzlies) eat less meat and more vegetation, such as berries.

Walking along the beach at Chinitna Bay
A spring cub--just a few months old
A yearling cub, born last year
Watching the bears in the meadow

After a while, Bill moved us to a few other spots where we watched the bears from different angles. Today, because of the way the tides were, we didn’t get to see the bears digging in the sand for razor clams, but watching about 30 bears-both moms and cubs–in the meadows was absolutely thrilling.

We also ran across a bald eagle nest and watched the adults/youngsters there. And to top it off, we encountered a red fox, who seemed anxious to show off for us on the beach.

Allyn catches the bald eagle flying home to the nest.
Allyn captures the baby eagle in the nest looking up at its parent.
A red fox joined us on the beach (Allyn's photo).
Allyn's photo of the red fox
Sadly walking back to the plane to fly back to Homer.

Our flight back was equally enthralling, as Bill circled Mt. Iliamna, the active volcano near Chinitna Bay, and gave us another incredible bird’s-eye view of Lake Clark National Park. It was one of the most beautiful places we have ever seen, and that’s saying something. And getting to walk near the bears and watch them eating was such a thrill! All we can say is, “Wow!”

Mt. Iliamna, the volcano near our bear-viewing
Another enormous glacier in Lake Clark National Park
A view of the Homer Spit and the mountains of Lake Clark National Park as we came in for our landing

So, that was a fitting end to this part of our journey, Homer and Kenai and Bears, OH MY! Next up will be an exploration of Independence Mine State Historical Park and Denali!

Where's Allyn? (This one's hard--this is where we had a late dinner at Fresh Catch Cafe after our bear viewing.)
Sunset at midnight over Mt. Redoubt as we drove home from bear-viewing!!!

Thanks for joining us on the journey! Till next time…

8 thoughts on “Alaska-Part 7-Homer and Kenai and Bears, Oh My!”

  1. What an amazing adventure. The wildlife pix are among my favorites – those bears! and the bald eagles. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

    • We’re glad you like the wildlife pictures, Lynn. Those are our favorites too! Thanks for enjoying our journey along with us!

  2. I am loving your journey! Stunning pics, & great storytelling! I do feel like I am along for the ride! Now, I only wish I was!!!
    It is so great to see Alaska from your eyes

    • Thanks so much, Mindy. We’re glad you’re enjoying the journey along with us. You would love this trip–maybe you and Dave can drive to Alaska some day–it’s truly a fantastic adventure!

  3. We also loved the Kenai Peninsula: the Russian Orthodox Churches, Homer, and we saw Anchor Point at high tide, so big waves were crashing into the boats and tractors as they launched or pulled out. Great memories! Thanks for the pictures and commentary.

    • I remembered your description of Anchor Point and that’s why we went, but unfortunately, our timing didn’t work out. We did get to see a tractor pushing out a boat at Deep Creek further up the coast, but not in the dramatic way that you experienced. Thanks for reading! See you in a few weeks!

  4. Cindy and Hank…what a sensational blog ! This trip is simply getting better and better for the Alaska 7 ! We are so pleased that you were able to hook up with John and Sue…so many memories with Hank , John and I hanging out on the front lawn on Galbreth Road in Pasadena! Thank you so much for all of your efforts in capturing the magic of this adventure for all us to enjoy! Onward!!

    • Thanks, Jim. Even today we still can’t believe we actually flew over to a national park and got up close to so many bears. Judy was saying it seemed like a dream playing the memories over in our minds the day after. Did that really happen? Yes…almost unbelievable.

      We had to pull ourselves apart from John and Sue. I’m sure the other diners at Swell Taco thought we were crazy for all the ruckus we were making talking about Pasadena memories.


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