Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Old Town Kenai, Alaska

The Kenai visitor centre has a small museum with lots of interesting exhibits, I rather fell for these beautiful beaded gloves
and mukluks.

Around the corner from the visitor centre is old town Kenai, originally home to Russian fur traders and native Kenaitze indians.
We parked by The Holy Assumption Orthodox Church, which, according to the information board, is designed in classic Pskov vessel or ship pattern and is a fine example of a Russian village church.  

When we were there (in May) the church was closed, parts of it are rotten, the local parish, Russian Orthodox Sacred Sites in Alaska and the National Park Service are developing a plan for the church’s preservation.
From 1841 The Holy Assumption Orthodox Church has been an important landmark in this part of Alaska and over the years has served as a school, judiciary, social and welfare centre.
Nearby, overlooking the inlet is the Saint Nicholas Memorial Chapel which was built in 1906 over the graves of Igumen Nicholai (1810 - 1867), Makary Ivanov (1835 – 1878) & others.
The church, chapel and rectory are examples of Russian style architecture on the far western frontier.    
Close by is the Oskolkof/Dolchok house, built from hand hewn logs by farmer John Oskolkof around 1918, it became the Dolchok home in 1945.  These days it’s Veronicas Coffee House, naturally we tried it out for lunch.   DB had a half beef and cheddar sandwich and coffee, I had a vegetarian wrap and hot chocolate, by then we were rather full, so we had a piece of Hawaiian carrot cake to go.   If you’re in old town Kenai, it’s a great place for lunch.

Our last stop in old town Kenai was Erik Hansen Scout Park, overlooking the Kenai river and Cook Inlet.

The Kenai River flows for 150 miles from high in the Harding Icefield and Kenai mountain range through gorges, forests, wetlands and lowland spruce forests before joining the Cook Inlet.   Fresh water and salt water meet as the river joins the inlet and high tides can carry salt water 12 miles up river.

Beluga whales, harbour seals and occasional Orca’s hunt in the Cook Inlet during, Spring, Summer and Autumn and Scout Park is a good spot to see them, sadly not the day we were there.   It’s also a good spot for volcano viewing as on a clear day you can see Mount Redoubt, Mount Illiamna and Mount Augustine.

Have fun, we are!

Monday, 27 July 2015

Around the Kenai, Alaska

As we drove towards Soldotna, quite early, well early for us, we saw our first moose, they’re much bigger than we realised, but I think they’re quite cute, although not so cute I’d like to get any closer to them.
We watched as they contentedly browsed through the marsh, before continuing on our way.   A side route we’d planned on driving along a good dirt road around a lake was abandoned due to a road closure.  Lucky for us as it turned out, because we later discovered that recent heavy rains had caused the road to sink in places.   Hmm..... a sunken car on a dirt road, now that would’ve taken some explaining to the car hire company!
We stayed on the banks of the Kenai River at the Kenai River Lodge, it’s a lovely spot, with a great Mexican restaurant just across the road.

One of the first places we visited was Captain Cook State Recreation Area.   On our way we followed a sign for Nikiski Beach, just to see what was there.   We dead ended at a beach overlook where we could see supply ships and a drilling rig quite close to the shore.  

Further along we stopped at a roadside pull-in by Stormy Lake, it was a lovely spot, but unfortunately there was rubbish everywhere, why do people do that?

When we eventually arrived at Captain Cook State Recreation Area, we followed the road to the left, past the campsite and to a parking area with benches, picnic tables

and fantastic views across the beach and Cook Inlet.   It was a good job we turned left as we later found out that driving straight on would’ve taken us into a huge muddy swamp.

Across the inlet we could see the vast, white wilderness of Lake Clark National Preserve, even though it was a sunny, warmish afternoon, just looking at all that snow and ice made us shiver.

I’m not sure what they’re drilling for in the Cook Inlet, oil or natural gas I imagine, but as we looked around we could see quite a few drilling rigs.  The tiny speck, way in the distance, in the photograph below is actually a drilling rig.
We could also see what looked like a volcano cone, we thought it might be Mount Redoubt.

We almost gave Captain Cook State Recreation Area a miss, but we’re glad we took the time to drive out there, as it’s a lovely spot with stunning views and definitely worth visiting.

Have fun, we are!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Whittier, Alaska

Whittier is an unusual place as other than arriving by boat from Prince William Sound the only way to get there is to either drive or take the train through the Anton Anderson Tunnel.   Although I suppose if you really wanted to you could hike across the mountains.
We paid our $12.00 and got in line with the other vehicles waiting to use the tunnel, as it was early in the season we didn’t have to wait long, but I imagine the queues could be quite long during the summer.
As trains also use the tunnel there are huge fans and escape routes all along it’s length, about 2½ miles, each time the tunnel is used there is about a 15 minute wait to allow time for the fumes to clear.   A traffic light system advises when it’s your turn to start through.   It’s a strange feeling as you start to enter the narrow one way tunnel.
Driving towards the tunnel.
Just about to drive into the tunnel.

I did take some photographs as we drove through but none of them came out very well.   As you reach the end of the tunnel, signs point you back onto the road otherwise it’d be so very easy to carry on following the railway tracks!
We paid our $10.00 to park on the harbour and then looked for that most important of things on a cold, rainy day, a coffee shop!   Once we’d enjoyed hot chocolate and coffee we walked along the harbour.  Even on a mostly cloudy, rainy and chilly day the views across Prince William Sound were spectacular.

The sun peaking through on the mountains.

Whittier Harbour

We had hoped to take one of the many boat trips out into Prince William Sound, but none were available when we were there.
Walking around town we visited the museum, it’s small, but interesting.   The route from Prince William Sound to interior Alaska has been used for centuries, by among others, the Spanish, the explorer Valdez came this way, as did the Russians.   In 1941 during WWII, the US Army built the railway line and tunnel so that as an ice free, deep water port, Whittier could be used to bring in material and personnel to defend Alaska.
At the end of WWII the army port was deactivated and abandoned for a short while, before being reactivated during the Cold War.   In 1960 the port was finally deactivated.   The 1964 earthquake destroyed what remained of the waterfront and rail yard, leaving only the huge cold war buildings.   Today most of these buildings are used as homes by the majority of the residents of Whittier.
We had lunch at the Inn at Whittier, right on the waterfront enjoying the views across the harbour and out across Prince William Sound as we ate.
Full of scrumptious food we continued our walk around the harbour, where a lady I was chatting to told me that they’d had very little snow this year, but on average they get around 266 inches.   I can’t imagine what it must be like to have live somewhere that has so much snow.   There were some lovely handmade leather items in this gift shop.

These lovely wooden dolphins were on the harbour.  

Have fun, we are!

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Exit Glacier, Seward, Alaska

Not far from Seward, Exit Glacier is part of the huge Harding Icefield.   A remnant of the Great Ice Age, each year between 150 and 200 inches of snow fall on the icefield.  Harding icefield covers a huge part of the Kenai Peninsula, and is 50 miles long and 30 miles wide, something that wasn’t discovered until the early 1990’s.   It’s hard to visualise that much snow and ice.
As yet no-one knows just how deep the icefield is, but as some of Exit Glacier’s crevasses can be more than 100 feet deep……  

At one time it was possible to walk right up to the glacier and stand under a glacial overhang, unfortunately people can and have been swept underneath never to be seen again.   Imagine disappearing underneath all that, it doesn’t bear thinking about!

These days the trail ends at an overlook to try and stop this happening. 

The view from the end of the overlook trail.

A distant view of the glacier is pretty amazing.

A round trip hike on the much more strenuous 3.9 mile Harding Icefield Trail takes you right to the edge of the glacier, climbing about 3,000 ft right to the edge of the glacier it’s about a 6 – 8 hour round trip.   Maybe, possibly, one day! 

We walked down onto the outwash plain, the views were pretty impressive, needless to say when I dipped my hand into the water it was ice-cold.

There were several inukshuks, I had a go a building one,

DB was distinctly underwhelmed by my effort, I thought it wasn’t actually bad for a first attempt. 

Looking back towards Exit Glacier and the Harding Icefield.

As we walked along the trails we kept seeing brown signs showing dates, 1815, 1914, 1951, etc. etc., and wondered what they meant.  An informational board told us that Exit Glacier has been retreating since the Little Ice Age.   The signs showed how far into the valley the glacier extended in 1815 and how far it had retreated by 2007.    

As you can see from the photographs, it was very overcast and quite cold the morning we visited, even so we had a great visit.  We got the timing right as well because later that day it absolutely poured with rain.
Have fun, we are!

Monday, 13 July 2015

An exciting cruise from Seward!

One of the main things we wanted to do in Seward was cruise the Kenai Fjords. We had two choices for the day we wanted to go, but only one company had a Kenai Fjords Park Ranger on board that day, so that’s the company we chose.
This was our view as we sailed out of the harbour.
As we sailed along the ranger pointed out a mountain goat in the shade of an alder tree on the side of a sea cliff.   I looked but all I could see was a green patch, I zoomed in and clicked and there it was.

Further along as we sailed past Bear Glacier, the ranger told us that the icebergs we could see (bottom right corner of the photograph) were probably at least 100ft high.

We cruised around these unusually shaped rocks, sadly I’ve forgotten the name of them.

The highlight of our cruise was when whales were spotted, as we saw not one but two humpback whales!
I just managed to catch the tail of one as it dived in the ocean before the Aialik Glacier.    It was so exciting, especially as it was only mid May and we really thought it was too early in the year to see them.

Our boat threaded its way through tiny icebergs to the foot of the Holgate Glacier where it falls into the ocean.    The Holgate Glacier is part of the huge Harding Icefield.

As the boat slowly approached, the chill flowing down from the glacier went right through us and despite wearing numerous layers we were absolutely frozen.

I don’t know why but I always imagined that glaciers were quiet, they’re not.   They creak and groan and rumble and squeak occassionally emitting a huge roar as a section falls into the ocean.   I was glad we weren’t any closer.

 A close up view of the top of the glacier.

It was bitterly cold out on deck, but we didn’t want to go inside, after all who knows if we’ll ever do this again.   As we turned to leave a crew member caught a ‘small’ iceberg, I don’t think I’d’ve liked to try and haul it in.

The iceberg wasn’t actually that ‘small’ when it landed on deck, a piece was chopped off and used for ice in drinks, but I have to say after all his hard work we were so cold the only thing we wanted was hot chocolate!

We’d had fabulous weather all day, but as we turned back to Seward the weather closed in, so we stayed inside, only venturing out again as we sailed past this rock.

It turned out to be a resting place for lots of seals.

As we arrived back into the harbour a sea otter cruised by nibbling on something tasty.

Our cruise was fabulous and, as it turned out, we’d picked the best day of the week for it. 

Have fun, we are!