Turnagain Arm to Homer

There are few major Highways in Alaska and not very many roads that connect to outlying towns either.  To reach them it is necessary to travel in one direction then back again to the starting point.  The Turnagain arm is a scenic byway that borders Anchorage and leads to three other major arteries, the Seward Highway, the Sterling Highway and another one I can’t remember.  From one point (Whittier you can either go by ferry or drive the two lane highway, that means no passing big rigs or trucks.  Some people who have taken our route opt for the ferry or cruise ship cuts off at least 3 days road time. Both are pricy and since we had already seen the inlet passage we decided to continue driving.

Cook Inlet

Bill really wanted to see the Kenai (Key-nai) Peninsula, the ocean side of Alaska before ending our travels. We were looking forward to finally seeing wildlife, watch the salmon frenzy, spot bald eagle, watch a bull Moose stop traffic, see the things that the Alaska tour books tout.

So he decided, rather than returning home on the Alaska Highway, he would map out a route making a loop via the Cassiar Highway thereby seeing different parts of Canada this time and enter the US via Seattle.

We began our journey From Anchorage to the Kenai on Thursday afternoon hoping to beat the weekend traffic. At Beluga Point the view was breath taking, on one side of the “arm”, the Chugash Mountain Range, we watched the locals, fill their canteens or 5 gallon containers with fresh glacial water, that spilled from a pipe, collected from the rocks above, we saw bikers and hikers following trails that bordered the mountain.

Chugach National forest

The area resembles PCH toward Malibu except and there are no houses, surfers, boats or traffic as we know it.  On the opposite side is the Cook Inlet where Beluga whales are often spotted and in the distance, we saw Mountains with V and U shaped valleys carved out by glaciers.  All along the “Arm” are interpretive signs describing the wildlife and habitat.

Girdwood was suggested as an interesting place to experience at an early junction of the “Arm.”  Our trusty milepost pointed us to  “Chair 5” restaurant and after passing it twice we located the local tavern, which turned out to be a real find. Since it was getting late and we had not chosen a camping location we didn’t explore the area, like the bakery at the ski lift, but it would be a place to return to and remains on our bucket list. From all appearances, chair 5 looked like a biker hang out with a touch of motley,  some hippy types, and a sprinkling of  “Topanga” types added for local flavor. With a dozen sparkling Harley’s parked in front, it could well be possibly a weekend warrior retreat.  This beer & burger joint had something for everyone; tunes from Janice Joplin, Johnny Cash, Otis Redding, billiards and numberous big screen TV’s all tuned in to a baseball game, the walls were pulsating with activity and happy sounds.  It couldn’t have been a more perfect entré to the Kenai and oh so nice to be finished with Anchorage.

For the next three nights we camp hopped at various municipal campgrounds (dry camping) all close to creeks , rivers or glaciers to get a feel for the area.  The first, Black Bear Campground was a little creepy upon entering because it was late at night and the woods were dark and the mosquitos were relentless.  But by morning, for some unknown reason, it didn’t rain and we found a well defined path that meandered through a forest where Mocha was able to get another taste of snow and we got some sunshine and much needed exercise.

Black Bear Campground

The second night we found Coopers Landing, a fisherman’s haven.  One side of the road the upper campground (prime spots) was nestled next to a large glacial river and on our side a small creek passed through it.  A little, dumpy looking tavern was just steps away from our camp called “Sagetts Smoke and BBQ” this local hang out, advertised live music, a band of two, who played a little bit of honkytonk, a little bit of blues and some good old rock and roll “get out your high heeled sneakers ‘cause we’re go ‘in out tonight”… Local chatter, high spirits and nice country people filled the room. We danced, no one else did, and the locals thought we were pretty odd! At our table, we met a couple from Homer, who suggested a few sights in the area that they thought we would enjoy and were not too touristy.

Cooper’s Landing at Sagatt’s

Sagatt’s

The third night, Chugash National forest Russian River Campground was not more than 5 miles farther down the road. Campers were lined up at the entrance waiting to be admitted to coveted spots.  All along the rivers edge anglers in hip-waders were quietly waiting for a catch.  In the afternoon the three of us took a hike up to Russian River Falls.  Along the path we saw what appeared to be bear scat and about ½ way up the trail we chatted with some trail volunteers who keep trails immaculate, they affirmed that yes there was indeed, a bear and cub spotted in the area. Bear in the area is quite common all over Alaska and Canada, people here are not afraid of them, they don’t mess with them, but respect them. The rule is; don’t run and don’t feed them but yell “Hey Bear” and lift your arms high, so you look big, keep the dog quiet, then you back away slowly, and never run. Supposedly the bear are basically shy and will run away from humans.  We heard quite a few hikers on the trail talking, which was comforting yet I found myself singing and humming out of nervousness.   On the way back I picked up a bramble with baby bear fuzz on it. It was surprisingly soft and about as close to a bear as I wish to come.

The next day we head toward Homer, it is the weekend and we heard that the salmon started running which meant campsites will be at a premium, and a lot of fishermen will beat it out of Anchorage for the weekend.

I found myself paying more attention to the scenery than to the milepost and we missed an important stop, the animal refuge station ½ way to Homer. We were told this is the best place for wildlife and it is a shame we missed it since we still have not seen any eagles, moose or caribou in Alaska yet.

Entering the Kenai Peninsula we Passed thru Russian named towns that were not more than four city blocks long, each one with it’s own special attraction, a church ,an antique store a gas station.

Homer, the tip of the peninsula faces a huge body of arctic water where fishing enthusiasts gather by the hundreds, and where there were two campsites on the “spit” which were virtual parking lots. When we arrived it was really cold, arctic cold, and wet. Fortunately, there was a municipal campground a few miles above the “spit”, just behind a ball park, hidden in the hills above an elementary school (whew).  Even through  overcast skies, from our vantage point, views of the glacial mountains were magnificent.

The “spit?” It’s a skinny finger shaped body of land like an attached island, about the distance of the original Santa Monica Pier and about as wide.  We weren’t there long enough to learn if it was man made or nature’s work but it is where all the boats launch, the island nature adventures start, and the eco tours take place but the big attraction is ocean fishing both on shore or by boat. There are canneries, seafood restaurants and a lot of rusted out old tug boats that I couldn’t photograph because it was raining too hard.

Someone lives here and it’s not an outhouse. Homer AK

Upon arrival, after setting up the camp which means leveling the camper, we needed to stretch our legs and decided to explore downtown Homer which has a few eateries, a few motel/hotels a couple of art galleries, all by the way, were closed, a hardware store, gas station a museum that had a nice botanical garden in front, and a little theatre featuring non stop Star Trek films.

Someone used to live here! homer, AK

Since nothing really grabbed our attention, we walked back to camp in time to go dinner on the “spit”. By the time we drove and parked which was no more than 10 minutes away, the mountains were no longer visable, a thick fog hovered over the bay, making steel grey waters look even colder.

Homer

By now, we were more cold and tired than hungry and in no mood to explore the spit.  The following day we waited for the weather to change but it didn’t, by nightfall the torrential rains came, the RV leaked soaking things we had stored on the.  In the morning when the rain had let up but the forecast, looked grim, I checked the weather report for Seward and Valdez, it was all the same;  overcast and rain expected for the next 10 days.  We surrendered, it was time to go home.

Homer from our campsite overlooking the spit.

Our moods dampened, to say the least, we head back toward Anchorage, to pick up a few supplies and wouldn’t you know it, the weather suddenly cleared and turned hot and sunny! Really hot, like short sleeve tee shirt and sandals hot.   But there was no turning back this time, we are heading South.

Again, I was no longer paying attention to the Milepost when Bill pulled over for a scenic view of a “live Glacier” called Matanuska Glacier, one that is measurably moving  (photo). We spent the night at Sheep Mountain, named for viewing Dall Sheep but we saw only six dots in the distance. While it was nice to be warm we were devastated to learn that that the weather had cleared in Kenai. Some things are just meant to be.

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