Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Salmon On The Spit

Sometimes a “spit” is a nasty habit! Sometimes a “spit” is part of a grill that turns the roast ‘round and ‘round until it’s ready to eat. But a spit is also a bar of gravel or rock or sand left at the leading edge of a glacier - either in advance or retreat mode. And this latter definition is what forms the Spit that extends out into Kachemak Bay from the village of Homer, Alaska. Even from a distance on the way into Homer, the Spit is a beautiful and impressive site with the back drop of mountains, including four volcanoes in the “Ring of Fire” in the far away Aleutian range of mountains. What better place to spend a week!

And speaking of sand bars, how about the Salty Dawg? Perhaps the most famous bar in Alaska and known all over the world, we paid it a visit and took a tour. It’s small; a tour takes about as long as a tour of our motor coach, and I think the square footage must be about the same. But sometimes good things come in small packages and this must be the case. We thought maybe we would stop in for a brewski (Russian influence in the area you know) but it was so crowded and so smoky, that we just took a couple pics for the record and moved on. Of special note, the dollar signs! No not these: $$$$$. The ones that are made of dollar bills with the name and address of any patrons who care to pin one on the wall- not that there is any room left to do so any longer.

Homer is the halibut capitol of the world. They do pretty well with salmon as well. And Seldovia across the bay was once the herring capitol of the world, and in fact the name of the town is a Russian word for fish (herring implied). With all that fish, and all those fish cleaning stations around town, the bald eagles are pretty much everywhere. They are birds of prey and not scavengers, but we have seen they are not averse to snacking on fish guts (or a nice fillet or two) when they are offered.

"Baldy" air controller at the airport.
Salmon “on the spit”? The first two silvers (Cohos) go into the log book and subsequently onto the grill. Yum!

As part of getting to know the area, we made a day cruise to Seldovia. Not accessible by road (only by sea and partly by rail now) it was once the hub of this part of Alaska. Today it is a picturesque sleepy little fishing village of 300 people (and a few old grumps according to their brochure). The village is built on a “boardwalk” which makes it different for Alaska, but a lot like many parts of Maine. We thought it had the distinct feel of Boothbay Harbor, which felt kind of like home to us. We’ve had many a good time with friends in Boothbay.

Like everywhere we have been in Alaska, the vehicles have cracked windshields, dogs in passenger seats, and a camper incorporated one way or the other.

The Russian Orthodox church looks over the village and was an interesting little building.

The boat ride to and from Seldovia was a great part of the day. In Germany they have the Autobahn highway. But the ride to Seldovia is more like the “Otterbahn” as rafts of 50 or more otters could be spotted along the way and singles popped up absolutely everywhere. Most of the females had pups riding on their bellies- and while they are adorable and highly photogenic, I found it darn near impossible to get close enough with my camera for a high quality shot.

Here’s Elephant Rock. When you first see it the elephant is drinking. But as you get closer and pass on by, the elephant lifts his trunk in an apparent wave to visitors. Cool!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Gold Metal

You wanted to see ALL the gold? Well here it is. Each bottle of "product" is from a particular venue or time period of the trip. If you think it looks impressive in the bottle laying on its side, be sure to look at the second photo showing the bottles standing up. Same bottles. But now the gold is considerably more difficult to see and equally less impressive.
The bottle in the upper right of the photo immediately below has our "what's this?" collection. Because we know how it responds in terms of specific gravity and density, it must be either: gold with mercury on it left over from the old days of the gold rush when that substance was used, or silver, or platinum. Most people think that gold is gold- and nothing more. But gold in its natural state is "mostly gold", but also a blend of other substances, usually metals like those mentioned above. Those other metals are much harder to ID for the untrained eye. We have maybe a half dozen such specimens.
The bottle in the center is from the general Fairbanks area. The other collections by comparison are less in quantity and much finer in size.
BUT- every piece of gold we found has been a real treasure. It represents some degree of success at something we are only starting at. It represents a marvelous learning experience. It represents time spent with each other and with new friends. If this trip were the travel Olympics, we have surely won the Gold- even if we had to handle a lot of dirt to get there!
And we'll be looking for more gold, whenever and wherever we can....

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sockeye It To Me

The campground at Soldotna is called River’s Edge but would more accurately be called “Middle of the Road.” Not because it’s a middle of the road campground; it’s not really that good! But it IS located right up against the main highway at the busiest intersection in town, where the Kenai River flows through town. Sometimes you have to take the bad with the good and this is just such a case.
The Sockeye Salmon (Reds) are running in the river, as evidenced by the shoulder to shoulder fishermen. A person who wants to catch one finds a spot along the river where there is enough room to cast a fly into the river. If there’s not enough room, you stand and wait for a spot. It can take a while! It’s worse than standing in line for a bank teller on a Friday afternoon. So you have time to go take a “salmon ride” at the carving center down the street.
Once I finally got a place on the bank of the river, I cast a fly that I had designed and tied myself the night before. The fly must have been a good pattern as it worked on the fifth cast and I managed to land my first Sockeye which weighed in at 7 pounds. Later, I lost one more, but that was the extent of the action for me that day. There were a lot of would be fish catchers that “didn’t” that day. A few, though, had the three fish limit.
My fish was a female and had a nice roe inside. Not wanting to waste that, I took the instructions off the internet for making caviar and gave it a try. It’s a simple and fast (although messy) process and much to my surprise it worked really really well, and the result was a good quality orange caviar. The flesh of the Sockeye is bright orange- almost red, hence the reference in the nickname. I’m very glad to have added the Sockeye to my catch list, but even happier that this was a short 3 day stay and tomorrow we are “Homer Bound.”

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Kenai Fjord Cruise Tour

There was no Gilligan, no Mary Ann, no Professor or Howells, but there was a Skipper who knew pretty much and was good at finding wildlife on this 6 hour tour around the Kenai Fjord, Resurrection Bay, and Aialik Glacier, part of the Harding Ice Field- the largest ice field in North America. Aside from a few notes, this will be primarily a photo post. The weather was perfect. The sea was calm. And we saw almost everything that was possible to see.
A convention of the endangered Qaiguaq harbor seals was one of the first animal groups we came upon.
There were puffins, hundreds of them, everywhere, both horned and tufted.
Murres are the closet thing the northern hemisphere has to penguins. They look like them, they walk and swim like them. They sound like them, and actually, they pretty much smell like them! I had never seen them in the wild before.
Love the roar of the Steller Sea Lions...
Animals on the check list but not pictured here: Cormorants and dozens of other bird species, bald eagles, sea otters, Dall's porpoise, and much more.
It wound up being a great day for whales. We saw several humpbacks, a couple fin whales, and an entire group of Orcas or Killer Whales. We got lots and lots, and I do mean lots, of fluke shots, some rolling, some breaching, some blowing and some spyhops (where the whale pushes his head out of the water to survey the surrounding environment).
Click on the photo below to enlarge to get a first hand look at the color pattern of this fluke. Whales are identified by these patterns- they are much like finger prints are to humans. The Skipper knew some of these whales by name or number- or both.
In the next several shots, you can see a mother humpback whale teaching her calf some life lessons. She signaled non stop for over 20 minutes with her tale in the air while the calf imitated her tale waving and slapping, breached, rolled, and spy hopped up to check us out. It was a most amazing display and a rare opportunity.

Below, the sail like fin of the male Orca...
A pair of Orcas play near our cruise boat.
The rest of the shots are of the Aialik Glacier. It is truly amazing, but driving the boat nearly right up to it does not give you the true sense of the glacier. The glacier is a mile across where it meets the see. It is a half mile deep (thick) in places, but a mere 300 feet tall where it faces the sea. Our boat pulled to within 1/4 mile of the face- to allow for escape if too large a calf were to fall, creating too large a wave for the boat to handle. Even at the 1/4 mile distance, large pieces of ice falling off the face of the glacier (or calving) looked small. That is of course until you heard them hit the water below in what can only be described as a canon shot going off nearby. When the larger pieces calved, the roar was deafening. And even when the ice was not falling visibly, the creaking and cracking and slipping and sliding of the glacier sounded like we were in the midst of a tremendous thunder storm. With the boat engines off for a short time, the sound of the glacier was even more impressive than the sight of it- if that is possible- and we all fell silent aboard the ship in shear amazement. It was, perhaps, the most amazing single sight we have seen so far on the trip.

Calling Home

Been on the go non stop for weeks now, so a couple hours hanging out at camp along Stony Creek in Seward felt really good. Another Stony Creek ran through the Oley Valley where I spent the first four years of my life. Those were some good times in a little house with "out back" lavatory facilities and a coal furnace in the basement. Just the name of the creek was reminiscent enough of home that I decided to call the 'rents, as our friend Joan calls my parents. They have been darn near everywhere in their action filled lives , including Alaska, and I knew without hesitation they would like to hear about the eagle circling overhead while we spoke on the phone. Oh, and that message about "Hi. We can't come to the phone right now, but leave your name and number" stuff- I just don't buy it!

Saturday, July 21, 2007


Yea, I know- it sounds lot Iditarod! But it tells a story and that's exactly the point. Mitch Seavey was the 2004 winner of the Iditarod race from Anchorage to Nome and he is the hometown (Seward) boy. So we spent a couple hours at his kennel just outside of Seward and went for the summer version of the dog sled ride. Pulled by 16 dogs, we went for a brisk ride through the woods and along the glacial stream for a couple miles. It was quite exhilarating to feel the power of the pack and they reach speeds, even pulling a summer sled with an average of 2500 pounds on it, that are quite surprising. Like our musher said, "We want to thank you all for coming out today and paying for the summer training for our dogs!" The ride was a blast for sure, and the lecture, demonstration, and hands on experience was something we won't soon forget...Every dog on Mitch's team is an Alaskan Husky- no Malamutes here. Like thoroughbred horses, these dogs are bred to run- and they sure do love to do that. The minute the handlers pick up the harnesses the noise goes up from the team and they do not quiet down until they are actually out on the trail. You can sense that they love to run.
We decided that Huskies have the longest tongues in the dog family. There's nothing scientific about this idea, just that after a run of any length, those big tongues go to work on the panting/cool off routine. They were beautiful dogs and they love people- very well socialized and wanted a pat from everyone whose "tail" they hauled across the trail that day. Praise goes a long way with animals; people too.
Yea, that's the spot, Greg! Rub there some more, would you please, please, please....
Always was a sucker for blue eyes....
At the halfway pit stop, the team gets kudos from Marilyn.
And look who they wanted to drive the sled back to the kennel. No lie! Marilyn steered us back home.
Puppies sure are cute. At four weeks old, they already are heart-breakers, huh? No! Abby does not need a new sister right now!
Marilyn gets the volunteer of the day award! No one else wanted to put on the 50 degree below zero mushing suit and gear on a nice warm sunny day. MJ did it. Ain't she a cute little snow bunny?
In Alaska, when they say "things are going to the dogs"- that's a good thing!