Friday, August 10, 2007

Ninilchik Hub

Ninilchik, itself, is a quiet, sleepy little place on the face of it, but there is a lot of activity here- mostly centered around fishing and sight seeing. Geographically, it's a fairly large area, strategically placed so as to make it a great location from which to spend the month exploring the rest of the Kenai Peninsula. August is summer to me, but in the life cycle of the salmon, it's nigh onto winter, a fact pointed out by the temperature drops as we get further into the month. Nights especially are colder now; a sign and a warning of things to come. In the streams and on the beach, the signs and smells of death are showing up as the spawn is completed, the purpose of life fulfilled and the ultimate result realized. Carcasses and bones are everywhere on the beach now- some from those who didn't make it to the streams, some who did but have washed back down to the sea, some who were caught and cleaned and discarded by fishermen, and some who were taken by eagles, bears, and others who prey upon them and picked clean where they were taken. The scene has its own strange beauty.Down from the big city of Anchorage, Gary and Judy made the trip with their friends Gary and Vicki who we had met when we were up that way. Nice folks, down to earth, love to explore, ride the ATVs and laugh around the camp fire. Easy to enjoy their company and so we did. They all camped by the shore for the weekend and we all shuttled back and forth for meals and activities.
Once again they transported the scooters and brought one for us to use- a fact which greatly opens up the amount of countryside you can see and got us to places that the typical tourist would otherwise miss entirely. Good friends and local knowledge just make the day that much better!
Lots of gulls to clean up the fish remains and plenty of eagles to make sure the job gets done right!
These photos were from a ride on a quite cool and rainy day. Note the clothes; this is August! It would have been real easy to sit inside and catch up on e mail or watch a little TV, but not this crew. Alaskans deal with less than perfect weather on an almost daily basis as far as we can tell- no problem. Seize the day and make the most of it. Time is precious, there is much to see, and no time like the present to do just that!

Drive up and down the road or the beach all you want, you won't find a small craft harbor in Ninilchik. That sort of thing cannot be built here for reasons we assume are environmental in nature. But that doesn't mean a guy (or his charter service, of which there are seemingly hundreds here) can't go fishing. Boats are driven on trailers to the beach via the gravel road. Once there, unhitch and turn the rig over to a piece of heavy equipment like a bulldozer or a tractor for launching. They back right into the surf, slam on the brakes and launch you. Coming back in, just the opposite, drive right on to the waiting trailers and rig which will pull you back to the beach, where you can hook up to your truck and head back to base. Cost for each round trip launch? $42.00. Available anytime the wind and surf is not too extreme between April and September. Wanna fish outside those dates? Go somewhere else. The launch service is native owned and operated. Half a dozen pieces of heavy equipment putting boats in and taking them out pretty much non stop all hours of the day- light allowing. One small headquarters building (call it a shed) One driver and one tender for each piece of equipment. Annual business gross? 6 million, give or take 100K. Wanna know how many boats go fishing from the beach here? You do the math?

Measured horizontally, the property at the top of this bluff is very, very close to the beach. But I think you should think twice before believing the real estate ad that claims "a short walk to the beach", because measured vertically or by the number of extreme steps? Well, that's a whole 'nuther ball game.
Happy Valley Falls: a beautiful spot along the ride down the beach, and just below where Gary and Judy had a lot until recently.
Back at camp on the beach: Gary, Judy, Marilyn, Vicki, and Gary warm up with a hot cocoa laced with brandy. Yum! If that doesn't warm you up, the driftwood fire surely will do the trick. But watch out Gary, that pile of wood is darn easy to trip on....(no photos please!!!)
On a sunny but windy day- and not a day when we could go on our intended and scheduled halibut charter, we made a trip inland a bit to see the site of the spring wildfire that made big news on the Kenai. At the time we were traveling up here, this fire was burning and we had been worried that it would adversely affect our trip to this part of the state. It was the second biggest fire in the country when it was burning and on all the news stories. Eventually, the rains put it out, but not before it burned up a lot of acreage. Luckily, it skirted most of the buildings in its path. Why? No one knows. Like other parts of the life cycle, we found it to have created its own brand of beauty.
Fireweed, so named because it is the first plant to venture forth after a forest fire, and grasses, have already started to re-beautify the surrounding area.
This photo is from a different locale than the fire zone, but it shows what the fields of fireweed look like when they are in full regalia.
This is within a few feet of the furthest west you can go by road in all of North America. We've previously visited the furthest southern point, Key West, and will hit the easterly most area in Maine in another portion of the trip, maybe next summer. Who knows at this point? We've been there by car, but not with the coach, so no flags to claim that victory just yet.

Another day trip took us to the homestead, home and studio or famed Alaskan artist, Norman Lowell. The artwork was wonderful, but the old original studio and the home and gardens that he and his wife built with their own hands is breathtakingly beautiful- AND NOT TO BE MISSED if you make it this far....
On much of the Kenai Peninsula, the Russian influence is very obvious, including but not limited to the significant Russian Orthodox populations of Homer and the city of Kenai who are easily identified by their dress. The Russian Orthodox Church of Ninilchik is said to be the most photographed man-made structure in all of Alaska. There's a snow capped volcano behind it in the distance.

Above and below, the Russian Orthodox Church of Kenai, part of the "old Kenai" section of town, which is largely an historically preserved area of town. The church is an active church and when we went there I spoke to the priest in Russian ( I had couple years study in that way back in high school and still retain a fair amount of it- much to my surprise). For the benefit of the others touring the church, the priest told them what I had said and what it meant. Thank goodness! I had actually said what I intended to say!
Drive up and down the west side of the Kenai Peninsula, there will be one or more, of four, volcanoes to look at, pretty much anywhere you go. Three of them are now snow and glacier capped. One is still snorting steam after a recent eruption that fortunately did not "ash" the peninsula.. As with many of our pictures, clicking on them to enlarge them will greatly enhance what detail you are able to see. Below is Mount Iliamna (10,000').
And Mount Redoubt (10,000'):
And way off in the distance, the much smaller, but active Mount Augustine (4000'). Presumed to be the most dangerous of the four volcanoes in the ring of fire. An eruption of this volcano could see the collapse of the slope into the sea, creating a tsunami that would affect Homer and Seward in (Kachemak Bay).
Mount Spurr (11000') is hiding in the cloud bank.
Here's my "sign and messages" section for this post:

The sign with the big ole volcano behind it says not to litter, but there was no litter anywhere around. So either this sign is working very well- or it should read: No Shooting!
A sign of the season: a king salmon has completed his cycle of life and is in the process of deterioration - which is the very thing that will provide nourishment for the frye to sustain themselves in the river before it is their time to head out to sea.
Alaska retailer and enterprenuerial legend Ted Sadtler is back at it with a chain of mattress stores called the Mattress Ranch. The image below is the basis for much of his advertising (that's me doing my best "Ted" impersonation in front of the sign at the new Soldotna store). I missed Ted himself by a day as he was on a plane from Seattle to Fairbanks to open another new store up there, but long time friend and business associate Larry Slichter, who has been tapped to get this store up and running, came dashing out when he saw we were interested in getting a good picture to see if he could be of assistance. A half hour or so later I felt like we had another new friend in Alaska and he even offered to help me get my King next time I'm back in the area. I didn't happen to need a mattress at this point, but I like the way they do business- friendly, personal service- no matter what you need- and a willingness to go above and beyond to help out a friend, old or new. Now all this is well and good, but I am only sorry I don't have the ability to put his TV jingle on the blog for you to hear. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on whether or not you just heard the jingle before going to bed- it's catchy as all get out, and once heard, plays over and over in your mind, regardless of whether you are on a nice new mattress from the Ranch or not! Hey, I'm pushing 60 and I sing that gall darn tune around the campfire, driving down the road, fishing on the Kenai, and yes, when trying to fall asleep. I'm thinking maybe the fact that I was singing excerpts from it in the store for Larry that day had a little bit to do with our getting along so well so fast. And I hope I'm not talking out of school here, but I know for a fact that Gary, Gary, Judy and Vicki can do that number around the campfire too! If I have my facts straight, Ted has several stores in the Seattle area in the lower 40 and at least 4 or more stores in Alaska now as well (Anchorage, Soldotna, Wasilla, Fairbanks) If I EVER get the means to post the tune, I WILL. But in the meantime here are the lyrics to the jingle in case you wish to practice:
Get more sleep
Without counting sheep
And have another night of bliss
Across from JC Penny's warehouse
On Arctic is where we is...
Save more bucks
At the Mattress Ranch.
HOORAY! I found one of the jingle ads on YOUTUBE. Check it out quick before it gets moved or taken down!!! YIPPPEEEEE!
Helloooooo! These oil rigs are right smack dab in the middle of some of the best fishing in the world. Structures like these attract fish, not destroy them. Oil like this helps our economy, not destroys it. Revenues like these help the state, not hinders it. And in case you didn't notice, Mr Law Maker Guy, the oil rigs and pipelines actually attract the tourists that you are so scared of losing if you start drilling. Wake up and smell the new and safe technologies. And if that doesn't work for you, let me tell you about the tax structure up here....

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