While in Haines, one of our neighbors mentioned that they saw lots of whales on the ferry to Juneau. We were pretty happy with our whale watching this summer, but we never have enough of the whales, and thought it would be fun to take a day trip to Juneau.
An added bonus was that Juneau has drugstores and we could take care of filling Angel’s prescription. In fact, a lot of people in Haines take the regular ferry to Juneau to buy supplies especially since there are both a Costco and a Walmart there.
We were able to get a pet sitter for Angel and made our reservations for the day with the best weather forecast. Unfortunately, the weather deteriorated. And, after having had great luck the rest of the summer, we were off on a ferry on a completely cloudy, kind of dreary windy day. And the sea was quite choppy, in fact the day before they had to turn back once already underway and cancelled the trip, something that has happened only about twenty times over a several year period.
The good news was that the boat we were scheduled to go out on, the Fjordland, is a catamaran that sails pretty smoothly over rough waters. And when we set off the waters were quite still because we were at the mountainous end of the protected Lynn Canal.
Shortly after departing, we stopped to look at stellar sea lions on the rocks. There were several groups, all males. This is the end of the mating season when they don’t eat. Amazingly, these big fellows are usually much bigger than this! Continue reading →
There was something we really liked about the quirky town of Haines when we visited eight years ago. We had some delicious fish and chips for lunch and a beautiful float down the Chilkat River, where we saw lots of eagles.
But this was also the place where we almost missed our cruise. After our rafting trip, we had scheduled a ferry back to Skagway, our port of call. We scheduled the next to last ferry that would get us back in time so that if something went wrong, we had one more ferry we could take.
When we got to the dock we found out that one of the ferries damaged a propeller and was out of service so the entire schedule was disrupted. Now there was no ferry scheduled that would get us back to Skagway in time. This is the danger of going off on your own from a cruise, they will not wait for you if you are late. We freaked out.
Because of an extremely nice and resourceful lady at the ferry office, we were saved. She got one of the tour cruises that had gone out from Skagway and was on its way back there, not scheduled to stop in Haines, to detour and make a very brief stop at the dock. We literally had to run down the dock and jump on the boat.
She also arranged for the cruise line to have a car at the dock ready to drive us straight to the ship on the other end. And we just made it! One little door was open on the side of the giant cruise ship. And we jumped in with seconds to spare.
So Haines had a really good vibe for us and we have been looking forward to returning. Now we were back. Driving down the Haines Highway after crossing the U.S. border we saw the Chilkat River that runs alongside the road. To our disappointment, but not terribly surprising, we did not see many eagles.
The Haines area is known as The Valley of the Eagles because thousands of eagles come to the ice-free section of the Chilkat for a very late salmon run in November, but most of these visitors leave between spring and summer. But there are still several hundred resident eagles that you see all the time around town.
And the town has a lot more to offer than eagles. There are museums, a brewery, a distillery, a farmers market, shops and restaurants, hiking, boating, fishing and more. This little piece of Alaska is connected to other Alaska towns by sea – ferries take you to Juneau, Skagway and on to other towns in the Inside Passage.
But it is also pretty isolated, and the only road to town is part of Canada. There is no drugstore here, which we found out when we needed to refill a prescription for Angel, there is no really large grocery store etc.
And yet there is something about this town. The Tlingit were the first settlers in the area about 11,000 years ago and the first to discover its riches: the abundance of fish, game, and edible plants and berries.
As we waited to board the ferry into Dawson City, Hector met the owner of Klondike River Distillery. He distills vodka off the grid, the only such distillery in North America according to him, and infuses each bottle with a bit of gold.
But what was serendipitous was that Dorian’s “day” job is as a ranger at Tombstone National Park, our next destination! So he gave Hector an update on the fall colors. We had been concerned about driving up the Dempster Highway only to find that we were too early but he encouraged us to go and told Hector that the colors were definitely beginning.
This was a great start to our stay in this interesting town. We chose to stay in a Yukon Government Campground just outside of town. We love the Yukon Government Campgrounds, they cost 12CAD, are located in lovely natural settings and offer free firewood.
It is always a bit of a shock to our system to come out of a really natural and wild setting to a town (even a tiny one) full of people, and so staying at this peaceful forested campground just outside of town helped to keep us in balance.
We kicked off our visit by going to the Farmers Market, which was really mostly an arts and crafts market as coincidentally it was the weekend of the Yukon Riverside Arts Festival. We did buy one amazing head of lettuce though.
Dawson is a very artsy town. In addition to the arts festival, it has the Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture, the Dawson City Arts Society, the Dawson City Music Festival and the Yukon School of Visual Arts.
Their Visitor Center, as almost all Visitor Centers in Canada we have visited, offers excellent Wi-Fi for free as well as tons of information.
As with all of these northern towns, from the tiniest to the largest, flowers are planted everywhere and maintained beautifully until the very last moment that they can possibly survive. Really the flowers are just spectacular.Continue reading →
After our awesome time in Denali National Park, we drove east to the Yukon. We had ambitious plans to see some fall colors and more wildlife before our drive south to the lower 48, crossing borders a couple of more times. So this was a time to move a bit more quickly.
Our next stop was Fairbanks, where we stayed for a couple of days. We had quite a few chores: washing the car and the RV, laundry and groceries as well as an appointment with a veterinarian for follow-up tests and a checkup for Angel.
It rained heavily during our brief stay in Fairbanks and we just did not have energy left to explore, so we did not really see the town. Next time.
Alaska Day driving day 9 recap
Road Name: Parks Highway
Road Type: 2-lane
Road Conditions: Generally good, expansion joints are bumpy and there are a few frost heaves
Miles Today: 156
Driving Time: 3:30
Total Miles in Alaska: 1913
Total Miles since entering Canada: 3907
Continuing to Tok, we drove through the small towns of Nenana and Delta Junction to check them out.
Nenana is currently best known for its Nenana Ice Classic, a lottery that requires entrants to predict the time, to the closest minute, when they think the winter ice on the Tanana River will break up.
A large striped tripod is placed on the frozen river and connected to a clock and the moment that the tripod moves and stops the clock is the winning time. Last year the pot was about $330,000CAD, serous money! But it is extremely popular so they had 22 winners.
Delta Junction is the official end of the Alaska Highway, so we had to have the obligatory photo there. And I just had to get my photo by two of Alaska’s giant mosquitoes.
“Mommy there’s a whale spouting rainbows”! Overheard from a little girl on a Rainbow Tours boat cruise to Seldovia last week.
We set out on the Rainbow Connection, one of two vessels owned by Rainbow Tours, little did we know these names were an omen for something astounding that would happen later. Our research on weather paid off again, and it was another glorious morning, quite warm even, although at times it got quite breezy on the water.
We heard about this tour from some folks on our last boat tour out of Seward. It is part wildlife tour and part ferry transportation to Seldovia, a town that is across the water from Homer on Kachemak Bay and accessible only by boat or plane. We had heard about Seldovia from our friend Dan.
But the clincher was that both this tour and the ferry to Seldovia accepts dogs. So Angel could come along.
As it turned out, both our friends Karen and Jack had reserved this same date for the tour, and Dan and Amanda joined the boat tour with us as well.
The boat’s first stop was Gull Island, a seabird rookery owned by Seldovia Native Corporation. There we spotted pigeon guillemots, common murres and more horned puffins.
We had great views of Mount Redoubt, an active volcano, and at 10,197 feet, the highest peak in the Aleutian range.
As we reached the Eldredge Passage, we spotted otters. We are always excited to see them. There were quite a few otters, a group of them is called a “raft” of otters.
Camera & Bloody Mary … heaven
Next we spotted some bald eagles and also an eaglet in a nest. Kachemak Bay is not as well known as the Gulf of Alaska for wildlife viewing but this was turning out to be a great wildlife cruise.
One interesting fact we learned from one of the naturalists on board was that the eaglets’ wingspan will be as large as or larger than the adults when they leave the nest at between 9 and 13 weeks old.
As we continued we spotted some more otters, these were mamas with babies. We did not stop so it was tough to capture photos, but we could see that one had a baby that she was carrying face down – usually the babies are face up on top of the mama’s belly. But we could see the pup’s furry back and at one point he turned his head to look at us. The otters are really enchanting.
Next we saw some humpbacks. They were feeding from the nutrient rich top layer of these waters, and so were not diving, simply surfacing for air. I had not expected to see whales on this cruise, so was pretty excited.
Unfortunately, we also found the remains of a dead whale. There have been several dead whales found in the general area around Alaska and scientists are still puzzled as to the cause.
Then we reached our destination, Seldovia, one of the oldest settlements of the Cook Inlet area. Seldovia’s first residents were the Alutiiq about 2,000 years ago then in 1800 Russian settlers arrived and named it “Zaliv Seldevoy” – Herring Bay.
These first settlers came to mine coal, but the town later became a center for fur hunting and trading, and later yet for processing salmon, crab and herring.
Before roads provided better access within Alaska, Seldovia became an important first stop for ships from Seward and other areas in the Cook Inlet. The town built a wooden boardwalk along the waterfront and businesses whose structures were built on stilts grew around the boardwalk. In its heyday, it became known throughout South central Alaska as the boardwalk town.
The Good Friday earthquake of 1964 caused the town to sink four feet, and subsequent floods destroyed most of the boardwalk and structures around it. But its “new old boardwalk” is still a prominent feature in town, after being rebuilt along with new structures on stilts for businesses and residences alongside it.
People come for the day as we did, or to stay at one of its hotels or bed & breakfasts. You can hike, enjoy its beach, shop and eat at one of its shops and restaurants, fish, or kayak.
A popular stop is The Russian Orthodox Church, St. Nicholas, built in 1891. It is still “an active religious facility in the community”, with a visiting priest offering Sunday services and performing baptisms, weddings and funerals.
We had a leisurely lunch by the water – made more leisurely by the restaurant’s being understaffed. But what we enjoyed most was the boardwalk and the colorful structures alongside of it. There are lots of flowers everywhere, and many artsy touches.
Our almost three hours in the town flew by and it was time to return.
And there they were; the otters, one was sleepy and holding a seashell from a recent meal.
As we crossed the bay back towards Homer we spotted several humpback whales, they were on both sides of the boat. Most were not diving nor showing their flukes, but apparently feeding as the ones we had spotted earlier. But one of them, apparently a calf, breached – Amanda I think was the only one who saw it.
And then an amazing thing happened. As we were following along behind a humpback, because of the sun’s position relative to the boat, a rainbow appeared in the whale’s blow! Not once but three times! Something we had never seen before, and frankly I missed it because I was behind others. Hector saw it and captured two of the three.
Nature is so awesome.
This boat trip could not have been any better. The rocking boat lulled Angel to sleep, thankfully. But she also got to walk around the boat a bit and “socialize” and several people commented on what a nice dog she is. In fact, one couple let her sleep under their feet for a while.
One last whale sighting, this one dove and showed its fluke, “waving” good-bye.
Because of all of the wildlife sightings, the tour took more than its scheduled seven hours, but noone complained.
When we arrived back in Homer, we were all happy campers.
We said our good-byes to Jack and Karen, who were leaving that evening, we hope to catch up with them again in Alaska. And we have plans to see Dan and Amanda again down in Seattle.
Our stay in Homer exceeded all expectations, a campsite on a great beach, some rest and relaxation, good friends and socializing, and a beautiful cruise on the water.
Homer is a popular spot on the Kenai Peninsula, and we had heard very good things about it. But frankly we did not know very much and had no specific plans prior to arriving there. But we did know we wanted to try to stay on the Homer spit. A long skinny peninsula where the town’s boat harbor and many tourist activities are centered.
We drove over to Homer on the Sterling Highway, a beautiful road that we had driven earlier in our travels. The Kenai River, super popular for fishing, runs alongside part of the road. There are a number of towns along the way, including Ninilchik, where we made a brief stop at the Transfiguration of our Lord Church, a Russian Orthodox church founded in 1846. The church and its cemetery are quite picturesque and are one of many examples of Russia’s historical influence on Alaska.
Alaska Day driving day 5 recap:
Road Name: Seward Highway (a short section) to Sterling Highway
Road Type: 2-lane
Road Conditions: Seward Highway is generally good, Sterling Highway is good but quite narrow for a bit after Cooper Landing, including a mercifully not too long windy section with no shoulder and a guardrail on both sides where a motorhome like ours barely fit with another large vehicle on the oncoming lane.
Miles Today: 173
Driving Time: 4:15
Total Miles in Alaska: 1228
Total Miles since entering Canada: 3222
The road ends at Homer. Beyond Homer lies more of the roadless Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak Island and the Aleutian Archipelago. Alaska is both our westernmost and easternmost state. How can that be? The end of the Aleutian chain lies over the international dateline. And just north of Homer on the Sterling Highway is the westernmost section of paved road in the entire USA.
The rain that began on the afternoon of our last cruise intensified and continued for two more days. During those days, we moved from our inland campground to the water. The ocean is my favorite place in the whole world and with a view framed by snow-capped mountains, it is beautiful rain or shine. And we extended our stay in Seward so we could see more of Kenai Fjords National Park.
We stayed in the Resurrection South RV Parking section of the Waterfront Campground (City of Seward). Read my review of the campground here.
One of the reasons we are here in Alaska is because we love animals, and we especially love seeing them in the wild. We feel a special connection to and are often in search of wildlife. And our second cruise to the Kenai Fjords was an extra special one.
There is something about the whales that especially captivates us, perhaps their intelligence, the way they form social structures, the sounds they make to communicate, or maybe all of those things and others that we just cannot put into words.
So each summer when we have been by the northern seas on our walkabout, we have devoted quality time to whale watching. Going out looking for the whales in kayaks, zodiacs, and small to large motorboats. And we have seen lots of whales; blue, fin, humpback, minke, beluga, gray, pilot and orcas (although technically pilot whales and orcas are part of the dolphin family).
Our goal in Seward was to go on several wildlife cruises. We were interested in some of the longer cruises, but not sure we would be able to go because of Angel. But we found a pet-sitter to walk Angel during the day. So after our six-hour cruise earlier in the week, we booked two other full day wildlife/glacier cruises, one with each of the two major companies in town.
We camped in Seward, Alaska with Joyce, our friend who was visiting from Denver, for the first four days of our stay. During that time the weather alternated between mostly sunny and beautiful and cloudy and rainy – a good representation of Alaska in the summer.
On one of the nicer weather days, we explored the (little) town pretty thoroughly. Seward is a fairly touristy town and has a good number of shops and restaurants for its small size. There are also quite a few lovely murals throughout the downtown area.Continue reading →
Just over three weeks after entering Alaska, we headed to the town of Seward in the Kenai Peninsula with our friend, Joyce. Seward was one of the places we were most looking forward to visiting, as we are avid fans of boating and whale watching. We spent a fabulous day at the Kenai Fjords National Park when we were here on a cruise years ago and saw lots of wildlife and were excited to do it again.
Alaska Day driving day 4 recap:
Road Name: Seward Highway
Road Type: 2-lane
Road Conditions: Excellent, however this much traveled highway is known for its number of accidents. Apparently sometimes people who are in a rush will pass in areas that are not really safe to pass, thus causing accidents.
Miles Today: 146
Driving Time: 3:15
Total Miles in Alaska: 622
Total Miles since entering Canada: 2616
It was a beautiful drive back through the Turnagain Arm, where we stopped to look for beluga whales once again. No luck.
We did spot not one but two moose on the drive, one swimming in a pond full of pond lilies. It was quite the sight, but we had no place to stop to photograph her.
We camped at the Stoney Creek RV Park one of the few parks with full hookups in the area. Read my review here. Our plan for was to go out on one cruise with Joyce, who was with us for four days, and do it again later in the week.
After checking out the boats at the dock and checking on weather, we opted for Saturday’s six-hour cruise with Kenai Fjords Tours.
The night before the cruise we were treated to a stunning midnight sunset. It reminded us of the old saying, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight” We hoped that it would bode well for our day at sea. Continue reading →