Stormwatching

Winchester Bay-2Winchester Bay-32There are so many great choices of places to visit on the Southern Oregon Coast that we had a tough time picking a “home base” from which to explore. The forecast was for stormy weather, so we were focused on finding a good spot from where we could do some stormwatching.

Winchester Bay-33We chose Winchester Bay because it was right around the corner from the Umpqua River Lighthouse, which we missed seeing last year, near beautiful sand dunes, and within day trip distance to the charming town of Bandon.

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The Central Coast of Oregon

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Newport-1Our next stop was along the central coast of Oregon, not too long of a drive but longer than our last one. The coast of Oregon has an endless amount of rocky beaches and coast and many interesting lighthouses and the town of Newport is a great location from which to explore some of those.Newport-6

The last time we stayed in this area we stayed in a marina in the town of Waldport a little further north and really enjoyed it. This time we decided to try the marina in Newport. Both of these marinas offer dry camping at cheaper rates than the Oregon State Parks.

The marina is also walking distance from the Rogue Brewery, so good beer was in our future. And we were the only RV in the dry camping area of with a lovely view of the small boat harbor and the Yaquina Bay Bridge. Check out my review of the Port of Newport RV Park and Marina here.Newport-34 Continue reading

The Mouth of the Columbia River

Astoria-56Astoria-1Last year we paid a brief visit to Astoria, a funky town at the mouth of the Columbia River, and really liked it so we were determined to spend a little time there this year. As Thanksgiving approached, we knew it was time to get to the coast and begin our (slow) drive south, but instead we made a slight detour north to Astoria.

Astoria-33Astoria-32We stayed at Fort Stevens State Park, a beautiful park just outside the town. The campground was pretty empty, so we found a cozy, private spot. Check out my review of the campground here.Astoria-7

Astoria was named after John Jacob Astor who founded Fort Astoria as a fur-trading port for his American Fur Company in 1811. During its early history, Astoria’s primary industries were fishing, fish processing and lumber.Astoria-19Astoria-20

Astoria’s deepwater port still serves as port of entry and trading center for the Columbia basin. But both the fishery and timber industries declined, forcing the town to reinvent itself. And it did so by supporting a burgeoning art scene and bringing light manufacturing into its fold.Astoria-17Astoria-18
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It also succeeded in growing a tourism industry. With its location on the Columbia River, Victorian architecture poised amongst hills, proximity to the Pacific, surrounding lush forest and fascinating maritime history, it gained the nickname of “little San Francisco”. Astoria’s deepwater port now welcomes several major cruise lines.

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Port Townsend Washington

Port Townsend-2Port Townsend Washington has been on our list of places to visit since last year when we first visited the Olympic Peninsula. At that time we stayed in the heart of the peninsula. So this year we decided to explore the area closest to Seattle.

Port Townsend-4Port Townsend-1Back when we set up camp in the casino in Seattle, we discovered that the back of the motorhome and the front of the car were covered with a film of oil. And realized that during the annual service for Island Girl in Canada, the oil was overfilled. We did not realize the gravity of the situation until we drove to Port Townsend, when we discovered the oil cap had blown off!  This would need attention.

But first we set up camp at Jefferson County Fairgrounds, a very reasonably priced and simple RV park. Check out my review of the campground here.

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We Are Back!

Washington-15Yes, we are back! Back in the lower 48 and back to blogging. I must admit that we needed a break after our Alaskan adventure. Time to rest, a break from driving and visiting places, and a break from blogging. In fact, this is the longest gap we have had from blogging since we began doing it three years ago.

We also needed some time to reflect.  In September we marked our three-year anniversary of being “on walkabout”. What an amazing adventure we are having. This was to be the end of the journey as we had planned it but we are extending for a year. So this will be a transition year as we decide on the place to begin our next chapter, and yes, there is another sticks and bricks home in our future. And there will be more adventures as well.

Washington 5Washington 3Washington-2Washington 9Washington 4Upon reaching the lower 48 there was lots to do. Every inch of Island Girl was dirty inside and out, and she had a couple of service issues. The Coquí was also filthy, as were our bikes and kayaks and there was the matter of our broken windshield and sunroof.

We have now made it to Portland and taken care of most of Island Girl and the Coqui’s issues, rested, and (loosely) planned our drive south for the winter. We also flew across the country to visit family and friends in Miami, while Island Girl and Angel remained with friends in Portland. Not exactly restful but it was wonderful. But more on all that later.

So where have we been since leaving Canada? We crossed the border from Osoyoos, British Columbia, to Oroville, Washington. Our plan was to drive the Cascades Loop and visit the North Cascades National Park on route to Seattle.

We scouted several National Forest sites searching for a campsite. And saw firsthand the after effect of the Okanogan fire, the largest in Washington state’s history. One campground had lots of trees down, some on the campsites. At times we could still smell the fire in the air. But now that and the other wildfires have been eradicated, thanks to those who risked their lives (and some who lost their lives) to contain the wildfires.

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The Northern Lights

imageWhen we planned our trip to Alaska, I never once thought about seeing the Northern Lights. The Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, were something that I believed only happened in the dead of winter.

Then, when we stopped in Talkeetna and visited the Aurora Dora gallery, Dora, the photographer, told us that she had seen the Aurora Borealis as early as August 22nd. Dora gave Hector the name of an application that provides forecasts about the Aurora, based on NASA spacecraft observations of the sun. Hector began to monitor the app sometime in August.

WHAT ARE NORTHERN LIGHTS ARTIC CIRCLE CRAZY AURORA BOREALIS CARTOON EXPLANATION INTERESTING FACTS LEGENDS 1 (5)Hector discovered that there were a couple of days with strong Aurora forecasts during the time we planned to be in Haines. We checked the weather and found that one of those days also had a clear weather forecast.

WHAT ARE NORTHERN LIGHTS ARTIC CIRCLE CRAZY AURORA BOREALIS CARTOON EXPLANATION INTERESTING FACTS LEGENDS 1 (6)A couple of days later on the cloudy day with a strong Aurora forecast we looked outside late at night and saw light coming from the north behind a couple of the thinner clouds.

WHAT ARE NORTHERN LIGHTS ARTIC CIRCLE CRAZY AURORA BOREALIS CARTOON EXPLANATION INTERESTING FACTS LEGENDS 1 (7)That evening we in fact “saw” the Aurora for the first time ever, but it was just a faint colored light moving behind the thinnest clouds. There was one fleeting moment when an intense moving light pierced the clouds. It was not a photographable event but it was pretty amazing.

The following evening was the next strong Aurora forecast and to our delight, the weather was only partly cloudy that day.

haines Aurora 16That evening we headed back out to the same spot by the water. And this time we truly saw the Northern Lights.

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A Day Trip to Juneau

Juneau 2While 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.

Juneau 11An 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.

Juneau 3We 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.

Juneau 1Juneau 8The 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.

Juneau 6Juneau 5Shortly 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

The Quirky Town of Haines

Haines 32There 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.

Haines 39But 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.

Haines 23Haines 22Haines 21Haines 71Haines 72Haines 31Haines 24Haines 27When 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.

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A Whale Spouting Rainbows

Seldovia 1“Mommy there’s a whale spouting rainbows”!  Overheard from a little girl on a Rainbow Tours boat cruise to Seldovia last week.

Seldovia 5Seldovia 2We 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.

Seldovia 4Seldovia 3We 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.

Seldovia 22Seldovia 23But the clincher was that both this tour and the ferry to Seldovia accepts dogs. So Angel could come along.Seldovia 15rainbow route

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.

Seldovia 7Seldovia 6The 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.Seldovia 10

Seldovia 16Seldovia 38We had great views of Mount Redoubt, an active volcano, and at 10,197 feet, the highest peak in the Aleutian range.

Seldovia 85Seldovia 19Seldovia 20As 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

Camera & Bloody Mary … heaven

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Seldovia 21Seldovia 29Seldovia 28Next 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.

Seldovia 24Seldovia 36One 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.Seldovia 30

Seldovia 32As 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.

Seldovia 35Seldovia 34Next 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.Seldovia 33

Seldovia 37Unfortunately, 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.

Very sad.

Seldovia 40Seldovia 39Then 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.

Seldovia 51These 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.Seldovia 54Seldovia 56Seldovia 61

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.

Seldovia 52Seldovia 62Seldovia 60Seldovia 64Seldovia 48The 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.Seldovia 59

Seldovia 63People 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.Seldovia 55Seldovia 58Seldovia 53

 

 

 

Seldovia 43Seldovia 45A 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.Seldovia 46Seldovia 44

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.Seldovia 47

Our almost three hours in the town flew by and it was time to return.

Seldovia 70And there they were; the otters, one was sleepy and holding a seashell from a recent meal.

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Seldovia 71Seldovia 72As 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! Seldovia 77Seldovia 78Not 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.  Seldovia 81Seldovia 80

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.

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Seldovia 84One last whale sighting, this one dove and showed its fluke, “waving” good-bye.
Seldovia 90 Seldovia 89 Seldovia 88

Seldovia 91Seldovia 93Because 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. Seldovia 95

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.Seldovia 49

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.

~ BrendaSeldovia 92

On the Homer Spit

Homer 4Homer 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.Homer 53

Homer 1Homer 2Homer 3Homer 42We 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.

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