Sunday, July 31, 2016

Deep Creek, Part II – Rest and Relaxation

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In our last post, we talked about our fishing trip out of Deep Creek. Thankfully, I got over my illness as soon as I hit terra firma, which was just as well because there is so much to love about this area and we were parked right in the middle of it. On the other hand, as soon as Linda came down from the high of catching fish, she alternated between napping and being hangry (possible side effects of Dramamine).

Deep Creek itself is located just off the Sterling Highway near Ninilchik. Our campsite was right on the shore of the Cook Inlet with a breathtaking view of two volcanoes; Mount Iliamna and Mount Redoubt. Each evening, the sun set almost directly behind Redoubt and it made for some seriously spectacular sunsets.

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Looking across our Deep Creek Beach campground.

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What a beautiful view Scoopy had!

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We used to see photos like this in RV brochures and say that’s just not real!

Our time in Deep Creek was a chance for us to unwind with little or no obligations. Our week with Zac had been wonderful but exhausting and now we wanted to slow the pace down. We spent our time walking the beach watching the boats being launched and retrieved from the water. Bald eagles were in abundance flying in groups above us. The waves crashed within earshot at high tide and the weather, for the most part, was fabulous.

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Lots of bald eagles around Deep Creek!

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Gull drama. Fighting over fish remains.

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Fish carcasses littered the beach.

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The many moods of Mount Redoubt.

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A group of friends enjoy the evening sun.

Occasionally in our travels, we come across a place that has a special "it factor". Salt Creek Recreation Area in Washington is one of those places, Tuttle Creek in California is another and now Deep Creek has joined that short list. What is it with all these creeks??

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The tide is out in this photo, but came within feet of Scoopy at high tide!

What's great about the area is where it's positioned. It's smack in the middle of Kenai/Soldotna and Homer. Our original plan was to spend a week in Deep Creek and then move on to Homer but that quickly changed once we realized that we just couldn't beat the campsite we decided to make Deep Creek our base camp and extended our stay from one week to eleven days.

During that time, we visited Kenai City to check out their local Elks Lodge offerings for camping but mostly we were there to see the local phenomenon known as dip netting. What the heck is dip netting, you ask? The Kenai Chamber of Commerce Website describes it best, "July 10 marked the beginning of dip netting season for Alaskan residents. To dip net, anglers stand in the mouth of the Kenai River holding large nets with long handles. Dip netting is open to Alaska residents exclusively.  For visitors, the dip netting is a spectator sport not to be missed!" And what a spectacle it was! There were hundreds or even thousands of people by the water's edge for as far as the eye could see. People were dragging nets in with flopping fish who met a swift end with a good smack of what looked like a small baseball bat or nightstick. Everywhere around us, people were either fishing or filleting. It was quite interesting to watch a whole range of levels of expertise from beautiful fish cuts to crudely hacked chunks. Hey, it all goes down the same way, right?  :)

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Dip Netting at the mouth of the Kenai River!

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A Russian church in Kenai City.

Speaking of fish, although we had netted quite a bit of halibut, we also wanted to get some salmon. This time, it would be store-bought which I was much happier about. We revisited Homer, thinking that would be the best place to pick up some sockeye filets but, to our surprise, all they had available was last year's harvest. We would not have known this tidbit if Linda hadn't asked. The shopkeeper didn't seem all that thrilled to reveal their age. There was an audible pause before she said no when Linda asked were they this year's catch. We decided to get our fish in Kenai instead. 

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Two Sisters Bakery in Homer. Great food, highly recommended!

While camping in Deep Creek, I took the opportunity to get out and do some shooting. The nearby Russian Orthodox church cemetery and the Homer Spit proved to be places that got my creative juices flowing. The resulting photographs spawned a new photography blog post, complete with short stories and images. You can see the post here

Our friends Jim and Barb visited with us one evening and we had a fun happy hour together recounting our fishing experience. Becky, a former workmate from our All Critters Animal Hospital days was in Sterling visiting her parents so she and her dad came out to see us on another night.

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Linda, Steven, Becky and John

If there was one downside to Deep Creek, it was the less than optimal cell service. It was a struggle to get any kind of Verizon wifi signal until after midnight. My guess is that most people were in bed and the traffic on this single cell tower was not as intense. A small gripe, perhaps, but having access to the internet is important to us and so it was an inconvenience. It would certainly not stop us returning there again. We would do that in a heartbeat!

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At Fred Meyer in Soldotna trying to soak up them wifis!

Let me see.... what else happened while we were there....Oh, oh, I know! We called 911! This is our second call to 911 since we left Bellingham in May. You may recall, we had to make that call back in Williams Lake when we had an unexpected guest join us for happy hour. This time, we were in need of the fire department. Our neighbors (a family of 5) decided it would be a great idea to have a campfire. That was all fine and dandy until Linda looked out her window a little later and noticed all the curtains were drawn in the neighbors' RV and there was an old log smoking near some grass. I decided to use some of our limited water supply to extinguish the smoke but that sucker would not go out. I poured a gallon of water with no luck and then another gallon. It was still smoldering. From what I could see, it was now burning from the inside out. We assumed the neighbors had gone fishing so I went in search of the camp host. No luck there but I did notice signs all over saying to call 911 for all unattended fires. So that's exactly what I did.

Soon the local Ninilchik Volunteer Fire Department arrived. They got busy right away, splitting that log right down the middle and dousing it good and proper. The fire chief asked me if anyone had lit a fire and I mentioned that our absent neighbors had. He went over and took a look at the fire pit. He grabbed a stick and poked at it and, sure enough, there were still burning embers. It was windy too and the chief said sparks had definitely jumped over to the old log. All of a sudden, one of the kids emerged from the RV looking like he had just slept for a hundred years. Soon the dad was stepping out so the fire department had a little chat about campfire etiquette. The smoke, they said, could easily have escalated so it was good that we had called. Soon after they left, and to our total surprise, Dad was outside again, lighting another fire!! They were cooking a meal on it and left it burning again while they went off to the beach! Oh well.

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The Volunteer Ninilchik Fire Department gets busy.

On the twelfth day, we were ready to go. Well, kinda. We felt sad leaving this great spot. Part of it was because it had been so relaxing and the views were to die for but the other part was that this was the beginning of our (albeit long) journey back to the Lower 48. There are lots more adventures still to be had before we cross the border but, what seemed like an infinite amount of time in Alaska is now being measured in weeks.

NEXT UP: Goodbye, Kenai.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Deep Creek, Part I – Accidental Fishing

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Two days after we arrived at Deep Creek State Recreation Area, we accidentally went fishing. That's a long story, but before I get to that, let me back up to our departure from Cooper Landing.

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Along strategic points on the Kenai highways there are road signs that list the number of moose that have been killed over a year's time. It's a sad reminder that human and wildlife habitats intercept, often with deadly results, mostly for the wildlife. The numbers indicated 235 moose had been killed on Kenai highways since July 1, 2015. It's hard not to think about that as we're driving down the highway, wondering how such accidents can happen.

I'll tell you how. In a freaking instant, that's how. Most highways have a large swath of clear cut on each side for fire protection which affords drivers a broad view. There are sections, however, that run along rivers, steep hillsides or private property where cutting back the trees and vegetation isn't possible. And that's where a moose can pop out, right in front of your vehicle.

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We had to really pay attention on roads like these. They are prime moose stomping grounds.

We were about 20 minutes into our drive from Cooper Landing to Deep Creek when a large female moose suddenly bounded up onto the highway in front of us. It took her about three long strides to reach the center of the road, where she promptly stopped and looked right at us. I slammed on the brakes and flipped on the engine brake. Then I laid on the air horn, which would scare the bejeezus out of any living thing. But all I got was a wimpy "beeeeeeeeep, beeeeeeeeeeep." Seriously? I didn't have the wherewithal at that point to flip the switch that would have actually turned the air horn on, it was all happening so fast and at that moment I wanted to keep my eyes on the road and the moose. All I could think was how this wasn't going to be good for Scoopy, us or the moose. As we approached her, still rolling to a stop, I veered Scoopy slightly to the left. The motorhome behind us, also slamming on his brakes, did the same and the two cars behind him followed suit.

Then, just as suddenly as she appeared, she took a couple of long strides and was gone! Oh, sweet relief! We finally did roll to a stop, as did the vehicles behind us. We all looked like we were parked at the supermarket, only we were in the middle of the highway! It was the closest call we've had on this trip and I hope it's the last. Needless to say, it took a while to get our heart rates back to normal. As you tend to do in these situations, we excitedly recounted the incident six ways from Sunday until we assured ourselves that our actions were sound. We just got lucky.

We drove through the busy town of Soldotna before turning south toward the tiny community of Ninilchik, located just about halfway between Soldotna and Homer, to Deep Creek State Recreation Area. You may recall we stopped here a week prior with Zac to check out the campground and at that time found all the waterfront spots occupied. That was a Friday, and we hoped that by arriving on Thursday, a few spots might have opened. As it happened, we couldn't have planned it better. The place was a ghost town and we had our pick of choice sites!

Not long after we settled into our spot, a couple named Dean and Jan from Tucson pulled in next to us. They were in Alaska celebrating their anniversary, I think it was their 5th. We had a lot of fun talking with them and found out that they actually dated in high school and were engaged to be married, but Jan got cold feet. It was years later before they reunited and the timing was right. We would have loved to have spent more time with them, but they were leaving early the next morning to go fishing. Which brings me to our accidental fishing saga.

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Dean and Jan from Tucson.

Most coastal towns on the Kenai peninsula offer fishing charters. We had that option in Seward but decided to check out the options in Homer which touts itself as the Halibut Fishing Capital of the World. Then, when talking with Dean and Jan, they told us that many charters out of Homer motor into the Cook Inlet into the waters off shore a few miles from Ninilchik, right where we are staying! And there are charters within walking distance of our campground! How easy is that?

As you may recall, I have been angst-ridden over whether or not to go fishing while we're in Alaska. I have never fished before and I don't own any gear or appropriate fishing attire. Steven doesn't fish either, but he was not indecisive like me. He did not want to go. He is prone to motion sickness and does not do well on boats. But since I couldn't make up my mind, he made it up for me and said, "We're going." I guess he decided it would be easier for him to take one for the team than to listen to me moan and kvetch about fishing, possibly forever, if I didn't get out there and do it.

Still, even though we had "decided" to go fishing, it was a decision in theory only. I'm not sure either of us thought it would actually happen. But the next day Steven and I headed to the office. We agreed that our purpose was information-gathering only and that no decisions would be made. Twenty minutes later we were booked on a 6:00 a.m. charter the following day and were on our way to get our fishing licenses. Steven was like, uh, what just happened? It's just that the lady was so nice and she kept lowering the price over and over until I finally said, "Yes, I wanna do it!"

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This spiffy hat was a deal breaker for the fishing trip!! (not really)

We were both kind of nervous and excited the next morning. We showed up at the office right on time and the first thing I noticed was that everyone was dressed appropriately. By that I mean they were all camo'd and rubberized. I wore my yoga pants and my black Walmart coat. It's all I had, really. We had packed a lunch, as we were told to do, and climbed aboard the passenger van with the two other fishermen, the captain and the deckhand for the 90-second ride to the boat launch. We got on the boat and waited for the tractor to come and drag us out to sea and send us on our merry way. It was a beautiful, sunny day but it didn't take long for us to realize the wind was howling and the seas were rough, like 4-foot seas kind of rough.

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Looking pretty stylish for our fishing trip, though Linda’s black coat was sacrificed.  :)

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Waiting in line to be hooked up to the hauling tractor.

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Steven putting on a brave face.

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Getting ready to launch into rough seas! It may not look rough, but trust me…

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Click on the image above for a timelapse of the boat-launching process in Deep Creek.

We were on a 28' aluminum boat, the "Alaska Spirit" and boy did she get tossed around! I had a death grip on the seat cushions as we sped out into the Cook Inlet to a spot about 15 miles out. We all did fine, but when we stopped at the fishing spot and anchored, Steven lost it. Literally. For him, the trip went downhill from there. Rock and roll, baby!

I don't seem to suffer from sea sickness, so I got right out there with the boys and grabbed onto the first pole that was baited and in the water. About two minutes later, I yelled, "fish on!" (Actually, it was more like, “uh, fish on? Is it on? How do I know? What do I do?”) It was when I reeled it in that I learned they keep the bait on the bottom of the sea with a four pound weight. Yikes, that was some work, but I got that fish up and wow, it was a beauty! Keith (the deckhand) and Chris (the captain) said a 20-25 pounder! I was so proud! Our rubberized fisher buddies Dale and Okie were also hooking fish, but none as big as mine.

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Linda, catching halibut like a boss!

At this point Steven was in the corner trying to make himself comfortable. He was so miserable. I could tell he was truly suffering. But we were here to get fish, damn it, so he had to buck up! I took over our rods and when I thought there was a fish on, I'd holler at Steven to come give the reel a couple of turns. Officially, he just had to claim it as his with a couple of turns. It took every ounce of energy he could muster but he did it anyway. Then he'd retreat to his corner while I brought up his fish. Poor guy. But what a trooper!

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Captain Chris and his deckhand Keith work hard to assist setting lines and pulling halibut onto the boat.

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Dale and Okie, our two fishing buddies.

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Keith, the deckhand and our boat, “Alaska Spirit”

I guess we fished for at least a couple of hours until Okie limited out. He went inside to lay down, as he wasn't feeling too well either. This year limits comprise of a total of two fish; one of any size and one under 28 inches. It's a real dilemma choosing which ones to keep. Since I got my biggie right off the bat, I was looking for a halibut less than 28 inches. My next catch was 27.99", perfect! Next we brought up Steven's big one, which was smaller than we would have liked, but throwing it back into the water and waiting for another larger one just seemed like cruel and unusual punishment to Steven (not to mention the fish). He was just happy to have his fish. Then I caught his small one, about 26". We had our limit. I went inside to sit down and Steven stayed outside, his favorite question being, "How many more?" Dale never really had a chance to keep fishing until he got the one he wanted, he probably felt bad for Steven too, and perhaps accepted a smaller-than-he-wanted fish for his biggie. I think at that point we were all ready to head ashore.

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We got the biggest catch of the day!

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Filleted, vacuum-packed and flash-frozen.

Linda, the lady who booked us on the charter, felt so bad for Steven that she offered to fillet, vacuum-pack and blast freeze our catch for free! We had decided that in order to be "cost-effective", meaning equal to the price we would have paid if we'd just gone to a fish market, we would need to net 20 lbs. of halibut, and we came home with 23 lbs.! A few days later we bought 9 lbs. of sockeye salmon to add to our stash. Our freezer runneth over!

NEXT UP: Deep Creek, Part II!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Kenai Peninsula, Part 2 – A Family Affair

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The Kenai Peninsula is touted as "Alaska's Playground" and that is more than just a marketing slogan, it pretty much sums up a way of life. It isn't just hordes of tourists that come to the Kenai, though there is that, it is also where Alaskans come for fishing, recreation and summer celebrations.

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Playing on the Kenai can be a real budget-buster. If you have unlimited money, there are an unlimited number of activities from which to choose. When funds are more modest, selections have to be pared down. It isn't easy to do, though. It all sounds fun! We scheduled our tours and sight-seeing adventures for after the Fourth of July holiday because our son Zac was due to arrive from Seattle for an 8-day stay to celebrate his 21st birthday. We picked him up from the airport in Anchorage at noon on the 6th and didn't slow down until we dropped him off on the 13th.

On our way to the airport we came across a Momma Moose wrangling two babies across a fast-flowing river. What a chore! She was headed to the river bank with the two of them when one suddenly got swept away by the current. The baby finally got up on a sandbar, but Momma went in after him, leaving the other on the shore. But soon enough, the baby on the shore started following Momma and he started drifting down river. OMG, the drama! We had to leave before we saw how this episode played out, but even though it was a fast-flowing river, it wasn't too deep, and there were sandbars everywhere. So we assume - and choose to believe - that Momma Moose finally wrangled her babies to shore.

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Momma Moose and her two babies heading for the other side of the river.

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It is getting a little deep here, both babies working hard to follow their Momma.

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Momma! Help me!

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Finally, a sandbar. But when Momma came, the baby on shore went into the river and floated away in the current. 

For our first activity with Zac, we booked a 4.5 hour wildlife cruise with Kenai Fjord Tours. Since we had already done a glacier tour in Valdez, we figured this would be a nice way to fill in the gaps of anything we might have missed. The length of the tour was perfect, because the tour out of Valdez was nearly 7 hours long and most people were asleep for the last two hours of it. It's the Dramamine and the drone of the engine that knocks people out. So I thought 4.5 hours was a perfect length. The tour also included a prime rib and grilled salmon lunch at a lodge on Fox Island, which, to be honest, I thought was going to be mediocre at best. I was totally wrong! We all agreed it was super delicious!

But it was the wildlife that really made this trip memorable, because you know when the captain and crew get out their cameras, something really special is going on. According to our captain, we should all go out and buy lottery tickets because we pretty much hit the jackpot on our tour. Maybe he says that to every crowd on his boat, but he was pretty excited. Most days on these cruises you will see otters, puffins, sea lions, a distant whale spout or two, maybe one feeding close to shore if you're lucky. The occasional sightings, such as orcas, add to the success of the day. We saw all that, up close and personal, but then went on to witness one of the most coveted sights of all - a group of humpback whales bubble net feeding. The whales blow bubbles driving all the fish to the surface, then they simultaneously bob nose up in the water, mouths wide open, tongues hanging out, all in an effort to take in as many fish as possible. It was amazing to watch! Did you know a humpback whale's tongue can weight two tons? I guess proportionately that's not a lot, but seriously, two tons!

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Sea Otters. Hands down the cutest critters in the sea.

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Orca! We saw this big guy as well as a Momma with a baby!

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A tail of a whale!

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Bubble net feeding!

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A stunning back drop for whale-watching.

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We saw lots of glaciers along the way. Simply beautiful!

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More glacier awsomeness.

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Kayaks on Fox Island where we stopped for a terrific lunch of prime rib and grilled salmon.

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Nesting Kittiwakes.

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Bald eagle invading the nesting space, causing a frenzy among the gulls.

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The constant squawks of the gulls made for a noisy nesting area.

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Sea lions sunning on the rocks. Noisy and pretty darn stinky, too!

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This Baldy was sunning also, until our boat came along and made him nervous. Bu-bye!

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Scoopy is feeling right at home on the waterfront in Seward.

After an exhilarating day on the water, we mostly chilled back at our campsite and watched the activity while checking out our photos of the day. We packed a picnic and got ready for a long road trip to Homer the next day.

I realize for those of you who have not been to Alaska, or the Kenai Peninsula, that I am not really giving much in the way of maps or location perspective. So here's the best map we could find. Notice that once you drive south of Anchorage around the Turnagain Arm to arrive on the Kenai, your main road choices are either the Seward Highway (which takes you to Seward on the east coast) or the Sterling Highway, which takes you west across the northern portion and then south along the coast to Homer.

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I hope this provides a bit of perspective regarding our locations.

Our planned trip was to drive from Seward to Homer, about 165 miles. We wanted to stop at vistas along the way and hopefully see some wildlife. Our first stop was in Cooper Landing, where we were moving to a couple of days before Zac's departure. We wanted to check out the campground before continuing to Ninilchik, a small but important fishing community on the west coast of the peninsula. The name is Russian and means "peaceful settlement by a river." Here we spent some time at the Old Russian Orthodox Church, built in 1900, complete with historic cemetery. The church sits on a bluff overlooking old town Ninilchik. It was a brilliant sunny day, and in the distance stood Mount Redoubt and Mount Iliamna, perched just across the Cook Inlet. Trust me when I tell you, this is not a view you tire of easily.

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The cemetery is in a constant battle with Mother Nature, which makes it both beautiful and interesting.

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Old town Ninilchik. Mt. Iliamna in the background across Cook Inlet. (photo by Zac)

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Beautiful wildflowers everywhere.

I do remember this church from when I visited the Kenai in 1980 when I lived in Anchorage, and visiting Homer, but I don't recall many details. I so wish my BFF Cindy and her husband Chris could have joined us here this summer because she has such a good memory! She can recall a zillion details I have long forgotten. Maybe next time...

About a mile from the church is the turnoff to Deep Creek State Recreation Area, which is quite a fascinating place. As you descend the bluff to sea level, you come upon a mass of humanity, cars, trucks, boats and heavy machinery. Go a little further and you'll find a campground with sites offering stunning waterfront views of the Cook Inlet and the volcanic mountains that are part of the Aleutian range. This is also a place we planned to camp, so we were encouraged to find that even on a Friday there were still some spots available. Not waterfront, of course, but those a few rows back. I'll have much more to say about this area in a later blog post.

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Zac at the Cook Inlet with Mt. Redoubt in the background.

We continued our drive to Homer, where we had planned to nosh on some halibut. But, we ate our picnic a bit late in the morning and no one was hungry for anything other than ice cream. So we indulged. With the tide out, we made it down onto the beach and went for a long walk and hope to photograph one of the many Bald Eagles sitting by the shores. Unfortunately, by the time we started toward one, hoards of people with their iPhones also were heading that way, so the eagle would be long gone by the time we got there. Still, they are so much fun to watch and hear.

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These beaches disappear when the tide comes in!

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Eagles and gulls put on quite a show when the fish are brought up for cleaning!

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The Homer small boat harbor.

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The infamous Salty Dawg Saloon has been here for years!

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You can leave your mark on a dollar bill, if you are so inclined, kind of like the Sign Post Forest.

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Overlooking the Cook Inlet on the way into Homer. You can barely see the Homer Spit in the left corner of the photo.

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Zac finally got his moose shot!! We saw this moose just south of Soldotna on our way back to Seward.

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She was quite the poser! (photo by Zac)

While we were in Homer, we dipped in and out of shops while inquiring about the cost of a halibut fishing charter. There are so many of them available, it's kind of difficult to know which ones are worth the time, effort and money. We also checked out the cost of purchasing halibut already filleted and frozen. I have admittedly been going through a great deal of angst in trying to decide if I want to go fishing or not. Steven doesn't, as he is very prone to motion sickness. Anyway . . .

We had a long trip back to Seward and once home, we hit the hay. Whoever was in charge of our scheduling (me) had booked us an early morning kayaking trip from Lowell Point to Bridal Falls. We had to be there at 6:30 a.m. Ugh.

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Our guide, Trampas, demonstrating the moves necessary to make the kayak go.

You know, I admit it. I am not a seafaring woman. Even though I wiled away most of my teenaged summers on the Mediterranean when my family lived in Tripoli, Libya, I didn't sail, canoe, ski, scuba dive, or fish. I don't even recall those activities being available, but maybe they were and I just wasn't interested. I went in the water on occasion, snorkled and poked along the seashore looking for urchins and shells, but for the most part, I oiled myself up and roasted like a turkey in the sun and that was about it. In the 11 years we lived on Pine Lake in Washington, I never once went in the water. I never dropped a fishing line in, either. I mean, it would be my luck that I would actually catch something and then what?? Ew. No.

You would never guess I am a Pisces, would you? It's true.

Anyway, it will come as no surprise that I have never kayaked before and therefore have no earthly idea what kind of clothes kayakers wear. I just knew I probably didn't own any, whatever it was. So I did the best I could to put together something that would keep me warm and hopefully dry. I did consider my leather gloves, but at the last minute I thought better of it. Once out on the water, I LOL'd at the thought and was glad to have left them behind. I wore yoga pants which frankly turned out to be a fantastic choice, because they dry instantly. You could almost wear these suckers right out of the washer. I love them. I also wore my new coat that we purchased at Walmart in Dawson Creek, BC. It was warm, supposedly water-resistant, and I was willing to toss it in the dumpster if it proved otherwise. I also wore my very cute and fashionable Whidbey Island hat which my dear friend Sherrie Newman promised me looks good, and I trust her.

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Bridal Falls is about 2.5 miles away so off we paddled in Resurrection Bay, Steven and I in a double, and Zac in a single. It was a gorgeous, sunny morning. Our guide, Trampas (so named after Doug McClure's character in "The Virginian") glided around us telling us all the info he knew about the area and his story of how he ended up in Seward. Steven was in the back of our kayak, in charge of the thingy that turns our vessel, I was in the front setting the pace. It was so calm we literally just sliced through the water. It was lovely. Once we reached the shore, we realized we'd be getting out to hike to the waterfalls. Uh, what? Nobody said anything about hiking... but it wasn't too far. Nonetheless, by the time we got back on the water for our return trip, the seas had picked up a little, and by a little, I mean a lot. This time I was in the back of the kayak in charge of the turn thingy and Steven was setting the pace. What I liked about that was he can't turn his neck around enough to see what I am actually doing, so even though it was kind of rough, I was taking it easy. :)  Trampas finally announced that due to the increased wave action, we'd be landing on shore a bit sooner than scheduled which meant we’d have to walk about a half of a mile back to our car. The three of us were giddy with relief.

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Zac paddling in calm waters.

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Here we are paddling in our appropriate hatwear. (photo by Zac)

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The beautiful Bridal Falls.

I got hit by enough waves that I thought my coat was a goner, but it dried up and seemed salvageable, so back in the closet it went.  And yes, I would definitely kayak again, but next time I think I'd prefer a lake, not the open seas.

Later in the afternoon we hosted another RVillage get-together. This one was smaller and included folks that had not yet arrived in the area in time to attend the Seward Shenanigans party. Good times!

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More RVillagers gathering in Seward! See that cute pink jacket? I got one in red from the Alaska Sealife Center.

On our last day in Seward before moving on to Cooper Landing, we visited the Alaska Sealife Center which was walking distance from our campsite, as well as close to Exit Glacier. My favorite part of the Sealife Center was the room with all the waterfowl. OMG, those puffins are the cutest thing ever. We did actually see a lot of horned and tufted puffins on our wildlife cruise, but everyone was so distracted with the bubble net fishing whales, no one paid attention to them. I was happy to see them up close and personal. Freakin' adorable is what they are. All in all, we really enjoyed the center and highly recommend it.

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How cute is that puffin face?

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The tufted puffin – Donald Trump of the seabirds??

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King Eider, one of my favorites! Sadly, though, we didn’t see one of these in the wild.

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This photo looks like a still from a Disney movie!

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A picture within a picture. This guy was constantly upside down.

By the time we reached Exit Glacier, I was completely burned out. I walked to the first viewing area then went straight back to the car and turned on the air conditioner. Zac and Steven carried on and returned about 40 minutes later. It wasn't really the walk I didn't like, it was the flies. I think we've hit peak fly season and they are so much worse than the mosquitos. The day was hot and sunny with little breeze and I think that's what made them so bad.

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Exit Glacier is exiting, but not nearly as quickly as some of the tidewater glaciers.

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All the photos at the interpretive signs showed beautiful blue ice. Not on this day.

Two days before Zac was due to fly back to Seattle, we packed up and moved to Cooper Landing, about an hour away to the Kenai Princess RV Park. This is the one we had checked out on our way to Homer, and at the time, it didn't really appeal to us. But once we got there, we changed our minds. We had full hook ups for the first time since Chitina, which was glorious! We also had access to the Princess Lodge and all its amenities. It was actually a really enjoyable place to stay.

Since we had only gone a relatively short distance, it was easy for us to drive back to Renfro’s where Kelly and Bill were. Jim and Barb, folks we had meet briefly in New Orleans early in our travels had checked in and were preparing a fantastic Alaskan dinner comprised of salmon and halibut they had caught just a few days before! Jim and Barb are experienced fisher-folks and they came to Alaska primarily for that purpose. How lucky for us, right?

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Gorgeous fillets of Sockeye salmon, also known as Reds. It was delicious!

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Barb dipped chunks of halibut in a panko breading which was yummy!

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We ate our wonderful dinner in the Renfro’s Lodge dining room.

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I think we ate it all!

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The gang. A little freshly caught fish and we are happy campers! Thanks, Jim & Barb!

Aside from the FHU, the reason we came to Cooper Landing was because we had scheduled a 3.5 hour float down the Kenai River and our start point was just down the road from our campground. This time, we had a not-so-early morning start time of 9:00 a.m. and we were rested and ready to go. We had a gorgeous float and afterwards went to the lodge for lunch. Later that evening we lounged on the deck drinking root beer floats and enjoyed Zac's last night in Alaska.

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Heading out on the Kenai River with Emily as our guide. It was a beautiful float!

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Steven braved the rapids and brought along his camera. He had left it at home on our kayaking trip.

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Notice I left my hat at home, but I did wear my yoga pants!

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Lots of folks were out fishing, but we never did see anyone catch anything.

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Enjoying the views from the Kenai Princess Lodge, waiting on our Root Beer Floats!

Since his flight didn't leave Anchorage until 6:00 p.m., we planned to leave our campground in the late morning and take a trip to Girdwood and up the Alyeska tram. On the drive there I noticed something crossing the road. I thought for sure it was a big dog, but it turned out to be a black bear! Zac was happy to add that sighting to his list, but unfortunately the bear took off into the woods before we could get a photo.

From the vantage point at the top of the tram ride we had a beautiful view of Turnagain Arm and the mountains beyond. We enjoyed a late lunch of delicious pizza at the Moose's Tooth Pub & Pizzeria in Anchorage before dropping Zac off at the airport. We said our goodbyes at the curb and headed back home. We were barely out of Anchorage before we got a text from Zac saying he was already at his gate.

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The tram ride is a quick six minutes, but the view is outstanding!

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Zac with the little town of Girdwood and Turnagain Arm in the background. Notice the tide is waaaaaaay out.

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My boy and me. Happy Momma.

What a wonderful week we had with Zac. We really couldn't have planned it any better. We lucked out with the weather, the wildlife sightings and just about everything else.

Up Next:  Kenai Peninsula, Part III - We accidentally went fishing.