United States of America
Fishing Paradise Kenai Peninsula
Fishing Paradise Kenai Peninsula
6 October 2022
After leaving Denali National Park behind us, we drove southward and our next destination was the Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage. To a North-European, “south” means better weather and ditto temperatures. Unfortunately, this rule of thumb does not apply to Alaska. The month of August is synonymous with lots of rain for this region. Where we had enjoyed radiant sunshine around the Denali Plateau, we literally drove into the dark clouds. Just before Anchorage, we could still admire the low hanging clouds around Reflection Lake. The fog hanging over the lake provided nice opportunities for some photos.
In Eklutna we visited the Russian Orthodox Cemetary, that dates back to 1650, which makes it one of the oldest known historical spots in Alaska. Russian Orthodox missions were established throughout Alaska in the late 18th century and Natives were converted to the Russian Orthodox faith. Part of the new belief included the somewhat foreign practice of housing the dead.
For now we drove past Anchorage and continued along the Turnagain Arm. At Beluga Point we stopped very briefly. Beluga Point is called Beluga Point because Beluga whales are often spotted in this fjord while hunting for salmon. However, the belugas did not show up today and since there was a lot of rain coming from the low hanging clouds, we parked the car for a quiet evening on our way to the Portage Glacier.
It poured from the sky all night and all morning. This also meant that we could actually forget about Portage Glacier, but since it was only about five miles away, we went anyway. The attached Visitor Center was unexpectedly very interesting, including information about the construction of the longest tunnel in North America, which starts at the lake and makes the town of Whittier accessible by road.
We continued on to the small town of Hope, which was established in 1898 when gold was found at the site. After the gold was gone, the people also disappeared and Hope became a ghost town. Today, 150 people live there again. A simple converted trailer served as a sort of snack bar where we ate a homemade hot dog for lunch. This was accompanied by live music from the neighbor, who happily provided rhythm in the village on his porch with guitar and microphone. We decided to spend the night not far from Hope on Six Mile Creek. Alone and wonderfully quiet.
The next day was dry and much less cloudy. Our intention was to see the salmon migration. Salmon have the peculiar and strange habit of swimming back to the place where it was born after several years and then spawn at that place. This exhausting journey also means the immediate end. The salmon will die after spawning. A beautiful place to watch this natural wonder is the Russian River, which flows into the Kenai River. We hiked 4.5 Kilometers to the Russian River Falls where a wooden platform gives an excellent view of how the salmon try to jump up the waterfall. How special to witness this in real!
The Kenai River is very popular with fly fishers who literally stand side by side in the river to fish the salmon out of the water which is a breeze with the large sum of fish. One fish after another is taken out but then also thrown right back into the water.
We visited the Visitor Center in Soldotna where we were explained what one must abide by when fishing. There are indeed strict rules regarding the preservation of the salmon. Rules that can change from day to day and region to prevent overfishing. Some days over 150,000 salmon are counted swimming up the Kenai River alone. So there appears to be plenty left for everyone, the human being, the bears, the eagles and the seagulls, too.
The territory of Alaska used to belong to Russia. In the winter months, when the Bering Strait was frozen, there was even a “land connection” between Russia and Alaska. The first non-native settlement in Kenai owed its existence to the sea otter. Around 200 years ago in 1791 Russian Fur Traders established a post near the Kenai River, close to the First Nation village of Shk’ituk’t. Chinese buyers were paying fortunes for what has been described as the warmest and most durable fur known. The traders also introduced the Russian Orthodox Church and churches were built. At the height of Russian America, the Russian population in Alaska consisted of 700 people.
Financial difficulties in Russia and the low profits of trade with Alaskan settlement had weakend the Russian’s hold on Alaska and in 1867, the land was sold to the United States for a measly $7 million. 100 years later, in 1959, it became the largest state in the country.
Russian influence is still evident. After leaving Soldotna behind, we passed the Kasilof River and visited a Russian Orthodox church in Ninilchik. In the cemetery next to the small church, the Cooper family and the Oskoulov family are buried.
Via Anchor Point we finally drove to Lands End on the Homer Spit that marks the end of the highway between Anchorage and Homer. Homer Spit is a headland near the town of Homer that extends 7 kilometers into Kachemak Bay. The headland is home to Homer Harbor and the town is best known for halibut. On our tour of the Spit, today’s catch was unloaded, cleaned and filleted in several places which made for some nice photos.
Meanwhile, Thomas and Sima had also arrived and with them we had a drink at the Salty Dawg Saloon. An unusual cafe in the oldest building on the Spit that is “wallpapered” with $1 bills on walls and ceiling signed and hung by visitors to the saloon.
From Homer we drove back north through Kenai City. Just before Kenai’s city limits we saw some bald eagles sitting on dead stumps of wood in the distance and with the Kenai River nearby it was pretty obvious what they were doing there. On the banks of the river we parked and had excellent views of the Kenai River flats. A marsh area that is great for birds. The occasional eagle took off, looking for a salmon in the river.
Fortunately, we found another wonderful place to spend the night in Seward. Through a narrow passage in the forest we had access to a wide and dry riverbed where several other campers were also lined up here and there.
It was raining continuously so we slept out the next day and hoped that the weather report was correct this time. At the end of the afternoon it would clear up and we would be able to visit the Exit glacier. The Exit glacier we did visit, but alas not without a raincoat. Part of the Harding Icefield and located in Kenai Fjords National Park, the Exit glacier is probably the most accessible glacier in Alaska. You park your car and after a short hike you get a good view of the ice. Fifteen years ago you would have seen eye-to-eye on that point, but like many glaciers around the world, this one gets a lot smaller every year.
To cheer ourselves up a bit, we opted to buy a footlong sandwich at the Subway instead of cooking our own dinner. Dessert was provided by a number of sea otters happily practicing their tricks and a seal that occasionally poked its head above the water.
A boat tour of the fjords and glaciers is actually part of the main program when visiting Seward, but when the clouds deprive you of any view of the mountain panorama, it makes little sense to spend money on it. For the boat tour, we gambled on our last asset and that was in Valdez, the place located on the other side of Prince William Sound to which we will head now.