Thursday, August 1, 2013


King Salmon Spawning
The Kenai Peninsula is known as Alaska’s playground - more specifically Anchorage’s playground.  The Anchorage area is home to about half of the state’s population and it seems like they are all here this week lined up along the rivers and in small boats with their dip nets and fishing poles to catch the last of the King Salmon before the season closes…

We choose the Kasilof RV Park for our home this week.  It is a small park with full hook-ups and decent Wi-Fi (on the deck near the office.) Its central location on the peninsula is perfect for sightseeing and everyday there is something new to check out. Wild King Salmon are spawning in nearby Crooked Creek so we head over to watch them.  It’s amazing to imagine all of the dangers and perils these fish have overcome to get to this final stage of their lives. They look tired and beat up, but they only have one thing on their mind… to spawn and continue the species.

Tractor Launching
At the Deep Creek Recreation Area we walk along the beach at low tide and watch folks digging for Pacific Razor Clams.  There are thought to be only eight major concentrations of these clams on the west coast. Oregon and Washington each have one, British Columbia two and Alaska has four.  Deep Creek has easy access to the beach and there are lots of folks looking for dimples in the sand and digging fast since the clams will use their foot to dig deeper and rebury themselves to escape.  We return at high tide to watch tractors launch boats into the Cook Inlet. This process is fast and efficient and something we’d never heard of before coming to Alaska.

Church in Ninilchick
Nearby is the fishing community of Ninilchik.  While Halibut is king here most of the year, right now it’s Salmon season.  The historic Ninilchik Village boasts distinct architecture brought by the Russian Orthodox missionaries who settled here in the 1800’s.  The original Russian Orthodox Church on the hill overlooking the village surrounded by a colorful graveyard and white picked fences is still in use by the local congregation.

Near the mouth of the Kasilof River we tour the BEACH’M Set Net Fishery.  Set nets are a type of gill net operation. The set nets are fixed nets that are held on shore or off shore with types of anchors.  These nets may be positioned up to one and one half nautical miles off shore from the mean high tide mark. They are regulated by length, depth and mesh size and must be placed six hundred feet apart. When set net operations were beginning to spring up in Cook Inlet they were run at first by local families. This remains true to this day. This occupation has never been considered to be the only source of income needed by these fishermen. It’s a seasonal operation and most of these individuals work at other jobs to supplement their income. Fishing in Alaska is highly regulated and there is a lot of politics involved in the when and how fish can be harvested.  It’s fascinating and we’re glad we don’t have to figure out a fair and equitable allocation of these resources.

Anchor Point is at the furthest western corner of the peninsula.  This is also the furthest western point in North America accessible by roads. We don’t stop here though, since the Sterling Highway through town is being repaved with one lane traffic control and we have to follow a pilot car.  But we can say we’ve been here!

Fishing Boats in Homer

In Homer we visit the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Visitor Center. Hear we learn about the wildlife in this region through exhibits and a film about the refuge and work to reverse the destruction caused by over hunting, nuclear testing and introduction of invasive species. We also hike along the raised boardwalk over the wetlands to the beach and see some Sandhill cranes and other sea birds.

Out on the Homer spit we check out the tourist shops and have some of the finest halibut fish & chips and fresh razor clam chowder EVER at Captain Patties.  (They have ruined fish and chips for us forever!)
Captain Pattie's Fish House on Urbanspoon

On the drive back I spot three brown bears in the distance in a field.  Well they were pretty far away and looked like brown bears… but they could have been REALLY FAT ponies… but I think that they were bears… that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Salmon Drying Rack
It is estimated that Humans have inhabited this area for over nine thousand years.  At the K’beq’ Interpretive site just south of Cooper Landing the Dena’ina Athabascans in conjunction with the Seward Ranger District of the Chugach National forest are working together to preserve the cultural and natural resources of the district. Here, we take a guided tour with a native guide who tells of the history and the stories of his ancestors. Although these people were hunters and gathers, they built permanent settlements, a testimony to the year round abundance of food and resources in the area.

St. Nicholas Chapel, Kenai
The town of Kenai has a wonderful Visitor and Cultural Center.  It displays the history of the region from the earliest inhabitants to the present day.  In 1741 Russian explorers arrived to find a thriving Dena’ina Athabascan village on the high bluff overlooking the Cook Inlet near the mouth of the Kenai River.  The blending of cultures is apparent in the architecture of the town.  With Native art and design in some of the newer structures, a nineteenth century Russian Orthodox Church, homestead log cabins and early twentieth century wood frame buildings.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Soldotna has a good interpretive center and a couple of miles of hiking trails that wind through the forest and along a small lake.  We spend a pleasant afternoon here stretching our legs.

We pick up a couple of fresh Kasilof River red salmon fillets from Tustumena's Smoke House (to compare with the Copper River fillets.)  They are tasty but Copper River still has them beat for flavor and fat content.

Carousel Carving
There are also some incredible carousel carvings at a roadside attraction near Soldonta.  It's fun to capture them in photos since could never fit one into Dimples.

The Kenai Peninsula is beautiful and has a lot to offer for visitors.  Although Fishing, is the main draw to the area, the scenery is stunning and the wildlife abundant. We pass moose on the Sterling Highway a couple of times.  (One section of this highway has the highest incidents of moose/vehicle collisions in the state, so it is important to drive defensively.)  The only thing detracting are the frenzied folks rushing to the next fishing spot to catch that last King Salmon…


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