From our base at Deep Creek, we had fun exploring the west coast of the Kenai. We took a day trip to the town of Kenai and Captain Cook State Recreation Area with the Wynns, stopping of at Kassik’s Kenai Brewing for a flight of tasty concoctions. We were impressed with Kassik’s and ended up splitting the cost of a case. Yummmmm.
A bit south of Deep Creek is Anchor Point, which happens to be the western-most point of the United States (and all of North America) on the continuous highway system. There are indeed more westerly geographic points in Alaska, but they can only be reached via plane or boat. [In fact, parts of the Aleutian Islands are so far west that they technically become east because they’re on the other side of the 180 degree longitude line which delineates the eastern from the western hemisphere.] We have never denied that we are geography nerds, having visited the Southernmost point of the continental U.S. more times than we can count, having crossed the Arctic Circle earlier this trip, and having previously visited the Prime Meridian in England and one of the four 45×90 confluences of latitude/longitude in Pontiatowski, Wisconsin. So driving to Anchor Point was a must-do for our trip. To be crossed off sooner than later is the eastern-most point in the U.S. (in Maine) and maybe we’ll get the northern-most U.S. point (Barrow, AK) on a subsequent trip.
Toward the end of our stay on the Kenai, Eric traveled to Wisconsin for his grandmother’s 100th Birthday, and I stayed in the Bird Creek Campground on the east shore of Turnagain Arm. I had beautiful fall weather, and did lots of hiking and exploring. I saw “termination dust,” the first snowfall at higher altitudes, for the first time! Termination dust is beautiful but bittersweet, as it marks the end of summer and lets everyone know that they’d better finish up whatever they’re doing outdoors – real snowfall is coming soon!
Turnagain Arm is a very shallow body of water and, as a result, is one of the few places on earth that gets a genuine bore tide: when the incoming tide follows with a lower-than usual low tide (such as near the full moon), a wall of water forms that rushes down the Arm. These can be a high as 6′ according to the web, but I wasn’t fortunate enough to be there for one of those. I did, however, catch some surfers and paddle boarders taking advantage of the wave.
The other fun thing that happens during an incoming tide is that the Beluga whales of Turnagain Arm follow the tide in to feed on the salmon trying to enter Bird Creek. The highway runs right along the Arm, so if your drive coincides with an incoming tide you might be lucky enough to see the Belugas, as I was. Unfortunately, by the time I could find a place to pull over they were a little too far away, but saw them I did. I had better sightings on subsequent days, but had nowhere to pull off to nab better photos.
I must confess that this last day trip involved a bit of cheating. Photography cheating, that is. One of the things Alaska is most famous for is its bears – grizzly aka brown bears, black bears and polar bears. While we’ve seen both grizzly and black on this trip, a good photo of a grizzly has eluded me. We have only seen them from a distance (not that I’m really complaining!) and I’ve been chaffing for a better photo. Our friends in Whittier suggested that we visit the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center, but I am not very keen on seeing animals in captivity and was hesitant to go. After doing a little research, I decided to visit. The Center does care for some non-releasable animals, but they also support conservation efforts such as their recent success helping the Alaska Department of Fish and Game re-establish a Wood Bison population in the wild. Wood bison are larger than their prairie cousins, and were thought to be extinct for years until a small population was discovered in Canada. The AWCC housed and bred the herd until it they had enough individuals to release, and the project has been a success. They are currently conducting similar efforts with the reintroduction of caribou into areas where they were hunted to extinction. The Center also houses a musk-ox herd (now found in the wild only on Arctic tundra), a black bear, and 3 grizzlies. The grizzly enclosure is very large – they have 3 acres with a stream running through it. They are allowed to roam around and den wherever they like within the enclosure, but show up for feeding time every afternoon (fresh whole salmon and something that I’ll call “bear chow” on the day I was there). I had an enjoyable time wandering around the center, and got some good photos too!
Eric’s return from Wisconsin meant that our time on the Kenai Peninsula was at a close and it was time to move on. We headed east, toward fall and a few more adventures!