July 30, 2008

Captain Cook SRA, Bear Cubs & Spirit Stones....

Captain Cook State Recreation Area has been one of our favorite area (at least mine) since we've been in Alaska. It seemed to have everything - a view or a beautiful beach, beautiful sunsets, better weather than we'd had anywhere for awhile, wildlife, an interesting place to walk (the beach), unusual things to look for and for Sam - good fishing nearby.

Immediately upon arrival to the campground, I knew I was going to like it. We found a campsite looking over the beach. Every evening we were treated to a beautiful sunset that was even more spectacular at low tide.

The beach changed drastically from low to high tide. At high tide the water came up to the bottom of the bluff. There was no beach to walk on and there wasn't much to see but water. At low tide as if by magic, huge boulders would appear. Some of these boulders were 100 yards from the base of the bluff.

Walking the beach at low tide produces quite a variety of rocks. Some like I had never seen before. We discovered that there were a few fishing camps up the beach. The only way to get to these camps was to drive on the beach. We saw a variety of vehicles using the beach as a road at low tide.

One of the most interesting things we did while staying at this park was to go "spirit rock" hunting. We found out about these rocks from Bob and Joy. They had stayed at this park a month earlier and told us about them. We were told that these stones were about 8 miles up the beach and could only be reached at low tide. All hope was gone about finding any of these stones until we met Philip and his family. Philip graciously invited us to ride up the beach in his jeep the next day to look for these unusual rocks.

Since we had a narrow window in which we could look for these stones because of the tides, we made arrangements to meed at a certain time. We hopped into his doorless jeep and headed north on the beach from the campground.

The ride was bumpy and offered unusual scenery...

The 8 mile ride took about a half hour. We pulled on our hip boots and waders and tromp off in the muck, dragging plastic sleds and clam shovels to start our search.

It took awhile to develop an "eye" for which stones were just regular rocks and which ones were spirit stones. Soon we had both sleds full of stones.

Spirit stones is another name for concreations. These unusual stones are made by glacial mud. No one really knows how they are formed but are found in a few places around the world. The natives thought of them as having spirits in them and so were given the name spirit stones.

The tide was starting to come up. Since the tides rise quickly here we knew we had to leave or get caught on the beach. Sam and Philip had to pose for a radical jeep shot.

We met others trying to beat the tide back to the park.

Back at camp we get them cleaned up and look at the catch!

Look at this site if you'd like to find out a bit more about these stones and see some pictures of some of the nicer finds from the area: http://cookinletconcretions.com/

Back at the park....

Like I said, wildlife abounds. We saw moose, bear, ermine among others while staying here. The big news was the orphaned bear of brown bear cubs that were roaming around the campground apparently looking for food. We saw them many times. Most of the time there were lots of people around them snapping pictures. We don't know what will become of them. We do know that they won't make it through the winter without their mother.

Take a look at this video of these two cubs! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQv3DsiucHo

We did have another friend visit us anytime we sat outside. This young spruce grouse seemed to have no fear of humans. She would come searching around our campsite several times a day. As you can see in the photo, she really made herself at home!

Last but not least was this poor dog we saw on the road into town one day. We were in a hurry to catch a flight seeing tour so we couldn't really do anything about it. The poor dog was lying in the middle of the road with a buddy of his apparently waiting for it's master to come rescue it. It was gone on our drive back so I'm hoping the owner found the dog and somehow got the quills out of the dogs face.

Sockeye! Sockeye! & Combat Fishing! UPDATED!!!

In the past few weeks, we have braved the Artic Circle, trugged across the wild tundra, confronted ferocious bears, canoed forbidden lakes, cruised the Fjords, hiked on a magnificant glacier, kayaked Ressurection Bay in gail force winds and five foot seas.................

But now we get to witness and experience first hand one of Alaska's most talked about adventures...COMBAT FISHING!!!

So, you're asking yourself, just what is this dangerous sport "Combat Fishing" and why do "they" call it that? It all starts with a "hot tip" from a local about a remote "secret" fishin' hole on the Kenai River that "not many tourist have heard of". So, you drive down a few back roads, hike through the back of a stretch of woods, and find the "secluded path". Ah,Ha...this is starting to look a bit "fishy" already....

A few hundred yards farther and your visions of an isolated, quiet spot on the River are replaced with suspicions that the fellow who gave you that great tip is laughing while drinking a beer at the local bar about "yeh, I sent another one of them tourist to the secret hole"!

As you step down from the "oilfield grade" welded aluminum steps and platform into the water and look down to your right, your suspicions are confirmed...it's a Combat Fishing Zone!

But before long, the guy next to you makes a little room and you're in their swinging your line, pitching your lure with the rest. First thing you know a buddy upstream yells "fish on", everyone moves aside, you grab the closest landing net (no matter who's it is) and another fish is landed.
At the end of a few hours, with a little luck, a sore shoulder and lots of persistance you hold up the reward...three nice "Reds"....yep, three's the limit here.
So, after your first day out there you realize that all those folks wearing polarized sunglasses to "see the fish" and large hats to "keep off the sun" have actually prepared themselves for combat...that is, flying lures & hooks from excited fishermen!

July 28, 2008

Hidden Lake

Sometimes the best things in life are "Hidden" and yes, this is one small lake on the upper end of the Kenai River watershed that is off the beaten path and exceptionally beautiful. We spent two wonderful, peaceful days & nights here, just relaxing a bit after all the adventures back in Seward. As you can see the paddles were nice, slow & serene.

On this paddle we crossed the entire Lake, only stopping to look at those pretty little violets growing out of the cliffs & rocks. The big surprise came when we turned around to paddle back to the campground. What had been a completely overcast sky had lifted enough to reveal the true beauty of our surroundings!

I did manage to wet a line one morning, the results being this nice 23" Lake Trout. And of course the "very fresh" fish that night was incredibly delicious!

July 27, 2008

Seward - Fjords National Park Cruise

Alaska has hosted a glacier-favoring mixture of climate and topography for the last 12.5 million years. During the Pleistocene age, when the climate was 3 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit colder than it is today, an ice sheet covered a large expanse of the earth, including the islands of southeastern Alaska. Today there are still over 100,000 glaciers in Alaska, although ice covers only 5 percent of the state. http://www.fs.fed.us/r10/tongass/forest_facts/resources/geology/icefields.htm

One of the best examples of these national treasures is in southeastern Alaska. The Fjord's National Park is a "must do" on anyone's list for Alaska. Unfortunately, we were greeted with nasty weather and rough seas on our first "cruise" into the Park. We booked the evening trip with "Fjord's Tours" because we'd get both of us on (including a salmon-bake dinner) for the price of one...a great deal!

As it turned out we got a rough ride, poor visability and a large dinner for one (Kim was too seasick to eat). In spite of being on this beautiful eighty-six foot catamaran, the Aialik Explorer, the heavy winds and seas took it's toll on quite a few passengers.
Heading out into Resurrection Bay from the Seward Municipal Harbor, we had a nice view of their spacious campground which rund almost the entire length of the Harbor. We were lucky to get one of the last slots on the far end, giving us a great view of the many craft that moved in & out each day.

Other local residents were in the Harbor, enjoying those same views from the "bottom up" like this Sea Otter playing tag with one of the many gulls.

Reaching the end of the Bay, Fox Island is off to our left (yes, they actually raised foxes in this area during the "fur era") now a favorite fishing spot for the early run of Silver Salmon. From the number of boats out in this rough weather, they must be in!

Further down the Peninsula just past the entry to Bear Glacier, we spot a few Humpback Whales, but in spite of several attempts to get close enouygh for good pictures, the huge creatures spend most of their time underwater making sounding dives.....perhaps they are don't care for the heavy seas either!
The only residents that don't seem to mind the turmoil are the feathered ones. As we cruise along, we pass countless numbers of gulls, Artic Terns, Puffins & Murres....

We start to approach the open seas and the Aialik Cape and spot a number of Stellar Sea Lions resting on the small rocky islands just shy of the turn into rougher seas. (I didn't get any pictures of us rounding the Cape. The seas out here were ten feet or so, requiring both hands just to keep ones balance on the rear deck.)

Once around the corner things smooth out dramatically, and our first views of the splendid blue ice appear in the distance.
As we get closer, we start to see large chunks of ice floating in the bay against that beautiful background of crystal-blue ice towering some six hundred feet above the waterline. Aialik Glacier is a "tidal glacier" terminating in deep water. See the video of the face at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jl0zvouw2Fg

The result is a constant "calving" of large chunks of ice into the sea, creating lots of noise and turmoil near it's face. The resulting icebergs are another source of beauty in this otherwise blue-brown milky soup that our hull sits in. Watch a big one come off! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RcoaqjkwuE
Captain Terry spent extra time at the Glacier, making several passes back & forth. The large front deck of the Explorer proved to be a great platform for watching the spectacle. But soon it was time to head back to Resurrection Bay.

I must say that it felt pretty good to shuck our sea legs after the long rough ride back. And this is the site that Kim was waiting to see...our trailer sitting on stable ground back in the Harbor, no more shaking, rocking & rolling for this evening!

But the story really isn't over quite yet. After spending another day in Seward, we moved on back to Homer to take advantage of what seemed like an improvement in the weather. And is was! We enjoyed another couple of weeks there, which you'll read about in other posts, and then decided to use our other coupon to take a second shot at the Fjords tour. So, before we left Homer, we booked again, this time with the "Renown", an even larger catamaran based at Seward also. Unfortunately, within the three days it took to work our way back, the weather had turned again to those famalier "Kenai Peninsula blues". This time, Kim took dramamine just to make sure things would go better.

When we entered the main cabin on the Renown, we were surprised at how much larger it was, so this in itself suggested a better ride!
The trip out of the harbor proved similar to that on the Explorer, the major difference was that the fishing boats after the Silvers had moved well into the Bay, suggesting that the run was now well underway.

As we entered the gulf and I gazed out the cabin window, I realized that we were faced with lighter seas, but more rain! Pulling into Aialik Bay, in addition to seeing the Glacier again, we notice a couple of brave souls out here in much smaller "tour boats"!

Although it was still cloudy, the sky opened a bit as we pulled close. The glacier appeared brighter on this trip, and Kim now was enjoying the view,
so in spite of the rainey weather as we pulled away from another day at Aialik Glacier, I must say that the trip was worth doing again!