Once again, we had driven all the way to the end of the road (Alaska Route 1), in this case to the very tip of the Homer Spit.
The meeting spot was an easy walk from our hotel at the end of the spit. Our tour guides, Howard and Kim, sent us off to Nancy's Snack Shack for some box lunches. These were the cheapest box lunches we had bought in Alaska: only $10.
We stopped at a big rock called Bird Island so that we could get a look at the Tufted Puffins. I was so happy to see a puffin at last! I was unable to get a good picture of a puffin that day, but I got lots of great ones later in the trip. Puffins have heavy bones for birds and wobble amusingly when they try to get airborne.
Kim was incredibly knowledgeable about the animal life in the tidepools.
Howard told us that the Dena'ina were frustrating to archaeologists, because they led a serious "leave no trace" lifestyle. Very few artifacts have been found, and most of what we know about them has been learned from interviewing their living descendants. Howard told us that, rather than saying something along the lines of, "I bagged a moose," the Dena'ina would express the statement differently, more like, "A moose came to me." The Dena'ina hunter would view the moose as having given him the opportunity to kill it. It's a different way of looking at the responsibility for an event.
Howard also told us that the Dena'ina had advanced harpoon technology. They used a toggling harpoon that would embed itself inside an animal and wedge itself in, so that it could not slip out. When the Russians came to Alaska and saw the Dena'ina harpoons, they immediately adopted the technology for themselves, and it is still in use today.
Back at the field station, we had a picnic lunch with Howard and the other kayakers on the trip, Dan and Carlyn, fellow geocachers from one of our favorite places: Corvallis, OR. We have met many Oregonians on the trip, and I have enjoyed talking to them, because I can proudly tell them how much of their state we have seen, and how much we've loved every part of it. We had a nice time talking to Dan and Carlyn.
After lunch, Howard took us on a short hike out to Lost and Found Lake.
While this looks like a devastating sight, it's actually part of a regularly-occurring, natural process. The beetles come in and eat the trees. They are soon followed by the Three-Toed Woodpecker, one of their major predators. They also carry on their bodies shelf fungus spores, which then feed on the trees the beetles kill. The dead trees become nurse logs for new spruce trees. And as the tree canopy is destroyed by the beetles, new plants are able to grow up in the increased sun exposure. Eventually, a new spruce forest grows.
The Good Friday earthquake had a magnitude of 8.4 and is one of the largest earthquakes every recorded. Some of the land around China Poot Bay lowered itself into the Bay. The trees there were killed by exposure to the salt water.
We headed back down the trail to the field station, enjoying the trees and the berries and the Devil's Club.
Oh, my. We just stood there for a second, dumbfounded, and Eric, Dan and I each took a great picture. Then Howard spoke loudly to the bear as we slowly backed away. Backing up was difficult, as we had just crossed some deep tree roots. We went back around the corner, and Howard told us that the bear had climbed back down the tree and gone off the other way. You're supposed to make noise, so Carlyn suggested singing, "Marching to Pretoria." I sang the title part, but that was all of the song I could remember. We gave the bear a few minutes to go away, and then started back down the trail, hearts thumping.
Even Howard's heart was thumping. He'd been hiking in the area all summer, and hadn't seen a bear while on tour with a group. Usually tour groups make so much noise that all the bears and moose get scared away. That bear apparently heard us coming and tried to run away up a tree, which didn't work very well for him. But it certainly worked for us photographically. Scary as it was, it certainly made the day more exciting!
Back at the field station, we explored the touch pools.
While I enjoyed the kayaking, it didn't go well for Eric. Our tandem boat was too big for me and too small for him. While for me this just meant that I couldn't brace myself properly against the sides of the boat, Eric just couldn't get comfortable. Evan was very good about trying to adjust the kayak for him, but it was just the wrong size.
We did see some great stuff out there in the kayaks, a couple of otters and some amazingly pretty scenery. We saw an oyster farm. We got a look at a Bald Eagle's Nest, but couldn't see the baby eagles. We did see the adult, though, very small in the frames of our disposable cameras.
Even I got a little sunburn, on the underside of my cheeks from the reflections on the water.
All in all, it was an amazing trip. Kim and Howard were especially good and knowledgeable guides, full of information. This is an excellent tour for anyone who wants to learn about the life in this amazing area.
But nothing of the sort could be said for our accommodations on Thursday, at the Old Town Bed & Breakfast. This was the best place we had stayed at in Alaska. I can't say a single negative thing. Our hosts were a mother-and-daughter team, Jeanne and Julie. Julie was even more friendly and gracious than your usual B&B hostess, full of information. And our room had the best bed in Alaska! We slept a full, much-needed nine hours. It was a thoroughly enjoyable stay. The price for a shared bathroom was quite reasonable. If you do take our advice and go out to Homer someday, this is definitely the place to stay.
The B&B is in a historic 1937 building. It was damaged in the Good Friday earthquake.
Julie recommended next-door AJ's steakhouse for dinner. While we normally don't eat at steakhouses, she told us a folk singer named Caressa would be performing there, and that held some appeal. She also promised that they had fish dishes. We checked out the menu and found it to be reasonable, so we went in and had a seat.
"Have the salmon," instructed the woman at the next table.
"Oh?" I asked.
"It's excellent," she told us. "I asked for it rare, and they cooked it just the way I wanted it. It was perfect."
"OK, I was going to try the halibut, but I guess I'll have the salmon," I agreed. "Where are you from?"
"Really? We're from Berkeley!"
"Well, we live in Sausalito. We motorcycled here."
"Get out!" I said. "That is so rockin'!"
In order to get to Alaska by road, you have to go around the Wrangell-St. Elias mountains, through the Canadian Yukon Territory. The couple told us they had come up I-5 from California to the Canadian border with another couple, after having spent a year planning the trip. But one of the other people was refused entry into Canada, apparently because he had been a victim of identity theft. They spent a couple of days riding around northern Washington to the east, trying to decide what to do, and then the other couple went back to the Bay Area and our table-mates went on into British Columbia and then the Yukon. They came into Alaska north of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and then came out to the Kenai. They had been to Seward already and told us it was a lot like Sausalito. They were planning to ride all the way up the dirt road to Prudhoe Bay, and were hoping to go back through Alberta so that they could see Banff and Jasper. It sounded like an awesome trip, even if it didn't work out quite the way they planned.
Eric and I both ordered the salmon, and it was indeed very good. It came with a salad, corn, and some excellent mashed potatoes. We did get ours cooked all the way through, though; I don't like rare salmon.
Caressa had been on a break when we arrived, but she soon started up again. We really enjoyed her very sweet performance. I found out later she had a Facebook fan page.
The presence of a live musician at dinner encouraged a barlike atmosphere where everyone talked to everyone else. As soon as the couple from Sausalito left, the guy at the table on the other side started up a conversation with us. He was from Tacoma and was in Alaska for the summer doing construction. He had a two-year-old daughter who was the apple of his eye, and his wife had another baby on the way. We talked a lot about how much we all loved the outdoors, and wonderful places to see in Alaska, Washington and Oregon. What a wondrous world it is! It was an excellent dinner, full of fun. It would have been nice to have sat, had a beer, and listened to Caressa a little longer, but we really needed to catch up on sleep. We went to bed at 22:30 and didn't wake up until the alarm went off for breakfast at 7:45.
Julie and Jeanne had made a salmon and spinach quiche for breakfast. I'm not a big fan of eggs, but this was very good. The other guests at the B&B were three women from the Bay Area and a couple from Anchorage. The three women told us how much they had enjoyed the Wynn Nature Center, also operated by the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, which was our next stop. The people from Anchorage were taking the ferry across the Bay to spend the weekend off the road system in Soldova. It sounded like a fantastic place. While we're seeing the road system extensively, and least in southern Alaska, our trip itinerary doesn't get us off the road system much at all. I wish I had planned for an off-the-road-system excursion.
After rushing so much to get to Homer, we took our time getting out. We told Julie how much we had enjoyed Caressa and AJ's Steakhouse. She told us that it was a brand-new, woman-owned business and that she wanted very much to see it succeed. She was so friendly that she hugged us goodbye.
On to the drive from Homer to Seward.