Waking up in the fog in the parking lot of Fred Meyer wasn’t near as bad as it sounds. We had a beautiful dog potty zone right out our door and it was quiet. I had about 50 yards to go to find fresh morning pastries and do our little bit of required shopping. Amazingly, we are still eating food from home, although the freezer is getting a bit empty. All I need to add now and then is milk and salad veggies. With all the RV folks in the parking lot, Freddy’s stocks a good supply of RV goods, but a man in front of me walked away with the last two packages of RV toilet paper. Not to worry, they have a large stock out at the gas pumps with the sodas, cigarettes, and little bags of firewood for ten dollars. You think this store caters to the RV folks?! They even have a free dump station in the parking lot.
We didn’t need to make use of the dump, and decided that we didn’t need gasoline either since our travels yesterday were so short, and we could make it round trip to Homer and back with no problem. Homer is just a short 70 miles from Soldotna, and for reasons completely lost on me, Google Maps says the trip takes an hour. Hmmm. I think the speed limit along most of the way is 55 mph. Paved highway or not, I probably wouldn’t drive 70.
After tea and a pastry breakfast we ambled on down the foggy road toward the south and the end of the Sterling Highway. Along the way are gorgeous views of Cook Inlet and the volcanoes, including Redoubt, the one most recently active, and St. Augustine, the one most likely to have another big blowup. I know because I took a photo of the sign and saw the pictures in the slick magazine we got at the Visitor Center yesterday.
As we approached Homer, we stopped at a beautiful wayside with lovely gardens and a gorgeous view of Cook Inlet, Homer Spit, Kachemak Bay, and the mountains beyond the end of the road across the bay. It was gorgeous, at least that is what the sign said.
I have to say that even though I knew we would have weather, fog, rain, and clouds while visiting this part of Alaska in the rainiest month of the year, it was still hard for me to stay upbeat about not seeing all the beauty around me. I worked hard at appreciating the mist, the gentle softness of the rain, all that. I kept quiet about it, but I didn’t succeed very well. I was seriously bummed. I wanted to see Homer in a different light.
We drove through town and followed the signs out to the spit. This time it was Mo’s turn to get a bit grouchy. In the fog and clouds, the beauty of the spit was invisible, and the only thing in sight for the entire distance were a bazillion cars, RV’s, and pickups hauling boats. Homer is about fishing, all about fishing, and more fishing. It’s a lifetime dream trip for people wanting to take charters to the sea and catch halibut and big salmon. Visiting this part of the Kenai Peninsula felt a lot to us like trying to go to the Oregon Coast in summer and walking around the Newport Old Town area. It’s always foggy and full of people and traffic. I know I probably refer to it too much, but again Mo couldn’t help remembering her visit here, camping all alone on an empty beach with one restaurant at the end of the spit, no services to speak of, no cute little shops, no huge line of RV’s waiting to try to squeeze into a tiny slot on the gravel overlooking the invisible water.
We knew that the city parks had dry camping in several places, but the shop was closed with a sign that said basically, “figure it out”, so I attempted to do just that. At the beginning of the spit is Mariner’s Park, one place that didn’t seem quite as jammed as the rest of the spit, so we drove back there and settled in to a spot on the edge of the gravel making sure to avoid the soft sand warning signs.
Once we set up, as level as we could manage and looked out our front windows, I decided that this was better than I expected. It reminded me of the day I stood on a Destin Florida beach surrounded by high rise condos and looked out over the gulf. When you look toward the water, you can’t see all the people around you, and it’s gorgeous. It was gorgeous here, with a 180 degree view of water and clouds, but the fog was lifting and the beauty of the place was beginning to sift into my consciousness.
With the rain becoming more sporadic, we thought it might be nice to go check out the town, maybe find the historic section and see the visitor’s center. The Alaska Islands Ocean and Visitor Center provided a window to the seabird refuge world surrounding us, but it was filled with many children, so instead we decided to take advantage of the increasing sunlight and walk the Beluga Trail to the slough below. There was a nice path, and some strange plastic spongy boardwalk that kept the slough safe.
Right in front of me in the slough, walked a sandhill crane and her little one, eating nonchalantly and ignoring the screaming children that were running along the boardwalk behind us. The sun was out and beautiful, and then suddenly it was pouring rain. UhOh. I am hauling Deanna’s big telephoto lens with me and it’s raining! Off came the rain jacket to cover the camera, and we hauled it back to the car and gave up on the rest of the walk. I know, I know. In Alaska, wear rain gear all the time and be ready to walk in the rain if you want to walk, right?
We drove around a bit searching for the historic homes, but didn’t have a decent map and decided that the Farmer’s Market was a better bet. It had just opened up for the afternoon, but with the rain there were many vendors not in residence. The best one there was a salsa maker with perfect fresh salsa and we bought a pint and I wish I had bought more. I also got a huge bunch of gorgeous easter egg radishes which served as a great munchie snack. I had just purchased fresh organic salad greens back at Soldotna Freddys, so couldn’t take advantage of the big bunches of fresh lettuce we found, but they were beautiful to look at.
We drove back to the Spit to take advantage of the lightening afternoon and look at the exciting shops all ready to catch tourist money. Many of the cute little buildings were dedicated to charters of all kinds. There are many things to do in Homer if you do something special. I am sure that the ferry to Soldovia would be wonderful, and there were row after row of charter boat and plane trips advertising bear viewing and trips to the state park across the bay where the road doesn’t go. If we were here for a longer bit of time, I might have liked to spend a day over there, I might have liked to fly in to see some bears. Mo and I decided instead that we will come back to Alaska, using our air miles, fly to Anchorage, and then plan a special trip to Kodiak where we can focus on bears and the beautiful island.
I did leave a goodly chunk of money behind on the spit, however, since I found the perfect small carving of a loon, signed and numbered by the Inuit artist who created it. Ever since our encounter with the loon early in the trip at Fraser Lake I had been keeping that purchase in the back of my mind. Some I found in Anchorage were too big, too expensive, to stupid looking and cheap. On the tacky shores of Homer Spit, I found the perfect little loon to commemorate this journey.
For this trip, however, we aren’t into spending big bucks on charters and fancy trips. The trip is already big bucks enough and our goal is to travel the roads and see the sights in the rig. I said once it was an epic journey, and that it was about the road trip more than anything else. At supper by our campfire, we met the neighbors who have traveled to Alaska repeatedly for the last 40 years. They were full-timers for 16 years before finally building a small home near Houston two years ago. We loved talking with them and hearing about their son who loved their trips so much that he relocated to Nome to teach there for several years before retiring with his wife to Ketchikan. I can’t believe I forgot their names, but the man was commiserating with Mo about how tame the whole highway was now, and he grumbled that he missed the gravel and the silence of the old highway.
We are all like that I guess, we want to come here and see it and want to slam the door behind us. The affluence that provides simple people like Mo and I with a fancy rig, and the prosperity that allows folks to travel the highway, has contributed to the loss of the wildness once found on this journey. Maybe a bit like finding McDonald’s and Starbucks in every big city in the world. It is all a bit dummied down so that the masses can enjoy it. I am here enjoying it, so I shouldn’t complain, but I would have liked to have been on that 1974 trip with Mo. Instead, I was raising kids and trying to figure out how to get some kind of job other than waitressing!
We didn’t eat the famous halibut, and instead brought out the Weber, cooked some superb pork chops and made a fresh salad for supper while watching the water and sitting by Mo’s campfire. After supper, it seemed that the clouds were lifting and we decided to go for a walk along the water. Looking up to a brilliant 8pm clear sky, we looked at each other and at the same time said, “I think it’s time to try to see Skyline Drive!” The slick Homer magazine from the Chamber talks about Skyline drive, and the instructions say something like, “Take East Hill Road to the top to Skyline Drive”. Well, where in the heck is East Hill Road. Google maps doesn’t work here, the Alaska Gazetteer just shows a tiny red line but we have no clue where we are in relation to the tiny red line called Skyline Drive.
We wandered around a bit, traveling back up the big hill to at last find Diamond Ridge with the supposed view of the volcanoes. Of course, once on top everything was fogged in again until we eventually reached Skyline Drive and the most gorgeous view I have seen in a very long time. Spread out below us was the spit, stretching out between Cook Inlet and Kachemak Bay, with the Harding Ice Fields across the bay, and the forests and mountains beyond all accessibility visible in the evening light.
Looking down, we could just barely make out the MoHo in her slot at Mariner’s Park overlooking Cook Inlet to the west.
The clouds were very nearly gone as we returned to the MoHo to settle in and watch the water and the sky across the Inlet. I can’t believe how much better I felt about Homer in that 10PM sunlight.
Road conditions: irrelevant. We are certainly not in wild Alaska any more
The rest of the photos for this day are linked here