Day 10: Anchorage/Homer

June 6, 2011

The extended daylight hours that Anchorage (and the rest of Alaska) sees during the summer months are great. But while sunsets at 11:30PM are fantastic, waking up at 8AM to the kind of sunlight that hits Chicago around 11AM is a bit jarring. It gives you a momentary feeling you’ve badly overslept for something. Now I know why Carly keeps that skylight closed.

Since this is Anchorage and it really was 8AM, Nicole and I rolled out of bed, got dressed and headed downstairs for breakfast. Sitting on the counter was home-made granola, a giant tub of fresh berries, freshly-baked raisin bran scones and hot coffee. Awesome. This B&B is worth the price just for breakfast alone! Meanwhile, my parents had already spent an hour or two chatting with the other travelers in the dining room, who happened to be the owners of this B&B as well as Camp Denali (where Mom and Dad are staying next week).

With breakfast in the books, we loaded up the van for a two-day excursion to Homer. On our way out, Carly hooked us up with a copy of the “Milepost,” which is a mile-by-mile breakdown of everything to see, do and know as you drive Alaska’s highways. Whether you’re looking for a gift shop or the next gravel pullout to let faster traffic pass you, this phonebook-sized guide has you covered.

Heading down Highway 1 alongside the Alaska Railroad tracks next to Turnagain Arm


High tide and bright sunlight on Turnagain Arm

After leaving Anchorage, we entered Chugach National Forest and eventually turned the corner on the end of Turnagain Arm. At that point, Highway 1 (also known as Seward Highway until it becomes Sterling Highway later in the Kenai Peninsula) turns southwest and heads into the mountains.

Entering 5.4 million acre Chugach National Forest


Heading into the mountains of the Kenai Peninsula


Welcome to Alaska, Nic

Continuing south, the scenery we encountered kept getting better and better. Mom noted the general absence of residences or cabins, which was nice. We stopped to see Sixmile Creek Canyon (watch your step near the edge!), Lower Summit Lake and Tern Lake (where Highway 9 splits off if you are heading east to Seward)

Stumbling into a postcard-quality scene near Summit Lake


Turn the other direction and this is the view


Group shot overlooking Tern Lake

Sticking with Highway 1 and heading west, the mountains soon give way to Lake Kenai and the world-famous fishing rivers near Cooper Landing. Beyond the flurry of resorts and RV parks in that area, we entered Sterling, where we stopped at a gift shop (run by a guy with a taxidermy shop in back) and found a couple establishments selling ice cream and BBQ chicken for lunch (to supplement our car diet of peanut M&Ms and salmon jerky).

We found a nice chair at our lunch stop in Sterling


Mom wanted an ice cream cone for lunch, then this building appeared

After Sterling, we passed thru Soldotna, and turned south toward the smaller towns of Kasilof, Clam Gultch, Ninilchik, and Happy Valley — to name a few. Compared to the mountain views a couple hours earlier, this portion of the drive looked more like Northern Minnesota, except for the part when Mom finally spotted a moose.

Moose munching away on the side of the road

Finally, by late afternoon, we reached the outskirts of Homer and took in a sweeping panoramic view of Kachemak Bay, with Cook Inlet to the west, Kachemak Bay State Park to the south and the Homer Spit to the east.

Kachemak Bay panorama


Homer Spit, much farther away than it appears in this photo

We drove the rest of the way into Homer — the Halibut fishing capital of the world — and promptly checked in at the Pioneer Inn. Owners Rich and Amy greeted us with smiles and showed us to our respective rooms.

Chatting with Rich outside the Pioneer Inn

With clouds rolling in to end our sunny afternoon, we ventured down to the Homer Spit to find some dinner. It takes about 10-15 minutes to drive 4.5 miles out to the end of the spit where the boat harbor operates. Experts believe the Spit exists because of A. tidal swells in Kachemak Bay and Cook Inlet, or B. sediment from an ancient glacier. Whatever the explanation, tourism is alive and well at the end of the Spit, as a large number of restaurants and excursion companies, etc. occupy rows of weathered shacks built on stilts.

Homer Spit is like the Renaissance Festival of fishing


Who decided the blood would be a nice touch here?

Based on a recommendation from our guidebooks, as well as Amy back at the Pioneer Inn, we settled on Captain Pattie’s for dinner, where we all ordered the fresh fish. Captain Pattie did not disappoint. The place also delivered on the finer details, with contour maps as table decor, fish-shaped plates and local Homer Brewing Company beers on tap.

I think this place sells fish


Best halibut I've had in Alaska

After dinner, Nicole and I sought out a couple different options for sea kayaking from companies operating on the Spit, while Mom and Dad investigated the popular Bear sightseeing trips. When we each gathered enough information, we drove off the Spit (past the semi-junkyard of old boat parts) and stopped by the local Safeway grocery store to pick up some breakfast food, taking advantage of the fact that Mom and Dad’s room at the Inn has a full kitchen. Upon our return to the Pioneer Inn, we briefly reviewed our plans for Tuesday, and then hit the hay shortly thereafter.

Leaving the Spit for the day

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