Roads to Alaska (Page 5)
Fairbanks to the Kenai Peninsula
THE PARKS HIGHWAY

After lunch, we headed out of Fairbanks onto Highway 3, the Parks Highway and arrived at the Denali National Park Visitor's Center about 3 hours later.

In 1971 the Parks Highway was not available, so it took us a day to backtrack 179 miles southeast through Delta Junction, down the Richardson Highway (#4) to Paxton, then westward over the 136-mile Denali Highway (#8), a gravel road to arrive at the Park about 10 PM but with plenty of daylight.   That was in June.   This time it was August 29.   A serious rainstorm had begun.
SEE MAP

Denali National Park has a very interesting 85-mile gravel road into it, an excellent way to view bear, caribou, and dall sheep.   We know this because, in 1971, we drove that road.   The very next year, public access was discontinued except by tour buses or hiking.   So this time we could drive only the first 15 miles.  It was stunningly beautiful!

At least our timing was good.   The tundra was vivid with it's autumn colors, mainly deep reds, bright yellows, and, of course, dark greens.   Even the rain was a blessing.   I think the clouds and the very wet tundra made the colors much deeper than they would have been in brilliant sunshine.

The rain and clouds, though, made it impossible to see "The Mountain, Mt. McKinley, alias, Denali, meaning, "The High One."   This is not unusual.   Park brochures remark that you might not be able to see Mt.   McKinley on your visit.


Beautiful mountain scenery is very familiar to all of us because photographs are plentiful.   There is a kind of similarity in them all.   But the colors in these tones and the clouds of this day produce a special effect that is hard to find.   Scenes were similar just outside the park and down the Parks Highway.   What a tremendously scenic highway!



The Parks Highway shortens the distance between Fairbanks and Anchorage to 358 miles.   It was opened just after our 1971 visit.   Today, it's a wide two-lane paved road with great scenery all the way.



One last viewpoint southeast of Mt. McKinley provides an opportunity to see the mountain.   The scene is beautiful, but alas, the mountain is behind a cloud bank.


Approaching Palmer, we enjoyed the Matanuska-Susitna Valley (The "Mat-Su"). The first town at the west end is Willow, the voters' choice for a new Alaskan Capital siting in 1976, until funding was rejected in 1982.   Other major towns in this farming belt are Houston, Wasilla and Palmer.   This is the area where the Iditarod Race begins.   It looks like a very nice place to live, dotted with just a few small towns.   And the services of Anchorage are not terribly far away.

THE KENAI PENINSULA

The following day, Thursday, August 31, we passed through Anchorage on our way to the Kenai Peninsula.
SEE MAP

The first point of interest was Turnagain Arm, a 50-mile inlet surrounded by mountains just southeast of Anchorage.   This day we were treated to the brief sightings of probably dozens of beluga whales as they looped to the surface.   They were feeding on a run of returning salmon. Another thing we learned about Turnagain Arm is the subtle danger of the beach sand here.   Some areas have quick-sand.   It is said that several people become trapped each year and are lost.

Around the east end of Turnagain Arm, Highway 1 continues onto the Kenai Peninsula, another beautiful and popular piece of Alaska with mountains, rivers, forests and a few small towns such as Kenai, Seward, Soldotna, and Homer.   This is another place for wildlife refuges and Kenai Fjords National Park, accessible only by special boats or aircraft or by foot.

After Soldotna, the highway known here as the Sterling Highway, follows the eastern shore of Cook Inlet offering views of snow-capped Readoubt and Iliamna Volcanoes about 40 or 50 miles away on the other side of the inlet.   My photo of Iliamna was taken from the beach at Ninilchik.

We stopped at a very nice Anchor Point private campground overlooking Cook Inlet.   This spot is the most westerly point on the interconnected highway system of North America.

After another overnight rain we drove the few miles to Homer at the end of the road.   But it was heavily overcast, foggy and intermittently raining, not good for sight-seeing.   Doggedly, we followed Highway 1 out onto the Homer spit where it ends at a ferry terminal that connects Homer to the Alaska Marine Highway and a number of isolated towns on Southern Alaska islands and inlets.

Homer loves the water.   All sorts of fishing cruises are offered to bring back salmon and halibut.   Mary opted for a fish market and brought back both.   Water taxis take folks across the bay to isolated coves and camps for later pick-up.   Float planes offer visits to the game refuges to see Kodiak and Grizzly bears.

We couldn't help but notice the activity of log trucks bringing black spruce logs to a landing on the Homer spit.   Black spruce trees typically are not very large, so we guessed that they were being shipped to a paper mill or being made into poles.   We had already noticed that many of these trees were dying along the coastal plain of Cook Inlet.   I later learned that the culprit was a beetle.   A Homer resident commented to me that the only solution to this plague would be a forest fire.   But the clear cutting solution makes much better stewardship sense to me.   We are too often leaning to the passive eco-solution.

As we began to retrace our steps back up the Sterling Highway, the sky gradually cleared.   We returned that evening to the east side of the Kenai Peninsula and made our camp at Trail River Campground.   Although this was our worst stop for mosquitoes, the natural ground cover was unbelievable and delightful!   It was everywhere in this large campground!   What a nice ending for a day that started so gloomily!


To top it off, the last rays of sun on the mountain
made this moment the highlight of the day.

SEWARD

The tempest was raging on the Gulf of Alaska as a fur trader and explorer, was plying the inlets and sounds of Southern Alaska on his way from Kodiak to Yakutat.   He needed a place of refuge.  




He found it here.   It was 1791 and it happened to be the Russian Sunday of Resurrection.   So, in gratitude to God, Alexander Baranof named this place, "Resurrection Bay."

In 1903, Alaska Railroad surveyors established Seward as an ocean terminal and supply center.   Seward, on year-round ice free Resurrection Bay, is one of the most important ports in Alaska.   The town is named after U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward, who negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russian Tsar Alexander II in 1867 for 7.2 million dollars, about 2 cents per acre.




Today, on this Labor Day weekend, this bay is swarming with folks in boats




and on the shore trying their fishing skills or just enjoying the beautiful water surrounded by beautiful mountains.
Background image is from a wallhanging at Snow Goose Fibers and Quilts, a shop in Fairbanks, AK
(See Page 4)
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