We flew in very late at night, and fell right asleep after being picked up from my cousin. The funny thing flying up there in the summer is we saw sunset twice. I watched the sunset in Seattle as we boarded the flight and then as we flew further and further north the sun peeked up over the horizon again for a few more hours before setting again around midnight in the far north.
Bright and early we woke up and were greeted by my cousin, while waiting for my Aunt and cousin's daughter to get ready we got a quick coffee and breakfast at Fireisland Bread, we had the breakfast sandwich which was awesome. Once everyone was ready we drove down the Seward highway along turnagain arm and first stopped at Indian Valley Mine where we panned for gold. It was Mike and Brailyn's (My cousin's daughter) first time so we all had lots of fun. We got a piece of granite, copper, fools gold, some gold flecks in our tub of dirt. The place itself was really great, had some awesome souvenirs and great skulls and decor. The owners were so great and very helpful and patient with teaching all the kids there how to pan for gold, great place to stop for anyone.
After panning for gold we drove a bit further and had lunch at Chair 5 in Girdwood. The restaurant had fun taxidermy and posters all over the place. The food was good, but nothing special. Girdwood is a nice little town and a good place to stop at, once a year they have a fair there in the woods which was really fun when I went there in '09. Finishing lunch we headed to the wild animal park.
Alaska Wild Animal Park
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a really amazing place and is a definite stop for anyone traveling to Alaska. The center rescues hurt animals and helps grow populations of herding animals, such as the Alaska Wood Bison. They have caribou, moose, lynx, a bald eagle, bison, black and brown bears, porcupine, and deer. You can get really close to the animals and there's many signs to learn about the animals. The park itself is a driving park or walking park, and also has an amazing gift shop. At the end we bid farewell to my cousin and aunt and started down the highway to Seward.
On our way down to Seward we encountered a couple rain showers which we were excited about not seeing rain for almost a year. We made it down to our cabin, which was amazing. It was right on a creek with salmon running up stream, the porch hung over the stream and the door opened to that so we felt very secluded with a beautiful view from the window. Our cabin was the smallest and called the Trapper cabin, it was perfect size and the owner was awesome, if you're in Seward look into this place, Alaska Creekside Cabins.
Once settled in we started to drive towards Seward. We accidentally took a wrong turn but ended up at Exit Glacier so that wasn't a bad thing. Exit Glacier is a part of Kenai Fjords National Park and one of the glaciers that's easiest to access. It comes down from the Harding Ice Field, we wanted to hike up to the ice field but unfortunately didn't have time. The glacier of course really just makes you sad, it's receded 187 ft in 2013, half of it's recession in the past 150 years has happened in just the past 10 years. It's so sad watching these amazing things retreat so rapidly and watch people at the park deface rocks and such and not care... Come on!
Anyway, after walking around the glacier we made our way to downtown Seward. Seward is a small old port town with certain areas you drive thru that smelled so strongly of rotten fish, but what do expect from a fishing town. The downtown is just a few blocks with more bars then you'd expect. We had dinner at a good brewery called the Seward Brewing Company, we had the lamb fries, and reindeer hot dog which was all amazing. This was the first time we realized how different the time was, I forgot that when you're here you loose complete track of time. By the time it started getting to sunset we realized we hadn't eaten in hours then looked at the time and it was almost 9pm. It's surprising how much you depend on the sun to know when you should eat and relax. It only felt like it was around 5 at that point. After stuffing ourselves and watching the sun finally set at 11pm, we made it back to our cabin and fell asleep listening to salmon swimming up the shallow stream.
We got up super early and made our way back down to Seward to go kayaking on Resurrection Bay and a great place called, Sunny Cove Kayaking. It was a great small group led by two experienced kayakers and we were out for 3 hours. Luckily it was the morning, so the bay was like glass and super easy to kayak in. While we were out we saw some amazing views, Resurrection Bay is ENORMOUS! All around you are massive mountains that you really can't comprehend and glaciers peeking over the tops and valleys of them. I wish we were able to see some of the glaciers up close, but the bay is just too huge. We saw so much wildlife, we saw silver salmon jumping, a couple almost jumped into some of the kayaks, there were bay seals, and lots of eagles. One bald eagle we saw flying around with a fish in it's talons before dropping the fish off to it's partner bald eagle in the trees then swooping back down over us. I absolutely fell in love with kayaking and can't wait to do it again, and I was super happy that I had my foul weather pants on so I didn't have a wet butt afterwards :)
Seward Sea Life Center
The Seward Sea Life Center was incredible. It's a working center the takes in Alaskan animals, and supports rehabilitation. It had so many amazing things, I could've spent many more hours there! The Stellar Sea Lions that they had there were amazing, and it's a part of a breeding program to better understand the impacts on the huge guys. They really are massive the female sea lions are larger than the male California Sea Lions AND their breeding male has lost some weight cause it wasn't breeding season, he's only 2200lbs! Down from 2700lbs! We at first thought maybe he was a type of walrus he was so large.
They had some really neat exhibits on salmon too of course. I thoroughly enjoyed how the Sea Life Center was focused on native ocean life unlike most aquariums that have species that aren't local. It definitely worth a visit and the gift shop was awesome!
The Kenai Penninsula
On our way back up to Anchorage we made a few stops after Seward, this map was super helpful in finding cool places to stop at, http://www.alaska.org/guide/seward-highway. First was a salmon spawning platform at Moose creek north of Seward, we almost missed it but I'm so happy we didn't. The trail went through the woods to a shallow stream. As we walked up it was full of bright red spawning sockeye salmon. The platform beside the stream allowed us to watch without disturbing them. We even saw a female salmon building a nest called a redd. It's incredible to think these fish started in this exact spot, survived to get to the ocean, lived in the ocean for years, then swam upstream/up water falls without being caught to spawn and die in the same spot they were born. It's incredible.
A woman soon joined us at the viewing platform and told us that she had been here a few years ago but about two or three weeks later, she said the the stream smelled terrible and was full of dead salmon, we all were happy that we had made it at the perfect moment and didn't see the aftermath.
On our way up we also drove to an old stop along the Alaskan rail line at mile 23. It was called Alaska Nellie's Homestead in Lawing and was a restaurant, and lodge, trophy room and with many out buildings. The '64 earthquake damaged much of the property but stayed running until it was vacated in the 70's. Now it was just a bunch of abandoned buildings, once a great stop for tourists along the railway has become a part of the forest.
As we headed toward Turnagain arm we drove to the west towards Hope, AK. It's a town I had seen from the other side of the bay but never had been.
Next post, Hope, AK! Then Wasilla, Talkeetna, Denali, and final post Anchorage! Make sure to visit Alaska.org for really good historical travel info, that's how I found lot's of stops on the highway.