Alaska - A Wildlife Wonderland ( Part One )
How we got to Alaska...
In early Spring, a friend of mine came over to tell me about a unique opportunity to dine under the stars each Summer, smack in the middle of beautiful flower fields in several locations around the country. A chance to taste great food, great wine, in fabulous surroundings, what's not to love? The events are held by the group Certified American Growers ( American Grown Field to Vase dinners, www.americangrownflowers.org ) in collaboration with local cut flower growers and chefs around the country.
We chose Homer, Alaska's unique "Field to Vase" dinner party event at the beginning of August. Neither of us had been to Alaska, but we had heard so much about the breathtaking beauty. The Alaska event featured a local Peony farm in Homer, and Peonies are my favorite flowers. So we booked our tickets in March for this event in August. Anchorage, AK (ANC airport code) is served by many airlines, but flights are limited, and tourism is thriving in the Summer, so book early.
We rented a car and set out on our four-hour drive from Anchorage to Homer on the coastal Alaska highway. Our first stop was merely 20 min outside the city at Beluga Bay. Alaska has a fascinating tide situation when the tide goes out of a bay; it can recede almost 40 feet. Once the tide has receded, it exposes a very fine gray, clay basalt bottom, this clay looked like the perfect face mask, and in fact, I later learned several companies have started up and are harvesting the clay, selling beauty masks. Everywhere you look in Alaska you will see mountains and stunning glaciers nestled in the steep valleys of those mountains. Just look at this picture below.
Continuing on our journey south, we next stopped at a beautiful nature preserve called Potter's Marsh and had a lovely walk on the specially built wooden walkways. This land became this beautiful marsh setting when the Alaskan Railway system developed the tracks for train travel to the south. The stream running through the Marsh was filled with Silver salmon, which were spawning, so exciting to see how hard it is for them to swim upstream in these narrow waterways. If only they would have let us fish off the walkways, I would have had enough salmon to send home a crate filled!
I had a new understanding of "Wild Alaska" when I ran into this sign posted on the walking path. We did not see a moose at this site, but it wasn't long before we had our encounter. Are you old enough to remember Bulwinkle the Moose and Rocky the TV show? Well let me tell you the real thing is not a friendly gregarious TV character, instead, a moose is a 2,000lb+ moving mountain.
We left the marsh to head to our first tour destination, Girdwood, Alaska. I have learned in my years of travel that booking a tour with a local tour guide is often a great way to get to know what an area has to offer. It is also, in this case, the only way to see the Colony glacier and surrounding mountains by helicopter. I like to consult Trip Advisor's "THINGS TO DO" (tripadvisor.com) and the Lonely Planet ( www.lonelyplanet.com) to see what travel reviewers have to say about areas where I will travel. Also, the DK Eyewitness series of books is very informative. Our tour operator was Alpine Air Alaska, a great bunch of organized and fun people. We boarded the small Robinson helicopter, used for sightseeing like this because of the expansive windshield, for a great view from all sides. We flew through mountain passes and steep valleys, Alaska is an eye's delight with colored native plants, forests, and ice forms.
As we ascended into the Chugach mountains, including the Colony Glacier, we heard the history lesson ( which is too lengthy to tell here, but if you want to read about it, look up 1952 Mount Gannett C-124 Crash using Wikipedia). In summary, a plane crashed, and over 50 years later, the parts are emerging 12 miles away at the bottom of that glacier. It is a fantastic lesson about how glaciers move and keep growing.
The surface of a glacier is very creviced, and you have to choose your landing site carefully, but the view as you are landing is fantastic.
Once our helicopter was parked, we were able to walk around.
We walked over to a pure blue pool to drink from Nature's purest water source. The small piles of what looks like dirt are tiny flakes of basalt dust
that is a byproduct shed from the mountains during the winds and rain.
Airborne again, we flew past the side of the glacier for a view of the sidewall, the blue color is spectacular to see.
I have too many pictures to stay on the glacier topic, but I will always treasure my once in a lifetime walk on top of an ice field.
Continuing on the Alaskan coastal highway we had breathtaking scenery the entire drive from Anchorage to Homer. As we were coming into Homer, we looked out the window to the right and saw four distinct mountain tops covered in snow, across the bay. These are part of the Ring of Fire, which has been the site of active volcanos and earthquakes, active even in the last 100 years. Our VRBO rented lodging in Homer, turned out to be called Glacier View and delivered a fabulous view of multiple glaciers.
Homer is a great, small fishing village. Halibut Cove waters allude to the best place in the world to catch Halibut, and I can attest that when fresh-caught, this fish has a buttery Umami that you don't want to miss. Look at my lovely plate from the kitchen of Land's End Resort!
The Harbor in Homer, Alaska
Tomorrow I will explain and post pictures of the "Dinner amongst the Peonies," our moose sitings, the Seward boat trip with Orca whale sitings, and more. Join me again tomorrow. And be sure to sign up to receive notice of all postings.
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