South of Anchorage, the 200-mile-long tooth of the Kenai Peninsula cuts the Cook Inlet from the Gulf of Alaska in a variegated swath of subarctic terrain. The northernmost crown of the Ring of Fire, the Kenai, they say, is Alaska in miniature. It bears each of the state’s ecosystems aside from Arctic tundra–boreal forest, coastal rainforest and wetlands, sea ice in the fjords, and no shortage of soaring mountains–and it consequently made for an ideal five-day tour with our friend Mike Webster who kindly flew up to meet us.
Mike left Santa Fe, Phoenix-bound, the same day we did more than a month earlier, so it was good to see our friend again, and a little surreal now that we were all together in Alaska, exploring a small part of this state as we so often explored northern New Mexico, camping and hiking and generally being outside amidst all the natural beauty. We reunited at the airport, stocked up on grocery essentials and some Midnight Sun Kodiak Brown and headed south to Seward at the north tip of Ressurection Bay.
The Seward Highway is a national scenic byway and a worthy destination in itself. Glaciated peaks thrust skyward from the water along the fjord-like Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet. Dozens of waterfalls litter the shore, and you can trace the thin ribbons of water up to high snowfields where they originate. Mike was snapping iPhone photos at every bend in the road that opened to new vistas. But as he noted, you can’t quite capture the majesty of this place, merely hint at some portion of it. Sometimes a cloud hides the neck of a mountain and you look higher to be astonished by its true height peaking above.
We grabbed a spot in the Primrose Campground 17 miles out from town. The mosquitos were few, but flies swarmed in their place with unexpected fury. Somehow Paige and Mike didn’t seem bothered, but I couldn’t stand still without being attacked. The next site over was a clearer, more open space where the flies were less abundant and the ground flatter, so we moved, carrying Mike’s already-setup tent. Having decided to do the long hike to Lost Lake and back, which began from our campsite, we paid for two nights and headed toward Seward to check out Exit Glacier and the town.
Like most glaciers of the world, Exit Glacier was once much larger. As we passed into Kenai Fjords National Park to see it, signs indicated where its terminal face had once been more than a century earlier, and we could track its insistent retreat to the slope partway up the foot of the mountain from which it flows. The hike to the face was quick and easy. Where it stopped, water trickled out in a little cloudy rivulet with the sound of further retreat on a warm day.
Mile 0 of the Iditarod Trail, Seward is a small town of about 2,600 named after William H. Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State who was responsible for negotiating Alaska’s purchase from Russia. We walked the few blocks of pleasant main drag down to the water for a little wading and relaxing on the shores of Resurrection Bay, where we almost lost Mike. He’d gone back to the car for a jacket. Paige and I, ready to head back to camp for dinner, thought we’d intercept him as he walked back. It is, after all, a rather small town with approximately one main three-block street. But he’d come back down a street that was not quite as main as the one we simultaneously walked up, and we kept missing each other for the next 20 minutes, the maximum length of time you can lose someone in Seward who isn’t climbing Mount Marathon.
Because computer and internet time is pretty limited for us here in Alaska, I’m forced to make the rest of the Kenai visit brief, but I’ll be sure to include a lot of pictures to make up for it. The next morning we went out for a tiring but excellent 15-mile hike. It started out very buggy in the trees for many miles, past an abandoned miner’s cabin, but once we emerged into the tundra, the morning fog had lifted to reveal gorgeous views of the mountains around us. We found Lost Lake, hungry for lunch, and spent a good amount of time lounging and even napping on the shore. It was an idyllic place, the kind that makes you forget about any other worries beyond the bare moment.
We spent the next two nights in Homer at a hillside campsite overlooking Kachemak Bay and the snow mantled peaks across it. We hung out a bit on the Spit, grabbed a pizza and walked around the shops there. All the kayak tours seemed to be booked through the weekend, so we just decided to take it easy in Homer, which amounted to: a guided beach walk at the nature center, the nature center itself, skipping stones at the water’s edge on the Homer Spit, cruising Skyline Drive (a scenic road above town, bordered by hills rife with fireweed, with expansive views over the bay,) burritos at Cosmic Kitchen (breakfast, lunch, and Mexican,) and a little fireside beer tasting.
Five days is too short a time to spend with such an excellent and admirable friend as Mike, and it ended all too soon, as things are wont to do. On the last day, we drove back to Anchorage, walked around the Saturday Market, and got lunch at our favorite Anchorage establishment, the Glacier Brewhouse, before dropping Mike off at the airport. It was sad to see him go, not knowing this time when exactly we’d next meet, that sadness made more acute with the knowledge that our time all together in Santa Fe is gone. But we know it won’t be long, and the memories we’ve made will only be bolstered by those we have ahead of us, as good friends. Meanwhile, the adventure continues. And we’ll drink to that.