An adventure with photo-tunities around ever bend. Although this road trip was planned as a mother/daughter road trip, last minute Josh decided that he needed to come with me down to Homer to pick up an RV. Last year we bought a house on steel pillings and this year we bought a small house on wheels! We were excited but having to pack in three adults, two large dogs, enough luggage, camping supplies, and food for twenty-one days into my jeep kept us pretty cozy.
Our first real stop was St. Elias Brewing Company in Soldotna. They let the dogs hang with us out on the patio and the dogs seemed to thoroughly enjoy not having to spend more time in the car. Because this trip was last minute for Josh and the dogs, I had not planned dog-friendly lodging… so the three of them had to sleep in the car for 2 nights, with all the bags, food, and camping gear.
We finally made it to Homer and after a whole day of waiting and signing and waiting and signing, we officially have a house on wheels! Unfortunately for me I only had about 10 minutes to enjoy it before Josh had to start the trip back up to Fairbanks with the dogs. We parted ways and my mom and I checked into a tree house, actually it an adorable treehouse. So much personality in all the little touches.
Mom and I decided before we started our journey to go onto a waiting list for a bear viewing tour to either Lake Clark National Park or Hallo Bay in Katmai National Park. We knew there was a chance we wouldn’t get to do it but we left it to fate. On Monday we asked the company whether they had space for Tuesday and the rest of the week. They said they had some seats available Wednesday and Thursday but not Tuesday. Since they said they didn’t have room for Tuesday we planned a deep sea fishing adventure for Tuesday. We chose a 3/4 day Halibut trip.
It was an interesting trip out. My mom and I love the ocean, so just being out on the ocean was a blast. As soon as the boat stopped and our giant fishing group of 14 put our lines in, my mom immediately caught a Halibut. It started out so promising. I spent hours getting my line tangled as we drifted in the current. We did get our max of Halibut but we didn’t come close to any trophies by any means. We pulled back into the Harbor of Homer and mom went to check on the status of our bear adventure. I went to the bathroom and when I came in to see what she found out she informed me that we were scheduled to go that day, Tuesday (the day they said they had no room on). Not only did they plan for us to go that day but the plane was going to leave in 30 minutes. We looked at each other and the lady working and asked whether we could make it. The lady working said if you hurry and change your clothes. I hadn’t even thought about us wearing fishing clothes to see brown bears… Luckily for us we had our suitcases in the car (one of the traits I get from my dad is being a planner – he always makes us pack a carry-on with some clothes and that is what you bring in to your hotel or cabin – Thanks dad!).
I ran and got the car. We were taking as many clothes off as possible without turning heads on our way to the airport. When I pulled in we were all over the place. It was as if a tornado hit the jeep’s interior. We ran up and there were eight other people sitting in hip waders waiting for us. I didn’t even know what I had in my camera bag at that point. We were thrown in hip waders ourselves and then we watched a movie on bear safety and information regarding the tour. Since my mom and I were on the waiting list they separated us on the Cessna’s, but we each got to copilot! It was amazing (not because my mom and I were separated, but because we both got to sit up with the pilot and could watch where were going). We had some great guides and amazing bear view opportunities. We ended up in Lake Clark National Park.
When we flew back they took the scenic route and we got to fly near Iliamna. A beautiful, action packed day! The rest of Homer was spent resting, drinking, playing cards, shopping, eating, and counting how many times a drunk neighbor, who was staying in a tree house next to ours, smacked his head on the low ceiling of the stairs (he hit his head hard 14 times within the span of 2 hours).
After Homer we made our way back to Soldotna. This was our first time staying in Soldotna. We stayed in a lodge that had a lot of rules… no shoes inside and no stepping to hard on the stairs? It did have a jacuzzi tub and a comfortable bed so we decided to follow the rules. For dinner in Soldotna we couldn’t decide what we wanted for dinner… so we went with what all adults would want – a GIANT ice cream cone and beer! The next day we were on our way to Lake Clark National Park to stay at the Homestead Lodge, or so we thought. We got there at 7:30, with the plan to hop on a plane at 8:30. This was not quite the case. The coast was so socked in that they pushed back the flight until 11:00am and then due to high tide, they moved departure to 3:00pm. We went to lunch and mom got these adorable moose slippers from a moose cafe. We returned and were ready to fly! Sadly we were pushed back yet again. They finally decided to give it a try at 3:30. We all packed into the plane, strapped on our seat belts, and put on the headphones. We got up in the air, everyone was excited! The excitement quickly turned to disappointment when the pilot had to turn around due to the fog.
Crazily enough we tried flying again at 4:45 and the same thing happened – we had to turn around. It wasn’t until 5:45 that we actually were going to “go for it” by flying through layers in the clouds. We were all looking for pockets to fly in to see. At one point I spotted 6 horned puffins in the ocean… for those of you know fly often probably know that you probably shouldn’t be able to spot very small aquatic birds, let alone be able to count them, and identify specific species while in flight. We were flying very, very low to the ocean. We finally made it to the Homestead Lodge and it was worth the wait. We all waved goodbye as our pilot left us in Lake Clark National Park! It was beautiful, even in the fog. Our first bear we saw was a sow with twin spring cubs – beautiful! We were SO excited! Little did we know that was as close and good of a sight we were ever going to see of them! Oh well! Our second bear was a subadult running through the garden in the yard while everyone was eating. We all jumped up and grabbed our cameras! It was fun being in a place that is as bear crazy as we are!
We didn’t get a whole lot of bear activity out in Lake Clark, but what we did get to see was great! The food was superb, the staff was willing to deal with all of us crazy obsessed bear photographers with a smile, and the room was spacious and clean! It was a great place to stay. Our only negative was that we had to go back to reality and Soldotna…
Our next stop was Seward, Alaska. Since my mom was with me it was of course rainy, foggy, and cold. We were there for the fourth of July and Seward was full of runners, supporters, and partiers. The run of course was up Mt. Marathon. It was exciting that a man from Fairbanks broke the record! We saw some runners from afar but there was no where within the whole town to really park and watch. We decided instead to go on two different boat tours in Seward. We had one on a small boat with a company I have used many times. The other one was a spontaneous adventure and it was through major marine, and I have to say – it is WAY better than Kenai Fjord! You have assigned seating and plenty of room to photograph. They gave every group a book about Kenai Fjords National Park, the wildlife, and land. Very professional tour. We got to see many humpback whales, sea otters, sea lions, puffins, gulls, and many more!
The next day was the whole day small group tour. I always like going on the smaller boats, not only because you are closer to the ocean, wildlife, views, but also it is more fun with the waves! With my mom, there is ALWAYS waves. It wasn’t the six foot swells we had last year that almost cancelled our tour but it was rainy throughout the day. We saw an abundant more whales and the other typical sea life of Seward, but we also got to see the Orcas. They didn’t do any tricks for us or do much of anything but come up and “poof” air out of their blowhole BUT it was so amazing to get to see them! Everything on the water turned out great, the only negative was the accommodations. We always stay at Miller’s Landing down in Seward. It is cheap but fun and usually clean! This was our fourth year staying there and it had been three years since we stayed at the cabin we stayed in. Three years aged this cabin very poorly. My mom and I ended up both sleeping in the twin bunkbed bottom the two nights we stayed there. We may be looking for a new place to stay in the future!
Whittier was up next. It was really fun getting to see my mom’s excitement for the whittier tunnel. We missed our turn to enter from Portage by 1 minute, so we ended up waiting 29 minutes for the next opportunity to enter the tunnel. The cool upside to missing this tunnel opening to Whittier was that we were now first to get to enter the tunnel. I had forgotten how long the tunnel was and it is always awesome when you drive to the light and see the town on the other side. There isn’t a whole lot in Whittier, but it can be a fun town to check out. We stayed at the Whittier Inn (very nice place for the middle of nowhere).
The tour was interesting. We did a small boat wildlife tour out of Whittier. It was fun, I love being on the ocean, but again the day was not great. Between the rain and fog, it made the views hard to see. Not much activity when it came to wildlife either. The coolest thing we saw took place within the first ten minutes of the tour. An eagle swooped down and chased down a Kittiwake and ate it! Seeing the chase and the take down was amazing!
It rained all day and night. When we got back to our hotel – the nicest in Whittier – we were ready for a hot shower! We looked forward to lounging around, editing, and watching tv! Unfortunately, that was not in our cards that night. The power went out around 7pm and it didn’t come back on until after we went to bed. We did however play cards until it was literally too dark to see them anymore. It was not what we had planned but we made the best of it!
The next day we woke up to sunshine! Of course the one day we did not have a trip or anything planned on a port city and it was a fabulous, fabulous day! We took a few photos of the boat dock and then headed back through the tunnel. We spent the day driving to Anchorage, visiting the camera shop for more memory cards, and picking up Josh at the airport. We spent the evening packing everything up and getting everything ready for Katmai! Back to Brooks! (here are two photos: first was taken during the tour out of Whittier – hence the fog, wet hair, and overall craziness of the photo the second is the next day!)
We took the earliest flight out to King Salmon which went pretty smoothly (other than there not being a shuttle and having to carry all of our stuff to the check in counter). In King Salmon we ended up having to wait for almost 4 hours for a flight to Brooks. We didn’t mind really since we were fortunate to have 7 nights there!
It was worth the wait! It was truly the year of the cubs! So many cubs! We spent almost the entire 8 days with a bear nicknamed Grazer and her first litter of three cubs! What made them so intriguing was that each cub was a different size – even though they were all born at the same time!
We also got to see a bear named Beadnose and her two spring cubs and bear 402 with her two yearlings (only two of the four survived the year). I don’t know how she lost the two cubs, but the two she had left were getting themselves into trouble. Here the more hesitant cub went over the falls.
Of the 2000+ images I took over the 8 days, I would say 1850 were of Grazer and her family. Something about her adorable cubs and the strength of their family that just lured me in! We met up with some great friends and met some new ones! Something about that place is just magical. The main difference this year was the amount of people coming for the day. They used to come from about 10am – 5pm. Being campers, we typically would head out and enjoy bears in the morning before 10 and then again after 5 so that day trippers could have time out at the falls. This year we tried to follow that same schedule but it was ALWAYS packed. People were coming before 9am and not leaving until 10pm. It was difficult. But great friends made the trip great and enjoyable, even with the influx of people!
It was hard to say goodbye to the bears and our friends. We always say we may not go back the next year… but something always propels us to travel back. I would say it was the amazing bear encounters and experiences, but the amazing people we meet and the people we have come to love spending time with may be the real reason! It’s all about the experience and we have never had a bad time out there, even in the rain, shine, heat, and bugs.
This year my mom and I had to fly out an hour apart. She went first and I think it was hard to leave such a great place! I got to stick around for an hour and got a free beer and t-shirt! Can’t complain! We made it back to Anchorage and then rented a car to spend one more night in Anchorage. We played cards and relaxed. It was the last night in a wonderful road and air trip that we will never forget. Whenever I tell people I am heading off into the Alaska Wilderness with my mom, many people give me an odd look. It is a lot of alone mother-daughter time. We sometimes do get frustrated with each other, but most of the time it is one of the best times of the year. To get to experience something so incredible with my mom is something that we will always have. She is so free and herself and it shows me how an amazing place like Alaska can truly bring out the best in her and myself. We are more alike than either of us would like to admit. I would say the love for the outdoors, wildlife, and adventure is probably the absolute favorite things my mom has passed onto me (I could have done without your hair!). As I get sad another epic trip is over, we look to the future to summer 2017 and start planning our next amazing adventure.