2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   A BUSY DAY TRIP FROM KASILOF TO HOMER

PART 1: COASTAL SCENES & THE  
HISTORIC RUSSIAN TOWN OF NINILCHIK

SATURDAY, JULY 14

 
"A photographic haven lodged in history and in legend, Ninilchik is a fishing community  
that lives up to its Russian name, 'peaceful settlement by the river.' The flavor of this  
old Russian fur-trading village sill emphasizes its past prominence. The old Russian Orthodox
Church . . . and the historic cemetery overlook the entire rustic village of Ninilchik, 
and peacefully share the brilliant Alaska sunset skyline with Mount Redoubt
and Mount Iliamna, which are perched across Cook Inlet."
 
 
 

Although it was overcast most of the day the clouds were high enough that we could see most of the scenery on our trip today between Kasilof and Homer. This stretch of the Sterling Hwy. is very beautiful, too.

I loved all the meadows full of purplish-blue lupines, white cow parsnip, and cream-colored Indian paintbrush along the roadway but wasnít able to get a good photo of them while we were driving. Jim commented that some red flowers were needed to brighten things up a bit . . .


This is the least-blurry meadow photo I got while we were driving today.

We were still unable to see the volcanoes across Cook Inlet to the west but the mountains and glaciers across Kachemak Bay to the south and east were clearly visible. It didnít start raining until we were on our way home late in the afternoon. Temps ranged from the upper 40s F. in the morning to the low 50s in the afternoon.

I had a pretty long list of things I wanted to see and do today, knowing full well that we wouldnít have the time or energy to do all of them. We accomplished quite a bit from the time we left the Kasilof RV Park a little before 10 AM until we got back at 5 PM.

LET'S GO!

The distance from our campground to the middle of Homer was about 60 miles each way, plus we drove another 30-35 miles in town, out and back on Homer Spit, and out and back on part of the dead-end road east of town toward Kachemak.

Here's the AAA map section of the Kenai Peninsula again, this time with our route between Kasilof and Homer highlighted in yellow:

 

If you're interested in a more detailed map of this section of the Sterling Hwy. check out this Milepost link.

HISTORIC NINILCHIK   

Alaska has some very photogenic old Russian Orthodox churches and cemeteries. I'm fascinated with them because of their unique architecture, icons, history, and beliefs -- it's a new cultural learning experience for me.

I knew that an interesting church was on our route today so our first stop was the c. 1900 Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord Russian Orthodox Church in Ninilchik at MM 134.6:

 

The Milepost reports that this is one of the most popular tourist sites on the Kenai Peninsula. You can't see it from the road but there are signs marking the short road to it. There is a separate parking area for big RVs, if you're traveling in one. (We were just in our truck today.)

Like other Russian Orthodox churches we've seen and read about, this one is also open to the public for services or to just look inside:


Sign next to the door, welcoming visitors inside


Another couple talks with the priest in the small sanctuary.

We walked to the bluff over the inlet, went inside the church, and wandered through the wildflower-and-weed-strewn cemetery.

Jim commented that this is what cemeteries should look like, not mown and manicured. I agree.


Note the distinctive Russian Orthodox crosses with the slanted cross at the bottom.

 

We had a good view of both Cook Inlet and the old town of Ninilchik from the church property:

We headed south on the Sterling Hwy. and descended to the Ninilchik River, where few people were fishing today. At MM 135.1 we turned at the sign for the short road leading to the old village of Ninilchik.

This is the original town site that was settled in the early 1800s. Several of the homes date from the late 1800s. Others are obviously newer. I don't know the age of the house below but it caught my eye:

Visitors can get out and take a walking tour of the old village for close-up views of the old Russian school, houses, and food cache.

The original Russian missionaries settled here with the region's Dena'ina Indians. Fur traders followed. Employees of the Russian American Fur Company who married locally and didn't want to return to Russia continued to live here. Descendents of some of the original settlers and Native Alaskan residents still live in the area.

We were in somewhat of a hurry to get to Homer so we did a quick drive-through and missed most of the historic buildings. This is another place I'd like to come back to and spend more time wandering around.

Note that there is a "new" Ninilchik nearby, right on the highway. Its population is about 1,000 people. It is a popular destination for salmon and halibut fishermen.

SCENIC OVERLOOK #1

I mentioned earlier that this is a scenic stretch of the Sterling Hwy. Not only are there lots of meadows full of flowers along the way, there are also several pull-outs overlooking the coast or within a short walking distance.


More lupines and cow parsnips at a scenic overlook; path through a meadow
to the bluff overlooking Cook Inlet is barely visible to the left.

We stopped at a scenic overlook (shown above) at MM 142.5 that is supposed to have one of the best views of Mt. Illamna and Mt. Redoubt, two of the five 10,000+-foot peaks that have active volcanoes. They are in the Aleutian Chain. We havenít had a decent view of any of these mountains because of low clouds.

I could just barely see the four peaks on Illamna above the clouds after Cody and I walked out a grassy path through a meadow to a bluff about 250 feet above Cook Inlet. This view is more to the south:

 

Continuing south, we drove through the town of Anchor Point, North Americaís most westerly highway point. The town got its name from the large anchor that Capt. John Cook lost when he first explored the area in 1778, looking for the Northwest Passage. The anchor came from one of his ships, the Discovery or the Resolution.

The Anchor River is popular with sports fishermen looking for salmon, steelhead, dolly varden, and rainbows. It's also a good place for beachcombing, camping, golf, and hiking.

There is another small historic Russian community of Old Believers nine miles inland on North Fork Road. Nikolaevsk is populated by descendents of settlers who fled from the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. The town has another one of Alaska's picturesque Russian Orthodox churches and a cafe that serves authentic Russian fare. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to visit Nikolaevsk  today.

Between Anchor Point and Homer the Sterling Hwy. climbs to about 800 feet above Cook Inlet. There are intermittent views of the water from the road and several smaller roads that lead to the edge of the bluffs. Some of them are on private property, others through the State Recreation Areas along the highway.

SCENIC OVERLOOK #2: BAY CREST

On the last hill before the descent to Homer we stopped at a large, very attractive rest area at MM 196.6 with magnificent 180-degree views overlooking Kachemak Bay, mountains and glaciers to the east, Homer Spit to the south, Cook Inlet to the west, and scenic bluffs to the north.

 

 


View south to Kachemak Bay

Appropriately, this is called Bay Crest Overlook.

Several people were watching eagles soar above us, using binoculars and taking photos with long camera lenses:

 

Jim stood watching them circle for several minutes while I checked out the lovely beds full of flowers and a plot of vegetables destined for the local food pantry.

Benches and telescopes are provided for visitors. It's a lovely introduction to the Homer vicinity.


Columbines bloom in the foreground; there are spotting scopes in the background.

 

A Gold Rush Centennial sign describes an ill-fated expedition of gold miners from New York that began here in late fall 1898 and ended rather badly by the time they reached the northern part of the peninsula during the winter:

 

Talk about bad timing and ignorance, to be hauling equipment over the Kenai Mountains by wheelbarrow in Alaska during the winter!

After enjoying the expansive views, soaring eagles, and colorful flowers for several minutes, Cody, Jim, and I piled back into the truck and headed downhill for an interesting day of sightseeing in Homer.

 

We aimed first for Homer Spit, the narrow strip of land you can see in the next photo. It stretches for almost five miles out into the Bay and is loaded with campgrounds, shops, fishing-related businesses, and large and small boat harbors:

Continued on the next page . . .

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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