This is a continuation of today's day trip from our campground in Kasilof
to Homer. We still had quite a list of things we wanted to do
and see in Homer after we did an out-and-back foray onto the Homer Spit.
Here's that AAA map section of today's route for the umpteenth time
(for ready reference and for those readers who haven't read previous parts of
This entry covers the rest of our day and begins with some
information about this small city of about 5,400 residents that swells
to many more in the summer months.
If you want to read more about visiting the area, the link above has
tons of useful information. The home page also has some beautiful
scrolling photos at the top. After watching those you'll be planning a
trip to Homer in no time at all!
ALASKA'S "COSMIC HAMLET BY THE SEA"
Homer was originally settled at the mouth of Kachemak Bay near the
Spit in 1895 and named for Homer Pennock, a local prospector.
Before commercial and sport fishing became major industries in the Homer area, mining
coal from exposed seams jutting from the clay bluffs of the upper
north shore of the bay and in the vicinity of Anchor Point was what
brought settlers to this part of the peninsula in the late 1800s. For
several years a railroad carried the coal to the end of the Spit and it was shipped
out from there.
Bluff above the city, as seen
from Homer Spit (this is a fairly low tide in Coal Bay)
Gold prospectors also landed on the Spit in the late 1890s and
trudged north from there to Hope on the north side of the Peninsula. I
mentioned that difficult journey in a
By the 1920s coal was no longer mined and commercial fishing
began to grow. People came to work in the canneries
and to homestead the land.
Seafood processing and tourism (which includes many types of
businesses) are the main economic drivers in Homer today, with
manufacturing, government offices, and construction and other trades
providing jobs for full- and part-time residents.
Homer also hosts a large arts community. Many painters,
photographers, sculptors, potters, jewelers, and other artists live
here, displaying and selling their work in local shops and galleries.
Homer stretches for several miles east and west along the coast and
up a ridge on the north side of Kachemak Bay. Most businesses are
located in the flatter part of town near the coast. The map section
shown above from The Milepost
website and book shows only part of the town.
"Katchemak" is Russian for "high cliffs on the water."
The bluffs rise to about 1200 feet above the bay.
The best views
of the mountains and glaciers across the bay are from roads up on those cliffs, such
as East End Road, Skyline Drive (shown on the little inset above), and
Bay Crest Overlook
on the Sterling Hwy. where we paused for a few minutes on our way into
town from the north.
As you'd expect, the most expensive real estate is up on the cliffs
with the awesome views. There are some beautiful homes up there.
YOU WON'T BE BORED IN HOMER
Homer appeals to a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons.
Many folks come here for the fishing, clamming, big game hunting,
bear-watching, backpacking across the bay, birding, beachcombing, sea
kayaking and boating, cruises and ferry rides, shopping, resort hotels,
restaurants, theater, art galleries, and other pursuits.
We didn't eat here but this has
got to be one of the more interesting restaurants in town!
Did I mention that Homer is part
Jim and I are most interested in beautiful scenery, trails and bike
paths, camping, wildlife, nature in general, museums, and history. I also have a passion
for architecture, some art, flowers -- and good wine!
Those were some of the things we sought in Homer today. Due to lack
of time we had to be selective, though.
When we returned to the mainland from Homer Spit we
drove east on Pioneer Avenue to see some of Homer’s older houses and I
went into the Alaska Wild Berry Products store briefly to see what tasty
products they might
offer for sale:
Although the shop has pretty flowers outside and some interesting
Alaska-made products inside, I was more intrigued by the wandering urban moose
family we could see from the parking lot than the store's merchandise!
Pioneer Avenue morphs into East End Road, which climbs a couple
hundred feet above the Bay. We had some nice views of the Kenai Mountains and Grewingk
Glacier from this road:
Don't you wish you had this view from your
Grewingk Glacier comes down from the Harding Icefield.
It has a long gravel bar
at its terminal moraine that is a popular place to
visit by charter boat or plane.
WINE A BIT -- YOU'LL FEEL BETTER
I love to visit wineries, as much for their ambiance as for the
Our main destination out this way was the
Bear Creek Winery, which is in a
beautiful setting above the bay. In addition to the winery and small
gift shop, Bear Creek also offers lodging to guests.
Since grapes don’t grow locally the winery
purchases grapes grown elsewhere. Rhubarb and various kinds of berries
grow very well in Homer's marine climate, however, so Bear Creek grows them to flavor the wines they
I’d read about this winery
in some RVers’ web journals and had my first bottle of strawberry-rhubarb
wine when we were in Anchorage. The price at the BX at Joint Base
Elmendorf-Richardson was less than
anywhere else, including the winery itself.
I really liked the wine and wanted to taste some other flavors. I
figured the best way to do that was a wine tasting at the source.
Wine shop/tasting room
We sampled six types of wine at no charge – chardonnay flavored with rhubarb (good),
rather sweet and light rhubarb, raspberry, and wild berry wines (good
but not much oomph), a dry Chilean Malbec Shiraz (somewhat harsh in
comparison), and a raspberry rosa that I liked enough to purchase. I
think it’s the most expensive wine they sell and the most expensive one
I’ve ever bought -- $26 minus a 10% military discount. The prices I
saw in the retail store at the winery ranged from $18 to $26.
I was hoping to take a tour of the facilities but tours are offered only
Monday to Friday. The only “touring” we could do on a Saturday was to walk down a
lush lawn below the lodge to see some beautiful flowers, the rhubarb
bed, and berry bushes:
Above and below: what beautiful flowers!
Horseshoe pits for guests above the rhubarb bed
We've both had tours at several wineries before so it wasn't that much
of a disappointment. We enjoyed wandering around the lush grounds. Cody
would have liked it, too, but dogs are verboten around the rhubarb beds
and berry patches -- especially male dogs!
I wanted to see the views from Skyline Drive, which crosses the city
about 1,000 feet above sea level, so we wound our way up there on
several different roads. We stopped at an overlook to get
more photos of Kachemak Bay to the south.
Homer Spit and Beluga
Lake are visible in
the next two photos. Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park is in the
I zoomed in on two areas across the Bay. You can see a large ship in the
In the original large version
of this one I can see at least one float plane and a couple boats next
to the little island:
Wish we'd had time to go over there to explore.
ALASKA ISLANDS & OCEAN VISITOR CENTER
We drove back down the hill to the Alaska Islands &
Oceans Visitor Center, which is run by the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
in cooperation with the Kachemak Bay Research Refuge.
Information focuses on the animals that inhabit Alaska's islands all the
way along the coast from Ketchikan to Barrow. The Maritime Refuge
manages a whopping 4.9 million acres of public land, the largest seabird
refuge in the wowrld.
The center overlooks the bay on the southwestern side of Homer. There is
ample parking for large RVs and admission is free.
As we walked toward the handsome building we noted the military veteran's
memorial near the entrance:
The bright, airy two-story lobby
has an information desk, Alaska Geographic bookstore, and wildlife
On either side of the lobby the two refuge facilities have additional
exhibits and hands-on displays. The center offers film-viewing,
ranger-led talks and hikes, other educational programs/learning
labs, wildlife sightings, and a trail down to Beluga Slough.
We walked through all of the exhibits and watched most of a lengthy film about sandhill cranes but
didn’t wait around for the video about the bay. By then we were about touristed-out
for one day.
When we visited the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Soldotna I
discovered some yummy dark chocolate/raspberry candy bars by Taste of Alaska.
I got some more today in the lobby at the Islands & Ocean Visitor
I highly recommend these bars! They are marketed by Alaska Geographic, a
non-profit organization that produces excellent videos, maps, books,
and other publications to inform people about Alaska’s
public lands. I really enjoy looking through their materials.
The organization partners with all of the national parks,
national wildlife refuges, national forests, and a variety of other
public lands in Alaska to raise awareness and funds to help sustain
Alaska Geographic has
bookstores in 40 locations in the state, so we'll probably run into them
several more times while we're here.
Good! I'll need a
steady supply of those delicious dark chocolate bars all summer! (They
can also be ordered online.)
You can read more about the organization's mission and its products
WALK TO BELUGA SLOUGH
When we were done inside the Islands & Oceans visitor center we took a
walk down the boardwalk to the slough:
The trail system gives visitors a sampling of the wildlife and plants
that thrive in Kachemak Bay.
The tide was out and there wasn’t much water in the slough while we were
there. We could hear plenty of birds, though. In better weather we might enjoy it as
much as Potter’s Marsh near Anchorage. It was getting colder, windier, and
beginning to look like rain so we turned around after about half a mile.
TIME TO SAY GOOD-BYE
If we were in town for several days it would have been nice to ride the bike trails
on the Homer Spit and out East End Road, walk farther around the Slough, visit
some art galleries and the Pratt Museum, hike at the Wynn Nature Center,
see more of the historic buildings on foot or bike, watch folks at the Fishing Hole, eat at Captain
Patties, and take one or more boat tours to sites across the bay.
As it was, we did quite a bit in one day and we left with fond memories of
Homer. This entry would have been even more enthusiastic if we'd had
One source of "sunshine" today = these colorful flowers at Bear Creek Winery.
Since Jim was tired of playing chauffer all day, he snoozed while
I drove home in the rain. We relaxed the rest of the
afternoon/evening inside the camper. We feel sorry for the family
camping next to us in tents. That can't be any fun in cold rain but
they’re Alaskans and used to a lot worse weather than this.
Unfortunately, the weather forecast is for more of the same tomorrow so
instead of spending more time on the Kenai Peninsula we’re heading back
toward Anchorage in the morning.
If the weather is
decent enough we’ll spend tomorrow night at Williwaw Campground east of Portage so we can
bike and/or hike on the Trail of Blue Ice and re-visit the impressive Begich-Boggs Visitor
Center at Portage Glacier. It’d also be interesting to drive to the
little town of Hope, an old gold rush town on the south side of Turnagain Arm, and see the
Crow Creek Mine at Girdwood.
If the weather is too raw we’ll continue on
to JBER and hope to get a site again at Black Spruce Campground for a week or more. We
could do day trips from there to these attractions near Portage.
Stay tuned to see where we turn up next!
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil