2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
Runtrails' Web Journal
 
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   SEWARD SCENES, PART 1

THURSDAY, JULY 5

 
"Situated at the head of Resurrection Bay on the Kenai Peninsula, Seward  
is one of Alaska's oldest and most scenic communities. Known as the "Gateway to
Kenai Fjords National Park," Seward is a picturesque town with a bustling harbor and
historic downtown district filled with quaint shops, art galleries, and delicious
seafood restaurants . . . Experience trophy sport fishing, glacier and wildlife cruises,
sailing, hiking, kayaking, flight seeing, summer dog sled rides, and more!"
 
~ from the introductions in the Seward.com  and AlaskasPlayground.com publications
 
 

Despite the rain and fog, in fewer than 24 hours we already have a very favorable impression of Seward -- and we've barely seen the mountains yet! Imagine how beautiful it will be when the sun is shining.

I'll be including more photos from town in the next few days. That's why I called this "Part 1."

Seward is named for William H. Seward who was Secretary of State when he negotiated the purchase of the land that is now the state of Alaska from Russia. The town is surrounded by an ice-free port to the east and scenic mountains to the north, south, and west.

It is a lush green rainforest at sea level in the summer -- with snow remaining on the peaks (and pretty low on the slopes this summer) and a huge ice field a few thousand feet above it to the west and south.

I can't wait to start hiking in these mountains!


Monument commemorating the founding of the town of Seward

Since Resurrection Bay remains ice-free all year long, Seward has been an important transportation hub for rail and shipping since its establishment in 1903. It has served the mining, exploration, fishing, and trapping industries even longer than that. It was also a strategic military post during WWII. 

We arrived at the Seward Military Resort campground just before lunch this morning. After getting set up in our site we explored much of the small town by truck. Even without a map it's easy to find your way around the place.

About 3,000 residents call Seward home year-round. Since tourism is one of its two biggest industries (fishing being the other one), its population swells in the summertime with visitors from all around the world.

It appears that we can bike all over town on the city streets pretty safely while we're here, especially since the hordes of visitors are mostly gone from the July 4th holiday.

There are also bike trails along the Seward Hwy. out to about MM 5 and along the harbor.

There are fewer city streets than in Valdez but we can also explore several little roads leading out of town to Lowell Point State Recreation Area, Caines Head State Park, Kenai Fjords National Park at Exit Glacier, and some other roads north of town. Weíll do some riding tomorrow if it isnít raining.

Our first stop today was the visitor center, about half a mile south of our campground.


Jim poses next to a stuffed grizzly bear at the visitor center.


Bald eagle on display at the visitor center; it was electrocuted
when it hit some power lines near the small boat harbor.

I got several trail maps and discovered that two of the trails I thought about hiking are either under water or buried in snow because of the high snowpack this year and late melting. That's OK. There are others I can do.

Next we passed two gas stations ($4.64/gallon for diesel, definitely higher than in Anchorage) and the Safeway grocery store. They are about a mile from our campground.

We stopped at Safeway for a few items on our way back to the campground. Milk wasnít as bad as we expected -- $3.39/gallon compared to $2.89 at Samís Club in Anchorage (by far the lowest there). Produce was pricey but looked pretty good.

 

Just about all the real estate near the harbor is paid parking so we stayed half an hour or less there. We'll explore it more thoroughly on our bikes and on foot for free.

Jim found a parking spot across from the Kenai Fjords National Park visitor center (above), where we picked up more information about Exit Glacier and the Harding Icefield.

 

I want to go back to see some of the films at the Kenai Fjords visitor center. Thereís a continuous loop every couple hours with 6-7 different topics.

While parked we also went inside the two cruise line offices nearby to ask questions. We havenít decided whether to get tickets with Kenai Fjords Tours or Major Marine Tours to see Resurrection Bay and some of the park fjords and glaciers. We can get a good discount at Seward Military Resort so weíll buy our tickets there.

Each company has a variety of tours. Some include a meal. Some include a stop at Fox Island. So far the only thing weíve decided is to do a 6-hour tour because the ones lasting 6-8 hours go to the fjords; shorter trips stay in Resurrection Bay.

We'll get more opinions from the staff and other visitors at the Seward Military Resort before deciding which company and which cruise to take. And we'll also wait to buy tickets until we know a sunny day is coming.

 

Above and below:  misty small boat harbor scenes

We also visited a bakery across the street from the plaza with the harbormaster building, cruise companies, and other shops. We bought some delicious whole wheat bread that was baked this morning and a huge raspberry muffin we shared. Yum! That would be a good place for breakfast or lunch.

We drove all over town Ė through part of the residential area, along the length of the harbor to check out camping options, boats, and shops located there, and past the Sea Life Center:


One side of the Sea Life Center

I'll have a separate entry after we visit the Sea Life Center, one of the activities on my long list of "Things to See and Do in Seward."

There are several city campgrounds along the harbor. Some sites have water and electric hookups and some are dry camping sites. None are anywhere near "dry" right now, as you can see from the puddles of water. I'm guessing these sites will look more desirable when the sun comes out!

 

 

I like this decorated trash bin in one of the campgrounds by the bay:

We noted Mile 0 of the original Iditarod Trail and read about its history on interpretive signs:

According to The Milepost (2011 edition, p. 568), "The Iditarod Trail was surveyed in 1910 as a mail route between Seward and Nome. It was used until 1924, when it was replaced by the airplane. The 938-mile trail -- now a National Historic Trail -- is probably best known for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race that is run each March between Anchorage and Nome."

Even though the famous sled dog race doesn't begin in Seward it was still very interesting to see the beginning of this historic mail and mining route. Miners blazed some of the original trails from Seward to the gold fields in central and western Alaska in the late 1890s. A whole system of pack and sled trails, wagon roads, and rail beds became the famous Iditarod Trail a decade later. 

This sculpture on the bay, entitled "Trail Blazers," celebrates the centennial of the Iditarod Trail:

 

Seward is known for its bright painted murals on the sides of buildings throughout town. We saw about eight of the fourteen murals this morning but Iíll wait until Iím on my bike to take pictures of those and present them here.

This looks like a very interesting town that deserves a much closer look than we were able to give it today. Iím hoping it clears up enough (stops raining, at least) so we can ride/walk around more in the next few days and really enjoy it. I'll share a lot more photos after those rides.

RUNNER MIA  

We heard something sad on the news this evening.

A 66-year-old civilian employee at JBER, Michael LeMaitre, is missing after the popular but grueling Mt. Marathon foot race held yesterday in Seward.

Although heís an avid hiker and camper heís never done this race before (about 1Ĺ miles up/1Ĺ miles down a very gnarly 3,000+ foot elevation trail) and planned to just walk it. He was the last one up the mountain in the men's race, per a volunteer who was coming down. He told the volunteer he planned to go up another 200 feet to the turnaround, then come back down. No one has seen him since then.


Photo of Mt. Marathon from an interpretive sign at one of the trailheads

Seward is sandwiched in a fairly narrow strip of land between Mt. Marathon and the bay. That's pretty apparent in the photo above. No matter where you are in town, it's right there looming above you.

We could hear helicopters searching for the missing runner by air all day. Because of the rain and fog rescuers were having a lot of problems with visibility from the air and with traction on the wet ground.

We sure hope LeMaitre is OK. As former avid mountain trail runners we have a lot of empathy for this man. We know how many things can go wrong in the mountains, even on a course as short as this one. Despite its proximity to town, it's wild and dangerous with steep cliffs, snow, ice, cold temperatures -- and bears.


Looking west past the harbor shops to Bear Mountain and Mt. Marathon

Another runner is hospitalized with life-threatening brain injuries after a bad fall as he was coming back down the course yesterday. Injuries are common in this long-standing race but so far no one has ever died. This year two lives are in jeopardy.

All entrants are thoroughly briefed about the risks. I haven't seen the waiver of liability they have to sign but I bet it's as graphic as the one at the Hardrock Hundred in Colorado! I hope these incidents don't jeopardize the future of this historic event.

Check out the Chamber of Commerce website for more information about the race itself. I'll be following post-race developments re: the missing runner on the Anchorage Daily News site.

Next entries:  lots more scenes from Seward on our first bike ride through town, and our hike to Exit Glacier

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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